Abuelo (Extended)

Death traveled with me on the plane to Puerto Rico. I’ve been to the island three summers and four Christmases, but this was the first time I saw Death there. I should have known he would come for my grandfather, but I was too young to understand the complexities of cancer, how the multiplication of cells could drown a man. Mi Abuelo called me Ivanhoe, sang “El Barco Chiquitito,” and pulled my toes till I squirmed. He’d hate when my sister and I hid his cigarettes. I hated the pillows that smelled the same as his breath. Now, the smell of smoke is all that I have of him.

For the nine hour flight, Death never shifted in his seat, adjusted his air conditioning vent, or awkwardly shuffled to the bathroom. He ordered a few whiskey and 7ups gulping them down as if he was hollow, crunched the ice between his teeth. In the airport of San Juan, Death picked up his suitcase that was covered in stickers of distant places: Pompeii, Aleppo, New Orleans, Chicago, and Okushiri. I was relieved when I saw him disappear through the sliding doors, when he evaporated into the hot humid air.

I forgot about Death when I was sliding across a basketball court during an aguacero, the warm rain making the concrete sleek against my bare chest. I forgot about him when I trekked the rainforest behind my great grandmother’s house, hearing the coqui trill their tropical song. I forgot about him when several pigeons perched on my extended arms at El Parque de las Palomas. I almost forgot about him on Christmas, but Death had his gift to give.

On Christmas Eve, my parents left my sister and me with my aunt. They went to the hospital to see my grandfather. The next morning they returned and told us that God had taken him away. But I saw Death closing the casket. I saw Death put tears in our eyes. I saw death.

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