Tag Archives: childhood

Bump in the Night

In our tiny efficiency, as I lay in pitch darkness, my eyes remained opened, growing accustomed to the dark. The yellow moon peeked through the window shade. Eerie shadows traveled across the walls and bounced off a tattered chair whenever headlights from cars passed by.

Mama and I shared a narrow bed then. Because my stepdad, Warren had “accidents” in bed at nights, he slept on the opposite one from us. Like the sound of a freight train, his incessant snoring rattled my eardrums. Asleep in her underwear, Mama’s gentle snoring came in spurts. Those sounds became my lullaby in the evenings, lulling me to sleep.

But not tonight.

I was never afraid during the night, but with a sense of foreboding I couldn’t shake off, I got up and propped a chair under the doorknob. Time passed. Thump! The chair toppled over and my heart hammered against my chest. Then I heard the knob turn and the door creaked. The hair on my scalp pricked me.

In the dark, I turned ever so slowly, peering through half-closed lids.

The silhouette of Warren’s weird friend crawled, cat-like, on all fours. He inched his way closer. And closer. Warren snorted and rolled over. El Creepo froze. Then he continued his way toward Mama. His hand reached her leg and started feeling upward . . .

With sheer determination, I hopped up, screaming at the top of my lungs. Like a wild animal caught in blinding light, El Creepo jumped and made a bee line toward the door. He crashed into a chair, tripped over the box fan, and then collided with the dresser before hightailing out. Crying and shaken out of my wits, I turned the light switch and called out to my parents in zombie-land, to no avail. It took a long time before I shut my eyes.

The next morning, I gave a full report. With stupefied faces and mouths agape, they attempted to process my words.

“What?” Mama shrieked. “I didn’t hear anything!”

“Mama, he touched you!”

“How did he . . . ?” Warren stammered.

Mama gave him a dirty look. “The door doesn’t have a lock, you dope, remember?”

“Well, you just wait ‘till I see that jerk again,” Warren hinted, getting up to check the knob.

One may think that this frightening episode caused a rude awakening in my party-animal parents. It changed nothing. Sometimes, I think Mama didn’t know what to do with me. Some days she wanted me close. Other days she didn’t.

Excerpt from Chapter 5 in “Running in Heels: A Memoir of Grit and Grace
© M.A. Pérez 2017, All Rights Reserved

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If I Had Known …

If I had known then what I know now,

I would have stopped the clock and savor every precious moment.

Instead, I found myself encumbered with the daily task of trying to keep afloat in being a mother.

If I had known then what I know now,
I would have frozen time just to gaze upon your little chest, rising and falling with every heartbeat while you slept peacefully in your crib.

If I had known then what I know now,
I would have sung more lullabies while rocking you on my lap, nestled in my arms, given you more kisses, and chased away all nightmares.

I’d have tickled you harder, squeezed you tighter, laughed with you louder, and played silly games with you longer.

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I would have taken more walks in the park, built many sand castles, eaten more ice cream cones with sprinkles, dug for the best sea shells, rode on all the merry-go-rounds, climbed every rock, smelled every flower, played catch more, run through the rain puddles, taken more photos and captured every single moment with you!

I was needed when you were small; you relied upon me then. If I only could now, I would hold you closer still, wipe your every teardrop, chase your every fear, and never let you down.

But the tide has turned, I could only watch from a distance. The sun has set and hidden beyond the horizon. My silent tears serve as a constant reminder that the times are fleeting.
With every hour. Every minute. Every second.

My heart swells with pride to see that you, my children,
have blossomed and matured.

But if I had known then what I know now … I would have done things so much different. I would have hushed the madness with all the hustle and bustle sooner, and cherished those magic moments when you were small; to cradle you in my arms forever and never let you go.

© M.A. Perez, All Rights Reserved

About "Running in Heels: A Memoir of Grit & Grace"

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Filed under Featured, poetry

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

French Toast

A neighbor, a hefty woman with floppy arms, lived alone, and liked children. Whenever I stopped in for a visit, she’d have a treat to offer me. She handed me a large chocolate Easter bunny once, and then asked what I wanted for breakfast.

“French toast!” I sang, bouncing up and down. The neighbor put on an apron and shooed me out of her kitchen with her jiggling arms. 

In the dining room, I sat on a chair with my legs swinging. I got up to stretch. I walked around and traced my hand over a flower arrangement, almost knocking the vase over. My eye caught a candy dish that sat in the center . . .

“Don’t you touch anything,” the neighbor called from the kitchen.

“I’m not,” I replied and returned the purple jellybean that I had licked.

A black cat-shaped clock hung on the wall. I followed the big, moving eyes and long, swinging tail—back and forth, back and forth, tick-tock, tick-tock. I gazed across dusty photo frames that filled the shelves and windowsills and wondered if any pictures were of her as a child. I wanted to thumb through her assortment of worn-out picture books and Life magazines stacked on bookshelves and floor. But I didn’t dare.

The aroma coming from the kitchen made my stomach rumble. I heard her pounding footsteps and raced to sit back down. The neighbor put a plate in front of me stacked with golden-brown French toast. She poured warm maple syrup over the fluffy slices of sweet bread. I knew I never smelled or tasted anything so delicious. My one regret: eating too fast and becoming full too quick. Then I watched, horrified, as she collected my plate and tossed the rest into the trash. I would have brought the rest home to share with Mama and eat later.

(An excerpt from Running in Heels – A  Memoir of Grit and Grace)

© M.A. Perez 2014, All Rights Reserved

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Filed under Food, Memoir

“God, I’m drowning!”

