Finding Selva y Normando

Abigail - New York, New York
Entered on October 23, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50

My family moved back to the states when I was five. I turned around, twenty-five years later, to unravel the memories of my early childhood. I remembered my nanny, Selva, and her husband, Normando, our caretaker, with such clarity – the lines on their faces and the sounds of their voices. I remembered Normando tucking alfajores, soft cookies filled with dulce de leche, into my jacket pocket while my mother wasn’t looking. I remember Selva saving me from drowning by pulling me out of the pool by my hair. I remembered climbing on their bed as they slept and prying open the lids of their eyes. I had so many memories of these people, which meant I must have really loved them, and they must have really loved me. I could no longer speak Spanish, so I was on a mission to find these two people, to re-learn my first language, and to find our old, stone country house in Cordoba where we had goats, well water, and a black stone bathtub. So, I found a travel partner and landed in Argentina with a tear in my eye.

After a couple of months of Spanish tutoring, I finally had the courage to phone Selva. She was ecstatic and invited me to come over for dinner the next day. She and Normando were still living in the same house my father bought them for ten thousand dollars before he left Argentina. Their entire extended family gathered together to greet me. Selva opened the door, and I fell into her loving arms once again. I recognized those smile lines in her face and her bright black eyes, and I heard her comforting voice again. Normando, very frail, holding his cane, kept repeating my name over and over, tears running down his cheeks. He stayed right by my side as I met the family, sat right next to me as Selva passed me her home-made empenadas, and told me stories in my ear all night long about my siblings, parents, aunts and uncles. He told me that on his first day as my father’s driver, my father shook his hand and told him they were friends. He told me about the time my mother was looking for the keys to her car, and they turned up in my sister’s diapers. I learned about the violent state of affairs in Argentina in the 1970’s and why my family had to flee so suddenly. They told me about the highly emotional departure at the airport. I think this trauma of separation from those I held closest to my heart was why I was so quiet as a child and why I have an ache in my heart as an adult. I did not find the stone house, but I discovered my hidden truth. Once we reveal our scars, all we have to do is acknowledge that they are there.