WINNER OF 2021 SOPOCO EMERGING WRITER FELLOWSHIP
You wanna know why I’m all fucked up? Starts with my moms, right? Our moms was forever scamming, yo. Would take a loan from the Pope and flee the Vatican next day if she could. Was big into credit scams. Used my Social and Shorty’s Social to take out accounts under our names when we was just kids. Was the only ten-year-olds walking around with tanked credit scores, like a couple little washed-up, gambling alcoholics.
What’s crazy is the shit you think is totally normal when you’re a kid, right? I thought everybody moved round and round like we did. Thought everybody’s moms smoked cigars and wore shells around their necks.
Look, Gilda ain’t never gonna win no Mother of the Year award. That much I know, trust. But I love my moms, and she’s been through it, yo. When she and the viejos finally got out La Habana they was all living in one room on Calle Ocho. Times harder than the loaf they be serving us at chow. Least that’s what she told me. I know she weren’t no saint though. Gilda Blanca ain’t never lived a day where she ain’t thought about herself. How’s she gonna get ahead, how’s she gonna be a star? That was the one thing on her mind, no matter who she burned along the way.
And here’s the other thing bout my moms: woman can swivel a whole room with her laugh. It’s big, like her. Sounds like an old car starting. Like she just heard the most hilarious joke in the world. The type of laugh that makes people jealous they ain’t in on the joke. Funniest thing about it is she don’t even know it’s funny, not even after all these years. So she laughs that laugh, and like it or not, you’re gonna watch her. You’re gonna wanna know what she’s doing with that laugh. Musta been what got my pops sprung the way he was. That, plus back then she was banging, yo. Before she started eating cheese puffs like they was gonna fill up her big pito, tú sabe, when she still had a waist you could tie a belt around. Can’t imagine Teofi falling for much, but she had him pussy whipped something fierce.
Just one time I saw him really lose his shit with her. After that it wasn’t never the same between them, neither. Was the beginning of the end for both of them, I guess. Was the first time anyone threw her ass in the loony bin, and the first time Shorty and me got shipped back to the viejos like rocks in a slingshot.
Wasn’t but a little jitterbug back then, musta been what, bout six, seven years old? Yeah, that’s right, cuz Shorty was in fifth grade and had to start all over again when we got back to Allapattah. We was living in Nueva York then, the four of us in Teofi’s dusty-ass apartment all the way up in the Heights with the Dominicanos. I loved it up there. The noise and chaos in the streets matched my wildness, even then. Was already starting fights in the park, at school, wherever. Not like anyone was tryna stop me, tú sabe.
Pero this one time Pops came home early, which was weird, right? Cuz Pops used to drive his cab all night and sleep with the blinds shut all day—dude was like Batman but broke—so to see him swoop in round five o’clock with a bouquet of roses and a smile on his face like some tv dad, we knew shit was going down.
Moms was sitting on the couch in her robe—these were her zombie days, when she wasn’t doing shit other than sleeping and praying to her santos. Looked surprised to see Teofi, too, like he caught her in the act, even though it weren’t no secret she wasn’t among the living then. Pero he comes over and picks her up and starts kissing her right in front of us and then he whispers something in her ear and she gets all happy, clutching her chest like a drama queen in a play. And Teofi tells us go get dressed and put on our nicest clothes cuz we going out to eat. Bueno me and Shorty, we go off, screaming and running Speedy Gonzales circles round the living room. We hadn’t been out past the park in weeks, and we didn’t never get to eat in no restaurant, trust.
Moms dressed us up in the same clothes la vieja sent us to Nueva York in the year before. I had this little gray pimp suit with a red clip-on tie and a white shirt that was so tight around my neck shit gave me a rash. Looked like I shoulda been going door to door selling bibles. And pobrecita Shorty, her pink dress was already shrinking on her when we left Miami, so by then it went way up past her knees and she had to keep pulling it down every time she walked. Bueno of course I gave her mad grief about it, told her she looked like a hot dog busting out the seams, ha! Pero what did we care, we was going out! Pa’ la calle! Moms put on a slinky green dress I’ d ain’t never seen before, with some of that strong-ass perfume she wore when she went out. Teofi grabbed his fancy camera, the one he kept up high on a shelf cuz we kids weren’t allowed to touch it. He made the three of us pose there in the living room for a picture like we was a family of Kennedys. I remember me and Shorty grinning like a couple of toothless fools, not even knowing what we were celebrating.
