La familia

Last week I received an email with a suspicious subject heading from an addressee I did not recognize.

So, I opened it.

The email was entirely in Spanish and every single word was CAPITALIZED. After reading the first two lines, I realized it was from my half-aunt with two arms who currently resides in Cuba.

I continued reading with incredible curiosity. Would there be a hidden message? Some sort of code I would have to crack to figure out if she needed me to send her freeze-dried rice and beans or to get the exact coordinates of her possible raft landing on the sands of Key Biscayne.

Unfortunately, there was none of that. It was the most mundane email ever written, with bits and pieces about her family and her thwarted efforts to come to Miami for a visit.

We're not yelling...We're Cuban.
We’re not yelling, we just don’t know how to take off the caps lock.

For being the first time you talk to someone, it was awfully familial. I almost became indignant about the whole thing until I remembered that this is just the way it is. When your mother is an only child from a divorced marriage, you get weird hyphens and halves for family members: a step-grandfather, a half-aunt, a great-aunt with one arm, a fourth-cousin, a guy you have to call your uncle even though he is not. And when your mother is from Cuba, all of these hyphens and halves get the right to become intimately involved in your life – if you let them.

Which is why I keep them all at arms length. They’ve struggled against communism for 50 + years. I’ve struggled against their meddling for 35 years.

Fight as I may, I always end up losing. All of the halves and hyphens I’ve met, and continue to meet, have this intense instinct to connect with relatives – no matter how distant in blood line. They don’t hesitate in calling me family and immediately asking me why I’m so fat.

They don’t care that I’m clearly different in so very many ways. They can care less about what I do for a living or my opinions on the Pope or socialism. They don’t want to get to know me, because knowing that we carry similar DNA is enough.

So, here I am, replying to an email from a stranger and contemplating whether or not to make a joke about my period being late this month and not having to worry about the possibility of her becoming a half-great-aunt with two arms.

If I could turn back time

Half of people aged 60 and older are online. I read that somewhere when I was trying to figure out why my mother was on Facebook.

As you may recall from previous posts, she is quite a bit of a character. Unfortunately, it does not come across in her online persona, as she insists on being totally demure and subdued. Just the other day she called me in a huff because someone had tagged her in a photo that wasn’t very flattering. So, being the good daughter, I walked her through the process of untagging (and then I kept the photo for myself and posted it across all of my social media networks).

As of late, she’s been using Facebook as a display board for her family photos. Everyday she posts two or three black and white pictures and her dearest 3 friends comment on her youthful beauty or on how much time has passed.

I’ve seen these pictures hundreds of times. My mom was big about show and tell and I didn’t mind being shown and told. I can’t tell you how may hours I spent flipping through crackling albums and boxes of photos – ignoring her every word and making up my own stories and names from the images.

Her latest post, however, was of a photo I had never seen and the catalyst for the most confusing 90 seconds of my life.

timetravel

First, I spent some time admiring my outfit. I wondered if it was part of my Beethoven stage, as I figured I was right around the age I began taking piano lessons. And then I thought that pattern on the skirt and shirt was clearly the inspiration for Tetris or Galactica. Then my focus shifted to the actual photo. I thought it was very artsy of them to take a black and white photo in the 80’s when color was all the rage.

After about half-a-minute, I noticed my father on the right, who was totally asleep, next to my mother in the polka dots and mustache and I was like boy they look young. And then I recognized the guy standing next to my mom was her father (they have the same mustache), which was weird because I was told I never got to meet him because he died before I was born. But there he was standing next to me and holding my brother…who is almost nine years my elder.

Wait, what?

I felt myself getting dizzy. I remembered that final scene from “The Shinning,” you know with the photo of Jack Nicholson from the past or the future or whatever that was:

shiningprequel__span__span

Before stepping away from the computer to look for an ax, I read my mom’s post where she explained that it was a photo her half-sister emailed from Cuba. And the little girl in the photo was my mysterious half-an-aunt-with-two-arms that is currently wandering around Cuba. (So, just a quick recap I have a half-aunt in Cuba that I’ve never met and a great-aunt with half-an-arm in the States that won’t leave me alone.)

I kept staring her image in the photo. The resemblance is uncanny.

If this woman and I looked exactly the same at that age, perhaps if I found current photo of her, it would be a good indicator of how I will look when I’m 50. So, I trolled my mother’s Facebook page until I found one. And, well…

There she was, in a bathing suit, and she’s hideous.

Not without my mother

This week would not have been complete without my mother’s hijinks.

Ah, my mom.

My AARP-traveling, widowed-but-open-to-trying-again, doesn’t-know-her-next-move mother.

My mom ended up in the ER again this week. Yeah. It’s not that she makes a habit of it. It’s just that the circumstances of her visits are always less than ideal.

For instance, the last time she was admitted, she was there escorting my one-arm great-aunt (See Bedtime Story for more on her). They were at a dinner party (which is code for Sangria-fest) and the armless twisted her ankle while walking around the pool. No. She did not fall in. That would have been too perfect. Her coiffed yellow hair completely sticking to her face, screaming for help, with one arm splashing around in the pool. It would’ve been awesome. But no. She fell on the pool deck.

They didn’t call 911. They just sat her down, in a chair, elevated her foot and poured her more Sangria. They placed a cold compress on her bulging ankle and told her that it was all going to be okay because in this country, they didn’t amputate on a whim.

When the armless stood up to leave, she was unable to walk. Convinced that it was a “broken ankle” and not “pure drunkenness,” my mom took her to Coral Gables Hospital’s Emergency Room. Only, after a few hours of waiting, my mom started to feel queasy. She felt the ER waiting room spin out of control. And, right there, she started puking, like Linda Blair in The Exorcist.

Not knowing that my mom had just come from a dinner party (remember, Sangria-fest) they admitted my mom under the suspicion that she was having a stroke. And left the armless, still with a broken ankle, in the waiting room by herself.

But that was then.

This time around, was very different – and much more respectable. Respectable, if I leave out the part where my mom was admitted wearing a leopard bra and see-through panties. But why leave that out? Everyone saw it.  Including her concerned co-workers. After all, they were present while Fire Rescue workers undressed her in the office. The office of the firm that happens to be owned by her son. Yeah. Good times.

What landed her in the ER this time around was she gulped a fat-burner with a few cups of coffee on an empty stomach. When Fire Rescue showed, she had a pulse of 200 beats per minute. So, on my seventh day of work, after spending the afternoon at a major seaport, getting sexually harassed, I spent the night with my mom, holding the back of her hospital gown, so no one would see through her see-through underwear.

By the way, the armless is still at the waiting room. Someone should really see about her ankle.