I went to Chicago for a week. The purpose was to take the play Growing Up Gonzales out there. It was part of the 1st Chicago Theater Festival. It is also the 1st time I travelled to perform. It’s the 1st time I performed for a crowd that have never heard of me. It’s also the 1st time I perform for a room of High School students. You will always hear me tell you that I ALWAYS get nervous before hitting the stage. ALWAYS!!!!!! I don’t care who I am performing for I always get nervous but when I was told that I was performing for these students it added to the mix. I got super anxious and super nervous. I was automatically brought to my years in High School. How lost I was. How loud and brash I was. How extremely impressionable I was. It was at this age knowing now as an adult that I needed the most light. That it was at this age that I needed the spark of hope to light me up and see that I wasn’t the only one that hurt that way, that I wasn’t the only one born this way, that I wasn’t the only one that searched this way and most importantly that I wasn’t the only one that needed that way.
It was in these memories that I knew that part of this visit to Chi-town was not about me. I knew that when I got to that stage I had to hit it hard. Even though I did hold myself back a bit I knew that this story, OUR story had to be said LOUD and CLEAR. That for the very first time a student was going to see someone of color tell their story, their parents story, their grandparents story. That there was going to be a kid who saw me and said I can. That they had a voice, that they could speak, that they are worth seeing and listening to.
Needless to say after the show I was super emotional. These kids understood. They received what I had just performed, leaving myself raw for them. I was beside myself. I had to hold back from crying. It wasn’t till I got to the hotel that I had quite a sobbing session.
It brought me back to Mr. Butensky, the teacher who wouldn’t let me give up on myself and pushed me to audition for a school that was for the arts. It brought me back to me the kid that never was understood at that age, that my knack for singing and dancing and acting was looked at as being hyper and uncontrollable, not having a safe space to express myself, where I was told that the arts is not really something I should pursue. All that came to me like a ton a bricks that was dropped from the 25th floor. I shook, I trembled and just let it go. Part of this little kid who knew he was different had healed a little more with them. This young kid who had no safe space cried because that part of his story was no longer having to repeat itself. There is a safe space for him now.
It was gratifying afterwards. I found the center of it all and given a recharge and another reason to continue.
I am a 70’s baby, an 80’s teen which means I grew up on total different circumstances. I say this with no intentions of minimizing anyone. Things were absolutely different back then. My mother ruled with an Iron Chankleta and had no area with reprimanding anywhere and in anyway. There was rules and regulations and if not followed there was hell to pay. Mommy was ruthless handing out punishment. Between being punished or beaten mom 99% of the time picked the beating. I was never the kid that ran away from it either. I knew it would be worse if I did. She was very strict in you as a child knowing your lane and enforced it by any means necessary.
Some of those rules was no phone calls after 8. Especially on a school night.
If she told you to be home at a certain time your best bet was to arrive 5 minutes before to avoid trouble.
Whatever was cooked was eaten if you don’t like it you can go hungry. She’s not a chef and she isn’t taking orders.
Don’t shit where you eat and if you did and didn’t tell her and someone else did it’s a double beating. One for you not telling and the 2nd for having to be embarrassed that the neighbor told her.
Then there was the one that affected me the most- when adults are present kids shut the fuck up! As a matter of fact Mommy didn’t believe in kids having opinions let alone voice them. That was never up for discussion. If you didn’t follow that rule there was hell to pay and a serious ass whooping to follow. Her reasoning was simple, if you don’t pay rent or contribute to putting food on the table your words didn’t matter-at all. So I learned very quickly that when I was around adults I was to be very very quiet. I was to find something to play with till a point where the adults forgot I was in the room. You as a child are to be seen, not heard. It was there in those moments and there were many that I stifled my voice. Fear was put in me about what I had to say. I was to be invisible. I didn’t matter on any level and my feelings and what I was going through didn’t have merit! That grew with me well into my whole teen life. No matter what happened or what I went through I believed I had to eat it. I had to stuff it deep inside because no one cared let alone wanted to listen to what I had to say. This didn’t mean I was shy it meant that anything I shared was superficial. The deep stuff was not to even to be whispered. With that way of thinking I felt trapped but it led me to the paper. I remember having diaries and journals as early as 12. It was in those pages that I expressed it all. There was no fear there. In those lines I was able to see it for all it’s worth, it also helped that Mommy didn’t read a word of English. The pages was and still is one of my biggest safe spaces. I wouldn’t find my voice, the one that has something to say, the voice that cannot defend itself. The voice that understands it’s many levels.
I had a great interaction with someone in fb about addiction. Her response conjured up when I was an active addict. The time in my life when I was a heroin and crack addict. I started to remember how I was on them streets. How I had run the streets for weeks on end and find myself in places I would never even think of in my right mind. Then it brought me to the reasons. Why I had medicated myself because the anxiety of living life aa a dark skin gay man and Latino was going to be a challenge. How no matter how I was living life it was going to be a hard pill to swallow. Future was saturated in fear and I was not willing to feel any of it. I was not ready to face life on its own terms. So I ran. I ran to the weed and the coke and the pills and the crack and the heroin. It was much better not to feel in a sense of feeling numb. It was a constant rough merry-go-round.
