Monthly Archives: May 2014

Heaven, Hell or Hoboken – Part II

1965

Out in Jersey’s bitter cold, the moon full, the trees rustled. Mama and I spent half the night shivering, huddled together on a bus bench—my head on her lap.

“M-Mama,” my teeth chattered. “I’m cold.”

“I am too. Now stay still.”

“But I’m hungry.”

“I know, Mary. Close your eyes. That bum. Where is he?”

We would have frozen if a kind woman hadn’t invited us up to her place to sleep on her sofa overnight.

Whenever Mama cornered Jimmy in a bar, drinking his pay away, after bickering over dinero, she’d remain with him. If I happened to be around, they sent me away, or Mama left me at home by myself. It saddened me how she preferred being with him than with me. Often they’d stagger home and pass out in a stupor. Only then did the arguments cease and the fights end.

More often than not, I’d gone to bed with the sound of my stomach rumbling. Mama and Jimmy routinely barged in from a night of carousing.

“Mama, I’m hungry,” I mumbled, rubbing the sleep from my eyes.

“Why are you awake?”

“Can you fix me something to eat?”

“Oh, for goodness sake. It’s late.” She turned on the hotplate to fry a hotdog. A few minutes later, she’d have one for me rolled inside a slice of bread. “Here. Sit up.”

“Fix me one, too,” Jimmy demanded.

“Hold your horses,” Mama snapped.

As soon as I finished, I laid back down, my eyelids heavy. Eventually, the bright lights in the room faded. My parents’ fussing drifted away as sleep overtook me, but not before hearing familiar sounds. A can popping open. Cursing. A slap. Sobs.

Unsure as to why, one evening Jimmy overturned the bed that Mama and I slept in. We tumbled onto the hard floor. As Mama struggled to rise, Jimmy pulled her by the arm and shoved her into a windowpane. Jimmy became aware of my presence and after he flipped the bed upright, he ordered me back into it. I faced the wall sniffling until I fell asleep.

The next morning, I awoke to the sight of a blood-spattered Mama hobbling on crutches. I ran to help her.

“Mama, what happened?”

“It’s nothing, Mary. Stop crying! I tripped, that’s all.”

I couldn’t help to wonder, Why did she think I didn’t know anything?

I knew some things. I hid loose change and planned to save enough money to take care of Mama one day. In my childish mind, I knew that one day we were going to live in a big house, have plenty to eat, and Mama wouldn’t ever have to worry again.

That afternoon I heard cursing and knew it wasn’t good. A rattling sound carried around the wall like something whirling in a container. Then to see Jimmy shaking my pink, plastic kitty-bank upside down in mid-air, my pennies, dimes and nickels clattering onto the floor, made me weak and sick inside.

I followed the coins that rolled under a chair and dove for them. I looked up, my eyes darting between Mama and Jimmy hoping she’d do something. Mama called him a “jackass,” but that didn’t stop him. He couldn’t care less that I knelt there sobbing. He expressed zero shame as he scooped the scattered change into his pocket. My coins.

Later, Mama told me that Jimmy was just thirsty and to stop sniffling. “He’ll return the money soon enough,” she said. I knew that wasn’t true.

On my knees, I gathered up the broken pieces of my kitty-bank. With no more tears left, I seethed, thinking, maybe Mama can take care of herself. And maybe I’ll never talk to her again. Or to Jimmy. And maybe I’ll run away . . . to my real daddy.

(Excerpt from  Running in Heels – a continuation of Part I)

© M.A. Perez 2014, All Rights Reserved

 

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May 28, 2014 · 7:20 PM

Memorial Day Tribute

Freedom isn’t free.

 

 

 

My 19-year-old grandpa, Florentino Mendez – 1916

 

 

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Please take a moment to remember those who gave their time and even their lives fighting for the freedom we have each day. God bless America.

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May 22, 2014 · 10:10 PM

Into the Shark Tank – Part Two

An hour later, reluctantly, I arrived at the clinic holding the door open, ushering the girls inside. I noticed there were no other kids or parents scheduled at the same time as we were. I wondered if they had opened just for us. I rang the bell at the counter, took a questionnaire to fill out, and plopped in a chair. My girls busied themselves exploring their surroundings, investigating all the toys and books a-plenty.

