My Cousin Adele

My Cousin Adele

Since Monica has floated the idea of my posting additional pieces on her blog from time to time, maybe it’s a good idea to get to know me a little bit. So here you go:

I was born to a family high in the Swedish aristocracy, but was kidnapped as an infant by a roving band of deranged Puerto Rican housewives… Continue reading

Black History Month: In the Presence of Greatness

Black History Month: In the Presence of Greatness

One of the things I love most about my job, is being able to meet ordinary people who have achieved extraordinary feats. For, what they have achieved–sometimes despite hardships and the need to overcome great barriers–is awe inspiring and can … Continue reading

Meet Oliver Twist

Editor’s Note: Lightning in a Jar will return. In the meantime, you can catch up on the installment series by visiting the High School Years page.
This week, Henry, my Cavalier King Charles who descends from royalty, has written a post about our new arrival.
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Oliver Twist is so much healthier now, which is good news for Henry. Or maybe not.

Cook says I’ve been remiss in not revealing something of significance, but if truth be known, I saw no point. After all, why stir up news of a troubling nature?

Yet, Cook says it’s not troubling at all. It’s wonderful news, she adds, a tad too happily.

Ahem. I beg to differ.

It seems we have a new addition to our household. A Maltipoo, of all things. Of course, as a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who is the only descendant of royalty (and of sound mind) residing in this abode, I ought to have had the power to veto bringing in a new soul, even if the soul in question is an orphan, rescued from the ravaged streets of our fair city.

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When Oliver Twist arrived, he was underfed and ridden with Sarcoptic mange and roundworms.

But alas, Cook seems to have forgotten that little fact of my lineage, and left me unceremoniously out of the loop the day she decided to take the imp into our home. Make that, my home.

Naturally, I would be delighted with the arrival of said dog had Cook brought him here to serve as my footman. One can never have enough, you know, particularly when one has none at all. Thus, that would have made sense, especially when you consider the rascal is always underfoot.

But, there you have it. That is our, ahem, splendid news. Oh, did I say splendid? I meant disastrous.

Oliver Twist is the name he bears. Cook says it’s an homage to a hooligan from a Charles Dickens novel.  I wonder if that other Oliver would have given me a case of mites. I’ll never know.

Young Oliver Twist arrived to our familial tableau weighing a mere 1.75 pounds, about the same amount as one of my meals. Hmm. Not that I’m getting any ideas, mind you.

Cook says a man of questionable circumstances, no doubt, with a nefarious look in his eye, was selling the ragamuffin on the streets–practically in the gutter. Feeling bad for the scamp, she took him in, only to discover Oliver, at four weeks (not eight weeks old, as she’d been told), was undernourished and laden with a slew of ailments. One of which was passed on to me. Bloody mites.

Thus, Cook was duped and royal that I am, I had no choice but to suffer in silence as I took the medicinal cure that awaited me.

Feeding time!

Feeding time!

And now, it’s been nearly four weeks since his arrival, and–blasted!–he now seems to be thriving. Nothing like a little R&R I’ve always said, which is something I myself strive for every hour of every day.

The rapscallion is slowly gaining weight, and getting perkier by the day. Confound it. I despise perky. He’s rather a bit of a bloody nuisance, too, and insists on playing with my handsome, feathery tail, and on pulling at my leash.

Oh, the things a royal must bear. Noblesse oblige, I suppose.

Not a word to Cook, but first chance I get, I’m teaching young Oliver how to be my footman. That is, once I figure out precisely what it is a footman does. There’s still hope for him yet.

Incidentally, speaking of Cook, she has added two videos here of the boisterous lad, so that you can see what a bother he can be. Frankly, I don’t understand what Cook sees in the little fellow. Perhaps you can tell me?

Lightning in a Jar: Wounded Prey

CHAPTER 4:

I was raised on romance. Songs like, “Fly Me to the Moon” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” and countless memories of sitting in a darkened theater watching the larger-than-life romances of Doris Day and Rock Hudson, Louis Jordan and Leslie Caron, not to mention Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and their respective princes.

Grace Kelly and Cary Grant.

Romance on the Silver Screen: Grace Kelly and Cary Grant.

At home, I was hooked on late night movies. Two o’clock in the morning and you could find me watching Fred Astaire blithely dancing across a ballroom, in his top hat and coattails, whisking Ginger Rogers into his arms as they danced cheek to cheek. Or, a debonair Cary Grant gazing passionately into Grace Kelly’s eyes. Ditto, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, who suggestively asked Bogie to pucker up his lips and blow.

As a little girl, I imagined one day meeting my own knight-in-shining armor. I even had a dream about this mysterious someone. He was on the battlefields of World War II (don’t ask), injured in combat and I was a nurse who had to nurture him back to health. We fell passionately in love and when I awoke, I had the faint memory of something that never happened. At least, not to me.

But then Jake swept me off my feet. There had been other crushes, as far back as first grade, but none amounted to anything but a passing fancy. With Jake, it was different. For six months we spent every possible moment together—in school, after school, on the weekends, and it seemed, whenever we couldn’t be together, we were on the phone. Kismet.

