My brother left many loved ones behind, but at the top of the list are his daughter, Nicole, and his wife, Emely. Last night, I called my sister-in-law and my niece. Nicole is only two, so you know how those phone conversations go. She doesn’t know that I can’t see her through the phone, and in her child’s mind every person who she has ever talked to on the phone is listening on the other end of the line. So she addresses them…
Nicole was eating cereal—her favorite snack—when I called. I was on the phone with Emely, when Nicole shrieked, “Se me botó, Mami! Se me Botó!” She had spilled her cereal and she wanted her mom to know.
Emely laughed (it was a miracle to hear her laugh) and told me, “She had about half a spoon left. Now she wants another serving because ‘she spilled it.’ She really loves her cereal.” My sister-in-law puts Nicole on the phone with me, and goes to clean up the massive half-spoon spill.
As soon as Nicole gets the phone, she starts, “Tía Magaly, se me botó. En el piso, Tía Magaly, se me botó en el piso.” It seems that it was very important that I understood that she spilled her cereal on the floor. Not on the table or the couch, but the floor. She continued explaining and I caught every other word or so—the language of a two year old is very mysterious… Yet, one phrase was clear enough to pierce through my heart. “Se me botó, Papi. Te ‘tas econdiendo, Papi? No te econda, se me botó!”
I know that my niece is much too young to understand that my brother is gone, but to hear it in her voice, through her words was almost too much. I spilled it, Papi. Are you hiding, Papi? Don’t hide, I spilled it! I swallowed a sob as those words played over and over in my heart. My brother and his daughter used to speak via Skype all the time. They often played peek-a-boo, so she probably thought her dad was playing with her.
Emely came back to the phone and we were quiet for a while. She broke the silence. “This is why I try not to answer the phone in front of her,” she said. “Nicole always thinks is him.”
I couldn’t speak for a while. Then we said some things, but I can’t remember all of it. In my brain’s memory, the conversation resumed after Emely and I started talking about Nicole’s birthday, September 20th. I want to go to the Dominican Republic for her birthday. Make her smile like my brother might have. Pick her up, spin her around, and see my brother’s smile on her face. I want to watch her grow up, tell her stories about her dad, about the day he called me to say, “I think I want to have a kid.” I nearly swallowed my cell phone because he was barely 23 and didn’t have the best possible job.
Pabelo’s birthday is tomorrow; he would have turned 27. Today, I thank the universe, for in his short years my brother loved and was loved. He didn’t get to do everything, but he experienced the best of all things: living in love. And through the product of that love and our memories of him, my little brother lives on…