Julieta's life is, in a broad sense, a catalog of missing things. Things like arepas, and salt, and sleep. And family members.
It is also filled with love and warmth, of course, but when you are blessed with a Gift at five years old that quickly acquaints you with not just the concepts of illness and injury, but their realities, your mind tends to tread darker paths. Not the same twisting paths, though, that Bruno's mind would wander down and eventually be lost to them all for ten years. Agustin has always been the one to help her find the light again when she couldn't see it herself.
The first sharp absence in Julieta's life, the first she knew of death, was her father.
It would feel unkind to say she does not miss him. But it is a strange thing to love a memory, the idea of someone you never really got to meet, someone who died so you might live. Which she did, matching the twenty-five years of Pedro Madrigal's life, then adding twenty-five more. She's old enough now to be mistaken for his mother were he still alive.
You carry it with you, that loss you've known before you knew your own name. She feels it most keenly when she watches Agustin and the girls; the simple everyday moments between father and daughter that her own childhood lacked.
Julieta doesn't give much thought until she's older to the portrait of her father by the stairs. An impossible thing in a house that's itself a wonder. The portrait must have been conjured by Casita, she supposes. Mamá never talks about it; fleeing home with nothing but her husband, three newborns, and their wedding candle to guide them in the dark. She will tell an abridged version of this tale to each of her grandchildren as they stand ready to open their doors, but no more is said.
For them, and even for Julieta and her siblings who'd grown up working hard but never truly knowing hunger or fear, it's always jarring to be reminded of the one loss that she can lay claim to, yet still feels detached from. That is her mother's story, her mother's quiet grief. The sort of pain no amount of Julieta's cooking will ever be able to touch. She only knows the shape of it, and it doesn't entirely feel like it belongs to her.
The second major absence in Julieta's life was, of course, her brother Bruno.
He leaves behind an empty room and a darkened door, taking nothing but a piece of Mamá's heart with him when he vanishes. Julieta imagines she can see it break off like ice.
She feels it in her own heart, too. Together all of their lives and suddenly...apart. Adrift. It's like a missing tooth you can't help pressing your tongue to.
No. That isn't enough. It's like a missing limb.
His name soon joins their father's in family myth, not to be spoken of because it only brings pain. And sometimes anger, which you can fool yourself into thinking is easier to bear than pain. Pepa guards her heart with a handful of stories and old grudges unearthed from decades ago. Mamá never speaks of him at all anymore.
She replays their interactions in her mind, searching for some pivitol moment her vast guilt can cling to, but she can never find one. Perhaps nothing had been wrong until that night when so many things went wrong, when Julieta held her sobbing daughter and wondered what sort of miracle has the nerve to deem her child unworthy.
Or perhaps everything had been wrong, in so many small ways and for such a long time, that they all failed to notice.
Perhaps she had failed Bruno in every moment, every shared conversation that led to his gradual self-isolation and abrupt disappearance. Perhaps she had said too little, or too much.
She doesn't always know what to do with wounds she cannot heal. They make her feel powerless.
Julieta tries to fix this with all the love she can muster as she watches Mirabel grow up and, despite her efforts, grow apart from the family. Sometimes Julieta doesn't get the balance quite right. Doesn't always know what her children need most from her, or when. She wants to believe that they know they can talk to her about anything.
But when she looks at Mirabel, sometimes, it's too easy to imagine her slipping through the cracks, like he did. When she looks at Isabela and Luisa, she sees a mirror; two young women with good hearts, who would pick up the pieces and carry on, like she always has.
She is just so afraid of losing anyone else.