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United States, Connecticut, United States, Massachusetts, United States, New Jersey, United States, New York, United States, Pennsylvania,
My whole life, I had seen my grandparents only once a year when we went down for a two-week vacation, and frankly, I spent all my time at the beach with my cousins and let the adults sit around drinking their hot café con leche and sweating, gossiping about people I didn’t know. This time there would be no cousins to hang around with — vacation time for the rest of the family was almost three months away. It was going to be a long hot summer.
Did I say hot? When I stepped off that airplane in San Juan, it was like I had opened an oven door. I was immediately drenched in sweat, and felt like I was breathing water. To make matters worse, there were Papá Juan, Mamá Ana, and about a dozen other people waiting to hug me and ask me a million questions in Spanish — not my best language. The others were vecinos, neighbors who had nothing better to do than come to the airport to pick me up in a caravan of cars. My friends from Central High would have died laughing if they had seen the women with their fans going back and forth across their shiny faces fighting over who was going to take my bags, and who was going to sit next to whom in the cars for the fifteen-minute drive home. Someone put a chubby brown baby on my lap, and even though I tried to ignore her, she curled up around me like a koala bear and went to sleep. I felt her little chest going up and down and I made my breath match hers. I sat in the back of Papá Juan’s un-air-conditioned subcompact in between Doña This and Doña That, practicing Zen. I had been reading about it in a magazine on the airplane, about how to lower your blood pressure by concentrating on your breathing, so I decided to give it a try. My grandmother turned around with a worried look on her face and said, “Rita, do you have asthma? Your mother didn’t tell me.”
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