“Hey guys, we have some bad news.”
It was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Released from school with promises of tamales, buñuelos, and delicious turkey awaiting my siblings and I, we couldn’t begin to imagine what would cause Mami to talk to us so seriously. Mami’s tone, cutting through the cacophony of utensils clinking on plates and voices shouting over one another caused a collective intake of breath and in the sudden stillness, Mami continued.
“We just got news from Mexico. Your Papito Juan passed away.”
Our initial concern slowly faded and was freshly overtaken by the resumption of the clinking, slurping, and shouting. I’d only met my Papito once. I knew I was supposed to be sad, but compared to the holiday delights to come this did not feel like bad news that would change my eleven-year-old world.
I feigned my best solemn and tear-filled voice and responded, “That’s so sad, Mami, poor Papi.” Mami continued, “Well, that’s the other bad news—your Papi will have to go to the funeral in Juarez. He is leaving tonight.”
Genuine tears now welled in my little sister’s eyes as she asked timidly, “But if Papi is going, are we going with him?”
“No, mija. He needs to go alone. We are all staying here.”
The full weight of this news hit me—Papi is leaving us. He won’t be home for Thanksgiving. We never spent a single holiday apart, and now he will be gone for our entire holiday. There would be no three-on-one fútbol. There would be no movie night. There would be no jokes, no laughter. There would be no Thanksgiving.
These thoughts and millions more flooded my mind as Mami continued, “We have to be brave for Papi. He is very sad and he must be with your tías and tío. He would not go if this was not an emergency.”
With those words, we swallowed our grief, and finished dinner in silence. Not much later, my tías’ bright green minivan arrived. Papi grabbed his old gray suitcase, said his short good-byes, and just like that, he was gone.
The next morning, we woke early to an empty cold house. With Papi gone, the house felt as if no soul held it together. Traditionally, we went to church on Thanksgiving Day for a special church service. My sister and I wore our matching holiday dresses, while my brother looked like a small version of Papi in his dress sweater and tie. The short drive to church felt ever-so-long as my Papi’s absence showed just how incomplete our little unit was. When we finally arrived, we saw all the smiling faces, all the complete families ready to sit together, worship together, be together.
After the church service, the families slowly meandered to the dining hall. The smell of ready tamales and warm champurrado reminded everyone of the feast that awaited all who were present. I sat next to my sister, secretly hating everyone there with a Papi and wanting nothing more than to go home. The pastor stood up, drawing the attention and silence of the room. “Before we dig in, let us all go around and say what we are thankful for.”
My heart sank.
I was not thankful. I wanted to be at home watching free movie reruns on the television as we waited to eat dinner. I wanted my Papi. I counted down, seeing how many people were away from me until it was my turn. My heart beat faster as the numbers slowly dwindled.
When my turn came, I looked to Mami, who gave me an encouraging glance. I knew what she expected me to do. I tried to swallow the knot in my throat, feeling my anger and sadness overwhelm me.
I hesitated, then taking a breath, I said, “I am thankful for my dad.”
Raquel Mentor is an associate editor and social media manager for Spectrum
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