Currently, a part time writer and full time teacher.
At fifteen years old, during the summer of my Junior/Senior year in high school,
I...read more had to operate my father’s automobile service station and support our five-
person family. Mom stayed home to raise the kids.
When school began, I attended classes in the morning and then went to the
station and worked until 9:00 PM. Saturdays I worked from 8:00 AM to 9:00 PM.
My father finally recuperated from his heart attack and was able to return to
work the summer I graduated from high school. I broke my leg and couldn’t work,
but when it was healed, I offed to college paying my own way by working in a
commercial bakery. And I have not stopped working.
Writing? I remember my mother sitting at the kitchen table banging away at the
old, Underwood typewriter. I used to race around the table on my tricycle. When
I went off to college, my friends and I exchanged thoughts through handwritten
letters I still have in my possession. Maybe a future memoir.
In the meantime, I write and encourage my middle school students to do the same.
.“A SOUND.” Jasmine’s eyes opened. She slipped from beneath the sheets and eased out of the bed, careful not to wake Fernando. Holding her hands on her stomach, she walked out of the bedroom. Beneath her fingers, she felt her baby role. She was to be a seventeen-year-old mama.
“Someone in the front room. The window open. A warring gang!” She spun to run, she yelled, “Fernando.” She heard the cracks of gunfire and sharp pain — “my back, my neck.” She fell forward into the bathroom. “My baby.”
Jasmine saw people die. She saw cousins die, friends die, her uncle die, and her brother die. Some died quickly. Others lingered somewhere between life and death until they no longer gesticulated nor muttered incomprehensible syllables, no longer shed tears, no longer whispered prayers, no longer breathed, no longer lived. She had helplessly watched as the shroud of death glazed over their eyes and sucked their souls from their bodies.
She had seen it all before, but not this close. Not close enough to feel its encroachment, its relentless, slow, determined march like an elephant dragging its hind quarters a mile over desert terrain to reach its sacred burial ground far from the herd. Not close enough to feel the slowing of a heartbeat until it stops, leaving an empty silence so loud it drowns out everything else. And then, darkness. Silence. Nothing. Not close enough for her to hear, see, feel, smell or taste anything a final time. Not close enough to know that this might be the end. Life’s end. Her end.
Jasmine didn’t suspect that her heartbeats were numbered, the allotment assigned before she was born; for the first she was too young to remember — and she didn’t suspect the imminent approach of the last.
She felt the cool, tile floor against her cheek. It was refreshing. It gave her a sense of being: it was now, the present, human existence. Life.
But everything was blurry; she tried to focus. She could see the black underneath of the sink. Copper and chrome, water and drain pipes reached through the floor and up alongside the wall and into the belly of the basin. The underside was rough, pocked, speckled, and ugly. She remembered when she was little, she was afraid of the one in her childhood home. She recalled running her hand beneath the sink; “something sharp, pain, blood.” Her parents had to cover it with a towel so she could feel safe using the bathroom.
...read more (2/9)The street light, sputtering and threatening to burn out, cast an eerie illumination into the small room. The blinds had missing slats, and the drawstrings were frayed. The window was dirty from the pigeons that sat above it and defecated on a daily basis. Rain sometimes washed away most of the mess, but when the window dried, there were always white streaks left behind, and then the droppings continued. Jasmine could hear a fly buzzing against the pane, trying to escape its inevitable tomb.
The walls were tiled halfway up with outdated faux-marble, green, plastic squares held together with old, cracked, and yellowed grout. The rest was wallpapered with a large, red flower pattern. The color on the wall above the toilet was faded by the sun.
All around the room the paper was peeling, and the lime-colored paint on the molding was curling. Small piles of pigment chips were at various locations around the room: on the floor, the edge of the tub, atop the windowsill, and on the tray that sat above the toilet that held the near-empty can of air-freshener and the last roll of toilet paper. Each time a bath or shower was taken, bits of mold-frosted enamel washed away with the water.
The tub was rust-colored at the drain and down the side beneath the faucet. The finish was gone, and the remaining caste iron was pocked and rusting through. The stopper didn’t work. The store-bought, salmon-colored plug that could lay flat over the hole rested atop the soap dish that oozed a moss-colored slime.
The hand-me-down towels were threadbare, and the washcloth, although clean, was so soiled, it looked as if it had been used to wash floors. The mirror on the medicine cabinet door was cracked. It was like that when Fernando and Jasmine moved in six months ago. The landlord said he would fix it. But it still remains.
