The morning of December 29, 2016, someone in Indonesia used my bank information to withdraw $89.25 dollars seven times. The bank said they couldn’t replace the money right away, but that I should call once the transactions had gone through to file a claim. A few weeks later, I received money and someone in Indonesia had too.
Later that morning, I forgot the 6 to 8 digit password I had been using every morning for the last four months to access my computer at work. “This is very bad news,” the IT person responded “We are going to have to give you another compute for now.” Stares as I walk down the hall of the IT building. Some frustration and shame. Thankfully, another IT specialist had a special remote-control-type instrument to unlock the computer, and with little disturbance I slipped back into my cubicle and finished the day.
Two days later, the morning of December 31, 2016 I missed a flight to Puerto Rico, where I was going to spend New Year’s Eve with my grandmother. Thanks to a begrudgingly helpful and somewhat grumpy man at the airport who had a soft spot for sobbing Latinas – there was another Dominican crying as well – I exchanged the ticket at little cost. I didn’t have enough time to cross the island and spend New Year’s Eve with my grandmother, but spent it with my mom instead who later confessed she was happy I missed the flight.
While in Puerto Rico, everyone was sick. My mom had been sick since before Christmas Eve, and I knew I would eventually get it, which I did, and it lasted a week. I took zinc tablets, drank water and ate healthy, and it actually didn’t feel that bad.
Once recovered I fought with my friend Emily, my closest friend since I had moved to Atlanta and my climbing partner at the gym. “I feel like I’m going through a breakup,” Emily said. And it was just like that. I barely slept for a week and talked peoples’ ears off with justifications. Thankfully, we made up.
By that time, I had also lost my phone, which somehow got swallowed up by space when I went to check my mail before picking up a friend at the airport. My friend didn’t get picked up. And my new phone, I didn’t get it until a week later but at least it came back without the big crack it used to have.
That next Monday, I got pulled over by a cop for not stopping for a school bus on the other side of an eight lane street. “I always stop for buses!,” I said, indignant. Maybe he saw I was having a bad day? so he let me go. The true challenge, how to remain indignantly innocent yet seem equally grateful while knowing I had just escaped a huge one.
That next morning I took my car to the mechanic to fix the rear breaks. $700 dollars for replacing the drums, and shoes and some hardware, they said. After a somewhat heated conversation in my work’s cafeteria, I decided I would take my car back. Thankfully, my friend told me about Kenny, a somewhat spacey yet upbeat man who took me to buy the parts and replaced them for a third of the cost. And the car, not only did it have new breaks, but it drove better than before.
A week later my car was booted. “Are you serious” I said in my angriest tone and voice, “I was only gone for 15 minutes.” And in an unexpected turn, Franchot, the booting man, let me go, just as another man called and screamed “Get this fucking boot off my car!.” “You are pretty and nice,” Franchot sait. Apparently, my angriest tone and voice is still nice.
And in the meantime, the nation in which I live has turned its back on the world and on its people. An in this New Year I can barely recognize myself, even. Little things matter, as do big things that happen far away. But, we’ll all keep going somehow, and far as all of this other stuff goes, I really just have have no comment.
On summer monrnings, when the air thickened and little drops of sweat lined the house walls, they knew better than to stay inside where steam mixed with exhaustion and adults, cranky and drunk, had fits of rage and laughter. And where mami dressed in that same loose bata that hugged her skin with sweat, would parade the house like a detective and as soon as breakfast was over would yell afuera! in a relaxed enough way to avoid alarm but in a stern enough way to know that, this is no joke -- you do not want the chancleta so early in the morning!
They would take items needed for survival – a pan for cooking, plastic glasses for drinking, eggs sunny side up, a spatula, and an assortment of plastic foods; comics, the full collection for a long day, a rope, tuperwear and most importantly, Bebé Angel and Monster truck. Being two years older, she was the architect of space and time while he, the master of details, embellished the storyline. Their summer home had four rooms delineated by the bulging roots of a large banyan tree. The largest of the spaces was the kitchen, where river water asopao was a specialty; then, two rooms, one for him and one for her and a last one that changed, sometimes garage, sometimes movie theater, sometimes a protective place for Bebé Angel when they had too much going on. Under her strict instructions they would split the chores. She was chef, lady of the house, mother to Bebé Angel, princess, heroine warrior, secretary and nurse. He, sous chef, first mate, prince, warrior, businessman and doctor. Threatened by a barbarian invasion, they gathered weapons from nature and protected their home. When it snowed they build a fire in the same crevice as the stove. When the neighboring town released giant dragons that spit slimy venomous worms instead of fire, a magical shield surrounded their home to protect them.
After lunch they would change into their protective bathing armor and swim at the small lake behind their house among wild, magical creatures. Below, giant scaly hippos threatened to swallow them in a gulp. Above, thousands of baby, green pterodactyls encircled, only staying at a distance because a powerful light brighter than the sun radiated by a giant goldfish. A light invisible to humans but harmful to creatures with evil intentions.
