Poison Disguised As Family: Part IV

Part IV: Carolina

I know my kids blame me for many things and probably think I am the worst mom. But what they do not know is what I dealt with in my own childhood and why I am so emotionally disconnected from the world.

I watched my mother get abused up until the very last beating my mother accepted, when she finally kicked my father out of the house. None of my siblings wanted to maintain contact him, but I was the only one to send him handwritten letters. They thought I was all foolish and maybe I was. I guess that is my issue. I have a big heart and I am too forgiving. I expect everyone to have the same temperament as me. I always wanted things to change. I wanted a normal family and I wanted to find healthy ways to process my emotions.

I hope I did not mess up my kids. I really tried my best. I always searched for a healthy relationship in everyone I have dated. I knew that I wanted something different than what I grew up watching, but history repeated itself.


I met him at a party. It was a set up by mutual friends and they swore he was a good guy. They told me to give him a chance and so I did. What a mistake that was. He promised me the world. But don’t they all? They appear to be pleasant, kind, and want everyone to believe the absolute best of them. Behind closed doors, they are a monster.

When I found out I was pregnant with my son, I thought he would change. It started off with a push or shove here and there. He would never apologize either. He would just carry on with conversation like he did not do anything. I would let it go because I was taught to forgive people even when they hurt you. He would yell and I could not handle it. It would make me flash back to when my dad would come home drunk and hit my mother. My mom went through a crippling depression I did not think she would overcome. We all helped her to put food on the table since my dad left. I started working at a young age to make sure my family was cared for.


When we got together and spoke about marriage, everyone thought I was insane. The smart people saw right through his act, but most did not. He would never hit me for real. He did not want to give people a reason to assume what was happening.

He did not even propose. We kind of just stumbled into marriage. We were together for 2 years and then one day we just both found ourselves in the courthouse. Nothing extravagant. I thought my life would go a completely different route. Now you are probably asking, why would you get married if you were miserable? When kids are involved, you just feel stuck, like there is no way out. I had so many expectations for what I wanted, and I feel disappointed in myself that nothing went as planned.

We did not plan for children. We stumbled into that too. He lived a double life. He would come off as the kindest person in public when we would go out which was rare. He would put his arm around me, or make me laugh, or show his affection. As soon as we stepped foot into the house again, it was downhill fast. He would yell about everything. His food being cold, how the house was dirty, how the kids left their toys everywhere, how the puppy was not potty trained. Even the dog feared him and would run underneath the bed. I do not know what caused his switch to flip. I wanted so badly for him to be good. Therefore, I stayed because I kept thinking he would change, and I stood for so long and now my kids are messed up because of my selfish decision.

I blame myself because I should have left a long time ago. When my mom died, he came with me to the funeral. But even when my mother was dying, he had the audacity to say that it would be much better that she passed away so I would not need to take care of her. He said that as I hovered over her casket. He was selfish, he wanted all my time. I could not even care for my own mother. I should have left then.

My son entered the world healthy and well and that is all I could ask for, even though his father was not even in the delivery room. He never hit the kids, but he found a way to torture us. My son, Cam, was a good kid. He did not do drugs, he got into sports to stay busy and put off time from coming home, he took care of his little sister Brooke, had excellent grades, and had a promising career in basketball. But he always found something wrong to start fights with him.


My family did not know what it meant to have a normal holiday dinner. I wanted my kids to enjoy the holidays, but it was impossible. Each year they just expected chaos or no one to show up which happened often. My sister, Lori, refuses to come visit. She comes to pick up my kids here and there, but she refuses to walk in the house. She told me countless times she does not want to be around my husband or bring my nieces and nephews around him.

“I refuse to subject my kids to that type of toxicity like you choose to do. That man will never see my kids.” She would say.

Those words she expressed to me one day over coffee are embedded in my brain. When our mother died, she did not take it well either. We were both really close to her and when she finally passed, we both lost a piece of ourselves. Our mom did not like him either. She knew the red flags were there, but I did not listen. I wanted to see the good in him, but as time went on that would slim down to nearly nothing.

When he lost his job, the home life went awry. He would drink every day, at the bar, at home, at his buddy’s house. He would blame us for everything. When Brooke was born, I thought maybe having a daughter would bring some light back into his life, give him a reason to change. Silly me.


I wanted my kids to have a shot at a normal life and I know I could not undo everything I let happen in the past. But if I take that step forward, hopefully they would see how I was trying to make a change.

Every year Lori would make an excuse as to why she could not attend our Thanksgiving dinner. She did not plainly say she would not come, but she would make these excuses because she never knew when he was lurking over my shoulder. I appreciated her doing this, but it would not stop his yelling anyway.

This year she said my niece Chelsea had the flu. My kids would always want to go over to Lori’s house, and I could understand why. My sister and I found a way to speak in code about these things.


After I took the last set of verbal abuse from him, I felt a fire form in my belly. Like I had had enough, and I was going to make the change my kids needed me to make. After all, mothers put their children first and I did not want to keep overlooking their cry for help.

This year I would go to Lori’s house. I would drive with my kids and we would finally have the family dinner we so desperately wanted. I packed all 3 of our bags, Chopper’s belongings, and I waited for them to get home. Luckily for us their father was at the bar, so it was the perfect time to leave. Today Cam had picked Brooke up from school and they would be taking the bus home together. They came through the door and saw the bags waiting in the front hall.

“Mom, what’s happening?” Cam asked worriedly.

“No time to explain, I want to make sure we leave before he gets back. Please grab your things and Brooke’s. I will explain in the car.”

I had two bags slung over my shoulder and I held Chopper’s leash in my left hand. I packed as much as I could, the essentials anyway. I did not bother to lock the door. He would not care, or he would be too drunk to realize.

“Buckle up,” I told the kids.

“Mom, please tell me what is going on. Why are we leaving and where are we going?” Cam asked again.

“We are going to stay with your Aunt Lori. We are going to spend Thanksgiving there and until I save enough money for our own place, we will be living there. Your dad will not be joining us.”

There was silence, but through the rearview mirror, I could see my kids looking at each other anxiously, wondering what we were getting ourselves into.

There was silence for most of the drive. I turned on the radio and we just drove along to the sound of The Beatles roaring through the speakers. Cam held Brooke’s hand in his. Chopper was sleeping soundly in the middle seat.

