The more you say things the more you believe them.
I’m fine. It’s fine. Fake it till you make it.
It’s dark and quiet. The moonlight chimes into the hot bedroom from a small window that remains open. Nothing moves, there’s no one here except a shadow in the corner between the bed and the bedroom door. The shadow jumps up suddenly when a dog barks very loud in the street.
Calm down Ru, it’s far away. It’s fine. You’re fine.
What looked like the beginning of a horror movie was just another sleeping night for me. I didn’t even have to look at the clock ticking above the TV, it was always around 3AM. The boogie man will arrive soon. Even though he would not always come and get me, I was sweating as I waited to see him drunk, loud and in a bad mood. But I was fine.
This was no way for a developing child to spend his nights, but what were my options? My mother was working day and night to earn extra cash that we needed more than ever now, living with AR in a household that ran on booze and cigarettes. With my brother gone it was fewer terrified mouths to feed, but it also meant one less person for me to talk to.
And it was going to get even worse for my sister.
I was already 8 years old. Every the morning I would be up by 6AM to dress and feed myself, then walk alone the 2km commute to my primary school. And a lovely good morning to you too. How do you do?
I did quite well, being the smart kid with lots of friends, but when the day was over I dragged my tiny feet back to the vecindad towards our building’s dirty stairs. And I didn’t want to get up there to the empty space. It wasn’t empty actually, it was overcrowded because it was so small. But it was empty of happiness, of love, of fun. I was too young to understand any of this but a kid just knows in their heart when they feel loved, when they feel valued.
My feet just dragged around the dirty street until something distracted me: a vibrant yellow sign that said “Tatsa”. Maybe that’s why yellow is my favorite color.
The “Tatsa sign” was in front of a shop that serviced the neighborhood’s gas station. What if I could waste some time in there instead of going to my un-welcoming home?
And that’s how I met my angel Teresa.
Her friendly face and smiling eyes immediately put me at ease, and just like in a movie we connected. Yup, tiny little me and the lady behind the cash counter at a gas station. What a love story for the generations Ru.
But Teresa and I quickly became friends, even though she was in her almost forties. Maybe because she didn’t have a son, maybe because I needed a mother… I was very lucky to have found her, on that hot afternoon, smiling at me and making a place for me next to her behind the cash register. So I would spend my best moments doing my homework and chatting with my new guardian.
After 6 pm when the shop had to close and my only other option was to go home to the empty flat or play with the neighborhood kids. But the street kids were not always fun and they were hard to handle: they were too rough for a sensitive kid who was used to being alone.
This became my routine and I was fine with it.
Life was like that for us and there was nothing we could do about it. When you are a kid seeing all your friends with their caring families, with better clothes, with toys you can’t have, it sucks. But even at that age I could already understand my situation and I was all the time trying to not to give it importance to deal with it. and somehow I did manage to survive those days.
But the nights were a different story.
Back in the boogie man’s lair, my mom was more focused on her fights with my dad than on us kids, and maybe that’s why my sister ran away more than once. Just like my nana had predicted, AR turned out to be an alcoholic and violent man. He would beat up my mom pretty hard, but a minute later I’d see them kissing, which I didn’t understand.
And though my dad would hit me as well, I can say I was “fine” because he was getting more violent with my mom and my sister. Lucky me.
Isn’t it weird that I don’t have one violent bone in my body even though I grew up with so much pain and hatred?
While my parents fought, my dad would punch my mom until she bled and she would punch him right back. The alcohol made it worse, his drinking kept getting out of hand until the situation exploded in our faces. Literally.
One night while my sister tried to cook for me some beans, the pan exploded all over the walls and the furniture, up to cover the ceiling. So, after laughing our guts out, we went to bed still hungry, but too tired to clean up. We thought it was fine.
Until the boogie man arrived. That night my sister almost died. When AR was done beating her, she looked like a piñata after cinco de mayo.
But that wasn’t the worst thing that happened. One of the neighbors reported the incident to the DIF (the Mexican family services) thinking that he was helping us. But that would have made it even worse for our small family unit which was already cracking. If you were taken away from your home, from your mom and dad, only God knew where you would end up. And as the famous song says, it’s always “better the devil you know”.
For fear of being taken away, and to my mother’s dismay, my sister went back to live with my grandmother and we had to pack our bags and move a few blocks away. Family -2. First my brother, now my sister.
I was the only one left.
After this, whatever happened I would not react, I would not make anything worse. If I pretended not to be there spiritually, it meant I could take whatever would happen to me. So I learned to become invisible. And it worked must of the times.
According to psychology, a child’s between 7 and 11 years become more aware of external events, as well as feelings other than their own. They become less egocentric, and begin to understand that not everyone shares their thoughts, beliefs, or feelings. And the circumstances around will determine the adult he becomes. Well let me tell you right now, I am again the exception to the rule.
By the edge of 8 I knew my environment would not define me. I got by on my own. I learned to be independent, to be in charge of myself, to defend myself, to Teach myself and to stay away from problems.
I learned how to be alone.
Because alone it was easier.
It was fine. I was fine.
Alone I was happier.
Thank you for everything you did for me.
I know that you’re gone but I’m sure you are in a beautiful place.
Now you’re an angel.
And Im sure you are still looking after me from there.