I knew one day my view from work wouldn’t be the ocean. I knew someday I’d be doing a nine to five or working in some kind of office or closed environment. A place where the surfers aren’t. A place where the salty air and sand doesn’t invade my senses as well as the building I call work. It would be a matter of time. I just didn’t expect it to be so sudden. What was my life before Maria hit? I just finished college and was getting ready to start my masters. Perhaps in psychology or business. I have a travel bug so I was looking at international business. My university offered a program that would allow me to live in South America so that was a good goal. But I came into work one day and was warned about Irma. Prep had to be done. I did what I thought was important. Picked up my cat, grabbed some food, water, filled the car with gasoline. I mean Irma was a category five hurricane, she wasn’t supposed to be nice. But she passed. My coworkers and I joked about how she wasn’t as bad as we thought. But Maria was coming too. I’ve explained this many times since moving. If a storm comes from the north the Bermuda Triangle does some kind of magic and it usually doesn’t hit Puerto Rico bad. If it comes from the south. Well hold on to your caña and hope for the best. But we did it again. Prepped and joked around saying Ave Maria. But all the Ave Maria’s in the world wouldn’t stop her from being a rotten bitch. She came at around 3am. Immediately took the electricity. Immediately took the storm shutters off one window. Immediately destroyed the garage. That day was full of immediately. Nothing seemed to happen slowly. It just happened. When she passed. I walked out of my house. I walked out to a new island. One I didn’t recognize. I imagine it’s how buzz aldrin felt on the moon. All the green I was accustomed to was replaced with grays and black. Grass was replaced with mud and debris. The trees looked as though they were toothpick for giants. Cracked in half and distorted. Even my home had the paint stripped off it, revealing its murky concrete walls. My grandpa and I got to work clearing out what we could, we honestly didn’t even know where to start. But machetes in hand we tore down and paved a way for trucks that we hoped would come soon to handle the bigger pieces. Days passed, we heard nothing from the outside. We eventually set out to see my uncle and my work. This would be one of the big influences on if I would have to leave home. When we arrived my work was missing pieces of the patio and the roof. I commiserated with my coworkers and the sorrow hit like a truck. Some were left without homes. Others couldn’t contact family. The streets were deserted. No songs. No chatter. Nothing. I walked to the town square. And still nothing. The silence spoke the loudest. I walked back to my grandpa and he said “It’ll be best that you stay with your mom. Just for the winter”. His words were coated with a forced, false optimism. I went home and started trying to figure out what to do. There was no cell signal. I couldn’t even figure out how to get a ticket out. Our plan was just to go to the airport and hope for a ticket. I packed my backpack with five shirts and three pants, a skirt, a dress, and my work apron. I had five copies of my resume ready and could only hope for things to work out. Days passed. I gave my room a good cleaning and on my last I took all the meat and sorted the good from the bad and made a small fire and cooked what was left, hoping it would be enough for my Grampa to last until the power came back. After that he called me to the truck and dropped me off with my grandma in San Juan. I spent a week there. In and out of contact with my stateside family. They were struggling to get me a ticket out, but when they did it was a blessing. I landed in Pennsylvania after a couple of close calls and delays. I settled in to my room, at my mothers house. Two days later I had a job. Four days later my reality struck and I sobbed. There are days where I think I’m doing good and I see this move as a happy accident. But then there are days where I long for home. I want to hear the coqui’s. I want the waves crashing as my background noise at work. I want the reggae, the Bomba y plena. I want to smell cafe bustelo or pilón in the morning. I miss the warmth of my people. The buen provecho and buen día y ay benditos. But I am in the states now and I have to make due. Granted I am fortunate. Much more than other. I have work, I had a home to go to, I have my life. Maria has taught me that try as I might I can’t control everything. I can only control my reaction to it. At work many customers try to pity me. I am no ones sob story nor am I someone’s feel good story. I remind people that Island life is not just piña coladas and dancing in the waves. It’s hurricanes, it’s struggles, it’s being able to adjust to the rising tides. As I write this I’m at work hiding my phone, with my view being a mall parking lot, 80’s music blaring from the bar and mariachi music from the dining room. I’m hosting in the morning and bartending at night. Doing a fair hustle. I have hope for my future what I worry about is my Island. I hope that with the current government my Island doesn’t get swept under the rug. I hope I can return soon and see my Island thrive again.
Neysha Monique Pagan Sabino. This is the name of my muse, my Venus De Milo, my Marilyn and Diana. This woman is one you could look at a million times and always notice something new and meaningful, whether it be brought unto her body intentionally or by accident. The scars, the tattoos, the dreads. They all tell the most wonderful story of a most wonderful person. The day I met her, I felt inadequate. Because at that time I had yet to make any story for myself, and yet in front of me stood a woman of similar age whose story radiated from her. I treated her with my typical treatment of newcomers, indifference. She never saw it as such. She saw some nice-ness in me. She’s always been good at seeing the hidden gems within each person.
I don’t remember how long it took or who initiated the first real contact. But something happened and now I can’t remember a moment in which we weren’t friends. I couldn’t remember it even if I tried. Probably because I don’t want to remember a time where I didn’t have my better half. Four years have passed and I still get the twinge of jealousy whenever she calls someone else her best friend, but I believe all of her friends have a piece of her complex personality within themselves and this is what draws her to them and vice versa. The broken pieces from old spirits that are drawn to one another to become whole again.