Then we go outside and Teofi whistles for a cab and I’m like, Oh shit! A cab?! Me and Shorty start dancing when we see it pull up, all Cel-eh-brate good times, C’MON! We didn’t never ride in no cab that Teofi wasn’t driving. Uh-uh. Was just the bus, train, or our Chevrolegs to get us wherever, no matter the weather or the time. Pero I sure as Judas remember sitting in the back of that cab, trust. Was so excited I couldn’t pick which window to stare out of. Was squirming between Shorty and Moms like a snake in a basket. The cabbie looked back at me and smiled, told me, Looks like you got a bird tryna break out that chest, kid. We kept driving lower and lower into the city, past all the fancy houses off the park, and the further we went, the more I felt like we might really fly away, out the Heights and into a whole other life.
I looked to my moms, tapping her leg to try and get her to see everything I saw. Limousines lined up around a corner, a poodle in a baby carriage, like yo, people live like this? I remember her looking down and smiling at me. She was wearing makeup for the first time in a long time, some red lipstick, with her hair all pinned up. Still had some of them bags under her eyes, but she looked so pretty, like some type of disco princess. Was finally looking like my moms again. And even then my little jitterbug ass was thinking, See? All it takes is some paper to cure what’s sad in your world.
Yo, I’ll never forget the restaurant Pops took us to. Tavern on the Green, all the way inside the park. That shit was Queen of England fancy, lemme tell you. Had chandeliers hanging from the ceiling like ice and the walls were all windows, so you could see everything around you outside. Was early in the spring and the flowers were just starting to come out, the sun was going down and the lights were bouncing off all that glass. I remember Moms and me and Shorty walking around looking at it like, Whoa, this shit’s gotta be a dream, right? I wanted to touch everything, yo. Wanted to break them chandeliers into a million pieces. I don’t even know if kids was allowed in there. They looked at me and Shorty like we was animals escaped from the zoo. Pero you think Pops cared about that? Nah. Homeboy was high on life. Put his hands on my shoulders and let me lead the way to our table, even called me “Son.”
We sat by the windows and watched all the people outside like we was fish in a bowl. After Moms and Pops’ drinks and our Shirley Temples came out, Pops made a toast and clasped his hands in front of him, leaning in all official, like one of the newsmen on tv. He smiled and told us he sold a whole bunch of his pictures to some famous art collector, pics he took of Moms before I was born.
Now ain’t that some shit? I didn’t even know Teofi was a photographer. I mean, I knew he was always taking pics and playing with his camera like that was his real baby, tú sabe, and I heard him complain more than once about having to give up his darkroom for us kids, pero I thought it was just some pastime he had, right? And I sure as Judas ain’t never seen Moms pose for him neither. Pero now she was smiling and preening, talking about how they were different people back in their youth. Pops put his arm around Moms and kissed her, looking at her face like it was brand new to him. Told us, Your mother has been famous since the day I met her.
Yo, I ain’t never seen them so happy. They were like a movie I didn’t want to end. Me and Shorty just sat there watching them through all the twinkling lights in that see-through place thinking that was it, we made it.
Pops told us order whatever we wanted cuz he was getting prime rib, and when it came out he took one bite, kissed his fingers to his lips and raised them up to the sky. Was all, Now that’s a good cow! Then he straight up moos, like a cow-wolf howling at the fancy chandeliers, and Shorty and me, we start cracking up, so he does it again. Moooooooo! Soon the three of us are mooing and laughing together up in that swanky-ass restaurant like some real bona fide Psych IIIs. Moms starts hissing at us to stop but Pops can’t be bothered none. When the waiter comes over looking all flustered with his red face, asking if he could help us with something, Teofi claps him on the back and says he’ll take another drink. Then he asks us if we want anything moooooore, maybe some milk? Yo, we were laughing so hard we were bawling. I remember shy little Shorty ducking under the table and hiding her face so no one could see her. Pero me and Pops, we were loving it.
We stayed at that table for hours, yo. Thought we was gonna close the place down. Pops kept ordering one thing at a time—one drink, one dessert, another, a coffee. Shorty and me got ice cream and a big-ass piece of chocolate cake. Every time he ordered something else, we were like, Daaamn! This is better than Christmas! The more the waiters tried to get us outta there, the more Teofi ordered. After a couple drinks he leaned in again and told me and Shorty, See, don’t never let none of these people tell you what you can’t do. And don’t never, never give up on your dreams.
