My mom says my brother and I came to a mutual agreement to call her that. We must have been young because I don’t remember the moment we knew she wasn’t a Grandma, but a Momo.
I mean, I don’t know what we would have called her otherwise. Our Momo could be nothing other than Momo. So Momo she is.
Momo is a round and stern, brown woman with hair that curls perfectly around her face. (Rollers help that happen.) Her brows are two thick lines that rarely wiggle. She wears makeup only for special events, and when she does, she always goes for eyeliner in the waterline. She’s shrunken these past few years—I tower over her now when we hug—but that doesn’t change her demanding presence. Her legs have not one strand of hair on them and are quite literally as smooth as a baby’s bottom.
For every holiday, her birthday, Christmas, Mother’s Day, Easter, you name it, my mom and I put together a gift basket of Bath and Body Works for her to use on those very legs. Without hesitation, she erupts with joy, giving me a side hug in her yellow-lit kitchen, her hand digging into my hip.
Aye, gracias, Rosita! I can bañarse finally.
But despite knowing her, or at least knowing these things about her, I feel like I don’t.
You see, Momo and I have never had a conversation, just the two of us, back and forth.
Momo speaks Spanish and can manage only a little bit of English. I speak English and can manage only a little bit of Spanish. (Sure, Duolingo let me skip a couple of lessons, but I’m still only learning about how to talk about school. Not very helpful in trying to deeply connect with Momo.)
When my family is all together, gathered around the table of mole and rice and beans and tea she so lovingly prepared, I mimic them. When they sit, I sit. When they eat, I eat. When they laugh, I laugh. My mom calls me out as my eyes wander, trying to find a foothold in their conversation.
Do you know what she said?
I obviously don’t. I shake my head.
My mom explains the joke. I laugh. She laughs. We all laugh. I go back to listening. Silent.
I’ve tried to have conversations with Momo. Truly, I have. Eventually, though, she’ll say something I don’t understand.
I so sorry. No entiendo, Momo.
I hope she can see the shame on my face.
Or I’ll talk too fast, excited to share my life with her, and she’ll smile blankly back at me, as if she didn’t hear a single word I said.
I sorry, Rosita. I no understand.
She shrugs. I shrug. I give her a hug tighter than usual and leave scared she’ll pass away before she can tell me all that I’ve missed and all that I will continue to.
I don’t know Momo’s favorite color. I don’t know what her favorite subject in school was. I don’t know how she felt when she was forced to leave school by her mother. When did she leave? Does she wish she could have continued going?
I’m not sure when she got her first period. I don’t know who was her first love. I don’t know if she misses her parents. I don’t know her story of meeting Tata. (We all know Tata’s version.) Did she know he was The One when she saw him? I don’t how she felt when she moved to the US from Mexico to have a family with him, to have a life with him.
I don’t know if she knows I feel this way. I wonder if she does too.
I do know, though, her Dairy Queen order. (A medium Turtle Pecan Cluster.) I know she hates commercials, so she’ll flip back and forth between America’s Got Talent and an NFL football game to avoid them. I know she loves a Subway sandwich. I know she won’t get in the water at the beach or really anywhere else. I know she loves blue nail polish, the color her nails always are.
I know she doesn’t cry easily, but when she does, so do I.
I know she thinks of me late at night because she sends a variety of Bitmojis to tell me so.
I know that even though I don’t know her, if I called her right now and asked for help, she would come.
I know that when tragedy struck my family, despite my mom begging otherwise, Momo stayed with us for months. And she was the only one that did.
Momo is the only one that ever would.