Suicide is everywhere
The tide recedes
a bit further
taking with it a little pain
and a little strength
When the sun is out
it warms my face
On my palms
and I sigh
I hear the birds sing again
the sky, a gorgeous hue of blue
never tastes sweeter
full of promise
I want to run
but not away
towards something, someone, somewhere
wide and free
show my teeth even
and giggle endlessly
the color of my skin
the way it shimmers in the sun
the shape of my body
the softness of my lips
in harmony with my strength
and more importantly
A day, a week, or a month goes by
and I wake up
my thoughts pained
a cold sweat
as the memories take hold
the quiet scares me
as it creeps in
the lack of sound
In a fog
my mind lays
Those muted days
I don’t wish on anyone
Sadness fills me
at the thought of
in a frenzy to feel nothing
Release the gray days
for the clear blue days
learn to feel again
How do you balance your own dreams and ambitions with those of the collective good? The collective good being: your family, your people, and for those so inclined, society as a whole. How do you balance any dreams with the reality of a failed attempt? How do you move forward when life seems stalled or worse yet muted?
When I was a kid I thought anything was possible. I was living in low standards (in quality of life, expectations, and interaction) that I drew up my own world of existence. When I try to recall memories, many of them are of me just sitting, lying, standing – alone, lost in thought. A loud buzzing is in my ears as I lose track of time and wake from my fantasy to find that hours and sometimes only seconds have passed.
The hours spent dreaming were my escape from my life. My time spent reading and writing were a respite from admitting where/when I was living.
And in these dreams with limitless skies I saw myself as an attorney, as a businesswoman, as an inventor – with an empire that would spread its wings in Boyle Heights and provide a higher quality of life to its residents: to teenage moms, to boys on the cusp of being lost to drugs/gangs/apathy, to immigrant parents providing for a better life. I dreamt of a world where I wrote my way to the top, sharing my stories, and then my profits to this community. Buying a beautiful house for my parents and siblings; making enough money so my parents could stop their backbreaking work; financing the education of my siblings so they could escape the soul crunching cycle of poverty; realizing these goals would make me happy I thought.
Yet along the way my heart wasn’t strong enough, my mind became weaker, and I dreamt longer and longer. My escape became a necessity and I would lose track of time, lose track of my goals and ambitions, until I just lived. I breathed, I ate, I woke and I slept. I loved with an immature sense of what this meant or what it would bring.
And those goals became silly notions meant for another. My self-questioning became louder, a feverish pitch of self-doubt that drowned out any positive thoughts and immobilized my inner sense of worth.
A failed marriage, an unaccomplished degree, and single motherhood at 23.
It seemed the only dream I had “accomplished” which I couldn’t even take credit for was growing into an attractive woman. As a child, I had wished daily to be beautiful, graceful, to possess the ease of human interaction – the ability to connect and feel with others, but this desire was misguided as I did not know the difference between healthy and unhealthy connections in relationships.
I was in a downward spiral that was quickly finding its way to the bottom. I had no sense of where I could go from there, of what life meant anymore if not my definition of a perfect loveable family.
But with pain, failure, and darkness comes revelation. You cannot hide from yourself when all that is left is you.
So I took the shreds of my motivation and began a painstakingly slow mending process. I recognized my faults, which were many, and realized that no matter how sympathetic a past I had, it did not constitute an excuse for where I had landed.
And 5 years later you find me here, full of life.
I didn’t give up on life. I placed one foot in front of the other and though I had many missteps, I keep walking forward. And I feel a sense of pride in my life; I have two young daughters that grow lovelier every day, I have a career that I enjoy and brings me a sense of fulfillment, and I am ready to go back to my restarting those childhood dreams – even if that only means coloring the life of my loved ones with my happiness.
