Zaylis Zayas Rivera

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“Instantly, you recognized when he was drunk. His guitar, clavé sticks, and his old songs on his lips were the clue that he soon wasn’t going to be able to walk a straight line,” said my mother when I asked her about my grandfather. I don’t remember him like that. I was eight-years-old when he was diagnosed with stomach cancer and what I do remember is him lying on the bed, pale, thin, and unconscious.

“I accompanied him during an entire year to his doctor because he frequently had stomach pain. The doctor gave a vague diagnosis. He attributed it to stomach ulcers. Maybe he would be alive if he had been diagnosed correctly from the beginning,” added my grandmother as a tear rolled down her face.


“He had his moods, pretty explosive sometimes. Once, he came home drunk. He called me, ‘Rosita! Rosita!’ with a coconut in his right hand. I woke up and I saw a big shadow in front of the door. He threw the coconut at me and it knocked my head so hard with it that I became unconscious. Next thing I remember I was in the hospital and he was looking at me with sadness in his eyes,” she said laughing out loud.

Her reaction to what happened that night was pretty strange. How can a moment of such pain turn into a moment of comedy and humor. I remember she had once told me how hard her childhood had been and how her father treated her. That period of her life was full of maltreatment and chauvinism. Maybe she was laughing about the coconut story because laughter was her shield from the pain.

“He just hated when you kissed him on his mouth too. We kiss everybody on the mouth, but he couldn’t stand it,” my mother said.

But in the photograph she shows me, my grandfather is leaning down to kiss me on the lips.  I must have been four or five years old.


“It was the first time he went to the beach with you. You were so excited and he was happy because you were happy,” said my mother. It was strange that he had allowed me to kiss him like that when he wouldn’t allow anyone else to do it. I have a lot of questions about him without answers.

I do remember the day he died. My father received a phone call and left hurriedly for his father’s house. His sister from the US was already there as well as my other aunts and uncles.

A while later, the electricity went out and our house went dark. Then the phone started to ring like crazy. It was my father with sad news; his father, my grandpa had just died surrounded all his children. What a sad but beautiful passing!

Looking at his pictures make me wonder what our relationship could have been had he lived? Would it be like the one I imagine and desire? Would it be one of love, advice and understanding? Would he be proud of me?

Even though I grew up with the shadow of his smile portrayed in pictures and my last image of his was as he lay dying, I am still connected to him. My grandpa, Amadeo Zayas, was a farmer, and a father of thirteen children who worked so hard all his life to support his family. I will always say I am proud to be Zaylis Zayas.



  1. Very beautifuls story indeed. Very Beautiful image of you and your grandfather. I must say this story is so well written and the memories are so beautiful, it really touched me and made me feel identified with you. Very nice story.

  2. Wow! This is a really meaningful story. It’s nice how by being a kid, experiences are seen differently, like when you said when your whole family was together when you received the news that your grandfather died. It was a sad experience, but it was beautiful because everyone was together.

  3. Great story. It has such a nostalgic feel to it and shows well all that we should appreciate along the road along with the pride of being yourself.

  4. That’s a beautiful story. I never met my grandparents because they passed away, either before I was born or when I was too little. My mother’s father had drinking problems, too. Sometimes, he would mistreat my grandmother when he was drunk. Although, he never mistreated my mother of her brothers. Alcohol is such a destructive habit.

  5. Me encanto!! que bonito!! Estas historias son las mejores para pensar en nuestro futuro y en las cosas que tenemos para asi dar las gracias! Pa lante siempre!

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