The plastic plants atop the radiator that came with the apartment were covered with dust. The crucifix behind the door had fallen so many times, an arm, leg, and head were missing. The room was lit by only one of the three bulbs in the ceiling fixture. The bottom of the dingy, opaque globe revealed years of dead flies, beetles, moths, and mosquitoes along with other things that seemed to always be moving.
Various corners of a few of the green, floor tiles were missing, exposing the cement that had once firmly held the covering in place and was now propagating black mold. The sink’s faucet continuously dripped no matter how many times Jasmine called the landlord. And the toilet continually ran.
...read more (3/9)Jasmine listened. For the first time the sound was soothing. “Maybe, there is somewhere safe.”
The toilet seat was yellowed, cracked and stained beneath. There was an omnipresent, putrid odor of urine that clung to the insides of the radiator, having splashed there from when the previous tenants used the toilet. Neither Jasmine nor Fernando smelled it. Their olfactory nerves were deadened by the omnipresent cloud of cigarette and marijuana smoke that hung in the air. But for some reason, Jasmine could smell it now. “A public bathroom at the beach.”
Lying face down and bleeding on the asphalt floor, Jasmine knew almost all the answers. She had always known that her death would be violent. Her life was, why not her death? And she knew she would die young like everyone else. Maybe even this year, this month, or this week. Maybe even today, July 17th. But up until this moment, she hadn’t known how, who, where, or why.
Of all the dreams she had, either in night or the day, she never dreamed an unborn life would die with her. But maybe they weren’t dying. Her life wasn’t flashing before her. It was progressing in a painfull slow motion. She tried to move but couldn’t. She heard the faint sounds of pistol shots echoing inside her brain. “The taste of blood.”
A mouse stuck its nose out through the over-sized, toilet-pipe hole in the floor. Jasmine looked with glassy eyes and forced a smile. “Come here so I can pet your nose.” Her mind drifted back to last August.
* * *
Jasmine lived within a disharmonic social vortex: a deadly whirlpool of anger, hate, fear, and revenge that she longed to escape. But she didn’t know how. The trap she was in, the cage, the prison was making her insane. But the insanity is what kept her alive. It was laced with paranoia. She learned to neither trust nor have faith in anything or anyone.
Jasmine’s life was existential. All her feelings, words, actions, responses, and thoughts were the result of the pressures of her physical and emotional environment on her psyche. There was no amount of book learning, no amount of classroom education, no amount of logical reasoning that helped her exist. All was from experience.
Jasmine only had emotional intelligence. She rarely weighed the consequences of her conduct, choosing to act first and then deal with the results. And, she didn’t seem to retain the subsequent lessons for very long, no matter how severe.
...read more (4/9)Her nights were fitful. She often woke up in a cold sweat. Her mind was consumed with plotting ways to leave the present and return to the past — or somehow miraculously jump to the future — to exist anywhere, anytime but now. But now was where she was, hating her lot in life, angry at her past — although not knowing why, fearful of the future, and never knowing whether she’d survive the present to see tomorrow.
An evil history followed her around like a shadow, threatening to expose itself: always there, even in the dark, or anytime she closed her eyes. It pressed her mind backward until she was twelve, living in Cuba. She couldn’t remember any of her prior childhood. She would continually try but without success. The future, although bleak, seemed to be a better place.
Whether raised in Cuba or the United States, in affluent or poor environments, it seems that all children grow up never evolving past what their parents think, what they know, what they do, or how they act toward other human beings. They form a new generation, but with old habits. They are born with an inherited memory that is passed down through antiquity that cannot be erased. They have similar prejudices and treat each other the same way — putting themselves first at the expense of those around them — each generation seeming to discover new ways to terrorize, new ways to dominate, new ways to bring about the demise of others.
This is the static or sometimes reverse evolution of humans: making the same mistakes generation after generation.
* * *
And so, this new generation, these fledglings, these high school eleventh-graders, still with a chance to change history, herded into the classroom. But their chances of innovation, of original thought, of “out-of-the-box thinking were non existent.
They are following the only examples before them: their parents, celebrities, politicians, radio hosts, TV personalities — unaware of their connection to the world and every other living thing — incognizant of the inherent, epigenetic “déjà vu” of their thoughts and actions. Their own separate microcosms are their sole priorities: What’s for lunch? How do I look? Who’s that hot girl? Who’s that cute guy? I remember her from last year, I hate her. I can’t wait to get out of here and be done with school.
