And so it has happened. Essay #2 starts to be written as one thing and the minute I start “BAM” in creeps the underlying topic that was waiting to speak- mom and the 360!
I say 360 because she lives with me now. It has not been easy. Not because I can’t do it, not because there isn’t enough room. It’s because this last year and 3 months her and I have had moments that reflect, compare and have been revealed.
I have been making it a habit to play Pandora with the old school artists like Celia Cruz, Lily Y El Gran Trio, Tito Rodriguez, La Lupe and Hector Lavoe while I cook. I start to prepare the yellow rice and as the music starts to play I can hear mommy from the living room sing these songs. Hearing her brings back the times of my youth when I was the one watching her cook. I put the home made Sofrito to fry in the olive oil. The smell always conjures home. The better part of my life when the only responsibility I had was to go to school. Another ballad comes on and Mommy starts singing louder and I smile. I’ve heard it say that people with memory problems usually get music therapy. Putting songs from their past helps keep their memories fresh. It was when she heard Ódiame from Julio Jaramillo that her floodgates opened. She spoke of her youth in La Isla Puerto Rico. How when her mother died she was given to her aunt that didn’t want her. How they raised her as a scrap, un trapo. Her job wasn’t education it was to tend to her 2 cousins. She ironed their clothes. Washed the floors. How she had to clean houses to anyone that asked her aunt that they needed a house maid. All this happening to her at the age of 9. Mommy spoke of having to constantly fight off male relatives that seeked her attention sexually, mind you she is a full height of 4’11. She went on to tell me how she once had to jump out of the window in the kitchen to avoid her uncle. How her cousins would make moonshine and have her test it. She was 10. By early afternoon she would be feeling nice. That is where her alcoholism started.
I stood there with this information and realized they never taught her, loved her. No one defended her. She had to fight since day one. It made sense. Why she was ruthless when we were growing up. Why she worked long hours and was blind to the things that were happening under her nose.
I cover the rice and sit with those images she left in my mind. Preparing the meat I put on salsa in hopes that I myself can let go of a time in Puerto Rico that I never lived. By the time dinner is served I fully understand why mommy never wanted to return to La Isla Del Encanto. To her it was never home, it was never safe.