By: Fernando Vargas Hernández
“We didn’t say a word to each other. Not like she could. She was bound to a machine, but her eyes told me everything I needed to know. It didn’t hurt anymore, and we were going to be okay. No goodbyes. Just a silent ‘see you soon, kid’.”
Nelson Nazario Toro is currently a graduate student at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez Campus. His fascination with fairy tales and children’s literature has influenced most of his academic decisions, including his thesis subject. Nelson is 6 feet tall; and dark skin with black wavy hair and a facial complexity that’s often mistaken for Indian or Arab. He prefers to wear buttoned up shirts over T-shirts and only rarely wears shorts due to traumatizing stories from his childhood.
But Nelson himself would tell you his favorite story to tell is his sister’s.
Nelson’s sister passed away on September 15, 2005 around 10:00 pm, explained his mother Ivelisse Toro Padín. “The news came in a phone call that reverberated throughout the entire house before finally reaching my fifteen year old Nelson,” who was already in bed thinking about an English test he was supposed to take the following morning at Liceo Aguadillano.
That night in his grandfather’s house, his grandmother walked into the room speechless, but the screaming and crying coming from the living room were all Nelson needed to hear to know what had happened.
“The hours that followed were a blur. There was a lot of noise and very little made sense. I kept looking at everyone around me: my sister, my grandparents and my aunt. Everyone seem so distraught, and I kept wondering if it was okay that I still hadn’t cried in front of anyone, or spoken at all.” Explained Nelson with a sad voice.
The tears came, eventually. It was the last day of funeral services at Bayamón on September 30, 2005 and Nelson was out in the lobby staring at a picture of his sister in her prom dress. The memory of her making a joke about her boobs popping out at any minute came to him, overwhelming him.
The following years of high school were filled with uncertainty and sorrow. As much as he tried, Nelson couldn’t connect with the boy he was prior to his sister’s passing. Though her fight with cancer taught him so much about perseverance, there was a part of him that hadn’t yet recognized the impact his sister had on him.
It wasn’t until he got to college in 2008 at UPR in Río Piedras that Nelson began to consider the hero his sister was to him and his family. He decided to stop the grieving process and celebrate his sister’s life by honoring her and using her strength and wisdom as motivation to accomplish his personal goals. It was his sister who taught him about poetry, “She inspired me to write and study literature” recalled.
“She was always reading and writing. She carried around a notebook with her everywhere she went. In it she wrote poems and lyrics to songs she liked for one reason or another. At thirteen and fourteen I didn’t get why she did that, but now I do.”
The years before his sister’s death, he was a very lively child. He read lots of books, and ran around the house pretending ogres and wolves were chasing after him. He played bowling three days a week, and had even represented Puerto Rico in international tournaments in Aruba, Mexico and Costa Rica.
These are all the parts he misses about himself. There are times when he wishes he could go back to being that child, but realizes it wouldn’t be the same now. There are many dreams he believed had to change for him to get to where he is now. Without loss he wouldn’t have gained access to the parts of him that have become so important to him and those who love him.
“There are times when I find myself missing the kid I was, and missing just hanging out in the backyard with my sister, playing hide and seek. But then I think of everything I’ve learned, and suddenly everything I lost doesn’t seem to be so far from me.” Remembered he stopped doing so much of what he loved out of anger, sadness and confusion, but all those things are still a part of him. They are part of a different him.
Nelson plans to complete his master’s degree in English Education in the UPRM, and then a doctorate’s degree in literature. He is not sure where exactly he is going to get his Ph.D., or how soon after finishing his master’s, but he has a clear vision of who he wants to be, and he has no plans on stopping before realizing every single life goal. His dream is to have his stories published.
Though the journey is still ongoing, Nelson has high hopes for the road ahead. It took him a while to come to terms with his sister’s death, and he still struggles with the remaining fragments of an interrupted childhood. However, he needs the lesson he learned from his sister; to be fearless.
His life’s work, he explained, is to live up to her standards, and when he remembers how easy it was for her to put on a smile even when he knew the pain of her cancer treatments was unbearable, when he remembers the language of her eyes, he stops being so afraid.
“She was the strongest person I’ve ever met, and her spirit follows me everywhere I go, reminding me to never give up the fight,” he says.
- Nelson Nazario Toro
- Ivelisse Toro Padín, Nelson’s mother.