Summer vacation is the working-class parent’s worst nightmare. The looming date on the calendar just signals stress and anxiety. Whereas some parents eagerly plan European vacations or research the latest math camps for Timmy, working-class parents are crunching numbers to see how many double-shifts they have to take to cover the additional child care. If you grew up Latino, and you had a giant family living under one roof, maybe you had a little more flexibility than others. In my case, we were somewhere in between. We lived in my uncle’s guest house, so his entire family, including my Abuelita, were literally just a few steps away. This is what lead my mother to the conclusion that nine years old was old enough for me to be on my own. When she gave me the news, I was thrilled! Finally, I would have the freedom and independence I so craved, and not only that but a great source of anxiety had just been removed off my parents. It was a win-win situation, and I was fully prepared to accept the responsibility of being a quasi-adult.
Once I got into a good groove, I had carved out a daily routine for myself. It started with some quality cartoons in the morning. I distinctly remember watching James Bond Jr. and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles while I ate the Springfield version of Lucky Charms. Then I would transition over to PBS to watch my Sesame Street and Reading Rainbow, capped off by some Shining Time Station (the George Carlin version, duh). Next, I would head across the street to the small, circular park that sat at the end of the cul-de-sac on our street. The park was tiny; there was only room for one set of swings, two slides, and a couple of park benches, but it was accessible to me, so that’s where I hung out. I’d chill with the neighborhood hooligans for a bit, head back across the street, pop into Abuelita’s for a quick quesadilla, then head back home where I’d finish off the afternoon with my book of the moment until dinner time rolled around, and my parents and siblings came home. I had my life pretty figured out, or so I thought.
That morning had started off as it normally did; my mother was getting ready for work and I was just waking up. As she gathered the last of her things to rush out the door and catch her ride to work, I was getting ready to make breakfast. On this particular day, I felt like eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, so I went to go plug in the toaster. I don’t know what the fuck happened, but the stupid thing sparked and burnt my hand. It wasn’t a big deal, I was fine really, but all of a sudden, in that moment, I was just a kid again. A kid who wanted her mommy to hold her and say, sana sana colita de rana, until everything felt alright again. So I ran out the door after her.
I made it outside just in time to see her ride pull away. She never even saw me, and in that moment, I felt like nobody ever saw me. Here’s where the story gets hella dramatic, pulled directly from a 25-year-old memory. The full weight of my invisibility hit me like a gust of wind, and I collapsed to the ground, bawling. I cried because I felt so alone, I felt like nobody really knew me, I was just this kid that had to be cared for, but who was never really CARED for. Nobody ever asked me about my feelings, what I thought about, what made me worry at night, what would make me happy. My needs were only thought of in terms of food, shelter, and clothing, but what about ME? I lay there crying in my pink nightgown so thin I could feel the cold concrete of the carport up against my side, as I lay in the fetal position. I cried, secretly hoping somebody, anybody, would see me and come comfort me, but nobody did. To this day, I couldn’t tell you if I lay there for five minutes, or five hours, but I remember that nobody came to the rescue. As always, it was just me.
I warned you it would be dramatic! I swear, I could practically hear the violins and see the fat, heavy tears streaming down my face. I can laugh about it now, but honestly, for years this thing bothered me like crazy. It was exemplary of the absolute pain and neglect I felt throughout my childhood. It became the cornerstone of the I-was-so-alone narrative that was my early years. Woe is me! But here’s the thing, memory is such a tricky thing, and it’s easy to remember things in such a way so that it fits a particular narrative we’re trying to tell ourselves, and I think I was doing that to keep telling myself I was miserable. Because, here’s the thing, after it was all said and done, after all this drama, what did I do? I simply wiped my tears away, pushed myself off the floor, went back inside, finished making my breakfast, and went about my day like I normally did. THAT’S IT.
The cynical me would say that that was the beginning of the hardening of my heart, but really, it was just life. Upon reflecting on this moment, I realized that I learned a couple of important lessons. The first lesson: there are times in life when the only person that can rescue you is yourself. The second lesson: don’t get too wrapped up in your own fucking memories. Sometimes we can romanticize the past (for both better and worse) for the sake of telling ourselves a story, building up reasons for why we do what we do. A lot of times, it’s these very faulty memories that keep us running in place, instead of moving us forward. Consider periodically re-evaluating these such moments, because you might find that you have been remembering them the way you want to, instead of the way they happened.
Once I realized I was doing this, not only was I able to let it go but also forgive my parents for their absence. It wasn’t an overnight thing, and I’m still learning every day, but at minimum, I’m able to show them a little more compassion and understanding, something that’s helped our relationship tremendously. For years I blamed them for my feelings of neglect and abandonment, even though I knew they were working hard to provide for us, I just couldn’t see past my feelings. Now I understand, not only were they providing for me, but they were also trying to teach me something about work ethic. My parents are the hardest working people in the world, and they did it without speaking English, or driving a car, or having a college degree; they did it without the gratitude they deserved, and they taught me what it means to get up every fucking day and go out there and kill it. I’m most thankful for that, because who knows what kind of useless woman I’d be today if they hadn’t taught me that.
So, in conclusion, I guess that morning wasn’t so bad after all. Although I will say I haven’t owned a toaster in decades. FUCK THAT.