Mireya Vela

Dead Pomegranates


Mireya S. Vela is a Mexican-American creative non-fiction writer, storyteller, and artist in Los Angeles. In her work, Ms. Vela addresses the needs of immigrant Mexican families and the disparities they face every day. She tackles issues of inequity and how ingrained societal systems support the injustice that contributes to continuing poverty and abuse. Ms. Vela received her Master of Fine Arts from Antioch University in 2018. She is the author of Vestiges of Courage, available through Amazon. Ms. Vela is also a visual artist. 

Twitter: @mireyasvela 

Instagram: mireyasvela 

Visual Art website: mireyasvela.com

I’m 25 and sitting atop the exam table in a paper gown when the gynecologist knocks at the door of my exam room. My doctor in his late fifties or early sixties. He’s a Latino with old school manners and a thick accent.

“I looked at your results,” he says, “¡Cuchillo!”

The word doesn’t make me flinch. In part it’s because the idea of a Latino wanting to cut a woman open doesn’t faze me. But I’ve also talked myself into believing I have cancer. When he cuts me open, it might relieve all my pain.


I believe that all childhood and domestic violence abuse is past me. My son is 4 years old. I’m just finishing college with my bachelor’s degree and as my body begins to unclench from the stress, I’m frighteningly aware that everything hurts.

But educated women don’t get beaten, right?

We are aware of our own worth, I tell myself.

As my muscles loosen, pain blooms. It’s as if during abuse, my dense skin wouldn’t absorb water. Perhaps my hide was too thick. But now, bright flowers bloom throughout my frame like beautiful bursts of pain as my body comes to life again.

“When?” I ask.

“You can schedule it with the nurse,” he says.

He extends a hand to help me off the examination table. On his way out, he pauses at the door.

“I might want to remove your appendix while I’m in there,” he says.

He explains that this has something to do with inflammation and how my ovaries might have affected surrounding organs. But it doesn’t matter.

“Okay,” I say.

Whatever. He can take whatever the fuck he wants.


On the way home, I’m seething in rage. I turn the grunge music on loud—that way, I can sing as hard as I can and cry at the same time. Sobs tear out of me between lyrics. I think about how the abuse has caught up with me. It always felt like it was chasing me. So of course, it’s caught me.

I think of all the men with their hungry fingers. What lasted a few minutes for them will last me a lifetime. If this is cancer, what lasted a few minutes for them will have cost me my life.

I’m pretty certain that whatever is happening to me, it is concentrated rage. Rage that’s come to life as a mass.


When I enter my Mom’s house, I look around tentatively. But Mom sees me and wants to know what’s happening.

“I’m having surgery,” I say.

“What? No.”

I don’t want to talk to her. I want more time to reflect and feel anger about my life. With her there, it’s no longer about me. It’s about her now.

“You need to pray. We need to pray.”

“I don’t pray,” I say.

“Well, maybe you should be praying. You have moved away from god and heading towards a wrong path. You should ask god for guidance and forgiveness,” she says.

When I don’t respond, she says, “You think you know all the answers.”

“I don’t pray. You pray as long as you want. I do know the answers. I need surgery.”

“Maybe we can go to Mexico. There’s this woman that helped your cousin….”

She waits for my reaction. When I stay quiet, she says, “Why are you shutting me out?”

I don’t tell her why.

“I’ve made my decision,” I say.

I leave the room. This isn’t about my body, anymore. Now, it’s about my morality. Suddenly, it’s about how to manage Mom and her comfort level while I rage. It’s too much to ask.


When I was a child, my grandmother in Mexico, Mamá Lupe, used to wait for me to come home during the end of the year. In December, pomegranate trees shed their leaves and fruit. In November, she gathered the remaining pomegranates and put them in a brown bag. She saved me two or three. If I came to visit, the bag was waiting for me. If I didn’t come, the pomegranates rotted and were thrown away.

That fruit was a pact of love between Mamá Lupe and I. Embedded was the promise that I would come and that she would be there.


