Jhon Valdes Klinger

Did You Kill Him Abuela?


Jhon Valdes Klinger is a Colombian-born, New York City-raised bilingual writer and educator. He earned a Master of Fine Arts from The New School's Creative Writing Program. His work has been published in the 12 Street Journal, Ipstori App, and Monsters of the Bronx. As an UrbanWordNYC teaching-artist, he collaborated with student poets across New York City to infuse high schools with critical literacy. He relocated to Berkeley, California, where he teaches secondary English Language Arts.

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Contrary to popular gossip, Abuela didn’t kill her second husband. I just guessed he disappeared after Abuela did something. But she wasn’t in the habit of talking about the past. She kept it to current affairs–– enough was happening in Colombia, which was on the verge of a civil war. Any conversation could quickly default to the death counts, the guerrilla, daily disappearances, or the newspaper advertising $200,000 pesos in exchange for the death of any law enforcer.

Abuela built a mural of torture on our wall, which was visible to everyone from our window. A belt that she picked up high in the mountains, made especially for when we got out of hand, hung from a nail on the walls next to her machete. Even the wall cracked out of fear of her torture devices. My neighbors respected the blades like they respected my Abuela.

Even if the machete was her weapon of choice, she barely used it; it was the gun, a retirement gift from her days as a police officer, that was really her favorite. I saw her through the window many nights checking the gun to make sure it was untouched; occasionally she would look around to make sure she was by herself and then spin the barrel. “Oomph,” she murmured, like a junky after a hit.

Grandpa was not the only man in Abuela’s life who ran away, but he was the only one to ever come back. They said that if you were patient, you could eventually learn the flying patterns of a crow like Grandpa, his steady, monotonous wing movements, the variety of half turns, his partial slips, and falls.

We never knew why he made it back home. Was it loyalty or boredom, dependency, selfishness or pure hunger? But if there was one thing my Abuela never had, it was patience. She ignored him with the utmost courteousness, which made him act more gallantly towards her: the whole exchange was fake. Abuela didn't care much for the attention of anyone, especially men, and I never knew if it was out of spitefulness or heartbreak.

After my Grandpa, Abuela had another husband, el marido , Jarvi, the one we don’t talk about. Abuela wasn’t an open book but the day before I left Colombia for the states, not knowing if she was ever going to see me again, her tongue loosened. She shared stories about things I’d seen my entire life, as if the revelation would imprint a tattoo of Colombia somewhere in the back of my skull. I sat by her feet in the kitchen. She took two long sighs, as if she was about to jump off a building. She said, “Ay mijo, he was one of those men I never knew too much about, and the mystery was exciting. You learn about them, they pretend to care about you, then the days turn into weeks, the mystery to secrets, the excitement to annoyance, and next thing you know you’re married and angry.”

I looked at her face and realized that maybe Abuela was younger than a grandmother should be, she was better preserved than my Mom for sure. Although she qualified for early retirement, her gun was more of a merit-based-get-the-fuck-outta-here gift. A gift for all the years of fighting for paper clips and always making the coffee at the police station, or for forging relationships with the mothers and wives of any man that ever touched her when she didn’t want to be touched.

I asked her questions about the second husband. “How old were you when you married him?” 

“Old enough to have a mistake right in front of me and still do it,” she replied.

“Did you love him?”

“I did, at first I did, but I am not going to lie, sometimes I was still so angry with my past that I just screamed at Jarvi for it.”

“Jarvi was his name?” I asked.

She let her hair out into a full afro. Abuela had the longest afro in town, but it was only for the family to view, she never let her hair out in public. It was always in one of those tight buns that made her eyes stretch across her face and scared her wrinkles away. But people knew about her afro, they called her La Leona in town, because of her anger, but it really was because her afro looked legit like a lion’s mane.

“I like when you let your hair out,” I said.

“Jarvi. Jarvi was his name,” Grandma said.

“Was? did you kill him, Grandma?” She smacked the back of my shoulder and said, “Como se te ocurre?” as she mock-gasped. We laughed. “I honestly don’t know if he’s alive or dead.”

“So he left,” I asked.

“We were sort of fine at first; I was never sure. Jarvi worked and I was either dealing with my fat pregnant body, breastfeeding, or getting pregnant again with Ximena and then Xenosa.”

I passed her the rubber bands for her hair.

“It was exhausting. Then I took care of the girls but your Mom helped,” Grandma said as she made little tight bundles with hair strands.

“How old was Mom?” I asked.

