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.


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.

The Outcast Learns Acceptance

For as long as I can remember, I have felt like an outcast. Like people did not understand me. People resented me for reasons I do not know. Whether it was family, friends, outsiders I barely knew. People have always felt the need to label me or tell me why I was not good enough. I have felt like I was fed exed into this family. Being half Hispanic and half white, things never felt like they connected. My mom is from Puerto Rico and that side of the family speaks fluent Spanish. I grew up listening to Spanish music, eating Spanish food, and being around my relatives who were of an olive complexion and here I am, a little white girl with pig tails who felt like she did not belong.

My mom would tell me stories about how people in the family would say I was too white. I would have uncles and aunts who commented and cousins too. I tried so very hard to fit in, but what was the reason? Family is supposed to accept you and love you, right?

My dad’s side of the family is white, hence my name. I juggled trying to connect these two parts of myself because I am constantly greeted with doubt, hate, and uncertainty. “How can you be hispanic with that last name?” I had extended family members in Puerto Rico even ask me why my mother married a white man. Most of my relatives have dated or married into a Hispanic family; not my mom. She chose my dad. They were a blind date set up by friends of theirs; they met at a Halloween party. My mom tells me stories about how my dad was not her type. When she first saw him, she said he was short and showed up late which she did not like because my mom is a very punctual person. She said she was attracted to his personality and how he included my brother with lots of activities like going to the movies, etc. My brother and I come from two different fathers. Hence, another reason I feel like an outcast. We both have different names that are on two different ends of the spectrum. He has a fully Hispanic name and looks like my mom. Here I am, white girl with a completely white name. People would comment and whisper things like, “Is that even your brother? You must have been adopted. You guys can’t be related.” This would make me so angry. I did not care if he had a different skin tone, different name, different father. HE was MY brother and that was that.

My mom’s side of the family speaks fluent Spanish. My dad’s side does not. The relatives on my father’s side mostly married another Caucasian person. There was always a disconnect between my mother’s side of the family and my father’s side. It felt like an all out war and I did not understand the cause. I felt like I was standing in a field, while both sides of the family stood at each end waiting to attack. I stood there trying to decide which side I wanted to fit into most. I wanted so badly for both sides to come together.

We would get together at family parties and what not. But it never felt right. I had relatives on my mother’s side look down on my father because they saw him as this white man that my mother should not have married. My grandma did not choose sides. She did not resent my father or me. She welcomed us in with open arms.

My brother would often make hurtful comments. He never claimed me as his sister. He always made me feel rejected because of the father I come from. The pain from this has been unbearable. I have aches in places I never even knew existed. People in this family have looked down upon me because of the man I call my dad.

I have had people cut me out of their lives, resent me, talk badly about me, and not even give me a chance to form my own identity because I always lived in his spotlight. People assumed I was the same make as him, they wrote me off like I was nothing and I did not even have a chance to prove I was different. When I was a kid, I always felt like I was treated differently and I always wondered why.

I remember one Christmas party at my aunt’s house and I was 9 years old. While everyone exchanged gifts, my cousins received the best gifts any kid could ask for. I received a card. Kids love gifts during Christmas and here I am at 9 years old wondering why I was not included. I felt the tears start to form in my eyes. But even at 9 years old, I did not like to cry in front of others. My dad would tell me that was a sign of weakness. My mom saw I was upset and took me outside. I was always on the backburner. Always the after thought. My mom embraced me in a hug and said, “It’s okay mama. You will understand when you’re older. I can’t explain why people act the way they do. You have to be strong.” I wanted so badly to be strong, but how strong could I have been at 9 years old?

There has always been a disconnect with both sides of the family, struggling to connect both sides of my nationality, and trying to juggle the day to day pain of me feeling like I do not belong.

“Oh you’re just a little white girl, what do you know? You have a white father, you aren’t Hispanic. Why did your mother marry a white man? She could have done better.” These comments have been sketched into my memory and I want so badly to forget.