I gripped the steering wheel tightly and drove into the unknown. But this, this was the first step I needed to take moving forward and it felt so damn good.  

Poison Disguised As Family: Part III

Part III: Aunt Lori

My sister always had a horrendous track record with men. Not saying I am perfect, but my sister just knows how to pick them.

When we were younger, she would pick out the worst of the worst. The men who walked around like the whole world needed to bow before them and that women should be submissive. I always found this strange because we both grew up in a household where we were subjected to abuse. Our mother wanted better for us. But it’s crazy how history can repeat itself for several generations unless someone puts a stop to it. I am much stronger than my sister because I do not accept anything less than I deserve. My husband knows not to cross me. I do not play around. I refuse to make the same mistakes my mother did. But it is hard ya know when kids are involved? You feel stuck. Like you must stay. My sister never left the situation she was in and let it fester. The day that man yelled at my kids, like he had the right, was the same day I said I would never subject my children to that level of toxicity.

I told my sister directly that I would not go visit her unless her husband was not home. That man starts fights with everyone. I could walk through the door and he will have something to say. I am not the type to surround myself with negativity. My whole childhood was surrounded by it. The day my father left, there was a shift in the house. My oldest brother became the man of the house. My mother did the best she could considering the circumstances she was in. But I was thankful for the courage she was able to muster up to kick him out of the house. We made it out. Although the physical and emotional trauma we endured will always be there with us, weighing us down, we have no other choice but to keep moving forward. Our pasts would try to hold us back, always lingering in the darkness, waiting to make another appearance. I can say I have made progress. I wish I could say the same about my sister, Carolina.

Like the saying goes, the red flags are always there. How can you tell that someone will mistreat you and turn into the biggest piece of crap when you first meet them? He gave her attention and he made her feel loved, or so my sister says. I remember when they first met. Something was off, but I could not place what it was. It was the way he carried himself like the world owed him something. He was hard to please, but my sister fell for that type. I do not understand the attraction. The day I found out she was pregnant with my nephew; I knew she would never be able to leave now even if she wanted to. Do not get me wrong, I love my niece and nephew, but she really messed up there. She gave him another reason to have control over her.

I allow Cam and Brooke to come over whenever they want. Cam has me on speed dial and he calls me up whenever he needs a break from his life. I’ll drive the 4 hours to go pick them up on weekends. I did not want to live close enough to my sister and that man. I needed to be a good distance away. He was drunk all the time so he would not be able to drive anyway, or at least I would hope not. Carolina, was always tied to that house.

Thanksgiving was approaching. This was the toughest time of year for my family. Our mother has been gone about 5 years and the pain of her not being present still eats away at us. Most of my family members, including our 3 brothers have moved away. They did their best protecting Carolina from herself, but they got tired of that too. They had their own families to care for now and once Mom passed, they could not stay in town. Our city carried too much baggage and they wanted to start over. I stood behind because I knew without me, Carolina would go downhill fast.


I was in my living room, just wrapping up dinner with my family, when Carolina called.

“Hey Lor, how are things?” She asked.

I knew where the convo was headed before she even had to ask. My sister knew the deal. She was always welcome with her family over at my house for the holiday, but she refused to leave that house. She refused to leave him behind.

“I wanted to see what your plans for Thanksgiving were.” She continued.

“Car, I’m sorry to give you the news, but Chelsea has the flu, so we are staying over here. But you can come with the kids, you are always welcome. You know that.”

Silence. A sigh. A long pause.

“I hope she feels better.” My sister said.

I always knew when my sister was about to cry. And she always knew when I was lying. She did not dispute the matter.

“Well, I am making all this food, so if you change your mind, just let me know.”

“I will,” I responded. “I love you and give the kids hugs and kisses for me.”

I hung up.

I knew Cam would not leave his mom or sister behind. He was the best big brother. Even at 15, he took the responsibility of caring for them. I admired him for this. He had to grow up fast. Poor kid, barely had a childhood.

I know for certain, wherever our mother is right now, she is terribly disappointed in my sister for making the same mistake she did and for letting it go on this long.

Poison Disguised As Family: Part II

Part II: Cameron

I was rarely home anymore. I spent most of time at Jon’s house.

“Hey bro, are you coming over to my house for Thanksgiving?” Jon asked excitedly.

“Not sure yet, I know my mom is going to make lots of food. Not like anyone would come. No one comes over our house anymore. Shit is sad.” I said.

“You’re always welcome in my house, Cam.” Jon responded.

“Have to make sure my mom is okay. I also can’t leave my sister behind.”

“Bring little Brooke too, she’s also welcome. So is your mom. You’re my family.” Jon said as he jokingly punched me in my arm.


Jonathan lived a few blocks away from me, that’s why I was always over his house. I dreaded the walks back home. My thoughts would flood my brain, my body would tense up as I would walk up the steps through the front door. My mom would always be in the kitchen cooking, my sister on the living room carpet usually with her dolls or playing with our dog Chopper. That was her best friend when I was not home. I just turned 15 last year, so my mom lets me walk to and from Jon’s house. We also live in a good neighborhood, so she trusts that I will be okay. I want to bring my sister with me most of the time, but she must stay with my mom. She is only 5, so my mom worries.

Jon’s mom would always have a plate set for me when we would walk home from school. I would rush home, drop off my bag, change my clothes, grab my basketball, check on my sister and mom, and leave again.

“Where are you going?” My mom would say worriedly.

“Same place I always go, Ma.”

“Will you be eating over there?” She would ask.

“Is that even a question?” I responded.


I would put off coming home for as long as I could. My dad would often pick fights with me as soon as I would walk through the door. He would be on beer who knows what number and he would be fumbling through the house.

“Where have you been, you little shit?”

I would often try to walk past him, heading up the stairs to my room.

“Don’t you hear me talking to you? I asked you a question.”

“My friend’s house.”

“Well, your mother made dinner. So go show her some respect and eat. She didn’t slave away all day for you to go eat at your dumb-ass friend’s house.”

“Not hungry.” I muttered.

That is when it would go bad. He would fumble towards me, grab me by my hair, and throw me towards the kitchen. My mom would be standing in the doorway, tears swelling up in her eyes, but she would remain silent. She would never stand up to my dad even when he did this to her kids. She was frightened.

