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.
I pushed forward, head bent, focused on my shoelaces. Just that morning my aunt had taught me how to tie them. I felt accomplished, almost grown up. I didn’t want to hold her hand on our way to the supermarket, but she insisted. The Lower East Side was no place for unattended children. She held her son’s hand, too.
We turned the corner. A gust of wind snatched our breaths. I felt one foot leave the ground then the next. I was airborne, unable to breathe. She pulled me close. I shook her grip and latched onto the stop sign.
The crisp air hinted autumn. The sky azure, darker than sky blue, lighter than sapphire, devoid of clouds. Suddenly, police began to run south. A buzz erupted. “Did you hear? Did you hear?” I walked swiftly through Times Square and held tightly to my purse, aware that scoundrels strike when police are distracted. The buzz escalated to shouts of twin towers. Planes. Fire. Panic gripped my heart. My husband and many of our friends worked at the World Trade Center. Hours crawled before we learned that he and all our friends narrowly escaped the horrors. We were the lucky ones.
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.
I had trouble choosing gifts for myself. I lacked a clear identity that I wished to highlight and wanted to diminish my obvious trademarks, such as thick hair that couldn’t hold a ponytail or thick glasses that hid my almond eyes and emphasized my wide nose. My sister, on the other hand, reveled in choosing trinkets. Clips for her smooth hair, sparkly sunglasses, earrings of every length, lip glosses, chunky bracelets. While she chose glittery items at the souvenir shops, I examined maps and travel books. She learned how to enhance her beauty. I learned about the beauty around us.
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.
My Dad recently found his two diplomas. The first one was for grade school and the second at completion of ninth grade. He was the first of his siblings to finish middle school. It was expected for boys to quit school after sixth grade, but he wanted more for himself. He begged his parents to remain in school and in turn worked the fields evenings and summers picking off wireworm from tobacco plants. Then, the middle school graduate went off to San Juan seeking fortunes. The newfound diplomas brought a huge smile on his face reflecting a life well lived.
“You’ve always been my superstar,” the woman whispered, then turned on her heels the way she had learned at modeling school so long ago. Except that instead of strutting with pizzazz and purpose, she dragged her feet. She stood in front of the nurse’s station and stumbled over her words. Something about she’s gone. The nurse pressed the bereaved woman’s arm with sympathy, but she didn’t feel the soothing touch. Instead, she collapsed onto the ground as if her legs had been whacked from under. I watched the crumpled form bawling and realized the sounds emanated from my strained throat.
She dragged her right leg, stiffened at the joint where leg and hip meet, rendering another obstacle in her daily routine. Once upon a time, such a predicament caused anger and resentment kindling the desire to overcome any obstacle that crossed her path. Such attitude garnered the full admiration of all spectators. The spectators, however, were kept at arm’s length, unable to penetrate her hollow soul. At last, she waved the white flag of surrender and made her world smaller. The well of her soul filled with riches she knew not. Accepting her limitations opened the door to true friendships.