When I arrived in San Juan, Puerto Rico, stepping off the plane, the warm humidity wrapped me in a silk-like blanket. I could smell the ocean and feel the water. My husband was eagerly waiting for me at the gate. He had been assigned to move the factory overseas and it had been a while since I’d seen him. We greeted each other with joy. It was night-time and we went straight to dinner. We sat outdoors to dine. The balmy weather, the candle lights, soft Latin music and the tiny coqi frogs singing in the background made it feel like magic surrounded us. After dinner, we headed to Aquadilla, which is on the opposite end of the island. Once there, we checked into the hotel, then sat on the terrace enjoying a Pina Colada. We stayed at the hotel a few days until it was time to move into our house which was on an estate. It had a terrace overlooking the water with Mona Island out in the middle of the Caribbean.
We settled into island life very quickly. We spent most weekends at the beach, snorkeling and swimming. We had made friends with some of the people at my husband’s work place. In addition, some friends of ours were transferred to Puerto Rico so they were there with us. Some weekends we went to the rain forests, there were several, the Fort, which was incredible, and to San Juan to see the city. We also drove around the island sightseeing. There was always something to do. We went to the U.S. Virgin Islands: St. Croix and St. Thomas. We flew over in these little tiny 8-seater planes that wobbled through the sky. I knew every time we flew in one of those little planes that we were going to crash into the ocean and die.
When we first arrived in Puerto Rico, the supermarket had what I called “Mystery meat.” There was no way to tell what the cut of meat was. After we had been there for a while, I started to see cuts of meat that I could identify. There were probably 25 American families living in Aquadilla and I suppose they had educated the butchers. In the beginning, there was always a Spanish movie playing at the theater. After about a year, they started showing American movies.
In Puerto Rico, the American women would wear shorts. The custom was that no legs were to be shown above the thighs. It was okay to show breasts but not okay to show legs. I don’t think most of the Americans ever got the hang of that one. My husband told me that the Puerto Rican girls would go home on their lunch hour and change their dresses and refresh their make-up before returning to work. The women were beautiful. Look At J-Lo.
There were only a few places to eat. There was an American restaurant called La Cima on Ramey Base. There was also a restaurant called Nuevo Horizonte where you could get the best fried chicken and tostones which are those green banana looking things you see in some supermarkets. There was also the Hilton in Mayaguez. My friend Judy and I would drive to Mayaguez every day when the kids were in school. We’d go to the mall because it was air-conditioned. We’d leave for the mall after the children left for school then we’d return when they got home in the afternoon. There was an American school there that had 1,200 kids, k-12. Consequently, the principal knew all the kids and so did the teachers.
There were lots of bugs. Big, huge bugs. They had these big spider looking things that weren’t spiders. They had big, bulbous bodies and 5 legs. They could jump 6′ and there was no way to kill them. They were too fat to hit with a shoe and besides that, you couldn’t get that close to them. One time, this swarm of termites hit the side of the house and exploded into my living room in between the hurricane windows. I was cleaning up termites for weeks. Geckos were always climbing the walls and you could saddle the roaches. It was the same way with the plants. There were many of the same plants in California as there were in Puerto Rico, only in Puerto Rico they were super-sized. A banana plant in California might be 7′ tall while in Puerto Rico it would be 20′ tall. Everything was bigger there.
One day, I suddenly got the urge to go home. We had been in Puerto Rico 2 years. It made no sense, but I wanted to leave. I told my husband when he came home from work that night. He said: “We can’t go home. I don’t have a job.” I said I didn’t care, I wanted to get out of the jungle. He went in and told his boss the next morning. We started getting ready to leave Puerto Rico forever. They did find a job for him when we returned stateside.
When we got home, family was waiting at the airport to greet us. My sister-in-law was there and she told me that my Father was in the hospital. He’d had a heart attack and had angioplasty surgery. Nobody told us before we left Puerto Rico because they didn’t want to worry us and there was nothing we could do but worry. We drove straight to the hospital and my Dad was in stable condition. Five months later, my Dad was dead. He died because of the medication he was taking.
I loved living in Puerto Rico but I’m really glad we left when we did. It offered me a chance to spend the last five months of my Dad’s life with him. I believe that God was talking to me, telling me to go home. I am eternally grateful.