This really hits close to home because I have always felt marginalized. There were certain family members who welcomed me in with open arms and made me feel included, like I was not crazy for thinking that I was an outsider. I just wanted people to accept me. Not look at my skin complexion, or my last name, or the fact that I am half white. I always wanted to belong. To something. To a group. To a family.

I guess this is why I am so big on family. When I have my own children, I will never allow them to feel less than or like they are not good enough. It should not matter the color of your skin, or how ethnic your name may be, or what family you belong to, or how many friends you have. You should be accepted for you and no one should make you feel inferior without your consent.

I have battled hating myself for who I am and where I come from. I have hated my name. I have wanted to feel more Hispanic. I felt this need to rid myself of my white name to feel more Hispanic. To prove to this family that I do belong. I have wanted to climb out of this skin. I have tried to claw my way out. To breathe. To feel something.

I am a person. I am a human being. Because I do not share the same skin complexion as you or the same last name, I am very much a part of this family. I have struggled with accepting who I am and the family I was born into. My thoughts matter and my voice matters. What I have to say matters and I want to say these things because this has been boiling to the surface for almost 24 years of my life. So I sit here in my kitchen, with the sunlight seeping through the dining room window, and I write. And man does it feel good to tell this story. As I release these thoughts I feel a sense of healing. A sense of acceptance. A sense of grieving. A sense of finally realizing what truly matters. As the saying goes, you cannot choose your family and you cannot control the actions of others. You can choose how you respond to these actions and whether you want it to have power over you.

I choose to be strong. I choose to be me. I choose to be whole entirely on my own without the approval or validation of anyone. I stand tall because I can. I accept myself because I can. I no longer wish to allow these people who never gave a damn about me anyway to have power over me. They have no right to say these things. I have found comfort in the arms of friends who have become my family. God has given me these obstacles to learn how to love myself. To have hope. To stand tall. To make my voice heard. He has given me this talent to write so I can tell my story and hopefully inspire someone else to share their story.

All these years of wanting to fit in and you know what I learned through it all? I choose to be the outcast. I choose to be different. You do not like me? You do not accept me as your blood so be it. Life goes on. It has been an all out war trying to accept every aspect of who I am. You think I will allow others to make me feel less than when I already struggle with acceptance?

You never claimed me as your blood then, do not claim me when you see the success I will create.

“You Were Meant To Do This.”

“The saddest thing in life is wasted talent and the choices that you make will spare your life forever.”

~ A Bronx Tale

I was 4 years old when my father brought me to my first Tae Kwon Do class. I come from a family of athletes. My dad played football during his young years, my brother played as well and baseball too. He even tried martial arts, but he quit. Certain family members of mine also competed in martial arts. It was inevitable for me to join some sort of sport. I would play catch in the front yard with my dad or practice football plays when I got a bit older. I was never part of a team, until I started martial arts.

My dad would hold my hand everywhere we went. Crossing the street and on the sidewalks too. I would always say, “Oww Daddy, you’re squeezing my hand too tight.” We lived not too far away from the school. My dad drove the Camry and parked on one of the side streets.

We got out of the car. He asked, “What do we do when we are crossing the street?”

“We look both ways,” I said.

We checked twice each way and walked across the busy street to the school. The school had a burgundy colored awning and clear double doors. My dad opened the door and told me to go in. Being that I had watched my dad train in both Jiu-Jitsu and Tae Kwon Do, he always told me, it was a sign of respect to bow when you enter a Dojang (school).

Without even realizing, I bowed as soon as my dad opened the doors. I was immediately drawn to the big crowd on the red mat. Everyone wore white uniforms and I was fascinated by the high kicks and the sparring I had observed. Everything was almost like a blur, I tried to focus on one person at a time. I enjoyed the sound the gi’s (uniforms) had made when the students would throw a punch or kick. The instructor at the front of the room, who would soon become one of the most influential people in my life, would give commands and students would immediately respond with an action. I loved it all.

