The Little one Turns 5

My baby, you turned 5 last week; I can still feel your small warm body lying on my chest when you were only hours old. How did this happen?

Seeing my little girls grow up with smiles on their innocent faces makes my heart swell up to the point that it hurts to take a breath. How can I love them so much? I see them and tease them, “It should be illegal how much I love you!” and enjoy the waterfall of giggles that follows. Every smile and “I love you”, every kiss and hug, every sparkle in their eye, eases the pain that I have inside. It cleanses my wounds and allows them to heal.

Iza – I hope that I can always show you how much I love you, how much you mean to me, how much good and happiness you have brought into my life.

As you twirled around in your brand new puffy dress you looked so giddy; waiting for your special day. When you saw the lighted candles on the cake, your eyes lit up in a way that I found almost alien to admire. Your little hand reached out and took mine as we sang Happy Birthday to you. Your eyes locked onto mine and your smile made me want to weep; such happiness in a child, such a clear understanding of what your life should be.

At the end of the night you were deep asleep on the couch, leaning against your sister. You were like two precious dolls, frozen in infancy, plainly showing perfection. As I dressed you for bed and tucked your little body in, I couldn’t stop whispering how much I loved you in your ear and you rewarded me with an angels smile in your sleep.

Always be happy Iza, always be your carefree charming self. You are my little sun and I am a flower that leans toward you, seeking nourishment in my heart. I greedily take your hugs and kisses and draw strength from them.

Sweet Iza, Happy 5th Birthday!

Mommy loves you so, so much

Holiday Cooking – I get you Mami

I checked the rice for the third time; adjusting the oven so it would encourage each grain to soak up the broth and form a fluffy pillow ready to pop into my mouth.

I moved in a fluid motion around my kitchen as I chopped the garlic cloves, red onions, sweet and spicy bell peppers, then heard their sizzling song as I tossed them into the pan over the fire. The nacho toppings were done, the beans were boiling in a soft murmur, and the sangria! Ay the sangria.

Here I am, a modern strong-headed woman, following in your footsteps.

I used to look at you, confused and angry as I saw your figure bent over the oven, the stove, and the table – furiously stirring, chopping, and tasting your feast that would feed the entire extended family.

I was angry that you let them put all the cooking on you; annoyed that you didn’t see that they were taking advantage of you. I wanted you to say, “Basta! You will make your own meals and host your own parties, and leave the heaping mess of beer bottles and discarded bones in your own backyard.” But every year you would cook a turkey, your famous costillas, mashed potatoes, gravy, ham, rice, beans, the list would go on and on.

But I never heard them say thank you and I was pissed, in a way that only teenagers can be. I hated that you had to come home from your longs hours on your feet as a cook, only to be welcomed by the heat of your kitchen, your work never done, only stopping in the wee hours of the night. Only to wake up at 5 to get to work. Why? Porque ama?

Yet here I am, running around buying all of the supplies, ingredients, and necessities for the party – in the metro no less, just to see my chiquitas smile…

You confuse me in so many ways yet I love you so much. I can’t bring myself to be truly angry at you; I try by recalling all of the pain you gave me to inherit – but it’s a farza. I love you mami.

Everything you have done, you thought you were doing for us. Whether I agree with the steps you took along the away or not- my heart still beats thanks to you.

The girls aren’t spoiled with material things but sometimes I wonder if I smother them with all of the things I want to do for them.

Will they know mami? Will they know how much I love them, how my whole body swells with pride and joy at the mere thought of them.

As I grow up and see my friends around me; I understand you a little more. I don’t condone what you did but I get it. I have so many friends that grew up like me: short on love and full of need.

As they became young mothers some of them took all of the emptiness from their childhood and filled it with the love for their own offspring. Their children, like my own, saved them. They were done looking for love in loveless sex, booze, packets of powder, and needles.

But a lot of them grew up and turned into their mothers: slapping their kids around to unload their fury at life, becoming self-obsessed with self-pity, and abandoning their kids emotionally while they continued their search for the right elixir that will dull their pain. They are stuck in childhood, arrested emotionally and erratically lashing out in anger.

