I am twelve years old and nothing else exists besides the cicadas tapping against my window, and the sound of my abuela crying in the kitchen with my mother at her side. It is dark outside and there are only women in the house. I overhear them speaking in spanish and the most painful words are illuminated. “Me asalto”… “su esposo!” …“te lo adverti.” My grandmother, Dora Virginia Solis, knew everything before it was about to happen. She warned my mother not to marry my father just as her own mother warned her not to marry her love who was a Mexican artist. She sensed things as if she had lived one hundred years, and felt them all before. These ¹memories fade in and out but never quite leave. It’s like a fever that we were all born with, one after the other, a string of maternal lineage that has been broken and sewn back together. I wonder what it’s like to have a husband, or to have sex. I look in the mirror at my awkward pubescent body and dark hair. My skin gets darker in the summer and the hair on my arms bother me. I stare at my own eyes while my grandmother is still weeping in the hall, and the smell of the gallo pinto burning.
* * * *
Marengo Street still haunts me. I have wallowed through the gravel of black men and heavy gardens years before I knew what had happened in my family’s past. Streets once walked upon by my mother and her siblings at the tender ages of 5 or 9. Her sister being touched unfairly upstairs as mama biked the cul-de-sacs shirtless and boyish. We were ripe once. Dora’s father was a professor, and linguist, in the 1950s in Nicaragua. He migrated my family to the States when my grandmother was 15 and in love with my Mexican grandfather Alfonso Garcia, who dropped out of medical school to be an artist and elope with my grandmother.
Dora’s father, Julio Solis, was outed for molesting one of my family members decades after. I began to see the pattern. It folded into the linoleum floor of our house, and through the screened in porch. It crept in with the fragrance of azaleas and slung on the laundry lines in the backyard.
The first time I discovered the incident of abuse in my family was when I was digging through the closet at my grandmother’s house and found a stack of letters.
The first time I discovered the incident of abuse in my family was when I was digging through the closet at my grandmother’s house and found a stack of letters. Most were from Julio and addressed to the girl in my family – pronouncing his love for him through poems and sexual rhymes. She was a girl, younger than 12, who was his grandchild. It sickened me, and I hid it under a scale when I heard my grandmother call out that dinner was ready.
After I came back the next day, the letters were gone. Swept under, and hidden in another place as much horrific family issues were dealt with in this era. I began to research rapes and deaths in the Broadmoor area in the 1960’s and convinced myself that he was the one who touched all those little girls and threw all the bodies in the swamps. Years later, I would ride my bike past the house this occurred in and shudder at the sight of the stairs and grand balcony. The banana tree was there as it was in photographs i’ve seen, floating above the side window, and keeping shade to the bedroom.
* * * *
In 1976, my mom would drive her jeep bug to a glam club called the SugarShack. It was the place for underage kids to go drink cherry cola and listen to T. Rex or Bowie. She changed her outfit in her car each Thursday after school, and put on her tube top and red shiny pants and her favorite silver platforms. One thursday, during junior year, she had drank too much and taken a quaalude that a friend gave her. She felt extremely sick and left the blaring club to sit in her car with the seatback. She awoke from the haze, not much after she closed her eyes, to an older man straddling her, jerking off over her, and smiling. As if this was the natural thing to do to someone who is unconscious or blacked out in a parking lot. My mother, as thin and small as she was, screamed and his back hit the horn and he jumped out of the car. Some kids who were smoking cigarettes outside saw the movement and came out to her. She began to panic and turned her ignition on and left the club. She stopped going to the club for weeks.
Eventually, she was a senior in high school, and her friends all wanted to go to the Sugar Shack for celebration. She felt confident enough to return with her friends. When they entered the club, she walked to grab some water, and the man who assaulted her brushed past her and whispered as he walked by “I had fun that night, baby.” She calmly kept walking, and told her friend Richard about what had happened weeks ago, and that the guy was there again. Richard grabbed a few of his friends and told my mom to wait ten minutes and then meet him outside.
She waited around under the disco ball’s repeating lights and counted the seconds synchronizing with the pattern of the dots reflecting. Eventually she walked outside nervously and Richard showed her his bloody hands. They had beat the fuck out of the creep and apparently he lost vision in his right eye. Mom continued going to the sugar shack until she turned 18.
* * * *
The summer after I graduated high school, I spent a lot of time at home, avoiding social situations. I was struggling with my appearance, and developed an eating disorder right before college began. One humid june night, my friend Patrick convinced me to go to Port of Call with his father. Port of Call is a burger joint on Esplanade famous for their Hurricanes. I was freshly 18, and his dad bought us a few rounds of hurricanes. He gave us quarters to put on Blondie or Television on the jukebox. They didn’t check our I.D.’s I guess because we were with an adult. I felt drunk for the first time. I was still a virgin. His dad was on his third or fourth jack and coke, and he began to tell me intense and grotesque stories about his sexual experiences in the 80s in Boston, when he was on the football team and his girlfriend who I reminded him of. By the time it was close to midnight, I told them I had a curfew, and needed to be brought home. They were both annoyed, and we were all fairly drunk. I don’t know why I allowed to be driven home, but I didn’t know how to get home otherwise. We started driving back, and they were blasting some rock song on in the front seat as I felt myself fading in the back seat. My eyes were barely open, and Patrick began to grope me and finger me as his father laughed. They continued to take turns doing that, speeding on the interstate as my skirt was pulled up. I didn’t understand what was going on, and at the time, I had never done more than kiss a boy. I felt violated and confused as to why this was going to be my first sexual experience. His dad would turn around staring at me maniacally and I saw the devil in his eyes. We finally pulled up to Inez Dr., and I stumbled out the car, without saying bye.