I sat on the bench on the side of the mat with the rest of the families watching. My dad sat there in awe too and he would explain what each movement meant and how to execute it. My 4 year old self was overwhelmed with the need to get on the mat. I wanted to be one of those people with the fancy technique.

When class was over, my dad introduced me to the instructor who told me to come back and try a class. I would join the children’s class on Saturday morning. I was a little too young to begin, but there was an exception made for me because he knew my father. The starting age for children was typically 5 years old. They had trained together back in the day. He told my dad to have me wear comfortable clothing.

I came back to the school that Saturday morning. My mother joined my father and me. We ate some breakfast, in this case, oatmeal because my mom wanted me to grow strong and she said oatmeal would help with that.

We arrived. I bowed. I took my shoes and socks off and got on the mat for the first time. It was like I was meant for this. The time I had watched my dad train definitely played a role in how I interacted with the class that Saturday morning. My dad had showed me how to throw a punch and how to curl your toes back when doing a front kick. I absolutely loved the freedom I felt when doing these techniques. I felt like a super-hero.

That was it. The beginning of my martial arts career. I went back every Saturday after that and I finally had a uniform of my very own.

My dad used to say, “You are talented without even giving your 100% effort. Imagine you gave 110%.”

I would get angry when he said this. But, he was motivating me to do and be an even better martial artist. Of course children want to hear the approval or validation from their parents. My dad was different. Instead of telling me what I did right, he would tell me all the things I did wrong and how to improve. He definitely had a different strategy, but I would not undo anything that has happened so far. His parenting and training techniques have also applied to other areas in my life. I always do my best, but I always strive for more. I want to be the best.

My dad always says, “Do not waste your talent. You were meant to do this.”

I would not be the person I am today without my dad taking me to my very first class.

Stages Of Grief

I try to mutter something. Anything. I try to find the right words. I open my mouth and nothing comes out.

The best I can come up with is, “I’m sorry.”

First, I was in denial. I could not accept the fact that you were actually gone. I did not cry. My body would not allow me because it did not feel real. It felt like I would be seeing you again. Everyone around me was crying, eyes swollen from the excessive hours of sitting there because they had accepted what was happening. I did not. Mom stood tall and was brave. I felt like a coward. I hated myself for not feeling anything. I wondered why my body would not allow me to feel something, not one thing. I remember seeing my brother cry like he never has before. I never saw him cry, but this, this hit him hard. We left the funeral home and still nothing. Not one tear was shed until I made it home. Then it started to sink in. You were really gone. For real this time.

The next stage was anger. I was angry. All the time. I felt crappy, consumed by my guilt and shame. I was ashamed of how I treated you. Up until your last moments, I did not understand the stage of pain you were in. How your moments were limited. You would not be here with us much longer. I was selfish. Consumed by my own priorities. How naive I was during my teenage years. I did not yet understand the importance of cherishing each moment because I would not know which would be my last. I am angry at the world, angry with myself mostly. Why do all the good people need to be taken from us? You were a light within this darkness and we needed more of you. I have felt this rage inside of me, coming out to play every now and again. I would suppress it until I could no longer do it. My anger would come out in bursts. I would yell at my loved ones over minor spats like leaving dishes in the sink, or the house being a mess. The only thing that has been a mess is me.

You traveled from hospital to hospital. When you were in the last one, I knew this would be the final stop on the train for you. Your body was brittle, fragile, thin. It was like each hospital took more from you and your body grew thinner. Your bones consumed your skin. You were you, but not at the same time. Your body was there, but your mind was not. You could hear us and you would make motions with your hands to let us know you could hear us. The air conditioning in the room was always turned up high and that annoyed me. I remember hearing the AC turn on and off, feeling the bursts of air hit my face. I would ask myself when was the last time they cleaned the vent? The air reeked of dirt, instead of circulating air, we were greeted with dust. This mixed with the overbearing smell of Clorox was too much to handle.

