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2020 Essays

Brenda Venezia

PHOTOGRAPHS OF YOUR TÍAS

ii.

Your tía hates to have her picture taken and she’ll leave the room when the cameras come out, even for family pictures when everyone gets together—well, almost everyone. But she helped raise a lot of the kids in this family, including you. I don’t know if you think about that. She loves her yerbitas and natural remedies, and she grows a lot of her own there at the house. She watches the news and has a running hierarchy of which political commentators are the best and which are garbage. She is the best, pero la mera mera, at making games and toys of out of the stuff people think of as trash. Like these: see this stack of little yogurt containers? She washed and saved these for El Nene—be sure to take these with you when you go, don’t forget—there are only sixteen of them, she said, but it’s, of course, easy to save more. You just have to think of it. Build towers out of them, use them for pouring games—all the kids loved those when they were about his age; send her a picture if he likes them, okay? Don’t forget—and for sorting little objects or snacks, flip them upside down for matching games, for a little two-person tossing game when he’s a older, and the list goes on. A whole database in her head.

In the 90s she was a real cool girl, with her job and her professional outfits and her little red Toyota and her tiny San Diego apartment with a roommate. Her lips and nails painted burgundy and brown, that dark puta red, you see? She loved that. She didn’t care. Her hair stayed permed and dyed auburn, her big earrings and her little ankle boots, all pointy and laced up with the jeans tucked in. She watched In Living Color and Melrose Place and introduced all that R&B stuff to all you nieces and taught you all how to drive out in the fields when she would visit, no matter how young you all were, que loca. She never told us until after an outing like that—it was always a quick trip to get one of you a huge orange cream soda at Casa Burger or to grab something at the market, like she was doing us all a favor by taking a few of the kids with her to get out of the house, you know? But it’s true, she was real good about taking you to the library when you’d visit, do you remember that? But she’d sneak in those driving lessons. She really trusted all you girls, I guess, que Dios la cuida. Maybe it’s herself she trusted. She had been used to making decisions alone.

You know, she’s the youngest, and didn’t have to work in the fields much. She got out of town pretty early. She used to be a banker at a couple of different places—Wells Fargo, I think—but she didn’t talk with all of us about what she’d do at work. Nowadays, she says she doesn’t sleep much and drinks weak Nescafe starting very early in the morning, maybe to save money, but she insists it’s what she likes and rolls her eyes every time we tell her she should just use the Keurig we took over there for them last year. All those plants and trees she has grown over the years at the house where she and your grandma live are really something, even now—she’s good with them: succulents, fruit trees, yerbas, those big agaves and yuccas up by the street. She’ll probably offer to send you home with pieces of them in a ziploc. It’s been getting harder to take care of them; don’t compliment them. It’s true they are still impressive, but she’ll apologize and get a little upset, to be quite honest. It’s like she won’t believe that you really think they look good anymore. You see, these last few months, when your grandma has been in and out of the facility, everyone thought your tía would get a little bit of a break, some time to catch up on things, but it turned out that everyone, including Abuela, also worried about Mom in that place and, as usual, had lots to say about how she is taken care of. So your tía mostly stays at the facility too when Mom is there.

She never did have any kids. Back in the day, everyone teased her about how much she loved Peabo Bryson—do you even know who that is?—but she was real private about her dating life. Of course, these last—is it ten years now? Well, since your grandpa died and your grandma had to move—she takes care of your grandma and the house and has no time for herself, it’s true, she does everything, and we’re all thankful she does all that, of course, and we know it’s hard, of course. Sometimes she complains, and I used to argue with her, try to defend Mom, but now I try to listen, because none of us know what it’s like, and we all criticize and she has no one to talk to, and I’m sure it’s real hard. But sometimes she complains a lot, and I have to tell her I’m sorry, but I have to go. It’s hard to listen to, you know? Everyone else has their kids and their homes and lives farther away and it’s just easiest for her to do this right now. We all do what we can.


Brenda Venezia teaches at Fresno State. She is the director of Fresno Women Read, a member of the Central Valley Women Writers of Color Collective, and a member of the QPOC collective, Fecund Stitch. Her work has appeared in Glass: A Journal of Poetry, The Collagist, Puerto Del Sol, Luna Luna Magazine, and elsewhere.