Maybe I would’ve been better off growing up on the set of a movie. I could have gone to the school sock hop with Andy Hardy. I would’ve treated Clark Gable a whole lot better than Scarlet O’Hara ever did. I could’ve danced in the rain with Gene Kelly, forever living my happily ever after on a Hollywood sound stage.

But instead, I grew up in reality and real life doesn’t promise the same happy endings. It’s filled with twists and turns, jealousy, misunderstandings and ultimatums. There’s love, yes, but there’s also love gone wrong, growing apart, moving on, and that’s all she wrote.

So, when Jake unceremoniously dumped me for another—a senior with soft brown curls, upturned nose and a smattering of freckles—I was devastated and downright miserable. Nothing and no one could console me.

James had said I was bubbly, which is why he called me Bubbles. But after Jake dropped me cold, it was hard to believe I had ever been upbeat or could be so again. Laughing and joking seemed pointless. Crying came naturally.

The shock of the breakup paralyzed me. After crying on my mother’s shoulder for two and a half hours, I took to bed, and stared at the ceiling, wondering how I would ever be able to return to school and show my face. The humiliation of it all. I had neglected many of my friends while I was dating Jake. Would they welcome be back into the fold or would I need to find new ones?

My best friend, Liza, had never liked Jake in the first place. “You could do better,” had been her refrain. I could do better, but it scared the bejezus out of me. I thought I had done better with Jake, but now Jake had a new girlfriend and they were in love. I wondered if Liza would say the same about her. That she could do better.

I couldn’t sleep that night or the next. I had no appetite, not even when my father offered to take us all to Sizzler’s for charbroiled burgers. I was mad at him. I blamed him for forcing us to go to D.C., certain as I was that the trip was the source of my problems. After all, had I not been gone a week, Jake and I might still be together.

I briefly thought about James. Last time I saw James, I was angry and said things I now regretted. I wondered what it would be like when I saw him again come Monday. How could I face him? Ugh. I wasn’t looking forward to going back or seeing him. And, I wasn’t sure which would be worst.

I heard the phone ring. Three times. My parents had a rule that the phone had to ring three times before you could pick it up. No more, no less. Go figure. There was a persistent knock on my bedroom door.

“Mónica, teléfono,” said my mother in Spanish.

Exhausted, defeated I dragged myself into my parents’ bedroom to take the call, carefully shutting the door behind me so as not to be overheard. A thought crossed my mind. Maybe Jake was calling to apologize, to beg me to take him back.

Picking up the receiver, I said, expectantly, “Hello?”

“Hey, heard what happened. You up for some company? Say the word and I can make it in 10.”

It was George, one of Jake’s good friends. I recognized his distinct nasal voice. George, who was just a tad taller than me, had jet black hair and swarthy looks. He also had no discernible personality to speak of, told dull jokes, and had a few whiskers that appeared to be growing willy-nilly on one side of his chin, which he said he kept to impress “the ladies.” George and I had never hung out on our own. I barely knew him and I found him rather annoying the few times he tagged along on my dates with Jake. And, now suddenly he wanted to pay me a visit. Someone must’ve told the hyenas that the prey was wounded and it was time to come in for the kill.

The smell of fried plantains wafted through the closed bedroom door. My mother was making dinner, and probably also cooking up her fritters made with white rice and bananas. My favorite. Her way of trying to make me feel better, and normally it would do the trick. Normally.

Normally, I’d be racing down to the kitchen to steal a bite before dinner. But I no longer knew what normal felt like. I had no appetite, nothing. Just a bland feeling creeping over my heart, cut by the pain of losing Jake.

“So, would you like me to come over or not?” The hyenas were getting restless.

Summing up all the enthusiasm I could muster, I said, “Sure. But make it in 30.”

I needed time for the swelling in my eyes to subside. Too much crying, I suppose.

(To be continued.)

Missed an installment? Catch up by visiting the High School Years page.

Lightning in a Jar: In Like a Lion

My high school in Long Island, New York.

Yearbook photo of my high school in Long Island, New York.

CHAPTER 2:

Time passed. Winter was loosening its clutch on the North Shore of Long Island and signs of spring were beginning to emerge everywhere. In my mother’s daffodils and in the hydrangea bushes in our backyard. In the local park, where they were mowing the lawn and adding fresh sand to the ground by the swings. And, in my bicycle, which had become dusty in the garage, from non-use during the cold months. Now that it was getting warmer, I could once again ride my bike to school in lieu of taking the school bus. These signs were a reminder of the old adage taught to us in grade school. “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.”

Spring break was just weeks away, and I couldn’t wait, though I was hoping to stay home for the break so I could hang with Jake. He seemed a bit aloof lately. I asked him if anything was wrong but he looked at me tenuously and then shook his head.