No one was there to hold your hand when you were left alone to care for your siblings. I can’t imagine how lonely and scared you must have been. You had no one but strangers to turn to when the migra came to the factories where you pulled double shifts before you could even be called a young woman. So alone, so full of pain; I never realized just how strong you really are.

I need to tell you how I feel. I wish I could take you in my arms and cradle you in them, guarding you from harm – the way your parents were unable to do for you. That’s what I do with my own girls, I express feelings I was unable to express with anyone else. You and dad grew up in fragmented harsh realities; you did the best you could and I thank you. Thank you for showing me what strength and resilience is, even when I had to use it around you both – thank you.

Beautiful Gina

It’s been over ten years but I thought of you Gina and I couldn’t help but cry. I felt waves of pain and choked up emotion overwhelm my body making me double over and gasp for breath. I’ve buried you in the back of my mind- filed you away and fought the urge to remember you. It hurts to wonder if you’re dead or alive; and if you are still breathing- if it hurts you to draw breath from this life.

Being pretty doesn’t do you any favors in this neighborhood; instead it makes you a walking target to strike down. The dirty men trying to paw at you, the ‘homies’ trying to get you big at a random kickback, and most girls would claw you down if you made their boyfriend’s head turn as you walk by.

Yet you had heart you know? You never backed down from a fight- your angular face set in stone and “china” eyes would turn into slits under the exclamation marks of eyebrows you had. I can still see you clearly if I close my eyes: you wearing your baggy Dickies tight at the waist with that black cotton belt and big silver belt buckle, your burgundy shirt tucked in pulled tightly over your breasts that we were all jealous of.

I always felt proud that I owned Vans just like you. You’d do me up with the Jordana Lipliner Pencil in Honey, my hair slicked back and loose in the back. You made me feel like a chola as we strutted across campus; cool and accepted as you wrote “La China” next to my “La Honey” on the bathroom stalls.

You were special Gina, a beautiful girl from East L.A. that didn’t take shit but always stood by me. I was Proud to be your friend.

Why does East L.A. swallow beautiful girls like you Gina? When I saw you again you were a shell of your old self. All that was left was a crack-heads skeleton of what used to be an Aztec Princess. I wanted to throw my sweater over your body and revive you. Gone were your Latina curves – those large round breasts you were so proud of, only a flat concave chest in their place. You were hardly covered in that awful see-through mesh dress you had hanging off your frail frame. I couldn’t find the beautiful almond shaped eyes full of fire- all I saw was dull glass…

Escape to College

“You have to write an essay about college and what you think you need to get into one.” Mr. Escobar was writing furiously on the board. There were three columns ‘community college’, ‘cal state school’, and ‘UC’s’. “What about private schools Mister?” “What do you know about private schools Lorena?” “Like Harvard and Yale or Georgetown, what if we plan on going to a private school?” “Don’t worry about private schools, you can’t afford them. Focus on high school before you get married.”

I drowned him out and started thinking about what the requirements were to get into each school system. The library at school didn’t have anything about colleges, it didn’t seem to get used either. Instead of walking home I headed over to Malabar library and started pulling out the college prep books. An hour later I ran home with essay in hand.

Shit… As I got closer I could already feel his daggers sinking into my skin. My tio was standing by the gate with a beer in hand, blocking the entrance. Beer cans were all over the front garden and steps. Mi Apa was leaning on the fence with his head back beer to his lips. He gulped it down and before he could squeeze it and throw it aside, my tio handed him another Bud Light.
I hated it when they drank in front of the house. That’s why I never invited anyone over, why couldn’t they drink in the back?

“Hola tio. Hola papi.” “Saluda a tu tio bien, ven para aca.” I walked back and gave my uncle a quick hug, trying to mask my disgust.

“Donde estabas?” “En la biblioteca, tenia que escribir-” “Ve ayudale a tu madre!”

I ran up the stairs and went inside. My mother was in the kitchen heating up the food cursing my uncle for making my father drink, as if he had to be persuaded! She looked up just as I walked by. “Where were you?!” “I went to the library. I had homework.” “Get the table ready and take off your uniform.”

