During the first wave of the pandemic in March 2020, my mother contracted COVID-19. Her health deteriorated rapidly. To keep our family safe, she moved out of the South Bronx apartment we shared with my aunt and uncle. I wasn’t allowed to see her. I was told that she was losing consciousness daily and was unable to breathe properly. While she was away, I was drained, mentally and physically. I sat alone in my room for hours on end, unable to focus on school. Three months later, my mom was finally able to move back to our home. COVID-19 made me realize I wanted to improve our relationship. I wanted to be able to communicate more openly and find comfort in each other's presence.
After she moved back home, I found myself talking to her more than I had since I was a kid. The empty space between us was replaced with conversation and a new familiarity of each other's lives. I wanted to understand her better.
Dayana Rodriguez is fiercely honest. She's incredibly strong willed. If something isn't up to her standards, she’ll tell you. You’ll know if there isn't enough salt--or if there's too much. My mother doesn't give in easily to the demands of others. She never shies away from telling people her opinions. She pays little attention to what others think of her.
She lives within her own barricaded world that others would be lucky to get a glimpse into. But once you are invited in you’ll find my mom grinning, drink in one hand and the other arm wrapped around the person closest to her, cracking jokes until she coaxes a smile out of them.
Our relationship is complex. We are polar opposites: she is emotionally tough and confident, while I’m hesitant and delicate. My mother is my family's backbone; she is the emotional support for my great-grandmother, my grandfather, my aunt, my uncle, and me. Whether she's convincing my grandfather to go to the doctor or comforting my aunt when she had complications from cancer treatments years prior, she always retains a calm state of mind.
That strength comes at a cost--when you have to constantly keep your composure, you are forced to abandon vital parts of yourself that allow you to be vulnerable. She doesn’t crack under pressure because she can’t.
In the month of March 2021, my family and I left for Ecuador to give our final goodbyes to my great-grandmother. During our trip, there were moments where I saw my mother release herself from her responsibilities; letting go of being strong for her grandmother, for her mother, for me. The first time our family prayed the rosary, she grieved the potential death of her grandmother. She sat in silence, with tears rolling down her face holding her grandmother's hand. I've never seen my mom so emotionally vulnerable. She’s never openly expressed the pain she went through.
With time and patience, I slowly began to understand why my mother has trouble being vulnerable. I was able to empathize with her and try to connect with her past all the walls she’s built through her life out of necessity.
My mother and I are perpendicular lines- we find each other for a brief moment of understanding, then follow our own paths again. The moment of intersection is sometimes filled with resentment and tears, but ends in comfort and acceptance. I’ve embraced the possibility of our relationship standing still for a while. The distance between us may always be there, but it doesn’t stop me from loving her. It works for us. Our relationship makes sense to us. Only us. And I think I'm ok with that.