My denial mixed with bargaining, the next stage. But, really all the stages have been sewn together for me. I thought it was a bad dream. Like you would wake up miraculously recovered. I did not take your illness serious because once again, I was just a naive teenager. I thought we had more time. This was my biggest mistake. Time is something we do not have enough of.

The depression hit me like a truck at a time I did not expect it to. All those years of not being able to feel anything as much as I wanted to. I suppressed my feelings and let them out as anger. I guess I struggled with learning how to process my emotions. It was as though my body, mind, and heart were at war.

I had moved out of the house when I was 22, searching for more in my life. I felt like my city held too much baggage and brought me a sadness I could not explain. As much as I would miss my family, I felt like they were broken for a while and no one wanted to accept that truth. I had to find myself out there in the world and decide how I wanted to carry out my days.

I was in another state, living in an apartment, setting the tone for how I wanted to live, but I still felt incredibly alone. It was in these moments I missed you most. I moved away from family to be on my own, but to my surprise, being by myself somewhere new did not offer me what I thought it would. Loneliness became my best friend. It consumed me entirely. It would join me at the dinner table, when I drove to work, when I sat with friends. It did not matter how many people surrounded me in the crowd, I still felt this ache in my chest, this constant sting of anxiety.

The last stage: acceptance. I do not think I have completed this stage yet. I am still learning, still evolving. I have accepted that you are gone. But, I do not think I have accepted myself. My mistakes and my actions. How I treated you. The words I said. The things I did. Will I ever reach acceptance? Will I find a way to forgive myself for how I wronged you? These questions haunt me.

Mom always says, “She has already forgiven you, so you need to forgive yourself. It will help you find peace.”

Your suffering was tragic. We could not witness how sick you had grown. All those years of taking care of others, and during your last moments, you still ensured your family felt safe and loved. I wish I could hold your hand one more time or embrace you in a hug.

As much as I crave your presence here on Earth with me, wherever you are, I hope you are smiling down on me. I hope you have found somewhere to call home. I dream of you being somewhere warm, drinking your morning cup of coffee, eating your favorite meal, and being welcomed in with open arms by the other angels.

I will see you again. But for now, I will do everything in my power to accept my wrongs, and try to become a better daughter, sister, friend, and lover. I want to spread the kindness and light you did throughout your entire life.

I hope to make you proud of me.

Time Is Fleeting

“Abuelita, soy yo, Corey.” [Grandma, it’s me.]

I felt a strong sting of pain in my chest when my grandmother did not remember who I was.

Her eyes were full of confusion as she pushed me away.

My grandmother, my abuelita, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of seventy seven.

The woman who raised me for the entirety of my childhood while both of my parents worked, was taken from us too suddenly. She was here physically, but the illness worsened quickly and she had difficulties remembering any of us.

I did not know it then, but I wish I knew then what I know now. I wish I had a time machine to go back in time and live those moments once again. As an immature teenager, I took time for granted because I thought I had more of it. I hold that guilt with me everyday and it weighs me down like a pile of bricks.

The little apartment in the South Bronx on 146th Street and St. Anns, I remember like the back of my hand. My grandmother lived on the 4th floor at the very end of the long corridor with the green tiled floor which had the overwhelming smell of Clorox after they were cleaned, and the pasty white walls that looked like they went on forever. The halls always smelled of cigarettes, the sound of children playing would echo through the corridor, and the elderly couples would play their salsa music as they cooked. The aroma of arroz con gandules [rice with peas] would overtake your senses, but in a good way.