The waiting room was kid friendly but cold like a funeral home. Cushioned chairs lined the walls plastered with billboards regarding child safety laws. Small toys scattered on the gray linoleum, bookshelves crammed with picture books and stuffed animals. A small fish tank rested on the counter, and a yellow Legos table sat in the middle of the room. Above the sign-in window hung a large round clock.

I wanted to flee but rang the bell again.

A petite, white-coated woman emerged behind the counter. She looked odd wearing glasses too large for her narrow face, with an over-exaggerated smile as wide. She held a clipboard in her hand and glanced down, skimming the pages.

“The gangs all here?” she inquired.

I nodded. “Yep.”

“Right on time. I will be calling your girls one by one to go into the examining room.”

“Do I get to go in, too?” I asked.

She answered with a phony grin.“Won’t be necessary.” Then, she turned and called in a sing-song voice, “Anna?”

She and Anna Marie disappeared behind the door. I glanced at the clock.

I flipped through pages of a magazine. Diana tossed a picture book on my lap she wanted me to read. Glad to occupy some time, I made up the words and pretended to read to her.

Minutes passed before Ms. White-Coat with her fake smile and tone returned. Anna Marie skipped by, chewing gum and joined her sisters.

“Diana. You’re next,” Ms. White-Coat chirped. Diana glared at her suspiciously, but when White-Coat produced a piece of candy, Diana’s face lit. They vanished behind the door.

My mind scrambled as I paced.

What questions are they asking Diana? She won’t understand nor will be able to answer properly. They’ll trick her or have her to repeat whatever they want her to say. What if they ask if her Mommy ever spanks her? Or takes things away? Or sends her to her room?

I wanted to drill Anna Marie about what Ms. White-Coat had asked, but feared the room might be bugged.

I stared at the clock, unseeing. The tick-tock of the second hand turned. I peered out the curtain and watched an ant crawl along the windowsill, carrying a big crumb in its mouth, too heavy of a load for such a tiny thing. Like I sometimes felt.

Diana wasn’t kept long. The door burst open, and she scampered out with a balloon in her hand and a grape BlowPop in her mouth. I smiled. She’s no dummy; she got what she wanted. I hope Diana gave Ms. White-Coat-Goodie-Two-Shoe a run for her money.

“Okay, I guess we were finished anyway,” she said out of breath. “That leaves you, my dear. Angela, right?”

My baby girl held onto my leg shielding her face. “Mommy, no,” she pleaded.

“It’s okay, Angela. Mommy will be right here waiting,” I said.

White-Coat held a doll and in her ever-so-fake-sweet voice coaxed my daughter to going in with her.

Once the examination finished, another woman came out to talk with me. She introduced herself with a last name I couldn’t pronounce. I read her name tag: Gretchen. She told me that the physicals went well. The tests came out clean and she saw that my girls were happy and that I cared for them. Yet, account of our history of alcohol and violence, she deemed our home an unsafe environment for the girls.

Here it comes. I held my breath and stared at the floor.

“We understand your dire straits; however, due to your present condition”—I cradled my belly— “and financial situation, you have expressed you haven’t any other place to go. For this reason, we must remove the girls from the home today into a more stable and suitable environment.”

A wave of nausea washed over me.

She rambled on. “Before the girls can return home, you must provide a safe place for them to return to, or . . . your husband moves . . . .”

Lost in my thoughts, my mind spun; her voice faded in and out.

“. . . recommendations . . . ,” “. . . counseling . . . ,” “. . . seek professional . . . ,”
“. . . proper care . . . ,” “. . . unfit . . . ,” “. . . temporarily . . .,” “. . . so sorry . . . .”

Stability, I thought. Where were these jokers when I was a kid?

My baby kicked. I went back to the waiting area, feeling light-headed.

“Girls, Mommy has to go away now.” On bended knee, at eye level, I struggled to control my queasiness and hide the devastation in my voice. This is the darkest day of my life!

