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I Learn Library

A human library inspired by the stories in the film

Looking back at my life so far

By Catherine  |   From : Dominican Republic  |   School : Boston International Newcomers Community Academy

When I was little, (I mean I’m still little) I used to cry at the fact that my mom loved Jesus more than me. I used to be like, “are you serious, how can you love a guy that you don’t know more than your own daughter.” Of course I would say it in a respectful tone, but I was a girl that didn’t have faith, because I always thought that everything was fair and that was just the way it was. 

 

With my mom, I put on a lot of fashion shows. It’s weird but I did it. I used to wear her high heels and clothing at the age of 5. I fell a bunch of times, but I still modeled for her. And she used to model for me. My sister sometimes did it with us, but it was mainly me. I felt like a grown up wearing heels.

 

We didn’t go to movie theaters or malls often due to the fact that we lived in a little town and movie theaters and malls were for rich people. The Dominican Republic is very classist. Rich people afford nice things. But we used to sit together and talk. I used to talk a lot about boys. I have always been a flirt. 75% of my conversations with my mom were about boys. There was a story I told her about how I talked to a boy and I liked him and he wasn’t interested in me. He decided to talk to someone else and I came crying to my mom’s arms saying “It’s not fair, I talked to him first. He’s mine.” So she just went along to what I said. 

 

It was September 24th, 2010, she left in the afternoon. The day was very sunny. It was a happy day. Sunny, but it wasn’t burning. It was moderately sunny. Like 80° F, that’s a cool day in the DR. I had pink shorts on. My mom wore silver high heels (that I had fallen in a couple times). I noticed she was carrying more handbags than usual. Usually when she goes on trips she brings one, but today she had three. I remember saying goodbye: “Vete con Dios!” My sister was crying like crazy. I wasn’t. I saw this as an opportunity to get toys and dolls.

 

Throughout our phone calls I always asked her “When are you coming, when are you coming?” And she would always say “Not right now.” She couldn’t. She physically couldn’t. I knew she wasn’t going to come, but I decided to erase that fact from my mind because I thought I wasn’t going to get anything from it. I thought that one day she would say, “I’m coming tomorrow.” I knew she wouldn’t. I just decided to ignore it. But I decided to have faith that I would someday hear those words.

 

One Saturday, as is tradition every Saturday, I was cleaning the house. Everyone cleans. Except men, because we have a very culturally messed up system where women clean everything. But at the time, I didn’t mind. I was cleaning my brother’s room. I was a nosy child. I went through his wallet. In the front of it, there was a picture of my mom. I started crying my eyes out because for one second, I didn’t know who she was. That one second made me question everything. My grandfather always used to ask me, “If there was line up, would you recognize your mom?” I always answered “Of course, she’s the most beautiful woman there.” But that Saturday, that one second destroyed me.

 

I thought I was losing my connection with my mom. Not just because of that event. If anything happened to me, she was the first person that would have known. But I decided to never tell her about anything. I had a tough relationship with my father. If something happened, I wouldn’t tell her. I would keep it to myself. Not telling my mom many events piled up. I didn’t have a safe person to tell things about. I didn’t have anyone to talk about myself with.

 

I started being more private, I had always expressed my emotions . But I started repressing these emotions and they started to pile up. It got to the point where I would cry for countless hours until my eyes were dry. I also wasn’t in the most supportive environment. Many times my brother would chase after me to see if I was going to cry, to have proof that I was this overly sensitive child that he thought I was. This, among many other things, made me bury my emotions deep where no one else could see them. 

 

Throughout my journey of dealing with my emotions of feeling lonely, I decided to pray something I didn’t usually do voluntarily. I prayed for one thing, to see and hug my mom again, to have my best friend back with me and be able to physically touch her. I knew miracles weren’t real, but some part of me wanted to believe they were. So I went along with everyone else when they told me to believe in God and have faith. Of course I didn’t expect much, but what was there to lose? 

