*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as told to me by a family member who witnessed them firsthand; used with permission.
My aunt never liked her mother-in-law, but she allowed the older woman to babysit for her children whenever she visited from overseas. One child was a toddler, and the other was a baby.
Being so close in age, they were more than a handful, but my aunt's mother-in-law didn't mind. She watched them happily whenever she could, for free.
When my aunt's mother-in-law relocated to the United States, she moved in with my aunt, uncle, and two children. In exchange for room and board, she took on even more babysitting duties. It was a symbiotic relationship. Despite many arguments between my aunt and her mother-in-law, the arrangement worked for a while.
My parents lived in the same house as my aunt's family in a separate apartment. According to my mother, she could hear them shouting at all hours of the night. "Their arguments were terrible. I could hear screaming all the time. If I were that woman, I would have packed my bags and moved out sooner," she told me.
One day, my aunt cooked and packed lunch for herself and her husband to bring to work. She cooked fried tuna with jalapeño peppers and made it into sandwiches on fluffy Portuguese bread rolls.
My aunt had leftover fried tuna in a bowl. So she covered it and put it in the refrigerator. Before she and her husband left for work, she told her mother-in-law about the extra food and let her know she was welcome to eat it.
Her mother-in-law thanked her and set about taking care of the children while my aunt and her husband went off to work. What happened next was an honest mistake.
The woman fed some of the tuna to the baby without trying it herself. She didn't realize it contained hot and spicy jalapeño peppers. The woman noticed the baby seemed cranky, but without having tasted the food, she didn't know why.
When my aunt arrived home from work, she found the baby red-faced and in distress. She saw his lips and gums had swollen and blistered. "What happened to the baby?" she asked.
"I don't know," her mother-in-law replied. "He's been like this ever since lunch."
"Did you give him a bottle?" my aunt asked.
"Yes, I gave him a bottle. He still looked hungry. So I gave him a bite of that tuna you left for me in the fridge because I wasn't hungry. That's when he got cranky. He's been like this ever since."
"You fed the baby tuna?" my aunt was incredulous. "There were jalapeño peppers in that tuna."
My aunt brought the baby to the doctor. Fortunately, the doctor said the baby would be okay. He also said to expect the baby might suffer some stomach discomfort and diarrhea over the next twenty-four hours, but it should pass.
When my aunt arrived home from the doctor's office, she screamed so loudly at her mother-in-law that my mother heard every word from the apartment next door. My mother said the screaming seemed to go on forever.
The baby recovered quickly, but the relationship between my aunt and her mother-in-law was fractured beyond repair. The older woman decided not to remain in the United States to be with her son and his wife, and she returned to her home country on the first flight she could book.