Authors: Annah Rondon
Heartbreak for Dinner
by Annah Rondon
© 2013 by Annah Rondon. All rights reserved
For Ivan and Zule:
Because nothing of great significance ever
comes easy, and you are the most significant
of all the things a girl could ever wish for.
Quite often people have asked if the events I write about
or simple figments of a hyperactive imagination. I would like to
clear the air one last time and state that I’m not as creative as people presume
in conjuring up such scenarios. As a writer and storyteller, I reserve the right
to slightly embellish for the sake of entertainment but, otherwise, this is real
life. It goes without saying, names have been changed to protect the innocent, as
well as the evil, but more so to shield those I hold near my heart.
Expressing what my book is about to every acquaintance and stranger
that’s asked in passing has been a miserable failure. In retrospect, I realize any
attempt at articulating its meaning would be a disservice to this agglomeration
of madness. It is evident from the start it doesn’t follow a linear path as it relates
to making sense, yet I’ve learned most things of value in life hardly ever do. If
pressed, I will offer that it reads like a Taco Bell menu after a night of heavy
it’s a bad idea, but you’re going to proceed anyway because
you hunger for a little danger.
In spite of your initial misgivings or what the rational half of your
brain might tell you, this here is a love story.
Once upon a time in a communist land far away,
a boy so beautiful was born the town called him
. With a penchant for
trouble and propensity for mastering the art of badassery, he quickly found himself
in the wrong sort of circles.
Disclaimer: It’s probably a terrible idea to include a picture
of my father without pants on in the first chapter, but here we are nonetheless.
On the other end of that land and around the same time, a girl
so sweet came to be, she immediately became the darling of her town. With a love
for science and propensity for mastering the art of nerdiness, she quickly found
herself engaged to a doctor and on the path to her own PhD.
When he turned 20, Face devised a plan to escape the country illegally
by boat on a Tuesday morning. Sadly for him, one of his neighbors disclosed his
intentions to the police and he ended up in jail for two and a half years. His cell
mate – an older guy in his thirties – was captured and incarcerated for the same
reasons. Soon after, the unlikely pair struck a friendship.
One day, Nerd Girl traveled cross country to visit her brother in
prison. Once there, she found it impossible to concentrate on their conversation,
as Face wouldn’t stop interrupting with what he thought was intelligent input and
witty remarks. She hopped on a plane the next morning and told her best friend about
this annoying guy, constantly butting in with nothing but crass remarks and ridiculous
anti-communism ideologies. Over beers she confessed to being plagued by thoughts
of him on the flight home, yet she couldn’t quite pinpoint as to why.
When Face was released from jail at 22, he bid his old cellmate goodbye
and promised to find Nerd Girl, thanking him profusely for disclosing her address.
“She’s getting married, man,” said the brother in an attempt to save
Face some face (pun totally intended). “Plus, no offense,
not really her type.”
“Of course she’s getting married,” Face retorted with a wink, “to
Four months later, this happened. Seven months after the wedding,
I came out poised for ass-kicking.
And we lived happily ever after. The End.*
*Of this chapter.
I keep hearing of this stage in a girl’s life where she’s
completely and utterly repulsed by members of the opposite sex.
call it, as I listen in bewildered silence and wonder, What the fuck is wrong with
these people? Clearly, I’ve never been afflicted by such an abomination. Yet, I
wonder if these cooties have some sort of positive weight on the outcome of our
romantic endeavors once we’re rid of them.
As I verge 30 and the prospects of finding “The One” become less and
less plausible, I begin to question where things went wrong. Did I watch too many
Sex and the City
thinking Mr. Big would drop from the sky in
the middle of yoga? Or are cooties a rite of passage a girl needs to experience
in order to find her true soulmate?
I contemplate the many times my heart’s been broken and start to think
maybe I’m developing adult cooties – the kind where men have driven me so far from
hope I begin to consider becoming a lesbian. I circle back to all those failed attempts
at true love and as I hone in on where it all began, it inevitably leads back to
him. We all have one relationship that sets a precedent for everything following
the wretched road called dating. The day I set eyes on his dimpled smile and jet
black hair I knew he was different – my heart beating into another stratosphere
as I mulled over ways to get his attention.
Johnny was the sort of boy destined to break hearts straight out of
the womb. Despite living in a country where most guys are born to be Carlos or Ricardo,
my beloved’s mom decided to name him after her uncle’s favorite singer, Johnny Cash.
