Sorry, Dad, that about covers my Spanish.
But, don’t worry, I’ve been practicing.
Mom wishes she could teach me more, but Belo and Bela never spoke much of it in the house anyway. They were trying to camouflage her, and, well, it worked. She blends in nicely now, but it’s lonely living in between who you are and who you could have been.
When I was small, she loved how easily my tongue bent and rolled for the ‘r’s when I would ask Belo for more pernil y arroz con gandules or when Marc Anthony did another special on TV and I would turn to Bela and proudly announce, “I’m Puertorriqueña,” like someone had read the weather report wrong that day and I was intelligently contradicting it.
Mom said I was lucky.
I used to say, “I got it from mi papá,” a little smugly.
She’d grow paler than usual. I think she’s sad not to remember more of you, and all the things you must have said to her.
I am sad, too. In fact, I carry around that sadness like a sweater I’m either itching to rip off or hug closer to my skin despite the cold feel of it.
I was crying the day I selected the song for today’s statewide talent competition.
It was as if your hand—brown, strong, and callused, I imagined—hovered over mine as I started to press ‘Play.’
But the feeling springing to life inside me as I walked on stage, and the judges looked me over slowly and gave compliments on my dark, coiled hair, had no fragile or poignant name.
My fists were clenched tight. The back of my neck felt hot.
I wanted some water.
I wanted you there.
Beside Mom, staring at me with just as much pride and hope and fear.
So, when the judges asked me my name, I only unfurrowed my eyebrows and blinked away the redness in my gaze.
They repeated the question.
I said, “Jennifer Mercado.”
(Mom had given me your last name, despite what her sisters and her cousins thought she should have done.)
“And out of anything in the world, what would you wish for?” said another judge. “What is your dream?”
“That my gran—” I cleared my throat. I almost used her term. “My Belo picks the right numbers one day soon.”
“The lottery, ma’am,” I said. “Mega Millions.”
The crowd laughed, and the judges joined them.
I shrugged my shoulders. “He’s been waiting a long time,” I said, finally smiling. “With the money, he’d buy houses next door from each other for his whole family, beer, scratch cards, candy for his grandchildren, and food for all his friends who work long days and still can’t afford much for the people they love.
“His is what a dream should be. I can’t think of anything better.”
With a soft smile in place, a judge asked at last, “What song are you going to perform?”
I had to clear my throat again to keep my voice from cracking. “It’s called ‘Quizás.’”
“And it means?”
As the tender plucking of the guitar began, my voice blanketed the crowd, each word carefully practiced and pregnant with every fragile hope I ever had for the figure in my dreams, holding hands with mom and me.
Hola viejo dime cómo estás
Los años pasan y no hemos vuelto a hablar
Y no quiero que te pienses
Que me olvidado de ti
Hello old friend, tell me how you are. The years go by; we have not spoken; I do not want you to think that I have forgotten you.
The song goes on like this:
At the bottom of it all, you and I are pretty much the same,
I go crazy just thinking
Maybe, life separates us more each day.
Maybe, life distances us from reality.
Maybe, you are searching for a desert and I am searching for an ocean.
Maybe, thanks to life, today I love you more.
Not one of the judges knew for sure what the song said. But, Dad, they cried as if they knew it was you I was singing it for.
When the performance ended, Mom held me tight while I cried into her chest.
I don’t know yet if I won; I’m still waiting. Honestly, that’s not important anymore, Dad.
Because, wherever you are, I forgive you.
Wherever you are, today I love you more.
Besos y abrazos,
* Belo/Bela are not actual Spanish terms for grandmother and grandfather; when I was little, I couldn’t get my mouth to form the words Abuelo and Abuela, and so Belo and Bela came out instead–I brought that moment into this story
** Quizás is a song by Enrique Iglesias
*** The word ‘quizás’ is more like perhaps than maybe, but I took a little liberty here