A Gift of Time
“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”
One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple. ”
“Entonces disfruta tu dolor. Aprovéchalo ahora que eres joven. Y sufre, hijo mío, sufre todo lo que puedas, que estas cosas no duran toda la vida.”
-Gabriel García Márquez-
I can think of my abuse only as afterthoughts, never sinking my teeth to the reality of it. I forget that I’m alive sometimes and constantly check my reflection in a mirror to make sure I’m still here. I must look vain to everyone who catches a glimpse of me looking into it so mesmerized. I shrug it off, focusing on my aging reflection.
It’s been years since it happened, but I can recall it with vivid detail if my mind permits.
“She doesn’t mind”, he said in a hushed voice. “She knows everything that goes on between us, so there’s no need to tell her, ok?”
I nodded in agreement and sank into the tub. He smiled and kissed my lips, slipping his tongue in and out as if reaching for something he couldn’t find.
I suppose my insomnia crept in during those nights where I’d lie awake thinking about my mother knowing about us. I came up with different reasons leading up to how his kissing me was positive in any way. But my mind eventually shut off and sank into blackness, never dreaming, just slipping into a wholesome chasm.
The dense trees surrounding my house kept us cool year round and our green colored television set was our pride and joy. Soccer games blared through its tiny speakers spilling out hoots and an elongated enthusiastic GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL when a local team made the ball in.
On those lazy weekend nights, when my family and I would gather around that dull colored T.V. I’d feel the most alive. The smell of my mother’s cooking and my father’s cologne sent me on a whirlwind of blissfulness, hoping Monday would never come, with its routine and loneliness, bombarded with secrets I’d learn to keep tucked in my spine.
In 1984, El Salvador was going through what would eventually be referred to as “the silent war”. Circulated with death squads and a newly elected Christian Democratic President named José Napoleón Duarte, the future looked grim and uncertain. The sounds of war were covered up by that infamous television set and my father’s hypnotic music. I’d often daydream while Raul touched me and pictured myself on that battlefield, hoping something could take me away, far far away.
When Mondays came, I woke up hastily dressing myself in my blue and white uniform and walked idly out the door with Raul on my side. I sipped my powdered hot milk and held his hand feeling his calloused fingers scratch against my skin. I hated milk. It made me want to vomit. But I drank it obediently hoping the long walk to school would fade away with every gulp.
School was always so long and dreadful. My meek long haired exterior became a target for angry bullies. A beautiful set of twins terrorized me into a corner almost daily, hoping to get every last bit of self-esteem I had and smash it along with my lunch. As I covered my head and crouched down into the floor, I couldn’t help but feel as if I deserved it. Their nails scratched at my face leaving bloody welts, but the pain was non-existent. They pulled at my hair hoping to get some kind of whimper out of me, but I remained silent.
Raul would pick me up from school and always had a candy for me, as if he knew I needed some kind of sweet distraction for our walk home. The bumpy bus ride shook up my senses and brought me back to life. I smelled the sweet scent of fried bananas and burning tires as I exited the bus with Raul closely behind me. When we got to his house, which was literally right next door to mine, we’d immediately go into the shower. I’d get undressed and fidget my way in, letting the cold water hit my hot face.
He’d join me and begin to move his hands around my frail body. At first, I’d cringe and begin to cry, but the water always washed the tears away. With eyes closed, he’d guide my hands down to his penis and instructed me on how to make it grow.
As soon as I could feel him behind me, he’d lower me to the floor and carefully insert himself inside my mouth. At this point, I’d go blank and followed the motions of his hips. My body would stiffen up and my eyes would remain closed all throughout. When I woke up, I was in his bed and he’d be lying next to me. His wife, who had been there the whole time but pretended not see us, continued preparing dinner in the kitchen. I could hear her plucking the feathers off the chicken she had killed in the front yard while we were in the shower.
When the sun was almost setting my mom and dad would come home and pick me up from Raul’s house. He was all smiles when he opened the door, telling them what a handful I was, playfully patting my head. I was mute. I bit at my nails and sucked at the blood that gathered in the rigged corners.
