San Juan Beach, 1990 y 2011
Ai, mi nena Riley, two years old and growing like a weed. Her father on a plane back to the States, and me here in San Juan, adjusting to single motherhood. Around the corner she comes in her Little Mermaid bathing suit.
“Mami, yo quiero jugar con Daniel. ¿Esta bien?”
“Sí, beba. Con cuidado. Take it easy. I’ll take you both to the beach, a la playa, en un poquito.” I’m trying to keep it bilingual, but my Spanish is abysmal…
Ah, la playa… San Juan beaches are sunny, filled with naked babies running amok. Radios blare with competing salsa and rap stations; their owners oiled up, brown, and horny. They take no notice of most of the mothers, holding out for “Let’s Get Physical” bikini babes.
From the water’s edge, there are two worlds. Looking seaward, the Atlantic, churning at a faster pace here on the north side of the island; to the south lies the Caribbean, the true waters of Puerto Rico, lapping toes, warmer for swimming, perfect for gathering shells. Look toward the city, and brightly colored houses line the shore, while in the distance, the hotels and casinos loom over this strip of sandy paradise, reminding everyone of where they work, who really runs things.
The ocean is calmer than usual today, and in the distance, and angry iron steam engine of a storm is headed our way. We’ve had our hour, and now it’s nature’s turn. Soon, one huge clap of thunder will announce the current Apocalypso, dancing its way through town, ripping fronds from palms, chasing the parrots and finches back into El Junque, the rain forest. We gather our belongings like parachuters pulling in silk from the edges and, children in tow, laugh and chatter as we make our way back to our houses… but no farther. The bright lights and constant ding ding clatter spindlecircle of the casinos can wait.
The first drops of rain splat like water balloons, an assault on flowers but heaven for the kids, who now run “nakey,” whooping in English y espanol, each child learning from the other. A salamander takes refuge around the corner from her usual front wall and welcomes me with a blink.
“Riley, do you remember Puerto Rico?” I ask, slopping mochaccinos onto the table at a Madison café. “Do you remember little Daniel?”
“Yeah, but that was years ago,” smirks the seasoned traveler, the product of a broken home that Mom stitched together to shelter only two. “Oh, the salamander, I called him Eddie. But mostly, I remember you losing your sunglasses all the time.”
I sip hot cocoacoffee and exhale. “That was a tough time, you know.”
“Yeah. My only regret is losing all the Spanish I learned. And I miss the helado man… that ice cream was the best ever. Tasted like heaven. Oh, and the finches we had, Migdo and Pigdo. Will we go back someday?”
“Sí. beba, otro día. Cuando hay bastante tiempo, y mas dinero.” Teasing her with forgotten language.
“Wait, I’ve got it!” she squeals. “Yes, honey, another day. When there’s enough time and… more dinner?”
Hell, that’s close enough for jazz.
© 2013 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
Photo of Riley and Amy and an ice cream cone from the Barlow/Dunn vaults, rights reserved by poet
Heretomost at Real Toads wanted a description of a bit of scenery, sandwiched in between two pieces of dialog. This starts with Riley as a two-year-old child and ends when she was 23, looking back. She remembers little of our time in San Juan, and almost nothing of her father’s deep troubles that ended our marriage. Just as well. Remember the good times, the warmth, the mingled scents of salt air and jasmine, the… salsafied satisfaction of Puerto Rico. Peace, Amy
April 11, 2013 at 2:09 am
Wow! That meets the brief ~ love it, Amy x
April 11, 2013 at 2:30 am
You do like to poke our emotional buttons. What a landscape you painted, so beautifully written.
April 11, 2013 at 5:15 am
my sister, her then-husband, and my niece lived in Santurce, PR from c 1981-1987. One of my great regrets is that I never went down to visit. It was a matter of money, but also being around my then BIL
Sharp Little Pencil
April 12, 2013 at 10:49 pm
I was in Santurce as well, in Urbanizacion Santa Teresita. Wow. From 89-91, when my marriage fell apart and I headed back to the States.