My parents named me after a character in a Russian book my father loved, so obviously
we were meant to be. For Cuban children, finding a mate becomes a competitive sport
one must partake in early, as it’s probable you’ll end up marrying your preschool
sweetheart before you turn 21. With this in mind, I felt it was my duty to secure
my future with Johnny early on. I mean, it’s never too early to work on true love
and age ain’t nuthin’ but a number.
Or something to that effect.
Standing out in a sea of first graders is a challenging feat,
especially when the uniform you’re forced to rock every day looks like this:
I gathered as much confidence as a tall and chubby 6-year-old
with 80s hair could gather. In the grand scheme of things, I was friggin’ adorable.
Operation Johnny Cash was in full force two weeks into the school
year. Staring at him in class became my full time job, as did failing all my quizzes
on Castro and his revolution, but that’s another story altogether. One day, while
singing the national anthem, our eyes locked. He looked away rather quickly and
kept on singing, but not before smiling that dimpled smile of his in my general
direction. I took this as my cue to proceed to the next step of my game plan. That
afternoon during recess, I spied from afar as he took out a container with rice,
beans, and two boiled eggs. The next day, I noticed his lunch was exactly the same.
I triumphantly grabbed my pork sandwich and sauntered over his way before I could
,” I chirped. “Do you want to trade lunches with me?”
I had intended to sound nonchalant, but my question came out fast and high-pitched.
He looked up and said nothing.
“Boiled eggs are my
,” I continued, waving my sandwich
in his face and hoping for the best as my confidence quickly waned.
“Boiled eggs are disgusting,” he sighed, accepting my trade after
a moment’s hesitation. “
I boldly took the seat next to him and we ate in silence. It was clear
his mother wasn’t a fan of salt and pepper, nor any other seasoning, but not much
could be expected from a Cuban who didn’t name her son Carlos. When Johnny finished
eating his sandwich, he turned to me and asked for my name. “Annah,” I smiled and
tugged on my boyish hair.
,” he said. “I’m Yohnee.”
After that encounter, we became inseparable. Meals during recess
transformed into my beacon of hope. Some forces in life one cannot contend with,
and no mightier force exists than a girl on a mission. Every day, I traded lunches
with him in hopes of getting closer. His mom’s bland offerings were simply unworthy
opponents to my father’s culinary delights. Step by tiny step, I slowly made headway
in the demolition of his shy barrier, each afternoon becoming sweeter in my quest
for his affection.
I was almost there.
Until the devil in a skirt arrived.
In retrospect one would understand, yet in my innocent youth
I couldn’t grasp why he suddenly lost interest in me and became enamored with that
blonde midget who joined us in the middle of the year. From the moment Dumb Dumb
appeared what never began was over. My efforts to gain his attention once more were
futile and it gradually became evident no sandwich in the world could save me. My
formerly chubby frame became increasingly thinner over the course of a few weeks,
my thighs no longer rubbing together under my uniform skirt.
My sudden distaste for his lunches did not go unnoticed. As we walked
home in silence one Friday afternoon, my father raised his concern. “Annah, what
exactly is the situation with you not eating your food lately?”
I was caught off guard. “
. I’m just tired of pork,
He suddenly stopped walking and pulled my hand firmly. “Let me make
it very clear that some kids would kill for your lunch,” he snarled in a tone rarely
used in our household. “Don’t forget where you live.”
That evening, he took me out to dinner for a treat at his favorite
restaurant. I recall that night as if it were yesterday, the rough napkin scratching
my legs as the waitress recited the menu by heart. The cool breeze on the outdoor
patio overlooking the park and a sky filled with stars. The boredom I felt while
anxiously sipping lemonade as my dad listened attentively to his dining choices.
The drool practically coming out of my ears by the time he finally made one.
“We’ll have the chicken fricassee with white rice and beans,” he said.
“And Maria, could you bring some of that house habanero please?”
Que es habanero?”
I curiously inquired once the waitress left.
“It’s a very spicy sauce they make here, but you’re too young to have
any. Remember that red bottle I have at home? That’s habanero,” he ruffled my hair.