My sister would cry. She would run in between my dad and me and put her hands up and yell, “STOP.” My sister should not have had to defend me, her older brother, when our own mother should have. My dad was smart. He would never blatantly hit us, he would push or shove, slap us. But he never left a mark. This was the trick. My dad would never hit my sister, only me. He would push my mom around too. Often put his hands in the air, resembling a fist and threaten to hit her. She would cover her face.

I would take my sister out of that house as often as I could. I would ride bikes with Jon and his little sister and Brooke would come along too. I always asked my mom if she wanted to come over and hang with Jon’s parents, who were the coolest people I knew, but she always shook her head no. It was like she knew if she left the house and dinner was not ready by the time Dad got home from the bar, she would hear his wrath. I felt bad that I could not do anything.

I did my best to take care of my mom. I would talk to her here and there. Hang in the kitchen with her. Tell her about my days at school and how I was two points away from having a GPA that would get me honors. I had made the J.V. basketball team at school too.

My mom would drive us to school every morning and drop Brooke off at Kindergarten. Our schools were on the same campus, but two different buildings. Dad never came to our schools. I don’t even think he knew what they looked like. My mom would come to parent-teacher conferences, her body drained, and her mind foggy with other thoughts.

My teacher would talk to her and she would sit there and nod with a blank face. I’m not sure she even knew what was being said. I always had good reports from my teachers. But the feedback was always the same.

“Cameron has good grades, but I wish he would participate a little more in class or talk more with other students. He tends to gravitate towards his friend Jonathan.”

“Yeah well, they are best friends.” That would be the only response my mom would make the whole conference.

We would leave and go back home fearing the next occurrence.


Thanksgiving was a week away. My mom would cry the most during this time. She knew no one would come and she would be left with all this food. I came home from school and she was sitting at the dining room table. Brooke was by her side. My mom held her head in her hands. Brooke was consoling her.

“Ma, what’s a matter?” I asked.

“Aunt Lori cannot come over for Thanksgiving. Your cousin Chelsea has the flu.” She said as her voice cracked.

As young as my sister was, Brooke even knew that was an excuse to not hurt mom’s feelings.

“You and Brooke can come with me to Jon’s house, Ma. It will be okay.” I tried to reassure her.

Ever since our grandma died, my mom has been out of it. Not like her life was easy anyway. But at least grandma helped her stay sane. Our grandpa left years ago. My grandma stood married, never giving him a divorce, but she kicked him out of the house after his last drunken bender.

Funny how history repeats itself, I thought to myself.

Poison Disguised As Family: Part I

Part I: Brooke

I was 5 years old when I first heard Mommy and Daddy fight.

I was in the living room playing with my barbie dolls when I heard something shatter in the kitchen. Daddy was angry again as I sat there and waited for Mommy to make me my macaroni and cheese. He was yelling incessantly, and Mommy seemed sad. I ran over.

“Daddy, don’t yell at Mommy!” I yelled at the top of my lungs.

“Get out of here!” Daddy responded, as his face turned red like a tomato.

“Do not speak to her that way,” mommy croaked.

“I’ll do damn well as I please.”

I knew daddy got angry a lot and it would scare me. But I would cover my ears and try to shut him out by remembering all those times he let me stand on his feet as we moved across the dance floor at family parties. Mommy always seemed sad while she cooked which she did every day because daddy didn’t know how. Cameron, my big brother was barely home because he was always with his friends playing baseball. He had lots of friends who would never come over to the house because they always heard daddy yelling. I would ask Cameron to take me with him, but Mommy always kept me home. He would stay out past dinner and when Mommy would ask where he was, he would always say he stood late at Jonathan’s house.

“Did you eat?” Mommy would ask.

“Yeah, his family is normal, remember? I wouldn’t know what that’s like.”

She would return to what she was doing in the kitchen. She always turned her back when she was ready to cry. I wanted so badly to fix it. I wanted to show mommy she was loved. Cameron just seemed angry at the world all the time, but I didn’t blame him. We feared daddy’s anger, but it seemed like we were both inheriting the anger trait without us even knowing it. We were angry we could not fix things for mommy. Whenever daddy got angry, he would break things. He would break tables, lamps, computers, TVs, and my toys when they were laying around.

“Why don’t you ever pick up your flipping toys!” He would yell across the room to me.

“Daddy, I’m sorry.”

“If you keep leaving your damn barbie dolls lying around, I will throw them in the garbage.”

“No Daddy, please, no!”


Mommy got tired of cleaning when he would break things. She would leave the shattered glass on the floor, but then no one would clean it. Our dog, Chopper, would run to his den, with his tail hidden away between his hind legs when daddy would yell too. We were all scared of him. I don’t remember the last time we had family over. Everyone would make some excuse to Mommy on the phone about why they could not attend Thanksgiving Dinner or spend Christmas day in our home.

“I’m sorry Carolina, we can’t make it. Chelsea has the flu and we do not want the babysitter to get sick. We are staying home.”

Mommy’s face changed from happy to sad. She had a little sense of hope in her eyes when she would call and as soon as the person on the other line would tell her they could not attend, she would respond with an ‘okay,’ and hang up.

“Mommy, why are you so sad?”

“Nothing honey, Aunt Lori cannot make it to Thanksgiving Dinner.”

Thanksgiving was usually mommy’s favorite holiday because she would cook lots of yummy things.

Daddy ruined it for her.

“Now I have all this food that I made, and no one is coming,” Mommy said in a low tone.

A Fighting Chance

She has struggled to breathe.

Suffocating, choking on air.

Beating herself up for so long.

Her body has weathered the storm that has hovered over her for the past few years.

She has pushed people away to save them the heartache of stepping into her world.

She is still learning how to love and forgive herself.

What has happened to me and how can I get back to what I once was, she asks herself.

Or should I continue down this path?

Is it leading me to something greater?

She sits and examines herself. She is drained.

She often looks at the destination as the goal and forgets to realize that the journey is more important.

She has tried and failed. Failed again.

The girl she once knew lays in the coffin, in the graveyard, locked away.

There is no bringing her back.

Will you still love her when she exposes you to the inner workings of her mind, the darkest side of her?

