The first time I knew a Mexican summer, I was 10 years old.
My oldest sister was getting married in the winter. My mom, my little sister and I came to Mexico for the preparations. I remember we went wedding dress shopping in Guadalajara.
But what I remember most clearly about that summer is my little sister. She was 5 and begged me to go outside and play with her in the rain. However, I decided to stay inside, and I watched her through my grandmother’s living room window for all of a minute before returning to my book.
Now, my oldest sister lives in Mexico with her husband and kids.
Two nights ago, we watched the moon together: my big sister, my little sister and I. My big sister tells us stories, things I knew and things I was blind to. The clouds curl and release around the moon as it plays peek-a-boo with my niece. Silent lightning blooms across the sky and I watch the clouds reveal the stars.
When our talk ends, my big sister makes me promise her something.
It rained that night we landed in Guadalajara.
It rains every other night, thunderstorms the likes of which I have only ever known in Mexico. The rain falls warm, the wind sings something sweet until it blasts open the windows and doors with a heavenly roar, the thunder crackles like my father’s laugh, the lightning dances in flashes through the sky.
My right thumb hurts with the rain. It broke when I was four; I don’t remember how. It used to get stuck when I would bend it. Now, I forget that I ever broke it — until the rain reminds me.
I listen to the storms at night, and memories come to me in dreams and thoughts alike.
I think of my kindergarten teacher, Ms. Bird.
My classmates and I, new to English, thought it was hilarious to call her Ms. Pajaro.
I visited her when I was 14 and called her Ms. Bird again, but she said she had gotten married and changed her name. She said, “Ms. Bird flew away!” and laughed just like she did when I was 5.
I think of the Snow White costume my mom made me that year, how she made it by hand last minute from a bumblebee-patterned tablecloth.
I think of the summer in South San Francisco. I remember the hotel where my uncle used to work, how I almost drowned so many times and how, each time, my brother was there to save me.
I think of last summer, before I left for college, and how Jasmine looked when she gifted me a journal. In a letter, she told me to never stop writing.
I think of the summer before senior year, how I came to Mexico again and wrote stories that, to this day, I have never let leave my hands.
I think of senior year homecoming, how we spilled onto the tennis courts in the night and ran barefoot, playing tag in our pretty, pretty dresses.
I think of the girl from preschool whose name I can’t remember. She taught me English and I taught her Spanish. I called her my best friend.
In second grade, Kimberly called me stupid. I cried and didn’t talk to her until sixth grade. I think of all the things we’ve talked about since: the secrets shared and the laughter spilled over cracked sidewalk on our walks to and from school. I think of Adriana and our silly brawls, Paris and how she giggles when she remembers my clumsy falls.
I think the most about my little sister.
She is 14 and not so little anymore. She is taller than me and even taller than our parents now. When I cry to her like big sisters never should, she holds me and my stiff, awkward body. With only one word, she steals my sorrows and my useless thoughts and releases me into a breathless laugh.
I see ripples of me in her, the ones that make me swell with pride and the ones that twist my stomach at night.
I make a fool of myself for her, just to see her faux judgment before she laughs.
I want her to be better than me. I want to be better for her.
I read to her the stories I tuck in at night, the ones I don’t think will see the light of day, and suddenly, I want to drag them out of me and into the sun.
I think of all this and more, while I lay in my bed and listen to the rain roar.
I remember the promise I made to my older sister.
I breathe deep.
I hold all these memories close. I chew them down until I can spit out something sweet. These stories are like flickers of light in the night sky. They are my own graveyard of suns reaching through time to shine in this moment for me, for you, for them. My own personal portraits of all those I’ve loved.
The rain falls.
I go to sleep.