Sharing a Password to Grief
– Daddy, it was a big tarugo.
I smiled. These days, only my son would use such a word in that context. For him, it conveys puzzlement and wonder. But way back when, within the walls of my parents’ home, it’d serve to simulate an intimacy otherwise all but lost.
I heard it uttered for the first time half a century ago by my little sister, who disappeared and still dodges all efforts to locate her. In the Romance language of our childhood, the word would sound just like turtle, creatures as equally mysterious as that bathroom business may have appeared to her too.
I smiled because the word doesn’t really mean turtle; it only resembles it in the tongue I often he will never learn from me. I also found it funny because, of all the words in that language that he understands but refuses to speak, tarugo is the one that he does.
When she vanished, sore and resentful towards my parents, I was turning into their enforcer. Late night calls would be always followed by an unbearable heartache.
I’d get to their place and she’d be branding a knife against them. They’d be cowered on a corner, two frail and disoriented seniors, threaten by a past failure, now bigger and stronger and always addled by who knows what, besides alcohol.
When she took off, leaving a trail of profoundly dysfunctional kids in her wake, my parents stepped in and cared for them. My sister took with her the conviction that I was one of them and it’s likely that I’d never get a chance to explain myself.
I also smiled because suddenly I was thrown back to our childhood, the two of us harmonizing pop songs on the roof of our house. The games we played to survive those times, though, still haunt me to tears.
Her voice, now a faint, gentle lullaby that soothes me through turbulent nights, was like a safety code; side by side, we were partners in misfit and protectors of each other against our bigger and stronger tormentors.
Gifted with an astounding talent for colors, drawing was her first love. But it got crushed by so many heartbreaks and falls. If she’d pursued it, she’d probably be making a comfortable living as an artist today. Instead, nothing ever worked her way.
Adopted in the wake of my first sister’s freakish death, she became the replacement child who could never muffle my mother’s grief. Inconsolable that her only girl chocked to death, my Mom must’ve thought her new one would help her heal. And for a while, it seemed to work.
Two of her three older brothers never knew she was adopted. She even resembled the family looks. It was never an issue and, to my parents’ credit, she got all the restricted love and indiscriminate rage they could muster upon us.
Soon enough, my illustrious, over-achiever and exceedingly cruel Dad would start deconstructing the love we were entitled to, and the physical punishments he inflicted upon us knew no boundaries. Two of the brothers survived it, but she took a different, twisted path.
Years after I left, she was still their biggest source of shame, and the one probably paying the highest price. We’ve mostly dragged on through life but managed to soldier on; none escaped the wrath’s curse, though, and we still tread a pathfull of pins and needles.
Hers was the proverbial spiral to the bottom and not only through the bottle. I still get bitter emails from one of her daughters, who hates the day she was born. Her first son, who became my legally half-brother, is another petty lawbreaker, with an assortment of dispersed kin who he’s left to fend for themselves.
Fair to say, she’ll never know that tarugo will connect her to my own son, whatever he goes, for I plan to make sure he knows its origins. He’ll probably keep misusing it, adding ‘big’ to it, even though it already means, as far as I remember, big.
But at least I still smile when he repeats it. Which is something that never occurs to me whenever I think about my sister.
(Based on the original published in 2010.)
* Middle Brother