We can spend days philosophizing about what true happiness means and what we need to possess it. We can spend an equal amount of time debating whether the singular task of making ourselves happy contributes to the improved happiness of the collective; I believe that it does. By being a happy mother, daughter, sister, friend, and partner I am bringing that positivity into the lives of those connected to me. By sharing my stories, I hope you feel the hope that has carried me through daily and how this hope has changed as I have gotten older. I once thought happiness would come when I married and had children, a family to love me and receive my love.
But I learned that you can’t smother the darkness, you can’t swallow the bitter memories, you can’t hide from the gray that is nestled inside you and lures you into endless sleep; you have to face it in order to bring a sense of peace and happiness into your own being.
Imagine that you are in your dark hole, surrounded by darkness that eats at your perceived happiness away, that chips at your will to live, that hammers you down when you try to move forward, that suffocates you when you try to take a breath of hopeful air. You are left slumped on the ground choking on the hurt, the pain is so strong it keeps you pinned to the floor and no matter how hard you try to ignore it; the ringing in your ears makes it impossible for you to function at a higher level than mere existence. It becomes a sub existence and time passes by, passing you by.
But there is a ladder amongst this darkness. Barely visible at first but you feel it with your hands as you wander around unrelenting in your desire to escape. Each rung on that ladder brings you a different memory – a painful shameful moment in your life; and in order to move past a rung you have to come to terms with it and the implications it has caused in your life.
If you were abused, you need to know that you did nothing to invite this undeserved attack onto yourself. There is nothing wrong with you. You do not have something in you that can elicit this behavior in others toward you. You may have been repeatedly abused, by many, but you need to realize that it is not your fault. You were a victim but over time and with a lot of work you can heal and stop living like one.
Whatever hard reality was or is your life you have two choices, same as anyone else; climb the ladder or cower in the false safety of your known darkness. Don’t beat yourself up for decisions and choices you made, even if you ended up hurting others. You have to learn to forgive yourself and push forward. If you don’t, your “reality” (your self-inflicted continuation of that twisted world) will always remain your captor.
I’m not credentialed to tell you how to get better, I can only share what I have gone through and have done to get to a better place. One thing I can tell you, when you climb high enough up that ladder, you will savor the ease with which you keep climbing and you will begin to shed your old tattered self and embrace the new stronger, happier, and more productive self.
I am not at the top of the ladder; I don’t know what I will find when I get there. But I do know that I am relishing the journey upward and that I am improving this world a little with my own sunshine brightening this beautiful new day.
The glow of the downtown skyline below me, so close I can almost step over the edge of the hill and walk over to it, but such a distant world from me.
I look down at my evergreen ribbed sweater top and pull the sleeves over my tight knuckles and crouch down near the dead grass. The cool air feels good against my cheeks. The frost is coming, I can feel the weather turn as it nips at my cheeks and the edges of my ears. But the burning of my eyes from all of the crying is all I can feel at this moment; the ugliness of the most recent fight still weighs me down and forms a pit in my stomach.
The cramping in my legs forces me to get up and as I inhale sharply I realize I haven’t been breathing. I keep doing this; suspending reality and letting time slip by as I fall into my non-dream world. I can’t even tell you what I think or don’t think about during these moments, but it scares me that I kept doing it more and more. A series of unaccountable non-moments is preferable to the waking moments that I keep walking back to.
We lived in a tiny two room illegal unit carved into the side of a cliff and had to walk twenty steps up and down each time I would ascend or descend into our out of our self-created hell. I opened the door and found him sitting by the dining table, mirror red-rimmed vacant eyes looking right back at me. I don’t bother to acknowledge his presence and walk past him into the bedroom. How depressing these walls are, seemingly pushing in all around me, inching closer and closer with each passing day.
We thought we had been happy once but when I try to think of what we spoke of, of what we shared in thoughts and likes, or even if we relayed dislikes, I can’t come up with a single conversation we had.