You’re getting deeper and deeper.

Can you handle it?

Silence At The Dinner Table

The imperious sound of forks clinking against the china plates is what she hated most as a child.

They would have family dinners and not speak to one another. Her siblings spent most of their time at their friends’ houses, and her parents always fought. It was rare eye contact was made and silence would loom over the table. Everyone would part ways and go to their own rooms when the silence would become too overbearing. Her mother was unhappy often so that meant being locked away in her room when she was not cooking or cleaning. Their father was mad at the world and took his personal failures out on the family.

Isabelle, Izzy for short, dreamed for a normal environment. Her life had been like looking through a window. She would observe others and their family dynamic wondering what she did wrong that she could not have that. She fenced herself in for all these years. She had built her walls so high due to all the emotional abuse she had to endure. She wanted to be free, but she was frightened. For so long, she did not know what it meant to live.

Her brother turned to drugs when he realized their home life was complete shit. Izzy thought he would be the most successful. Justin had it all together. Athlete, girlfriend after girlfriend, straight A’s, he had the world at his fingertips. The switch flipped. Something in him changed. He did not have the motivation or the courage anymore, letting life get the best of him. Things took a turn when she thought her brother had taken it too far. She knew something was up with him when he would come home, barely able to stand up straight, eyes bloodshot red and hardly open, he had no clue where he was or how he got home.

Justin would fumble towards his room, but he would find himself in the bathroom passing out on the floor. Their mother was sealed away from the rest of the world. She never checked on them or their younger sister, Morgan. Izzy would talk to Justin often and explain how if he got a scholarship for college, he could leave this place for good and chase his dreams. Justin wanted so badly for their mother to give a shit. He wanted to feel a connection with her, and he never did. Their mom was lost, a mere body with no soul.

Justin would hang out with the wrong crowd. It started with weed and Izzy always knew when he walked through the front door because she thought a skunk had found its way into the backyard again. The drugs offered Justin feelings he could not get at home. Izzy wanted so badly to help him, but she was struggling too. Their mother refused to see that the kids were a mess. The toxicity in the house was a stench that would never go away.

Izzy was at school in her English class, which kept her the sanest. Her phone buzzed. She slipped her hand into her jean pocket, taking her phone out carefully as her teacher would not see. She held her phone under her desk reading the name that popped up on her screen: Nathan. He was Justin’s best friend. The message read, “You need to get over here now.” She immediately gathered her belongings and slipped out the back door. She drove her mom’s old Honda the 20 minutes to Nathan’s house. He lived on a crowded suburban block. Families there always seemed to have it together, children playing out in the yards and riding their bicycles. Must be nice to have a normal family, Izzy would think to herself. She worried about her older brother and she had to care for her younger sister. She became the mom when she so badly wanted to live her life too, but she had no other choice.


Nathan was the one who introduced her brother to weed. He was a good kid, but he did not come from a stable home life either. He had started a a huge fight in the courtyard of their high school one day with Justin. Anger was common among the two of them. Izzy did not remember the story well, just from bits and pieces she heard from Justin. Her brother had been in the parking lot walking to his car, and in the process, he ran into Nathan and his band of misfits who were known for causing trouble. They hung out in the back lot by the dumpsters getting high and causing chaos for anyone who passed by.

“Hey man, you know you’re not supposed to walk through here.” Nathan yelled.

Justin kept walking to his car with his head down and his hands in his pockets. Nathan approached him and said it again grabbing his arm this time. Justin broke out of his grip and said, “Listen, don’t touch me.”

“You got the wrong dude.” Nathan responded with a smirk.

That was it, downhill from there. They fought and somehow from that fight they ended up becoming the best of buddies. Weird what brings two people together, Izzy thought, but it worked.


When Izzy got to Nathan’s house, the stench was overwhelming. The mix of weed and Tostito pizza rolls was one she knew all too well. Nathan lived in the basement. Not sure how because the chill was unbearable, she always wore a hoodie when she knew she was going there. It was always 15 degrees colder down there than the rest of the house. He slept on a beat-up couch with a lousy pillow and flimsy blanket. His TV was situated on the floor with a few DVD’s. There was one large window which sunlight seeped through. Pills were sprawled across the coffee table. Nathan was in the back-corner hovering off Justin. Izzy ran over.

“I, I, I don’t know what happen. He was fine, then started acting strange, and then fainted.” Nate said.

The bags under Justin’s eyes were dark and consuming his face. His hair was disheveled, and his body felt cold. Izzy lowered her face to his checking to see if he was breathing. He was, but the breaths were low and sporadic.

“I’m so sorry Izz, I didn’t know what was going on until I saw the pill bottles.” Nathan said as anxiety overcame him.

“I don’t want to hear it, Nate. You don’t think I know what you guys are doing?” Izzy responded as the fear made her voice crack.

They both managed to pick up Justin struggling to bring him to the bathroom.

“Nate turn the shower on,” Izzy croaked.  As the ice-cold water dripped from the shower head, Justin was sitting upright against the wall, as Izzy proceeded to stick her finger down his throat. It took 2 times, but he managed to vomit. Justin slowly came to consciousness after coughing uncontrollably, as his pale face regained its color.  

“Damn it, Justin, you could have died.” Izzy muttered as her voice raised another octave.

Nathan brought Justin some crackers to settle his stomach.


Once Justin started to come back to reality, Izzy drove the Nissan home. She parked the car in the driveway lopsidedly, left the key in the ignition, and just sat there in silence with her brother. Their mom was home locked away in her room again because the light was dim but seen through the curtain. Luckily their dad’s truck was not there.

“I’ve never done that before. I didn’t know my limit.” Justin managed to say breaking the silence.

“You scared the hell out of me.” Izzy responded as the tears began to form in her hazel eyes.

Another long pause of silence.  

“You’re the only one I have besides Morgan. I can’t afford to lose you too. Mom is completely lost, and I need my brother to help me through all of this.”

“I know Izz, I’m sorry. I’m just trying to work through my own shit. I know I lost myself for a while and this has been taking a toll on you.” Justin said as he looked towards the floor, fidgeting with his hands.

Izzy stared out the window of the Nissan focusing on the dim light coming from their mother’s bedroom. The light that somehow foreshadowed her mother’s cry for help.

