I couldn't wait to show my son's high school photos to my mother. I was so excited for her to see what I saw—the face of my father. My father had passed away when he was 39 years old, and the enduring memory I have of him is that he was beautiful and forever young.
I drove to visit my mother, who was in a hospice at the time, unlocked the door to her room and saw her sitting in her blue chair by the window.
"Mama!" I joyfully shouted and went to her side, kneeling close. "Look! It's Xavier! And you won't believe who he looks like!"
I pulled out the photos from a white envelope and fanned them out in front of her. She leaned in, adjusting her glasses and then turned away, gasping for breath.
"I can't look!" she said, her voice sounding frail with years. "It is your father, when I met him. He was 17, and this picture is your father."
I quickly put the pictures of my son face down on her bed. "I'm so sorry, Mama. I never thought about that. I never knew," I uselessly explained. "You didn't talk much about him since he died, and I was just so proud of how Xavier looked like Daddy that I never thought about you."
The tears on my face were hot with anger at myself. How could I have done this to her? Of course she was shocked; it was too much to take in. My father had passed away when both of them weren't even 40 years old. The last time she had seen him, he was the most handsome man in the world.
"Mama, I'm so sorry," I said, smoothing her hand with my fingers. "I don't know anything about you and Daddy."
"He was a good-looking man," she said as she gazed out the window. "He was so handsome that I did not want to know him."
She wiped her nose and fussed with a tissue. "There was a big party in our town. I knew he was going to be there, and my heart raced at the thought of it," she said. "I went with my sister and of course, our chaperone, my brother. There was no one like Francisco in our town. He had golden hair and green eyes, and he was friends with my brother."
"Did you ever talk to him before then, Mama?" I asked, hoping that it wouldn't be too difficult for her to finish the story.
"I would not talk to him. He was known for being the best-looking boy in our town. All the girls liked him, and I would never fight over a man," she said. "The others could have him, because for me, I promised myself I would not chase anyone. No, I would not like him."
"Did you like him when you met him, Mama? Did you talk to him at the party?"
My mother grew silent and asked to see the pictures of my son again. I reached over and handed them to her. As she looked at them, her voice became soft and distant. "When your father came into the party, he saw me," she said. "I didn't know what to do and I threw my sweater over my head so I wouldn't see him. I did not want to see him."
I held my breath. For my entire life, I've known my mother as a strong, independent woman. Someone who raised six children on her own after my father died. She never spoke of him and I never asked, too afraid that I would bring up painful memories. So we grew up only seeing a woman alone, doing whatever she had to do to keep her family together. To hear about this shy teenager side of her, along with finally learning more about my father, had me pressing my hands together, scared she wouldn't finish her story.
"I peeked out from under my sweater, hoping he had walked past. When I looked out with one eye, he turned around at the same time to see me looking for him," she said. "I burst into tears at the shame of being caught and ran from the party. What a silly thing to do, wasn't it?"
"No, Mama," I said, trying to comfort her while she was still looking out the window. "You were young. You didn't know. All of us have been like that."
"I ran out of the party and cried. I did not want to go back in. I could not walk home alone. I didn't know what to do. I stood outside of the door in the yard and was so angry at how foolish I was, a silly girl being silly over Francisco, like all the other girls," she continued. "Then I heard my brother's voice talking to someone. The voices were coming closer and I was trapped."
"Was it daddy, Mama?"
Then my mother started to laugh. "Yes, it was your father! And I began to cry. He was laughing along with my brother and he said my name, 'Leonor! Leonor!' and I began to hit him with my sweater for laughing. Then he asked me, 'Did you really think a sweater could hide the most beautiful woman in town?'"
At this, both of us fell silent.
"Mama, I'm so sorry you lost him so young."
My mother finally looked at me. "I have him again," she said, while holding the picture of my son.