“Maybe you can try it after your
I opened my mouth to argue but suddenly Maria was back with a plate
of ham croquettes and I forgot all about habanero and guys with a penchant for stupid
While Johnny romanced Dumb Dumb, he had the audacity to pretend
we were still best of friends. I in turn won an Oscar at pretending I didn’t want
to gouge his eyes out with my tiny, love-sick hands. As we played besties and Johnny
reverted to eating my lunches every afternoon, an uncontrollable hunger began to
grow within me: the literal type. Jerk face was eating my food and I was no longer
interested in winning him over. In fact, poisoning him seemed the only viable option
to regain my confidence in life and the opposite sex.
Eventually I started taking my lunches in the girls’ bathroom and
resolved to forget about boys altogether. My thighs began filling out and I somehow
clung to the hope that one day I’d obliterate the memory of Johnny from my yet-to-be-developed
brain. The truth, as we all know it, is that when it comes to men, girl brains don’t
develop but in fact shrink, like raisins that have decided to give up in the presence
of the sun. A few weeks after, I decided maybe poisoning Johnny wasn’t such a bad
idea and quickly set my plan into motion. One morning, I awoke at my usual time
of four to use the bathroom, making a detour to the kitchen and drenching the insides
of my lunch with habanero sauce while everyone slept. I went back to bed and guiltily
plotted, wondering if maybe I should just dispose of the sandwich in the morning
along with my plans of wicked revenge.
It really isn’t a big deal,
immediately falling asleep before I could change my mind.
Classes dragged by at a snail rate the following morning, the
clock on top of the board resembling an hour glass whose sand had stopped running.
When the bell finally tolled at noon, I braced myself for my very first devious
move in the name of love. Johnny and Dumb Dumb sat side-by-side at their usual table,
laughing at something one of our classmates was saying.
“Hola, Johnny,” I faked a smile and waved a little at them both.
“Anita . . .” he let his voice trail off. “How are
I looked over at Dumb Dumb searching for signs of impatience or hatred,
but she just sat there smiling up at me, her perfect blonde curls bobbing in unison
as she nodded for no particular reason. I once again considered backing out, but
then that meant coming up with another reason for why I was standing there.
“Want to trade lunches with me today?” I finally said while turning
to him. “I’m kind of craving some rice and beans.”
He shot me a perplexed look and shrugged his shoulders. “Sure,” he
pushed his plate in my direction and stretched out his hand. I promptly placed the
sandwich in it and stood there like a creeper. When he realized I wasn’t going anywhere,
he opened the sandwich and took a greedy bite. I couldn’t help but revel in the
sweet satisfaction of my triumph ahead of time. “Her dad makes the best food,” he
remarked to Dumb Dumb in between mouthfuls. I waited for hell to be unleashed but
he bit the thing again without even blinking, his face showing no signs of discomfort.
“Yummy, right?” I asked with fake interest in the boiled egg I’d just
stuck a fork in.
,” he mustered while slowly reaching for a bottle
of milk, his fair complexion reddening ever-so-slightly. I saw Dumb Dumb reach for
the sandwich and thought how lucky I’d be if I killed two birds with one stone.
Whether from pride or fear of Dumb Dumb choking half to death, Johnny finished his
sandwich in three bites and feigned satisfaction. “That was great,
But I knew better.
My vengeance carried out, I pretended to wave at someone across the
courtyard and bid my farewells. I sat down with a friend, enjoying my plate of revenge
served bland by Johnny’s mother, and it never tasted as sweet.
I sat in class two hours later reading a Jose Martí poem aloud
when I saw Johnny’s hand shoot up out of the corner of my eye. Knowing good and
well Ms. Lopez would not allow for an interruption during poetry, I continued my
A Sincere Man I Am
. As I paused at the end of a stanza,
my teacher nodded approvingly, Johnny’s hand still up and ignored. My poetic rendition
was interrupted without warning by a loud noise that could not be confused for anything
other than a shart.
Johnny’s hand went down as all eyes focused on him, his ears
a tomato scarlet that gave away his guilt. “Excuse me,” he whispered to no one in
particular as he shuffled to the door and a ghastly smell followed him. I heard
the girl next to me gasp and someone snicker in the front. As I slowly lifted my
gaze to him, I discovered his uniform shorts were wet on the right side, the same
leg smeared in poop that slowly trailed down to his sock. After going to where I
presumed was the bathroom, Johnny never returned to class. Nor did he the next day
or for the remainder of the week. When he finally showed face six days later (yes,
I counted), his eyes were perpetually glued to the floor and Dumb Dumb his only