I’ve talked to so many people who barely remember their childhood, so many people whose memories escape them. Their childhood didn’t entail an array of constantly relevant memories, and just like that, it’s like those events never happened. In my case, my memories are at the forefront of my mind, so much so that I can tell you that I still remember being a one-year-old kid. I had recently learned how to walk and my mama, her friend and I were walking back home after a long day of shopping. As soon as we made it to the block where the apartment building was, “la vientiuno,” I immediately decided that I was going to make a run for it. I wanted to beat them to the door. But my attempt to outrun them with my suave steps didn’t yield the results I had expected. A few steps into my grand adventure, I face planted on the ground, scraping my knee and landing on the dirty, grind-filled Union City cement. I still have the scar on my knee to prove it. I cried when I fell, and my mama picked me up and yelled at me for running away.
Sometimes, I wonder if I would remember that memory as well as I do if it weren’t for the physical scar. Scars, whether they are physical or emotional, are there to help us remember. They make it easy for us to never forget.
It was still early when we stepped out of Dr. Gray’s office. I ran to the car, eager to sit in the front seat, while my mama wobbled her way to the driver’s side door. She unlocked the car with the automatic lock, which was a hot new item at that time. Only luxury cars had automatic car locks, so I felt like I was in a rented Rolls Royce. I put on my seatbelt and rolled down the window. I loved the feeling of having the air blow on my face, and I loved sticking my hand out the window so I could chase the air. In the background, Selena’s “Amor Prohibido,” was playing. I sang along to the lyrics. She was my favorite singer, and naturally, I knew all the words. I would close my eyes and really get into the song; you know, I’d pretend that I was her, pretend that I was a rock star singing in front of millions of people. In the middle of my ultimate musical performance, my mama interrupted me to have a conversation about what had just happened at Dr. Gray’s office. She was probably concerned or thought that I would be devastated or something. But I hadn’t thought about it. I was busy singing to Selena, and nothing else really mattered. I hadn’t reflected on how it made me feel, so naturally, everything seemed normal. After 20 minutes down Orange Ave., we were finally inching closer to the house.
We made a right on Wetherbee Rd., and that’s when my stomach sank. Those three long blocks before Isle of Wright felt like I was in a haze. Time was moving backwards. I could feel every breath I took. The air burned through my lungs as I forced myself to inhale and exhale. My eyes filled with tears, but I held them in. I never cried. Not in moments like this. I was always taught to be strong, to be tough. I was always taught that I shouldn’t cry. So I didn’t. I just held back the feeling, swallowed my emotions right along side the fear of facing the reality. The closer we got to the house the more nervous I became. I was about to face my reality. I was about to share my recent diagnosis with the rest of my family. How did that make me feel? I was petrified. I wanted to be just like everyone else, to blend in, camouflage. I didn’t really want to be different. I didn’t really understand what my difference actually meant, and I was going to be forced to share it, and explain it, when I myself was still coming to terms with it.
This emotional scar is there like all the rest. It’s filled with the fear of facing my own reality, the desire to hide from everyone, and the inability to accept the truth. I didn’t want to highlight the fact that I was different. I didn’t want to share the news with everyone.
I didn’t want to face this reality. Because as soon as you share something, it suddenly becomes more real. Had I kept it to myself, maybe I could pretend it wasn’t really true. But in this case, I had no option. Whether I shared the news, or my mama shared the news, the family had to know what was happening
My mama pulled into the driveway and walked out to open the garage. We didn’t have a garage door opener, which was a humongous pain in the ass. Every time we arrived to the house, we had to step out of the car and open the garage, then get back in the car and drive into the garage to park the car. It seemed like a lot of work. I never really had to deal with the garage, but I always noticed the struggle my mama went through as she tiptoed to make sure the door was pushed open thoroughly. And the times she didn’t do it right, it would fall all the way back down, and she was forced to try again. As she took care of the garage, I looked outside the window to the small patches of St. Augustine grass my mama had recently planted. It was really expensive to buy full pallets of the grass, so instead of doing that, my mama bought a few pallets and cut them into tiny little pieces and planted them randomly throughout the yard. My front yard looked like it was suffering from measles, with tiny chunks of grass spread throughout. Much like the Corolla, my mama was in LOVE with the grass, and she still very much is. She hated when we walked on it; she religiously watered it and spent countless hours tending to it. The grass was a very big deal in my mama’s life.