I cleaned the table, took out the salsa and started warming up tortillas. “Go call your father to dinner.”

“Papi, ya esta la cena. Papi, ya esta servido sus platos.” “Huhhh. Hmmm!”

All he could fucking do after so many beers was grunt like a stupid animal.

As they finally pulled themselves away from their beer they sauntered over to the table. I tried to sneak back into my room but my uncle pulled my arm and told me to sit next to him. I hated that fucking smell. He placed his arm around me and asked me about school.

“Para que tienes que ir a la bibliotheca? Aqui tienes todo lo que necesitas para hacer tu tarea.” My dad pointed to his head.
“Pero no tenemos computadora para el internet papi.” “No necesitas internet, cuando yo era nino yo aprendi todo mientras que trabajaba en las cosechas.”

Always going on about he was so smart in school and how he learned everything faster and how he had to do it all while he worked in the farm and missed four months of school during the crop season. He could never say anything good about me, neither one of them. If Mexico was so fucking great, what were we doing here? Why hadn’t he gone beyond the 3rd grade?

“Que Buena esta la comida Maria.” “Gracias Jorge.”

“Esta mierda? Si no vas a cocinar bien, ya te dije que no cocines!”

“Yeah whatever.” My mom got up to clear her dish. “Can’t even talk with your stupid crooked mouth. You look so ugly when you‘re drunk.”

My father got up, grabbed his hot plate and threw it at my mom, beans and hot pieces of meat flying all over my mother’s face.
“Pinche babosa! Callate la boca!”

My father’s eyes were opened wide full of rage. They seemed to change color when he snapped, his bloodshot eyes bulging out and his eye brows two angry lines cut into his face.

I got up and stood between them. I started to clean up and I could see him swaying over me unsure of what to do before he walked to his bedroom and slammed the door so hard that the veneer cracked.

My tio got up and muttered an apology before he scurried off.

My mother started crying uncontrollably about what a miserable asshole he was so I led my younger siblings into their room.

“It’s okay mom. He doesn’t deserve you. You deserve so much better. Just ignore him, he’s drunk.”

“Why does he always have to call me names? I told him so many times to not call me stupid! He’s stupid, he couldn’t live without me. When I leave then who’s stupid!”

“Mami, we CAN leave. We can live in an apartment and we would do all of the cooking and cleaning. You could go back to school and take computer classes and you could get an office job like you wanted. If you got a divorce we would go with you and help you mami. We don’t need the house and we could be happy.”

When she looked at me I knew that I had gone too far. She would never leave him. She would never be able to walk out the door.

“I stay with him for you guys. For my kids, that’s why I stay. So you can have a family and have a better life.”

“Yes mami, I know. I love you. Do you want to sleep in my bed? I can sleep on the sofa.”

I finished cleaning the dishes as she went off to my bed and I felt a huge lump of guilt bobbing up and down on my throat. What if he heard me? I should have known. She would never leave.

Happy Birthday to me

I woke up, took a shower, got dressed and walked to school. You always knew who the popular girls were because on their birthday they would walk into class with a cloud of colorful balloons – you were extra popular if you received the Elmo or Winnie the Pooh character aluminum balloons. I prayed someone would say happy birthday but not out loud or everyone would see my empty arms.

Aracely didn’t say a thing as we went to home room and sat down. I could feel the sadness pressing down hard almost crushing my chest so I couldn’t breathe. I guess they forgot.

“Hey we’re going to Jack in the Box after school, you coming?” Yeah let me pull out my wallet, “no, I can’t stay after school.” “Come on, I’ll pay.” My ears felt hot and my face was probably redder than the cracking paint on the curb of the side-walk. “No, I just can’t stay. Thanks though.” Aracely looked back and was about to ask again but then walked off.

“What are you doing? You lazy fuck! Always reading! Why aren’t you cleaning?!” I got up from the bed and I hid my book before she grabbed it and threw it away.

