A graying, gaunt but spunky sixty-seven year old, Olivia Toribio stood on the broken sidewalk. She was in front of her humble, two-room, palm wood house, when the taxi cab turned left at the grocery store. She had scrubbed her house’s concrete floors, went to the market early to buy the best pieces of fresh chivo-that’s goat-to make her infamous chivo picante with rice and beans and wore her best, black Sunday dress. It was a hot day, but she didn’t care.
The taxi stopped in front of Olivia. A six-foot-tall, lean, fresh young man stepped out from the back seat. He wore a white and gray-striped shirt, blue jeans, white sneakers and a black New York Yankee cap. His smile glowed bright as the sun when he saw Olivia, approaching her. She smiled too.
“Oh, my abuelita!” he cheered, his arms wide open.
Olivia took Rocky Alvarez, her grandson, into her arms. They hugged, tight and warm. He was quite big, different and far away from the small, almost light, fourteen-year-old boy Olivia knew, but she didn’t care. Rocky was home. Olivia cried.
Theresa, Rocky’s thirteen-year-old cousin, left the house. A red T-shirt, blue shorts and black flip-flops were the clothes she wore. Her smile was timid, but he wanted to hug her cousin. She had to wait. Her parents, Annabel and Fernando (Olivia’s only son), ran through the street, yelling Rocky’s name. Neighbors that were part of Villa Alta Garcia, which is twenty miles from
Santo Domingo, the capital of the , left their houses to see and greet the pride of their neighborhood. Rocky gave and received hugs, kisses and handshakes. Rocky was home for a while, for the summer. Dominican Republic
It was the season when Dominican immigrant parents sent their children from
New York, specifically , to the island where they left to escape poverty. The trip is both for leisure and connecting with relatives and the island’s culture. Rocky, named after the famous character Sylvester Stallone played in six movies, was fourteen when he left his birth home with his brother, Bernado, who was seven years older, to live with their mother, Veronica, who emigrated to New York City ten years ago. Santino, her husband and the boys’ father, died in a boating accident when he was a fisherman in Washington Heights a few months before. Santo Domingo
Rocky didn’t want to leave. He loved his “abuelita” and his friends a lot, but his youth baseball coach and “father figure”, Cesar Soto, told him, “It would be good to stay here, but you have a gift from God. Don’t waste it here.”
That was true. Rocky was good pitcher at his young age. When he went to
, which he nicknamed “Jorge’s School,” Rocky knew no English, but learned it quickly, doing well in his class. His fastball grew stronger when he was on the school’s baseball team. Corey Felding, his couch, saw Rocky playing in the major league. When he wasn’t in school or playing baseball, with teammates or “barrio nines”, Rocky did his homework and studied for future tests and watched Univision and Telemundo during the afternoon in his family, shack-like, two-bedroom apartment on West 167th St. he liked when a pretty, leggy newscaster came on because he would get hard and erect. Rocky was careful not to ejaculate or his mother, who worked six-to seven days a week as a home care attendant, would give him hell. Bernando, doing jobs in George Washington High School New Jersey, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens, would tease him if he knew. The girls Rocky knew from school and work were pretty, but silly and crazy. They weren’t ladies, and Rocky wanted nothing from them.
When he was about to graduate and get a college baseball scholarship, Rocky was a bit homesick, despite liking
. Veronica told him she couldn’t afford a plane ticket to the New York City . Felding noticed Rocky having a long face three weeks before graduation and got the same news. However, he got an old friend, a former youth baseball coach from Dominican Republic who owned a small sporting goods there, to pay for the ticket. New Jersey
On the last day of June, before the sun came up, Rocky said goodbye to his mother and brother, took his big suitcases, stuffed with his belongings, gifts for his family and donated baseball equipment for Soto, went down three flights of stairs of his building and hopped into Felding’s car, which Felding drove to LaGuardia Airport.
Nearly half a day passed and Rocky was enjoying his grandmother’s chivo quickly. 6:00 p.m. was the reunion game. Olivia studied him. He looked like his grandfather, Enrique. When he was done, Rocky kissed his abuelita on her right cheek, left her house and went seven blocks to the neighborhood baseball diamond with the donated equipment. The diamond was the same: rocky, choked with weeds and old shirts were laid on the ground as bases. Soto and Rocky’s old teammates/friends hugged him welcome back before, but they did it again.