Wherever we’d go, they would ask if we were siblings. Tall, with dark thick hair, lightly bronzed skin, and striking features – there’s worse to be compared to. I don’t think we saw anything beyond each other, at least nothing real, other than skin deep. I thought I saw a shared pained past, an inner struggle to contain demons, a desire to move forward and work towards a new life with each other. The last one is what bit me in the ass, that was just a projected shared trait, a one-sided fantasy that never took any real root in our relationship.
I didn’t drink then. That wasn’t until I wanted to drown out the pain of failure.
He didn’t drink much either, I figured (hoped) he didn’t like it and only did it socially but it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t the case once we were married. Once we were married… How could it change so drastically?
Back in the bedroom I changed into a t-shirt and crept into bed. As I heard the sound of the light switch flick off I closed my eyes and pretended to sleep. I heard his shuffling as he stepped out of his clothes and slipped in beside me and I concentrated on willing myself to sleep. As the bed shook from his silent sobbing I squeezed my eyes tightly and gripped the blanket so my eyes wouldn’t accidentally give me away. But as I felt him slither towards me I quickly fell into my non-dream moments and slipped away..
I tend to do it myself. I feel guilty, constantly.
I had a great conversation with an unexpected source recently; I will admit (shamefully) that up until a year ago I did not realize that this woman had any depth to her. I wrote her off as a beautiful woman with no substance nor intelligence. After listening to her countless cries of attention through dieting tips, conquest stories, and her endless grooming I found myself speaking about an author series that I was attending. And the unexpected happened. She knew exactly who I was speaking of and she asked if she could be my +1. This was over a year ago and I still feel stupid, rude, and naive for judging her exactly as I have been unfairly judged.
Recently we had a follow up conversation about growing up in Boyle Heights, in East LA, in Westlake… Growing up as an attractive female with 0 self-esteem and what that brought down on us but in a more insightful slant – the root of what our reactions were stemmed to. As she described what she went through: feelings of rejection, judgement, constant criticism from adults as a child (bullies); I began to understand more of what I felt, of what I did, of who I was, as I heard her tell her stories.
She is an incredibly striking woman with piercing green eyes and a hell of a personality and yet she had soft heart, a vulnerability that her surroundings did not respect, much less notice. She is extremely intelligent, observant, and insightful – yet she receives no credit or acknowledgement for her innate gifts, qualities that she has retained despite her challenges. She lives life thinking she is wrong, misunderstood, defective…
As I heard of what she witnessed as a child, of what she went through growing up, of what was unsaid but I could so palpably feel it that I could practically hold it with my fingertips…I understood her pain. A pain that is so deeply rooted that it takes a hell of a strong person to face it in order to start healing; facing it means accepting that you were unloved, overcoming it means knowing that you are not un-loveable. I saw this in her. I heard it in the crack of her voice as she tried to remain composed and to the naked eye she was – fine. She was perfectly fine. But I was there; I knew better.
As she unfolded her worries before me I found the common theme of Guilt. Guilt pervades all those who have succeeded in improving their lot in life while still being surrounded by negative influences.
But it made me Angry. Angry that life could be so cruel to her (and countless of you lovely women and men) and still invade her being with a sense that she did not deserve to find inner peace whilst her family was still in such a state of disarray.
It really upset me because I constantly feel that way. Guilty. Guilty when a guy wants to pay for dinner. Guilty when my career is taking off. Guilty when my children are doing well in school. Guilty when I am spending money on myself. Guilty when I am spending money on extracurricular activities for my kids instead of funneling it elsewhere. Guilty when I want to for once, get taken care of. When for once I would like to relax and feel vulnerable, and feel like a woman who wants to be shielded from worldly problems. I want to know what it feels like to be sheltered. I want to feel like what it feels to be taken care of without having to feel like I have to be the strong independent woman I have always been.
I love who I am. But just because I am strong does not mean that I am not soft as well. I am strong and independent because there is no other way nor any other choice for me. If not me then whom? Who would step up to be the head of the household in my life? No one.