Moms nodded and smiled, but she looked a little tight. She made some comment about Pops spending so much loot before he even got paid by the gallery. He shrugged that shit off like, What’s one dinner? Come on, chica, we celebrating! Pero bueno, I guess she didn’t like that, cuz she made that face, that scary Moms face, where her chin goes down and her eyebrows go up? Shit could stop a train in its tracks. Then she put her scarf on all quiet and said it was getting late, so Teofi finally asked for the check.
When we got out the restaurant we saw a horse and carriage with some dude standing there smoking a cigarette, looking mad bored, and Teofi walked over to him, asked how much for a ride. Dude gave him one price but Pops made like he was gonna walk away, so dude lowered it. Eventually they settled on a number, but I could tell Pops got the better end of the deal, cuz the driver didn’t look too happy when he got back up on his horse, tú sabe. And Moms didn’t look too happy neither, kept saying she just wanted to go home. But me and Shorty? We were wyling out, hopped up on all that dessert, jumping around like we just won the lotto. We were riding on a fucking horse! Through Central fucking Park, what! I was already thinking about how my boys at the playground were gonna bust a nut when I told them about this the next day.
Pops was having a good ole time laughing at us and whistling while we rode, but Moms was not having it. She got all quiet, twisted her mouth shut tight. Kept complaining she was cold, and even when Teofi gave her his jacket and wrapped her in one of the blankets dude had in the carriage, she was still whining. Now I know those pics Teofi sold were portraits from her singing days, back when she was thinking she’ d be the one to get famous. Pero things were different for her now, cooped up in the house with us kids all day, so Teofi making money off that shit had to be hard for her, right? Like I said, my moms always gotta be the star in every show. She wasn’t just gonna let Teofi have his five minutes or whatever without reminding him about that.
And remind him she did, trust. Cuz after that Moms changed. She still stayed home most of the time, but she started dressing up in all her fancy costumes and big jewelry like she was fitting to do a show in some nightclub at ten in the fucking morning. Stayed up till the wee hours singing in the living room, watching herself perform in the mirror like she was the band, the back-up singers, and the audience. Whenever Pops was around she talked a big game about going out to see people, getting some stage time at this or that spot. He never said much back, maybe cuz he knew she was all talk, but he never told her not to do it, neither. Said he wanted her to be happy and do what she wanted, long as she took good care of us. He was still flying high off his big sale, tú sabe, taking lots of pics around the city and actually developing them. Coming home whistling Dixie every morning. Fridge was stacked to the gills with rolls of film and not much else. He was gone a lot round that time, so maybe he didn’t see what was really happening with Moms. Quien sabe, maybe he deserved what he got.
After a while of Moms not sleeping, singing and acting like a diva with an audience, she started going to her Babalawo double time. These were her Santeria days—right about then is when she got deep into that shit. Shaved her head, wore all white for months, even had them do some crazy-ass ritual to get the santos to protect Shorty and me. Had us tied up for hours, killed a chicken, the whole nine. Scared the shit outta us, and for what? Don’t seem like it was too effective now anyways, do it? But Gilda was convinced. She thought her Babalawo would get her the fame she deserved. And the Babalawo was more than happy to help, for a price.
Moms used to drag me with her to all her appointments. The Babalawo worked out of a little botanica in the Bronx. Was mad dusty in there, candles and herbs and shit on every shelf. Some sketchy-ass lady with crazy eyebrows looking like she was born to sit up on a stool behind the register. She’ d see us walk in and wouldn’t say nothing to us, just went to fetch the Babalawo. Dude was what we used to call boot black—so dark and shiny you could almost see your reflection in his skin. First couple times I met him I was suspect, but he was always real nice to me. Had a white smile like neon, gave me candy from the stash he kept in his pockets. Never said too much. One a them spiritual types. Even when Gilda was all wound up, she melted like butter when she saw him. Was about the only thing that made her happy during that time. So I figure dude’s gotta be good for her, right?
Nah, meng. Turns out the Babalawo was taking everything she was giving. And then some. Didn’t put two and four together till way later when we was already fucked like six, but whenever they disappeared and left me out front with the saints and the crazy eyebrow lady, Moms was lying on her back tryna get closer to whatever God she thought dude had the key to. Was under a spell or some shit, I don’t know. What I do know is how her feet rushed to get back to him every few days and how her eyes looked all soft every time we left that place. Too wise now not to call that what it was. Moms was an addict, always has been. Religion’s just her drug of choice.