“You look different, Rocky,” Andy, a rabbit-faced old friend, noted.
Rocky shook his head, “I heard people say that when their kids come here. Not me, man. I’m the same guy. I like to eat, dance and play ball.”
And they did. Four hours, they played, and they had a good time.
The next morning, Rocky woke up to the cries of roosters; some of them strutted in her grandmother’s backyard. The tunes of merenge and bachata echoed nearby. Rocky felt free here. He could turn up the music on a radio and nobody would call the police. He leapt from his bed, bade his grandmother morning and devoured breakfast, a plate of mangu (mashed plantains) and a glass of payaya juice. After helping his abuelita with getting eggs from the henhouse, Rocky went out the door again, taking in the town, hanging with his friends outside the grocery, riding with his couch on the his motorbike on the potholed streets and showing off his salsa moves at the discotheque.
Unhappy with being either unemployed or getting some money by digging ditches or ferrying people around on motorbikes, Rocky’s old friends wanted to know more about New York, the “muy grande” city with bright lights, tall buildings, fancy cars and pretty women. They always loved it when they saw it on television during New Year’s Eve. They loved it even more after Sept. 11, 2001. They thought Rocky was rich.
Rocky showed the photos of his apartment, and neighborhood, “I’m not rich, guys. I don’t live in a skyscraper.”
That didn’t kill their dreaming. The biggest dreamer in the neighborhood was Danielle Mercado, a sixteen-year-old girl, who had blond streaks in her hair. Her skin had a warm, honey-like hue. Standing at a five-foot-seven, the young lady was pretty like a movie star, slim and romantic. Rocky remembered Danielle as a stubby-faced, plump, wrecking ball of a girl. She had a crush on him, despite his efforts to avoid her and his love for baseball. Both her father and her older brother, who were police officers, fought off would-be paramours with verbal threats, fists and nightsticks, when Danielle was grew to be a butterfly. They knew Rocky would return. When he did and saw Danielle, Rocky felt a thunderbolt struck him. Olivia noticed that the two spent a lot of time together. So did Soto, who did his best to get Rocky’s head on baseball, but it wasn’t good enough.
“Bonitas,” Soto sighed to himself when he saw Danielle watching the baseball games from the stands by herself. She didn’t cheer, until Rocky made a home run or struck out of his pals with his fastball.
In early August, Danielle went with Rocky to
to shop. Rocky got some T-shirts and miniature figurines for his mother and brother. He also bought a blue floral dress and black, open-toed, high-heeled sling backs for his companion. Danielle liked when Rocky helped her into the shoes, feeling his strong, rough hands on her soft feet. The shoes made her almost as tall as him. After shopping, they walked near the beach, holding hands. The sun crawled westward, leaving a pink and blue trail. Santo Domingo
“Rocky, will you take me?” she softly asked, “Will you take me to
when you get big.” New York
Rocky blushed. He nodded with a smile, “Sure. I will.”
Danielle hugged and kissed Rocky.
On his last day, Olivia gave Rocky her dulce de leche in a large plastic container. Rocky gave Andy his baseball glove, which was a $200 gift from Felding’s friend. The goodbyes were tearful, especially Danielle’s, despite giving Rocky photos of herself.
“Don’t you cry,” Rocky said, “It’s hard, I know, but I’ll come back. I’ll bring you with me back to
.” New York
But Rocky cried too. Soto slapped him on the back, “Don’t do that. Be a man. You work hard in college; you’ll help your family. Have a good house and a car. Be another A-Rod. Danielle will wait for you. We’ll make sure of it. Don’t forget her. Don’t forget us.”
Rocky’s friends wanted to go with him. They knew he cried because he wanted to stay. They all wanted to go, but Rocky had a gift. He was meant to go. On the plane going to LaGuardia, Rocky looked at the photos he took of his abuelita, Soto, Andy and the others. He looked at the photos of Danielle a little longer.