So I remind myself not to feel guilty. I deserve happiness. I realize I will never have a childhood again where I can hope to feel cared for in that manner but I do some day want to feel the sense of comfort of knowing that I can rely on someone – completely. And I will not feel guilty because I would care for that person right back.
So stop feeling guilty.
Stop over thinking your future. Life is life and it will continue to happen whether you allow it to or not, whether you plan for it or not. Be the strong person that you are but give yourself merits for what you have overcome and what you have worked out for yourself. You are incredible, special, and beautiful. Anyone would be lucky to have you. Why? Because you have chosen to embrace life regardless of what it dealt you early on and you DESERVE to expect happiness. It’s a good reminder for us all.
Stop feeling guilty.
When I see your face, your uninterrupted innocence, and feel the silkiness of your cheek when you rub it against mine in affection I am mesmerized. I am awestruck and grateful for the simplicity in your joy and outlook in life; by your dreams full of cotton candy clouds, rainbows bursting through the sky, pink princesses leading the world; and your mommy loved above it all.
You hold my hand, tilt your head to the side, giving me one of your crooked half smiles that can’t contain itself and I am filled with a radiating warmth that makes the world around me livelier.
I work hard instilling a joy for life, an appreciation for everything around us; whether it is observing the morning dew glittering on a blade of lime green grass or sitting quietly taking in the fiery and purple hues of our LA sunsets. I pray, in my own way, that you take what happiness you can from each moment in life and that these moments become a permanent state of happiness for you.
Each time I threw a penny in a wishing pond, each time an eyelash fell and we pressed it against our fingers, every birthday cake wish since I’ve had you two, I have fervently wished that you grow to be Happy and Kind – wonderful women.
Along the way of finding ways to improve your chances of a better tomorrow, I have found bits and pieces of happiness myself. As I looked for a better education for the two of you, I found a way to use my skills to volunteer and received a higher sense of fulfillment. As I pushed you into the arts, I became immersed in a colorful world of music, acting and dance.
We have grown happier together. We have grown stronger together.
Today you are seven years old.
I was 21 and a mother of two with a growing sense of dread and an urgent need to raise you on my own before you were marred with witnessing what I did as a child.
No one knew what went on nor do they need to know. I set out with the two of you and we carried on as three. It is the hardest decision I have ever made. Not because of what I needed but for fear that I was being weak by not putting up with a bad situation so you could have your father.
In many ways I have never been a child but more of a half adult. I experienced life’s travails and physical exigencies while still trapped in a child’s body. Like a Matryoshka doll, I forced forward the strength of an adult to appease the need of others when inside I was physically and deep down, emotionally, still a child.
But since the first moment I laid eyes on you, I Loved you. You were my renewed link to life in many ways, my dear. With time, I have found my own place, independent of you two, I discovered self-love. But what remains unchanged are the tears that threaten to spill from my eyes, the ache in my chest, in my soul, when I think of you and the love I have for you.
I say all this in tribute to you; to the strength that you have as a seven year old, to have lived through the many low’s that life dealt us in the past but retaining only the good.
You take heart in the beauty of dying embers even when the fire burned.
Your eyes, full of honest and raw adoration looked up at me and thanked me for a weekend that reminded you of how special you are. I will never forget what you told me that night. I share it in hope that it inspires the formerly unloved to focus on the care and love of their own children instead on love that was not received.
The night was bitingly cold but we happily lingered in the moment as we walked back from your birthday dinner. I took your small fingers in my hand and caressed them with the magic that hung, suspended in the air.
You stopped and looked up at me, your eyes shining with tenderness, and asked me,
“Mommy, you know how you can happy cry?”
“When you read me your card, you made me happy cry.”
—The contents of said birthday card will remain private because I whispered those words, meant only for you, into your ear—
“Iza, you’re making me happy cry now.”
“Thank you Mommy.” And you hugged me tightly.
