When I was in junior high school, as most kids in my neighborhood, my summers were spent on the stoop. I had friends and cousins I hung out with. We played Uno, I Declare War, Gin Rummy (even though we knew it as Three and Two), Spit, and people watched.
While other kids went to Puerto Rico or Dominican Republic for the whole summer, I was outside on the steps of my stoop.
Some days, the guys on the block were entertaining. There were nicknames for the boys on the block my cousin and I would assign or learned from them while they shouted at each other while they played “Booty” – a handball game in which the loser would have a handball thrown against his or her rear end. The things that kids made up back them.
We had “Hacker” who was absolutely adorable, always wore blue or red, had a very close cropped haircut, looked no more than sixteen or seventeen at the time, and I don’t even know if he was in school. My cousin and I enjoyed his silence; he barely talked. And when we saw him open his mouth one day, we knew why. His teeth were busted! Jagged, snaggle-toothed, gapped, and all kinds of unattractiveness.
There were the two Javiers – one who was the hottest guy on the block but rarely hung out; he would greet the guys and work or be productive; the other, had a huge birthmark on his right cheek, the size of two polka dots in one. Birthmark Javier had a huge ass! The other Javier’s ass was just right.
Of course, how could I forget, Felix, the BFF of Javier, and also the shortest of the bunch standing at 5’6 (while the others were 5’10 and up). And the last of the crew, who presently passed away a few years ago (suicide over a woman), Robert aka Bugs, who was the palest of the crew (Puerto Rican) and just as loud as Big Booty Javier. We’d laugh at their antics, their games of “Booty,” and their good looks. We didn’t have anyone else to look at. TV wasn’t as entertaining when things were happening live.
I’ll never forget when Bugs, Hacker, and Felix walked up to my cousin, Liz, and I to participate in a game of Uno with us. I don’t remember much of the game but I think I was the first person out as the game continued without me. They only played one round with us and never asked to play with us again.
After the game, all we did was discuss what Bugs, Hacker, or Felix said during the game.
“Remember when Javier said, ‘Shut up, fuckface; stop trying to show off for these girls.’?” We laughed at the many similar comments that were made. We learned that Felix was the bitch of the crew; they treated him like crap, used, abused him, and he was still friends with them. I’ll never understand how guys could be friends with assholes. I don’t have bitches as friends.
I thought about my junior high school summers, how much I laughed, played cards (so much that to this day, the thought of playing cards bores me to tears), and hung out with Liz. Our relationship is pretty much non-existent right now. A part of me likes to think that we provided a service of companionship to one another; once we grew older, not only did we grow apart but realized that we were friends for convenience, not by choice.
What did I learn in hindsight? That my parents didn’t know any better to put me in camp, sign me up for extracurricular activities in the summer to keep me occupied, keep my brain on point in the learning zone – but there were also those summer nights, I wished I could sleep on the stoop when Mom would drink.
It’s fuzzy when I first noticed her problem; I remembered coming home from a whole day of people watching and card playing – she was sitting on the couch, in the darkness.
Even though I was just thirteen, I could smell alcohol and I didn’t like the energy she was sitting in.
“Hi Mom,” I said, about to dart into my bedroom.
“Ven mi’ja,” she said. “Sit wif me.” Even though by then she’d been in this country for over twenty years, she never learned perfect English; her accent was pretty thick.
Reluctantly, I sat down next to her on the white Italian couch, covered in plastic. The material rustled as I placed myself next to this shell of a woman that was my mother. I don’t have any happy memories of her at all.
“Tu sabe que yo te quiero,” she slurred, her eyes glazed over, looking at me but not simultaneously. “I love you bery much,” she said, hugging me a little too tightly.
I pulled away from her.
“Okay, Ma,” I said. I got up. Standing next to her, looking down at her. “Me voy a dormir.” I kissed her on the cheek and rushed to my bedroom.
Changing my clothes, the tears struggled to be released but I held them in. This was my mother; my drunken mother that didn’t realize what she was doing to this family.
As I arrived in my hotel room, the tears I’d held in for years, flowed. I lay in bed, letting the salty water flow, flow, and flow.
I couldn’t bear seeing her in that state for years. I was glad I chose to live with my father after the divorce. Granted, my mother was not in any place to care for another, not even herself.
The funeral left an impression on me; something intangible that I couldn’t even fathom myself.
My mother is dead and gone; never coming back; never again.
Did I miss her? Will I miss her? I don’t know but I do know that I haven’t been able to heal for years. Maybe this is my time to fully heal and recover from the negligence a mother’s love has had on her daughter. Have I felt the effect of this? Definitely. I barely have female friends. I don’t even know what a female relationship looks like. I have many male friends; fifteen percent of them I’ve messed around with first and now we are friends.
Why am I thinking about friendships with my mom about to be buried in the ground? Grief plays terrible tricks on you, especially when you least expect it.