The elevator in the building was painted a neon orange color, which stood out from the rest of the mundane colored walls. Sometimes my mom and I would end up waiting 20 minutes or so for it to pick us up on the ground floor. I would bring my book-bag full of books to read and coloring books. I have always been an avid reader. Abuelita would always have crossword puzzles to do when I would got tired of reading. My mom would drop me off around 6am and before she would leave, she would say, “You better not give grandma a hard time, and make sure you do your homework. She is going to give me a report when I come back. If you misbehave, no ice cream after dinner.” I would give Mommy a nod and run immediately into the living room.

You had to walk through 3 different doors to reach the end of the corridor. My grandma was the last door on your right hand side and lived right next door to this wonderful Puerto Rican family, who always looked out for my grandmother especially when she became really sick. I used to have play dates with the family’s grandchildren. My grandmother always kept me in sight, as she was a worrier and watched me like a hawk. The girls and I would play hide and seek or with our barbie dolls.

The living room was decent sized, the floors were square white tiles, which were always freezing cold whenever my cousin Kimberly and I would sit there as grandma brushed our hair. The sofa was black and white, covered with a plastic lining to avoid it from getting dirty. The television was situated by the door across from the sofa. On the wall to the left of the sofa was this oval shaped, gold mirror my grandmother had hung up for years. By the window behind the sofa, my grandmother kept all of her plants. She had a green thumb and loved to care for them. She would water them every morning at the same time. To the right of the sofa was a dresser that held family photos and many of her elephant decorations she loved to collect. This is why most of my family members today keep some resemblance of an elephant whether its a key-chain, a stuffed animal, elephant salt and pepper shakers, a dining set with elephants printed on them, or a tattoo on our bodies.

To the right of the living room was the dining room table. The kitchen was pretty small. The microwave, stove, and fridge were lined up side by side on the same wall. My grandma kept her coffee pot, microwave, and toaster on the counter top, with her little jar she would keep sugar in. The hallway consisted of the closet which held jackets and coats, towels, shower curtains, and miscellaneous household items. The first door on your left was my uncle’s bedroom which fit a bed, a TV, a dresser, and had a small window in the corner. If you continued walking straight, the bathroom was the smallest part of the house. The toilet fit in one corner, you had the sink, the cabinet above the sink, and the shower. The last section of the apartment was my grandmother’s room where I spent most of my time. I slept in there with my grandma when we would have sleep overs. I would spend hours in there watching Cyber-chase during the early morning hours, once my homework was finished of course, and once it hit noon, my grandma and I would sit and watch The Price Is Right, while drinking our cafe with toast. I was not allowed to drink coffee until I was in about middle school, so most of the time grandma would make me some farina for breakfast.

Once The Price Is Right ended, we would both take a walk to the corner store, the ‘bodega,’ [corner store.] We would lock the door, walk down the corridor, and wait the 15 minutes for the elevator to arrive. When we entered, Abuela would tell me to be careful not to touch the walls or the buttons because residents would often urinate in there. It would take about 5-10 minutes to reach the ground floor, depending on if we stopped at other floors to pick up more people. When we finally reached the ground floor, Abuela would check her mailbox and we would begin our afternoon activities. I was not allowed to walk anywhere without holding her hand. Our walk was always filled with neighbors greeting my grandmother and wishing her well. We walked about 2 blocks before we reached the supermarket. The school children would usually be outside eating the ices they had just bought. The elderly men would stand outside and speak to each other about their days. I would usually push the blue cart for Abuelita because I enjoyed doing it. I felt like a grown-up doing my grocery shopping. She would go immediately over to the lotto counter to play her numbers and I was tall enough to see all the candy. I would peer through the glass and ask Abuela if she could buy me a lollipop or a milky-way, which was my favorite. She would always tell me I needed to take care of my beautiful teeth and in order to prevent cavities, we would limit the amount of candy I could eat. She would buy me one piece of candy and we would proceed to do our food shopping.

