One Saturday at lunch, I didn’t sit in my usual spot at the table with my girls, las chicas. Because Tía Silvia was off that weekend, I sat her in place and so sat across from the girls I usually sit next to. It’s nice to change things up a bit and see different faces.
That day was not my favorite lunch, as it’s what I like to call “chicken parts” stew. It’s literally all the edible parts of a chicken cooked in a mildly spicy sauce, served with rice and a warm tortilla. Before I even sat down after the long walk to our table, I had given away my chicken portion to a girl who shouted “Quien me da comida?” faster than you can say “chicken parts” stew. Haha. Anyway, it turns out that thick slices of chili peppers were part of the sauce.
Melisa* (whom I normally sit next to, but that day sat across from) had one chili on her plate. At one point, I looked over at her and saw her rubbing the chili on her tortilla. I looked at her with this look as if to say, hey that’s probably not going to end well for you. (Those chilis pack a punch and then some, my friends!) She just smiled and kept doing it.
I watched Melisa take a bite. At first, there was no reaction. I asked her if it was spicy, and she said no. Then a few seconds later, Scarlet* asked Melisa if it was spicy. She shook her head yes. Then her eyes bugged out and she threw the tortilla back on to her plate and grabbed her cup of water and chugged it. Meanwhile, I was nonchalantly sipping my water, observing Melisa’s comical food episode.
As soon as I brought my hand down with my cup and set it on the table, Melisa seemed to have slammed her empty cup down right next to my hand at the same time. She looked at me with such desperation, such longing, such…well I don’t really know how else to describe it other than maybe she was the textbook definition of miserable. I knew her chili-rubbing experiment would end badly! And the results of that experiment were written all over her face.
Normally, the girls say at meal times “hey if you don’t want X or Y, give it to me, okay?” Sometimes, they’ll just straight up ask one another, “hey can I have some Z?” But in that particular instance with Melisa and the chili-rubbed tortilla, all sense of decorum was gone, lost to the warm air being blown around us by the industrial-sized fans on the wall and the residual burn of the chili in her mouth.
I didn’t even have to think. She didn’t have to ask. Her imploring eyes said it all.
I tipped my cup and poured all the water into hers. Ravenously, she tossed it all back. Having still not quenched the fire burning her mouth, she started asking the other girls for water in her frenzied state. Two other girls tipped what little water they had into Melisa’s cup. Mind you, at this point during lunch, a lot of the girls were finishing so there wasn’t much left to go around.
Minutes later, Scarlet (the other girl I sit next to, usually) took a bite of the same fiery tortilla. She had the same reaction. This time, I had no water to give away. Another girl, Lourdes*, just so happened to get more water from another table at that particular moment. She teased Scarlet endlessly with how long she took to pour some of the water into Scarlet’s cup. Then, when she was finally done taunting Scarlet by almost giving her the cup and then snatching it away, Lourdes knocked the cup over by accident.
Water went everywhere.
Scarlet gave Lourdes such a look that would turn even the strongest and most able-bodied of men to stone. It made me laugh, and I couldn’t stop laughing.
What I learned from that lunch table lesson is that sometimes, we watch people make decisions even though we don’t think they’re the smartest ones to make. Sometimes, when we advise them otherwise, people will go ahead and make those decisions anyway. We can’t control what others do or change them, even if we think it would benefit them. Sometimes, we just have to watch people fail.
However, we should be there for them all of the time. Not some of the time. All of the time. No matter what.
What my girls Melisa, Scarlet, and Lourdes taught me that afternoon was simple and yet profound. I knew what was going to happen to Melisa, and when it did, instead of being selfish and saying I told you so, I gave her the rest of my water. And even though Lourdes’ attempt to help Scarlet ended in laughable failure, she still reached out to help after a mild dose of teasing.
From small to big decisions in life, whether it’s a chili-rubbed tortilla adventure or deciding finances or big adult things like that, you’re there for the people you love not because you have to be there for them, but because you want to be. Because you love them.
Sometimes you can’t help them in the ways that they may want or think they need. At the very least, if you’re there for that person in the best way that you can be, I think that counts for something. It counts for everything.
Though, I’ll admit that if you try the chili-rubbed tortilla and can’t handle the fire, I’ll still laugh at you and share my water.
*Please note that I changed the names of the girls to protect their privacy.