April 11, 2013 at 7:37 am
Love the ending! Long ago, when I was assistant manager of a book store in San Antonio, one of the employees had a girlfriend from Puerto Rico. She was Caucasian, but spoke with the most appealing soft Spanish accent. Just the way she said her “R”s about made me bang my head on the cash register.
This is such a neat post. It makes me think of that old Helen Reddy song “You And Me Against The World”.
Sharp Little Pencil
April 12, 2013 at 10:50 pm
You could not possibly know it, but that was the song I used to sing with my mother. It was like a mantra for both of us!!
April 11, 2013 at 8:52 am
I loved this. Your descriptions of the beach are so evocative, and I felt for that young mother trying to hold it all together for her child. The retrospective and present time conclusion worked so well together.
April 11, 2013 at 9:44 am
I lived in San Juan for five years. Very nice retrospective.
Emma llm calling
April 11, 2013 at 10:19 am
wow, you really went to town
April 11, 2013 at 10:21 am
We gather our belongings like parachuters pulling in silk from the edges and, children in tow,
The WHOLE paragraph thrilled me to no end. Gorgeous, just amazing writing. I feel the big “try” of a single mother in this, and the conversation sandwiching it all gives it a nice sense of time…
April 11, 2013 at 11:26 am
Close enough for jazz, indeed! Gorgeous writing, Amy.
April 11, 2013 at 11:38 am
Truly gorgeous inspired writing. I especially love how your grown daughter can recall the magic of this time and place. A tribute to your strength and love, Amy.
April 11, 2013 at 11:44 am
I am a sucker for the sapnish english transition…I so suck at speaking spanish but I try like hell…lol. This was perfect. The description not only of the place but the feelings and experiences that surrounded the reasopn for being there. The dialogue was wonderful, and that last line is a bit of genius. Great job. Muchos Gracias.
April 11, 2013 at 11:45 am
Or spanish, damn fat fingers.
April 11, 2013 at 12:53 pm
What a wonderful story, I felt as if I was there – the heat on the beach, the sights, the sounds – being a Mom – the dialogue – everything. Loved it.
Kay, Alberta, Canada
April 11, 2013 at 2:01 pm
Oh, Amy, this is wonderful. Although I’ve never been to Puerto Rico, I could picture the whole thing.
Your Spanglish brought back memories of my youngest brother and his friends in Mexico. My parents had their retirement planned before Mom got pregnant with Roberto, so he went with them. Fortunately, he still remembers his Spanish, but, at 45, he says he can only speak Spanish up to a Grade 8 level, when his school in Canada told the family he couldn’t keep disappearing for 6 months out of every year.
After that, he spent those months with me through high school and college. I have always been grateful to my parents for that, because I didn’t have any children of my own.
Thanks for a beautiful reminder of a wonderful time in my life.
April 11, 2013 at 2:08 pm
Made me smile at the end there. And the rest of the piece is wonderfully in your face and vivid–thanks for taking me on this virtual trip to somewhere I’d never otherwise make it.
April 11, 2013 at 4:34 pm
Amy, another excellent word painting–made me feel like laying back in the sand. Those drops are like slaps, incredible how the tropical rain is so strong–but at least it’s warm 🙂 Great way to circle back with Riley and remembrances ❤
April 11, 2013 at 7:19 pm
It’s been years since I visited Puerto Rico .. now I want to return! You brought it to life! My grandchildren used to say ‘nakey-butt’ when they were small ~~ another wonderful memory.
April 13, 2013 at 3:51 am
Superb writing. A magnificent response to the prompt.
Susie Clevenger (@wingsobutterfly)
April 17, 2013 at 10:30 pm
I am going to Puerto Rico in May. It will be my first time there. So glad I stopped by to read your wonderful story.