When we returned to the apartment, we would put away groceries and Abuelita would begin cooking lunch or early dinner. I absolutely adored when she made my favorite, arroz con salchichas [rice with sausages] and to drink, we would either have pineapple soda or mango juice, which was Abuela’s favorite. We would sit to eat and Abuela always served everyone else first. She would ensure we had our drinks, napkins, and utensils. She would eat standing up, but she always waited until the pot was half empty so she could take the burnt portion of the rice. After we ate, she would sit with me in front of the TV, brush my hair, and make braids to contain my long curly locks. We would spend the rest of the afternoon watching novelas until my mom came to pick me up. If Abuela gave a good report, I would be rewarded with ice cream as Mommy had promised.

When she was first diagnosed with this illness, the doctors told us she would have lucid moments where she would remember us. But it was hard to tell when the switch would flip and she would leave us again.

I felt at home wherever she was. The confines of that apartment are embedded in my memory. There was a certain stillness I felt when I was with my grandma. I always felt safe and loved. When she was taken from us, I lost that sense of home and sense of purpose. I have struggled with overcoming my guilt of not spending more time with her, but I know she has forgiven me. Whenever I need a little pick me up, I feel her here with me. I feel her presence. And when I’m feeling so lost, like I cannot find my way through the wreckage, she leads me to the light once more.

Time is fleeting. I know you are in a better place now watching over us, my sweet guardian angel.

Te amo. . . [I love you]

this photo is my own.
Charleston, South Carolina.

‘whenever I feel like I have lost all sense of direction, you send me a sign that all will be okay and you are here with me, always. my forever angel.’

Breakdowns Lead To Breakthroughs

There comes a point when life can get overwhelming. You feel as though you cannot catch a break and everything is weighing down on your shoulders. You want to give up. You want to give in. You feel like no matter how hard you try, things do not go as planned. We can plan things to the T, but life will happen the way it is meant to. Being a young adult in her early 20’s, life is tough. We are trying to find ourselves at this age, form and shape our identities despite what we are told by society and previous generations.

I am a planner. I like to organize and have plans A, B, and C ready to go if my first option falls through. I like the idea of knowing what it is going to happen next. It is nerve wracking when I feel like things are slipping through my fingers and I cannot control the outcome. This is something I have struggled with for quite a long time. But I am working on it. When something does not happen the way I planned it, I become overwhelmed with anxiety and feel worthless. My mom tells me that I can have courage to change things within my control and have wisdom to know when I cannot.

We are all human. We all need a break sometimes. If you are the type that is hard wired to constantly stay busy and put others needs before your own, all power to you. But you need a break too. My mom is the type to do this and she often forgets to take care of herself. You cannot help others if you are not helping YOU. Like the saying goes, “You cannot pour from an empty cup.” Self-care is crucial.

I think there is a certain beauty in failure. Allowing ourselves to feel, grieve, be angry, scream, or whatever we need to do to feel better. We cannot get better until we acknowledge what is happening and choose to face the issue head on. Sometimes it’s easy to run away. If you choose to stay and deal with the problem, this will make you stronger. Each downfall leads to a breakthrough. Each failure and disappointment can lead to something much better than we even expected.

This may sound cliche, but there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. It may be dark now, but you can make it out of whatever it is you’re feeling. Life may be tough, but we are not given anything we cannot handle. We can ask for help and surround ourselves with people who want to see us strive for more and become successful.

There is so much beauty around us that we all fail to see. Like how the sun shines brightly through your window in the early mornings, lighting up your room through your peach colored curtains. How that first sip of coffee courses through your veins warming up your entire body. How your animals greet you when you come home from a long day. Like how good it feels to be hugged. Like how reading our favorite book or watching our favorite movie for the 100th time still feels like watching it for the first time. How sleeping in on the weekends feels like the greatest gift. How the seasons always bring a sense of new beginning. How the leaves change colors in the Fall. Being able to drive on the parkway with your windows rolled down and music blasting. How during the winter season, everything becomes a winter wonderland. Watching flowers bloom and start fresh in the Spring. They get to start over again too. Being able to breathe fresh air, being alive, being healthy, and being with family and loved ones. Most of these blessings we take for granted.

