Those of you who know me well know that I have a six to 10 foot personal space bubble around me at all times. I don’t like to be touched, I don’t like to be asked questions, and I sure as hell don’t do well in large social settings. In short, I am always on guard, and have a very difficult time not being in control.(My sister and I joke that I like to “control the flow”) Knowing this, then how is it that I ended up in a wheel chair being hulled up a hill by my cousin and his parent’s to my uncle’s house, in the pitch black darkness, at two in the morning, while I screamed “Me Voy a Morir!” (I’m going to die) at the top of my lungs, is beyond me.
I guess it all began the night before when I met one of my cousins, his wife, and his parents. Their good nature and welcoming personalities put me instantly at ease. (A rarity, I know). My personal bubble dissipated in a matter of seconds (which never happens) setting the mood for that night and the night to come.
So, the night we met happened to be the eve of Three Kings Day. (The night the three Kings arrived to deliver their gifts to baby Jesus. In Puerto Rico, this day is celebrated on January 6th every year). My mom’s family has a long-standing yearly tradition of gathering together in a country house in the town of Jajome in celebration of this historic/religious event. Since I just happened to be in Puerto Rico this year during this holiday, I reluctantly decided to join the festivities. (I was reluctant because I felt guilty for not spending those days with my ailing grandmother).
Between my conscious and the foreboding feeling of being lost in a mountain town, surrounded by the pure darkness of the night, I was more than ready for a drink when we arrived. The first thing I did was walk into my aunt and uncle’s house and commandeered a glass of wine. (Truthfully my aunt willingly served it to me). But, that wasn’t enough. I needed to let loose, relax, and I needed it bad. The house down the hill was blasting American pop music, while amused laughter drifted up through the air. I knew instantly that that was where I needed to be.
Despite my sprained ankle, I hobbled down the unevenly paved road, in pitch blackness, with a “goblet” of wine in my hand, while I followed the sound of music, voices, and a faint light toward my destination. Knowing that it was most likely my aunt that was there, I opened the gate and announced myself as my mother’s daughter when I hobbled in. The family instantly welcomed me. It was dark, and I could see only the outline of their faces, but I recognized my aunt and uncle’s voice instantly. The third voice, was much younger. I didn’t recognize it, but soon learned that it belonged one of my cousins. He introduced himself to me to which I responded, “Oh yeah, we’ve met before, I think when you were nine years old or something. You were pretty small”
him: “But how old are you?”
Me: “Me? I’m 30?”
him: [speaking in mock laughter] “Then how could we have met before!” (it was a statement not a question) “I’m older than you. I’m 33.”
Me:I was thankful that it was dark because I could feel the flush coming over my face. Outwardly though, I shrugged it off, and laughed then said, “Well I know I met one of my aunt’s sons about 1o years ago, and he was around nine years old at the time.” (Keep in mind, that at this time, I still hadn’t seen my cousin’s face. It was nothing more than an outline in the darkness)
Him: he instantly raised his hand to the air and exclaimed, “Oh, that must have been my brother. He’s here somewhere.” As he said that, he stepped out of the shadow, and I realized then that not only where we around the same age, but also that his thick curly hair contained many strands of gray. No, this obviously wasn’t the cousin I’d met many years ago. He laughed a little again, and again I was thankful that my face was hidden by the darkness.
And so the night began.
Not long after arriving, the smell of homemade stew, and the homey comfort of sitting around a kitchen while someone cooks drew me inside. My cousin’s wife and my aunt were there. Feeling instantly at home, I drew up a seat and took in my surroundings. The place hadn’t changed much since the last time I’d been there, (more than 15 years ago). It appeared to be less kept, but the wooden walls still held the welcoming warmth that a house develops after years of sheltering joyous life and countless memories. I jolted from my reveries as my cousin sat and began talking about how “hot” he is. Don’t ask me what the conversation that led to that was, because I was less than half listening. I looked at him in amusement then smiled when I glanced over at his wife, who’s subtle charm, and charisma was more than a match to him and blurted out without thinking something like, “You might be hot, but you still don’t hold a candle to your wife.” Being the good-natured guy he is, he took it well.
