“Is today already tomorrow?’’
I always ask this question because my mommy is always saying, “Tomorrow, Monkey.”
It seems like a perfectly normal question to me. But for some reason, whenever I ask it, everyone laughs. At four years old, every day is today, tomorrow, and yesterday.
I don’t want to confuse you, my name isn’t Monkey, that is just what my mommy calls me.
My name is really Juani, short for Juan Nicolás Cariker Pellegrino.
My mommy and papi named me after both of my granddads. John, or ‘Juan’– like his friends call him– is my mommy’s daddy. He has extremely big hands and a squishy round belly that he uses as a TV tray. I once asked him if he was going to have a baby but he just laughed really loud and told me it was from too much beer. I don’t understand what the two of those things have to do with each other but I laughed really loud anyway. People like to see other people laugh. It makes them laugh too, so I always try to laugh good and loud, even if I don’t understand.
The ‘ni’ in Jua- ni is short for Nicolás, after my papi’s papi. No one calls me Nicolás, and no one ever called him that either. Everyone called him Cacho. I never met him because he went to live in the stars before I was even a thought. My papi says he looks down on us; so I think about him every time it gets dark and this helps me to never get afraid when the lights go off.
According to my papi, I am all Pellegrino in appearance, big dark eyes with long lashes, chunky little cheeks of creamy coffee colored skin, framed by golden curls that will likely turn black with time, and stocky legs that are perfect for playing football. No, not American football. World football, like papi, the game where you kick the black and white ball around with your foot to make a goal. But I am all Cariker in character. Or at least my mommy says so; strong willed and fearless, uninhibited by challenges, and determined to buy your love with my smile– just like she is.
I was born in Argentina but my mommy says I am also a United States American by birthright. That means I can go there without having to ask the president for permission and the police can’t say no because I have two passports. She is not from Argentina, not like me and my papi. Her flag is red white and blue with stars on it for each state. She was born in California, where my grandpa John lives.
Sometimes she talks a little funny in Spanish, and I sometimes laugh but I know she tries. Papi doesn’t speak much English so he can’t laugh ever or mommy gets mad and says she will stop speaking Spanish altogether and he will finally be forced to learn English. I understand when she talks to me in English but I don’t like to speak it, just in case I make a mistake like she does.
I don’t know how most families are, but our family is nice. Mommy mostly works and Papi mostly takes care of me and the house. Oh, and he spends a lot of time watching old world football goals on the computer. But every night, Mommy makes sure she arrives in time for dinner and Papi makes sure dinner is healthy just the way Mommy likes it.
Sometimes I think Papi might even love Mommy more than I do.
Which is pretty hard to do because I love her to the moon and back and back and back again!
Every night after dinner, when it is time for bed, Mommy always crawls into my bed with me. She pulls my car covers up to my neck, and says the same thing; “If you close your eyes, I will tell you a story.”
I always ask for the same story. Because I always fall asleep before Mommy finishes and I want to know how it ends I say, “Mommy, tell me again about when you met Papi.”
She smiles knowing I am going to ask for that story, and says, “Okay, are your eyes closed?”
Even though I keep them open just a bit to help me stay awake so I can listen, I say yes. After she checks to make sure, she starts.
“One day, in 2006…”
“How long ago is 2006, Mommy?” I ask, interrupting.
“8 years ago.” she says, “That is double your age.”
“Am I going to be 8 some day?”
“Yes of course you will,” she assures.
“Should I continue?”
“Yes please,” I say, as I reach up to touch her cheek. I can’t sleep without touching her cheek, it’s so soft.
“Ok, so, I was living in San Francisco, studying Sociology and working as a bartender in a a fancy restaurant bar. One night, after a long shift, Jill and I were talking about taking a trip together.” “Do you remember Jill?” she asks.
“Yes” I say, confident that I know which of my mommy’s friends has that name.
“Well, I had always dreamed of hiking the Inca trail, so Jill and I decided to spend 22 days backpacking through Peru, making Machu Picchu our main destination. We arrived on the third of January, greeted by the warm Lima night and were eager to discover everything. Little did I know that your daddy had arrived just one day earlier, in a different part of the same city with your uncle Walter and the very same plans in mind.”
“Where was I?,” I ask.
“You weren’t even a thought yet” she says.
“Oh,” I say, disappointed.
“After a few days, Jill and I decided to take a flight to Cuzco where we spent 2 days adjusting to the altitude before heading off to the Inca trail. All that time the stars were aligning so that your daddy and I would cross paths.”
“Was it abuelo Cacho’s star?” I ask.
“Perhaps it was,” she says, as she continues.
I am certain it was, but don’t insist.
“The trail was breathtaking, both figuratively and literally.”
“What does that mean?” I ask
“It means that the landscape was so beautiful that it was hard to take it all in and at the same time, the air was very thin due to the altitude, so it was hard to breathe.”
“Oh,” I say.
“The first day was short and sweet. We slept warmly in our tents and awoke with the sun. But the second day was strenuous. We hiked for 6 hours in a mostly upward direction, climbing twelve hundred meters along the way.
It was then that I saw your daddy for the first time, though he didn’t see me until a bit later. We had stopped at a rest site along the trail and everyone was laid out on the ground, exhausted by the first leg of that day’s tour. He, on the other hand, was like the last man standing in a battlefield of backpackers turned fallen soldiers. He was kicking around a beat up plastic bottle– a poor excuse for a ball– with a little indigenous girl, who had followed her mother to work that day. All along the trail Quechua men and women are making a slight living off the industry of tourism, selling things like Chicha, a beer made of fermented corn, Gatorade, batteries and snickers bars.
I was awestruck by the beauty of him and began contemplating his origin, where he was from, whether or not we spoke the same language.
Instantly I remembered the campfire story from the night before.
Legend has it that the native people of this land would climb the most difficult part of the hike with a rock clutched tightly in their grasp. Upon arriving to the highest point, four thousand two hundred meters, they would make a wish and present it to the sun god as an offering.”
“And what did you wish for Mommy?” I say, already knowing the answer.
“I wished for your daddy to talk to me,” she smiles.
And just like that, he passed me as we made our descent towards base camp.
I said, “Hola.” He said, “¿Hablás Español?” with a sort of surprised look on his face, finally seeing me for the first time.
And so it was.
We walked along the path, stumbling on our words rather than the trail, rusty verb tenses slipping and sliding to communicate the things our bodies and minds were already connecting the dots to.”
Usually around now, my eyes start to feel heavy with sleep so I try to ask one more question– hoping to stay awake for the ending– but it comes out only half way,
“Mommy, was I…”
“Yes, baby. That is when you became a thought,” she responds, kissing my head.
She lets me caress her cheeks until my hands falls away, then she gets up to turn off the light. But before she does, she always whispers the same thing, “I love you more,” she says, only I don’t hear her because I am already dreaming.