She grabbed an arm full of my books and threw them on the ground. “Tira esos libros a la basura! Pinche floja!! Do something useful and fold the laundry too!” She left and came back with a full armload of laundry for me to fold.

“Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday dear Lorena! Happy Birthday to you!” I couldn’t believe it.

Aracely, Stephanie, and Mina were at my door with a homemade cake in hand singing to me.

“We asked your mom to let you come to my house but she said you had homework.” Aracely looked at the laundry in the bed and rolled her eyes. “So we brought the party to your house!”

The cake said ‘Happy Birthday Lorena’ spelled out in lucky charm cereal letters. I couldn’t stop smiling as I blew out the 14 candles and we devoured the cake.

Sometimes friends are your real sangre.

Puppy Love and April Fools

I could feel my face burning as I quickly walked towards the girl’s bathroom but Aracely’s giggling wouldn’t stop following me. Mina and Stephanie were right at her heels with their own grins plastered on their faces. I felt like crying but I was too proud to do it.

“Why is he following you?” Stephanie asked with a knowing look in her eyes. We had just walked across the lunch tables, crossed through the gym to the field and ran across it when we spotted them. We came to a dead-end near the girl’s locker room but we expertly jumped over the fence but had to turn back when we heard Mina’s cries that she couldn’t make it over. “Just throw me your back pack and swing your leg over, we’ll catch you.” I caught her bag just as she toppled over and managed to cushion her fall with my arms.

The bell rang and my stomach felt as though it could churn butter. “Just ignore him, anyway we lost him.”

I walked to my Algebra class by myself and slowly walked up the stairs each step getting lighter as I started to believe that I had lost him. “Hey I heard you’re dating Mario. Why are you with him?” Mike was the smartest kid in school and I had huge crush on him. “I’m not anyone’s girlfriend.” As soon as the words left my mouth, I was confronted by a visibly angry Mario. “Where were you during lunch? And why were you running away from me?!” He grabbed my arm and continued to yell at me until Mike pushed him off and told him to leave me alone. He walked me inside the classroom and closed the door behind us. Great, now I really wanted to cry.

It all started with a stupid Nike wrist band. Aracely was flirting with Mario and asked to borrow the wrist band and when he came over to collect it he looked at me. I didn’t like the way his eyes kept lingering on me or the way he leaned in to talk to me. Stupid Aracely and her damn flirting- she was always dumping her angry leftovers on me to handle for her.

After days of saying I couldn’t date, didn’t want to date, and ignoring him- the rumors started. “Are you a lesbian? I’ve never seen you with a boy. Is that why you won’t be with me?”

Then as I went home I decided to take the bus so I could avoid the stupid boys that would follow me home, I looked up and saw him. “So are you going to be my girlfriend?” It was April fool’s Day. What the hell did he want with me anyway? Why was he bothering me? “Yes.” “Really? Nice!” Before he could put his arm around me I jumped out of the bus and ran all the way home.

As I walked up the steps and walked through the door, the phone rang. “Hello?” “Hey babe, it’s me.”

What the fu-

“I just wanted to make sure you got home okay.”

“How did you get my number?”

“Aracely gave it to me.”

“Don’t call me; I can’t talk on the phone.” I hung up just as my father walked in through the side door.

“Quien era?”

“No se, no contestaron.”

I walked away before he could ask anything else and closed my bedroom door behind me. Shoot. What the hell had I done? This moron was going to get me in trouble. I’m not a fucking lesbian and even if I was what the hell was it to him? Stupid Aracely! Why did she give him my number, she knew the way my dad was. Great best friend she was. Before I could sink into any more self-pity I heard my mother yelling my name from the kitchen.


I walked over and started the routine over again.

He called 21 times over the weekend and with each incessant ring I wanted to rip the phone off the jack and smash it on his stubborn head. “I don’t want to be your girlfriend!” “But you said yes.” “I lied, it was April Fools. Stop calling me, I can’t talk on the phone.”

