I remember the day that I met my sister Johanny. I was wearing a jumper- either denim or pink cotton and she was rosy. Rosy cheeks, plump lips and bald headed with a little dust of hair. No one really remembers my exact reaction; they were all too consumed with her arrival. They were mesmerized by how strikingly different she was from me. Almost as if she didn’t belong to us but she did. It didn’t bother me that she got all of the attention, after all, that is how it was supposed to be. She was born on Mother’s Day in 1985. I was 1 year and 5 months old.
I remember when my aunt Janeth announced that she was pregnant. She was excited with the arrival of my cousin Andrea, another little girl to join the rest of us that had graced our uncles with our presence. Everyone gathered in my grandparent’s living room, the balcony open to the wind exposing the beautiful mountains that surround the city ofValencia. My aunt was wearing denim jeans and a dark cotton shirt and I placed my small hand on it to feel her baby bump. She smiled. I was 5 years old.
I remember when I met my cousin Barbara for the first time; she was taller than me back then. I had heard so much about her and was eager to meet her.On the way to my grandparent’sPalisade Avenueapartment I was full of energy, I knew that she was there waiting for me and I had brought some Barbie dolls to play with. When my parents knocked on the door, my uncle opened it and there she stood. I was so excited that I hugged her so tightly and unknowingly made her cry. To my surprise, she didn’t know who I was. She shied away and stood scared behind my uncle’s leg pant. With a messy pony tail, through thick glasses she stared at me but didn’t say anything. I smiled and wanted her to like me as much as I liked her. I told her I missed her and called her “mi prima”. Eventually she came around and we played. Then we talked. We got reacquainted and became best friends. We were inseparable and I’ve loved her ever since. I was 7 years old.
I remember four months before my abuela Yolanda died we flew to see her for a few days. We arrived late and that night she let me sleep in her bed; she slept in a smaller bed with my grandfather-something they hadn’t done in years. Her body had become fragile from the cirrhosis that was eating her alive and she still gave me her bed because it was the biggest and most comfortable one in the entire house. For some reason she thought that inVenezuelaI couldn’t live without my American “luxuries”. Something in me knew that this was the last time that I would have her here and alive. On our last night there, I again slept in her bed. At morning, I woke up to see her sitting quietly next to me. I wondered how long she had been watching me sleep but I never asked. I didn’t want to interrupt her thoughts or the way that she was looking at me. At the moment I knew she loved me and always did. She finally spoke and told me stories about my childhood; remembering silly moments and pranks that I did to her which filled her days with joy. She reminisced about our day walks and all of the nights that she and I will lay in her bed awake, sharing our thoughts- me giving away my dreams, consulting her for approval and she telling me her worries and teaching me how to pray, introducing me to God. I smiled as she told me these things and she gently stroked my hair, I told her I loved her. At least, I hope I did. That was the last time I saw her eyes shine their light upon me. I was 19 years old.
The Promise of a Dream:
I remember my first plane trip. I sat next to my dad and he let me have the window seat. I was looking at the clouds and asked him if I could ever touch a cloud and if he had ever touched one. He explained that they weren’t solid things but just fluff made out of air and told me no one could ever touch a cloud or walk on a cloud. I was disappointed and he saw this in my eyes. He smiled and then told me that one day he would build me a tall ladder that could reach the sky. He said that, that way I could climb up and touch the clouds and even play in them whenever I wanted. I was 3 years old.
I remember when we had sex in his car. He had parked in a dark park among black forest. This wasn’t our first time although he was my first. That night I didn’t even take off my summer dress. With pleasure, he slipped himself inside underneath my dress skirt and I slipped my breasts out of the dress for my pleasure. I could feel the intensity that his eyes carried. We were hot, sticky and inexperienced but we wanted to learn. With limited space we pressed our bodies against each other and whispered love words with some meaning. The windows fogged and my sweaty palm left an imprint against the glass. I gave him all I could and he took all I had. Drenched in sweat he drove me home. I was 15 years old.
