Archive for March, 2011


The glue in my family.

In November 2, 2010 my sister called me and gave the news that she was pregnant with her first child. She and her husband had found out that same day and couldn’t wait to see the family in person to tell them the news. What surprised me the most was was that my sister was 12 weeks and 2 days pregnant already and she didn’t knew it. She said that she never suspected it because her period is always irregular. But the last few weeks, before getting the official news, she suspected something and decided to go to a laboratory for a blood test. According to the gynecologist, she was due for around May 15.

Ever since both families, hers and her husband’s, knew of the pregnancy, we’ve been calling each other coordinating who will give the parents-to-be what. We’ve been also preparing the baby shower separating expenses. I’ve had  lot of fun, specially talking to my father who lives in Orlando, we’ve talked more in the past few months than in the last twenty years. Even family who I’ve seen only once in my life have been calling me to ask about my sister and what she needs.

On Thursday March 24 my sister went to her gynecologist’s office because she had been feeling ill the past couple of days and she couldn’t see at all. Her doctor said that she had to go directly to the hospital because her blood pressure was at 170/80. In the hospitals doctors said she had preeclampsia. At approximately 5:00 pm she was taken into the surgery room for an emergency c-section and around 6:00 pm her baby was out into this world and was taken immediately to the child intesive care unit. The baby girl’s weight was 4 pounds with 5 ounces and she measured 18 inches long. Nurses hooked the baby to an oxygen machine because she was born eight weeks premature. After surgery my sister was kept in a dark room for a day and a half because her blood pressure wouldn’t go down. On Saturday she was taken to a room and thankfully she was released on Monday.

Unfortunately, the baby will stay in the hospital for at least a month or until she gains more weight. The baby was fed only water for two days with a serum, making her weight only 3 pounds and 2 ounces. She’s so fragile looking, her skin is so wrinkled and seems so loose. Although her cry is strong for being premature, the doctor said the baby had to stay because she lost weight not because she was sick. That’s a relief for the family.

Beatriz Aleksandra Torres Maldonado, what a mouthful, right? This is how my sister and brother-in-law named their firstborn daughter, my niece.

     When the sun was at its highest peak I drove through the main road in Guánica in my way towards Ensenada. As soon as I made the turn as if I was going to the beach called Playa Santa, I was captivated by some monumental chimneys and some ruins of the fallen buildings made of rusty zinc to my left. These ruins were, in its peak moment, the principal precinct of the Sugar Mill known as Guánica Central. Guánica Central was founded in the year 1903; just five years after the American soldiers entered the island through Guánica, as one example of the American mega corporations. Its establishment marked what would be a big economy impact to Puerto Rico in the first half of the twentieth century.

     There are hundreds of stories inspired and kept by the ruins of the antique Central Sugar Mill, but one in special captivated the townsfolk over the past few months. The Central has been signaled by many as the dwelling place of a strange tall and dark creature, called by everyone as the gargoyle. According to police reports, people have seen this horrific creature posted on the Central’s chimneys. The alleged gargoyle has been described as black, more than six feet tall, gigantic bat-like wings, red piercing eyes and it emanates a strong putrid stench mixed with sulfur. The gargoyle’s presence it’s linked to the deaths of many animals, as well as attacks to people and residencies close to the sugar mill.

     The area of the Central is a very dangerous zone so it is closed to the general public, not only because of the alleged gargoyle, but because of the instability of the ground and the unseen deep black water wells all over the area. From a safe distance I can see many old, rusty and fallen buildings, but not in appreciative detail. Shielding my eyes from the sun with my hand, I marvel at the height of the chimneys just across the street from where I was standing. I start my walk through the sidewalk across the street from the Central and try hard to see across the high bushes that surround the ruins. There’s not much that’s still around of the central’s glory, but what’s there can tell a story. A broken down cyclone fence marks the boundaries of what’s left of the sugar mill, which ads to the eerie feeling you get by just watching the Central on this deserted and peaceful day. Only a chirping bird can be heard near by, no cars, honking or yelling; well after all it is midday Sunday.