“Luciana was 15, and she liked to clean more than she liked to read, so she helped me take care of the home,” Abuela said.  “Jarvi was never in the way and he kept that refrigerator stocked to the brim. Nothing was missing. He said that was what men were good for, and I couldn't say anything was wrong about that,” Abuela said as she coordinated hair bands so that they would make a red cross across her head.

“There was nothing missing, but that girl hardly knew him, and neither did I.”

“Did he sleep in the house?” I asked.

“He did, but the same way that a ghost sleeps at the place they're haunting. Sometimes he slept in the house, on the sofa or chair, or curled on the far side of the bed. Sometimes he would be touchy-feely but with an underlying lack of interest, a mutual underlying lack of interest.”

The process of tying her hair was aggressive. How she tightened her hair up like there was a secret that she didn’t want to let out.

“When the girls were about four years old I told him, listen, Jarvi, the girls need to prepare to go to school. He laughed, and said, ‘What? The girls? For what? They don’t need to go to school to learn to clean, mop and flirt.’ I couldn’t get with that. We fought for months. I never hit him, Jorge, for the sake of God I held back.”

Her head looked like a march of little fists walking towards her forehead.

“You sure you didn’t hit him?”

“One day I went out there to look for a job, it was hard, but I knew what I knew, and I knew its value.”

“To fight?” I said.

“No, this was before my police days. I knew how to clean, mop, and flirt, but that wasn’t enough. What I knew, from years of reading novellas, was how to serve the rich. I knew the plate settings, silverware and table settings, and all those girls that just cleaned, mopped, and flirted just couldn’t cut it,” she said.

Abuela took a minute to fight with the one hair that wouldn’t bundle up but she kept telling me her story.

“I got myself a job serving those diplomats, like the ones in the movies. I was never home. Your mom became a second mom to the girls. I started to make money, more money than Jarvi. I bought my girls notebooks, spiral notebooks, no one had those then. I took them to the best school in Cali. I paid for it myself, and eventually, your Mom got a job,” Abuela said.

She undid the strand of hair and then did them again until she was sure that it would stay buddle overnight. 

“Jarvi lost his job and stayed home to verbally abuse my girls. Every time I combed their hair they had developed a new complex: They wanted me to pinch their noses so they won’t look so ‘featured’, like Daddy said, they wanted their hair straightened, their lips cut thin and to rub lemons on their elbows to lighten the skin,” she said angrily. “Apparently, they were too shy all of a sudden, but enough was enough. By then I was making extra money, and I kept my savings at the bank and under the bed. I taught Luciana everything I knew, and we were both making money. The girls were getting smarter and smarter, and the smarter they got, the less they wanted to be around their dad. His bitterness was eating at him, and he was getting fatter and uglier by the minute. I didn’t have any ill will for him, but I wanted him gone.”

I knew she was not to be fucked with, but this story was beyond beyondness. I asked, “Can I braid the back of your hair?”

“He was fed, looked-after and entitled. He would have never left until I smacked his fat belly with divorce papers.”

She completely ignored my braiding request which is good because I didn’t know how to braid and it would result in my Abuela stabbing my hands with a hair pick.

 “Then he tried to fight me; he even raised his… his tone of voice, and I laughed every time because even with his fat belly he was frail for a man; actually, frail for a human being. Then the fights escalated, and I had already bought myself a new house. I slowly, without telling anyone, moved the furniture, until there was nothing in the house except for the chair he sat on.”

I started to tie my hair with the remainder of the rubber bands but my hair wasn’t long enough to pull together? .

“And a year later he came looking for us. He knelt on the floor and asked the girls for a kiss. I whispered in their ears that there was ice cream in it if they hugged him. I asked him what he wanted, and he gave me the divorce papers signed. We talked for a while. He looked like crap but told me stories about how good he was.  A week later he came back, for X&X he said but he paid me more attention than the girls, and I was simply too tired to care or to pretend to care, so he offered to make me a hot chocolate. And I saw him. Jorge—he took a little bottle out of his pocket which he then emptied into my drink."

  I gasped.

"Then we exchanged glances, touches, cups.”

“Did he drink it?”

"No, I dropped the hot chocolate on his knees, and when he stood up, and I grabbed the machete from the wall–– that would've been the only time I used the machete. I thought about the gun but it would have made too much noise. As I raised the machete the table started to shake and his chair was pushed back just as I was about to split him in half. I dropped the machete as he started to float in midair, just inches away from the ceiling. I tried to help him down, but the force stood strong. He got stuck on the ledge of the door. I pulled him down from his t-shirt, and he just floated right out. And we never saw that man again.”

“So you killed him?” I asked.

“Que No!” She smiled, and then asked if I wanted a hot chocolate. 


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