My grandma's name was Fe Santos, wife to one, mother to ten, grandmother and great grandmother to a billion. Some called her Ma or Mom or Ferry or Feyee, but to me she was simply Lola.
One memory that sticks out for me was the summer after my 11th birthday. She watched me and several of my cousins during the summers and we all knew there were several things we could count on: her delicious Bisquick cornbread at least twice a week, a laugh and hug that could make you feel good for weeks, the Scary Lola Face when you broke something or didn't finish your food, and that unless it was undoubtedly, indubitably important, you didn't bother Lola from 10am to 1pm because that was Soap Opera Time.
Until that summer I'd never heard about soap operas, much less watched one. We knew we were supposed to be quiet during that time, so usually I'd go upstairs and watch videos of old basketball games, or go to the backyard and play with my cousins. But one day I was curious. So I tiptoed downstairs and peeked around the corner of the living room to find Lola sitting on the blue couch, folding laundry and watching a soap opera on TV.
"What are you doing?" she said. I wasn't sure if she was talking to me because there was absolutely no way she could've seen me. "Botchie," she said. "Did something happen?"
I stepped out from behind the wall and asked her what she was watching. She looked at me discerningly, as though trying to find out if my appearance was simply curiosity or if I'd done something dumb like broken the closet door again.
"Guiding Light," she said.
"Oh. Can I watch it with you?"
She put down the frock in her hands and looked me in the eye. Once she had you that way, you couldn't look away. "Only if you promise to help me fold the clothes, you close your eyes and ears when I tell you to, and you don't talk through the show."
"I promise!" I said, though I wasn't sure what I had just agreed to.
Over that summer, I sat with her during Soap Opera Time and watched Guiding Light, As the World Turns, and The Bold and the Beautiful. I closed my eyes and ears when characters started kissing or started undressing, and in some of the more passionate scenes, Lola made me leave the room altogether until she told me it was safe to come back in. I helped her fold clothes. And despite what I'd promised, I asked her tons of questions. Why is that character so sad? How is it possible that character was supposed to be dead and now came back to life? Why is he with that woman when he's married to that other woman?
I like to think that in that summer, Lola saw my interest in telling stories, even if I wouldn't know it myself for another 20 years. I think this because she always saw the good in us, always knew the best version of us that we could be. I think this because although she would've rightfully been annoyed by my persistent questions, she wasn't. In fact, she actually took the time to explain the answers to me. That woman is sad because her mother just died. That character that was supposed to be dead was actually not dead and was just in hiding. He is with that woman even though he's married because he's not a good man.
She explained that these shows were just stories that people told on TV. She told me that in real life, things aren't always so black and white. It was as though she was preparing me for a writing life, even back then, helping me understand that perhaps when a character's mother dies and the character is sad, there's more to the sadness than just the death. It's the reminder of mortality. It's the loss of light.
And that's what happened this morning. When Lola passed, the world lost a little of its light. The world grew colder, grayer. A part of this, I think, is the feeling that this is final. That her story is over. But if there's anything Lola taught me that summer about stories, it's this: they don't have to end. Not if we don't let it. Lola created a family unit unlike any I've ever seen - strong, proud, loving, and regardless of how many arguments, crazy life events, or misunderstandings there have been and will be in the future, together. Lola did that, even as more and more of her spirit left her body and flew upwards, she was still getting us back together. If she can do that, then the least we could do, that I can do, is to keep her story alive.
So when you see me, don't tell me you're sorry and don't tell me the usual cliches, but instead ask me to tell you the stories I remember of Lola. I'll tell you about the summer after my 13th birthday, when she gave up Soap Opera Time so I could watch the Dream Team in Barcelona win the gold medal. I'll tell you about the punches she threw into the air whenever Pacquiao was on TV. I'll tell you about our trips to the beauty salon, where she spoke glowingly of her grandkids and great grandkids to the hairdressers and anyone who would hear it. I'll tell you about how our birthdays were one day apart, and every year she would ask me "What are we doing this year for our birthdays?" and somehow we'd end up joking that we should go to the casino. I'll tell you about the time she gave me, my brother, and my cousins $5 to perform at a family party as Boyz II Men. I'll tell you about the first time I was published and though she was already blind, she wanted to read it so she had my mom read it aloud to her, and when I came and visited later that day, she told me how proud she was. I'll tell you about how elegant she looked at the piano, playing music I can still hear today. I'll tell you about how she could always make me feel special, even if it was just requesting I sing "Bohemian Rhapsody" again very badly during a family karaoke session. I'll tell you about seeing her in the stands of my basketball games, or about the advice she gave me on relationships and careers, or how beautiful she always looked. I'll tell you about how she always pulled the strings, and though how the family didn't always see it at first, the way she pulled the strings usually ended up making us better. I'll tell you about her deep faith in God, how having a paralyzed leg never became a weakness, about the tragedies she endured that only made us want to be stronger, about a heart that was so big and so stubborn it could even fight off doctors' prognostications.
But above all, I'll tell you how much I miss her and how much I love her and how thankful I am that I share her blood and her spirit. I can only hope that I can inherit her light.
Rest in peace, Lola.