Coming Home (Otra Vez)

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My mother wants to know why I cut my hair so damned short and what size dress I am wearing now.

An aunt clicked her tongue and shook her head as she lamented my daughter's lack of Spanish-speaking skills.

My uncle's sister -- whom I have not seen since I was five -- asked why I only had one child. Then she nodded approvingly at my sister and the four children running between her legs because working ovaries are obviously a sign of a good and proper Mexican woman.

Rapid fire Spanish from a relative who flew in for the wedding wondering how old said child is now as she hides her face from another pair of prying hands in the folds of my dress. Four of her five years and 2,500 miles between us and the Mexican Show Pony Craziness that comes with special occasions has turned my three-quarter-Mexican-child into a white girl who expects strangers to respect her personal space.

She looks so much like you.

You look so much like your mother.

Your sisters look so much like your father.

And I am instantly 13 again. Insecure. Out of place. Unsure of where I truly belong.

***

We flew in to Detroit from Tucson a few days ago for my cousin's wedding. Buttercup is the flower girl. And we've spent the last 20 minutes outside of the church waiting for everyone else, including the bride, to show up late. No one from the church is looking for us yet. They are used to running on Mexican time.

Buttercup is playing in the courtyard with her four cousins. She is grateful they speak English, I think. Small talk keeps me and my sisters occupied because the divide between us is more complex than the miles we just crossed. Because we are in the same place, though, we will pretend to try. No one will be expecting weekly phone calls to stay in touch after we return home. And yet there are no hard feelings. It's just understood.

Family begins to arrive. Hugs and kisses and You Look Great, Mijitas are exchanged. Sometimes because it is expected. Others because it is sincerely meant. We -- The Husband, Buttercup, and myself -- stand alone in the midst of the Spanglish craziness. I am acutely aware of the fact that I am thinking in English.

***

The rehearsal takes two hours. By the time we are ready to leave the church for the rehearsal dinner, Buttercup is crabby and asking to go home. We oblige, taking my mother and one sister with us, grateful to hide behind the excuse of a tired child. The bride and groom nod their understanding. More hugs and kisses are exchanged. And we are free.

Buttercup is full of smiles and laughter as soon as the car door closes and the engine starts. No longer overwhelmed by the noise and the outstretched hands, it's apparent the child is more like me than I sometimes realize. In the middle of strangers who are bound by blood, she wants to hide and remain unnoticed. But with close friends who have become family, she is light and she is happiness.

It's time to go to my mother-in-law's house now. It's where we are staying while we are in town. As we turn to leave, my mother hands me a small bear.

Don't forget this, she says.

It's my one-eyed bear from childhood. I smile and hug it close as my mother makes sure to remind me her dress size is smaller than my own. I've come home again.