This was written exactly one month after hurricane Maria.
The Puerto Rico I grew up in is green, all green.
It extends vibrantly until it reaches a decisive blue topped with white frothy waves. It has a blinding, resilient white light that you have to avoid, turning your head from it, if you want to watch the sky.
When it’s sunny, it has a forget-me-not blue sky and everything looks clear and sharp. The sand beneath your feet will be warm and white and in the mountains the birds and the trees will be having a party of joyful sounds that welcome you and make you just-happy. When it rains, everything gets a romantic, almost nostalgic veil and your heart feels like a bolero swaying to a soft melodic tune. It feels like a good glass of fine wine, with a breeze in your face.
I have run all my life, both in my mind and with my feet, through it’s forests. I have laid under a palm tree and thought “this right here, this warmth around me, this ocean in front of me, are of me and I am of them”.
The Puerto Rico I wake up to now is destroyed.
Every single leaf was burned by wind. The plains were so savagely cleaned of vegetation that I can now see from a few blocks off my house, standing in the street without any effort, all the way to the town center, which is ten or fifteen minutes away. The land gave it’s trees away to the hurricane winds as if saying “yes, take them all, I am in need of new ones”. For days after the heavy rains the rivers refused to return to their places. They rebelled a little longer, wild and angry until they finally tamed down like a herd of wild horses that had seen danger and had shown their courage, swinging their manes, jumping, puffing and snorting and then upon seeing that their anger was unfounded, returned to their grazing a little reluctant.
I can finally see the shapes of every mountain around us, and see how so many of them have caves that the taínos used to scout the coasts.
The first time I drove out of my house after hurricane María, three days after it went right through us; through our island and through our hearts, and through our lives, and through our dreams – three days after it went through our futures, for now we will talk of the days before the hurricane and the days after the hurricane and no one will even have to ask ‘which hurricane?’ Because everyone will know – the roads looked like they do on those ‘end of the world’ movies. Every few feet there was a tree or power pole and I had to keep going from one side of the road to the other. There was no zinc piece of ceiling in it’s place and they all lay on the ground looking like someone curled them as you curl a ribbon with scissors under a balloon.
It hurt. Every single broken thing hurt. I also felt alive, very consciously alive “I am living right now, in this broken place” I thought and I felt the air in my lungs and I held on to the steering wheel, feeling it under my hands, and I felt my hair on my cheeks. Everything looked surreal but also very true, very on us. I was the broken trees, I was the broken house with no ceiling and no walls, I was the sky over me and the ground under me, and everything was me. I extended outwards further than I had ever before, and every other person around me did too.
We looked at each other and we knew.
The same day the hurricane left us behind, neighbors called each other, in friendly shouts – there were no communication systems for days – and they cleared their streets. People gathered wood pieces from the street and repaired what they could. I saw three houses around my neighborhood with fixed ceilings that same day by nightfall.
I walked around drinking the new surroundings in, trying to make peace with them. “I know you, I accept you, I embrace you and I love you”, I saluted every thing before me. I talked to people I never saw before and one of them, holding a box, called on me and said “do you want an avocado?” And I said “if you give it to me, I’ll take and I’ll thank you” but what we were saying was “would you share this new land with me? Would you be my sister? Would you care for me?” And we said “yes, I will share this land with you. I will be your sister. I will care for you.”
We bathed outside under rain water. We soaked in the sun. We talked to our neighbors.There was no radio, so at any time of the day, I could hear my neighbors singing. We found joy in looking at someone else’s face and bless them because they were alive. Little by little we gained back the spring in our step.
A month after the hurricane went through us, right through us all, something peculiar happened: Puerto Rican flags started to pop up everywhere. In front of stores, in houses, in cars. It looks like we are celebrating Tito Trinidad winning a new belt, or a new Puerto Rican Miss Universe, or Monica Puig winning the gold medal. We were celebrating our lives. It is a wink to our compatriots, it is a hand in the shoulder, a “I know it’s a challenge, but you can do it”, a “don’t give up”, a “you’re doing good”.
The spirit of our people was shaken, but not destroyed. The island gave everything willingly, ready for it’s renovation, but the hearts of Puerto Rican’s it protected.
Every one of us is Puerto Rico, and we are not broken.