All I can remember now is the lush of the trees. Miles and miles of green on those humid summer afternoons when we drove through those suburban New England cottages. How far from home I was that summer. I kept making up little stories in my head, trying to imagine a new life. Was it really that easy to forget about everyone and everything I was leaving behind in California.
How could I forget those clouds of smog I would spot whenever I was up in Griffith Park, or that desert heat that would wrap me up in its warmth? I couldn’t believe I actually left behind my sister… my *mother*, of all people. She and I stopped talking the minute I boarded that plane. I still can’t forget the words she said to me.
“Nunca esperé esto de vos. Eso te enseñe? Que te maltraten de esa manera?”
She was so disappointed that I would ever succumb to *that*…. I remember the incident that night. Everything was such a blur—it all happened so fast. What I remember most was the violent sounds of feet stomping on wooden floors. Those floors cried out as they witnessed everything, alerting everyone in the house. It was only a matter of minutes before my family woke up. After that, the aftermath followed. My mother demanded he leave her house and I couldn’t bare it.
*Now I am here, back in California, still trying to figure it out. Still trying to figure out what I needed to figure out at the time.* A part of me didn’t think twice. New York? Sure, why not? I’ve never been to the East coast. The thought of leaving California sounded like an adventure! I never really thought it through, but then again I was only 20. It was summer and I knew I would eventually be back in California. After all, I was starting school in the fall and maybe things would get better, maybe he would change.
“Maybe,” I whispered under my breath.
The ride from the airport was interesting. I got to meet his mother. She held me in her arms as if I was the son she hadn’t seen this whole time. Maybe she was thinking that through me her son would be back in her arms and everything that happened between them would suddenly be forgotten. “Nene, e’toy tan contento en verte” were her first words. We had spoken over the phone a few times, but this was the first encounter.
I will never forget her cat-like eyes— so intense and full of pain and guilt, they could almost burst from all the intensity. La Guardia Airport was about forty minutes away from her home. I tried keeping up with her conversation, but my eyes wandered around this strange place I suddenly found myself in. It felt surreal.
New York. I was actually in New York meeting my partner’s family and adjusting to my new living situation. I kept repeating this over and over in my head, trying to validate the reality of my compromising situation. I kept thinking about the dark cloud following us. She had no clue that the relationship became violent. I tried hard not to think about that night, but my thoughts went back to the incident. How did we allow the situation to go that far? I loathed remembering those violent flashbacks. The living room was dark but I could still see his face—I could taste the bitter metallic feeling of anger and hysteria in his eyes. It’s strange to be in love with someone you fear. The feelings are too overbearing to carry in your heart that you begin to feel disoriented. You lose yourself in the midst of it all.
He wanted to talk about an argument we had that day, but I was being stubborn. My reluctance to talk angered him and he began pinching my body thinking that would get me to talk. I remember him dragging me on the floor that night but I wouldn’t comply. I kept pushing him off me, trying to resist his overpowering body. By then everyone woke up and the secret was out. It is hard for a mother to embrace the reality that her child is gay and his partner is temporarily staying with them for the summer. It’s even harder to discover that her son is in a violent relationship and he’s been keeping it a secret from her all this time. Now my family knew of what I worked so hard to cover up.
All those scarves and layers of heavy sweaters I’d wear under the blazing sun could not hide the ugly truth. I thought I could hide the bruises. He would never hit me in the face, but he did leave his mark in other places. I would avoid my friends because I didn’t want them to find out. Why was I so ashamed? I felt as if this was my entire fault, and if I just covered everything up things would get better. That’s what I would tell myself. I still think that, I guess….
*I quickly touch the side of my ribcage as I imagine that bite mark covered with tattooed lips of my best friend. LOVE NOT WAR, I thought. Even after everything, I still covered up the evidence. I wanted to right a wrong and find peace within my body and soul. *
…. I am trying to engage in her conversation, but all the while my mind is running 100 miles a minute carrying racing thoughts. It was too much to process in one sitting yet I couldn’t find the strength to look away—much less *run away*.
“I am here stuck in a rut,” I kept thinking so I would look out the window to the myriad of trees as my only distraction from all the hurt I brought with me— 3,000 miles cross-country.
“…When Jr. was little, I remember we would drive around these streets trying to forget about the problems back home. I still can’t believe it’s been a year since I’ve seen my baby.”
She kept reminiscing about their adventures in Long Island. I could tell she had so much to say to him, probably thinking she didn’t have enough time. She kept looking at me with those intense eyes—they would change colors in the light. My grandma always told me never to trust someone whose eyes could change color.
“Baby, pass me a cigarette. The pack is in my bag right next to you.” I loved the way she dropped her “s’s” when she spoke Spanish. When my mom speaks, she usually has a sing along tune that sometimes stresses the wrong vowels in a word. I eventually became an expert at picking up the Salvadoran accent whenever I was out and about running errands. There were actually Salvadorans out here, who would have thought? I felt foolish thinking this, but also comforted by the fact that I was not completely lost.
We eventually arrived to her house. I thought that maybe I would escape that dark cloud following me. The trees would hide me from the pain. Jr. would eventually meet us of course. He caught a later flight to save some money. As I walked into the house, I saw dozens of photographs of a family I had yet to meet. They were all smiling in the portraits, which left me feeling strangely uneasy. I guess the thought of moving to the other side of the country with no plan finally *hit* me. I had no clue who these people were, yet here I was taking up space.
“Baby, your room is the last one to the left. This is your home and I want you to feel comfortable.” She said this to me as she held me in her arms. I didn’t know whether to feel guilty or safe. I wasn’t even thinking of Jr. at the moment and the feeling surprised me. Maybe somewhere deep in my thoughts I felt as though I had escaped the black cloud… *him*. The feeling of running away proliferated in my heart and I knew this was the beginning of something different. I knew for a fact that a plan to head back to California was subconsciously forming in my mind. Soon I would escape.