Each woman in my family takes my diagnosis and turns it into something they can deal with. I’m dealing with my condition the way an American would. I ask the women for advice but their responses are standard. Most haven’t had a pelvic exam for decades.

To me, it’s this growing mass I wonder if I should name. My cells have grown before and made a baby. Except this time, the cells have dissented—and their expression might undo me.

To my mother, it a lack of morality.

To my Abuela Lola living next door, it’ll be a manifestation of my evil. For her, it’s also a yummy bit of information she can roll around her mouth and share with others.

Yes, it’s all those things. But it also isn’t any of those things. It’s really only a pomegranate—fused into my uterus, growing and aging. It’s only a fruit. It’s only life. That’s it. It’s simple.


Ultimately, what I’ve learned by growing up in a violent family is that no one matters equally. The women aren’t at the top of the food chain and every man, no matter how degenerate, deserves compassion, obedience, and a hot meal waiting.

So, it makes sense that cancer might have decided it matters more than all my other cells.


Mom insists on coming to the hospital the day of the surgery. I don’t want her there. I leave a letter in my dresser drawer stating that she isn’t to care for my son if anything happens to me. She’s offended. But I don’t care. I don’t want her apathy to ruin another child.

“Mireya,” she says, before I’m rolled into surgery.

“Mireya, let’s pray.”


“Please, hija. Please,” she says.

I concede. But only because I’m exhausted. I need her to go away. Anesthesia will do that. For a few minutes, it will erase everything. In the back of my mind, I quietly hope that it will also erase me. That my existence will have been a short flame of match.


During the surgery, the doctor cuts me open to find hundreds of beads. He pulls them by the fistful.

When I wake, he says, “I was wrong. You didn’t have one cyst. You had one large cyst and many small ones. The large cyst was as big as a grapefruit.”

He cups his hand to help me imagine what he pulled out of me.

“So, you had one big cyst and many small cysts,” he says.

I imagine hands around pomegranates.

“It isn’t cancer,” he says.


“Do you have questions?”


He leaves the room. I won’t see him again for a long time. It’s doesn’t really matter, though. I’m not even sure I like him.


By the time I learned about my condition, Mamá Lupe, who saved the pomegranates, is gone. She passed a few months before my surgery. Before she passed, I knew I was losing the only person I felt truly loved me. I phoned her every few weeks and told her I loved her. I sent her cards. I sent her flowers. I wanted my love to be clear.

In my head, I had built this fantasy of her walking slowly to that tree every year and cutting down the fruit to save for me. Every bit of that fantasy is focused.

I’ve thought about her shoes in her slippers socks. I’ve wondered what bag she carried and what she might be wearing. She was so short, I’ve wondered how she reached the fruit. Perhaps someone had helped her.

I ran that fantasy in my head over and over. And over and over, at the end we saw each other and she simply loved me.

Before she died, she gifted me the pomegranate tree. But one of my aunts gave it away. I’m the first to admit that sometimes there are realities I won’t accept. When my aunt told me she’d given the tree away, I felt broken and betrayed. I asked for Mamá Lupe’s bedspread, but I didn’t get that either.

But now, with my body cut open, I wonder if my body was trying to grow its own tree. Its own place to hope for a few minutes.


Even before I healed from that surgery, I had started a relationship with someone I thought loved me. To me, it felt exciting to be entering into a relationship that was healthier.

I know what I deserve.

I wasn’t done punishing myself. And if I had understood the dynamics of who I am a bit better, I might have known that. I might have known that my mother’s disapproval hung on me like a paper gown. I would have known that after Mamá Lupe’s death, I was more vulnerable. Except I didn’t see any of it.

After that surgery, I married a violent man. My skin became thick again. He taught me how much I didn’t matter. Till all my thoughts drifted to that fruit on that tree. And how desperately I missed mattering and being loved by Mamá Lupe.



© The Acentos Review 2021