As soon as I hung up the ringing would start again until I turned off the ringer. Then my mom picked up the phone to call my Tia Sandra but she was already on the line. “I was about to call- the phone didn’t even ring! Pray you’re not dying – or pregnant!” Good at least my mom didn’t pay for call waiting and she could be on that phone for hours.

After Algebra class I walked over to my PE class and there was that stubborn egg head again. I caved in and told him I’d be his girlfriend. Why was I always saying yes when my brain kept screaming NO!!? Fucking coward, why couldn’t I just tell him to leave me the fuck alone?

Culmination and a new dress??

I was so excited; I would be able to wear a brand new dress for my 5th grade culmination. That’s what they called it a culmination not graduation. It did not matter, I was going to speak since I was being awarded the Vice-Principal’s award and my mom surprised me by saying we were going shopping for a dress.

“We’re leaving in an hour; make sure your room, the bathroom, and kitchen is clean before we leave.” I ran to my room and made sure everything was in place and changed out of my uniform into a pair of white jeans and t-shirt. I washed the dishes and ran around in a whirlwind of excited energy as I imagined what I would get to wear.

Maybe I would find a fancy black dress, simple and fitting so that I looked elegant giving my speech. I could squeeze into my sister’s heels and I would look great! Marla and Kandy would look at me with approval and I would smile slightly as if to show I always dressed that way outside of school…

I heard the engine running and my mom call out, “if you’re not out here in five minutes I’m leaving.” I had to pee but I ignored the urge and dashed out the door and onto the car and we sped away in our white 1984 Jimmy GM. I liked that car, with its red interior, brandishing the same year I was born. My sis and I worked hard to keep it clean both inside and out so that it looked almost new.

We went down Brooklyn Ave (now Cesar Chavez) and stopped at the BofA on Breed St. The line stretched out the door and there was no bathroom in sight. When we finally left and crossed the street to the fashion store I thought I would die and pee my pants. My mother kept passing me ugly dresses to try on that were too big on me but she figured they would last long.

As I was taking off a gray and black jumper that I hated, I felt the painful urge to pee. As my mother kept yelling at me in front of the other customers and the excitement of the new dress long ago dead, I felt a river of urine flow from my legs and over my white jeans and dress. I couldn’t believe it! I stared down in horror as hot tears streamed down my cheeks. I managed to whimper what had happened and I could see that the Japanese store owner felt bad that he hadn’t allowed me to use his bathroom. My mother yelled at me and slapped me hard complaining that she would have to buy the dress now and a slew of insults flew out of her mouth as she pushed me out the door and told me that I wouldn’t be allowed to ride home in the car. “Vete caminando! Haber si la verguenza te quita lo pendejo!”

I tried not to cry and wiped away the tears. As I waited for the light to turn green a woman, a Jehovah’s Witness, placed her hand on my arm and asked if I was okay. I was horrified that anyone would notice the yellow stains on my already tattered jeans and I shook my head and ran off as the cars came to a stop. I walked home in the dark and hated myself for being so stupid, so ugly, and worthless. How could I have done such a thing? I was ten years old and I had piss all over my jeans – making me shiver in the cold. I ran past the veteranos on Breed St, turned the corner on Malabar and ignored the catcalls of the fat old men trying to give me a ride. I contemplated not going back home and walking until my legs buckled under me and my heart gave out and my body could finally lie down in peace forever.

As my self-tormenting and wishful thinking came to an end I was back on Forest Ave walking down to the peach stucco house with my father’s figure leaning on the chain link gate. As I walked closer he opened the door and looked at me with sadness in his eyes; I could feel the tears edging on my eyes and the ball of emotion rising in my throat but I looked away and went to shower. By the time I got out everyone had gone to bed and I gingerly took my dress out of the plastic bag and washed it by hand and laid it out to dry. At least some stains come off with a little soap and water.

Dinner as A Family

She walked home with her eyes to the ground looking at the cracks in the side walk. The cracks seemed to break off into an endless network of spider webs interrupted only by a wad of black bubble gum that had long ago been bonded onto the cement by the footsteps of Boyle Heights.

