During a weekend in 2006, I was sitting on a bench on the elevated subway platform of the 61st Street Station in Woodside, Queens, with my Tita Marie (one of my mother's four sisters). We were on our way to see a movie at the AMC Theater in Times Square. Amidst our random topics of conversation while we waited for the train, she briefly mentioned Tita Cita.
Tita Cita had died - too young and too soon - in the Philippines a few years prior, but she had lived in New York City numerous times before her fight with breast cancer made it impossible to continue traveling and working.
"You know," Tita Marie said, "Your Tita Cita loved Times Square. Sometimes after work, she would get off the train at 42nd Street just so she could walk around and look at the buildings, the billboards and the lights."
I tried to picture my aunt, before she was sick, taking a detour after a long week of work, exiting the subway and ascending the stairs into the crossroads of the world. Surely she had been tired and ready to get home after a six-day stretch as a live-in housekeeper, but undoubtedly she was often lured from the tunnels by the excitement of the place where 42nd Street crosses Broadway and Seventh Avenue. And surely she was smiling as she strolled about under the blanket of lights that keep Times Square from ever knowing darkness. She had probably watched artists paint or performers dance and politely turned down solicitors for live comedy shows. She had smiling eyes - the kind of eyes that always looked like they were attempting to conceal an inside joke or a funny secret.
It was so hard for her to die from cancer - not that it's ever easy for anyone to let go. But I knew exactly what Tita Marie meant as she quietly said, "Your Tita Cita really wanted to live."
One evening a few weeks after that chat with Tita Marie, I made a failed attempt to leave the office in time to meet my best friend at a spinning class. It was an ambitious endeavor because I hadn't left work before 7pm in almost two weeks. When I finally passed through the revolving doors that spit me onto 42nd Street, it was too late to make it to the class.
Randomly recalling my conversation with Tita Marie, and since the afternoon's earlier downpour had reduced itself to a light evening drizzle, I decided to walk down the street to Times Square. I opened my umbrella and settled into the customary New-Yorker-with-a-purpose stride until I turned the corner and the signature billboards loomed overhead. Then I slowed down, stared up into the lights that will continue to mesmerize and dazzle the world long after I am gone and took a stroll for my Tita Cita.
It was raining when we cycled into Minnesota and it was raining when we cycled out, but I know that Tita Cita would have loved to have lived and felt it all.
Minnesota was for my titas.