My mother is a wonderful Latina mami. While crouched inside her tub she scrubs away stains and whitens my whites with bleach. The water swirls around her ankles as if she were washing rags in the rios of the Dominican Republic. She bakes the tastiest pernil – seasoned with lemon, salt and oregano – and serves me a plate fit for two Queens. And let’s not forget the Coco Rico. Mami never fails to purchase a 2-liter bottle of this sizzling coco goodness, which just so happens to be my favorite carbonated beverage. She tucks a bottle underneath the dining room chair just for when I visit.
Yes, my mother is the best mami in the world. Not only because of her impressive domestic skills and her selfless ability to cater to my every whim, but also because, like a typical Latina mami, she defends her kin even if it means drowning in the depths of self-denial. She molds the naughtiest of sins into acts of sainthood. It’s a gift, yo.
“My son wasn’t smoking pot in front of the bodega! He was holding the blunt for a friend, so helpful ese hijo mio…”
“My daughter was not ‘Doin’ the Brown’ in the middle of the dance floor! How else do you expect her to shake that roach off her dress?”
Also, like most Latina mami’s, my mami is overprotective, which can be both soothing and infuriating. It feels wonderful when she massages my lower back pain with Vivaporu. It’s an entirely different scenario when she smears my temples and nostrils with Vicks in the middle of the night. You know, to “open my sinuses.”
Elijah’s Colombian mami was no different than my Dominican mami. She would stop at nothing to protect him – her second son with a fierce passion for risk taking and an unmatchable stubborn streak. She called whenever he’d spend the night at my South Jersey apartment, which was an hour away from the safety of her cafecitos and (s)mothering.
The first time she rang was on a Saturday night around midnight. Elijah picked up his cell with one hand while holding my waist with the other. As soon as his Latina mami heard his breath, she bombarded him with questions concerning his whereabouts. I retreated from his hold when I heard her snapping tongue scold him in singsong Spanish. I listened as her tone shifted. She whined that he had a warm bed to sleep in – at home. Suddenly, the topic of conversation shifted from Elijah’s irresponsibility to her concerns about me.
“Papito, she’s five years older than you!” she rattled with urgency. “Don’t you think she’s going to want a man who is established with a career and a house?” his mami continued poisoning him while I shifted in bed.
Facing the ceiling now, I swallowed the lump that had formed in my throat and fought the urge to scream. I had yet to meet his mami and this situation wasn’t easing my nerves. Elijah soothed his mother’s incessant nagging and hung up the telephone. “You’re coming home with me tomorrow,” he stated firmly.
I turned to face him, my back still pressed on the mattress. “I’m not meeting her if she thinks I’m just a fling,” I said with a frown. “It’s not respectful and I’ll feel awkward, like I’m just some chick,” I finished just as firmly as Elijah had begun, though secretly I hoped he’d assure me that I was Mother Meeting Material.
He rested his muscular arm across my stomach before planting a kiss on my lips. “She knows you’re important to me. I speak about you all the time – obviously.”
I peered into his warm coffee beans and nodded. He nuzzled my neck with his long nose. This was a big step in our relationship. I couldn’t run away. Regardless of my fears, I was going to meet his Latina mami.
The next morning I woke up on Elijah’s chest, still fidgety. In a few hours, I would meet Elijah’s maker, a woman who he once stated, “Wouldn’t speak to you if she didn’t like you.” I climbed over a sleeping Elijah and landed on the rug as gracefully as Max, my roommate’s black cat that would sneak into my room and snuggle in my blankets and sheets. And just like that, I felt powerful, like I could take on anything.
Hours later, we drove down a long, winding road. Massive green and leafy trees shot out from every angle, as did the single-family homes hiding behind them. After a slight turn, Elijah slowed down. A field of grass and a tall treehouse came into view. This was Elijah’s backyard. A big white dog raced in the yard, chasing its tail. I spotted a chicken coop in the far back yards away from the treehouse.
I sat in his car, mesmerized by the view. This was where he grew up. I grew up with views of concrete and corner bodegas. My cousins and I played Cops and Robbers indoors, confined by a small corridor – our mami’s orders. Our hiding places were always under stairwells and never too far from our front door.
While looking around, I realized Elijah had lived the American Dream I thought only gringos experienced. But here was – my Colombian-Puerto Rican morenito – leading me to the front of his mami’s home…his home…like his name was Bob Smith.
Elijah turned the knob. I imagined being confronted by a Colombian Amazon since Elijah reached a full six-feet tall. But there was no one there to greet us. We stood in the small, first-floor foyer in silence. Seconds later, he bent over and took off his sneakers one by one. He placed them among fuzzy gray slippers and two pairs of mustard Timberland boots. I leaned against the wall, unsure of what to do.
