Desiree Lopez Feliciano INGL 3231-086 Dr. Ellen Pratt September 2, 2008 My Leaving and Coming Back Story My parents divorced when I was three years old. I was living in an Air Force Base in New Mexico with my mom, dad, and older sister Alex when my parents decided they weren’t going to be together anymore. My dad wasn’t usually around much. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why I was always so happy to see him. It hurt me when he soon moved into an apartment across town where my sister and I would only visit him on weekends, because it meant that I would be seeing him even less than the already sparse amount. We would all lie on his bed listening to his rock tapes since there wasn’t room to really play anywhere for all the boxes and clutter around. We really didn’t care that the apartment was cramped or messy; we just missed him so much that we were completely satisfied just being with him. My mom soon met another Puerto Rican man, whose nickname was Papo.
married mommy in a flurry (that’s another story), and moved us all to Puerto Rico when I was four, which I was really excited about. I got to fly in not just one but three different airplanes, watching the clouds loom in and out of the small field of vision that the tiny oval windows of coach class afforded us, seeing the land disappear so far below into an undistinguishable gray mass, and at my tender fours years my mind was so overwhelmed by all this that it didn’t even think to remember about how I would now be permanently separated from my actual father, my Daddy, who it seems I was always separated from,
and who it turned out I’d only get to see from then on about once a year at most. It’d be an entirely different living situation, I knew, but it was something I was willing to get used to. My mother had two more daughters after that: my half sisters Christina and Natalia. Yet as the years went by and even though I loved the new additions to my family very much and thoroughly enjoyed living in the sunny paradisiacal town of Aguadilla, I still missed my father dearly. After living without him for four solid years my older sister and I eventually told mom we’d like to live with him for a while, back in the States where people spoke English and daddy would let me play on his computer as much as I wanted, I was sure. Mommy and Papo were sad, of course. I remember mommy crying a lot, which made me and Alex cry, too, but as soon as daddy and his fiancée drove up to our house and loaded our big leather suitcases into his air-conditioned rental car, our tears were forgotten and we were soon on our way, and though I disliked leaving everyone behind I somehow still didn’t fully comprehend how far it really was from there to where daddy lived, and how long it’d be before I would get to see mommy and everyone again, and that even if I did come back, things would never ever be exactly the way they used to be. So, when I was eight years old, I moved to the congenial state of South Carolina, where my father welcomed my sister and me to his cozy wooden home in the small, southern, rural town of Newberry where he lived with his soon-to-be second wife and her mother. It was an exhilarating experience, to board yet another airplane that would soon be flying me right into the middle of another entirely different living situation: new family members, as I had never before met my father’s fiancée Donna or her mother Bernice, whom we affectionately called Boo, before I had moved in with them; new
friends, that I’d be meeting in my new neighborhood and new elementary school; new weather, because in South Carolina it snowed in the winter, and I had been especially excited when I considered this. I often thought of my mother and younger sisters and was eager to call them at least once a week to tell them about all the new things I was experiencing, but I was too excited about my new life to miss my old one much. That was when I was eight. Four years passed and now I was 12 years old. I had now been living in South Carolina for almost four years, the last two of which I had spent as the only child in the house, my older sister having never really learned to adapt to our new life and having moved back to Puerto Rico two years prior. I, on the other hand, was completely situated in my life in South Carolina. I wasn’t in touch with any of my old friends from the school I attended in Puerto Rico. I had new friends that I had so much in common with. I loved being in middle school. I loved being in seventh grade, where we were older than the sixth graders but still had all the good looking eighth grade boys around to swoon over. I loved my father, who had raised me somewhat in his own footsteps, and I eagerly absorbed every fact he taught and book he shared, as well as my step mom and her mother, whose company I greatly enjoyed and with whom I now had so many great memories. I loved being where I was. I played bassoon in the school band. I was on the Academic Bowl Team. I went to an awesome Church. I had my own room! There was opportunity for me to do absolutely anything that I aspired for. Why would I not want to live that life? And yet, I didn’t feel complete. I knew that there was something that I was neglecting. But what would I change about my life, if anything at all? I didn’t have to struggle for an answer: my family, of course. I still spoke to my mother, step dad, and
sisters regularly, but how long had it been since I had seen them? How long since I had been around my sisters, played with them, squabbled with them? How long had it been since I stopped calling mom Mommy? My younger sisters were growing up without my noticing, especially the youngest who had only been months old when I had left. Now she could walk and talk and everything, and was even about to start pre-school, and she didn’t even remember me, didn’t even know me. I missed them dearly, though I was too caught up in the new life I had formed around myself that I didn’t even want to think about going back like my older sister had. It’s cool, I often told myself. You talk to them all the time. You’re fine where you are. Why change that? Daddy and Donna love you. Isn’t that enough? I had been separated from my dad for nearly my whole life. I loved being with him! It still felt much too soon to end it. I finally decided that I needed to be with my sisters and family in Puerto Rico in December of 1999. The Y2K hysteria was at its peak, as the new millennium came closer and closer to its advent. Sleepy Hollow was a box office favorite, and one could overhear appraising murmuring about it in the hallways at school at any given hour. The weather was crisp and cold; everyone was feeling the holiday spirit, excited at the possibility of snow being so close and yet still seeming to elude us even as the holiday season came and we were all finally sent home for Christmas vacation. In the days leading up to the 25th I spent much of my time in a contrary mood, sorrowing over my dilemma, of how I missed my family in Puerto Rico more and more every day, but how I also loved my family in South Carolina. I kept myself busy as I weighed the pros and cons to myself over and over again by making large paper snowflakes that hung from my
ceiling and adorned my walls; white to reflect the wonder of the winter season outside, but also blue, which seemed to reflect the blues I could not hide that was inside my heart. In the South, Country music is kind of a big deal, and I remember that Garth Brooks was having a special on TV the night before Christmas. I didn’t care for Garth Brooks much, but I decided to sit in at least for the grand finale of the show, where my dad, step mom, and grandmother watched it with the lights off in the master bedroom where my parents slept. I mostly just listened to Donna and Boo’s animated commentary during the performances, where they talked about the dancers, the Tree, the lights, and Garth’s career in itself. As the final song came to a close, however, they all fell silent to hear his words as Garth officially announced the end of the special. “Merry Christmas, y’all, and I hope that y’all get to spend it with your families.” It was a very memorable speech, but I wasn’t particularly interested and politely excused myself from the room. I was a little perturbed about those final words. I think that’s why I left the room. It felt eerie that Garth would say such a thing, though in retrospect I know that it was just the polite thing to say, and people in the South do take their families very seriously. I also recognized that my step mom and grandmother had registered those words in them as well, and I now dreaded telling them how I really wanted to spend the rest of the Christmas season with the other half of my family, knowing that now they’d be even more set on my spending it with them. I decided to tell them about my decision the day after Christmas. My intention was to convince them to let me move back to Puerto Rico before the spring semester started in January, so I had to act fast. The distance from my room to my parents’ room was only a few steps; the rooms were right across from each other in the hallway. I had
passed Boo in the hallway in a sweet white cardigan she often wore.