After fiddling with the garage for a few minutes, my mama wobbled back to the car. Once inside the garage, I stepped out of the car and slammed the door behind me. I walked towards the door, and I could feel every breath I took. It was daunting. I turned the knob and opened the door. It was like a scene from a scary movie, like the part where the stupid girl goes into the haunted house by herself. At that moment, I felt like the girl. Lucky, I wasn’t met by villainous serial killer trying to chop me up. Instead, I was met with the typical icy cool air and the pungently penetrating smell of bleach.My mama insisted on keeping the temperature at arctic levels, and bleach was the only thing she ever used to clean everything. If you’ve ever seen the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, my mama is like the dad in the movie who is obsessed with Windex, only in this case, it’s Clorox.
I walked past the laundry room and was met by Micha, my cat, who was sitting there patiently, waiting for someone to feed her or let her out. Micha hated everyone, and I was not in any way an exception. I ignored her and went to the kitchen. I needed to eat something, anything. Food was always a big comfort for me. It had a way of making me feel better. So in times when I didn’t know what I needed to say or do, I would eat, and this was no exception. I grabbed a bowl of mini Chips Ahoy! chocolate chip cookies and filled it to the top with milk, and that’s what I ate – a giant bowl of chocolate chip cookies and milk. It was my cereal. My comfort and my escape. Food provided a sense of pleasure that nothing else provided, and I loved it.
While I was busy eating my bowl of “cereal,” my mama walked around the house calling out “Farith – hijo” and “Naty”, but no one responded.
My brother wasn’t home. He was usually out and about pretending he was a “thug” or something like that. At the time, my brother had a fully shaved head, wore baggy shirts, plaid boxers (which were usually visible), and baggy pants right below his butt. He had the “thug” look down. He hung around with the older kids in the neighborhood who were probably not a good influence on him. But that was life. I am sure he was also trying to escape. We all were trying to escape, in some way.
Naty, my sister, was home, but she was hiding in her room, like she always did. At the time, my sister spent most of her time in her room or at the gym, working out for hours at a time. She dressed like a typical Latina teenager in the 90s. She wore big hoop earrings, maroon lipstick and clothes that were either way too tight or way too short. Like my brother and I, she was also trying to escape, she just had her own way of doing it She loved to be alone in her room and blast her favorite music at full volume, putting her favorite song on endless repeat. It was really annoying for everyone else in the house.
“Naty – salga,” my mama yelled.
I stared out the kitchen window, eating, while my mama tried to get my sister out of her room. It was the early evening, and the sun was about to set. I loved looking at the sunset through my kitchen window. The deep orange and pinkish colors of the sun were colors one could only experience in Florida. The vastness of the sky and the deepness of the hues as the sun made it’ way closer to the horizon stretched throughout my backyard, giving a luminous glow to my house. It was so calming.
My sister came out of her hole and adjusted her shirt as she walked across the living room to meet us in the kitchen.
“What do you want?” she said, as she looked down at me to hurry up and tell her whatever I had to say. She was always super abrasive about everything, especially towards me.
I don’t know what I said. I don’t know what she said. I don’t remember if I told her or if my mama told her. I do remember that it all seemed so light. As if I had just told someone I was wearing a pink shirt or I was walking through a park. I don’t remember it ever being a big deal. Maybe it shouldn’t have been, but maybe it should have been. Maybe it was perfect just the way it was.
Eventually, my brother came home from whatever he was up too. I immediately stopped what I was doing and aimed for the door. At full speed I wrapped my arms around him and launched my entire body toward his. This was something I always did whenever he came home. My goal was to give him the biggest hug in the world, every time. I held him as tightly as I could. I never wanted to let him go. He was my big brother, and all I wanted was to be a part of his life, even if it was just for a few minutes a day. As soon as the hug experience was over, my brother asked how it had gone. And just like with my sister, I don’t remember who told him or what was said.
We all stood in the kitchen in awkward silence. No one knew what to say except my mama. She would always break the silence by rambling about everything and anything. She retold the day to my siblings and told them about our Great Grandma, Andrea, who also had scoliosis, and she pulled out the really old family albums so we could all see and compare.
I held the old photo in my hand and scrutinized it, detailing her posture. It was clear that she was humped over and looked old and tired. But, in my eyes, I looked nothing like her. I was like everyone else – I was sure there was no difference. I couldn’t tell that I was curved, and there was no way I had a hump. I couldn’t tell that there was anything wrong with me. In my eyes, I didn’t look like her.
The only problem was the pressing concern that maybe one day, I would.
Photo Credit: pixabay.com