“We have each other and we will figure all this crap out. I want to get mom and us out of here and work towards a better life. Just give me a chance to make the changes and do just that.”

Izzy looked at her brother. Justin looked drained, like this life had taken all the color from his face.

Okay,” Izzy mumbled.

Modern Day Hero

I was in the first grade when it all happened.

It was a typical day for me as it was for everyone else too. I remember it being a crisp morning in the Fall. The leaves on the trees were a plethora of colors and I remember the crinkling sound they made when I walked to the car. The chill of the morning air greeted me as soon as I opened the front door. My mom packed my backpack making sure I had all of my materials and homework. She filled my power-puff girl lunchbox with my favorite snacks which were usually gushers, fruit-roll-ups, or fruit snacks. My Catholic school uniform was always clean and ironed. My mom did my hair differently every day. She made sure I wore my jacket and we were off.

Our teacher, Mrs. D, greeted all of us as we entered the classroom and made sure we were all present as she took attendance. She began explaining what we would do for the day. I had my friends Brittany and Chelsea who I would often get in trouble for chatting with. I always looked forward to snack time. My mom would make sure I ate breakfast before I left the house, but I was a hungry kid. My best friend Brittany and I had matching hello kitty necklaces and that marked how important our friendship was. Our mothers hung out a lot, so we ended up becoming close. We would show them off to our classmates every morning like, “Hey guys, look what we have!”

I would often doodle in my notebook while Mrs. D had her back turned. Back then, we had those desks with the tops that would lift up and you could put all your materials inside. I would put my snacks in there and I was always organized with my pencils and crayons. Mrs. D was big on neat penmanship. She would have us practice every day. She would write sentences on the board and we would have to practice writing them in our notebooks. Even as a 1st grader, I wanted to have the best handwriting in the class. I could smell the aroma of lunch being cooked in the cafeteria. I think that day it was chicken sandwiches and vegetables. It was about 9am.

Chelsea would slide me notes from pieces of paper in her notebook. One of them read, “Do you think Scott is cute?” Circle yes or no. I circled Yes with an exclamation point and a smiley face and slid it back to her. Mrs. D often caught us in the act but that did not stop us. We were sneaky.

We would have our snacks at around 10am or so. It was about 9:45 and Mrs. D told us we could have snack time 15 minutes early. Thank goodness I thought, I didn’t eat my morning oatmeal, instead I snuck it to my dog when my mom was getting ready for work. She wanted me to grow big and strong, so it was oatmeal every morning and I hated it.

During snack time, we would trade snacks. “Hey Eddie, you want to trade me your goldfish for my fruit roll-up?” Mrs. D would monitor this because there were certain allergies, she needed to be aware of. There was a list posted in the front of the classroom with of each of our names and our allergies written next to it. She would give us the head nod and we would trade our snacks.

We would move from our desks to the big round tables on the carpet right next to Mrs. D’s desk. When we were done with snack, we had to clean up after ourselves, push our chairs in, and return to our seats. Now it was time for math, my least favorite subject. As Mrs. D started her lesson on our multiplication tables, I was distracted by the loud voices coming from the hallway.

Mrs. D was standing in front of the blackboard when she got called to the door by the teacher across the hall. We were busy taking this time to talk to one another, but the whispers seemed serious. There was a shift in Mrs. D’s mood. She covered her mouth with her hand and her eyes widened. It seemed like the halls were getting crowded with teachers and school staff now as they peeked their heads out their doors to get in on the conversation.

“Chels, what do you think is happening outside in the hall?” I asked.

“Not sure, I’m just waiting for recess.” She said.


Mrs. D came back to her desk. She held the chair in front of her like her legs were about to give out. She closed her eyes and sighed deeply. She clapped her hands three times like she always did when she needed to get our attention.

“Class, I have some very terrible news.” We all silenced our conversations and looked over to her.

“We just received news that there has been a terrible accident in the city.”

I used to go to the city with my parents a lot to see Broadway shows, eat pizza, and explore. I loved it.

“Your parents will all be coming shortly to pick you up.”

As excited as we all were to go home, we were all confused as to what was happening.

“All I ask is that you stay calm and remain in your seats. Finish eating your snacks and when finished find an activity to do. Please keep your voices at a low level and when parents arrive, I will escort you to the front office. While I do so, Mrs. J will be monitoring you guys. We will combine classes with Class 1-202 who will be joining us shortly.”

I thought to myself, Mrs. D’s husband works in the city. I remember because she spoke about him often and how much they loved each other. It would make us all happy that she was happy. I hope he’s okay, I said to myself.

I practiced my writing while Brittany and Chelsea worked on coloring pictures.

“I can’t wait for my mom to get here,” Brittany said.


It seemed like each of my friends were getting picked up one by one. I was of the last remaining few. I walked up to the front of the classroom. Mrs. D and Mrs. J were sitting side by side at the front desk.

“Mrs. D, when will my mom be getting here?”

“Your mom is stuck in traffic, honey. She is trying to get here as quickly as possible.”

I thought to myself, she didn’t mention my dad. Where was he?


It turned out that the remaining children whose parents did not arrive by the ringing of the last bell had to be escorted to the gymnasium to wait with the rest of the school. The announcement came over the loudspeaker. Mr. G, our principal announced, “Attention all teachers, please escort your remaining students to the gym until parents arrive.” He repeated the same thought.

Brittany and Chelsea had left much earlier in the morning. I was scared. I had finished all my snacks and I was hungry. The pit in my stomach was grumbling and I was trying not to think about it. I packed my book bag and placed it on my back. Felt like I was carrying the world in that bag at the very moment.

I sat in the gym with Justin, Mrs. D, Mrs. J, and the remaining 3 students she had left. The gym was basically empty and there was still no sign of my parents. It was almost 3pm. Mrs. D started making phone calls to parents to see if they were in-route.

“Teachers, if certain parents have not arrived, we will be making arrangements shortly to have a school bus take them to the home of their emergency contact,” Mr. G announced. In this case, that would be my brother and I had no idea where he was either. I almost forgot teachers needed to go pick up their kids too. I felt lost. Mrs. D tried to keep us occupied by playing Simon Says and I Spy.