affectionately to me as she passed me on her way to the living room, which didn’t make things any easier. I really didn’t want to make Boo sad. I knew they were all going to be. I knew they were going to be upset and obstinate. I was sad. I was upset. But I too was obstinate. I missed my mom and I wanted to grow up with my sisters. I wanted them to grow up with me. I had thought about this and decided this. After spending four years away, I sincerely felt that somehow, even though I knew it was nearly going to kill me, and that I’d be leaving behind everything I had worked so hard on for the past four years, it really was time for me to go back. When I reached my parents’ room that evening, I still wasn’t sure how exactly I was going to say what I wanted to say. I walked into the room and stood awkwardly in the doorway while I attempted to gather my thoughts. My dad was getting ready for work and had donned his green v-neck hospital scrubs.
I watched him strap on his velcro
sandals that he often wore with thick grey socks in cold weather. Gosh, the only person I know who actually wears socks with sandals, I thought to myself. Donna was there too, folding some towels she had freshly pulled out of the drier. Donna’s washed towels again? She’s a little O.C.D. with towels, I thought to myself with an inward chuckle. I was glad she was there. That way, I figured, they would both hear it straight from my mouth and there would be no need for repetition later. I wanted this to be brief, like ripping a band-aid off of a wound. I’ll just say it, I decided. What did I say that night? I was too distraught to remember, though I’ll never forget the feelings that wove into and out of every word spoken that night. “We sure wish you’d think about it,” Donna insisted after I thought I had just reassured them that I
was aware of the gravity of my decision. “We don’t want you to go! You was the baby!” She did often think of me as a baby, which is why she often spoke to me with that kind of broken grammar. I knew it was out of affection, but at this moment it was very annoying to me. I wanted to be thought of as an adult, or at least as a reasonable, cohesively thinking human being.
I knew they thought I had made the decision on a whim,
especially after Donna began mentioning the Garth Brooks special, which further confirmed it for me. “I think that it was what they said in the Christmas special last night. Was it what Garth Brooks said, about spending time with your family, that made you want to go?” “No,” I snapped, “it wasn’t that. I had already been thinking about it for a while.” I knew at this point I was getting more upset than I should have, so I decided to drop the subject and begin one that was a little less frustrating. I had said what I meant to say, though, and as upset and indignant as I was I was also relieved that at least they knew how I felt. As long as they didn’t think that I didn’t love them, or worse, that I was betraying them, I’d get over my momentary huff and be okay. My father didn’t say anything. He reserved his comments for the weeks and months to follow, not allowing me to leave so soon but still holding me to my word and working to make sure that I had really meant it. And I held to it. I had meant it, and I meant for them to see this. I was still tortured with the knowledge that I’d leave them behind, my new family that I had shared and learned so much with, the friends I had come to hold close to my heart, the hopes and plans I had for the future I thought would be there in South Carolina. But I was sure this was what I wanted. I was now old enough to realize what a pivotal decision it would be for me to leave and start over somewhere
else on the eve of my puberty, that many unexpected changes would occur, and that living in Puerto Rico really was very different from where I was now living and what I remembered from when I was eight. My father made sure I knew this, and my realizing that I didn’t need for him to teach me this was admittedly exhilarating. My last night in my bed in South Carolina, I cried myself to sleep. I was a little scared at the prospect of leaving and starting over. What would my family in Puerto Rico be like now that so much time has passed? What would my new school be like? Would I regret leaving? Would my friends forget about me? I guess I was a lot scared. I didn’t want to leave Donna and Boo either. They had always done everything they could to treat me like their own daughter and love me as such, and I had always greatly appreciated that. But it hurt me the most when I saw my dad’s face smiling at me as he left me at the terminal to enter the plane by myself. My Daddy, who I had been without for so long and whom I’d now be leaving once again. “I love you, baby” is what he said to me as we gave our final embrace in the airport, and I worked with all my might to emulate the smile that I saw him give me when I knew he was hurting inside just as much as I was. And then I was alone, entering the cabin, finding my seat, stowing my belongings, and waiting for the plane that would fly me into yet another different living situation to start all over again. I hurt. But I was also happy. This was a big decision, a good decision, that I had made all by myself, and I didn’t regret it. I liked that. I couldn’t help but wonder though, what was life going to be like for me now? That’s also another story.