     Suddenly a gust of wind envelops me from the front and the stench of the unknown to me engulfs my nostrils. My heart stops instantly as the thought of the gargoyle pops into my mind, but I calm myself breathing rhythmically.

     “Stupid Deborah, that’s just a story.” I tell myself. But warily I looked around just to make sure the gargoyle wasn’t near me.

     “What’s that? You talking to yourself about a story?” that was an old lady passing by.

     “Yeah, I was just thinking about the stories of the gargoyle.”

     “Those aren’t stories. Those are facts, and I know because I’ve seen it.”

      “Really? That’s really hard to believe.” I give her an incredulous look.

     “It’s true I tell you. I was walking home one dark night from a friend’s house around here when I saw the gargoyle standing on a kiosk roof. The eyes were glowing deep red, the wings and head were like a bat’s, although the body resembled a muscular man’s body covered all over with fur. It was looking around; suddenly it was looking in my direction. I got scared, but couldn’t move. Then it flew away.”

     “Ok, I have to go now.” I moved away hurriedly from her. I shoved myself into my car and left.

     What can I think about this? Is it true? Did she make it up following up what others said? Does the Central really hold the true to the gargoyle mystery? More importantly, what can be done to put an end to this gargoyle madness that plants fear into people’s hearts, specially children?

     I decided to return to the sugar mill ruins on Saturday evening to talk to some people. Hopefully I’ll find someone who lives nearby the sugar mill. The sun is almost gone for the day while I walk towards the frappe stands, just across the street from the Central, to buy one of those satisfying and delicious drinks. I bought a strawberry frappe, a favorite and popular flavor, and it looked so refreshing, and so it was. As I’m enjoying my frappe, someone calls my name nearby so I look around and see it is Mrs. Ana Iris, a woman I know who lives here in Ensenada. We greet each other and talk about what’s happened since we last saw each other, not long ago. It finally comes down to me asking her about the gargoyle stories and the sugar mill.

     “Oh, I haven’t heard about that in a while.”

     “Is there anything you can tell me about it? Did you see it or know of someone who’s seen it?”

     “Of course I never saw it. Besides, I never believed in it.”

     “I don’t believe in it either. I just want to know what others have experienced.”

     “Well, my father that lives in a house close by in this street claims he saw it. He was actually a worker in the sugar mill as a young man.”

     “Really, what did he say about the gargoyle?”

     “He told me that on a December night he heard sounds like when a bird is flapping its wings, just that it sounded like it was a very big bird, because when it flew by the house’s zinc roof it rattled. Followed by a rotting smell.”

     “And what about the sugar mill? Has he told you any stories about it?

     “Well, I remember that he would explain to us how he worked along with his father. It was a very hard work, from sun up to sun down, but at the time it was what they could do. He also said that the sugar canes went as far as the eye could see.”

     The information that the old lady on Sunday and my friend on Saturday told me made me more wary when I looked at the abandoned buildings of the sugar mill at this twilight hour. The sky was illuminated with dark and deep shades of purple and red orange. Now more than ever it looked like a hunted place surrounded by ghost stories, in this case gargoyle stories. Anyhow, how can I believe the gargoyle really exists if I didn’t see or heard it? This kind of reminds of the Chupacabras back in the 1990s. Whatever happened to it? The theme of the gargoyle is not new. There are reports and stories that go back to the 1980s, just after the sugar mill was closed in 1982. Could it be that the Gargoyle influenced in part the closing of the sugar mill or was it used as a possible excuse? The official reports say that the sugar mill in Ensenada was closed because in Puerto Rico the economy was changing from Agricultural to Industrial.

