In school, we had to write a story we read in another person’s perspective. This story was originally in Constancia’s perspective, and our assignment was to re write it in Abuela’s. You can find the original online here: “Abuela Invents the Zero“.
Abuela Invents the Zero by Daniela Velasquez
Just because you see a frail, huddled lump engulfed in a coat when you look at me, it doesn’t mean that’s what I am. Sure, I may be a sorry sight and my old bones might be small and brittle, but I still have feelings. Mi nieta, Constancia, seems not to understand this. From the very first time she laid her wide, youthful, eyes on my frizzy gray hair and deeply wrinkled face, I could tell she despised me.
You would think that raising ten children on la isla should warrant some respect, but not from little Constancia. She thinks that I don’t notice how she regularly ignores me, how often she sends disgusted looks my way, how she pretends we don’t know each other, that I don’t exist. I don’t understand Constancia. She acts as if I’m barging into her life without reason. I’m only here in New Jersey to experience the magic of snow I read about as a child. It’s been a lifetime dream, and I’ll be gone before long.
I try to ignore her, to gain strength from my faith. I say the rosary, read bible verses, and sing old spanish hymns at the top of my creaky voice. Although mi hija, Elena, has come down with the flu, sickness won’t stop me from attending Sunday mass. I need something to ground me, inspire me, so I can regain my peace of mind. Back on la isla, going to mass always soothed my soul; hopefully, here in la Polo Norte, it will be the same.
I request Lucas, Elena’s husband, to escort me to church on Sunday. Unable to leave his wife alone, however, he decides that the responsibility of driving should be Constancia’s. I just hope she is compliant, because I can’t go without assistance.
When Sunday comes, Lucas helps me hobble my way down the slick pathway to the car. It pains me to see the sickened look in Contancia’s eyes as she takes in the mass of fabric that’s my body. My bun feels too big, my back too hunched, and my hands too dry under her scrutinizing stare. There’s nothing I can do about it, though. Constancia is my only way to church, whether I like it or not.
Before I know it, we’ve arrived at church for the Spanish mass. Huffing and muttering, Constancia leads me up the steep, crumbling steps. I don’t understand why she still thinks that I’m blind to her repulsion.
Stepping into the church is like meeting a lost relative I never thought I would see again. I slowly pad to my pew, making sure it has the same view of the altar as my spot at La Isla Inglesia (The Island Church). I wedge my way past the people already settled there with enough muttered “con permisos” to write a book.
It’s like I’m already in heaven. I sing hymns to the Lord, even though my voice has long since gone hoarse. I pray, because my time is almost up. And I smile like there’s no tomorrow. The mass flies by, and soon it’s time to take communion. I poke my head out of the missalette and unsteadily get to my feet. At a snail’s pace, I make my way toward the front of the church.
I accept the eucharist like an old friend. The familiar feeling of the wafer in my mouth warms me to the core. I move on slowly, savoring the moment.
My eyes dart around the room, searching for Constancia. She’s nowhere to be found. How can this be? I am lost in a place that had just started to feel like a second home. I imagine everyone can see me clear as day, poking my feeble head out of my oversized coat like a turtle in it’s shell. I hear titters from the pews, and my face burns with embarrassment. Where is Constancia, the one who is supposedly looking after me?
Finally, a woman helps me to my seat. I cannot grasp why Constancia has abandoned me. What have I done to deserve such contempt from my own nieta? How dare she treat me with such disrespect?
On the drive back, I stifle my outrage, hoping Constancia apologizes on her own. But we sit in silence. I realize that her confession will have to come the hard way.
The minute I step into la casa, I let loose my bottled up storm of emotion. I raise a knobby, gnarled hand, shaking, and point to Constancia. I fix her with a steely glare, and say with conviction what I have been thinking since I arrived.
“You make me feel like una cero, nada.” I declare, then tromp to my room, inflamed. Constancia seems to forget that one day she will be old, that she will someday be in my shoes. She seems to think that I am worth nothing, worth less than the dirt under her feet. Yet I am her family, her grandmother.
I warble my favorite hymns, hoping that in some obscure way, they would connect me to la isla and calm my spirit. I pull out my bible for comfort. A yellowed slip of paper flutters to the ground, and I pluck it off the floor. It’s a letter to me, and an old one, too. I unfold the creased paper and read the words faded with age.
Sabrina, it reads.
Of all the hurtful things you can do to a person, the worst is to make them feel like una cero, nada, like you did to me, your very own Abuela. But always remember that everyone can make mistakes, especially children. So when your own time comes to feel like una cero (and I guarantee it will), remember this day.
And I do remember. Maybe I’ve been too hard on Constancia. Maybe I need to reach out to her. Maybe I am the one who owes an apology.