And on summer evenings, when the air thinned and soft wind brought laughter and dance and space between cotton and skin, they knew better than to stay out, where the magical lost its taste. But would take their pan, glasses, eggs, spatula, foods, comics, rope, tuperwear, Bebe Angel and Monster Truck inside and tell stories of wild adventures while mami made withcheries with of platanos and mofongo. And where, once sleepy, they would drift to their rooms were it would sometimes seem that the bright light of the magical goldfish would continue to protect them, even in their dreams.
“Did you know he was like this?” I asked, knowing I didn’t have to specify he or like this or anything else but that she would understand, as if we spoke a special code that was programmed into our existence through time and experience. I had always wanted to ask her this question; this question, as if it would take a decade of him and her and us and them and turn it all into lessons learned and how to grow from our past. I had always longed for that moment of when we would stop being mother and daughter, better or worse, you or me, and we could be us talking, openly. But it never came until, while in the hot tub of a quaint bed and breakfast somewhere along the hiking ring of the Mont Blanc where we had gone to celebrate her fiftieth birthday, the moment just seemed right.
“I had no idea,” she responded. “While we were dating he was respectful. He bought me flowers and presents. He was different.” And then I knew that it was less about the question than about the act of asking, less about the answer than about the connection and less about discovery than about acceptance that these things just happen. Because, really, I had always known.
And then I thought back at our apartment in the city with white walls and white tiles when, in that surrendered tone of her voice that was so common at that time, she explained that a man had asked her out at the bar last weekend but she didn’t know if she should go. And then I thought about how it all happened and how quickly our lives changed and how scared she must have felt – although she’d never show it -- to take her family of three to a new place with a new father and a new language. She was the queen that we all relied on. I thought about this game, this back and forth, where one lost power to the other and what do you do when your model for strength is suddenly weak? And the tension when the babies wouldn’t stick and I blamed it on my Tarot cards because the Empress has no mercy. And when he was born, like happiness itself.
Really, it was never about the answer but about acknowledging that there is a like this and that memories, although distorted with time, cannot be simply erased, but they linger and they claw at you and they yell at you until you shush them and put them to sleep like cranky babies.
The apartment off Rue Gassendi in the 14th arrondissement was small and bright. When they first found it after moving to France two years earlier, they knew they were lucky and that all was going well and as it should. The apartment had two rooms. In the kitchen, a two-person table was placed against the wall and across from the refrigerator. She sat facing the window looking at the rows of windows in the courtyard outside and slid her thumb back and forth along the edge of a plain, green coffee mug. She heard his footsteps and the rattling of the keys.
“I brought jam, almost forgot we ran out.”
“Nice, thank you.”
“And I brought you these.” He lifted a bouquet of yellow lilies.
“They’re really beautiful. Thank you.” She kissed him on the cheek, placed the flowers in a vase that she took out of the cupboard and sat down, facing the window.
“I thought they would liven up the space here today. It’s beautiful out right now. Every single green spot of land is covered with Parisians. We could go to Luxemburg later, get some sunshine. We still have that bottle of rosé left and someone from work told me of a patisserie near the park that’s supposed to be excellent.”
“Better than our patisserie?”
“Better,” he said.
“I guess we could give it a try.”
“Let’s go this afternoon. I love this time of the year, when the dormant city comes to life.”
He brought bread, fig jam, chocolate and sliced ham to the table and sat across from her, partially blocking the view of the courtyard.
“Do you want more coffee?” he said and grabbed a piece of bread with jam.
“No, thank you.”
“I saw the same guy from last time at the store. I almost went up to him and asked if we had met before, but he was ahead of me. It must be someone I recognize from school.”
“Strange that you don’t remember who he is.”
“Indeed, and funny to think that we both ended up in this neighborhood not recognizing each other but having met before.
“My mind has been going around in circles all morning. I feel exhausted. I just don’t know what to think anymore.”
“And that’s ok, honey. We talked about this last night. We’ve been going through a rough time lately, but it’s normal. We will see the sun again. We just have to continue being open with each other. I love you so much. We have the same interests. We view life the same way. You don’t have to be sure all of the time. No one is.”
“You think I’m always sure?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Sometimes I have doubts but then I think about what we’ve been through together, to get here. To this place. Paris! I couldn’t have done it with anyone else. And I think about you and how much I love you.”
“Yes, you are right.”
She grabbed on to her plain, green coffee mug filled with cold coffee and continued to slide her thumb on the handle.
“Are you still thinking about him?”
“I thought we agreed you wouldn’t ask any more questions.”
“I know, I’m sorry. I want you to be happy, honey. That’s all I want for you. If you love him and think he would make you happy then you should go to him.”
She looked past him at the only window on the courtyard that was visible behind him. After a long pause, she yanked her chair closer to him, with her back to the fridge, and kissed him, passionately.
“Oh, just like that, bite my lip like that,” he said, sliding his hands down to her lower back. Almost instantly, she pulled back.
“I can’t. I can’t kiss you now. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry Shawn.”
“Why do you say that? How can you say that? Didn’t you feel it when we were kissing?” He said, covering his eyes with his hands.
“I need… space. I don’t know what to think. It’s like nothing makes sense, and I can’t keep pretending.”