Finally, at around 3:10pm my mother arrived. She rushed into the gym searching for me. I stood up quickly and waved my hand.

“Mom, I’m over here.” She jogged over.

“Hi,” she said sleepily. She sounded like she had been crying. Mrs. D gave her a paper to sign stating I was picked up by a parent and taken home safely. We left the gym. My mom was rushing towards the door and she held my hand too tight. We walked down the long hill to the car, she got me into my seat, and buckled me in.”

“Mommy, what is going on? Why didn’t you pick me up sooner?”

“Mama, I tried getting here as fast as I could. I was stuck in traffic because they had the bridge closed.”

“All my friends left, and I didn’t know where you were.”

“Listen,” she said. “There’s something I have to tell you and I want you to be strong, okay?”

She continued. “You know those two identical, tall buildings we had seen in the city when we went to see Aladdin on Broadway?”

“Yes,” I muttered.

“Two airplanes flew into them today and now they are no longer there.”

“What!” I yelled.

The confines of this safe little bubble I was living in would burst with the next sentence that escaped her mouth.

“Daddy went down there to help rescue people. That is why I’m picking you up.”


The next few hours were a blur. Daddy did not come home until about midnight. I tried staying up with Mommy, but as much as she pleaded for me to go to sleep I could not. I needed to know if my dad would come home.

It was way past my bedtime, but Daddy finally made it home. His clothes were filthy, and he could barely walk. He looked as though he had worked for days with no sleep.

I ran towards him to give him a hug.


The next couple of days school was closed. Mommy didn’t go into work so she could stay with me. Daddy went to the city every day that week to help find survivors.

I had seen the clips on the news even though Mommy did not want me watching. The buildings had went up in flames and shortly after collapsed. You saw papers flying everywhere and the scariest part, people jumping out the windows to save themselves from the fire that engulfed the buildings.

You heard sirens and the many people yelling for their loved ones.

Each day that week, I barely slept. Mommy let me sleep in her bed.

I would fall into a light sleep, wondering if my dad would ever come home again.

Defeating The Odds, Coming Out On Top

Kenzie’s Mom:

I walked into the hospital. The long corridor to the set of elevators seemed never ending. It was the same routine. Ground floor elevator to the 3rd floor. It was always an unbelievably long wait and it would make me anxious. I was exhausted. My legs could barely carry me. I ran home to shower after the many nights I had spent in the hospital with her. I totally did not understand how I was still awake. Everything from getting out the shower to getting to the hospital was a complete blur. I don’t even recall getting in the car.

I wait for the doors to open when I reach my floor. The next shift of nurses had just started their rounds. When I arrived at her room, I saw her father standing outside. He had papers in his hand. He was looking down at them and did not see me walk up. I place my hand on his shoulder and ask him what the papers were for.

He waited a moment. He sighed then inhaled, “They want me to sign papers saying to not resuscitate.”  

I froze. “What!”

“They gave me the papers today. It isn’t looking good. They’re saying she will not wake up from this.” He composed himself well, but he was never good at showing his emotions.

“She is not even 22 years old; she has a lot of fight left in her!” I yelled.

He sighed again.

I saw red. I went to choke him, and I remember my hands being around his neck, but I do not recall after that. The hairs stood up on my arms, my blood was boiling, every breath I took felt heavy. I was fuming. Angry. I could not believe what I was hearing. You are supposed to be her protector and you were going to give up, give in, and let her die? I remember feeling his heartbeat pulsating through the veins as my hands squeezed tighter around his neck. I had been here night after night trying to bring her out of this and he was just going to let our daughter be taken away into the unknown.


Kenzie’s Cousin:

I remember when we were kids with the crazy hair and the dirty knees from playing outside. We would talk about the world and what we wanted. Me with my long braids and you with your crazy curly hair which was hard to control. Grandma always had a tough time with taming it. We would play with our dolls and watch cartoons and get sugar highs on candy. We were innocent. We didn’t know much other than the four walls of Grandma’s apartment. We would do our homework together and stay up until 5am watching George Lopez. Grandma would come into the living room and ask if we had slept and we would look at each other sleepily and laugh. All the laughter because we were so tired. I would talk about my dream of being a writer and you loved it. You were always my biggest supporter. You would tell me about your dream to go to college and start a life you would be proud of. We would talk about our princess weddings and how many babies we wanted. We would get lost in conversation and forget the world. How easy life was then.


Kenzie’s Grandma:

I prayed. Every day. Every night. I would go to the chapel inside the church and light candles. I was mostly alone when I went. It was quiet. Silent. Calm. Even when my mind was not. My granddaughter, she’s always been a fighter. I refused to believe that this was it. This would be the last time I would hear; I love you grandma. The last time she would hug me or give me kisses on the cheek or talk about everything you could possibly think of over a cup of coffee. This could not be it. I did not want to believe it was. I spoke to God and pleaded with him not to take you from me. I begged.


Kenzie’s Dad:

I signed the paperwork that would basically let my daughter die. The weight of that decision ate at my soul, my entire being. My hand held the pen and I almost forgot how to write my name. My hand was shaking, and my head was spinning. I was seeing a blurred room.

When you are not breathing on your own, it is hard to say if you will ever come out of that state. I often wondered where she was. If she was drifting off somewhere and was seeing a white light. I sat there for hours that I lost track of counting and I would watch movies. I would hold her hand. I would talk to her and sit in silence.

The day I signed the papers was the same day I saw a rage in my ex-wife like I had never seen before. She leaped forward and grabbed me by the neck. I felt her nails digging into my skin. I felt my heartbeat in my ears. Her face was red and the vein on the right side of her forehead looked like it was about to pop. I tried to de-escalate the situation, but I knew she was disappointed and angry.

As a parent this is the worst nightmare. To see your child clinging to life right before your eyes and you are useless. You cannot do anything but wait and I’m no good at that. I get anxiety. I was depressed.

I thought back to a conversation my daughter and I had in the living room one rainy afternoon.

“Dad,” she started off. “If I ever get sick and all I have are machines keeping me alive, please do not resuscitate. I do not want to live that way. That is not truly living, and I do not want to be a burden on this family.”

What does a dad say to that? I did not have the answer. I sat on the couch as my body stiffened listening to the dripping sound of rain against the window.  


