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.
I never considered myself broken till I heard the term.
I considered myself lost and not complete but never broken.
Lost because I just didn’t know how to find my way, how to coordinate through all the tough and ugly things that had happened to me. Lost in a world and at a time where being me was not a popular idea, it was considered mental illness, there was a demon stuck in me, I had no right to walk let alone talk. I didn’t know where Togo let alone turn to.
I know I wasn’t complete because as I grew up I noticed that I had gone through a lot of stuff at an age that others didn’t even know existed. I knew that I had missed so much in between. I knew that because I had rape and molestation happen to me I accepted things that on the norm no one did.
I knew that I misunderstood violence and being hidden away as a form of love. I didn’t know that love was supposed to be saturated in kisses. I was actually shocked that I knew sexual intrusion before what a kiss was. It was within those years of those horrific acts that I convinced myself that I was ugly, that I can only be accepted if I gave of myself no matter what, that to be loved was to be the sacrificial lamb.
It would take years before I found myself. It would take an addiction that would leave me barren, empty and bare for me to build myself from nothing and develop a sense of inner home. I have not looked back ever since. I’m not saying nor do I want to make it sound easy- it was far from that. The battle I had with fear was incredible. It was etched soooo deep within my being that I didn’t even know it was there. It moved into my aspirations, my love life, my friendships, my job and even my writing. I had to look it in the face and just PUSH! I had to stand up knees buckling and just go through it. I have come to terms that I will ALWAYS be a work in progress. That there will be days that I have it all well and then there are days that are riddled with anxiety and doubt. There are days that I will not be brave and that fear crawls in and tries to shake me that I can’t even cry and then there are those days that nothing can stand in my way. I move and walk in such truth and confidence that it feels indestructible. I am human and that is the beauty of it all. This journey will continue to beat me, stretch me, ignite me, push me and most of all help me live and grow. So I may be broken but mendable. I might be lost but I’ll find my way. I may not be complete but I’ll definitely create wholeness within these fragmented pieces.
My life becomes a memory through music. It was something that was around at all times. It dictated how we dealt as a people. It let me know what mood the house was in so that I knew how to deal. It was music that was played allowing my family and friend to cope with tragedy by either soaking in it till it was left in the lyrics and tears or helped to cope till it became fond memories until we were laughing.
In doing my writing music has not only become integral it has become essential. I sit with pen and paper (yes old school) and just let the radio play. I prefer my 90’s and freestyle. Once the songs start it is a ride. What’s funny is that the memories are optional. Not a guarantee that it will all be shits and giggles.
Freestyle brings me to the pinnacle of my youth before tainted by heavy drugs. I start to remember those crushes on the guys, some I let know and some not at all. Oh lord I was such a romantic fool. To believe that I thought that the way the movies depicted it was correct. Lol yeah I’ll wait for that! Freestyle reminds me of the clubs in NYC like 1018, Devil’s Nest, The Underground, Red Zone and Palladium. All clubs are now non existent but those places were home for a few years. Dancing the night away and battling till there was no more sweat to give. Remembering every nuance and beat change to these records that would sometimes be 5-9 minutes long. While dancing letting go of the hurt, the ostracizing, the constant need to be strong when I wanted to break. Reminds me of times where my friends were my family. We were inseparable. I truly believe I was so saved by these friends who by the way are still in my life. We bonded over tough times. Each of us lost within our own life but still tied with each other. Music is the string that sewed our spirits together.
There was house music this is what people now call dance music. It was this music that pounded the drums where the songs spoke of the times we were living in. It was in those lyrics that I was able to feel my soul. Hours would pass and my feet were in constant rhythm. We kept dancing till we got lost to places where there were no color lines, there was us, the music and that hard wood floor. We turned, jumped, shook, screamed into battles. Music is my soundtrack. I wouldn’t know where to be without it.
The heartbreaks I went through and only Mary J Blige could explain. There was overjoyed laughing when Missy Elliott took over. When I needed to feel close to spirit the amazing songbirds Teena Marie, Aretha Franklin, Barabara Streisand, Diana Ross placed me in my feelings so I could grow. I can’t imagine life without music.
