Our house sits close enough to Manhattan to watch the Macy’s Fourth of July fireworks. Well, most times we don’t see them but it’s good to know that we could find a suitable spot to watch. It’s an advantage to live close to the city. We can observe its goings on from a safe distance. Sometimes, we witness atrocities, such as smoldering ashes months after the 9/11 attacks. Other times, we’re too close for comfort, such as the high COVID-19 mortality rate. But I digress. Today I will focus on the manmade beauty of the island of Manhattan. Happy Independence Day!
“Come to me,” I beckoned, arms outstretched. Mami held Andy upright while Dad jiggled his legs to get him to walk. He was two, and I seven. Mami gently loosened her grip and for a moment, he stood by himself. A look of confusion, though, crossed his face, and he crumpled like an accordion folding into itself.
“His nails,” Mami screamed. They had turned a violet blue. He had stopped breathing.
Dad ran out the apartment to hail a taxicab. Mami wrapped Andy in blankets and followed Dad. By the time she got outside, he had started to breathe again.
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.
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.
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.
This summer, two robins formed a nest on the door topper that my brother-in-law had gifted us. A roaring lion head representative of his masonry work. A week after the nesting period, three little beaks appeared, wide opened and silent like the lion. One parent fed feverishly while the other kept vigil. Two weeks went by before we heard the first chirps and the same day, the family flew away.
It has been five years since my brother-in-law left this world. Now the empty nest sits atop the lion topper waiting for new occupants, and we await another heavenly visit.
A Coke and a Smile – Join the Pepsi Generation — The Uncola — catchphrases that captured summer at its best. Nothing beat an ice cold soda on a hot summer day when sitting at my front stoop. Open fire hydrants cooled the steamy tar. Cars honked to shoo away teenagers that anxiously waited to douse them. Abba’s Dancing Queen blasted from boom radios. Mothers looked out the windows to watch their kids striking leftover fire pops from the Fourth of July celebrations. All felt right the summer of Rocky and bell bottoms. Maybe, just maybe, Papo would finally notice me.
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.
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.