Few years later she moved on to Christianity, pero tú sabe, same novela different channel. She’ d do anything for that salvation she was searching for. Think her Babalawo didn’t see that? He kept sending her on these quests. Go to the top of the highest mountain and bury a dead bird. Cover yourself in molasses then clean it off in the ocean. And she’ d do it, too. Would come back asking for more like she was the teacher’s pet in a class for one. Dude’s white-ass smile got bigger every time. Was prolly testing her to see how far she’ d go, right? Had to know he had her by the tetas. Shit, even I knew she was desperate.
So after a couple weeks, what does Gilda do? Yup, you guessed it: Moms took that check Teofi got from the big art collector and delivered it straight into the Babalawo’s sticky hands. Pow! Shit was a done deal, money spent, no returns, by the time Teofi finally found out.
Well I ain’t gotta tell you that shit started World War III at our house. Almost got clipped in the eye by one of the plates Gilda threw at Teofi when they started fighting. When Shorty saw that she stopped tryna break it up and got our asses outta there. We ran over to one of the neighbors, an old Puerto Rican lady with a mustache who lived right under us—used to take her broom and bang at the ceiling all day to tell us kids to be quiet. So she prolly wasn’t too happy to see Shorty and me on her doorstep, but she took us in anyway. Turned the volume on the tv way up so we wouldn’t have to hear them fighting. Let us stay there all night watching The Honeymooners and eating arroz con gandules in her living room till we finally heard the chaos upstairs stop.
When we went back up, the door to our apartment was open. Yo, that place was fucking destroyed, meng. Tore up from the flo’ up. Glass was everywhere—one of the bookshelves full of Moms’ adornos had got knocked over, breaking the coffee table and all the adornos with it. Our apartment was one of them true NYC joints, narrow like a vice and piled high to the ceiling with shelves Pops built to hold all of Moms’ shit. Garbage was spilled out across the floor in the kitchen, clothes had got thrown all over the bedroom. We looked out the open window and saw some of Moms’ dresses lying on the sidewalk—the bums were already picking them up and fighting over them. The mirror in the bathroom was cracked and there was blood in the sink, like someone broke their reflection with their fist.
After all that madness the apartment was dead quiet. Only sound was our feet crunching glass on the floor. We tiptoed around, looking for Moms and Pops, but they were gone. No note, nothing. I started bugging out, like, They left us, they left us alone! But Shorty stayed cool. She paced up and down looking at everything for a minute, then she locked all the locks on the door and took us into our room, the one spot in the place that didn’t get destroyed. She must’ve known if we went back down to Mrs. Nieves she might call the police or child services or whatever. I was acting like a baby, but Shorty was a soldier. She laid down with me and stroked my head till I fell asleep.
Early the next morning we woke up to Pops banging at the door. He couldn’t get in cuz Shorty locked the deadbolt. We opened the door for him and he looked at us, then at the mess in the apartment, with his mouth open like the cabrón forgot he done that shit himself. Right away he started crying, hugging us and telling us I’m sorry, I’m sorry, like a little bitch. One hand was wrapped with white gauze and it kept getting caught in our hair while he patted our heads. Shorty told him it was okay—we ain’t never seen him cry like that—but I was tight. I wanted to know what he did with our Moms.
He told us she was sick and had to go to the hospital for a while. I didn’t believe him. Sick from what? What’ d he do to her? I felt this fire coming under my skin, this—I don’t know—this fucking rage. Used to feel that shit sometimes, like one of them outer body experiences they talk about on the science channel, tú sabe. Was too big for my little jitterbug ass, made me step outside myself.
So I man up to Pops like he’s not three times the size of me and demand to see my moms. He tells me we can’t, says she’s sleeping right now, and he reaches out to hug me again, but I am not having that shit. I’m mad scared that he killed our moms or that maybe she left us and went to live with the Babalawo. Pops wasn’t hardly never around, so how was I about to trust him? I’m thinking now I gotta be the man Moms was always telling me to be and take control. I pull a big piece of glass from the floor and I point it right at him. I tell him if he did anything to my moms I will kill him.