...read more (5/9)Most know some of the students. Only a few know no one because they are new this year: transferred in because their parents divorced, they lost their house, they outlived their welcome at one of their separated parent’s home, or they moved to the US from any number of countries: England, Haiti, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Puerto Rico, or Cuba.
The door closed, and for the most part, they are quiet, waiting to be named for attendance. Halfway through the ritual, the classroom door opened and in walked Jasmine in a pair of heals. Not Cuban heels, but go-out-on-a-date, high heels.
She looked as if she must have taken a wrong turn on her way to a singles’ bar. In stockings, a miniskirt, a plunging-neckline blouse that exposed a skimpy, lacy bra, hair pulled tight behind her head, painted eyebrows, black outlining her glossed lips, a tiny nose, brown eyes, a long neck, and cinnamon skin covering a slim, athletic-looking body, Jasmine slipped into the classroom. She looked twenty-five.
Her eyes flashed. She was already angry, and this was only the first day of school. “I hate this place.” But there wasn’t any place she liked.
Her hostility was an accumulation of disturbances. She spent an hour this morning trying to cover up the scars on her legs from the years’ past beatings from her mother. She shaved her eyebrows and then painted on new ones. She had to sew her torn skirt that was damaged when her ex-boyfriend ripped it off her just last week to rape her.
It wasn’t the first time. She was raped regularly. She resisted to a point. The alternative was to be unprotected from the opposing gangs. It was like selling her soul to the devil. She was safe from strangers, but continually in jeopardy from her protectors. And it wasn’t the first boyfriend to rape her. They all did it. That was the way it was. That was the accepted nature of things.
She put up with the beatings from her mother because the alternative was to be shipped back to Cuba. She didn’t know what was back there. But each time she was threatened with being returned, her heart began to pound, her pulse raced, she began to hyperventilate, and beads of sweat appeared on her brow. Whatever was back there, she knew must be horrible. She tried to remember, but she never could.
She didn’t choose to come to America. She didn’t know anything about Florida. And she didn’t want to be here.
...read more (6/9)When they arrived they were to go to a particular address, and there they would be given food, clothing, and a place to stay. That was four years ago. Since then, her mother found work in Bradenton and Jasmine was enrolled in school.
“I don’t need anyone in the room, nor do I want to know anyone. By law, I have to be here.” But her mind and soul were elsewhere: busy socializing, walking, lying, stealing, fighting, running, swearing, hating, yelling, and threatening to get even.
This was her second time in 11th grade, an experience she preferred not to repeat again.
She spent the last year in an all girls’ school. It was decided that being isolated from males was best. She was consumed with seeking male attention. She spent every minute she could with males, young and old, it didn’t matter. She couldn’t concentrate on anything else but gaining male acceptance any way she could. She was desperate for the love she had lacked since being a baby. A love that could have made her whole, but now its absence had made her obsessed with finding a Yang.
She was a paradox, an enigma. Like saying she didn’t want anyone to care about her. Yet all she did said, “Look at me. Care about me.”
She didn’t want anyone to know her, yet she constantly spoke about herself.
Once she took her seat, the angry scowl disappeared. She sat and surveyed the room, evoking an expressionless mask on her face. “I am so bored.”
Her nails were chewed to the finger. So, although she gave the appearance that she was cool and collected, she was pulsing with nerves.
Within moments, a student aid walked through the door and escorted her out and down to student services where she was instructed to call her mother for a change of clothes. And that was the beginning of a another tumultuous, yearlong relationship with yet another school.
She was definitely a rule breaker. Not only in the way she dressed, but all rules: timeliness to class, proper language, work ethic, attendance, and studying for tests.
Her ability to read and comprehend eleventh-grade material was limited, however, her street-wise demeanor kept her above the rest of the student body. She spoke English but with a slight Cuban accent.
...read more (7/9)She rarely looked people in the eyes. The problem was that most of the information she offered was a lie. Whatever story she told, it was always a lie within a lie. Or a lie about a lie. Or just a lie. So, it was difficult to determine what was real and what was not. However, she evoked sympathy. All her teachers wanted to help her.
She was a consummate manipulator. Her beauty was captivating and she seemed clean and smelled so. Her perfume was intoxicating and her stories compelling. Anyone in her presence couldn’t help but be drawn into her web.
She was so consumed with gaining male attention her academic work suffered. She continually placed herself in predicaments that caused the administration to prevent her from attending class, pulling her out mostly to call her mother to bring her a change of clothes. She dressed inappropriately on purpose. She craved attention from the opposite sex.