Life is so very short, so let’s cherish everything and everyone that we have in our life.

this photo is my own.
taken in Central Park, New York City.

Behind The Scenes Of Living In NYC

I was born and raised in New York City. I never understood everyone’s fascination with wanting to come to the big apple. Maybe if you grew up in a small rural town in the middle of nowhere, then I could understand why. I went to college here. As badly as I wanted to go away, I stood behind as most of my friends left for schools out of state. You fall into the same routines daily and everything becomes mundane. Taking the train into the city, dealing with the crowds, the taxis zooming through each street, cars honking, people shoving you, garbage everywhere, the mixed aroma of peanuts and urine on the streets. Almost every street corner has someone selling tickets to what they consider to be, “the best comedy show in the city.” Tourists get sucked in every time. If you were born in this city, 9 times out of 10 you know how to navigate these kinds of situations. It is difficult to cross streets sometimes when you have tourists taking photos in the most inconvenient spots. You also have models being photographed in the middle of traffic which is quite dangerous.

You pay ridiculously expensive prices for food you can make at home. One thing I can say is this, you will not find pizza like ours. We also have really good Italian food and BAGELS. Now that I moved out of state, these are the things I miss most, FOOD. People will wait hours on line to get kale smoothies that cost about $12.50 for a small bottle. Never understood why people insist on paying $15 for a salad you can make yourself. You can never find a Starbucks that is empty. You almost always have to make a reservation if you want to have a fancy dinner downtown or else you will wait hours. Food carts on the street are popular with tourists, but little do they know that some of these vendors do not wash their hands, then they touch your food. Be mindful of this. Madison Avenue is known for having the high end stores like Gucci and Prada. Door men stand by the door ready to escort customers inside, who are willing to pay 5k on a purse that is made out of vinyl, just to say its Prada. People are not well mannered and do not know how to say, excuse me, or thank you, or sorry. It is like $5 for one minute if you choose to ride in those carts tourists always manage to get persuaded into. Traffic is ridiculous. If you are a pure bred New Yorker, you are smart enough to not drive into the city. During Christmas time, people spend loads of money to say they ice skated in Rockefeller Center, where they are wearing disgusting and unsanitary ice skates on their feet, that thousands of people have worn before them.

If you are an animal lover and do not like to see homeless animals, do not go to Times Square. You see many dogs living on the streets with their owners. I have lived in NY my whole life and this makes me so emotional every time I see it. Times Square is the heart of the city I would say. Upcoming dancers put on a show for tourists where they do jumps and flips and much more. You see many Nannies strolling through the streets with the 5 kids they get paid to babysit. Middle aged mothers on their morning or afternoon jogs. Men in suits rushing to catch the train. You have upcoming musicians on different street corners playing their instruments with their equipment bag or a cup by their side where people can throw money.

I can understand wanting to be a part of a big city, where no one knows your name, and you rarely see the same person twice. Making a name for yourself here is extremely nerve wracking and anxiety filled. Countless people come here to pursue their careers as musicians, actors/actresses, writers, and much more. This way of life is not for everyone. People are aggressive, it is fast paced, and often overwhelming. You cannot be naive and you have to always have your guard up. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.

I grew up here so it’s different for someone who has never experienced NYC. Although it is not my cup of tea, I am grateful for what I have learned while living here and for the friends I have made. I have had the opportunity to travel and with that said, I have experienced other areas and ways of living. Being that I come from a fast paced, always-on-the-go mentality, it is difficult for me to adjust to a lifestyle where everything is slower paced. I have a love-hate relationship with the city, but I do not regret where I came from.

this photo is my own.
Lexington Avenue, Hunter College, NYC.

3rd Avenue in the South Bronx

I watched my mother give a homeless man food once.