Shorty starts crying a little then, telling me C’mon, don’t do that, but I’m not hearing her. Pops is standing there staring at the glass in my hand. He don’t wanna look at my face cuz he’s crying again and he’s prolly embarrassed. But he knows I’m fuming, and maybe cuz my temper is his temper, he knows I’m serious. His eyes are all puffy and red, and I can tell he’s just tryna figure out how to play this. Could’ve prolly taken that shit out my hands and ended it right there, except for some reason, he don’t. Just tells me to put down the glass. But I scream No! and I tighten my grip on that shit till I feel like I might cut myself on it. Till I can almost feel it going through Pops’ shirt, into his stomach, and I’m afraid I might do it, too. The rage makes my throat clog with tears. But I don’t wanna be crying, crying is for pussies. So I grit my teeth and dig my feet into the crunchy floor. I say, Tell me what you did to my mom. He moves back and puts his hands down like, Yo, take it easy. He tells me she’s resting right now and I shout, I don’t believe you! I step closer to him with the glass pointed right at his stomach. Take us to see her, I say. He leans in like he’s gonna tackle me, so I hold out the glass and bend my knees to dodge him, and that’s when Shorty screams out bloody murder.
It shakes both of us. We hadn’t really been paying her no mind, tú sabe, but now we turn to look at her and her face is all twisted. She’s crying, not just a little like before, more like something’s really hurting her. Then we see the blood dripping down her legs, and I’m like, Oh shit! I see it’s coming from her hands—she’s got them balled up into tight fists. She’s got two pieces of glass, one in each fist, and she’s just been squeezing that shit that whole time we been arguing. Teofi and me are all, What the fuck! We both rush to open her fists and get the glass out her hands. I tell Teofi to leave us alone, we don’t need his help, and he does go away for a minute. But he comes back with a towel and I take it, cuz there’s blood everywhere, shit looks like a fucking war scene, and Shorty’s whimpering like a hurt puppy. Now I’m telling her to calm down, but she can’t stop crying, and soon she looks up at Teofi with her big wet eyes and says all quiet, I think I need to go to the hospital.
So we take our second cab that month, this time to the ER. They walk us back to the kids’ part and take care of Shorty real quick. I don’t even know what the fuck Pops tells them about how her hands got all cut like that, but luckily she don’t need no stitches or nothing, just has to get bandaged up. When they’re done, Shorty asks, Can we go see Moms now? Like it was her plan all along. I watch Teofi’s face get all droopy when he sighs. I know he’s prolly wrestling with that shit, cuz what’s worse, letting us see our moms with the crazies in the psych ward, or not showing us and having us worry she’s gone from this earth? In the end I guess he figures we’re already in the hospital, and if he doesn’t show us now, we’ll definitely think his ass was lying to us. So he takes us upstairs to see her.
What can I say about seeing my moms in the loony bin for the first time? Shit wasn’t like no movie I ever seen. Cuz in the movies they don’t show you what it smells like, like piss and soup they done cooked up and reheated over and over till it smells like piss, too. And they don’t get the sounds right neither. Cuz it ain’t just the beeping machines and the ringing phones, it’s the big lady in the corner talking in a real high voice about how she’s Michael Jackson and the most beautiful model that ever lived and a newborn baby she just gave birth to herself. It’s the smelly-ass dude in a hospital gown giggling while he’s taking a shit in the middle of the hallway while the nurses are all yelling at him. It’s the CLUNK of the big electric doors locking behind you when you realize they ain’t locking the doors to keep you safe, they’re locking them to keep the people on the outside safe from what’s going on in there.
Now I done seen plenty of crazies in my time. Even been held up in Psych III for a minute myself. But I ain’t never forgotten that first time. I was just a caraito, tú sabe, and that was my moms. I remember the way the nurse gave us kids this painful-looking smile when we walked up to the station, like she was mad at Pops for bringing us but she was still gonna try and make us feel like everything was normal. Remember the dude Gilda was sharing her room with, too, some skinny white guy sitting up in the bed holding this little teddy bear to his chest. Had his eyes wide open straight watching the air in front of him like it was some type of magic show. Didn’t even blink when we came in. Shorty and me walked real slow past his bed. I tried to grab Shorty’s hand but she had them all bandaged up, so instead I just wrapped my arm around her elbow and hooked her into me real close, like she could protect me or some shit. She was walking a little in front of me so she saw how they had Moms strapped to the bed before I did. Had these leather straps on her feet and hands, tied up to the bed rails like she was being crucified. Guess Pops didn’t know they were gonna do that neither, cuz he got real tight when he saw it. He walked over to get the nurse and told her to take the cuffs off. Moms was passed out, didn’t even look like she’ d put up no fight, but the nurse said she had to have them on. Said Moms was a flight risk, which made me think of birds and that night we went to Tavern on the Green.
