I didn’t plan to talk with my mother about fear. We were in her kitchen in South Florida. It was early in the evening. The sunlight came in through the venetian blinds at slanted angles, casting a golden hue on the counter and the sink and the floor littered with crumbs from the pastries my father likes so much. Sitting on a kitchen stool, I began telling my mother about the essay I was editing for the newsmagazine. The essay was in English; I spoke to my mother in Spanish.

“The writer’s parents brought him over from Mexico when he was a child, and he used to be so afraid all the time of immigration. Imagine. And now it’s years later. He’s got a PhD, and he’s married. He’s a great dad. He got his papers.” I paused, lifting my chin. “But the fear is still there. It’s like the fear doesn’t leave you.”

Leaning against the counter, my mother nodded. I sighed. My mother had always been a quiet woman, and now that she was in her late sixties, nothing had changed. Our conversations still often went like this, with me as her fast-talking, firstborn American child marveling over the intersection of politics and personal narratives, and she nodding in silence.

But this time my mother looked away from me, whispering, “Es terrible ese miedo.” It’s a terrible fear.

Her words startled me. Or maybe it wasn’t her words but the quality of her voice. She spoke as if she were addressing herself, as if she were reminding herself that yes, it is a terrible fear to wake up and not know if you would return home that night. She was saying, Your friend is right. That fear doesn’t leave. It turns into a second skin.

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