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I was fourteen years old when Abuelita requested my help. And it seemed only fair. Abuelita had pulled me through the rages of scarlet fever by placing, removing and replacing potato slices on the temples of my forehead; she had seen me through several whippings, an arm broken by a dare jump off Tío Enrique's toolshed, puberty, and my first lie. Really, I told Amá, it was only fair. (1)
The narrator sets up the circle of life here. She's only fourteen and she's supposed to start helping her grandmother, but she sees it as a repayment for the ways her grandmother has cared for her throughout her bumpy childhood.
Not that I was her favorite granddaughter or anything special. (2)
We're going to go ahead and call the narrator's bluff on this one. She claims she isn't her granny's favorite, but come on—her grandmother asked specifically for the narrator to be the one to come take care of her on her deathbed, even though she's not "nice" like her older sisters. They have a special bond, and the narrator is just protesting too much.
I wasn't even pretty or nice like my older sisters and I just couldn't do the girl things they could do. (2)
The family seems to be all girls, with an undetermined number of sisters running around bashing each other with words and bricks (for real). The narrator finds her individuality by being different from her sisters. We can't tell them apart, and don't even know most of their names, but our main girl is definitely special. Even if it's in negative ways, she's still set apart.
So I began keeping a piece of jagged brick in my sock to bash my sisters or anyone who called me bull hands. (2)
Whoa. This is pretty violent and pretty hardcore, right? This kind of extreme response to name-calling is a symptom of the deep violence that runs throughout this family's relationships. It also shows how insecure the narrator is within her own family that she feels the need to defend herself in this way.
Then he strategically directed his anger at Amá for her lousy ways of bringing up daughters, being disrespectful and unbelieving, and my older sisters would pull me aside and tell me if I didn't get to mass this minute, they were all going to kick the holy s*** out of me. (8)
"Strategically" is an interesting adverb. The narrator's father yells at her mother when the narrator misbehaves, which in turn spurs her sisters to action—in order to keep their mother out of trouble, they pressure the narrator to obey, using their own threats of violence. The father is playing everyone against each other to keep his family in line.
When I returned from the market, I heard Amá crying in Abuelita's kitchen. […] After a while, I patted her on the back for comfort. Finally: "¿Y mi Amá?" she asked in a whisper, then choked again and cried into her apron. (11)
This is the moment where we learn that Abuelita is the narrator's maternal grandmother. Amá is crying because, as it turns out, Abuelita is her Amá. The narrator might feel some compassion for her mother here because she sees her as a scared, sad daughter, not just her mom.
I heard you, Abuelita, I said, stroking her cheek, I heard you. (14)
The narrator is treating her grandmother as though she is a little baby crying in her crib, when in actuality, she's an elderly woman lying dead in her bed. This role-reversal is important: The narrator transforms from the grandchild who needs to be taken care of into the adult who takes care of her grandmother.
The scars on her back which were as thin as the life lines on the palms of her hands made me realize how little I really knew of Abuelita. (14)
While the narrator has spent lots of time with her grandmother in her life, she has never gotten to examine Abuelita's body or realized how little she knows about her past until her grandmother is dead. It's hard to imagine what Abuelita must have gone through (maybe a whipping?) to get the scars, but it also shows that even in tight-knit families, the past can be full of secrets.
She was not as heavy as I thought and when I carried her in my arms, her body fell into a V, and yet my legs were tired, shaky, and I felt as if the distance between the bedroom and bathroom was miles and years away. Amá, where are you? (15)
Again the image of the grandmother as a baby comes into play. The narrator carries her grandmother in her arms, just like an infant. However she doesn't feel like the baby's mother—instead she doesn't know what to do and wishes for her own mother, saying, "Amá, where are you?"
[…] I wanted to return to the waters of the womb with her so that we would never be alone again. I wanted. I wanted my Amá. (16)
Whoa. This is some serious family imagery happening right now. The narrator takes her baby-fied grandmother to the tub and wants to go back to the "waters of the womb" with her. She wants them to both become fetuses, to start over at the beginning of life together and "never be alone again." What underlies all this is the narrator's desire for her own mom. She has been thrown into adulthood, and right now she could really use some help.
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