Freestyle was my crush and love heydays. Noel, The Cover Girls, Corina, Sa-Fire all spoke of summer love and unrequited love. It rejoiced in high school crushes and long friendships with benefits. It brings wonderful memories of Brooklyn and the unity before gentrification. It was freestyle that started my beginning to my entertaining career. It is now in writing my 2nd book that I use music as the soundtrack to my life.
Wednesday found me home curled up watching an episode of “Being Mary Jane”. There was this scene that after she got into the car crash she was in the hospital and she looked pretty messed up. Her best friend was in the room awaiting for her to enter the room. It was that particular scene that it all came back to me. I was 16 yrs old and my sister Gladys was just admitted into the hospital. She had undergone a procedure and Mommy wanted to make sure that we were there. When we entered mommy went straight to the nurses station. I overheard them mentioning the room so I left. When I entered the room Gladys wasn’t there. I looked real quickly and heard her in the bathroom. I sat down and patiently waited for her to finish. I remember the whole time on the train nervous to see her. Gladys and me were very close. Where ever she went I was there. So you can just imagine how high my anxiety was sitting in that chair waiting to see my sister. When Gladys came out I can tell she was crying. We looked at each other and I gave her a kiss and a hug. I sat on the bed and she went to the mirror. She started to cry again and started to speak in between sobs. I couldn’t really make out what she was saying because she was swollen from the operation they did. Then she looked at me from the mirror and said “Look what they did!” At that moment she took a big inhale and half her face sunk in. She started balling and I recalled how at that very early age I learned to keep that frozen face. The same expression I learned to have with my abusers.
I also knew that my sister would never be the same. This took out a huge blow out of her! It was also the deterioration of her, my hero, my Wonder Woman.
Mommy was ruthless! She was a tiny woman but ruled her house with an iron fist. It was easy to get fucked up in my house because mommy gave no breaks and took no shit, not just from her kids but by anyone. Once she handed out the beating it was followed with a- “And don’t go telling people that I beat your ass. Lo que pasa aquí no se habla!” She was a huge practitioner on loose lips sink ships! She never believed in talking family business no matter how tragic in public. Well #1 she thought nobody gave a shit. #2 all people wanted to be is nosey and gossip. #3 it really wasn’t anyone’s fucking busy. So regardless how private she was people still asked about me to her. Why my hands were so loose? Do you notice Rosa how he talks? You don’t notice that he likes to play with dolls? Have you seen how he walks? Mommy never spoke to me about it largely because it wasn’t a subject that mom spoke about, at least publicly.
I can remember the times that the mothers on the block would tell mom that I will grow up to be gay and she would give them the serious side eye and tell them to mind their fucking business. She wasn’t happy but she didn’t scold me in front of them. This is not to say that it was easy for her to accept but that’s another essay.
It was those moments, those times of trying to digest my lifestyle that I became unmothered. She was a great provider but emotionally she checked out. How I wished she asked questions, found time to see what I was about. I believe it would’ve saved me years of self-deprecation and self- sabotaging.
I wouldn’t have taken so much time trying to find myself in the arms of so many who were as disattached as my mother. As fate would have it I still searched for that acceptance in those all too familiar arms and eyes of no expression. Each reach that I made with my body was just a spark of hope that they would embrace me and tell me all will be well. Or that they accept and love me for exactly how I am.
It wasn’t till my late 20’s that I started to find me. After the fact of letting go of the drugs and roaming the streets. Every time hoping to find myself in the eccentric random people I met along my drug induced state. Breaking night running away from feeling myself, feeling the part, feeling the loss that I carried since birth but also when I could remember.
