So, it's been 43 days since that tearful goodbye. (Although it sort of feels like it just happened last night because I had to relive it, tears and all, when I wrote that post.) Yes, Cayden missed Thanksgiving. But lo and behold, I survived the holiday anyway. I thought about him that day, though, before digging into my heaping plate of turkey, broccoli-cheese casserole, and sweet-potato casserole. I thought about how much I had to be thankful for.
I looked around at my family, all laughing and smiles, granted some of those grins were wine-induced. All four of us kids in the family had turned out OK. Not one of us fell off the deep end, got knocked up in high school (I'm not judging; I happen to be a big fan of Teen Mom), or dropped out of college to pursue the art of burger flipping (not judging that, either. Although it sounds pretty judgey.) We were all adults now--successful, funny, and quite good looking if I do say so myself. I had my parents to thank for that (for the good-looking part AND the well-rounded part).
My Cuban grandparents (who we call Abuela and Abuelo) were at the table, too. We'd moved them from Clearwater, Florida, to Keller, Texas, that day, because it was time for them to have someone taking care of them. I was grateful to have a chance to reconnect with them because I knew their time left with us was limited. I used to fly to Clearwater every year to visit them, where I'd speak Spanish with them and drink Cuban coffee five times a day and pick fresh oranges from their orange tree to make a sweating glass of tangy juice.
But once I became a poor, starving college student, I couldn't afford the visits anymore. And then I became a poor, starving college grad, and still couldn't afford much. So my Spanish faded to Spanglish (I don't even conjugate my verbs anymore), I lost my addiction to black espresso, and I adjusted to Florida's Orange Juice straight out of the carton, with lots of pulp, of course.
I'd sat down with Abuelo earlier that day over a cup of black Cuban coffee.
"Did I ever tell you the story of how I met Carmen?" he asked with his heavy Spanish accent. Sometimes I understood his Spanish better than his English. He gripped my upper arm as he spoke. He always did that. He held on to you while he was talking, and if you looked away, he'd start over. Never look away.
I realized I'd never heard the story of how he'd met Abuela. All I knew was they lived in Cuba, and Abuela's mom chaperoned all of their dates.
"Well. I was actually seeing this other girl. But she went away for a month or two, and during that time I went to the park with some friends. A lot of people used to go to this park. There were concerts there all the time and my friends and I always went there to hang out. It was January 5th. Christmas eve. In Cuba we celebrate the dia de los Tres Reyes Magos" he stopped and looked at my dad for translation. "The three wise men," Dad said from the kitchen sink.
Abuelo's memory was so perfect I was almost positive if I'd asked what color shirt he was wearing that day, he'd know.
"And this group of girls came and sat down next to me and my group of friends. She was in that group. Dark, dark hair, and she was wearing a sweater, and Abuela, she was so pretty and had a nice body, really curvy." He didn't say it in a pervy way, or in a creepy way, as it might have sounded from any other grandfather type. He said it in an adoring way. In a she-blew-me-away kind of way. Like the way I talk about the night I met Cayden.
"We talked a little bit, but then I didn't see her after that. I couldn't stop thinking about her, though, and I was asking my friends to ask her friends about her. Then one day I was at this place by the park where they shine your shoes, and the girl I was dating had spotted me. I guess she'd come back. She asked me what I was doing and I told her to go to the park, and I'd meet her there when I was done. When I got to the park, I snuck around, avoiding her until I could find my friends. I saw one of them and one of Carmen's friends was with him. I asked if Carmen was there, and he said she was at a club called Fenix (Phoenix?) not far from the park. So I went over there and I walked in and there was no one there except Carmen and her friend. I asked if I could buy her a drink."
I stopped him there: "Wait, hold up, Abuelo. So you told your girlfriend to meet you at the park and then you BAILED on her to meet Abuela? You stood her up??"
He nodded, smiling, still gripping my arm. I hadn't looked away yet.
"I did. I did. I didn't ever see that girl again. Carmen, she was so pretty. So pretty," he said. He looked over at her in the living room, sitting in a chair falling asleep with her chin on her chest, her walker at her side. It had been 50 years since they'd met, but I could tell he still saw that young, beautiful, curvy woman when he looked at her. I caught myself wondering if Cayden would always see me as that girl who kicked his ass at the bar.
"So, tell me about Cayden."
By the time I finished talking I was sure Abuelo's fingerprints were imprinted for life in my upper arm. I told him he'd get to meet Cayden on Christmas, and then I laughed to myself imagining them trying to talk to each other. Would Abuelo be able to understand Cayden's British accent? Would Cayden have any idea what Abuelo was saying? Even worse, would he look away?
I guess I'll find out in two days! That's right, Cayden will be back here Friday, on Christmas eve, as long as all the flights get to leave London on time. There's potential for more snow over there tomorrow, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that his flight is able to take off on time Friday morning.
But at the table that Thanksgiving day, I was grateful that there'd be a spot for him next to me at Christmas. I was sitting at the "kids'" table with Meg, Corbin, and my friend Joyce. (The kids' table was WAY more fun than the "adult" table, that's for sure.) Cayden would fit right in at the kids' table.