The hardest part of writing is putting the pen to paper. I struggle with beginning any story because I don’t know where the story began. Do we begin at the assassination of JFK? Or maybe at his election? Maybe we take this all the way back to his birth. For me, the story begins before I was born. My parents raised 5 terrible children before realizing that they had one more baby girl on the way. They raised the women that would ultimately raise me. Catholic tradition dictates that a strong man find an obedient woman and they have as many children as nature and disease control will allow. In the 17thcentury New England boasted a 12% infant mortality rate and a life expectancy of 39-40 years. In that time my parents would have lost at least a few of their children. With 5 nearly- adult siblings, my parents bore the wrinkles of 30 years of grueling work and low wages. They were poor, old, and tired. They just couldn’t take care of another kid.
My mother dressed me like a dollar store cherub every Sunday morning for mass. I looked like a plump marshmallow draped in white tulle next to her in the hard wooden pews of Saint Cajetano’s. The priest delivered sermons in Spanish, prompting responses and reading passages.
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.” He would call out dramatically receiving silent nods from the congregation. My siblings would lose all emotion and succumb to their position in the scene before us. I, on the other hand, sank inch by inch in my seat, eyes fluttering helplessly. My morning started 2 hours earlier for Sunday school and I had no interest in the following lesson. At only six years old, my mamí would smack the exhaustion right out of me as soon as she realized that I didn’t rise at the command of the priest.
“Do you see this? Your daughter is possessed by the devil.” She spit at my dad as they walked through the wooden double doors of the church with a trail of people behind them. Falling asleep in church, just like stretching after eating, and falling asleep with socks on, were all signs that the devil had reign over my soul. My dad shook his head, refusing to respond. My brother, Nene, tapped him on the shoulder and held out his hand, awaiting the $5 that would buy us raspados and doritos completos from the vendors in the parking lot. Junior would walk with us, outside of my their line of sight and disappear amongst a group of local gang members. When I think of gangs, I want to say that they are big boned men, wearing colorful bandanas and excessive leather accessories but these boys weren’t like that. These skinny pubescent boys sported disappointing goatees and wore plaid shirts. What’s impressive about that? Nene, stays in the snack line with me, resentfully.
“Where is he going?” I ask innocently from behind my cherry raspado.
“Doesn’t matter. Just grab your shit, fat-ass.” He snatched the change from the sunburned man and took long strides back to where my parents stood talking to other adults I didn’t know. I ran behind him, not at all able to keep up. I don’t know if my parents noticed that we came back with fewer children than when we left but they didn’t care.