I can say it isn’t till now in my late 40’s that I get it. I understand not only her but myself. You can’t give me what you don’t own. Mommy never got it! I cannot expect something that was never given. Mommy was abused and came from a time that you didn’t even think of mentioning those things let alone share them with someone. So many ugly things happened to her before she was 9. Having to not only be subjected but not allowed to even process it. It hardened her which had to be done out of survival for her own mental well being. She stuffed it so deep that denial became a regular relative. She sealed off those situations in a abyss void of emotional value. So deeply that she herself doesn’t know how it affected her. How it stopped her from becoming the best version of herself. I can’t and don’t blame her. I’ve learned to forgive her. Yes I don’t forget what I went through but I get the reason. To many is not justifiable but it doesn’t make a difference to me. In understanding her and forgiving her I have found an immense sense of freedom like no other.?
I always grew up with some type of magic in my home. The memories of mommy doing her ritual Sunday cleanings that started at early morning till the afternoon are forever etched in my memory. The smell of church incense brings me back to mommy cleaning the house to make sure negative vibes don’t linger. Her in her house dress with a cigar being held firmly on the right side of her lip. Dancing to some very heavy music drenched in drums and a foreign language that though I didn’t understand it it felt like home. It was this magic I grew up in and embraced before I could even say an Our Father or whisper a Rosary. It stood with me well into my teens and when it became my turn to embrace my birthright is when I learned of Ocha.
I knew that there was a very tangible spirit world. I saw too many things as a kid not to believe. I knew there were spirits that looked out for you, guided you and protected you.
It was Ocha that helped me understand some parts of my life and traits of myself that made full sense. It would be close to 10 yrs before I got initiated into Ocha and when I found out that my father was Chango is when I embraced the man I was and to become. The fact that my father was a king and chose me to be his child, that I was his son helped me kill the fact that I was trash, a piece of shit. Never again would I believe I was worthless. It was Chango’s words when he said he will be the father I never had that I felt a sense of security and relief. The world was more bearable, less fearful. Now with 13 years of being initiated I can say the journey becomes fruitful. Not in the material sense but inner. I love the man me. I learn each day that age comes with its blessings and that trials and tribulations come with lessons well earned. He helped me understand that his energy, his vibe was with me way before I knew who he was. I learned that my journey before his introduction had to happen so that I was prepared and open enough to receive and continue to walk. It’s not easy. Philosophical questions become internal searches in spirit and self love. Through it all though i say proudly i love him and that Chango is my father.
I grew up in a time where I was not suppose to have a voice. I was a dark skin Latino. I was gay. I was on constant survival mode. I wasn’t embraced and I knew that anytime I chose to be seen whether it was with my voice or my presence I would have to prepare myself for someone, anyone because they were going to say something. Backing down wasn’t a choice. I learned that at a very early age in the hood even if it meant I was going to lose physically I made sure that you remembered our confrontation. It was about respecting me, having to think twice before starting with me. I sharpened my tongue because it had to have a ready made arsenal of words that I can stand on. You couldn’t hurt me without me hurting you back verbally. What was funny is that being gay at the time (80’s) everyone tried me. Not just the straight over machismo guys which in my eyes were the most threatened by me but there was also the real smart guys, the not so attractive guys that wanted to make passes at me on the hush, the angry women who never understood or the religious zealots for you can’t be born gay and even the quiet ones. The ones that disturbed me the most were the ones like me-gay. It seemed like everyone always had something to say that was not nice or tried to put their hands on me.
Being young it tends to break your spirit. You want to go away and find a place that is peaceful, not full of hate and dirty looks, a place where you are embraced and nurtured exactly for how you are. More times then not that place is not home. It is within you, it’s in books, it’s in the pages of your diary or journal, it’s in the music, it’s in the dance. That is where I found me. Even if for a few hours it was my space. I was happy there. It’s where I nurtured all things artistic. So while others did it to entertain I did it to survive. It’s where I wrote the wish it could be, this is how it should be and one day it will be. When I danced there was no identity lines. Your feet was your fave and I had a very pretty set of feet when I hit the dance floor. It was between the pen and the dancing that I found me. I found my worth. I found my gift. The special thing that was common amongst others that were into the arts, any type.