I never understood my grandma’s smoking habit. It was already the 90’s, for chrissake, a point in time where everyone knows, at least in theory, that cigar smoke is poison. And the corollary was no less true: people died because of it. But there she was, an entire rosary at night, three soft packs during the day, and a lot of grumbling in between.
Then again, my twentieth century adult self doesn’t understand his own smoking habit, so there; nothing changes.
One afternoon—I reckon it was one of those Saturdays when no one is truly busy but everyone seems to be doing something—she egged me on to the store and asked me to get her a cup of strawberry yogurt. She gave me a few coins, a small sign of the cross, and the Trinitarian.
Now, I was about ten, and if you have to argue that young kids who still play with mud cakes (another story) don’t possess yet the wherewithal to arrive to logical rulings, well, call this one a hunch.
Something was amiss. Yogurt? Not a pack of Raleigh’s?
Off I was, pushed again out into a world I knew a lot of even when it understood very little of me.
Mother has a saying: ‘If it doesn’t rain, it will drizzle.’ Yes, I’ve lived among the brightest of shining stars. But on this occasion, the pessimism proved prophetical.
I had the plastic cup of yogurt in my hand. I had a clear sky disposition that came from my grandma not asking me for a loaded gun. And about one third of the way home, on the opposing sidewalk and ushering the damned bank of pregnant clouds mother foretold, my nemesis. The neighborhood bully that never placed a finger on me but still terrified me. The guy that turned my legs into jelly at the mere sight of his tanned face and tight although outdated curls. The kid that said I would spread AIDS among my friends because I played with mud cakes.
And apparently he had the power to turn my hands into mush, as well, for I immediately noticed the plastic cup on the floor, creamy blood oozing from a rift in its middle. My heart sank.
The bully just looked at me with a smirk on his face and continued walking; so easy a target was not even worth the trouble. I crouched and gingerly picked the container in my cupped hands, taking care not to contaminate the thick contents with dirt. Carrying that broken baby and my broken hope, I started dragging my feet once again.
The waterworks turned on by themselves. I had spoiled the one harmless thing I could provide for my grandmother. I had wasted good money because of my weakness.
I arrived home and there she was, poring over a Reader’s Digest number behind thick-rimmed glasses. And between two fingers on her left hand, the familiar bicolor stick of dynamite getting shorter by the minute, a string of silky smoke escaping its smoldering end.
Grandma asked what happened. Mom asked what happened. I continued crying for a little while (I was a ten-year old, after all). They vowed to fire his ass up and brimstone his mother’s ass up, too, but that’s who they were, all talk. In the end they forgave me, but I don’t think I ever did.
Grandma died the next year. I did not see her eating yogurt again.