     I lived my childhood in Maunabo, the town right in the Southeast corner of Puerto Rico, where my grandfather had a plantain plantation with a few sugarcanes. He used to take me there and he’d give me canes to suck on. I remember liking the sweet syrupy nectar as it entered through my lips, grazing my throat and finally settling in my stomach. Sitting with my grandfather in his house’s balcony, I remember seeing trucks loaded with sugar canes to the point that some canes would fall down to the street, making me wish to never be behind one of those trucks. My grandfather would explain to me how the sugar cane industry worked and how it helped the economy of Puerto Rico. I never got tired of listening to him, even if he was repeating himself; he was one of my favorite persons after my mother of course.

     The monumental remnants of the Central sugar mill have been deteriorating over time giving the message that the sugarcane belonged to an era and an industry lost in Puerto Rico. The silence reigns, the only sounds are the musical notes of the wind passing through the Central fighting against time and oblivion. Let’s get up and make a travel through time trying to revive an important part of Puerto Rican history.

My Bucket List

By recording your dreams and goals on paper, you set in motion the process of becoming the person you most want to be. Mark Victore Hanson

 

“So much to do, so little time.” I know that many people think like this sometimes and they do only a fraction of what they really want to do. In part is because they don’t organize the things they really want to do, like in a bucket list. Here’s mine, not in a specific order:

  1. Become a great activity planner, with my own business.
  2. Open a cake shop, as another business.
  3. Read as many books as I can.
  4. Live in any other town, in Puerto Rico, than Guanica.
  5. Be a more open person.
  6. Travel the world, or as many places as I can, specially Europe.
  7. Perfect my drawing skills.
  8. Learn Japanese, French, Russian, Bulgarian, Portuguese, Egyptian and Hebrew.
  9. Perfect my German.
  10. Become a chef, for my own pleasure, not as a job.
  11. Be able to become a foster parent.
  12. Adopt at least one child.
  13. Visit every town in Puerto Rico, including Vieques and Culebra, and enjoy the town, not just pass through it.
  14. Be a Social Worker.
  15. Make my family tree as far back as possible.
  16. Ride a gondola in Venice, Italy.
  17. Visit a Renaissance fair.
  18. Ride in a hot air baloon.
  19. See the pyramids in Giza, Egypt.
  20. Witness the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain.
  21. Ride an elephant.
  22. Witness a meteor shower.
  23. Visit the Great Wall of China.
  24. Attend the Carnival in Venice.
  25. Grow my own flower garden and vegetable garden.
  26. Solve the Rubik’s Cube.
  27. Take care of a bonsai tree.

So, what do you think? Have I inspired you to make your bucket list? By the way, this isn’t the complete list, I’ll add more things as I think of them.

Tears for a lifetime.

     Just before finishing 1th grade, in May 2004 I participated in the program Close Up Washington. This program realizes a series of one-week-long activities for USA, and its territories, high school students so they can learn about the Congress, Government and democracy. I went with eleven other schoolmates and, of course, a teacher from high school. The program arranged the stay for every participant at the Chevy Chase Hotel, where we got most of the activities, but on Wednesday we were taken to the Capitol.

     The morning of Wednesday May 5, 2004 I got up early at 7:00 am and dressed in my black blazer and matching skirt and went down to the hotel’s restaurant to eat breakfast. As I entered the restaurant my nostrils were filled with different scents from the continental breakfast. Freshly brewed coffe, hot milk chocolate, warm french toasts and oven warm bread. So many delicious things to eat, where to start? I made my choice and went to a table to break my night’s fast.

     At 8:00 am we were told to head to the bus to go to the Capitol to meet the Resident Commissioner of each participant’s state, Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner at that time was ex-governor Anibal Acevedo Vila, but our appointment was until 4:00 pm, so we were left in front of the Capitol. As soon as I steped out of the bus I immediately regreted wearing a skirt, the temperature was 44 degrees Celcius and it was windy. My skin was crawling all over, but our teacher told us that she was taking us to see some walking distance attractions and I was thankful to warm my body. We went to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, the Museum in front of the Ford Theatre where Lincoln was assassinated, the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the National World War II Memorial, the Washington Monument and the Holocaust Museum.