That in a life continuously assaulted with the love for Things, with the need of bigger, better, brighter!, you chose to focus on and appreciate the love that I show you, made my wish come true.
I was strangely calm as I walked into the white hallway, sterilized with flourescent lights, and gave my name at the maternity ward.
“Hi, I’m here to deliver my baby.” The nurse took one kind look at me and cooed, “Oooh baby, you ain’t having nothing but a false start. You’re too calm to be having a baby.” I smiled back at her. “I’ve had contractions for a few hours now at home and came when I couldn’t take it anymore, they’re a couple of minutes apart.” Startled, she got up and led me into an anteroom and had me go through the motions of undressing, tying the gown and lying down on my back with my legs propped up in those cold metallic stirrups.
I grimaced as her hand pushed its way inside me but she quickly pulled it out as she felt the head of the baby crowning. In a flurry of movements she flung off her gloves, wheeled me quickly down the hallway into a delivery room and yelled for the, “Doctor! Doctor! She’s having a baby!” which made me giggle inside, thinking this is a maternity ward right?
My husband paced around the room wanting badly to be anywhere but in that room where the blood would soon come; squeamish, he kept asking if I could hurry, if he had to be there. When the contractions grew to an excruciating pain and I couldn’t find a rhythm to breathe through the force within me that threatened to turn my body inside out, I gripped his hand tightly and he started yelling and complaining to the nurse that I had hurt his hand. He was still rubbing it and looking at me with contempt when another nurse kicked him out of the room. Blonde wisps fell on her forehead and the crinkle around her eyes drew me in as she held my hand, placed her cool palm on my forehead, wiping the sweat away, and prompted me to breathe along her rhythm. Everything grew quiet as I looked into her eyes, a pale blue like a winter lake, and all I could hear was the loud sucking in of my own breath and the swoosh and drop of my chest as I exhaled slowly, allowing my body to ride the wave of pain that swept my body.
Just as the doctor was walking in I could feel an incredible pressure of a head pushing its way out from between my legs and in a panic I pressed my thighs tightly together but the nurse gently placed her hand on my knee and in one fluid movement I unlocked my knees and felt a heavy mass leave my womb and slip into the doctors hands. A merry cry if there ever can be one, filled the room and I anxiously looked to see my baby, to see my Diego as we’d been calling him for the nine months I had carried him inside me.
“Congratulations! It’s a Girl!”
I must have looked confused for they brought Her closer and repeated, “It’s a Girl!” “Are you sure?” I asked in a hopeful tone, I had wanted another little girl so badly but had come to terms that I would have a boy as the ultrasounds had shown.
As soon as I held her, she Smiled at Me. Her beautiful gaze locked me in and I know that they say the newborns don’t “smile” in the sense of an emotional trigger, and I know that they claim that newborns can’t “see” you but only general shapes and forms but she SAW me. And she never stopped smiling. My beautiful sweet Eliza.
The nurses placed a medical bracelet on her chubby arm and took her to the side to clean her up.
The young female doctor nonchalantly asked me if I wanted a tubal ligation (a sterilization procedure) as she was sowing my tears from the birth. Up to this point I had been drowning her out, concentrating on conquering the pain of each suture she made. I opened my eyes and sat up, throwing her off-balance, Yes! Yes please!”
I might have seemed overeager so she pulled up my chart and called the senior doctor over. “Oh no honey,” he started as he kept skimming my file, “you’re only 21 and we can’t make these decisions on the fly. I apologize that it was mentioned to you, we can’t do this without having prepared beforehand.” I slumped back down into the bed and quickly turned to stone so I could deflect the needle entering and leaving my flesh. “Did you numb her?” “No, I thought she had an epidural.” “It’s on her chart, she had a natural delivery, no pain meds.” “I’m so sorry, so sorry. DO you want something for the pain?”
I rolled my eyes and shook my head and waved for her to finish it.