Kenzie: Year 2016

I was experiencing the worst type of headaches. I was tired, itchy, irritated, and had red blotches on my pale skin. I went to the doctor. The first one prescribed me a cream which only made my skin irritation worse. I went to the second doctor. He cut into me with a sharp blade without putting me on anesthesia. I yelled at the top of my lungs to release the pain I was feeling. It felt like he was tearing the first layer of skin off my body. I could feel the every movement of the blade as he moved it from the top down. I wanted him to stop. The pain. The screams. I did not want no more. My mom stood there terrified of what she was observing. The man was crazy. He did all of this to see where my skin irritation was coming from. I have never used the word hate in my life, but I hated him. For what he did to me and the domino effect that he had started. I had a bad infection and the wound he caused never healed properly.

Time went on with an undiagnosed issue. No one could tell me what was wrong with me. I felt like everyone was failing me. All these well-paid doctors and they couldn’t tell me what my body was experiencing? My skin would itch so bad, I wanted to claw it off. I was sick all the time and I did not want to be around people.


Kenzie: Flashback to 2003

We sat in my room and we did crossword puzzles. You would write stories and I would do homework. Grandma would always be cooking in the kitchen and the aroma of food was always present. It would travel down the hallway and seep through the bottom half of my bedroom door. It was my favorite part of the day. My nose greeted by those sweet scents. We would eat our Now and Later candies and we would talk about what it would be like to be a grown up.

“I want to have a big wedding and have lots of dogs!” My cousin said with the biggest grin on her face.

“I want to have kids in the future. I think that’s what being a grown-up means.”


Kenzie: Present Day 2020  

I look back on the convo with my cousin that day as we sat in my room with the tv blaring loudly in the background. Grandma was cooking again. We were so sweet and innocent when we talked about dreams. And how I wanted kids. How quickly that dream was stripped away from me the year of 2016. I had lost all hope.

When my illness was finally diagnosed, along with it came the cold-hearted truth that knocked the wind out of me when I heard it. I remember the doctor refused to speak to me. He would always go through my mother like I couldn’t speak for myself.

“She will not be able to conceive children.” He told my mom.

I wondered what I did to deserve this.


Kenzie: Year 2016

My illness got worse as time progressed. After everything had happened, I still had not seen the worst of the pain. My skin was eating itself and I could not stop it. The one of many doctors had removed parts of my skin. I was now raw flesh and bones. My skin had turned black and it needed to be removed. The infection was taking over my entire body. I was being eaten alive. At this point, I was unable to move. Everything had to be done for me. I was being moved to and from and given baths.

This one day I never thought I would experience more pain than I already had. They carried me into this depressing room where a hose hung from the ceiling and swooped down with the flick of a switch. The nurses took the hose and sprayed me down. My body was on fire. Burning from the inside out. I screamed until I couldn’t anymore. My flesh was tender and open and this stuff they washed me with was making a sizzling sound that I could hear every bit of.


The next wave of chaos came when I was diagnosed with depression. I did not have the will to live anymore. I could not see the point in it when I was living in hospitals. And I would not be able to have kids. Everything was being stripped away from me one piece at a time.

When I was asked if I was afraid to die, I shook my head no. This was not my fear. I was afraid to live a life monitored by nurses and constantly hooked up to machines and constantly having people determine my next move which consisted of medication after medication. I did not wish to be a burden on this family anymore.

My body was falling apart. I could not eat, drink, walk, hold down any food or water, and I had people transporting me since I did not have the use of my legs. I could not control when I needed to use the bathroom and would often find myself saturated in my own urine.

It got worse. No shocker there. The doctors had overdosed me on antibiotics which caused my case to worsen. There was inflammation in my intestines, which in turn traveled to my heart and I went into a coma.

You know that white light that they tell you about? I did not see it. I was in this dream state. I could hear people speaking to me and I wanted so badly to open my eyes. I wanted to move. Do something. I was talking to my body. Telling it to move, telling it to breathe, telling it to do something.

My body was failing me. My liver was shutting down and my kidneys refused to work properly. I was placed on dialysis. I was not breathing on my own and I was connected to machines. I was monitored regularly by nurses and doctors, fed, bathed, and transported like I was some form of luggage.

It was the longest week for my family. They did not know if I would wake up. Everything I had been through and everything I had endured did not put out the fire in me. I managed to start breathing on my own. They removed the tubes.

When I finally woke up, the doctors told me I would have to re-learn how to do everything. I was in a wheelchair until I learned how to walk again. I went to therapy. I was trying to get my old life back. The one before all of this happened. I was homeschooled. Even though things were still shitty, they were looking up. I was making recovery.

I guess my mom was right all along. I did have that fight in me.


Kenzie: Year 2019

The headaches came back a few years later. I could not hold down food, I was vomiting constantly, and I could not go into work without feeling ill.

What do you know? We were back in a hospital. I prayed for the best but knew there could be a chance that my illness came back. They ran tests and did bloodwork. We were there for hours and the anxiety was piling on. I just wanted to know if my illness made an appearance again. Two hours later, the doctor came back into the room and asked my mom to leave. I asked if she could stay. The next thing he said hit me like a pile of bricks.

“Do you know you’re two months pregnant?”

I started crying almost immediately. I could not believe what I was hearing. My heart was so full. They said the next step would be to get a sonogram. I was scared, excited, and nervous.

When I saw his little face on that screen, I could not help but smile. I had a convo with the technician about my fear of this not being able to happen.

When the sonogram appointment was done with, I remember looking at my mom when we left the room.

I said to her, “I am going to be a good mom. I can’t wait.”


Time went on and my belly was growing. Sadly, my condition had came back to visit during my pregnancy. I was on bed rest for a bit.

But the day came. I was going to give birth. My baby boy would come 8 days early. I was in excruciating pain as I was in labor for over 24 hours. They gave me 2 epidurals and I would have a natural birth. My baby did not want to come out. The doctor had to use a vacuum to suction him out.

When he finally made his arrival, there was a tear in his lung, and he needed to be rushed to the NICU. He stood in the NICU for 4 days. He recovered quickly and began breathing on his own. We were able to bring him home.