Even though our house was right next door, it felt like a lifetime away from Raul. My room which had no door only a translucent piece of old cloth that hung with a rope on each side, fooled me into thinking I was in some kind of other world where no one could make me do anything I didn’t want to do. The blaring sound of the television beckoned me to leave my nest and roam around to the living room as my mom and dad sat tiredly on the plastic covered couch staring sleepily into the dim T.V. screen.
The day had turned to night, almost effortlessly, taking with it the memories of its happenings. I was rarely hungry, surviving on beans and tortillas. My mouth couldn’t taste anything, I felt anesthetized. I craved nothing.
My parents were slowly falling asleep in front of the roaring television. It acted as a sort of sedative to their over-worked joints. They wanted nothing more than to provide me with a warm house and a hearty education. I knew that. But I pined for their presence around me. I secretly wished they would take my hand in the early morning and drag me to school. Pick me up after and offer me a sweet treat to soothe my aching heart. How I wished money wasn’t so important. How I yearned for this.
I managed to make one friend during the school year. His name was Walter. He became my world, my home my savior. Raul hated him, said he felt threatened by him. I enjoyed his anger, and hoped that the anger would make him resent me and eventually push me away. But it did the complete opposite.
He and his wife were known as the town’s “babysitter’s”, everyone trusted their children with them. Sometimes after school, I’d go home with Raul only to find another little girl patiently waiting on his bed. He’d beckon us to the shower and we’d catch a glimpse of each other while we slowly helped each other undress at his command. I always wondered why I listened so attentively, and why my parents allowed this to go on. Didn’t they love me? Didn’t they know how sore and polluted I felt every day that went by? But as he did every time I started to cry, he re-assured me it was exactly what my parents had instructed him to do. What had I done wrong? I couldn’t help but think that I had done something in some past life, perhaps killed someone and this was my punishment for it. I ran out of ideas and gave in to the feeling of guilt and muck, hoping to become stronger the worse his behavior became.
Looking at Xiomara was a satisfying lullaby. Her face was chubby and brown. Her long brown hair draped on her shoulders like a scarf waiting to be adjusted. Her eyes looked like black marbles, drained of emotion and waiting to be rescued. She and I shared looks of intimacy that wouldn’t have dawned on us if we had become friends in any other way.
Most days Xiomara was at Raul’s before I even got there. Every day seeped through the next, and the events that each day carried lost their distinctiveness as the days went on. She’d be sleeping or playing once I got there, almost instantly her eyes would light up when she saw me walk through the door.
All our gestures were unspoken, our routine was set and all we did was go through the motions. He’d tell us to play with each other with our clothes on, leading us to the back of the house where the bathroom and sink were and have us sit down behind some pinned sheets that his wife had hand washed earlier that day.
As I touched Xiomara, she cried and quietly mouthed endless questions. Questions I couldn’t answer. She stroked my legs and feet as I ran my fingers on her belly which was breathing in a calm steady rhythm. I loved her; she was my ocean where I could swim freely, without any sort of retaliation. All she offered me was warmth and comfort. Raul stood above us, stroking his lifeless penis hoping to relieve whatever demons lured inside him as quickly as possible.
Walter and I made our way to the volcanoes surrounding our city and the waterfalls that were walking distance away whenever our parents allowed us. He’d always make me feel pure and intact regardless of all the goings-on that surrounded me from Monday to Friday. My world was tangible and clear from distractions; I was away from that blackness that sent me to a place I can never remember. He never knew anything about me that I didn’t want him to know, he only knew the smiles and outbursts of laughter that came out of my tainted mouth. I often looked at Walter, wondering what sort of thoughts scattered his naive mind. Was he attracted to me? Did he know what attraction was? I hoped he would stay blind to those things as long as possible. I knew that knowing them would only take away from these innocent moments we shared.
My dreams would carry with them a tinge of violet that only dreams could make. I hardly slept, let alone dreamt, but when I did, I carried that languid feeling in my eyes. They’d begged to be closed, to see that violet shade until it faded into a void, taking my body with it. I struggled with my flesh, hoping it would burn away through some freak accident, but nothing of the sort ever happened.
