Angi received the call early, at 5 am, unexpected as most early morning calls are. “Is this…Miss Angi? Mrs. Angela Grant?”
At first, panic set in and her first thought was Something’s wrong with the kids. “You were at Tompkins Memorial hospital about 30 years ago?”
The panic subsided to intense curiosity. “Who is this?” she said, clearing her throat.
“I’m sorry to bother you so early but we found your phone number with auntie’s things. Do you remember Rosa Santos?”
Rosa? Angi filed through her brain trying to find the name and fight the early morning brain fog. Slowly, a face materialized…Mama Rosa, the senior RN at Tompkins. “Yes. Yes, I do remember her. How is she?”
“She’s…she’s not long for this world, ma’am.” The deep voice on the line was heavy with sorrow. “She’s in hospice. We’re preparing her Homegoing. She’s spoken of you fondly. I figured you should know.”
“Yes, thank you for calling, Mr….?”
“Please, call me Angi. Thank you, Marcos.”
Angi hadn’t thought of Mama Rosa in decades and immediately felt shame. The time at Tompkins was the most difficult and lowest time in Angi’s life. To be so close to death with so much life left. The severe allergic reaction to chemo caught everyone by surprise. The cancer tried to kill her. The treatment almost did.
Angi sat up in bed. Suddenly the memories of the scariest time her life came flooding back. Darius, her husband of barely a year, was a tremendous support. So strong in his belief that she’d make it when she was ready to give up. But Mama Rosa, she was the one to finally break through to Angi.
Angi was sure there were tubes for every vein she had. She was in her usual stupor, partly because of the drugs, mostly because of her grief. She and Darius were still newlyweds. She could see him in his usual spot, a chair next to her bed, dozing. Angi hadn’t spoken in days. Darius dealt with her withdrawal by sleeping.
Mama Rosa came in to check her vitals and administer meds. “Buenas noches, mija. Let’s see how strong we are today.” Rosa’s copper-toned hands made quick work of checking Angi’s pulse, blood pressure, oxygen levels…all the signs of life. “Okay, mija. Pulse is thin and your blood pressure is very low, pero we knew that didn’t we. What can we do to get you on to better health and healing, hmm?” Tears spilled from Angi’s eyes. Nothing! she thought. The pain, the tubes, the cancer, the constant nausea, the thought of never having children, and all of the other complications had her questioning if any of this was worth it. What kind of life could she have after this?
“Ay Dios,” Mama Rosa said softly. She ran her hand over Andi’s course, dry hair. “Tu pelo…What is a queen without her crown?” She left the room as if fueled by a mission and returned a short time later with dry shampoo, a brush, a wide toothed comb, and a jar of Blue Magic (the green kind with bergamot). “You know, moving to Chicago from the Dominican Republic wasn’t easy for mi familia.” While Rosa was speaking, she arranged her tools and adjusted Angi to a more upright position. “Me and mis hermanas were very homesick and wondered how we’d fit in. I remember sitting on the porch of our new casa, y mi madre came down and sat behind me with these very items. She started to comb my hair, parting it in sections. She’d take some of this,” gesturing to the jar of hair grease, “…solo un poquito, just a little, y rub it onto my scalp in the sections she made. She had a voice that purred like a blues singer. She said to me, ‘Rosita, mi corazon, I know this move was hard for you. But you got two choices. You can sit here all desanimada, or you can create a life out there and meet people. You got to decide if you gonna be content watchin’ the light of other people’s flames, or if you gonna dance in the brightness of your own fire.’ “
“Claro, I knew what I was supposed to do,” Mama Rosa said as she dry shampooed Angi’s hair. “Pero tenia mucho miedo. I was very afraid. As mi madre combed, greased, and brushed my hair, I realized that I would never be happy watching someone else’s light, so I’d better start makin’ my own fire. Mi propio fuego.”
Angi swore she could feel Mama Rosa scratching her scalp clean of dandruff and dried skin, applying the light, cool grease, and awakening her whole scalp even now. After getting dressed, she gave Marcos a quick call back and headed to her attic. She found the travel luggage she and Darius bought as a wedding gift to themselves. She lugged the 3-piece hard-sided cases down the winding attic stairs. She doubt she’d need all 3 pieces for the trip ahead but you can never be too sure.
She hastily packed her clothes and double checked the flight she purchased. She still had plenty of time to schedule a ride share and get through security. As Angi made arrangements, she silently prayed that Mama Rosa would be able to recognize her. At the very least, Angi thought, at least know who is restoring your crown. Angi packed the dry shampoo, a brush, a wide tooth comb, and some Blue Magic (the green kind with bergamot) and set out to remind Mama Rosa of her fuego hermoso, her beautiful fire, so she can rest knowing she danced so beautifully in its light.