Each case of congenital rubella syndrome manifested differently. Most fetuses aborted spontaneously. Then there were the approximate 20,000 viable births. Listen to me carefully; each pandemic must be taken seriously. In the wake of the 1964 pandemic, my brother was born with a hole in the left ventricular. He underwent immediate open heart surgery. By age two, he had undergone three heart operations, was confirmed as legally blind, and classified mentally retarded due to lack of oxygen to the brain. The aftermath of the pandemic left my parents with two growing girls, one severely sick son, and a baby on the way.
Jenny waited at the intersection. She made a mental note to call the daycare. Baby had been unusually clingy at drop off.
Traffic cleared and she proceeded to make the left turn. Midway a van appeared — a boxy van aiming to beat the red signal.
The van clipped her Honda.
Grandmother appeared and pulled Jenny out the spinning car. They watched the Honda bang into an idling Buick then into a fence.
Jenny lifted her head. Grandmother vanished. She stared at the fence; its crisscross pattern zoomed in and out. She was back in the totaled Honda, unhurt.
For baby boomers, “sure, in the year 2000,” substituted, “that’ll never happen.” Collectively, we stared down the Y2K scare. Now we’re about to ring in 2020. I’ll take this time to revisit the past decade. We witnessed our children receive degrees, move to their first homes, exchange vows. We lost dear ones to cancer: Mari, Pat, Brian, Klavia, Victor, Luis, and Rafin. We welcomed little ones: Max, Jackson, Chelsea, Val, Paige, and Paloma and numerous cousins, such as Mia, Genie, Brendan, and Christian. In short, we continued to lay the foundation for our future generations. My God bless us all.
I expected rabbits to talk; to be carrot-munching wise guys, waiting for the next pratfall victim. Imagine my disappointment when I first encountered them at my grandparent’s backyard. They were nervous, wild-eyed creatures in wire cages, impossible to hold with thumping back legs. Rabbits were neither Bugs Bunny nor Peter Cottontail. Yet, their thick fur truly was heavenly to the touch. Beautiful whites, browns and every shade between. They smelled bad, though, probably due to the heat and humidity in Puerto Rico. Unlike the fancy church ladies of New York, who wore fur on Sundays, rabbits couldn’t remove their coats.
Large black seeds filled the coral flesh of the watermelon. Its juicy scent made Lola’s mouth water. A long time ago, her grandmother had picked an extra-large Calabaza from the squash garden. The extraordinary Calabaza grew on a separate vine. Imagine her grandmother’s surprise when she cut into soft flesh rather than Calabaza’s tough flesh. A sweet treat for the entire family!
Lola pushed aside the black seeds. Most people prefer seedless watermelons, but Lola learned the morning of her grandmother’s discovery that watermelon with black seeds is sweeter and juicier than the seedless type. Give her seeded any time.
The air was so thick that if you were to swing a bat, you would see traces of a make-believe ball suspended in midair. Cousin Olga and I found refuge from the heat beneath the house. Our grandparents’ house was elevated on stilts that served two purposes: to level the house because the terrain was rocky and hilly and to avoid floods from streams that rushed downhill on rainy days. We always found treasure that had fallen through the floor cracks. Small objects such as marbles, balls, combs. We could count on finding lizards, frogs, and stray baby chicks, too.
My brother died young at age eleven. Parents were at a loss on the protocol of burying a young son. They purchased a plot in Brooklyn where he was laid to rest in a white coffin inlaid in white satin. A few years later, my grandmother took ill and joined him. That was long ago and everyone has moved on. None of us live in Brooklyn any more. The graves lay unattended, the wear of the years evident in the fading inset picture. Twice a year, though, my husband visits and places fresh flowers. Curious how things work in life.
Orange flames licked the windows across the street. Fire engines rushed down Tiffany Street. Onlookers crowded our side of the street.
“Ay, ay, ay,” cried Abuelita.
“Get away from the window,” said her son.
She ran to the kitchen and grabbed her favorite photographs. The first was a picture of Christ, eyes upturned, wearing a crown of thorns. The other was a young John F. Kennedy, smiling directly to the camera, his beautiful wife with a lowered gaze. Abuelita clutched both pictures close to her chest and resumed her position at the window lamenting the tragedy unfolding before her eyes.
Abuelita loved telling chistes colorados, especially the one about the parrot that Dona, a churchgoer, bought from a pirate. Dona taught it church hymns and invited a few parishioners over to show off her talented pet. A guest sat down and the parrot saw her underpants. It salaciously reported the event. A horrified Dona jumped out her seat and whacked the parrot across its head. The dizzy parrot repeated that it saw many red panties. By this point, Abuelita laughed so hard that she’d rush to the bathroom to avoid an accident, and we, her grandchildren, would be in stitches.
Dora, pale and small, rose slowly. She clenched her fists and opened her mouth wide. All the pent up, hurtful words that had festered within for years rushed out. At first they buzzed like annoying moths but quickly intensified to a feverish pitch. The louder and meaner the words, the rosier her cheeks became so much so that her face turned beet red. Holding back words had taken up too much energy and depleted Dora’s stamina. Now the words flew. They zinged. They screamed. They would not be kept in darkness any longer. Their ferocity, however, made everyone’s ears bleed.