“Tell me anything, but don’t lie to me and tell me that this has all been pretend! Even better, don’t lie to yourself and make yourself believe there’s anything else going on here other than you being afraid and letting that fear ruin a perfectly beautiful thing!” His eyes were wild and red.
“I’m sorry Shawn. I just don’t know what to think anymore.”
She went to the other room and laid on top of the bed. From there she could see the courtyard again with rows of plain white windows, each with their own story. The bed was against the back corner, across from a small desk. A square ray of sunshine appeared to move on top of the table as the rolled-up blinds swayed back and forth. She continued to slide her thumb along the handle of the plain, green coffee mug.
“You’ll never find someone who loves you as much and as deeply as me,” she heard him say in a low and deep voice.
I. I don’t know why the school principal thought the three of us should meet in the cafeteria, during school hours, in the dark. Maybe the school didn’t have office spaces to privately talk to students. Or, maybe it had some but they were all being used. I wouldn’t have known because I had never been called away from class before.
“You are here,” she said, her words rich with Puerto Rican Spanish, “because some of the other fifth grade teachers have noticed strange behaviors between the two of you. They said you’ve been too close to each other physically.”
I looked around at the rows of tables where phantom children ate, and at the very back, the only part with any light, where later on in the day we were to cram in for rice and beans. I looked down at the folds of my plaid skirt, and at the details in the principal’s gold jewelry.
“From now on, you should keep in mind the proper behavior between two girls,” she continued.
I didn’t look at Dianne sitting next to me. I felt far away, on my own, ashamed, and wondered if they would call my mom.
II. Dianne was my best friend.
During lunchtime, instead of comparing nail colors like the other girls, we created adventure scenarios that we acted out in a plot of grass behind the school. We became brave taino Indian girls who intrepidly crossed dangerous rivers to escape peril and feed the family. We were adventurers, photographers, librarians and doctors. Sometimes we’d play Polly Pockets with Mariana, another girl who was far too dainty to play real pretend. Although sometimes, when it was the three of us, I would become Natalio, the male version of me, and make them laugh with my deep voice and manly mannerisms. I loved being funny to them.
I loved Dianne because she was brave, and I was afraid of Dianne because she was brave. She didn’t care if none of the other girls played pretend. As I experienced the outside world inside me for the first time, Dianne remained true and immune. She contrasted with everything around her yet she didn’t notice.
One day during lunchtime Dianne wanted to roll in a pile of leaves. Another time we found out that in the rain the earth created a type of mud we could spread over our arms like a transformative beauty treatment. The beige mud was refreshing on the skin. It took so long to clean after the bell rang that we were late to class.
I loved Diane because she was smart. While I was reading “age-appropriate” fairy tales, Dianne read books from her family’s collection. It wasn’t that Dianne didn’t know or care about boys, or sex, or how to treat your hair, but that she refused to give in.
I loved Dianne because she was Dianne. One time during basketball practice she let her hair loose. Here hair, brown and wild, swung with the ball as she searched for it and threw it at the basket. She was terrible at sports, but even when she struggled she remained defiant. To all others Dianne was just a silly girl, but to me she was everything I wanted to be: incandescent, genuine, strong.
III. I didn’t tell anyone about what happened that day in the cafeteria.
Instead of being brave like Dianne, I slowly moved away from her. I joined a group of girls who spent lunchtime throwing a volleyball in a circle. Yahaira, the leader of the group was a chubby girl who liked to laugh. Itzaira, the other member of what would become a smaller group of three, was slim and kept her hair tight back in a ponytail. I continued to talk to Dianne but we stopped having lunch together, and because she didn’t fit in this new group, she remained alone until we all left for middle school shortly after, to start again.
If we are all marked by our early experiences, then I hope I am marked by this one the most, for while it’s great to draw inspiration from times of bravery, it is the times of cowardice that change us.
Holding hands. We followed the Isère on our way to work. Our relationship début. The city of Grenoble, in its splendor, framed by towering peaks and snow-dusted glaciers, embellished her simple beauty. Even the cool air adorned her with blushed cheeks and nose. I held her hand tight within my pocket and wondered if I could let go. Falling. The mountain opened, the snow bridge crumbled, and Lambert fell within. Even paradise has its downfalls. Using skis as an anchor, he surfaced, smiling with nervousness. If success in a rescue is for a person to escape, I want the opposite for her. Like the hidden crevasse, I want to open my soul to her and have her fall deeply within. Together we will travel the burrows of the glacier. Together we will freeze into one.
Making love. We made love over and over again. If I wasn’t hard she took me more. On the bed, on the floor, in the shower, on the table, in the kitchen, against the entrance door. Sometimes she cried, deeply, majestically, looking far away. A cry worthy of a Goddess. My apartment became a refuge from the world. Her insecurities, her false imperfections, we will frame them on the walls and dance around them. Feeling mocked, they will march away. Loving. She looks straight at the camera but also not at it. Her hair dangles over the edge of the couch. With me within the range of her sight I can never fail. In return, I will spend every day dissecting her gaze. I will punch, kick and dig at it until the ice breaks, and we will live happily in love.