     The Holocaust Museum was the most impressive one to me. Not because of the building itself, but for the story it told, the true heart breaking story of the Holocaust.  The Holocaust was the state-sponsored persecution and murder of aproximately 6 million Jews by the Nazi regime (read more at www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005143). The Museum presents a narrative history using more than 900 artifacts, 70 video monitors and four theaters that include historic film footage and eyewitness testimonies. I knew about World War I and World War II, I knew that the Jews were the most to suffer, but I didn’t know the details. The Holocaust Museum opened my eyes and crushed my soul.

     As I write this, tears threaten to spill at the memories, it is such an emotional place. One exhibition in particular pops into my mind. It’s a big room with a long runway with rails at both sides and at both sides countless shoes. Shoes that were worn by the Holocaust’s victims, and died in them. Yes, shoes from the World War II. Have you ever smelled old shoes? Well multiply that by, I don’t know, maybe a million. The smell is vague in my mind, but I remember it wasn’t a pleasant smell for anyone. As I went from one exhibition to the next I discovered different perspectives and feelings that overwhelmed me, but at the same tim helped me to understand better the suffering of these human beings.

     I highly recomend this place for everyone, but not for those who are very emtional who even cry at the sight of tears, like me. I’ve known of people who, besides me, have cried at these events, and I know that we won’t be the last ones to cry because of the holocaust.

     I’m the second granddaughter on my mother’s side of the family and was the favorite of my mother’s father, my maternal grandfather. I remember that he’d play with me all the time and wouldn’t ground me, even if I deserved it. In my eyes, when I was a shrimp of a girl, I thought that his house was humongous. I’d take the bedroom’s size to my advantage, in which I’d hide and my grandfather would go looking for me. I remember so little of him, but what I remember are happy memories and fond feelings when we were together, save one.

     It was a day when I was almost half a decade old, the weather was breeze fully warm and the sky was clear. The sun was high up in the sky, nothing blocked it, but the bulky canopy of the trees in the backyard provided day-long shade and the breeze made them dance a slow rhythm sensual to the eye. Inside the house, I was playing hide and seek with my grandfather. I was hiding inside one of the closets of the house. It was pitch dark and full to the maximum capacity, but there was a small peeking hole in the side of the door frame through which some brightness entered.

     “I’m looking for a little princess, who has emerald eyes and chocolate hair. Where could she be?” I heard my amused grandfather through the clothes in the closet.

     “Maybe she’s here. Nope. Maybe here.”

     I heard he was getting close to my hiding place and couldn’t control the giggles that escaped through my lips.

     “Was that her? It sounded like she’s in the closet. Let me see.”

     With a breath drawn in sharply, my heart stopped and I knew I had blown my cover. I was about to be discovered, but nothing happened. Did he go to another closet? I decided to peek, but to see well I had to get out of the closet, so I did. I pushed my way through the clothes and the darkness into freedom.

     “Boo!!!”

     “Aaahh. Grandpa, why did you do that?”

     “I was just playing with you, sweetheart.” He picked me up and gave me a bear hug.

     “Ok. Now you hide.” I told him.

     “Maybe later. Grandpa is tired and needs his rest. Ok?”

     “But what will I do? I’m bored.” I wailed.

     “Go look for grandma. I think she’s baking cookies.”

     “Ok. Sweet dreams.” I gave in quickly at the mention of cookies. So, I kissed his forehead as he lie down in his favorite armchair in his bedroom, his throne as he called it, and made my way to the kitchen.

     Instead of going to the kitchen from the inside of the house through the long, dark and solitary corridor, I went out the back door. I decided to play along the way. Although we lived in town we had such a big backyard and grandma always had chickens. The backyard had very big grey rocks and many plantain trees.