Her chest felt tight as she took in a breath that was painful to swallow. She observed the apartments around her; the homes that were unkempt and seemed to sag with poverty. Everything seemed gray and old. As she came up to her street she shook her feelings of sadness and walked up the steps to her home with a weak smile on her face. Her little sister looked up from her Sleeping Beauty marathon and gave her a beaming smile that made the corners of her own mouth creep up higher. Her little mini-me was always lifting her spirits.

Her mother was lying on the couch, her tired feet swollen from a full day at work of standing and taking endless orders from pushy nurses and doctors at her job as a grill cook at the hospital. She studied her mother and felt a pang of guilt and sadness for her. How many dreams of hers had been shattered over the years? Her mouth was slightly agape but it didn’t diminish the prettiness of the delicate mouth that always had the faint smell of coffee. Her face was slack deep in a tired sleep.

She waived at her brother and other sister as she made her way into her room that she shared with her older sister. She put her backpack down and sat on the bed. She looked up and sighed as she stood again. She unbuttoned her maroon checkered skirt and slipped it off being careful to fold it and place it on her cupboard for the next day. She pulled off her shirt and folded it neatly on top of her skirt. Now that her sister was in high school she had two skirts all to herself and she made sure she took careful care of them. She pulled on an oversized t-shirt and her only and favorite pair of jean shorts.

The mirror on her headboard stared back at her. She studied the girl on the mirror and admired the pretty legs that the girl had tucked underneath her. She had smooth light caramel-colored skin and almond-shaped eyes that stared back at her with hunger. Stop it, always day dreaming. There was no pretty girl in that mirror just her own image searching for something better.

“Maria! Que no hay nada de comer?” Always yelling, couldn’t he act civil to her for once instead of demanding everything. Every word that her father directed at her mother always dripped with insult and anger.

Before her mother was up from the sofa having been shaken out of her sleep by the gruffness of her husband, Lorena walked to the kitchen and began pulling out the tortillas and salsa so that her father would leave her mother alone. She tore off a piece of the Foodsaver mailer, turned on the one burner that sparked to life on its own and quickly used the paper to turn on the other three burners on the old stove. She heated the beans and the carne con chile. She warmed up the tortillas and as soon as the food started to simmer she pulled out plates and served her father. As she placed the salsa and tortillas on the table she called to her father that dinner was ready. She served him his place being careful not to serve him too much or not enough and wiped any splashes off the plate with the corner of the dish towel. She laid his plate down just as he slammed the metal front door and walked inside.

His cheeks seemed to hang off his face and his eyes were darker and smaller than usual. She knew that he was probably on his 12th beer by now so she quietly asked him if he needed anything else. He muttered something under his breath to no one in particular and she walked back into the kitchen before he could come up with anything.

They always sat to dinner together in silence. Everyone with their faces down averting their father’s eyes so as not to catch his attention. As she scooped some beans onto her mouth with a piece of tortilla she could feel his eyes on her and she focused her eyes on her food making sure she made no sound as she chewed.

“Que chingados es esto? Si no vas a cocinar bien mejor ni cocines!”

Always complaining about his food- why couldn’t he just eat and shut up? She hoped that her mother would ignore him and as the silence continued for a few seconds she started to relax and feel a sense of -,

“Porque no te callas? Siempre tomando con tu bocota.”

“Ay, pendeja. Estupida! Porque no te callas tu? Siempre en el telefono con tu hermana en vez de estar cocinando.”

Her eyes started to water as she swallowed hard. The ball in her throat precariously bobbing up and down; threatening to reject the beans she had stuffed in her mouth. She couldn’t look away from her plate. Her little sisters and brother looked frantically around them until their father finally got up but instead of going to bed like she had been telepathically urging him to do; he let his body fall back onto his recliner with a big oomph.

“Quitame los zapatos!”

She ran to get his sandals and took off his shoes. She brought him the remote before he could ask and pushed the lever back so he could rest his legs and concentrate on the Spanish channel broadcasting the news.

Her sister helped her clear the plates and shuffle their siblings to their room before any more arguments could erupt. She washed the dishes and put the food away in the fridge. She studied the salsa and beans to see if they could stand another day before covering them and putting them away in the fridge as well.

