May 19, 2021
Venture into an unfamiliar thrift shop or antiques market and find an object you’ve never seen before. Even better–one whose function you can only guess! Then, tell a story in which that object plays a key role. Perhaps you can explain how it arrived there; perhaps it’s a lost heirloom or the key to unimaginable power. Or perhaps the object itself isn’t as important as how it brings two strangers together–or sunders a seemingly impenetrable bond.
Mamie had given María the cross the day before she was due at the convent. It was a gift that she wasn’t giving lightly. After all, María was the granddaughter who was finally fulfilling Mamie’s dream of devoting her life to Jesus—a dream she had had ever since she was a little girl. At the age of fifteen, Mamie's mother had agreed to let her join the Carthusians at Chartreuse Sainte-Marthe d’Aix, giving her the old metal cross that had belonged to her aunt, a nun herself. Mamie had never been happier, everything was going according to plan. Prayer, catechism, mass, everything. But then, two weeks before finally taking her vows, she’d followed one of the sisters to the market. Something innocent and innocuous that had been her first mistake. Her second mistake had been falling head over heels for a Mexican student who was attending a boarding school in the region, and who so happened to be on grocery duty that day. Her third mistake, and perhaps the biggest one, was to run away with him the night before her ordainment, having known him for not more than fifteen days.
But Mamie had been very happy. She'd gone back to Mexico with Abu where they lived a good life by all standards. Except maybe, of course, by money standards. When Abu’s family, strictly Catholic, learned that Abu had seduced a soon-to-be-nun—their words—they cut him off. All Abu got from his family, and probably out of pity, was a little rancho outside Matamoros, and when the air was clear enough, Texas could be seen not so far away. For Mamie living in austerity was okay. It was supposed to be, after all, one of her lifetime vows. Plus, being poor just seemed like a fair price to pay for having chosen a man of the world over God Himself. In spite of Mamie’s happiness, her seven children had grown up fully aware of the guilt that plagued her. They felt for her, although not enough to want to take on the vows their mom had refused. Lili, the youngest child, had been the one closest to give in, always going with Mamie to mass, the youngest in her group to receive the sacrament of confirmation. But Lili, too, would fall under the spell of a man.
None of Mamie’s seven children, it was worth saying, was ever lucky or even happy in terms of love. Mamie thought at times that the happiness that she had enjoyed had been stolen from her children. Lili had gotten married, and eventually had two daughters. Her husband was un bon-à-rien that one day had decided to cross the border, supposedly to find a better job and send money for Lili and the girls to go meet him. But instead, he ended up getting married and starting a whole new family over there. He had sent money for a couple of months before going off the grid. Badly depressed, Lili moved back in with her parents. Abu’s death only made matters worse, and it became Mamie’s duty to raise her granddaughters. She was a little more direct with them than she had ever been with her own children: she had a debt with the Rey de Reyes, Señor de Señores, and unless one of them decided to pay it off, all they would ever know was pain. Magdalena didn’t really seem to care much, she had always lived life her way, but María was particularly touched by each and every word Mamie uttered. She was two when they had moved back with her grandparents, and barely three when Lili had started slipping, so Mamie was the only motherly figure she’d ever known.
And María was very special for Mamie, too. She was, after all, Abu’s spitting image—out of their kids and grandkids the one that bore a resemblance to him the most, so, to Mamie, Maria was a clear reminder of the worthiness of her sacrifice, of the love that she had decided to live. That only made Mamie’s happiness that much greater when María told her that she wanted to become a nun. She was only ten at the time, and Lili had just died, drunk and alone in her room. In María's mind, it only made sense—she didn’t want to end up like her mother. And seven years later there she was, just hours away from the start of her adventure, ready to leave for la capital to start her journey, sitting in front of Mamie as she handed her the cross. It was only the two of them then, it had been for a while. Magdalena had left a couple of months earlier to reunite with her father in Texas, or at least that was what she had told them, but Mamie didn’t know if she should believe her, especially since she had picked up a heroin habit after Lili’s death. But there was only so much Mamie could do, and one thing was for sure, she couldn’t save them all. Mamie couldn’t, but maybe María could. If she was able to devote her life to the Lord, without fault or failure, she would bring back to her family the peace and order that only He could give them.
“I was about your age when my mother gave me this cross,” Mamie had told her, putting it in her hand. “Believe me when I tell you that you’re starting the best journey you could ever imagine.”
“Have you ever thought about going back to France, Mamie?”
It was a random question that had come to her mind just then. She knew Mamie had left France with Abu never to come back, but María wondered if, much like the light accent that still stained her Spanish words, there was something about Mamie that still remained connected to her country.
“Maybe one day,” she said, without much hope. “I don’t have much left there, if anything. As far as I know, everyone is dead. Maybe I have some nephews or nieces, but I’m not even sure about that.”
“If they ever give me the option, I can choose to go to a monastère over there.”
She had thought about it multiple times—about leaving Mexico. Yet there was no way she could leave without Mamie, and she knew Mamie would never leave the village where she’d been so happy—the village where she’d brought up two generations of cursed individuals.