One hot, sticky summer afternoon we thrill-seekers strolled along Haulover Pier. The boys horsed around and dared one another to hop into the ocean, some ten, fifteen feet below. Not only was I skittish about heights, I never learned to swim.No Swimming

The boys jumped in one by one, hooting and hollering, and the girls followed. The one rule: Whoever dawdled – shoved over the side. For the benefit of all who considered me fair game, I gave all nearby a fair warning at the top of my lungs, “I Can’t Swim! Don’t Even Think About It!”

The words were no sooner out of my mouth than when a prankster shoved me over the edge. I careened into thin air and plummeted into the waters below. The deep, turquoise ocean slammed onto my face and chest, the air sucked right out of me. A solitary thought came to mind as I sank into the murky depths:

Not this, again! 

I was seven years old when my new friend, Gina, and her mom invited me to a public pool. Gina’s mom wore headbands and tie-dyed psychedelic tee shirts. Mama had labeled her a “free-spirited hippie.” I thought she knew how to have fun.

Not used to being in the water, I lay contentedly on my stomach along the edge of the pool, watching the others dive and swim.

Behind me, the hushed voice of Gina’s mom urged her to do something. How I envied Gina. She had a mother to encourage her, who enjoyed the pool instead of going out all night and sleeping during the day.

“Go on.” I heard Gina’s mom say, closer now.

Suddenly, thud! Someone shoved me over the edge.

Splash! The cold water slapped me.

The water smacked my face and swallowed me. My mouth, my eyes popped open. I saw underwater for the first time. My nose burned from the chlorine. I pushed and pulled to get air, get air!

I surfaced and tried to gasp out the word help, but water filled my mouth.

A man jumped in and pushed me toward the shallow end. I barely had the strength to hold onto the rail and reach the steps. Weak and trembling from the cold, I grabbed my towel and wrapped it around me.

Gina’s face turned pale, her eyes gawked wide with terror. I plopped down on a chair, too stunned to move, too ashamed to speak. Then I heard Gina’s mom say, “I can’t believe she couldn’t swim.”

Six years later, I still couldn’t.

As I floundered toward the surface, my eyes were burning, my throat raw. When my mouth opened, I gulped more seawater.

Choking!

I couldn’t catch my breath.

God, I’m drowning! Help me!

My lungs screamed for air. My muscles burned. I felt like lead.

So weak . . .

The current swept me farther from shore.

Too far . . .

Suddenly, a pair of hands reached for me. I saw arms. I clawed at them desperately—wildly climbing over the shoulders and heads of anyone brave enough to come near. I nearly drowned my rescuers. After an eternity, someone pulled me until I reached shallow water.

With what strength left, I paddled to shore and collapsed on the beach. The others followed and dropped next to me. Their expressions showed concern.

“That . . . that was close,” Earl croaked, coughing up mucus.

“Yeah,” his brother, John, chimed in. “We thought you were a goner for sure.”

“Man. You nearly took us down with you!” Sandra choked.

“I told you!” I grumbled. “I told you all I couldn’t swim.”

“Man, we didn’t believe you really couldn’t.”

I hated being afraid, feeling out of control.

Determined to overcome my fear of drowning, several months later, I learned to float and dive off the diving board. Although never a strong swimmer, I enjoyed swimming races underwater.

I conquered that fear.

(After having a couple of near drowning incidents – one as a youngster and one in my teens – I’m thankful for God looking out for me and giving me a way of escape. Later in life, I took swimming lessons with my own kiddos.)

An excerpt from Running in Heels – A Memoir of Grit and Grace

© M.A. Perez, 2013, All Rights Reserved

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Metamorphosis

My family was poor. As a child, by not having four-legged friends, I grew an unusual fascination in the behaviors of tiny critters, mainly insects. Curious in what lay beneath the ant piles, I liked to dig apart their colonies to watch the different activities of the workers, the soldiers, and the queen ant that I read about in library books. I never developed a fear of grasshoppers, even if they spat “tobacco” on my fingers, or of handling caterpillars that pricked when they crawled on my hand, or of sneaking up on lizards that left their wiggling tails behind, wondering what the funny red thing on their throats going in and out was all about. My fascination for those critters was a favorite pastime.

Not all school projects were memorable, but I remember one that stuck with me for years. When the teacher assigned a report on any subject, I decided to pick caterpillars. On a large poster board, I drew the four stages of the butterfly: (1) egg, (2) larva, (3) pupa, and (4) adult. I described metamorphosis. Though it wasn’t a Picasso, my work earned a ranking on my school’s hallway wall, posted for all to see, with the highest mark in class: A+.

One sunny day at recess, I found a black woolly caterpillar crawling in the shrubs and gently placed it in my palm. My classmate naturally was curious and asked to see what I held. When I opened my hand to show him, he whacked it so hard that the caterpillar flew out and disappeared onto a bush. And that’s when I morphed! Without hesitation, I slapped him on the face, hard. The boy stood stunned, mouth opened.

As an adult, I often thought about the word metamorphose. It means to change completely in nature or form.

I think about how alcohol deceived my loved ones, giving them a false sense of reality. After drinking, like the caterpillar many years ago in my book report, they metamorphosed into social butterflies fresh out of its cocoon. They felt invincible, glamorous or intelligent. Gone were the restraints that crippled them emotionally. They carried a false sense of bravado. It was then that they laughed wildly, conversed freely, and flirted openly.

The more attention and compliments they received from others, the less they knew the difference between genuine praise and mere flattery.

(A small excerpt from Running in Heels – A Memoir of Grit and Grace ).

© M.A. Perez, 2013, All Rights Reserved

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June 26, 2013 · 10:20 PM