It’s senior year of college. My best friend, Christina, and I go to Miami for Spring Break so that we can tan until we peel and flirt with men in white loafers and gold chains. We’re near popping with excitement when we arrive at the hotel in South Beach. We eat Pastelitos de Guayaba and draw out a map of dance clubs for the night, only there’s one obligatory thing we must do first, one request which my mom has made: have dinner at Abuela’s.
Ugh, fine, we’ll have dinner at my grandma’s even though MTV will certainly not be there to cover it. Bratty and grimacing, I slide on jeans and pack my miniskirt in a purse for later.
We walk into her tiny apartment and it smells like too much oil. Abuela Rosita in her bright orange smock, full face of make-up, blue eye shadow included, she is swaying her hips to a staticky song on the radio. Dozens of bangles clank along. We bring her flowers and chocolates, and she acts like the Queen of England because of it, like she is royalty and we are in a castle and isn’t it beautiful? She doesn’t have two dimes to rub together, and yet she is rich. Abuela kisses my cheeks fifty times and tells me I feel like my mother. Now there is a lastima-casserole baking in the oven.
Abuela goes back to frying tostones in a pan, pours the other half of a Crisco bottle, smushes the plantains on a paper towel once they’re done. Her small hands push down on the counter but I feel the pressure in my heart. Do I call her enough, I wonder? When is the last time I wrote? She laughs with Christina, tells her she’d be a great First Lady, that she can see it in her future. Then she looks at me and says, “You can make it.” And for the first time, I believe I can. Abuela continues talking a mile a minute because who comes over anymore, who does she cook for? Only Buddha and Jesus and the Jewish star hanging together on her bedroom wall. She has taken what she wants from all religions because rules don’t apply here, these are her friends, and her faith is simply love.
A fire sets off on the stove. We wave rags at the detector and put out the flame and nobody panics. It becomes the greatest party the world has known, us dancing at the alarm, drinking wine, a cloud of smoke to hold this moment. Over her miniature table, hours pass way into the night and I want to throw away my miniskirt - who needs it? Greasy food goes down well with a side of stories and my best friend can’t stop smiling and Abuela lays her fingers on my wrist because she doesn’t want me to go.
For the rest of our trip, not a bar or nightclub would match the fun. And for the rest of my life, I would remember this time with Abuela, how I almost missed out on sharing one last night before she passed away. How I almost missed out on the brightest lastima that’s ever shone.
p.s. We miss you and feel you every day.