When she was sure everyone was asleep she took out her books and started on her homework. Around midnight she heard the bolt of her parents bedroom door turn so she quickly turned off the light and pretended to sleep. As the toilet flushed and the water swished down the drain he went back to bed and locked the door behind him. She waited a couple of minutes and then turned the light back on and started on her homework again. Between homework she read and wrote and pushed her eyes to stay open until they would doze off around three. The nightmares would not come if she stayed awake long enough.

Mac and Cheese

My sister and I are home alone. A Gloria Trevi tape is blaring on the radio; my sister shaking her long wavy hair up and down and in a circular motion along to the lyrics, “A mi me gusta andar de pelo suelto, Aunque me vean siempre con enredos”. I strum the strings of an imaginary guitar as I stand on top of the sofa’s arm and jiggle my body in all directions and we yell out the lyrics on top of our lungs.

After the songs ends we wipe the sweat off our foreheads and head into the kitchen to rummage up something to eat. I pull up a chair and open the cupboard, my eyes scanning the interior but seeing only containers full of flour or beans. My sister is done with the fridge and has managed to come up with a couple slices of bologna. Nice! I look in the last cupboard with false hope since it’s where mom keeps all of the medicine bottles, many long past their expiration date. As I close the cupboard I spot a blue box out of the corner of my eye – oooohhhh – I try not to let my mind say it until I am sure – a box of mac and cheese!

We pull out the milk and add some water to make up for the rest and wait eagerly by the stove top as it boils; the little packet of powder turning the frothy boiling liquid into a neon orange tint. We grab plates and relish every bite of mac and cheese with bologna.

Mac and Cheese and I go very far back – we have a very loving relationship that makes me smile for hours after I’ve swallowed and licked the last spoon full dry.

Little legs swing back and forth in the tiny blue chairs surrounding the half-circle table in the cafeteria. At the center sits my beautiful mother with a pot of delicious smelling mac and cheese. I look around at my friends and smile as I hear my preschool classmates whisper that this is Susie’s mom, this beautiful sweet creature that has taken a day off of work to bring us lunch. My mother surveys the room, making sure everyone has had their fill and I try to make eye contact with her – but scared that if she looks at me in the eye I will wake up from a dream.

Wisps of fair curly hair frame her lovely face, her dainty jaw set in concentration as she helps some of the clumsier kids eat. Her eyes are relaxed and lined with a sky blue shade, her thin mouth reminding me of a canary about to sing. I am giggling inside, I can’t help but feel special. Even if she doesn’t look my way or help me eat; I know she cares or she wouldn’t be here. What a beautiful sight, that elegant woman, making mac and cheese seem like a feast prepared for Princes and Princesses.

The sound of a car coming up the drive way jerks me awake along with a beginning of a panic attack. Mom is home. Rosie is scrambling in the kitchen and I follow suit as I rinse my plate and toss it into the microwave so she won’t see it. I run to the bathroom and make sure it looks clean, their bedroom seems fine, my room is… The key is turning on the door knob as I quickly hide the days wash in drawers so I can fold them later.

I run to the living room as mom walks in wearing her white uniform dress, white nurse loafers, coffee mug in hand, and a Styrofoam container wrapped in saran wrap. My eyes light up as I imagine what may be inside.

“Limpiaron la casa?” “Si mami.”

We wait as she places her things on the table, goes to her room and undresses; she emerges from the bedroom in jeans and a t-shirt. I start to relax until my ears are pierced with the common calling, “Suuuuusaaaannnnnaaaa!!!! Ven para aca!”

I walk to the bedroom I share with my sisters and approach my mother thinking she has found the clothing crumpled up in the drawers. She stands in the middle of the room, her face flushed red; she points at the carpet and demands, “Limpiame este cuarto Susanita! Voy a regresar en media hora y si no esta limpio, vas a ver!”

