San Juan, Riley and Mom beach 001

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