     “This is Deborah calling base. Come in base.” I spoke to Home Base in Earth; I was an explorer in an alien planet.

     “Come in Deborah.”

     “What are my orders, base?

     “Find rare items and bring them back.”

     “Roger.”

     I followed base’s orders and surveyed my surroundings. I moved rocks and debris, and found a most rare item base would be interested in. I picked it up and analyzed it. It was shiny made of metal and wood. The metal end had pointy teeth like a saw, it wasn’t sharp but I decided to hold it by the wooden end. It was actually a kitchen knife.

     With it my role changed and I became a pirate battling other pirates with my sword to protect my ship. Swords clanked and pirates were yelling at each other, while I moved around defending myself from other pirates. I was panting and moving around protecting my crew and ship. Suddenly a big shadow came upon me. It was like it became night all of a sudden, but I realized it was a big white monster that came from the sea above me.

     “Take that you monster.” I pierced the monster’s flesh. It floated away in a flash and with its disappearance I showed who was boss. The pirates cowered before me and retreated, making me victorious.

     I went inside the ship to asses the damages. I opened the door of the kitchen and noticed that nothing was damaged. There was no one to be seen around, but I noticed that on top of the stove someone was cooking something, or maybe, a witch was brewing a potion. I instantly knew that I couldn’t taste it for I would die a horrible death. I looked around for a bench to reach the potion and throw it.

     “What are you doing, Deborah?” my grandfather surprised me.

     “Oh, you’re awake. I was playing make believe.”

     “I’m awake because you’re grandma woke me up because she couldn’t find you. You know you have to tell us where you are at all times.” He wasn’t yelling at me, but I knew he was worried.

     “I’m sorry.”  

     “It’s ok, but next–” He stopped abruptly when he noticed what I had in my hand. “Give me that.”

     “No. It’s my sword.” So I ran and tried to hide, but I wasn’t fast enough. My grandfather cornered me in the sofa and tried to take the knife from me. I struggled with him and suddenly the knife was out of my hand. Immediately I felt a warm liquid running down my hand. It was blood, but who’s?

     “What’s going on? DAD! What happened to your hand?” My mom arrived from work.

     “Deborah was playing with this knife and I took it by the blade, but she yanked it away from my hand and sliced it, but I’m ok. Don’t worry.”

     “No dad. That looks horrible. Mom, take care of the girls while I take dad to a doctor.”

     “Mommy, is Grandpa going to be ok?” Tears were streaming from my eyes.

     “Don’t worry, baby. I’m just taking him so they can clean the wound.” Out the door they disappeared.

     “I’m sorry.” I sobbed to the emptiness they left behind.

     The next day when I saw my grandfather, I ran towards him apologizing and saying that I would never play with sharp objects again. Over the next months I noticed that my grandfather became weaker and sleepier than before. He started going to the doctor very often, until he was admitted to the hospital. Before he went to stay in the hospital he talked to me and my sister, hugging us and telling us how much he loved us. Crying I told him I didn’t wanted him to go to the hospital because I couldn’t go visit him there. He gave us one last hug and went his way to the hospital. That was the last time I saw him.

     My grandfather never left the hospital. He died just before he began his seventieth decade. I blamed and punished myself for his death because of the incident with the knife. An incident provoked by a disobedient child, who wanted to do as she pleased. Many times throughout the first year of grandpa’s death, I’d go to his big forest green armchair, which the smell it had of tobacco began fading, and curl in it crying my eyes out. In one occasion that I was in his armchair, my mother witnessed me talking to the armchair apologizing and crying for having ended his life. She rapidly advanced towards me, hugged and smooched me, and began to explain what really happened. My grandfather died out of a combination of a heart condition with diabetes. Knowing this didn’t make me forget my gloominess and feel overjoyed without guilt, just a tiny bit better because I knew I hadn’t really killed my grandfather.