My parents had other ideas for the break. They were making plans to go to Washington, D.C. to see our nation’s Capital. This was their way of making it up to me for not allowing me to go on the 11th grade field trip to D.C. in October. The idea that girls and boys were going to be sleeping in the same hotel (though not in the same rooms) caused my traditional, Latino parents to forbid my participation altogether. I remember being crestfallen the entire week, when nearly all the juniors were away on the trip and I had to stay and attend school, business as usual. Going to D.C. with my parents just wasn’t going to be the same, and I was doing my best to talk them out of it.

Meanwhile, for the first time, I was excited about math. Turns out, when explained s-l-o-w-l-y, geometry is relatively easy to comprehend. But the real reason I was excited was Sam and James. I enjoyed their company and loved hanging out with them in class. We’d get there early, and gab before class started, during class—whenever we could get away with it—and afterwards. It was the “afterwards” part that annoyed Jake, because he’d be waiting for me in the hallway to walk me to my next period, and more and more, I was one of the last to leave as I tried to squeeze in more time with James and Sam. Something Jake didn’t understand at all.

“Why bother? They’re just kids!” he asked, exasperated.

“Because they’re helping me with my homework, I guess.” Not entirely true, but I wasn’t about to let him know that I genuinely liked my sophomore friends. So instead I said, “It’s okay if you can’t always meet me after class. I don’t want you to be late for yours.”

He seemed relieved. I looked back at the classroom and spotted James gathering his books. He looked up at me and smiled warmly. I was trying to think of something pithy to say to him, when Jake grabbed my hand and books, and pulled me away.

The next day, there was no sign of Jake after class. For a moment, I was disappointed. But then I heard a voice behind me say,

“Hey, Bubbles, mind if I walk you to your class?”

It was James. Quietly soothing James. Who seemed to know as much about old movies as I did, and could crack me up with a wry observation. Because of his shyness, he seemed like a lamb, but there was a hint of wildness underneath his demeanor. James had already conjured up a nickname for me, Bubbles, because, as he said, I had a “bubbly” spirit. I wasn’t sure about that, nor was I crazy about a nickname that sounded like it belonged to a stripper, but secretly I was digging that he had his own name for me.

“Where’s Sam?” I wasn’t used to seeing one without the other.

“Oh, he’s staying. He wants to talk to Mrs. C. about the grade he got on the last test.”

“Well then, I suppose you can walk me, but don’t you normally make a left here to go to social studies? I’m actually headed the other way for my English class.”

“I don’t mind,” he smiled, adding rather expectantly, “Would you like some help with your books? You’ve got quite a few there.”

I reddened. True, I had a lot of books in my hands because I’d been to the school library earlier for a report I was writing and was going to continue working on it during study period, but somehow, I felt James was getting too close for comfort.

“Um, no thanks.” I then paused and said, “James, last I heard you’re not my boyfriend. I don’t mind walking with you, really, because you’re a friend. A very nice friend. But that’s all. It’s weird for you to carry my books.” Ugh. Why did I just say that? I could see how deflated he looked.

“Sorry. Just thought I’d ask, that’s all.”  This wasn’t going well and I had a feeling it was my fault. It felt so awkward being here without Sam to balance us out.

James must have felt it, too, because suddenly he surprised me and quietly said, “Maybe you’re right. I thought it’d be nice to walk with you, but I should just probably get going before the bell rings. Later.” With that, he turned and walked away.

After school, as I was unlocking my bike to go home, I ran into Sam. He was alone and about to head to the public library. I glanced around hoping to see James, wanting to make sure we were okay.

Sam greeted me and said, “If you’re looking for James. His mom picked him up earlier. Doctor’s appointment.”

“Why would you assume I’m looking for James?”

“I just figured,” he remarked matter-of-factly.

“Figured what, exactly?”

“Well, it’s kind of obvious. He’s crazy about you and I think you feel the same.”

I stammered. “Sam, no way. You’re crazy!”

“You think so? From where I’m standing, you seem to be all he thinks about.”

I was aghast. As Sam took off on his bike, I zipped up my windbreaker, and started to think about what he’d said.

James liked me? Suddenly I felt like I was in an Agatha Christie mystery, when all the suspects are gathered together at dinner and all the clues start falling into place, revealing the identity of the murderer. Only instead of exposing the killer, the clues were now revealing this attraction that had caught me unawares. Did I feel it, too?

But now, I could see. Sam was right. I began to remember how my cheeks would burn each time I felt James’ seemingly constant gaze upon me. How he’d wink at me as if he and I were the only ones in on a joke. How he’d hold the door open for me when we got to class. The electric current I felt when my arm briefly brushed his. And, I remembered just how much I looked forward to seeing him, and how, despite his shyness, James had proven to be even funnier and more scintillating than Sam. And his eyes, how beautiful and open there were to me.

I pedaled feverishly all the way home, and by the time I arrived, I knew what I had to do. Two things were certain: James was too young and Jake was my boyfriend. There was only one solution. I had to stop talking to James!

Yet, nothing really is certain, is it? That night, the wind blew furiously, bringing with it a new morning frost that made it too cold to ride my bike to school.

So much for spring. Seems like the lion wasn’t yet ready to yield to the lamb.

(To be continued.)

Missed an installment? Catch up by visiting the High School Years page.