Story: The Woman in Me, by Miguel Angel

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The Woman in Me
by Miguel Angel

My mother’s pride
Was in her hands
The piano was her soul
I watched in wonder
As she played show tunes
Miles off from Rock & Roll
What she loved she taught me
Now music’s what I do
And often when I am writing
In my hands
She’s there too

If I sing, you are the music
If I thrive, you are why I’m good
If my hands can find some magic
You are the one who said they could
When the child who’s still inside me
Finds a song in empty air
When there is joy in making music
It is you who put it there.

I had heard this song several times before and I remember focusing on the bridge, which is the second set of stanzas. I assumed the song to have a romantic overtone and being directed towards a lover. It wasn’t until recently that I actually listened to the lyrics and realized it was directed to a mother; and while listening a tear peeked in my eyes.

No, my mother didn’t play piano or any instrument for that matter—neither do I—and she didn’t need to. There were so many other things she did…and did well.

I vividly remember seeing her for the last time, and I recall how much I cried at the certainty I was not going to see her alive again. I also remember clearly the words a friend offered to help me deal with such a heart-wrenching moment.

“When we pass, we don’t just disappear into nothing. We simply become more a part of those we leave behind. Your mother will always be a part of you,” he said that evening over dinner at a fancy restaurant overlooking beautiful Acapulco Bay.
When I was a child, I am embarrassed to admit, I don’t believe I appreciated my mother. How could I? I was a child and therefore the world had relevance only in reference to me. My mother was not a human being with feelings and needs then. She was there to provide me with care, love, and attention. No more and no less.

I remember however, in my earlier years, thinking of both my parents as these giant, all-powerful, all-capable people. I admired the fact that both of them had no formal education—my mother barely finished second grade and my father third. They, nonetheless, had a great sense of what was proper and right, and their common sense and set of values was admirable.

My mother was quite the disciplinarian. Being the one who stayed with us all day, she was the one who laid the law and enforced it in the house. But that is not to say that she was harsh; quite the opposite, she was able to remain loving in spite of having to deal with 5 children all day long. I do not know how she did it. All I know is that mothers like mine should automatically qualify for sainthood.
I remember some hot nights in Acapulco, when I was about 4 years old, in which I would wake up unable to sleep because of the heat. My mother would take me outside and give me a bath under a sky laden with stars telling me stories prompted by the endless questions I had about everything around me. I remember her telling me once that when people were no longer with us (she was smart enough to know not to use the word ‘die,’ God only knows what line of questioning would have ensued) they became the stars we saw above.

We also had cooler nights, and I remember waking up because my blanket had slipped off and I was cold. As if I had summoned powers beyond me, two hands like butterflies would grab the edge of the blanket and cover me gently, at the same time that rose-petaled lips would kiss my forehead and tell me everything was OK.

When I had a project in school, something for which we needed our parents help, I would be all worried when, before going to bed, I would realize I had not done it. My mother would tell me not to worry and, the next day, things would be miraculously materialized before my eyes.
I remember how she told each one of her children separately we were the one she loved the most. She also told us not to share that with our siblings. Her voice could be thunderous when she had to, but for the most part she was soft and tender. I loved the way she call me ‘papa’ or ‘mi rey,’ which means my king. I have many memories of her willingness to help others, her inability to refrain from giving, and her capacity for being caring.

I remember how beautiful I found her even on a ‘bad hair day.’ I remember how simple she was, how unsophisticated, and how humble. Although the latter is something I didn’t get from her, I was fascinated about how much I looked like her in my teens when I tied a scarf over my head and around my chin. That was until I started growing facial hair though.
I imagine how challenging it must have been for someone from our culture and with her level of education to deal with having a gay child and yet I can’t find a single instance in which she made me feel I was less of a child of hers because of that. As it is common for our culture, my sexuality was not something we spoke about openly, but there was always the uttermost respect for who I was and I always knew myself to be loved as much as my brothers and sisters.
In my later teens I suddenly grew to appreciate the woman who game me the gift of life, and I remember how we would joke and tease each other. “You should have stopped having children after you had me,” I would say to her.
“I should have stopped having children right before you,” she would be quick to reply.
See all this gray hair on my head?” She would say, “You gave it all to me!”
My mom grew old
Her hands grew numb
Now she cannot play
I came to visit
She sat and asked me
How it could be this way
I couldn’t find an answer
I played this tune for her instead
My mother sat there, smiling
For she knew what it said

When she grew sick with cancer, she kept most details about her illness from her children, especially those of us who were away, in order not to worry us. I was fortunate enough to be able to see her 3 months before she died ten years ago, as I was fortunate to spend a few weeks caring for her and pampering her exactly the way she deserved. She would not take that easily though. She still wanted to be the mother and she wanted to get up and cook and make me feel like everything was normal, like she was still the mother and I was her child. I would hide from her and cry because I found it so unfair for her life to end that way and because there was only so much I could do about it.
If I sing, you are the music
If I love, you taught me how
Every day your heart is beating
In the woman I am now
If my ears are tuned to wonder
If when I reach the cords are there
If there is joy in making music
It’s a joy that you put there

It is true; I am blessed to have known for a few years now, that when we pass we don’t just disappear. We simply become a part of those we leave behind.

There is a wonderful woman in me and it has nothing to do with my sexuality or my flair for feather boas and high heels.
I get to experience that woman all the time, when I feel successful and accomplished, when I feel capable and proud of what I have done, when I experience myself as a caring, giving member of the human race, when I am able to extend a hand to someone who is in need, and most especially, when I get to be nurturing and loving.
I have 3 children in my life now—Jesse, Aiden, and Liam—who remind me of my own childhood and my mother almost every day. When I read to them before they go to bed, it is my mother’s voice I hear; and when I go into their rooms to cover them, it is those butterflies of my mother’s hands which grab the blanket; and when I kiss them in their sweet foreheads, it is my mother’s rose-petaled lips which kiss them.

I often talk to them and called them ‘papa’ or ‘mi rey,’ and when they make me laugh I hear my mother’s joyful peal of laughter ringing in my ears.
And even though I never told you
It took time until I could see
That if I sing, you are the music
And you always sing with me
Yes, you are always there in me.

To the woman in me, the music in my life, my mother, Sylvia.
When I look to the night sky you are the brightest star in the firmament. May you always live in me!
With Love,
Miguel Angel, (Your favorite child)

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