INES M. ARROYO MONTES

INES M. ARROYO MONTES

PAPA’S LAST CHRISTMAS –

It was beginning to smell like Christmas. We had just bought a tree and some unique decorations in Casa Febus. Some of the neighbors had done the same, but they had begun even before Thanksgiving just like all the other boricuas. The excuse was that the holidays went by too fast, and we had to enjoy it until the end.

Here in Puerto Rico, we celebrate the octavitas, meaning that the parrandas and lechón persist even 8 days after Three Kings’ day. We celebrate every chance we have; any event is an excuse for a day off from school and work here on the island. That is why I think that some Puerto Ricans even celebrate the octavitas of the octavitas so they can practically celebrate the whole month of January!! That is one of the reasons I love this island so much.

My journey in this small but beautiful island began as soon as I turned six years old. I had lived in the states all my life, well, my short life. My parents were divorced, meaning I saw them on different days. Sometimes, I also lived with my grandparents. When I turned six, they announced they were moving back to their place of birth: Puerto Rico.

This could not be happening to me. The only two people I trusted in this world were about to leave me in this big state. It was time to say goodbye, but instead I started to cry, and locked myself in the bathroom. After all the adults had a long talk, they decided I should leave with my grandparents. Ten days later, I was on a plane saying farewell to New York and hello to Puerto Rico!!

My childhood was a pretty normal one. My grandparents were always taking good care of me.  I especially remember my grandmother, who always cooked those delicious meals. Even my friends would gather at home to eat her yummy rice and beans with steak. She also liked to ride bike, and play basketball with us. I do not know where she got all this energy.

Arroyo,Ines-Image3

.

On the other hand, my grandfather or Papá, as I always called him, was quite a character. He was always laughing, telling jokes and hammering at early hours in the morning. He had a special routine: breakfast, hammering, television, lunch, nap, television, dinner, shower and sleep. One thing that bothered him was people that walked without their chanclas around the house, in other words, barefooted. When I was younger, I loved to walk without chanclas around the house, and he would yell, “Ponte las chanclas.” Something inside me trembled, and I would quickly obey.

Another anecdote that I will never forget was when I just stood in front of the television so he could not see. He would immediately tattle, and my grandma would come, and tell me to get out of the way. I guess these were my ways of saying I love you to him.

As the years passed by, we always celebrated the holidays with the arrival of relatives from the States. My dad’s arrival was the one I waited with more anxiety than all the others.

He came, and we would all gather together in the balcony with: cousins, aunts, and friends we had not seen in the whole year. We would talk about the people we knew that still lived in New York, our great grandpa’s house in the country, his roosters and chickens, food, ill people, and of how was it possible for the mall to be so full when many complained they did not have money?

The Christmas I turned 10, was the one that changed my life forever, and will never erase from my heart. It was the Christmas that Papá was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I was scared because I knew that any disease with a name that I could not even spell right had to be awful.

The fact that he lived four years with this disease, made my memories longer, and more painful. He began to isolate from others, and hardly told me any jokes.

He often got frustrated because he forgot simple things like; where he left his hammer, how to change the channels, and if he had eaten or not. This made me feel very inept. How could a person who was always so happy all of a sudden become so depressed?  And why him? Why Papá?

I remember that once I asked grandma what Papá had done to get Alzheimer’s. She just told me that his age could be one reason. I wished I was older so I was the one with the disease, that way, I would not remember that Papá had this unfair illness.

One year later, he had completely forgotten who I was. If you could only see the look on his face when I was in front of him, then you would understand why I would have preferred to have lost all my memories with him also. Papá would stare at me for a while and just say, “Who are you? Where is your family? Are you lost?”

Lost? He was the one lost and he did not even know it. By this time, we had also hired a nurse to help us shower and feed him.  His entire memories of his family had gone away like the wind.

In one occasion, I forgot to put my chanclas on, and he began to yell, and follow me with a broom all around the house. The nurse and my dad had to hold him tight in order to “save me.” He started to scream at them to leave him alone. Papá looked so angry that the nurse had no option but to stick a needle in his arm to make him calm down. I saw this scene with tears in my eyes, anger in my heart, and even hate towards myself for causing this incident. After that day, I even shower with chanclas.

Christmas was here again, and so was my dad. One month later, I would turn fourteen. My dad was heartbroken when he saw Papá this year. His first reaction was, “Mi viejo está en cama?, y tanto que le gustaba estar en el patio.”

The sorrow in his voice was obvious, but he contained his tears. I had never seen my father cry, and the thought of him doing so, made me shiver. Seeing him cry was something that deep inside, I knew eventually would have to happen. Papa’s death was also an experience I had to “prepare” myself for. The question was: How does one prepare for such unfair, unexpected and unhappy events?

Like many painful moments in life, his death came without a previous announcement. We went to sleep, after sitting around the Christmas tree, and talking about the family as we ate ice cream.

I woke up, and looked at the tree as I thought to myself that I had never bought a gift for my grandpa in all these years. It was too late for that now. The saddest thing was that all he had from me were memories, no gifts. Memories? Oh God, Papá didn’t have that either, he had lost those during these years. He would leave with nothing, not even memories of his beloved granddaughter. Grandma was looking at me with a tender smile, and said, “He is gone, but do not allow your sorrow to take away the memories you have from him.”

At the funeral, I saw my dad cry for the very first time. I felt scared, and confused at the same time. My only wish was to find the perfect words for him at that moment. All that came out of my mouth was: “I love you, please don’t forget me.”

He said: “I would not forget you even if I had Alzheimer’s,” and we both smiled, and embraced each other tightly.

Arroyo,Ines-Profile Photo

.

Artist Statement:

I learned how to read and write at the age of four. My grandmother taught me both languages, therefore, I write in both of them. I usually write my stories in English, and then I translate them. I love to read. I have a lot of books.

I wrote my first stories at the age of seven. When I started teaching, I began using my stories. Since I also like photography, I use my own pictures in the stories. This is something I enjoy so much. I write about personal experiences, but, also from observation. My stories always include some kind of lesson. I think this is a simple manner to teach values, entertain, and be remembered.

Biography:

Ines M. Arroyo Monte was born on January 5, 1986 in New York City, U.S.A. At the age of six she moved to Puerto Rico to live with her grandparents. Her hobbies include: reading, writing, volleyball, listening to music, going to church, and taking pictures.

She graduated from Inter American University of San Germán, Puerto Rico, completing both a bachelor’s and master’s degree there. She currently teaches English as a second language at that university. She also teaches high school completion courses. She soon plans to continue her doctoral in Education and Curriculum. Her goal is to publish her stories which she writes in both English and Spanish.

More of her stories can be read at Arroyo Ebooks on facebook – https://www.facebook.com/arroyoebooks