At some point in the evening my aunt designated my sister’s friend and me as the stew judges for the night. Both houses were making stew for dinner that night and it was up to us to judge whose was better. This one was so delicious and filling though, that I never got around to trying the other. Anyhow, as we were serving ourselves, my aunt kept calling my sister’s friend ‘Lion.’ It took us a while to figure out that she had misheard his name, and after a fit of laughter we dubbed him “Lion of Macedon Mocha Bear.” Sadly enough, for him, I think the name will stick for life.
I don’t remember how or why, (I’m pretty sure it had something to do with the stew judging) but somehow we ended up back up at at my aunt and uncle’s house, (the one higher up on the hill) where we spent the night singing, dancing under the lights of a laser light show, and partaking in conversations that were by no means suitable for children and or conservative Utahn’s like myself! (j/k about that last part).
The conversation started out innocently enough as we star-gazed and discussed constellations, but at some point in the night, my sister and I attempted to show off our belly dancing skills, and my uncle took it upon himself to teach us inappropriate Thai phrases such as “tiny p****, “Great big p****,” and “harry *****.”(phonetically these sounded something like Nitnok quay, mac nok quay, and bushy hee, respectively.) As more whiskey shots were taken and more wine drunk, we got rowdier and began to feel an urge to cause some mischief. Eventually, my cousin spearheaded a “Paranda.”
From what I can tell,a Paranda is a Puerto Rican tradition where groups of people show up at their friends house playing instruments and singing traditional Paranda songs. (somewhat like caroling, but loud and obnoxious, and the goal is to get drunk and add more people.) The friends receiving the Paranda then let the group in, feed them and give them alcohol, then join the Paranda as they make their way to another friend’s house. These can last all night when done correctly.
Our Paranda, however, was pretty tame. The four of us that were still awake made our way into my aunt’s kitchen. One of my aunts was still awake, and was not too keen about the idea. She voiced considerable concern and warned us to stay clear of all pots and pans because she figured we’d just end up ruining them. Heeding her warning, despite my inebriated state, I grabbed a metal salad bowl and a wooden spoon. My cousin and his father grabbed the lid and some beat up old cooking pot, and plastic wear, but my uncle went for the gold. He chose to bang together a very expensive cooking pot and a very heavy can opener. None of us noticed.
With “instruments” in hand, we made our way down to the lower level where we awakened my sister and her “friend” with our half-hazard Paranda. There were four other guests staying on that level but we failed to find their room. I guess we weren’t making enough noise for my cousin’s satisfaction, because he walked over to the radio and began blasting music as loud as it would go.Eventually we made our way back to the upper level.
We began with a feeble attempted to wake up one of my aunt who was sleeping in the guest bedroom. Unfortunately for us, she had taken a sleeping pill, and would not be awakened from her drugged slumber. So we turned our efforts on to my other aunt and uncle. Their room was locked, and at that point we were slightly disillusioned by our lack of progress, so we started putting all of our make-shift instruments away. At one point, one of my uncles managed to unlock their bedroom door, but I feared my aunt’s wrath and pretended like I didn’t hear them. I’m not sure if the others did the same, but we all put our stuff away and then went to bed–although not without incident.
According to my sister the night was filled with more drunken shenanigans, which included my uncle falling on her and her “friend” as he stumbled to the bathroom in the middle of the night. And a ridiculous conversation with me about the “perfect” type of man for me. (Apparently in my four days n PR, I had decided that I needed a laid-back Puerto Rican,–a “go with the flow” type of guy, to balance me out. Lion de Macedon has named said fictitious man “Gustavo”) Needless to say, it should have come as no surprise when the next morning my uncle woke up to find that his wallet was missing, or that my aunt woke up to ruined cooking pot. She was pretty upset that morning, but her anger wouldn’t compare to the fright I would give her later that night. . .
And that my dears, is the prequel to the night that I thought “I was going to die.” Sequel to come later this week.