I can’t believe you’ve been gone for 20 years. Sometimes I’m not sure how I have survived your loss. How can we manage to live through such a tragedy and yet, here I am. 20 years without your voice, your laugh, your hugs. I felt so grown when you left, I had no choice but to be. I had Ma and 4 other siblings to care for. But looking back, I was a baby. I have done so much since those first 14 years you got to witness in person.
Where do I even begin. You passed in my last month of my first year of high school. Given this, I can’t really say I had a typical high school experience, except that in many ways it was. I thought I knew what love was, I didn’t. I studied hard as usual to get into a good college like I promised, I did. I strengthened my friendships to last a lifetime, they have. College was a little more complicated. With finally time away to process your absence, I broke. Luckily I found 3 of the greatest people ever created to help me through it. And even though I took a break, I still managed to graduate on time because you taught me to work hard for what I want.
Then came my 20s. I wish you had been here for those. I feel like it would have been so different. I fell in love, I went to law school, and I started to become the person I was meant to be. I never got to see you in your 20s. You were already 29 when you met Mami. I know the legends of your 20s. I never quite knew what parts of your stories were true, it never mattered. I made a lot of mistakes, as I am sure you did. The love I had didn’t last, much like the love of your 20s didn’t. But I graduated from law school, with your help of course. When the darkness began to creep back in, that perseverance that you passed along in my bones kept me afloat.
So I entered the adult world for the second time. This time building a career. And then it happened. Were you watching that night? Did you know I would meet my future husband in NYC, just like you met Mami there? I finally met the love I knew I deserved. Papi, you would love Jake so much. He makes me laugh like you did. I cannot begin to imagine all the jokes the two of you would tell together. He takes care of me, lifts me up and encourages me. He is my biggest cheerleader, just like you used to be. He makes me feel like I can do anything.
I am less than 1 month to being half way through my 30s. Now I remember your 30s. You were always surrounded by friends, whether it was playing yahtzee on a weeknight or a big fiesta. Your birthdays were always an affair. It must be where my appreciation for a birthday celebration came from. You showed me that even as an adult with a job and family responsibilities, time with friends is important. It gave you joy. We are alike in that way. I love being around my friends, my chosen family. Did it wear you out sometimes though? I never got to ask you that. Sometimes I feel drained and need my space from people. Me time. Maybe that’s from Mami.
I also watched you spend your 30s (and 4 years in your 40s) as a father to 5. Well officially 5 because everyone in the neighborhood loved you. Everyone called you Papi. So far, I am not spending my 30s as a parent. I know you’ve watched me cry about this. It will happen though. I am as sure about that as I am about that fact that you’ve seen it all. All of it. Every laugh, every heartbreak, every triumph, every tear. You’ve watched. You’ve comforted. I know when I speak to you, you listen. You can’t respond in the same ways that you used to but I know the messages are received.
20 years. You’ve been gone physically from me longer than you were here and yet you gave me a lifetime of love. A lifetime of stories. And until my own last breathe, this world will have a part of you in it.