a story from the winner of the writing division of the fall contest, ’21

This is the fall my life fell apart.

This is the fall when the gods struck their anger down upon the tiny island where my roots spread through the sea and nestled next to the coquí frogs as they sing their symphony every night while Maria raises her mighty fist and strikes her mighty blows. This is the fall of the boricuas, dancing in the street while the power that’s been lost to them is promised to be restored by a hollow government who refuses to listen to the cries of the people who need them the most. This is the fall of my mother embracing me with tears in her eyes as she receives message over Facebook that her aunt is safe and alive while waiting on news about other family. Maria strikes her wrath down on my island and here in Wellesley, the echo of her wind blows through the leaves like they’re crying for the tree that fell on top of my Abuelo’s yard.

This is the fall of haggling on the phone for hours to arrange a generator to be delivered so mis primos are able to watch their kids’ shows to distract from the fact that Titi and Tío don’t know whether the neighbors will make it through the week. It’s my abuela, 76 years old, standing in a line that wraps around the block to try and make it into Walgreens to try and get something that resembles food. It’s evacuation plans and sleepless nights and breaking down during dinner because you just don’t know if anything is ever going to feel okay again.

This is the fall where my mother packed up her bags and ran out the door to catch the nearest flight out to Puerto Rico because she got the phone call that if she wants to say goodbye to my Abuelo, she should go now now now and there might never be another. This is a week and a half of worrying, of nearly falling out of my seat every time I received a text, checking furtively because the news was coming and I didn’t want it to come. This is living like college students with my dad as he tries to figure out how to keep a daughter alive while the matriarch is away.

This is the fall where on the day before Halloween, I got a text from my mother five minutes before the final bell of the day rang that she was going to call me in ten minutes and I needed to pick up. This is answering the phone with shaking hands and finding a corner facing the wall where no one can see the tears roll down my face with the intensity of the waves that crashed into the beach next to the house where my mother grew up. This fall was the words “your abuelo passed away this morning” and listening to my mother stitch herself together for one phone call so there will be a chance that I think everything is okay, even though we both knew her front wasn’t working. It’s sobbing into my best friend’s shoulder and excusing myself from any clubs to go home and eat a tub of ice cream with my laptop and three dogs wondering why there’s now an ever present feeling of absence in the house.

 

This is the fall where my sweet, wise abuelo was buried in a simple wooden casket draped with the flag of Puerto Rico, the flag of his people, the flag of his burning joy and passion that is now doomed by a government who doesn’t care whether mi gente dance themselves into an early grave while their beloved island, their vibrant home sinks into the sea with nobody to hear it but the Nuyoricans and a Wellesley girl with the flag on her ceiling, breaking the stove making empanadas and listening to the history of the jíbaros. This is crying out to my classmates, my friends, my government to do something as mis hermanos persevere and continue and live life with the absence everything that makes living life easy.

This is the fall where Puerto Rico lost everything. This is the fall of my island.

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