For a long time afterward, until I finally had the courage, strength, and good sense to leave him, I felt a twinge of bitterness towards that young doctor for not having gone ahead and closing off any possibility of my having any more children, of not giving me some sense of control over my body and ability to stop being further entangled with him. But with time I realized that it would have been worse, a disability, if I had gone through the procedure. I would have held onto it as proof that well things weren’t THAT bad if I could at least not worry about getting pregnant again and I would have stayed. I might still have been there now, dead inside, cold and numb and mechanical on the outside. And my two angels would have greatly suffered for it.
Instead I realized that I could not keep living a life of grey days and black nights. And I hold my womb in my arms and I treasure that it is there alive and well and mine. No one controls it or my body. After years of abuse it is at rest, at peace, and it is but a part of me. I am whole; no longer broken, mending yes, but thriving.
“You have to write an essay about college and what you think you need to get into one.” Mr. Escobar was writing furiously on the board. There were three columns ‘community college’, ‘cal state school’, and ‘UC’s’. “What about private schools Mister?” “What do you know about private schools Lorena?” “Like Harvard and Yale or Georgetown, what if we plan on going to a private school?” “Don’t worry about private schools, you can’t afford them. Focus on high school before you get married.”
I drowned him out and started thinking about what the requirements were to get into each school system. The library at school didn’t have anything about colleges, it didn’t seem to get used either. Instead of walking home I headed over to Malabar library and started pulling out the college prep books. An hour later I ran home with essay in hand.
Shit… As I got closer I could already feel his daggers sinking into my skin. My tio was standing by the gate with a beer in hand, blocking the entrance. Beer cans were all over the front garden and steps. Mi Apa was leaning on the fence with his head back beer to his lips. He gulped it down and before he could squeeze it and throw it aside, my tio handed him another Bud Light.
I hated it when they drank in front of the house. That’s why I never invited anyone over, why couldn’t they drink in the back?
“Hola tio. Hola papi.” “Saluda a tu tio bien, ven para aca.” I walked back and gave my uncle a quick hug, trying to mask my disgust.
“Donde estabas?” “En la biblioteca, tenia que escribir-” “Ve ayudale a tu madre!”
I ran up the stairs and went inside. My mother was in the kitchen heating up the food cursing my uncle for making my father drink, as if he had to be persuaded! She looked up just as I walked by. “Where were you?!” “I went to the library. I had homework.” “Get the table ready and take off your uniform.”
I cleaned the table, took out the salsa and started warming up tortillas. “Go call your father to dinner.”
“Papi, ya esta la cena. Papi, ya esta servido sus platos.” “Huhhh. Hmmm!”
All he could fucking do after so many beers was grunt like a stupid animal.
As they finally pulled themselves away from their beer they sauntered over to the table. I tried to sneak back into my room but my uncle pulled my arm and told me to sit next to him. I hated that fucking smell. He placed his arm around me and asked me about school.
“Para que tienes que ir a la bibliotheca? Aqui tienes todo lo que necesitas para hacer tu tarea.” My dad pointed to his head.
“Pero no tenemos computadora para el internet papi.” “No necesitas internet, cuando yo era nino yo aprendi todo mientras que trabajaba en las cosechas.”
Always going on about he was so smart in school and how he learned everything faster and how he had to do it all while he worked in the farm and missed four months of school during the crop season. He could never say anything good about me, neither one of them. If Mexico was so fucking great, what were we doing here? Why hadn’t he gone beyond the 3rd grade?
“Que Buena esta la comida Maria.” “Gracias Jorge.”
“Esta mierda? Si no vas a cocinar bien, ya te dije que no cocines!”
“Yeah whatever.” My mom got up to clear her dish. “Can’t even talk with your stupid crooked mouth. You look so ugly when you‘re drunk.”
My father got up, grabbed his hot plate and threw it at my mom, beans and hot pieces of meat flying all over my mother’s face.
“Pinche babosa! Callate la boca!”
