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An Excerpt from "Dreams of a Better Life" in When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago

Author: Esmeralda Santiago

Santiago, Esmeralda. When I Was Puerto Rican, Da Capo Press, 2006, pp. 205-207.

2 additions to document , most recent almost 3 years ago

When Why
Jan-29-20 Photograph from Puerto Rico Mio
Jan-29-20 from Puerto Rico Mio, by photographer Jack Delano

“Next week you will be a teeneyer,” Papi said as we sat on the porch smelling the night air.

“What’s that?”

“In the United States, when children reach the age of thirteen, they are called teeneyers. It comes from the ending of the word in English. Thir-teen. Teenager.”

I counted in English to myself. “So I will be a teeneyer until I’m twenty?”

“That’s right. Soon you’ll be wanting to rock and roll.” He laughed as if he had told a very funny joke.

“I don’t like rock and roll,” I protested. Too noisy. And the words are all in English. I don’t understand the songs.”

“Mark my words,” he said. “When you’re a teeneyer it’s like something comes over you. Rock and roll sounds good. Believe me.” He laughed as if I knew what he was talking about. I hadn’t seen him this happy in a long time.

“Well, it’s not going to happen to me.” I pouted and ignored his chuckles at my expense.

“Just wait,” he said. “Once you’re in New York you’ll become a regular teeneyer Americana.”

“I’m not going to New York.”

“Your mother’s talking about moving there.”

My stomach fell to my feet. “What?!”

“Didn’t you tell them, Monin?” He called into the house, where Mami and the kids watched a program on our very own black and white television set.

“Tell them what?” She came out to the porch, hands on hips.

“That you’re moving to New York.” He didn’t look at her; he just spit out the words like phlegm into the night.

“Pablo …,” she said as one might murmur a prayer.

“Is it true Mami?” Laughter came from the living room where my sisters and brothers watched Don Cholito’s slapstick.

“How can you be so cruel?” She said to Papi, “You know I have no choice.”

“You have a choice,” he growled.

“Stay here? Put up with your pocavergüenzas?”

“I’ve given you a home. I’m not a rich man, but we’ve always had enough to eat.”

“Do you consider that enough?” Her voice was tense and rising in pitch.

“I don’t know what you want from me, Monin. I just don’t know.”

“I’ve lived with you for fourteen years. We have seven children together. You won’t marry me. You won’t leave me alone.”

“Is that what you want? Marriage? What would that do? I’ve recognized them all. They all have my last name …”

“Mami, Papi, please.”

Rage transformed them; a red fury choked the good in both of them and bottled the love they once felt into a dark place where neither could find it.

“Please stop …”

Their hands formed into fists; their eyes squinted into slits that sent out invisible daggers.

“Please, Mami and Papi …”

They growled words that made no sense, echoes of all the hurts and insults, the dinners gone to waste, the women, the abandonments.

I crouched against the wall and watched them injure each other without touching each other, hurling words that had the same effect as acid on metal. Each word diminished them, flattened them against the night until they were puppets, pointing fingers in each other’s faces. Their voices extinguished night sounds, and darkness swallowed everything but these two people I loved, the overhead light a dim spotlight that disfigured their features into grimaces. One by one Delsa, Norma, Héctor, Alicia, Edna, and Raymond came out on the porch, their eyes round as guavas, tears glistening the tips of their lashes. In their passion Mami and Papi had forgotten about us. They were real only to one another. We huddled in a corner, afraid that if we left them, they might eat each other.

DMU Timestamp: January 21, 2020 02:52

Added January 29, 2020 at 7:09pm by Kiran Chaudhuri
Title: Photograph from Puerto Rico Mio

DMU Timestamp: January 21, 2020 02:52

Added January 29, 2020 at 7:40pm by Kiran Chaudhuri
Title: from Puerto Rico Mio, by photographer Jack Delano

DMU Timestamp: January 21, 2020 02:52

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