I was young when it happened—a mere eight-years-old. Daddy had gone out one day for work . . . and hadn't come back. The funeral was impossible to bear. Mama was crying hysterically, and the grey-streaked sky pounded down fat, round tears. That night though, Mama took me outside after dinner. The sky was calm then, and a warm breeze tickled my fingers and lazily tossed my hair around. Juniper bushes swung to the breeze's song, and the flat New Mexico land stretched out around us.
"Katie, look up," Mama said as she pulled me up onto her lap. My eyes traced over the endless black sky, weaving in and out of the rooftops. "Do you see the estrellas, the stars?"
Even though we are not Hispanic, growing up around Spanish-speaking people had rounded out my knowledge of the language, and Mama's rich voice made the already beautiful words seem delicate and smooth, like chocolate.
I nodded, staring into the tiny stars piercing the inky night sky.
"See that one?" Mama pointed at an especially bright one, directly above me. "That's Daddy, looking down at us."
I pressed my hands over my heart as silent tears began to roll down my cheeks.
"I love you," I whispered to him.
And underneath my hands, deep down in my heart, I felt his voice. I love you too, my little gleaming star.
I hear a truck rumble into our gravel driveway, and I push back my chair. Papers are in a tangled mess on the deck table, and I pull my eyes away from them.
"Katie!" My mom rushes to me after she locks the doors to her truck.
"Mama!" I hug her.
"How is everything going? Bueno?"
"Yes," I say. "Hectic, though. It's crazy."
Mama laughs. "Been there, sweetheart, been there. I still can't believe my hija is getting married!!" She wraps me in another hug, and she begins to cry." Your father would have been so proud." She stands back and looks at me, a sad smile on her face. I force back tears. She had ripped apart the stitches to my time-worn wound.
"So? Where is he?"
As if on cue, Ben comes up behind me and gives me a hug. "Hi, honey. Ready for the wedding?"
I give him a fake glare. "Far from it."
He smiles and we all go inside. Mama places the dinner she brought for us on the table. I get up to help Ben with the table settings, but he places a gentle hand on my shoulder. "Don't worry. You've worked really hard today."
"So have you!" I protest.
He laughs. "Figuring out the seating chart is not hard."
"Yes it is! If you put my Aunt Jennie in the sun, we won't be able to hear the priest over her snoring!"
He laughs again. "You just rest, okay?"
I concede and watch their intricate dance, dodging each other as they glide around the kitchen and swirl around counters.
The dinner of chicken, rice, and broccoli is eaten quickly, and before I realize it, Mama is whisking away plates. As Ben is washing the dishes, Mama collects her purse.
"You don't have to go just yet," I try.
Mama smiles. "I wish I could stay, sweetheart. But I—"
"But Mama, the stars are lovely tonight. Just come and sit on the deck for a few minutes, please."
Mama sighs, but I can tell she is just putting on a show. She walks into the kitchen, wordlessly fills two large glasses with raspberry iced tea, and strolls out to the deck. I sit next to her on our old, rickety swing, which creaks ever so slightly when we move. It is metal, but painted white, and has little green vines encircling its arms. I lean into the old green cushion and relax a little.
"Okay, Katie, what do you want to talk about?"
My mama knows me so well. She knew I didn't just want to sit. She knew I had something on my mind.
I brush my hair out of my face and sip my raspberry iced tea. The moon is low tonight, and the night sky is covered in stars. The slight wind whistles as it dances in and out of the wooden slats on the deck floor, and a few tumbleweeds rustle across the wide-open land.
I want to beat around the bush. I don't want to tear open my wound anymore, but I know I have to say it. So I just start talking.
"I know I should have figured this out already, given how close the wedding is. But . . . who's going to walk me down the aisle?"
Mama sits in silence for a few minutes. She places her hand on mine and stares up at the sky.
"Katie," she finally says, gazing up at the sky. "See that star?"
I nod, looking up at the bright star she is pointing at, winking amidst the sky. "Daddy," I whisper. Mama looks at me, fresh tears blossoming in her eyes. "That's right, Katie. That estrella is your father. He's probably listening right now. Can you hear what he's saying?"
"No," I murmur, "but I can feel it." I could. Hey, bonita. I'll be at your wedding, okay? I'll walk you down the aisle if you want, but maybe you should let your Mama do it. I'll still be there, though. It's okay to let go, and know that even when you do, I will always be there. Letting go doesn't have to mean forgetting. I love you, my little gleaming star.
"I love you, too, Daddy," I whisper.
Then I turn to Mom. "He wants you to do it."
A smile spreads across her face. "And do you want that, mi hija?"
Tears flow down my cheeks as I nod a yes.
She hugs me tightly, and as she does, I can feel my wound healing. Eventually, Mama stands up and heads inside. I stay out a little longer, watching the trees sway and the stars twinkle. I can still feel the echo of Daddy's voice: Letting go doesn't have to mean forgetting. And then, I feel my heart coming out of its cage and being free. I feel happy.
I love you, my little gleaming star.