I felt violated and confused as to why this was going to be my first sexual experience. His dad would turn around staring at me maniacally and I saw the devil in his eyes.
* * * *
When I was 15, I moved in with my abuela, and she taught me to cook and play maracas and speak her language fluently. She took me to church with her every sunday, and occasionally her neighbor Bruce would join. Bruce was strange, he was like my abuela’s boyfriend, except they only got coffee and went to church, and he had a wife. Eventually, he decided he would be my literary pen pal, sending me poems, and stories bundled up in the mailbox. We all drove together every sunday in the station wagon to the century old Victorian church on N. Rampart. He had a strong faith regardless of informing me in one of his letters that he was molested by a priest as a child in the ‘60s. I never understood how someone could return to a place they were a victim of in, and to continue to believe some higher being was consoling him in that very house. I stopped going to church after I received that letter. A few summers later, my abuela died, and I traveled to her country for the first time to better understand her roots.
* * * *
We left the Managua discoteque at 2.a.m. after drinking $5 worth of Flor de Canas and sodas, which got us fairly drunk. My cousin Alejandra called her father to pick us up. While we waited outside of the club with music blaring through the cracked door, a Range Rover pulled up with two upper-class men inside. They rolled the window and called out
“Mami, where are you from?” he whistled.
“Yo puede, can I buy your telephone number? 800 cordobas?” That’s almost $100 in U.S. currency. I told him to fuck off.
“Where are you going? I love you, marry me chela” ²
We walked back into the club to avoid further harassment, but it was omni-present.
Managua is the capital of Nicaragua, which is where I spent my last few summers. It’s an hour drive away from San Marcos, the town where my family lives, and it is surrounded by mountains and lagoons. The drive there is the most purifying thing i’ve ever experienced. Greenery and sand and mountains and horses and food carts fill the side streets as we glide over and under the wildlife. There are no interstates, but busy streets where emaciated horses walk along the side, and children sell water bottles and snacks on every corner. My aunt owns a bakery out of her house which heats up the house at 5 a.m. every day. Both grandparents live in the house as well, and one Tia Norma, cannot walk anymore. She sits in a floral chair every day and scrubs a cross in her hand devotedly. She has alzheimer’s and does not speak of anything that happened past 1970, the year her husband was killed in the revolution. I mostly enjoyed the food markets with fresh air, and thick sweat as I tucked into booths to find the perfect avocados or tortillas. It felt safe as the short indian women would put their hand out with the freshest fruit in hoping I would spend a dollar on it. I didn’t feel as alienated in the market, because they don’t care about the fact that I look different, but rather that I have money.
In the town of San Marcos, I spent the days inside a church or a cafe, avoiding the sun, and lingering men around el parque. The temperature was over 100 degree everyday, and I couldn’t leave the house without being harassed in what I wore. Men were animals, whistling, licking their lips. I felt raped by their eyes. Regardless of being half Nicaraguan, I stood out. My american half was embarrassing me. Once with my family I would blend in, but apart, alone on the streets, walking to the pulperia or to the market, felt torturous. 7 year olds learned to treat women this way from their forefathers, and stared as they sucked on their juice pouches. I would be called out to and asked to suck someone’s dick or to marry someone. “Gringaaaa, chuparme la verga!” They laughed as I walked in my shorts and t-shirt in the blazing heat. The only solace I found with these men was on bus rides in which they couldn’t be vocal. The rides through the mountains and down the coast were like strips of heaven. I could hide through the slit of the window in the old buses and only be seen for a moment in time, half a second.
7 year olds learned to treat women this way from their forefathers, and stared as they sucked on their juice pouches. I would be called out to and asked to suck someone’s dick or to marry someone. “Gringaaaa, chuparme la verga!”
The women in the villages would jump on the buses every so often. They either were carrying a basket on their head, or a child under their breast. They were the laborious goddesses that graced each town with food, life, and energy. On one busride I sat across from a woman with skin so beautiful, and eyes the color of the clearest lake. I stared at her, envious of her, as she breastfed an infant, and then handed him to her husband so she could jump off the bus to work. I felt dizzy. I felt like id never be as good a mother as these women. She made eye contact with me the whole time, and continued to look, almost, proudly, as she walked towards the fields. Part of me desired her life. Part of me, 22 years old, wanted to work as a farmhand and carry a child on my neck as I walked barefoot through the mountain roads. I saw the suffering. I also saw the beauty.
* * * *
I’m aware that certain things are hereditary. Diseases, eye color, fertility. I wonder often how common certain self-destructive behaviors are. I developed an eating disorder and coke problem just as my mom did in the ‘80s. It was glamorized back then, the thinness, the parties, white lines on the mirrored tables. I don’t know if I want the be my mother or not, but I’ve followed her path.
My first sexual experience was not consensual, and I realize now that this pattern is part of my maternal history. It is something we’ve tried to shake off but still lingers in the ghost of our family. I often travel back, to these memories, and display them like a film reel to reel in my subconscious. The night I heard the words “me asalto” to my mom, I knew. I knew she was speaking of my own father, who had assaulted her. It destroyed my relationship with him, and made me fully conscious of how common sexual abuse is in families, in communities, in the universe. I have been rocked through webs of unfathomable love since I was in the womb, and it is something that grows in the cells, and embryos of the women before me. We are systematically oppressed, but too masochist to quit. It takes time. It takes repeated stories, and physical abruptions to shake us out of this. My mother, her mother, and her grandmother, have all been somehow hurt by their husbands, and often they let it go. I want to stop this cycle. I want to love, and be the consoler and nurturer that the women were before me. I want to stop the pain and the suffering that men have inflicted on us.