Puerto Rican Memory: Old San Juan.Castillo San Cristóbal.
It was a day spent at the historic fort in Old San Juan. We were on a two-day delay for our return home after a two week vacation in Vieques and the JFK airport in NYC was socked in by a pounding snow storm. Our house rental on Vieques was over so we took the puddle jumper flight over to mainland Puerto Rico where we stayed at the outlying hotel we’d found on our first delay caused by another snowstorm on our way south. Now we needed to watch our pennies while taking advantage of the extra time. We took the bus into the city and found our way to the tourist area in Old Port.
I remember the expanse of lawn and the incredible age of the stone that made up the fort. I remember with edged sharpness what it felt like being between walls built so long ago. I remember Carolyn’s presence, her laughter, her buying her Senior National Park Pass at the entrance of the old fort, Castillo San Cristóbal. We walked the neighborhood, finding a place for lunch, seeing the vibrant colors of the houses, swimming through the sounds of Spanish in the streets, making lemonade out of the lemons of our delayed return home, unexpected sightseers happy with our successful expanded time in an unknown place.
Memory is tricky ground and always a bit more fluid than expected. As aging progresses memory becomes a measuring device, used by yourself and others. Here and now, on an early summer morning in Maine, this feel of that day in San Juan is powerful. It was the day before the last time I would ever see my friend, in a hurried parting at JFK as she rushed to make her connecting flight to Vermont and I, terrified as always by the teeming mass of NYC, needed to make my way to the train that could take me upstate. Days later I would become ill with an undiagnosed mysterious something that took me down for two and a half months. Months later came a card with a note from Carolyn. She had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She did not want contact: no visits, no phone calls, no questions. Years later, my life shifted and morphed into a very different life and Puerto Rico became a different place, altered forever by a vicious hurricane and ongoing political turmoil.
But now, in a very different geography, I am transported by memory to that sparking blue day walking in San Juan and the solidly real feel of it. The mysterious essence of life follows this memory, this aliveness in my brain or consciousness, almost shocking in its rich presence. What do we possibly know about our existence and does that (ever) matter?