Through all of this my mother NEVER gave up on me. She knew! There were days that she would look at me and even though she didn’t say anything her eyes had pain. I can tell from the way she looked at me that a part of her was dying. That here she was facing the the possibility that yet another one of her children will die. So many times I didn’t have the guts to look her right in the eyes. Through it all she never stopped praying for me, feeding me a home cooked meal after being gone for days at a time, she never threw me out in the streets. Mommy stood and just watched.
I remember it was 15 minutes to my 26th birthday. I was gone for a week. One of the worst binges ever. I was so high I had actually forgotten it was going to be my birthday. When I realized it I told GOD that if he had a better plan he had 15 minutes to bring me help, show me a sign. 10 minutes later my brother showed up out of no where. I left and have not looked back ever since.
Now what I didn’t know was the back story. That night Mommy was restless and yelled at everyone in the house. She threw everyone out the house because her oldest son was out there and unless he was home no one was going to have one. She prayed to GOD cursing him out and got up to cook because she felt a pull and knew I’d be home. Needless to say I was greeted with a huge plate of white rice, red beans and fried chicken. She hugged me and went back to her sewing machine. It would be almost 15 years after that she would tell me how she never gave up hope. How she would pray and remember words that were told to her about all these things. How this would be pivotal to the finding of myself. That this moment in time was either my death or my rebirth. Mommy never wavered. It was not an option.
In this road called life I would never think of all the things the human spirit can endure and grow out of. The year (2016) has been a year for me of going back. Not backwards but going back to basics. Sometimes one needs to remember what started it all in order to carry with you for the rest of your journey.
The breaking down of self until it felt like I wasn’t going to survive was very necessary. This core of me is serious. Being a recovering addict it doesn’t become easy. Things tend to dig deeper because I claim to live without fear. It was fear all along that always had me in the grips. When I realized it is when it became so serious for me. It traced back to being a kid. The many beatings I received were due to her anger and fear. The molestations I survived were due to their own fear and self-hatred. The teasing I endured was because they were scared of embracing me. This fear coated me till a point it walked with me like a twin.
It stopped me from believing in myself, it stopped me from moving forward in so many things that I found pleasure in. This fear became such a part of me that I carried with it the same things they felt.
In my addiction I was scared of myself, success, my lifestyle, meeting people because I swore up and down that this is a fact and not something that I can perceive differently.
The whole process of finding this fear and identifying it brought anger. Within me I was fuming because fear disguised itself as every other feeling like doubt, procrastination, will and dreaming. It was when I took the risk and ran with the nurturing others gave me that I was able to see it in my head and understand that it was fear that had me in its grips. That fear was the core fear of all my failures in life.
When I confronted fear is when I was able to breathe and look at myself and say I love you, that I looked at my aspirations and went for it no matter the odds, was able to look at everyone for who they were and understand that I have a space. It was looking at fear that I was able to look at friendships and understand that its ok not to be liked by everyone. That trials and tribulations are part of it all with everything in life. It was only when I embraced the fear that I knew I wouldn’t break and couldn’t break unless I allowed it.
So for this year 2017 I embrace it. I don’t allow my fear of acceptance, hurt and wanting allow me not to move forward or miss what is meant for me.
I was always a feminine kid growing up it was the regular reason I always fought. Of course the guys at least the bullies, thought it was ok to taunt me.
My mother fixed that real quick one summer day. She had gotten sick and tired of me going to her crying because someone hurt my feelings. She had witness one of the bully’s hit me. As I was walking to her she turned me right back around and simply stated that either I fought him or she was going to fuck me up. Needless to say I whooped his ass. From that day on I was never taunted without a bruise being inflicted from me.
When I came out to my mother it was no surprise to her. I made sure I graduated High School and had my diploma in my hand to tell her. She grabbed the diploma said congratulations dug into her bra gave me $20 and said she already knew. It was not so dramatic as I thought it would’ve been.
Finding myself as a gay man In the vast labels of what type of gay man I was wasn’t easy for myself or my family. To be perfectly honest I wanted to be a woman till my late 20’s. I didnt understand that being gay was a small part of who I was not everything I was.
Entering recovery is when I left the feminine gay and found enough of myself to know that I had preference. That all that I put myself through and what others had done to me was not necessary and I no longer had to be a Victim to any of it. I embraced being a man. My physical strength, my height, the fact that my mother handed down some great genes made it all the easier for me.
Who I am is a perfectly imperfect gay Rican man. I like me. As a matter of fact I love me. I had to learn again that only I can love myself as necessary. I had to re-learn that this world is not guaranteeing me a damn thing. I will always have to work twice as hard just because I am a gay dark skin Puerto Rican man that is out and proud. I don’t know any other way to be. I was loved from my family from jump start. The hood I grew up in embraced me. I had to fight my way in the hood to be respected so being a fighter was not a choice, I had to be one.
