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 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.

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.

Damaged

The roof on the house was broken.

When it rained, it would seep through the ceiling in the dining room. Her mother would have to place buckets on the floor to stop puddles from forming.

It was a bone chilling cold that would find it’s way into the apartment. The weather outside always represented the mood of the house, cloudy and depressing.

The daughter often wore piles of clothing to keep warm or she would make herself a cup of tea. The parents fought constantly.

The daughter would let the heat from the tea wash over her, warming every limb in her body. She would close her eyes and wish she was anywhere but there.

She would try to focus her attention on the dripping noise of the water seeping through the ceiling.

So much water would come through that it would cause a bubble to form. It was like the water was trying to make its way through to them.

Now that she’s older, she thinks back to that leaky roof. It was a representation of everything wrong in her life.

The broken roof was a symbol of the broken household she lived in. The water bubble in the ceiling, with all the cracks of paint chipping off, represented her emotions.

Something was coming to the surface and she did not quite know what it was when she was just a kid.

As an adult, she looks back and realizes that the thing that was bubbling to the surface was her anger. Her depression. Her need to escape that house.

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.

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.


Breathe



you are a breath of fresh air

to me that means everything

you ignite every fiber of my being

you make me feel alive again

this photo is my own.
Cape May, New Jersey.

Warmth


this photo is not my own.

from the depths of my soul

this I know

I will find warmth in your arms

you will find comfort in my words