I began to black out more and more as the months went by, by age 6, I was so angry at my parents for leaving me day after day with Raul that I began having rage fits in public. Nothing in particular triggered them; just the vile thoughts of Raul’s hands on my body or his penis in my mouth sent me on a rampage of devilish outbursts.
Lately, he had been trying to insert himself inside me, telling me that it was his way of showing me how much he and my parents cared about me. I allowed him hoping the incident would help me sleep better at night. I watched his eyes open and close as he swiveled his limp penis in me. As soon as he was done, he’d wipe himself and walk away, leaving me unattended and naked. His wife would throw a towel at me and I’d jump into the shower hoping he wouldn’t want to join.
At home, my parents seemed tired and walked around the house with hope in their eyes. My sister would visit soon which meant they’d have to plan an agenda for her, showing her that life here wasn’t as bad as it appeared.
The Civil War was at its peak. People were fleeing the country and heading to the United States by the thousands. Most of my family was already there, trying to make a living, trying not to be deported back. Since the election of Reagan in 1980, the Reagan administration radically increased military and economic help to El Salvador. By 1985, guerillas could be seen on every street corner in our small neighborhood.
Late at night after my parents snoring crept into my room, I could hear the loud thunderous sounds of helicopters and machine guns in the distance. It sounded fruitful and alive. If I was there, I thought, Raul would never be able to touch me again. Sometimes I could feel his harsh fingers inside me like venom. Slithering themselves into my cramped virginity. I could feel blood trickle out on my thighs exploding with sensations of pleasure and guilt.
I wanted to leave this place, live where Madonna lived. I loved Madonna. She made my grimace fade away with one sound of her synthesized songs. As I sang her songs aloud in my room, sleep came like a vulture. Snatching me away and leaving me panting.
Borderline was sort of my anthem. I’d sing it when I’d feel the most alone. It’s funny how music can help mend your soul together with invisible stitches. My anger began to worsen as time went on. Tantrums turned into volatile secret games that I’d take great pleasure in.
On several occasions, I’d gather my mother’s most precious gold jewelry while she was away or asleep and smash it up with a rock. I’d hit it so hard I’d break out into a sweat, letting it envelop my anger.
Quickly, I’d gather the flat pieces of gold and dig a hole in the ground by my front door and conceal it there. As the days passed by, I’d watch my mother stand over that spot time and time again and feel such an intense gratification. She’d often blame her forgetfulness and figured she must’ve misplaced it. Poor mother I thought, if she only knew. My viciousness increased, especially in public. I became something equivalent to a caged animal. My parents refused to go out in public in those times, afraid of what I might do.
School continued as did the war. I was petrified when I thought about my future. But the day finally came when my mother announced that sister had gotten married in the States and had earned her citizenship. She was making all the arrangements necessary to get us out of there before the war reached us and my behavior worsened. I guess her visit was non-existent now. She blamed the stress of the war for my erratic behavior. All the while, her jewelry would turn up missing, piece by piece.
Raul learned about our departure and remained silent. Xiomara and Walter were angry, or perhaps jealous of my exodus, but I turned sour. I longed to be far away from there.
Lately, even they had become reminders of my days with Raul.
Raul began to ignore me which surprisingly upset me. I had become dependent on his “affections” and was thwarted when he pretended he didn’t care.
The day came sooner than expected, within 3 days of my mother’s announcement we were packed and ready to go. I waited until the last minute to say good-bye to everyone I knew. Walter and Xiomara cried but I stayed collected and excited, I couldn’t think of anything to say besides I love you. Their faces grew smaller and smaller as we drove away. I could almost hear my heart breaking. I wanted to preserve that moment like one preserves food to keep in case of emergencies. But all I could do was make my heart forget, I never wanted to see them again.
I watched the sun turn orange then purple as we drove on the new road to the airport. The clouds were puffy marshmallows that made shapes if you stared long enough. The houses resembled matchboxes and the people looked like matches, walking straight into their pre-determined fates. Those boxes would protect them until they got struck and lit.
