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The Pit of Elms

by Jasmin Kateri Rivera

"Siempre ha sido así."

To add insult to injury, she couldn't recognize herself anymore. Pummeled in the mirror is just one face she sees—the one her mother gave her. Since then, she searched for signs of life in the grooves of her iris. She combed deeply into the layers of her skin and the pores of her cheeks; that woman wasn't there. Perhaps she existed on the bridge of her nose or in the sprouting sprigs of hair on her chin. Undoubtedly, she had to be anywhere other than the scowl on her face. Except, she was a complete stranger—forced to overcome the mournful sensation of being trapped by her shattered image.

"Pórtate bien." They murmured.

The matriarch paved the way. Like the women before her, she was allotted an elm and its vines, but side by side, the roots of their trees entwined. The women suffer in silence with a smile on their faces. She would occasionally find herself gasping for air as if desperately trying to keep up with a raging river. In this pit, she remembered, to sustain a blow and dust yourself off at the end is to be brave and proud. Yet, she despised her conditioning to weep in dark corners so as not to threaten the honor of her family's lineage.

“Perdonemos y olvidemos.” They shared smiles.

She sat beneath the elm with her palms planted in the soil. Vines anchored into her chest, she wept: I've lost her. What she would give to be swaying away in the sala on a Saturday morning. Yet, nothing could prepare her for this Saturday's mourning. Imagine being forced to roam around in the shell of a woman you discarded. The same woman she praised to the skies before sending her to her death. She couldn't help it… she knew weeping in the open was frowned upon, but her scars and grief sang louder than her loyalty.

"¿El silencio no es un regalo para tu familia?” They shamed.

Spew the truth to find relief. An act of honesty did not relieve the weight of guilt. While the burden of secrecy had become an albatross. And swallowing truth—all the truths from her family's pasts—the realities of Abuela, Mami, and hers—is like taking in a handful of broken glass. And so, she loudly loosened herself from their webbing of roots.

Their eyes opened wide.

Along the way, she was met with inquisitive gazes. "It happened to abuela. It happened to mami. It's happening to me." Her truths cut the bondage of loyalty. "It frightens me to think I could plant a seed that could one day do to others what they've done to us." She ripped the vines and wandered into strength, echoing all she had witnessed and endured. "Why deny oneself a voice? Leave these elms. Renew yourself. There is no true comfort here." Many resisted, for they found comfort in the familiar and feared an unknown path. With her words, she worked her way out of the pit of elms, and sorrowfully some of her loved ones remained.


She visits abuela and runs her fingers over the wrinkles on her face. Upon closer look, she noticed they shared the same eyes just as much as they shared the same story. From the bridges of their nose to the sprouting sprigs of hair on their chins. From the layers of her skin to the pores of her cheeks, she is her reflection, a version of her that abuela once wished to be. This pit will always hold a piece of her.

Despite her tired eyes, abuela smiles, “Finalmente, la logramos.”


Jasmin Kateri Rivera is a New York native, mother of four, and genealogist. She is an undergraduate student at Harvard University Extension School 23' and is completing a Genealogical Research program at Boston University. Jasmin aspires to expand on her literary career and pursue a master's degree in library science. Jasmin's piece "Wise Women" was published in Rigorous Magazine.

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