She leaves and I duck as she passes by me. I tidy up my books on the shelf, give the carpet another sweep – bristles of the old broom bent in different directions don’t cooperate with me. I manage to get all of the dirt in a corner and scoop it up with my hands to get every last bit.

I sit up just in time as the door slams hard against the wall skimming my hair. My mother looks around the room, checking the surfaces, the closet, the drawers (I folded the clothing by now). She turns around, her jaw set in bitter anger and fatigue.

She pushes me aside and bends over, inspecting the corners of the room. As she stands she grabs my hair and forces my face down to the ground, yanking my head back and forth. “Se mira limpio? Crees que esta limpio?!” I don’t reply or utter a sound which makes her angrier and meaner. She shoves my face into the corner and rubs my nose on the dust that I was unable to pick up. “Te dije que limpiaras mocosa! Nunca haces lo que te digo!” Her hand keeps coming down all over my back, my arms, my legs. I trip on her foot and fall to the floor. She kicks me, thinking I was trying to push her as I fell. Her ugly anger having been fed subsides and she gives my head a final push against the drawers as she walks out the door.

Tears stream down my cheeks in silence, the sound of birds singing outside my door, the sunshine streaming in illuminates the red welts and splotches all over my arms. I hear someone in the hallway and jump to close my door but it’s only dad. He stops in the doorway of the bathroom, pauses and looks at my wild hair, my face wet with tears, then walks into the bathroom without a word.

You’ll stay with me right?

He is on his knees, tears running down his brown leathery face – his cheeks sagging under the weight of booze and pain. I’m walking out the door with a black trash bag holding my most prized belongings: a brown teddy bear, a purple My Little Pony, and broken pieces of plastic that are my toys. I see my mother opening the door to our beat up blue station wagon and my sister already down the porch steps.

An incredible pain takes residence in my tummy, spreading up to my chest – making it hard to breathe.

“Susy, mi Pozolito, tu no me vas a dejar verdad? Me prometiste que tu te hibas a quedar conmigo.”

I look down at my scuffed shoes and step down hard on my big toe preferring physical pain to seeing my father – that big tall figure who never cries – lose all self control as he drapes his body onto my little frame.

I bite my lip and look outside into the darkness, the cold numbing my hands and legs. I wring the edge of my Scooby Doo pajama dress; the thin material wrinkles and curls into place.

“Vamonos Susana! Apurale!” My mother yells at me from the car.

They had been at it again; always the fighting, the endless yelling of abuse and cursing. I can’t remember why my mother was angry; dad had probably staggered home again from a bar or had insulted her in his alcohol induced stupor.

“Ya no puedo mas!” My mother was on the phone with her brother, asking if we could stay with them but I could tell from her face that we would be roaming the city in our car again. Cramming our belongings and bodies in the backseat to keep warm from the chilly winter air. “Carnala, yo no me puedo meter. Quedate con Yani.”

“Vayan y agarren sus cosas!” She yells at us, thrusting a trash bag to my sister and I. Her voice becoming shrill as her sanity wears thin.

We knew the routine. Instead of packing clothing and necessities, we packed what four and five year olds see as essential: our dearest toys. We ran to the room we shared with our parents and started to pack.

My father pleaded with my mom not to leave and when her tear-streaked face would not meet his he turned to my older sister to ask her; she just kept packing. He ran to me and kneeling down to look into my bewildered eyes he asks if his pozolito would stay with him. “It’s okay Papi, yo me quedo contigo,” I say, anything to keep my papi from crying.

“Vamonos!” My mother pulls me out of my tortured state and drags me to the car only to cause the pain of seeing my father’s face as I leave to sear into my brain forever. “Papi”, I whimper as the smell of old leather, burnt oil, and snot make me gasp for air.

My mother is crying hysterically in the front seat behind the wheel. Her yelps of pain becoming jagged knives that stab my stomach; like broken glass they shatter throughout the car and I want to pick them up and devour them – chew on the glass until it slices my tongue into ribbons and the blood flows out. Until the anger and confusion are drained from my body and I become a spirit hovering over everyone. Until I turn into nothing, light as air, and the voices stop screaming and crashing inside my head.