If the winds are not blowing too hard off the North Atlantic side of Puerto Rico, I can talk to my father on his cell phone, his one and only line of communication. My parents pooled their resources before the housing bubble burst and purchased a cliff-side home overlooking a village by the ocean. Before leaving for the winter, they traded their LAN line for cell phones that claimed to provide service in both Puerto Rico and North Carolina.
“Why pay for something we’ll only use half the year,” my mother asked. It was sound logic, but as it was, roofs proved too daunting for the mobile provider in both locations. They complained to the company, but ended up surrendering to the corporate giant. Instead, they took my calls on the porch, which inclined the conversation toward simpler matters.
“You won’t believe it. There’s geese swimming in the pond now.”
The “pond,” as my mother called it, was the murky accumulation of back water in the field next to the driveway. After a particularly large storm, the water sat there for months. The area was once a landfill, but developers came in with bags of grass seed and houses eventually sprung up around it. My parents spent their first winter in Puerto Rico as these houses were being built.
This was our first holiday alone as a family. Although I called them a week before Christmas, celebrations were already in full swing.
“Are you guys alright over there,” I asked, after what sounded like a shotgun blast. The phone was going in and out. It was Puerto Rico’s chaotic celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior, but it might just as well have been Chinese New Year. With festivities starting as early as November, Christmas is something of a marathon for Puerto Ricans. When I spoke with my parents a few days later, another celebration called Three Kings was already in full swing. Jojo, the family Boston terrier, ran off in a blind panic from the fireworks, only to be imprisoned in a box by one of the neighborhood boys.
From what I could gather, the boy wasn’t trying to be mean. He knew the dog belonged to somebody in the neighborhood, but with all the distractions around, he had just forgotten about the dog. My dad found Jojo still trembling in the box. The term shell shock came to mind. My mother crammed half a Xanax down the dog’s throat, but according to her “The poor thing hasn’t been the same ever sense.”