“You will be staying at another place for a short time . . . until you can come back home again. . .” I felt my composure slipping, and didn’t want to say too much and alarm them.

“You’ll have fun.” A tear escaped my eye. “Remember, Mommy loves you so much. . .” I felt I might freak out at anytime, bawl in front of them and never stop.

“Give Mommy a kiss. Mommy will see you again soon. I promise.”

Anna Marie focused more on the toys in her hands than in what I struggled to convey. She nodded when I gave her a kiss and a tight squeeze. Diana repeated, “Bye-bye,” hugging her balloon instead of me.

But my two-year old Angela, clung to me tightly. She wouldn’t let go and began to cry hard. Somehow, she understood. She felt my pain.

After kissing and hugging the girls, I trotted away as quickly as possible, leaving them behind with a CPS worker. Sobbing in the elevator, I couldn’t breathe. My heart ripped from my chest. Seeing black spots, vigorous waves thrashed about in my head. I felt like a drowning child again, greedily grasping for air; only this time, CPS sharks encircled me, and I, the bait.

I was five-and-a-half months pregnant. I cradled my belly, holding my unborn child in the safety of my womb. They won’t take this one away from me!

I numbly attended a brief court session and had to consent to relinquish temporary custody of my daughters to foster care. I went through the motions of that ordeal alone, but remembering the details afterward remained a blur. When I arrived home to the empty apartment, the quietness jarred me. I imagined my girl’s chatter and giggles. My head echoed in what a failure I was. Hadn’t God given me three innocent beauties to care for? My own heart felt like I’d surely die from brokenness. And guilt.

“Where are the girls?” Donny demanded after he came home and looked around.

“Where do you think they are?” I growled. The look of shock on his face drove me onward, with rage. Before he uttered another word, I lashed out, “CPS took them so they can be someplace safe. They have a right to a healthy, normal childhood I never had. You’re not going take that away from them!” I ran from his sight, locked myself in the bathroom and bawled my eyes out.

“Mary, come on,” Donny pleaded. “Whatever it takes, we’ll get them back.”

He almost sounds like he cares. “Go away.”

“You’re going to get yourself sick. I promise I’ll make it up to you.”

“Leave me alone.”

“You’re going to have to come out sooner or later.” His voice trailed away.

“I can’t stand you!” I shouted.

But I hated myself even more.

(Although more in the book, this completes the excerpt from Chapter 32 “Running in Heels – A Memoir of Grit and Grace.” To read Part One of this chapter go here. In posting this for you my readers, the emotions of those three dreary months as a young struggling mother were one of the hardest I’d ever gone through. Prayer sustained me. God’s Grace got me through.)

© M.A. Perez 2014, All Rights Reserved

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A Mother Too, Yet Still My Baby

My dear daughter, I’ve watched you blossomed, married, and have children. Throughout those years, the depth of your eyes tell their own story — stories of joy … sadness … pain … love. I remember the moments when I walked similar paths, the ups and downs of yesteryear. But I’m stronger today than yesterday. And so you shall be.

Daughter, I am proud of you and your love for your children. You are a nurturing, giving, selfless mother, quick to forgive and never too busy for hugs. I just want you to know you’re doing a fine job. And I love you.

 

859706_411421335616858_1502809745_o(1)My beautiful baby girl, Angela, with her precious baby girl, Grace. Little did we know that Grace would undergo open-heart surgery just a few weeks later.

 

2062_1069677830018_9279_nLook at me now! God’s miracle at 2  1/2 months old

 

2062_1069581387607_1458_nThree-year-old Grace with her big brothers Christopher and Ryan.

 

1505326_598063350285988_1232425556_nMy daughter’s pride and joy.

 

705261_472248182867506_763032076_oAngela, you did phenomenal! Thank you for my precious grandchildren.

 

© M.A. Perez 2014, All Rights Reserved

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Filed under motherhood

Into the Shark Tank – Part One

Tired. Bone tired.