“Should I take off my boots?” I whispered, afraid to wake the sleeping giant.
“No, that’s ok. I just take them off to be comfortable,” he replied.
I looked down at my feet and back at the collection that sat to my right. It seemed everyone was comfortable barefoot.
Elijah grabbed my hand and I followed him up three short steps. We stood there, waiting. I heard the sound of running water. The shhhh came from the other side of a mauve colored wall. I scanned the open space as we waited. There were four plush chairs surrounding a wooden, coffee table. A majestic Moroccan area rug with hints of gold and red lay underneath. Silence again. I longed to hear one more drip.
“Mija!” yelled Elijah.
“Ahora voy, Papito!” she replied.
My hands felt clammy. I wiped them on my jeans, rubbing them roughly up and down the material. I’m not ready! I panicked. What if she doesn’t like me? I freaked. I couldn’t take a Latina mami’s silent treatment – not my own, Elijah’s or the abuelitas that guard botanicas! Footsteps. Like a true mami who knows she is about to judge, Elijah’s mami emerged from behind the wall, eyes indignant and watchful.
“This is Sujeiry,” Elijah said.
Her big brown eyes traveled from my heels and up to my face. In that instant, I wished I had taken off my shoes. She had her toffee-colored arms crossed. Her thick, ash brown hair pulled tightly in a bun. She was small framed, like me, but as intimidating as Napoleon himself. I gritted my teeth and managed to smile before embracing her and planting a kiss on her cheek.
“Mucho gusto,” I murmured.
“Igualmente,” she answered, eyeing me like I planned to molest her child. She began her role of interrogator, grilling me with tedious questions.
“Where are you from?” she shot, arms still crossed.
“New York City,” I replied quickly, as if sitting underneath a blazing, thermal lamp.
“What are you studying?” she pressed, still hard.
“I’m getting my Masters…in Writing…Creative Nonfiction,” I fought to respond.
She was burning my caramel skin with the butt of a cigarette now, but I had to show fearlessness. Besides, these were facts she had already learned from Elijah and was surely asking to make small talk. I should be happy she’s even speaking to me, I noted.
After a few minutes of awkward silence, Elijah took charge. Cupping his hand in mine, he rattled about gutters and outdoor shades before leading me toward his bedroom door. And that’s when my mami’s voice boomed in my ears.
Sujeiry, tu vas a entrar a ese cuarto con su mama velandote?! Yo no te crie así! Ay Dios, my daughter! My daughter es un slut!
I halted midway to the forbidden room and glanced over my left shoulder. Like out of a horror movie, Elijah’s mami stood in the hallway, facing his bedroom door and glaring at me as my heels clicked against her hardwood floors. I yearned to be the protagonist of this slasher flick; the protagonist always lives to see another day. I might just be beheaded and buried in the swamp of this unknown town. I imagined myself yanking off my heels, running to her feet, and asking for forgiveness so she would spare my pretty head and offer me a cafecito negro instead. Then I remembered I was a 26-year-old woman. A beautiful, intelligent and responsible 26-year-old woman that just so happened to be dating a 21-year-old papi chulo who lived with his momma. If I could rock the boat that hard, I could give Elijah’s mami my back – without the fear of being pierced with a blade. I could walk into his bedroom and shut her out.
BOOM! went his white bedroom door.
Elijah held me by the waist, placing his strong rugged hands on the small of my back. They were so much bigger than the curve, yet I felt protected. He bent down to meet my gaze and made contact with my lips. His tongue played with mine. I felt like the naughty schoolgirl I never was due to 23 years of self-imposed virtue.
After a game of tonsil hokey, Elijah and I made our way to his King-sized bed. TV on, we laughed as Stewie plotted to kill his mami on Family Guy. That’s when I remembered Elijah’s mami. I lifted my head from the fluffy pillow and asked, “Do you think your mom liked me?”
“I think she did.” He planted a kiss on my lips before unwrapping himself from my legs. “I’ll be right back. Stay comfortable, babe,” Elijah gushed.
He stood on his sturdy swimmer legs. Door open, he turned left and disappeared into the long corridor. The door crept to a close when I heard a knock. My heart leapt. I could taste the fear. I felt my adrenaline pumping, pushing me to fight or flight and I leaning toward the latter choice. Damn, there was no time to shimmy down the open window and leap into a bushel of daffodils!
“Tienes hambre?” his mami asked after peeking her head in the room.
“Sí, gracias,” I trembled.
“Te traigo un plato ahora.” Elijah’s mami smiled and walked away, shutting the door behind her.
“She likes me, she really likes me!” I whispered to myself, stretching in his King-sized bed. My shoulders dropped. My head sunk into Elijah’s pillow. My body tingled with joy. Elijah’s mami was as wonderful as my mami. As long as she didn’t blind me with menthol, we would be just fine.