My father’s eyes were opened wide full of rage. They seemed to change color when he snapped, his bloodshot eyes bulging out and his eye brows two angry lines cut into his face.
I got up and stood between them. I started to clean up and I could see him swaying over me unsure of what to do before he walked to his bedroom and slammed the door so hard that the veneer cracked.
My tio got up and muttered an apology before he scurried off.
My mother started crying uncontrollably about what a miserable asshole he was so I led my younger siblings into their room.
“It’s okay mom. He doesn’t deserve you. You deserve so much better. Just ignore him, he’s drunk.”
“Why does he always have to call me names? I told him so many times to not call me stupid! He’s stupid, he couldn’t live without me. When I leave then who’s stupid!”
“Mami, we CAN leave. We can live in an apartment and we would do all of the cooking and cleaning. You could go back to school and take computer classes and you could get an office job like you wanted. If you got a divorce we would go with you and help you mami. We don’t need the house and we could be happy.”
When she looked at me I knew that I had gone too far. She would never leave him. She would never be able to walk out the door.
“I stay with him for you guys. For my kids, that’s why I stay. So you can have a family and have a better life.”
“Yes mami, I know. I love you. Do you want to sleep in my bed? I can sleep on the sofa.”
I finished cleaning the dishes as she went off to my bed and I felt a huge lump of guilt bobbing up and down on my throat. What if he heard me? I should have known. She would never leave.
She walked home with her eyes to the ground looking at the cracks in the side walk. The cracks seemed to break off into an endless network of spider webs interrupted only by a wad of black bubble gum that had long ago been bonded onto the cement by the footsteps of Boyle Heights.
Her chest felt tight as she took in a breath that was painful to swallow. She observed the apartments around her; the homes that were unkempt and seemed to sag with poverty. Everything seemed gray and old. As she came up to her street she shook her feelings of sadness and walked up the steps to her home with a weak smile on her face. Her little sister looked up from her Sleeping Beauty marathon and gave her a beaming smile that made the corners of her own mouth creep up higher. Her little mini-me was always lifting her spirits.
Her mother was lying on the couch, her tired feet swollen from a full day at work of standing and taking endless orders from pushy nurses and doctors at her job as a grill cook at the hospital. She studied her mother and felt a pang of guilt and sadness for her. How many dreams of hers had been shattered over the years? Her mouth was slightly agape but it didn’t diminish the prettiness of the delicate mouth that always had the faint smell of coffee. Her face was slack deep in a tired sleep.
She waived at her brother and other sister as she made her way into her room that she shared with her older sister. She put her backpack down and sat on the bed. She looked up and sighed as she stood again. She unbuttoned her maroon checkered skirt and slipped it off being careful to fold it and place it on her cupboard for the next day. She pulled off her shirt and folded it neatly on top of her skirt. Now that her sister was in high school she had two skirts all to herself and she made sure she took careful care of them. She pulled on an oversized t-shirt and her only and favorite pair of jean shorts.
The mirror on her headboard stared back at her. She studied the girl on the mirror and admired the pretty legs that the girl had tucked underneath her. She had smooth light caramel-colored skin and almond-shaped eyes that stared back at her with hunger. Stop it, always day dreaming. There was no pretty girl in that mirror just her own image searching for something better.
“Maria! Que no hay nada de comer?” Always yelling, couldn’t he act civil to her for once instead of demanding everything. Every word that her father directed at her mother always dripped with insult and anger.
Before her mother was up from the sofa having been shaken out of her sleep by the gruffness of her husband, Lorena walked to the kitchen and began pulling out the tortillas and salsa so that her father would leave her mother alone. She tore off a piece of the Foodsaver mailer, turned on the one burner that sparked to life on its own and quickly used the paper to turn on the other three burners on the old stove. She heated the beans and the carne con chile. She warmed up the tortillas and as soon as the food started to simmer she pulled out plates and served her father. As she placed the salsa and tortillas on the table she called to her father that dinner was ready. She served him his place being careful not to serve him too much or not enough and wiped any splashes off the plate with the corner of the dish towel. She laid his plate down just as he slammed the metal front door and walked inside.