Jasmine was almost seventeen and had already spent five years wilting in the garden of life that was created to grow young adults and prepare them for parenthood, upright citizens, and a successful career.
Jasmine’s home life was not blanketed with peace and calm but spiked with unrest and conflict. And so, she developed a warlike state of mind that permeated all that she did and said.
* * *
It was her second month of school and she was about to walk into her only mainstreamed classroom when a female teacher retained her in the hall.
“I didn’t do anything,”
“You’re dressed inappropriately.”
“I’ve already been written up.”
“I’ll check,” and the teacher walked away.
Jasmine’s eyes blazed and yet revealed deep pain. Her teacher waited until the rest of the class was settled into the work at hand and then took Jasmine out into the hall. She was dressed in heals, stockings, a black, club skirt with lengths cut to points. Her top revealed too much skin.
“You can’t continually dress this way.”
“Because this is a school with fourteen-year-olds.”
“What does that have to do with it?”
“The school and the district have dress code rules.”
“I hate this school.”
“It doesn’t matter what you hate or not, you can’t dress this provocatively.”
“What does provocatively mean?”
“To arouse sexual interest.”
“What does arouse mean?”
...read more (8/9)“Forget it, just don’t dress this way. In fact, it would also be inappropriate for college or the workplace.”
This was the first time Jasmine looked into her teacher’s eyes. Since that point, she became attached.
Within a month, because of her poor grades, guidance decided to rearrange her schedule and take her out of all her mainstream classes.
However, as an incentive to encourage her to do her work, she was allowed to visit her favorite teacher every Friday if she completed all her ESE assignments. She used her “favorite teacher’ to be near Fernando.
While waiting for the teacher to finish a segment of instruction, she would sit atop the stool in the front of the class so that she could be seen by all the students. Infrequently, she would walk in between the rows of desks and attempt to assist the students with their work, always stopping at Fernando’s. She would do anything for Fernando.
The next day was a Thursday and Jasmine was trying to recover from a nightmare she had Wednesday night. She was twelve, naked, struggling on a bed, her arms held straight over her head, a man spreading her legs. She jumped awake, her heart pounding. Was it real? Did it happen? She was seething with anger.
During lunch she decided to harass another female. She made the mistake of grabbing her. The student turned and quickly landed a flurry of punches that knocked Jasmine to the ground with a bloody mouth and bruised eye. She was suspended for ten days and refused to return to school.
It was seventh period and the classroom phone rang. The guidance counselor asked Jasmine’s favorite teacher if she would call Jasmine and encourage her to return to school. She called but didn’t leave a message. Within a minute, her phone rang.
“Who is this? You called me.”
“It’s Ms. Hathaway.”
“Jasmine, you’ve got to come back to school.”
“I’m coming back on Monday, I’ve already decided.”
It was a Friday afternoon. Monday came and she did not appear. However, she came on Tuesday. But before Friday, she was gone again. The next Monday morning before school, she went over to a friend’s with the intentions of going to school, and while there, her cell phone rang. She said it was her mother and had to leave.
Rumors were floating throughout the school that she was in a gang and was prostituting herself so she could have money to buy drugs. She was spending her nights out of the house.
...read more (9/9)She came to school on the next Wednesday and spent the whole day sleeping in Student Services.
Fernando thought she was hanging with gang members. He said she wouldn’t even say hello to him. At one time, she chased after Fernando.
The next week she came to school, stayed a week walking around the courtyards before class following him. The next week she disappeared. Fernando left soon after.
Eight months later some saw her at the local pharmacy. She looked pregnant. She was living with Fernando in a rented apartment in a rundown neighborhood. Fernando wasn’t working, but he always had money.
* * *
Jasmine was losing blood fast. The back of her neck burned. She lay face down, atop her unborn child, unable to move.
Her mind opened up. She was being held down. A man was forcing himself between her legs, hurting her, ripping her. She began to scream, but someone else covered her mouth.
Feeling was leaving. Jasmine knew the how, the who, and the where. But not the why? Was it her heritage, her nationality, her upbringing, her destiny? Was it because of her attitude, her hate, her fear, her fate? Was it her skin color, her accent, the way she dressed, the way she walked? Was this the way of all Cuban girls? Why? One last question to answer — left unanswered.
Dark. Black. Nothing.
A baby’s tiny heartbeat. Weaker. Slowing. Silent.