Ways of Saying «I Love You»

By Fabiola Santiago

Translation: Oralia Torres

By tradition, I should’ve been a midwife, or a farmer, or a doctor or a nurse. To dedicate myself to the body’s or earth’s care. My father has little scars on his hands; they’re from cutting alfalfa with a sickle when he was a child, he says. With those same fingers he stitches wounds, extracts tissue, cauterizes skins. All of this he does with the help of the instruments provided by my mother, a nurse. She, as a kid, saw women leave with a baby on their arms after arriving, sweating, to my grandmother’s house.

Now, I write about them.

Last year I fantasized a lot with leaving Mexico City and live in the family house, away from stress and in touch with the countryside. My wish came true, but not under my terms, but the pandemic’s: uncertainty, isolation, confinement. Returning to the family house not by my own conquest, but in search of refuge. Suddenly leaving behind a decade of the family acquired in the city. Realizing of the little coincidences I had with my blood family nucleus.

In the first minutes of the documentary TOTE_Abuelo (2019), director Maria Sojob tells that, after moving to the city, she acquired their traditions. Among other things, she learned to express love through words. While recalling, she didn’t remember receiving that kind of affection in her community. That’s why she tries to give her children constant affection with her voice. I usually say that, if I’m thinking and analyzing my feelings a lot it’s because, in my home, nobody talks about it. As soon as I met psychoanalysis, I started to resent my parents for the few times they said “I love you”.

In that documentary, María sits with her grandfather to try to learn from him how to knit a hat. She asks questions and observes. She listens.

TOTE_Abuelo. Ambulante.

I never learned how to heal a wound, nor to weed the field, nor to milk a cow. My grandparents passed away before I was interested in sowing or bringing children to this world. But now I see that, maybe, I didn’t learn to listen beyond words either. In this forced return, I’m seeing my parents’ joint effort to make this land flourish again, not by recovering the milpa or the beans, like what director Tania Hernández Velasco in Titixe (2018) did, but by planting fruit trees and flowers. My grandfather was a farmer and left us this piece of land, which my parents are caring for again after almost deciding to sell it. We’re just starting to harvest the first lemons, the first mango, the first guavas. “Have you seen how that walnut is reviving?”.

There are different ways to say, “I love you”. Being a refuge during unrest, making your favorite meal, walking with you, talk to you so you go out to see the full moon, or sowing roses and bougainvilleas outside your window. “Have you seen that you’re surrounded by flowers?”, asks my mom constantly.

Just like in Tío Yim (2019), the documentary made by the Zapotec filmmaker Luna Marán about her father and her bonds with him, I’m trying to understand and rediscover my affective ties with mine.

At the beginning of these months, I felt isolated from my parents’ affection, seeing them share medicine codes and knowledge with my brother, or from nurturing with my pregnant sister. As María Sojob at the end of TOTE_Abuelo, I’m learning that love is also contained away from words. Flowers, cooking, caring for others. Sharing knowledge, even though our listener might not be willing to receive it.

Separating from family tradition is rupture, I thought at the beginning of these months. But relationships and life are more flexible than that, and affection are more than that which is said.

“Have you seen how beautiful the roses are becoming?”.

Text available in Spanish: Formas de decir «Te quiero».

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