It was Spring. We had spent the day in Midtown, Manhattan, and took the 4 train back to the South Bronx. It was a bit of a walk back to where my mother had parked the car. We had leftover food from lunch. It was a girl’s day and I was happy.

The neighborhood I spent the entirety of my childhood looked the same as I had left it. It was also different and some things had changed. This is where I had grown up with so many of my other cousins. Our grandmother was the woman responsible for raising all of us while our parents worked. Although we were not allowed to leave the apartment during certain parts of the day, Abuelita [Grandma] let us hang out on the avenue after school.

The mixed aroma of the food from the fried chicken place on the corner, and the Chinese restaurant overpowered my nose. The laundromat was crowded as always. The supermarket was surrounded by the same crowd of elderly Hispanic women doing their ‘compra,’ [food shopping] with their little carts. The dollar store had their new arrivals sprawled outside with those large neon yellow signs that read, ‘3 for $2.99,’ in red permanent marker. The deli had the same crowd; the elderly playing their lotto, kids buying snacks after school, like the individual Swedish fish or now & later’s that were sold 10 pieces for $1. This was the same store my grandmother would bring me almost everyday to play her numbers, and she would let me get either one piece of candy or an ice cream.

St. Mary’s Park was not too far away. The smell of barbecuing was present, children would be on the playground or running through sprinklers, boys would play sports, the neighborhood ladies would be discussing the weekly ‘bochinche,’ [gossip] about the new episode of their novela, [soap opera] and the men in the neighborhood would play their daily game of dominoes. The kind old man who sold the ices in the area would walk through the block singing, “Coco, Mango, CH-E-RRRR-Y.” Whenever he came around, the kids would immediately run over. The ice cream truck was always parked in the same spot right outside of the park. The same neighbors of my grandmother lived in the area and always greeted my family when we came back to visit.

The man sat in a wheelchair. As I walked towards him, I could see both of his legs were amputated. He had a crumpled up plastic cup in his arthritic hand, moving it around as the coins sloshed around in the cup. I froze in my tracks. My mom taught me it was not nice to stare at people, but in this instance I could not stop, not because I was being judgmental, I was heartbroken with what came next. My throat tightened up and my eyes began to swell with tears. My heart hurt. In Spanish, my mom asked him, “Tienes hambre?” [Are you hungry?] The man quickly nodded and the gratitude he felt was expressed through his body language. With his reaction, it was safe to say everyone had passed him by unwilling to help.

Ever since I could remember, my mom always taught my brother and me the importance of not wasting food in our household. She used to say, “You are lucky you have food on your table. There are people in this world who have no idea when their next meal will be. So you will not leave this table until you eat everything on your plate.” As a little girl, I would loathe eating my string beans or oatmeal, which my mom made for me basically every morning before school. I would sit there for hours, staring at my bowl of cold oatmeal wishing it would disappear.

I finally observed what my mom had said all these years. My mom did not hesitate at all. She handed the man her Styrofoam box which was filled with rice, beans, chicken, and platanos. Before we walked away my mother wished him well. He grabbed her hand and said, “Muchas gracias, que Dios te bendiga.” [Thank you very much, God bless you.]

Everything my mom stands for and all the qualities she has are a result of my grandmother. My Abuelita would give the shirt off her back, food on her table, and give up her bed to make sure her family had somewhere to sleep. She was the type of woman who would welcome this man my mother and I came across into her home to feed him. These are the two most inspirational women in my life. Although my grandmother was taken from my family way too soon, everything she taught me I carry in my heart. I see her and feel her presence in everything I do. To my mother, I want to thank you. Thank you for teaching me the value of humility, demonstrating what it means to help those around you, and to be forever grateful for everything we have in this life. When we have more than we need, we should always give back. That act of kindness you illustrated by giving that man your food, does not even amount to a quarter of the woman you are. I hope to make you both proud of me. Love you both to infinity and beyond.