And to say we bonded on normal things would be an understatement. We are the weirdos, the outcasts. Death would bring us together while ironically life pulls us apart. We don’t do normal. She’s never been normal. Even the most unique and unusual words couldn’t describe her. For this I love her.
There are many songs that have lyrics that remind me of this enigmatic person. But only one full song that I believe best describe our relationship, oddly it’s from the musical Wicked, about two witches similar to the kind we often believe we are. The song is called For Good. As she leaves for an undetermined amount of time in Southeast Asia I find one part of the song to nail my feelings on the head.
-It well may be, that we will never meet again in this lifetime, so let me say before we part. So much of me is made of what I learned from you. You’ll be with me like a handprint on my heart. And now whatever way our stories end, I know you have rewritten mine by being my friend-
I don’t like going into individual times, or experiences simply because it puts people in awkward positions to explain themselves and often my memory falters in recalling some events. But try as I might I would never describe any moment with Neysha as bad. All were learning experiences. I don’t think she ever learned much from me, I don’t have much to offer. But from her I learned independence, strength, acceptance, patience, and trying to see past the exterior of a person.
In the past months before she leaves I’ve made jokes of how I won’t be able to function when she leaves but I know I’ll be okay. I forget sometimes that she’s leaving and then when I remember suddenly I’m in a puddle of my own tears but I work it out. In a nerdy way she reminds me of the little fairy or animal that pops up in the beginning of every video game and aids you until you can function on your own, through the vast world on a journey through your own adventure. Neysha is/was my fairy. She pushed me through experiences that I otherwise wouldn’t go for. She made it so I would be okay by myself, I know she didn’t know that she was doing this but I want her to know.
She’s going on the adventure of a lifetime. But she is the adventure of a lifetime. A one in a million kind of person who brings light into others lives. I’ve told people in Portugal, Spain, France, and Germany about my best friend. I’ve told people who will most likely never meet her. I’ll tell anyone who will listen of this mystifying individual as if she’s some kind of ominous conspiracy theory. But truly I hope the world gets to meet her and appreciate her the way she deserves. The thing about meeting Neysha is you have to be prepared for change. You yourself will change. You may not notice it at first but it will be there and one day you will smile at someone you wouldn’t typically or step or jump or leap out of your comfort zone. And when you tell her she will smile from ear to ear and every beautiful feature on her face will light up as she tells you the words that you have unconsciously been searching for from the moment you met, “I am so proud of you”.
I hope for nothing but the world for my best friend. I hope we cross paths again, but not soon, and not on the island we call home. I want her to see everything, to fill her mind with stories and her heart with otherworldly love. With the love of everyone she meets. With the love for the strange and distant lands she will explore. On her little island called home she will leave behind people who love her so dearly that even when she’s away she will be brought up in every conversation. She will be leaving people who wouldn’t have been friends without her. People who have nothing in common but the denominator that is her.
What did I want to do with my life. 18 year old shannon sat there saying “well I don’t know”. You see I was the rock of the family at that time. The oldest child who helped out a lot while my mom was at work. I maintained good grades, and worked, and watched my sister. So from ages 14-18 my life was based on that. I didn’t think of the future because it seemed so far off. Plus the idea of potentially abandoning my family was daunting. I had ideas of what I wanted to study and be but they just seemed like ideas nothing to shoot for. I thought maybe I could work in business, or as a translator, or a ESL teacher. But I couldn’t think of following any of those things. However when my grandfather showed up for my graduation the idea of becoming an engineer was put into my mothers head, and with me being agreeable to a fault. I agreed. Being awful at math never seemed like it would be a problem. Anyway off I went. The big trick was I wouldn’t be going to school in my hometown, not even my home state. I was moving to Puerto Rico. Where I was born, and where my family was from. This was done for financial reasons. I had no chance of getting out of college without racking up massive amounts of debt, Puerto Rico offered the same quality of education at a drastically different price point.
So I broke up with my high school boyfriend, packed up my shit, and quit my job after graduation. I was spiteful for awhile, but had a job immediately. Which helped a lot. Waitressing and bartending was easily the best way to make friends fast.
But work is another story. My college was all in Spanish. What language do I speak? English. My first day of college I was so nervous I threw up my entire breakfast. The idea of being so different and not just a little bit but to the point where communication couldn’t even be done. Soon I had realized some of those fears were completely unfounded. But others helped me…. a lot. Through the four years in college my skin had to get tough. Despite being Puerto Rican I had to face becoming the “gringa”. My professors for the most part hated me. I was an inconvenience. And in typical Puerto Rican behavior they had no problem letting me know I was an inconvenience to them. Within the first semester each of my professors told me to get out of their class, to go home, or that I was “special”. It was completely discouraging. But I persisted. Of course as most college students do I changed my major to psychology.
Four years later, I have my degree. I had shocked many of my professors by graduating and spending a good amount of my free time doing speeches about accepting each other’s differences and how diversity improves the quality of lives. Through my years in school I made some great connections, even in different countries.
So what seemed like a daunting task at the time turnt out to be one of the best things I could’ve done. As typical Shannon I proved people wrong. Mostly out of spite. But whatever.
Also even though I’m doing my masters in this school, I don’t recommend Universidad Del Turabo.