Sila’s Gift

Time, heartbreak, and Christmas.

Yesterday, I went to a Creative Mornings event to hear Natalia Martinez-Kalinina speak about time. She explained how phrases like, “Time heals all wounds,” or  “Only time will tell tell,” are tokens that give us the illusion that we can control time.  We have named it, measured it, manipulated it, and even tricked it but it remains as incontrollable and illusive as ever. In my case, there will never be enough time to heal the sorrow I feel since my beautiful mother suddenly and without warning passed away. Only today did I realize that I may never be “ready” to accept the waves of emotion that surface when I hear flamenco songs, drive home from work, try to fall asleep, smell incense burning, or see white roses in bloom.


Sila at Christmas

My mother, Sila Amelia Montoto, absolutely loved this cheerful season of the year. The celebrations,  acts of kindness, and the spirit of giving were all traits she embraced. Both her heart and mind were open and accepting beyond reason. She loved cooking elaborate feasts of turkey, black beans, mashed potatoes, and flan for family or lonely souls she had met just the day before. She loved watching Christmas movies but hated musicals.


Christmas, circa. 1990

“You made this when you were in 1st grade,” she would say every year as she handed me a glittery pinecone to hang on our tree. She would sing “Santa’s Coming to Town” the whole year. It didn’t matter if it was boiling or freezing or even what season it was. She would sing it to us before we went to bed or hum it to herself while she was cooking. I can’t see a Christmas light or presents stacked in store-front windows without thinking of her smiles or busy hands. Without a doubt, this has been the most difficult Christmas for me to enjoy or appreciate.


Bows and Paper

Although it is hard to confront such colossal emotions, I knew I needed to find a vessel to explore them. Thankfully, she left me one. Shortly after my mom passed, I found a folder with some pages she wrote. At first glance, I realized that the type-written pages were the beginning of a novel she had always wanted to write. The pages are filled with memories inspired by her childhood in Cuba. Till now, I have not been brave enough to read them.


England, circa. 1991

At the same time, the pages have been weighing on my conscience. Questions like,  “Is it fair to keep these pages to myself?” or “Am I strong enough to read them?” were plaguing me.  In the end, I’m resolved to publish her work through this blog in a series of posts about my mother. It was her dream to publish her stories and she would have loved to have all of you read them. Sila was as unique as her name. She was so dynamic and impressionable a person, that to spend only one entry or to tell only one story would not be nearly suffice.


New Mexico, circa. 1996

This will be a series of  Christmas presents for all of you who were lucky enough to have met her or for those who haven’t to get to know her. Before I let her start, I wanted to say how grateful i am for all incredible support my family has received through hugs, cards, company, and the gofundme. Your kind words and acts gave me strength during my darkest days.


Leaving the Finca + Changing Lives II


The nightmare started. The horrible reality came so unexpectedly shattering the world we loved, all the familiar things, putting a feeling of emptiness inside you… A feeling of loss, like when some one you love dies or goes away. Nothing is ever the same without them. like that tonight. 

Mamá came into our room. She woke me and asked me to dress quickly. She picked up Jose still in nightclothes and quietly walked out of the room. Mamá was crying silent tears. I know those tears so well. We must hurry, I know. I stand in the middle of my room and look around trying to remember everything. Knowing that I may not touch or feel my dolls, my funny clown with the faded nose, or my ballerina. She is so graceful in her pink and lovely gown… Then I remember to look under my pillow. I must take my medallion with me. Abuela gave i to me. It’s Santa Teresa. She brings me good luck. I like to take my medallion everywhere I go. It makes me feel safe. 

The jeep waits outside. I am cold although it is rather warm. Papa is not here. Where are you papa? I want you close. I know you will not let them hurt us. Mamá sits quietly still holding little Jose close. He does not understand what is happening. We are going to “Abuela’s house,” that’s all. Miguel drives the jeep in silence, occasionally wiping his face. I know Miguel is sad. We have lived in the finca for so long. He will miss us. I will miss him. I am so sad. I think I could stop breathing, but I will not. I cannot. I close my eyes and pretend I am having a dream.

“Tomorrow will be another day,” my Abuela always says. “We cannot keep days from starting. Each day, each sunrise is different. With every sunrise, we know we have made it through one more day. There is that quiet place inside. We must find it when we want to stop breathing… and breathe again.”

We are coming into the town. It is very quiet, it is late. Everything is dark. The lights are shut off early now.There is not enough electricity for the future. We have to safe and be wise and responsible. We must think of the future. It is the most important thing. That is why the lights go off so early. All is dark as we drive by. No one can sit in froth of their T.V.s or listen to the radio, except twice a week. We live in the country. That makes it a little different. 

Miguel stops the jeep in front of “El Cuartel.” he has good cigars with him. He will offer some to the compañeros. They will talk a bit. He will laugh and tell them how the gusanos lost the finca. How right it is. Our family has been greed and taken advantage of all the poor in the town for so long. It is not right.  It is time to be just, and thanks to “El Comandante en jefe,” everyone is the same now. We hear their laughter, we wait in the jeep, Mamá, Jose and I. It is late. I am sleep. I am sad. I know what Miguel is doing. He is “pretending.” His “other” voice is talking now. He must pretend for the compañeros. He must make sure we are safe.  


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