I’m far from perfection. I’ll make mistakes. I’ll hurt over dumb shit but one thing I know for sure I won’t allow myself to fall to a point that I can’t get up. I will no longer allow anyone to be saved from what I have to say for sake of saving feelings and in the process make myself smaller, less heard, uncomfortable. I will not apologize for who I am. I am love to myself and others around me but I understand for the sake of self preservation I make my circle smaller. I cannot be anyone’s rescuer. Not when there will be times in my life that I will have to rescue me. I will continue to be me the only way I know how. This is Ok for me-now. I accept that this life will forever be a journey of relearning, discovering and above all loving me.
With school starting in less than a week and watching people going crazy to get it all before it starts I keep going back to my 1st year in High School. I was the 1st of my mothers children that was going to actually go to school in a complete different borough. By this time Mommy didn’t really understand why nor did she ask. For me it was a dream come true. I was going to take Theater as a major. At the time the T.V show Fame was huge so you can just imagine the impromptu scenarios that ran through my mind. The summer gave me growth. I knew to my core and everyone else around me, that I was gay. Not just gay but loud flaming cunty gay. I had shaved a whole side of my head with the other side cut into a bob. I wore tights and ruffled socks. Everything was a song and a dance. At 5’11 it was hard not to notice me.
I had spent a huge part of the summer in my block hanging locally. I still haven’t gone to my first club. I was not in love. My body was a well lean oiled machine and I had a huge attitude to back it up. By this time I already knew that the world was mean and cruel and that I had to be constantly fighting people that tried to commit bodily harm to me (which was on the regular). I remember the anxiety. I, Andres A.K.A Punky was going to High School in Manhattan. I was going to be in a place where I knew no one. I had no support system. No friends. I was going into a school where everybody dreamed of being the next star on T.V (I couldn’t have been the only one thinking that this school was going to be like Fame)! I can recall walking into the huge school and having a full day of introductions, meeting my theater teachers, walking all the hallways with my eyes shooting all around. Looking and looking and searching and hoping that I would find some type of familiar within those faces. I found none. Yes I could tell that I wasn’t the only gay guy but I WAS the ONLY flamboyant, outspoken, fearless gay guy so I was already looked at with sneers and a lot of side eye. I stood out like a pumpkin in a spinach patch. One thing I knew was that I was going to stay focused and do what I needed to do. This was an opportunity of a lifetime and fear wasn’t going to steal it this time. Needless to say I loved it. I never had to worry about fights or having to quiet myself. Even though through all my 4 years I was still the only flamboyant one. I was loved. It was those High School years that I learned a certain level of acceptance not only about me but of the world itself. I also started to grow as an artist and knew this is what I wanted to be.
It has been 2 years since I brought my mom and dad to live with me. I must say it is not easy but it is doable. To me my mother is an Amazon at her little 4’11 frame. Mommy grew to provide for us. She worked behind a sewing machine 7 days a week doing 12 hours daily. Wether she cried or complained I never heard it. She was a mother to the best of her ability to what she knew which was discipline. She never spared the rod and I’m honest in saying at times abusive. Before she moved in with me I forgave her. Becoming a grown responsible man I understood from my perspective why she was the way she was.
Now having her home with me I have gotten to hear her stories. Her origins as to what made this little woman not only a powerhouse but callous as well. It really helped me hold my mirror and see where I was not only given blessings but also inflicted with dysfunction.
Mommy is in her late 70’s. She is and has always been a jibarita. She is the one that taught me pride in being Puerto Rican. Though she will never ever step foot back into La Isla Borinquén she still loves her country. That to me was something that always puzzled me.
I cook for my parents at least 3-4 times a week. When I do I put on Pandora to the old music like La Lupe, Los Angeles Condes, Tito Rodriguez, Hector Lavoe and Ana Gabriel to name a few. These are artists that I remember hearing when I was a kid and Mommy was cooking and working. One thing I learned is that her short term memory is shot! Mommy doesn’t really remember things from one day to next but her long term memory is intact. When I cook and play these artists Mommy starts to smile and sing these songs word for word. While cooking I glance ever so often towards her and see that she is transported to her youthful times. Times where she had no arthritis and danced and sang nights away. She starts to talk of times before I was born. She goes back to Puerto Rico when she was a little girl. When her cousins made moonshine and used Mommy to pass a hat around to collect money for more liquor. How they used her to test out the batches and she’d find herself at the age of 9 drunk by afternoon, regularly. That’s how her alcoholism became born. She will talk to me of her times before her menstrual, how she ran away from men that her caregiver, her aunt, would pimp her out to clean houses and a little extra so as to make money. Being my mother was orphaned at 7 and had no one to care for her with the best intentions. Mommy would continue to take me down to her memories of how she wasn’t allowed to go to school because she had to clean and tend to the others. That was her reason as to why she never learned how to read and write. Now in her old age it becomes even more clear why this role reversal is happening now in my life and though it gets tough I wouldn’t have it any other way.