He is now 1 years old and he’s such a happy baby. He’s spoiled rotten and he loves to laugh. He enjoys watching ninja turtles and he loves to eat but doesn’t like pumpkin baby food. I buy him lots of toys and shower him in hugs and kisses. Everyone who meets him is so delighted to be greeted by such a warm and loving baby. I was able to bring him into the world and that has been my greatest blessing.

My recovery was a miracle. And my baby was a miracle. I could not have asked for a greater blessing in my life.

My illness pays me a visit here and there, but I have my baby by my side now to remind me of my strength and to remind me I’m here for a reason; to be your mama.

Ongoing Battle With Loss

You were rotting away in the hospital, and what were we doing?

Celebrating Christmas Eve.

What type of people were we?

He stood with you as the ventilators breathed for you. He was bone tired. You could see it in his face. The lack of food and sleep had gotten to him. He refused to leave the hospital as much as we begged him to. He did not want to leave your side. He wanted to be there when you finally took your last gasp. You did not look like you.

I remember my mom asking me if I wanted to go into the hospital room to see you. I do not like hospitals. It’s the same aura of sadness in each one. The same overwhelming smell of Clorox. I had seen the insides of too many during my childhood, as I had to sit there helpless watching certain family members wither away. You were one of my favorite people on this planet and I did not want to see you in that state. My mom took my hand and led me toward the room. Before we entered, she said, “This may be the last time you see her, so say your goodbyes.”

How many times did I need to go through this? How many people did I need to lose?

I did not even know what to say at that point because I felt like I was talking to a stranger. That was not you.


How could a family even celebrate a holiday when someone was in the hospital fighting for their life?

I was angry. Everyone went on about their evening like nothing was happening. It was like two different worlds. Everyone gathered around the tree to exchange gifts. Every fiber in my body wanted to scream. I did not want to be there. It was like we were pretending. Pretending to be this happy family when we were all in fact broken.

The tree was situated in the living room and surrounded by the sofas you all sat on. The dining room table was full of food. I thought to myself how can anyone even eat right now? People were laughing. Telling jokes.

Are you all mad?

I would have traded all those gifts under the tree for your recovery. But that isn’t how it works right? People are taken from us when God thinks it’s their time and we must accept it? For someone who grew up in a Catholic family and attended Catholic school, I always felt like I could not decide for myself what I wanted to believe in. It was kind of forced upon me. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in God. But I’ve been angry. I’ve wanted to yell and ask why he had to take my loved ones from me. One of the people who showered me in love since the day I was born.


People went in for second and third plates of food. Kids ran around the house playing hide and seek. The adults were on glass number 5 of wine. Christmas music played in the background. I felt like my body was there, but my mind was not. I was floating around this house. I wanted to yell and break something.

How could you celebrate and drink and laugh? Was I the only one who loved her?

My head was spinning; my mind cloudy. My disappointment was boiling to the surface. My legs managed to carry me to and from, but I did not feel like myself. I felt like my soul was back in that hospital room with you.

The host of the party gathered everyone around the table, asked everyone to raise a glass, and made a toast. I thought, this is insanity.

Then the phone rang.

I stood there by the foot of the mahogany table and watched the expression on her face shift from a smile to something serious.

She did not even have to say anything. I knew it.

You had passed away.

I was mad at the world. Mad at all of you. You all stood here pretending to care. I had spent most of my childhood days with her. Where were you guys then? You gathered around at this god forsaken party to celebrate a holiday without her here. If you loved her, you would not have indulged yourself in alcohol and plates of food.

Why didn’t you spend time with her when she was still herself? Why didn’t you call or come visit? Life is hard enough already, don’t make it harder by being phony. I was angry. I felt like no one cared. Not one single person.

That’s how it works right? People do not care about you when you are alive and well but will gather around your casket at the funeral and speak about how loved you were.

Bullshit.

Where was the time to grieve? Where were the tears? The sadness?

This was supposed to be family?

I went outside. I needed air and to rid myself of all of you.

Savior

It was your 80th birthday and it was the first time I had ever seen you cry.

The family gathered around the dinner table in your apartment, not sure how we all managed to fit in there, but we made it work. We had family come up in from Puerto Rico. We all knew the disease would grow worse so we threw you this party while you were still you. You were not big on celebrations or gifts. My mom did not listen. She invited everyone and they all came. This showed how loved you were and how influential you were in our lives.

My mom bought you a vanilla cake which you loved. You sat at the head of the table. You wore a blue shirt with white polka dots. Your hair was brushed back and your nails polished. You sat with your hands in your lap under the table and you were looking down. I don’t think you liked the crowd very much. We all stood there taking pictures, but I didn’t. I stood there watching you; your every move. I kept thinking to myself, “Abuela, smile, it’s your birthday.”

I wish I knew what you were thinking in that very moment. You knew you were not yourself and you did not want your family to see you like this. I wanted so badly to take your pain from you and wish the sickness away. Everyone knew it would progressively get worse and we all wanted to savor our time together a little while longer. The doctor had given the prognosis and told us you would have moments where you would come in and out. You would shift back and forth between memories.

We sang you happy birthday. Certain family members said a few words and there was not a dry eye in the room. We shared laughs and tears. Our cousin from Puerto Rico wrote a story about you and how loved you were.

It was silent as she spoke. She paused during certain points to catch her breath and hold back the tears she knew would form. The words she spoke were full of warmth and love, but even still, they did not capture the woman you were and the influence you had on this family. I do not think any words can really do you justice, Abuela.

Then it happened. You raised your hand from beneath the table and you covered your eyes. You were crying. You were overwhelmed. Were you sad? Happy? I wish I knew.

This memory has been etched into my brain. I had to make sense of it, listen to my instinct, and write the story.


Such a cruel disease for the strongest, kindest woman we all knew. The Alzheimer’s ate away at your mind, body, and soul. With each bite it took more of you. Your ability to walk, your ability to eat, your ability to talk, your ability to embrace us in a hug and tell us you loved us. Your body grew thinner and colder. And with each passing moment, you were losing yourself and becoming weaker. We did everything we could to keep you here with us.

We would never be the same without you and I think we all have been a little broken ever since you left us.

But you gave me the strength. You taught me how to be strong even when I feel like my feet cannot carry me anymore. How to keep pushing forward. How to have faith that these dark times do not last.

You saved us all.