From a young age, adults tell us to enjoy the childhood innocence that seems to exuberate from all of us once we hit teenagerhood. Considered the biggest staple of our lives, summers represent a time where we act as kids and maybe even live out the summer fantasy of traveling abroad. I always dreamed of visiting the land of my grandmother’s tales, the ones she would tell me when I grew bored of the long summer days in Puerto Rico. Stories of wolves, food, music and family would always pull me in like a fly drawn to light. At times, it seemed like a fairytale; she owned no pictures except a portrait of my great grandmother that decorated her most precious possession, her piano. I was always told Spain represented the land where my grandparents fell in love, where my grandmother suffered through the post-war period and where one side of my family still lived. My grandparents used to visit yearly; for me, it signified a time when they disappeared to the unknown while I continued attending school and following my regular routine.
And then, just like I always dreamt, my mom announced that I would fly with my grandparents to the wonderful but unknown land of my fairytales: Spain.
I remember seeing my cousin’s face as we arrived at the airport; the cousin that seemed to only exist during my summers. They looked different, more at home and at ease. My grandmother seemed ecstatic to have one of her grandchildren visit her home. She pointed out every block we passed by as a way of reliving her own summers in Spain. A sense of bliss and amazement seemed to fill every minute of the trip.
I felt overjoyed seeing my grandfather bring churros every morning for breakfast when he picked up the daily newspaper. Every day felt like a dream that had a long time coming; the hours spent exploring the city with my cousins, learning about my family history and seeing my grandparents fall in love again in the old city. I felt like I finally reached the high point of the carrousel I always pictured in my dreams, where I could finally breathe fresh air into my lungs as the excitement of the high point filled my veins. But just like every carrousel, the cart must come back down to the ground.
And it did.
It seemed hard to notice at first: his pale skin, sunken cheeks and thinning body. He never gave any sign that he felt that something was wrong. He seemed so happy during those summer months as he and my grandmother regained the youth that bound them together. In a couple of months, I would face the worst natural disaster in the history of Puerto Rico with only my mom and aunt to shelter me through it. A week after, I would find that my grandfather begun succumbing to cancer.
I can still remember my family’s cries as we heard through a quick phone call on our way to grab food. The summer I held so close to my heart now seemed like a dark shadow that would chase me forever. Now it all makes sense; that summer seemed like the home movie that captures the happiest moments in our lives. My grandfather gave us one last summer to come to terms with the memories he would leave us with; a summer to show us how much he cared about us with the smallest details that allowed us to overlook his condition. Regret still chases me every day, I didn’t really think I would ever come around to moving on from this summer. When it all becomes too much, I try to remember the feelings and atmosphere of those days.
The days where my biggest problem was making sure I made my bed correctly before my grandmother came to check.
That summer ended my childhood and instead caused me to grow up into an older version of myself with the pain. It caused doubt and heartache to think about how quickly three months can amount to in the life of someone, but it also taught me to appreciate every second, every minute and every hour of my life. It taught me to always make sure everyone around me felt okay, even if it seems like the dumbest or least concerning issue. It taught me that remembering presents our greatest tool in life because one thing no one can take away from me is what I experienced that summer in Spain. No matter how many years pass along, I will always remember my grandfather as the happy man who sang to his wife and granddaughter as they prepared breakfast each morning.
Te amo abuelo, de tu muñequita (I love you grandpa, from your doll).