Once we reached the airport I began to feel nervous about leaving. Walter, Xiomara and Raul were all I knew and nostalgia began to surface. That rare feeling of nausea and relief tugged at my intestines. The sound of the jet engines combined with the cool breeze was something to look forward to. I knew I was leaving and I also knew I never wanted to come back.
The innocence of childhood is both a blessing and a curse. Once I found out the gist of how babies were made I convinced myself that my weight gain had everything to do with carrying around Raul’s baby. I was utterly certain. The guilt and disgust that shrouded me was enough to send me back to my tumultuous tantrums. By age 11 I realized that it takes 9 months not 5 years to give birth to a baby; the innocence of childhood.
Church and perversions go hand in hand. My first mutual lesbian encounter happened in church. Melinda and I shared secrets. Our friendship developed out of Mormonism and rape. There were times; since we were well aware of the pleasant feeling of being touched, that we’d caress each other in the dark corners of the church. We’d pretend to go to the bathroom and kiss in the stalls. On weekends I’d go over her house and we’d make up games that would always end up with someone doing something dirty to the other. I never minded though. Her touch was angelic in comparison. I liked our secret. Church took on a whole new meaning after her.
Then one day she was gone. Her parents split up and she ended up moving with her mom. At that point, it was the saddest day of my life.
Thanksgiving and Christmas are probably the only Holidays that matter when it comes to families gathering around a table talking about nothing. Each group sections off and gossips about the other group, while they mingle and laugh, drink and boast about whose kid has better grades and what sister is aging the best. America changes people.
My accent was still thick by age 8 and my cousins made sure to let me know not only how unattractive I was but how foreign I sounded. During these Christmas sleepovers where the whole family would camp out in the living room and the kids would take the bedrooms, I came to know my cousin Diana in a very special way.
I knew where it was going before it even started. I knew she was curious because someone had split open her innocence just like mine had been. I knew that she had waited until I was asleep to approach me, hoping to make the darkness our secret.
I was on the floor trying not to open my eyes when I felt her crawling towards me. I heard her bare legs rubbing against the carpet. When she got close enough to my face I opened my eyes. She stood still and lay down next to me. The warmth of her body felt comforting and foreign. I had never had someone so close to me without it feeling repulsive. The language barrier became our telepathic bridge. We didn’t have to speak to do what we did. I remember thinking if any of the others in the room could hear us, but instead I welcomed the thrill. She wrapped her arm around me and put her hand up my shirt like an expert. I let her do whatever she wanted and asked for the same in return. I mimicked her movements and found great pleasure in finding her out. The silence and silent torture of palpitating hormones was enough to blow me into a million beautiful pieces. I knew it was wrong. I knew that I’d never tell. I knew she’d pretend to forget. I knew morning was coming with its fake sense of renewal. I knew today will never happen again and hated the idea of what drove us to such extremes. It happened to her too I thought…it happened to her too.
All I wanted was to be able to take care of myself. I was 9 years old and felt like I’d been around for ages. I struggled to find my place at school and most days I’d walk around in a fog hoping time would speed its way into adulthood. My body and mind were so awake that school felt like a pastime.
Church consisted of four hours of silent lonely torture. The organ music would make me giggle but my laughter was covered up by the fusion of off-key singing. On one of those obscure Sundays, my mother let me know that starting Monday she was starting a new job and she had found me a babysitter. The very thought terrified me.
When Monday came around my mother picked me up from school and took me to Gerry’s house. “Gerry’s the son of a fellow sister at church”, she said, but I wasn’t listening. I didn’t like Gerry, he made me nervous. They exchanged fake smiles and polite gestures before the door slammed shut. Immediately he changed. He told me to go the garage and stay there; he’d bring me food in about an hour. That feeling of passivity came over me again; did my mom know about Gerry too? Is this another test of strength? I could feel Raul everywhere now. He was always there, lingering in the back of my mind. Now, he had taken another form, was he following me? I heard the garage lock and the smell of paint and oil will forever remind me of those days I spent inside that garage.