At Rice Food Market, on my feet six nights a week, I worked the cash register, sacked and lifted heavy brown sacks loaded with groceries from 5 PM until closing at midnight. By the end of my shift, my feet swelled. My back ached. But the job provided health insurance, and a six-month maternity leave with pay. This was an answer to my prayers; God had provided.

I normally didn’t get home until one in the morning. To my good fortune, I worked directly across the street from our apartment on Bissonnet. A teenage neighbor watched our daughters for a couple of hours and fed them before my husband arrived home. I’d leave work at break time to check in on him and the girls in the evenings.

Too often, I’d find my husband draped across the couch out cold.

“Donny . . . Donny . . . .” I stood over him shaking his arm. “Dammit Donny, wake up.”

“What? I am awake!” he spat, and turned over.

“You’re supposed to put the girls to sleep before passing out. Remember?”

“Theyrslumppnng . . .”

“What—? You make me sick!”

I stormed away to check in on my sleeping angels. Before I opened their door, I heard whispering and giggling coming from the kitchen.

I never imagined how I’d find my girls entertaining themselves. On the floor amidst my pots and pans, they sat with the refrigerator door open. Five-year-old Anna Marie pretended to cook. She mixed her sisters a concoction of whatever she found in the fridge: raw eggs, ketchup, Pepto-Bismol, mayonnaise, grape jelly—and Lord knew what else—stirred in for good measure. I got home in the nick of time. Good Lord, I think I even smell beer in the mixture!

I wanted to quit work. But I needed to hold on for those maternity benefits.

A few nights later, I discovered the two youngest girls precariously hanging out the window of our second-story apartment—fearlessly leaning on their bellies, legs flaying in mid-air—my heart swelled in my throat. Concerned for their safety, I didn’t want to frighten them or have them keel over the windowsill. And I happened to be extremely skittish of heights.

¡Calmete! I told myself. You don’t want a repeated episode of having your baby early. I held my breath. I snuck behind them, grabbed them and pulled them in.
For me to repeatedly find the girls unsupervised and unattended became too much to bear. They deserved better. They didn’t need to see their father’s belligerent drunkenness. They didn’t need to hear their parents fighting, name calling, and screaming. What they needed and deserved, was a non-hostile environment—a safe refuge—filled with love, security, and self-esteem. And as their parents, we failed to give them that.

I imagined what our neighbors thought about us whenever uproars detonated through the walls from our apartment.

One evening I found out.

A couple of police officers knocked on our door. I wasn’t too surprised, but by then, all was calmed. Donny, in a drunken coma, had passed out.

The cops noticed I’d been weeping; however, I hadn’t any visible bruises on me. I never pressed charges against my husband before. Call me stupid. But I wasn’t going to then either. After some specific questioning, they gathered that I needed help. They asked if the girls and I had any place else to go or relatives close by. Naturally, I thought about fleeing to Miami, but even if we were to get there, then what?

Seeing our substandard living conditions, they handed me a Child Protective Services’ calling card. They strongly advised I take the girls in for a routine medical examination in the morning. How many times had my mother dealt with them when I was a kid? I knew nothing embodied “routine” when CPS became involved.

Early the next day, I bathed and dressed my girls in their prettiest dresses. I silently brushed their hair in pigtails, making ringlets with my fingers. I listened to their chatter, blinking away tears, and savored the moment to admire their beauty and uniqueness.

“Mommy, where we goin’?” Angela asked. “Put dis ribbon in my hair.”

“Lookie, Mommy, I can tie my shoes.” Anna Marie grinned.

“Ouchie! Don’t pull my hair, Mommy.”

“Balloon?” Diana asked, thinking we were going to the store.

“Mommy, are you sad?”

“Your tummy is gettin’ big again, Mommy.”

A few hours later, heartbroken and devastated, I was silently praying for their quick return.

(To be continued.)

This is a short excerpt from “Running in Heels – A Memoir of Grit and Grace,” Chapter 32. In this snippet, I reflect back to a time when my role as a young mother wasn’t so easy. With Mother’s Day soon approaching, I felt it was appropriate sharing this with you.

© M.A. Perez 2014, All Rights Reserved

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Filed under Memoir