Agridulce (Bittersweet)

Originally published on April 25, 2016 on the Where There Be Dragons “Field Notes Board” at

Family is a big word. It encompasses time and blood, unconditional love and endless disputes, shared heritage and obligations sometimes unfulfilled. Family morphs, shapeshifts between inner cities and broken suburbs, splits into two houses and foments a torment of dust blocking the doors in one last attempt to stall the inevitable explosion into the labyrinth of self-discovery. Family sometimes wears the uniform of inherent singularity and sometimes permeates through illusory boundaries created simply by the rotation of the earth.

As family carts along its oversized baggage and projects expectations so lofty they only appear in any clarity in nostalgia, it can be difficult to extend that already bursting definition to include a mere three weeks of thrice-a-day meals and grateful laughter. Yet as I worried my connections weren’t authentic enough they sprouted directly beneath my feet from ducking airborne bubbles of oil as they fried breaded chicken and first-time-escalator stories that require a full reenactment. The peels of plaintains stick to the deceptive cousins of bananas and without missing a beat my mom mockingly asks, “you gonna cry about it?” Jokes fly and laughter becomes the soundtrack. My Quechua has hardly improved but somehow I understand Maria, the 98-year-old matriarch, with the ease of a smile and repetition. I open the door to whispers of a drunk, only to pass the impressive snores of a slightly intoxicated grandma snuggled in her bed. On Sunday my mom asks if I will go “trot” on my morning run and I peel peas and fava beans in preparation for the cuy (guinea pig) I was eager to try and she was excited to teach me how to eat.

I’m continually reminded that moments are elusive when I hear my name on Maria’s lips and realize that with three days left we have truly become family. The love that radiates every time my attempted Spanish sarcasm is met with a chuckle and objections cease when I insist on washing my plate warms my insides from the bottom up and evokes something akin to mourning. I seem to always land on a time I missed, a night I went to bed instead of sowed more conversation, the sheer shortness of three weeks. But nothing is diminished. My homesickness faded as I sat on the stump and cut vegetables and I realized that ache was replaced with a realization: this is my family too. Maybe some families stretch generations and traditions and are defined by the molecules in blood shared by the same cells. Maybe some families are birthed over a willingness to open up, to release what came before and lean into the unlikelihood that love can germinate in the fertile land of sincerity over the short span of three weeks.