Shortly after her fiancé’s death, my sister Rocio shared a letter with me that he wrote for her birthday — a letter with words that weigh heavy with new meaning: “Do we share love with everyone we encounter? Or only with those we perceive as worthy? … Judging even one soul of being unworthy of love does obstruct the flow of love through us.”
As someone who spent years in and out of prison, this man experienced many, many people (including me) who judged him as being unworthy of love. But, Rocio is the type of person who sees deep into people. She looks into the core of who they are, submerging herself in empathy. Those who know her can connect with her.
Maybe it is because when you look into my sister’s big, round, brown eyes, you see her whole self. She hides nothing.
Addiction runs in our family. Growing up, we joked about the uncle who drank milk with a shot of brandy. We laughed when our grandpa told us his thirst was only quenched with beer. But, as I got older, I realized the severity of their behavior. And I remember, so clearly, the day Rocio sat us down at the kitchen table — our parents, brother and sister — to confess she was fighting a drug addiction.
While Rocio was able to keep her addiction under control for years, it resurfaced, stronger and more vindictive, after our youngest sister, Maritza, died. Maritza was Rocio’s best friend. Their bond was one I was envious of; they could share laughter, joy and sadness at a level only they could understand. Their inside jokes and secret glances made me feel as if they were communicating telepathically. Rocio and Maritza: my little sisters whose names I would almost blend together, because I rarely talked about one without the other.
Rocio struggled to find her connection with Maritza after she passed. The noise and turmoil of grief were deafening to Rocio, and she could not make sense of life without Maritza’s physical presence. Her second and third rounds of drug addiction led to more potent, deadly combinations. And through it all, her fiancé — an anchor of strength and positivity — was with her, encouraging her to get better. He held her body as she shook through the convulsions of withdrawal, and he stayed awake with her as she fluctuated between fever-like chills to night sweats. His words gave her direction, and she came out the other side.
Earlier this year, as the world grappled with a pandemic, Rocio’s fiancé found himself struggling as well. COVID-19 catalyzed a spiraling of events that led to his death — not directly from the virus but because of its wake. His passing was a terrifying event that I feared would collapse Rocio into addiction once again. But, she has only shown resounding determination to reach the goals that she and her fiancé set together.
As the strongest person I know, my sister does not give herself enough credit. There are not many Latina-owned small businesses in the state, but she has one of them: her salon in Greenwood Village, Six Twenty-Six, was named for Maritza’s birthday. Her pool of happy clients rave about her attention to detail, but I think it’s her ability to connect with others that makes her so successful. She remains dedicated to her yoga practice — regularly sweating out stress and anxiety in her favorite hot yoga studio. She bravely began participating in group, guided meditation sessions where she shares her story with complete strangers. And, she pushes on determined to reach her goal of owning a home for herself and her son.
My sister has “RYSE” tattooed on her left hand purposefully misspelled to show her unique spirit. The tattoo serves as a reminder of the many times she has risen out of darkness. Her experiences are gifts that enable her to look compassionately upon others in difficult situations and recognize the innate worthiness of all beings to be loved. In this challenging time, it is important that we see each other for who we truly are — the way Rocio sees people. “Please! Let us all help us all to remember and recognize the truth in us all!” her fiancé wrote two years ago. Those words carry the sentiment of today during our global pandemic.
She texted me the other day mourning the future she was hoping to have with her fiancé. But, she quickly changed her tone and concluded by saying, “The fact that we get to open our eyes every morning and try again is the best experience, because we get to start over. This life is temporary, and, in the end, I hope I learned the most I could.”
Her words are a reminder that every day we exist, we rise.
Photo by Marisol Cruz.
Originally published in the Winter + Spring 2020-21 issue of CO YOGA + Life Magazine.