Looking at Moms like that, passed out and all tied up, I thought for sure they was gonna kill her. I got even more scared and started crying. Shorty did, too. I started shaking Moms till she woke up. She looked around all nervous like she didn’t know where she was. She tried to move her hands and feet, looking confused when she saw she was stuck. Started flopping up and down in that bed like a fly trapped in a cup. Took her a minute to notice us standing there. But when she did, she smiled real big and calm like she was still dreaming. My babies, she said. Come here.
I threw myself onto the bed. Shorty followed my lead and crawled onto the other side of her and we stretched our arms out across her body while she pecked at our heads like a chicken. I put my face right up in her neck like how I did when she was putting me to sleep at home. She smelled like strong-ass hospital detergent and some chalky medicine. My babies, she kept saying. My babies. She was always saying that—don’t know who she was tryna convince that we were still her babies, herself or us.
Tell them we’re going home now, I told her. Tell them we’re leaving.
You’re my little babies, you’re the ones that matter, she kept on. Pops was looking away, letting us have our moment. But then Moms noticed Shorty’s hands and she was all, Por dios! What happened to you? She pulled on her arms in the straps and tried to sit up again, tryna get a better look. Shorty didn’t say nothing, just shrugged her shoulders into Moms’ chest. Moms looked at Pops and he shook his head, looking like he was about to start crying again. And bueno, when Gilda saw that I guess she thought Teofi did that shit and she started screaming and cursing at him like she just done remembered he was the one that put her ass in that bed in the first place. She called for the nurse to let her out, screaming, Look at what this animál did to my baby! When the nurse came she pulled us off Moms, everyone was screaming and no one could hear Shorty crying that she did it to herself. The nurse told Teofi to take us outta there. He tried to back us up and block us from seeing Moms, but we fought against him. I wiggled out of his grip and watched while the nurse held Moms down to put a shot in her arm. First Moms was fighting it but soon enough her head started nodding off and her fists fell open like blooming flowers. The nurse took out one of them teddy bears the other dude had—I guess every crazy got one—and she put it by Moms’ armpit, right where Shorty was just laying. She stroked Moms’ head and put her back to sleep the same way Moms would do to us when we had bad dreams.
I think maybe right there is when I started seeing that grown-ups don’t know what the fuck’s really going on neither. You’re either born with a sense for what’s going on, like Shorty, or you ain’t never figuring it out. Guess I’m option B, cuz look where I’m at.
When Moms got out we tried to act like ain’t nothing happened. You could tell Teofi felt real bad about how shit went down. Was following Moms around with her pills every day and cooking his ramen concoctions for us in the kitchen, reading the evening menu out like we was back at Tavern on the Green instead of our crooked-ass shoebox in the Heights. Moms was all glassy-eyed and quiet, like they done snatched up her soul in that place. Like she wasn’t gonna forgive none of us, not Teofi or herself neither. Guess I needed to get a rise outta her, cuz one day I thought it’ d be funny to put on the bag Teofi used to slip his arms into to open his film. Something about it reminded me of a straitjacket, something I’ d prolly seen on tv, I don’t know. I slipped my skinny-ass arms into that bag and came running out like, Look at me, I’m like Mami! And bueno pa que fue eso, Moms covered her face with a shaky hand, looking like she done seen her own ghost. I could tell I damn near broke her heart, but I knew the damage was done so I ran around the living room for a minute, squawking like a cuckoo bird. Teofi grabbed me and told me, Take it off right this minute, caraito. Then he gave me a whoopin like I’ d ain’t never known him to give me before.
Few weeks later when we had to pack up our bags and hop on a bus back to the viejos’ house, I knew it was my fault for pulling that shit. I didn’t say hardly nothing the whole way down. But by the time we got to Allapattah, Moms seemed normal again. Started sewing our clothes and packing our lunches like a real mom—shit, I think she even helped me with my homework a couple times. Thought that was the end of some bad nightmare we could pretend never happened. Nobody brought up the hospital neither, definitely not the viejos. They were happy we was back, long as Gilda stayed her ass in their house where they could see her.
Pero sure enough shit started getting too claustrophobic for her. Woman ain’t never been happy without some drama in her life. Wish I could say I ain’t the same way. I tried to give her the trouble she needed, too, started running around with my cousin and fucking up in school. Was like one of them monkeys at the zoo, swinging from tree to tree slinging their shit. Was the only way I knew how to get people’s attention, tú sabe. But then I just became another thing she wanted to escape. Wasn’t long before she took her ass right back to Teofi in Nueva York. Talking about singing at the clubs again, about trying out for the fucking Apollo like she was some rising star. We knew better than to think that would happen. But who was gonna tell her no?