The first house we moved into together was at the end of a red clay road. When it rained, as it did every summer afternoon, the clay became slick and fast and far more fun than a slip and slide. Frances, who I would be calling mom soon, made it clear that girls didn’t get dirty. But that glorious clay was irresistible, and I knew I wasn’t meant to be categorized as a girl. So I learned how to hose off after practicing my best slide moves and hearing that imaginary crowd roar as the also imaginary ump yelled, “safe!” Technically, I wasn’t dirty. For whatever reason, Frances didn’t push the issue and that clay became my haven.
This was also the house where I quickly learned not to talk about the toilet flushing on its own or the kitchen antics. Frances didn’t like things that weren’t “normal” — and her idea of normal was grounded in a conservative, Christian reality where plates did not fly at someone’s head. My expectations from adults did not include being comforted or being made to feel safe so keeping the increasing physical manifestations of my night terrors to myself came naturally. Unfortunately, we didn’t know how very not-normal things were about to get.
After a month of my dealing with a house that seemed intent on tormenting me, the phone rings. My father speaks quietly to the person on the other end of the line. When he hangs up, he and Frances go to their bedroom; I can’t make out a single word of their hushed conversation. Afterward, Dad leaves. I sit in the living room, anxiously waiting to hear the sound of the Thunderbird coming down the road. It feels like an eternity when he finally returns. He is bearing a warm loaf of Cuban bread, and what’s left of a second loaf since he can never make it home before helping himself to “a few bites.” His trip to the bodega also includes tall candles in glass decorated with images of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Before evening falls, the novenas are lit and placed in the corners of the house. My father tucks a small piece of folded paper beneath each one.
After the call, after the novenas, and before the real fire that would come shortly, Dad and Frances beckon me to the table. These odd family meetings of calm conversation still unnerve me. My father has become a different person since we left our previous family. The dark rage has subsided and not once have I had to beg him not to kill anyone. It’s eerie. Like the way the weather shifts after our nightly thunderstorms. Has the storm passed or are we simply in the temporary calm?
I become incredibly interested in the embroidered roses on the edge of the tablecloth, the way they feel under my hands, while my father talks about the mysterious call and the appearance of the candles. I don’t remember exactly what was said, only the facts that I had to assimilate into my world afterward:
- The person who called was a friend of Dad’s family in Puerto Rico.
- She knew that my mother, Aida, practiced voodoo and that part of her ‘practice’ was directed at my father and me.
- Specifically, Aida had a voodoo death curse on both of us and was using our family photographs as a part of that curse.
- Aida and I “were engaged in a great battle but that [I] would win because [my] mind was stronger.”
Just like that. The woman who had been my mother for the first nine years of my life was the name attached to the flying plates, the nightly terrors, and the increasingly disturbing voice in my head. Not only did my mother not want me or love me, she wanted me dead.