 

On December 8th, 2013, my mom called and said “Guess what, I’m going to see you.” I was shocked, I thought she was lying so I hung up the phone. She called the next day and told me she was really coming. I started counting the days, every day. Even my cousin Solanyi told me “Stop counting, if you keep counting something it won’t happen.” So I stopped counting because I wouldn’t do anything to prevent my mom coming. On December 22nd, my mom told me she was arriving to the airport at 2pm and me and my brother and sister were going there to pick her up. I planned everything to be perfect. I wanted to go to the salon to do my hair, and I always thought that straight hair was the standard of beauty, so I wanted to have that look to show my mom how much I’ve grown. I planned to go to the salon the day she was arriving, but in the very early hours of that day, my grandfather rushed in yelling “llego tu mami!” I was shocked, scared and excited. I started screaming. I walked to the living room not knowing what to expect. There she was. I immediately started crying and hugging. She said “this isn’t my daughter!” She was so surprised to see how much I had grown. She smelled like New York. I didn’t really know what that meant, but that’s what I thought. She only stayed for 10 days with us before leaving again for two years. Two more years of asking when she was coming, two more years of being lonely, two more years of waiting to be with my mom again. 

 

When my sister and I finally moved to Boston, for the first time, I felt relief because I was going to be with my mom again. At least that’s what I thought. But when we arrived, we were introduced to our aunt who we didn’t really know. We were told that my mom was going back to New York. And I was separated from my mother once again, this time for a year. I really felt like my mom had just abandoned me, or didn’t want to be with me. I started the 6th grade in Boston, and I was not doing well. But, how could I? I had been separated from my mom 3 times already. The environment I was living in was not very hospitable. I got into many fights with my aunt. I always felt like I had to fill my sister’s shoes because she always seemed to handle things well, at least from my perspective. I always felt like there was pressure for a little girl to be perfect, but without the support to actually accomplish it. I learned that perfection was not for me. 

 

After a year, my mom realized that she wouldn’t be able to find stable housing for the three of us in New York, and decided to come join us in Boston. I was scared that she was going to leave again once she got here, but I feel like that’s understandable at this point. Still, I was happy that we were finally together. And I was finally able to tell people that I lived with my mom for the first time in six years. It was a bittersweet time, because although I was with my mom, everything was unstable. We were homeless for about a year and a half, and every day I questioned whether or not any of this was worth it, because living in a homeless shelter was a nightmare. But that is a story for another time. 

 

After being apart for so long, living with my mom came with some issues. We would get into a lot of arguments, whether it was a big argument about constantly changing my schools but not changing my sister’s, using my age against me, or smaller issues, like wearing makeup or sitting outside the school dance the entire time in her car because she didn’t trust me. I always felt like she wanted me to be like my sister, and that’s not the person I wanted to be. These are still struggles I face with my mom even today. I still hear from her “you can be your own person when you’re 18,” as if my experiences didn’t force me to grow up faster than the typical teenager. I know some of our arguments are probably common for most teenagers and their parents, like, I am always the first person my mom blames if something goes wrong in the house. Even though there are three of us and a cat living together, whenever she sees a mess or something broken, she immediately assumes it was me, and, sometimes it’s me, but not all the time. But, there are times when I feel like rebuilding our relationship is a monumentally hard task.  

 

Right now, I am closer to my mom than I was when she first arrived in Boston, now we bake together,play casino  and watch movies, something we wouldn’t usually do . I am trying to be more open with her, but its still hard. She still views me as a child that needs her parental protection, even though I spent most of my life growing up without it. She also tries to be a very open person, although she struggles with it too. She comes from a very conservative background and it has been hard to keep up with some of the cultural differences that have become part of my life here. 

 

Looking back at my life so far, I feel robbed of six years of time with my mom and all I got out of it was this country. I feel like I lost the connection with my mom, who used to be my best friend, and I don’t know how to get it back. I still feel hurt by it. And many of the hard times in my life were a direct result of her leaving. My mother leaving has had a huge impact on my emotional health. It forced me to hide my emotions and so I don’t know how to express my emotions to others. Even to a therapist, I am not able to share how I feel deep down. I feel like I am emotionally broken. As much as I like to think it was all for a better future, I debate constantly about whether it was worth it. What parts of myself did I lose to get to today? How would I have been different if I had spent those six years with my mom? On the other hand, I can appreciate the fact that this experience has hardened me and made me more independent. I know that I can make it on my own, without the person who is supposed to take care of me. 

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