It isn’t my favorite book of all time, although it’s damn close. But it’s my comfort book. When I need somewhere safe to go, I bury myself in between the pages and go to Port Coral. I put myself into Rosa’s story as far as I possibly can and try to forget my worries for a while.
“I was still trying to work that one out. I was a collection of hyphens and bilingual words. Always caught in between. Two schools, two languages, two countries. Never quite right or enough for either. My dreams were funded by a loan made long before me, and I paid it back in guilt and success. I paid it back by tending a garden whose roots I could not reach.”
Maybe it’s because Rosa somehow understands how much I’ve never felt like enough. Not Mexican enough. Not Black enough. But even past that. Not skinny enough or smart enough. Not quick enough or hard working enough. There’s always something more I can reach for, something more that I have to do. And at the same time, I’ve spent so much of my life trying to be less. Less loud. Less frazzled. The panic attacks are “too much” for others. My anxiety, my depression, my ADHD, my trauma is “too much”. I’ve always been in this weird crossroad of too much and not enough, somehow never canceling out to make me balanced – to make me just right. I’m a walking contradiction. And even though she’s never described as too much (although she has a habit of taking too much on), Rosa seems to get me that way.
“He shrugged, an attempt at lightness, but his eyes gave him away. This was important to him. I was important to him.”
Maybe it’s because of Alex. Because I find myself swooning over this boy I only know through words on a page. Because when I’m reading, I can pretend for a moment that there’s someone who finds me to be just right. That I’m important to someone that way. That there’s someone out there who would start listening to music to know me better, who would listen to the stories I tell him and remember them, who would want to bake me my favorite cake, but most of all, who would be there for me. Someone who knows me, who sees me, and who still wants me and will still be there for me. And someone who I’d want to know. Someone who I’d want to see the way they see me.
“I should’ve used my pain better. You and your mother deserved that.”
Maybe it’s because of Mimi, the grandmother who raised her granddaughter the way my own grandma helped raise me. The way her relationship with Rosa feels so much like my own, and the way her relationship with Liliana hits a bit too close to home.
“I was home, and talking about Cuba had no place here. Mimi was never returning, my mother was always leaving, and I was a flightless bird left at her harbor, searching for answers that were buried at the bottom of a sea I could not know.”
And of course, maybe it is Liliana. The mother who loves her daughter but comes in and out. My own mother was always here, but it often felt like she wasn’t always. Her being home could be tense, and I walked on eggshells because I felt stuck in the middle like Rosa.
I know I’m not Rosa. I know I’m not in Port Coral. But in the moments where I get overwhelmed, when my head starts to hurt from everything going on around me, it’s nice to have a story that feels close enough to home to be me, but far enough to take me somewhere else. It’s nice to see someone who understands my anxiety and reacts eerily similar to the way I do around crushes (seriously, it’s embarrassing. You should see my annotations.). Someone who understands feelings I’ve struggled with all my life. But I can focus on her troubles for a while instead of mine. And it isn’t a permanent fix. It isn’t a cure. But sometimes, it’s enough.