A year before the house with the animated inanimate objects, I’m on the jet-way in Orlando, excitedly nervous for my first flight. It’s summertime, the plane is stuffy, and despite the adventure of flying, I’m fighting tears. The stewardess checks on me, bringing an unnecessary blanket, as I stare out the tiny window towards the terminal at the hazy silhouette of my father waving a white handkerchief. He has made arrangements for me to stay with an aunt on the island. For my own safety, he is sending me away.
Weeks before the arrangements were made, Dad had been on an extended ‘fishing trip.’ The day he left, I lived at home with a mother and two brothers (the twins). Although by then, I rarely saw any of them. Gilbert was getting ready for his enlistment in the Marines; Grant and I had long since established that sharing parents did not make me his family. This I knew even before I found out I was adopted. And I avoided Mami as much as possible.
After Dad left, they all disappeared. I don’t remember if it was the first night or the second but it quickly became apparent that I was entirely on my own. As a latchkey kid from kindergarten on, it wasn’t unusual for me to be alone for hours before the twins got home from school or Mami got home from work. But everyone was in the house at some point during the night. The twins knew if they weren’t, Mami would lock them out and then they’d have to face Dad’s belt. And I had long figured out how to sneak out to the safety of the roof without being detected. This time, though, there was no need to sneak; no one was home.
I don’t know where the twins went but years later I found out that Mamita had gone to the hospital. I don’t know why; I never asked. When she was released, she went to her mother’s house. From hospital to her mother’s, she didn’t stop at home. She didn’t come back. She simply disappeared.
I woke up, walked to the elementary school for the final days of fourth grade, came home, made myself dinner. Usually a can of Campbell’s soup cooked on the stove (microwaves weren’t a thing yet) with pieces of Wonderbread rolled into tiny balls tossed in as makeshift dumplings. That routine didn’t change. Day after day after day, I didn’t miss school at all that week. Out of habit, I spent the first couple of nights on the rooftop until a thunderstorm would bring me back into the house. By the third night, I gave up my perch, stayed inside, and read from Amy’s collection of books. With everyone gone, quiet pushed into corners creating a space unfamiliar — suddenly, safe.
And then the weekend cycled back around and with it, Dad returned from his trip. While my father’s anger was never directed at me, I knew to stay out of its way. Like the bands of a hurricane, the direct path was never as neatly targeted as the red lines the meteorologist used during the forecasts. Damage has a way of making its way to whatever has the audacity to stand during such a destructive force. Everything between his return and my getting on the plane for Puerto Rico is a black hole.