In those days I roamed around the garage exploring every corner to pass the time. I’d read Library books and write in my Pink Panther journal. I saw my first Porn magazines in that garage. Surprisingly, I wasn’t shocked. Sex began to take on a neutral feeling for me.
He’d release me about 30 minutes before my parents picked me up and reminded me that he needed the money and to not tell them anything. I was so used to being told what to do that it was easy to pretend. On certain days he’d join me in the garage and jerk off to the magazines in front of me.
It was only on one occasion that he got violent. He pushed me to the floor and began to touch me as he rubbed himself on top of me. I could smell cigarettes on his breath and was strangely not afraid. He came on my clothes and told me to clean myself off; immediately after, he came in with a hot plate of food as a silent apology. I was starving.
As luck would have it, on my 9th birthday I was hit by a motorbike and broke both my ankles. I couldn’t have been happier. I got to stay home and be home-schooled until I recovered. When that accident happened something clicked in me. At home I began to write poetry and read until my eyes bled. My recovery was lengthy only because I prolonged it. Gerry took care of other kids during my absence and was caught by his mother molesting one of them. As soon as the kids parents found out he was arrested and deported back to God knows where. I never saw him again.
I was introduced to him by my mother. He was wearing a pair of cut-off jean shorts, no shirt and turquoise jewelry on his fingers. His skin suffered from vitiligo but it seemed invisible to him. He was radiant, a real angel. His hair was salt & pepper and his teeth were perfect square Chiclets. His garden adorned the house, surrounding it with Floribundas and thorny Snowfire roses. Once you got close enough, you could smell the pungent sweet scent of them.
“You remind me of a Floribunda”, he said.
“Why?” I asked
“Because they never stop blooming”, he answered.
“Come inside, I have something to give you”, he said.
My mother and I followed him inside where the smell of green chile and incense filled the air. The house was smoky and dark, decorated with Navajo art and ancient pictures of what looked like his family. There was an exercise bike propped in front of the television set and a fireplace that looked lonely and ignored. I walked into the kitchen to see him reaching for the bottom drawer pulling out what looked like a box of chocolates. He handed them to me and told me to keep them all. My mother wasn’t very happy about it but thanked him kindly for the gesture.
Candy. I always related candy to Raul. I couldn’t help it; it was a sedative that aided in blocking out disturbing images that crept into my subconscious. Whenever I ate it I instantly left my body, sort of like involuntary astral projection.
Eventually, we moved in with him and those were the most beautiful years of my life. For the first time I learned to trust someone I was left alone with. He relished in teaching me everything he could about gardening and cooking. While my father worked graveyard shifts my mother had a full time job and went to school at night. That gave us time to go to the movies, play golf in the backyard, go for drives in Pasadena, impromptu driving lessons, garden, talk and eat.
Sometimes I think he knew more than he led on. I think he felt my anger and my pain and tried to subside it with mental stimulation. Not once did I feel threatened with him. He was always on the verge of destruction himself, since losing his wife is something he never quite recovered from. Our company was something to look forward to.
On certain Saturday evenings, when Budweiser had gotten the best of him, he’d show us his WWI badges and a rifle he had stolen from a wounded soldier. War was something we also had in common. He had been the soldier I had longed to be.
His house was full of secret hideouts and huge trees. My room led to the backyard and on summer nights when I couldn’t sleep I’d go outside and smell the roses. Oftentimes I’d find him out there, gulping down a beer and looking up to the sky mumbling secret words, hoping to be heard by someone or something. I could’ve sworn he was talking to his wife. Most times I wouldn’t disturb him and would soak in the beautiful blackness of the night.
When the day came my parents found a house, I couldn’t have been sadder. Felix pretended to be enthusiastic but he knew that I knew that he was just as sad as me. His drinking got worse after we left. But he remained our closest friend even after we moved out. On weekends we’d still get together and venture out into Chinatown and eat at Philippe’s hoping to keep alive the connection that had kept him and me sane for so many years.
As I grew older and my demons began to surface, I disconnected myself from him. I couldn’t fathom the idea of having him see a side of me that I knew was coming up for air. Although my trust issues had been somewhat healed by his friendship I still had a lot to figure out inside myself.