His cheeks seemed to hang off his face and his eyes were darker and smaller than usual. She knew that he was probably on his 12th beer by now so she quietly asked him if he needed anything else. He muttered something under his breath to no one in particular and she walked back into the kitchen before he could come up with anything.
They always sat to dinner together in silence. Everyone with their faces down averting their father’s eyes so as not to catch his attention. As she scooped some beans onto her mouth with a piece of tortilla she could feel his eyes on her and she focused her eyes on her food making sure she made no sound as she chewed.
“Que chingados es esto? Si no vas a cocinar bien mejor ni cocines!”
Always complaining about his food- why couldn’t he just eat and shut up? She hoped that her mother would ignore him and as the silence continued for a few seconds she started to relax and feel a sense of -,
“Porque no te callas? Siempre tomando con tu bocota.”
“Ay, pendeja. Estupida! Porque no te callas tu? Siempre en el telefono con tu hermana en vez de estar cocinando.”
Her eyes started to water as she swallowed hard. The ball in her throat precariously bobbing up and down; threatening to reject the beans she had stuffed in her mouth. She couldn’t look away from her plate. Her little sisters and brother looked frantically around them until their father finally got up but instead of going to bed like she had been telepathically urging him to do; he let his body fall back onto his recliner with a big oomph.
“Quitame los zapatos!”
She ran to get his sandals and took off his shoes. She brought him the remote before he could ask and pushed the lever back so he could rest his legs and concentrate on the Spanish channel broadcasting the news.
Her sister helped her clear the plates and shuffle their siblings to their room before any more arguments could erupt. She washed the dishes and put the food away in the fridge. She studied the salsa and beans to see if they could stand another day before covering them and putting them away in the fridge as well.
When she was sure everyone was asleep she took out her books and started on her homework. Around midnight she heard the bolt of her parents bedroom door turn so she quickly turned off the light and pretended to sleep. As the toilet flushed and the water swished down the drain he went back to bed and locked the door behind him. She waited a couple of minutes and then turned the light back on and started on her homework again. Between homework she read and wrote and pushed her eyes to stay open until they would doze off around three. The nightmares would not come if she stayed awake long enough.
Do you think the mind has selective memory? The electrician that wired my nervous system must have been a self-taught handy man because he got everything backwards.
Every now and then I concentrate on my younger years and I try to summon a pleasant memory but only flashes of scenes appear; so briefly that I question whether they happened or if I read them or saw them on TV and wove them into my fabric of childhood recollections and dreams.
Like the spark from two cables when you hot wire a car, they get my engine running for a second before they turn off and the reality is ignited again.
My father sits on the floor of our one bedroom duplex on Winter St. as my mother sits on the sofa with her legs encircling him. I smile up at this rare treat of affection that they are exchanging. His bulging arms and shoulders relax as my mother massages baby oil onto them – trying to ease the pain of a double shift of standing in front of hot oil, boiling pots, and the suffocating heat of the oven.
My sister sits next to me, a cardboard box – our toy box lying between us – its contents spread around us.
My mother caresses his dark black wavy hair leaning in close to him.
I focus on my Barbie’s head, trying to squeeze the head of a Black Barbie onto the body of a White Barbie; I study the nude plastic doll and look down at my own four-year old frame and I arch my round tamale feet hoping they will look as elegant as the doll’s.
I turn back to my parents but they are bickering, the sweet moment of peace broken as anger rises in their faces and turns to pushing.
My father storms out and my mother turns to me and my heart catches in my throat as I see her desperation reaching out for help, slowly drowning in the sea of her eyes as the flicker in them dies down and she locks herself in the bathroom – gagging sounds trying to purge the disappointment that won’t go away.