I woke up to the rapid vibrations of hushed voices piercing my pillow. Before hearing them out, I turned closer to San Miguel on the nightstand. I pulled the covers tight above my head, folded my hands and silently pleaded that my dad wasn’t hanging out with his best friend, Johnnie Walker, again. For sure, I thought all the santos had granted my wishes, for I could only hear the voices of women coming from the other end of the hallway: “Teresita, recapacita, this has to stop. You can’t keep living this way. Mira eta mierda.” I knew too well to stay out of grown folks way, especially at 6 a.m., but that didn’t stop me from tiptoeing past my snoring dad and strolling towards the glowing light in the kitchen.
I stood at the doorway staring at her; forcing myself to reconcile the woman from yesterday in her tight leather skirt and pink heeled boots pacing the street corner with the shattered frame on the chair. My mom was feverishly rubbing vivapuru over her black eye when she saw me. I braced myself waiting for the fresh sting of the chancleta. “Josefina, baja te abajo a donde Margarita. Tell her to give you a little bit of cebo and sal.” “But Mami, I said, it’s 6 am!” “Y yo te pregunte hora?! Go, go, take Edgar with you.”
For the first time, I noticed Edgar slouched on the ironing board with his hands folded in his lap. He kept his head hung low staring at his pants. Judging by his stillness, I realized that he didn’t understand that my mom’s sandals curved like a boomerang. I grabbed his arm jolting him back to life and bolted towards the doorway. Before we could mutter our words at her front door, Margarita was at work with my mom, shifting her way between Teresita and the pot on the stove. We left them to the cotton swabs, the Ave Maria’s and that awful smell of jengibre, herbs and I’m gonna save yous, boiling on the stove.
Later that day, we skipped the afternoon service at church. Mami told me that it was okay because God knew our hearts. I didn’t know whether I should pretend that I cared or quietly thank God that I didn’t have to sit in a pew that felt like concrete with itchy ass stockings and a stiff dress. I nodded and smiled at Edgar. Missing church meant that we could stay in our PJs, watch reruns of Saved by the Bell, and dance to the music videos on the Box.
It went on this way with us for months. Not the missing church part, Dios lo libre, but me and Edgar used to run with each other a lot. There was a two week stay when my mom had to put Teresita in the tub. She was so far gone she thought she was drowning. The time we found her on our stoop with a bloody lip and a missing tooth bought him six months with us. He stood the longest in our house when she gave birth to his baby brother and left him in the drawer at St. Luke’s. But that was the last time. I didn’t see him much after that. I used to think it was because the man at the pawn shop called my mom and told her that Teresita brought in her jewelry for some cash. I doubt it though, because I overheard her telling my Tia Mari: “Teresita didn’t mean to steal my stuff. It was el vició, you know?”
Although, Teresita was no longer a regular, things didn’t change much. Papi leaned heavier on the Barcardi and the gambling spot while my mom prayed so much to no avail, I was surprised she didn’t become an atheist. She did eventually grow tired of waiting by the window for him to come home, so I took her place. I didn’t lean over the fire escape like she did and scream at the bodegueros not to give him beers. I would pray. Sometimes, if I stared up and down the street for a long time, I would see Teresita stumbling over her feet, change in hand, trying to cop her some manteca. I wonder if she ever saw me.
Not too long ago, on commencement day, I caught a glimpse of a man whose face didn’t bear the weight of time. I scrambled to catch up to him, almost splitting my heels in half, “yo Edgar”, I shouted. He turned around, same innocent face, as if he hadn’t already seen medio mundo by the age of sixteen. “Josefina?! No way, man. No way. How are you girl?” We hugged each other tight. “I’m good, I said, came out here to Florida to study marine biology. What’s up with you?” “I’m just here for the weather,” he joked. We both laughed. “Nah, I just finished my bachelors in civil engineering,” he said with a deep smile. “Look at you!” I teased.
We reminisced a bit about the past before I thought to ask, “how’s your mom, Teresita?” I almost regretted it before he said, “She died a long time ago. Had a strange disease doctors didn’t know much about — it was brutal but she couldn’t afford the clinical trials.” I recognized that sunken look in his eyes. “I’m sorry, I muttered and patted his shoulder.” “It’s all good, how’s your mother? Your father?” he asked. “Mami is good, I started, she moved back to Santo Domingo. Papi passed away last year, my voice cracked, he had a heart attack.” “Sorry to hear girl”, he said and squeezed my hand. “It’s cool, my mom always said the liquor would have killed him anyway.” The president of the university interrupted us over the loudspeaker and we had to grab our seats.
As we walked towards the auditorium for graduation, I caught a glimpse of the school’s chapel and got a weird feeling — un etiriquito. I think we both felt it. It had to hit us because we both knew that growing up way back then, halfway between that church and that street corner, is where we found our hope, belief in our strength, and comfort in our being. Oh my, if it would have been any different, we could’ve jumped higher and touched our souls.