Get up. Get ready. And go. That’s the way we always lived life. Never having any time to really stand still, at attention, free, just to enjoy the moment. Other than when we lived in the Rio Grande Valley, and that was just for a couple of years in between getting deported and always hiding from la migra, once we were in the city it was always working for the next paycheck. Without the jobs we couldn’t get the money. Without the money we couldn’t pay the rent or do anything else. Without the rent they were going to put us de patitas en la calle, at the mercy of whatever relative would be willing to take in a complete family of nine. Luckily it never came to that. Who knows how long such a temporary living arrangement could have really lasted.
Instead, the sunlight hit y orale cada quien a lo suyo. My dad running out the door when his ride showed up; my mom finishing up in the kitchen and rushing us all to hurry up and get ready to go to school; my sisters heading out before us, they were in high school and were into fashion and boys by then; then my brothers and I doing the same – well not into boys or fashion, but leaving the Bali Hai apartments by foot también on our way to our elementary school. The only ones who got to stay home were my two younger sisters who weren’t old enough to go to school, and that was when they were lucky. When mamá had to go to work it was over to Doña Pilar or whatever other trustworthy neighbor was around. My sister Linda especially hated this part of growing up. She’d sit there quietly all day, wherever she stayed, not talking much at all and almost always refusing to eat anything until my mother would come home. Still, even she wasn’t as resistant as the baby in the household, Blanca, who rarely ever spent the day anywhere without crying the entire time from the moment my mom walked out of the door until she came back. Even with my older sisters she would throw a fit if mamá was not around.
Fuera lo que fuera, we still needed the extra income and mom had to go to work.
Those times are really quite a blur. Not sure whether that’s because I’ve chosen to block them from my memory or because things were really moving at such a fast pace that my mind couldn’t entirely grasp and record all of them at once. I know we never had the chance to play like we did in the Valley. We didn’t have any sand to kick around. There wasn’t an acre of land at our disposal to discover, to explore, and to grow up in. We were confined to the walls of brick and cement around us. Our playground was our apartment, the property around it, especially in the back of the parking lot next to the garbage can where we all dumped our trash, and the little “tree house” in between the bushes and the fence we’d managed to claim as our own. In truth, it wasn’t really a tree house at all. It was a small open space underneath all of the overgrown tree branches that were falling over around the gate on the other side of the parking lot. We weren’t allowed over there, but we always managed to climb over anyway.
That was the only place we had any true sense of privacy. And even then, once word got out about our “tree house” it wasn’t very private anymore. Other kids started showing up and they needed the time alone, away from everything around them, just as much as we did. It wasn’t the same and I stopped going there all together.
In those days it didn’t seem like so little. We were kids and everything was a new experience to us. A new opportunity to discover something brand new, to make it our own, and somewhere along the way, without our even knowing it, to discover something brand new about ourselves también. We were fearless. Unafraid to fall flat on our faces and get back up; unafraid to be ourselves regardless of what others might think; unafraid to just be a bunch of mocosos finding our own individual places in this life. Try as I have in the years since I’ve never truly managed to be as brave as I was back then. Maybe that’s just what happens when the years start to pass you by? No sé.
The one thing I haven’t lost is the capacity to be that same terco over, and over… and over again.
I’m determined to keep trying. Hope you’re willing to do the same.