I remember sitting next to my tia Isabel on her bed watching her study. She had countless highlighters, pens, pencils and a tape recorder. She took notes and underlined the book pages feverishly. With concentration she recited dental terminology into the recorder and played it back, over and over. I listened intently although there were words that I couldn’t understand. At times she would have me ask her test questions and when she got them wrong she would become frustrated but she was too dedicated and she never gave up. She would scratch things out and re-write them. I used to stare at the page and compliment her writing and begged her to take a break so she could write my name and “make it pretty”. She loved me so much that she would put her book aside for a moment and we would sit together practicing our penmanship. I was 6 years old.
I remember one of my sister’s birthday parties so clearly. Someone had given her a hugeGarfieldhelium balloon. She didn’t let me hold it or touch it. On the way home she held on to it so tightly and begged my dad to keep the car windows closed. She sat quietly in the car, admiring the orange cat’s eyes and in awe of the shiny plastic that contained the helium. When we arrived, I got out of the car first and my mom gave me the balloon to hold so that my sister could get out of the car. I held it and smiled. I was happy that I finally got to hold it. My sister started crying and I began tormenting her pretending I was going to let it go. And accidentally- I did. My sister let out a screeching scream and my mom began yelling at me. And I jumped. Jumped, jumped, jumped, pretending to get higher each time and hoping to reach the delicate string to bring it back down. But I couldn’t reach it and I stood there looking up asGarfieldslowly floated into the sky. I was 8 years old.
I remember getting on the NYC subway at 242nd street and Broadway with my mom and my sister. We did this every Sunday as we traveled to “manjatan” to buy groceries because it was cheaper than getting them in Yonkers. My mom always looked so scared every time we had to step inside the train. She feared that we would miss a step and slip through the small space between the train and the platform. Once on, she would be relieved and sat us closely next to her. I would always kneel on the seat to look out the window waiting for the darkness of the tunnel. At the site of the tunnel, Johanny would nervously climb on my mom’s lap. My mom was alone with 2 young daughters in a foreign country, lost in translation not knowing anyone. My dad was in Dominican Republic and couldn’t leave the country-legally. My mom knew that her stop was 181st and she looked forward to get off that train, attentively looking at each stop and street name on our way there. Once there, she would hold our hands so tightly that at times I could feel her nails puncturing my skin, but I felt protected. Before the supermarket, we would stop for lunch. She would buy Johanny a slice of pizza and made sure she didn’t choke on the cheese. She bought me a “papa rellena” and if she had enough money she would buy herself a “sandwich cubano” from the corner store on 187th. And as scared as she was on the ride there and as scared as she would be on the ride back-she knew that for my sister’s and I sake, on Sundays she had to have courage. I was 4 years old.
I remember when I almost died. My mom wanted to take my sister and me to the “carnival” parade in the streets ofValencia. My dad refused to let us go but mom dressed us and we went anyway. I was mesmerized by the costumes and the amount of people. We spent the day watching the spectacle of music performances and colorful caravans of happy faces. As the sun went down, we proceeded to head home. My mom pushed my sister’s stroller and had me hold onto the side of it. Without noticing, as she was crossing the street, I slipped from her side into the circular street drain beneath my feet. I screamed when I felt the pain of my ribs hit the iron spaces in the drain. My mom turned around and began screaming when she saw that I was so close to my own death. She tried to pull me up but she couldn’t. I looked down and could see my small feet dangling beneath me and I knew the only thing keeping my upper body at street level was the pressure of my ribs against the iron. I was hurting and full of fear. My mom kept screaming for help and men quickly gathered around her. One man suggested that they wet me so that I could become slippery and they could easily pull me up. Women frantically asked passersby for water but no one had any. Johanny sat in the stroller crying, confused by the commotion. Finally, a man told my mom that they had to pour beer on me since it was the only liquid around, left over from the day’s celebrations. The men opened cans of beer and poured them on me one after the other. The strongest of the group looked at me and told me he was going to pull me up. With his strong arms and with his hands so tight around me he pulled me out. My mother hugged me and cried, I didn’t think she would ever stop. She took a minute to compose herself and to calm Johanny down. She lifted my shirt and asked me if I was in pain. I told her I was fine. She hugged me again and made me promise that when we got home I was not to tell my dad about what happened. She told me that on the way home she would think of an excuse to tell him as to why I smelled of beer. This time she held me with one hand and pushed the stroller with the other. We walked in silence. I was 3 years old.