Summer of ‘73
It was after the funeral that things got real. I didn’t want to leave the only home I knew on 117th & Second. After spending all those years taking care of Mamí I had to learn how to take care of myself at 16 and I had no idea what that meant. I was a care taker, everyone around me treated me like I knew what I was doing, so pretty much I was on my own. Grownups acted like everything was back to normal after the funeral. Very rarely was I asked how I felt if I was okay – that kind of language came later in life when more attention was given to children who lose parents at a young age. But back then, everyone was having their own private revolution. I tried to stay in El Barrio without having a real place to live anymore. So summer of ’73 was just me hanging out with friends whose’s Mothers made sure I had a hot plate of food. The” aye benditos” were handed out generously. Folks found it fascinating that I was an only child. I mean, how can I be a Puerto Rican girl be an only child? That was not normal by folk’s standards of thinking at the time. Whenever I would say that I had no brothers and sisters, the response was always met with suspicion and the next question was, “You sure you don’t have a brother or sister around?” I guess at 16 you’re not suppose to know your own life even if you had lived a lifetime through someone else who just died.
The thing about growing up without Mamí is that I always felt like an outsider, visiting my friends was always met with that look of “she’s the one that lost her mother”, followed by a pregnant pause that in the theatre can throw off a whole scene. Without knowing it, I stopped talking about my mother and became a loner, the outsider. I would go to my friend’s home and watch them enjoy having parents and feeling like the guest that they knew deep down inside would leave soon. So I stopped talking about my mother. I stopped crying because after awhile people who have not been there in your pain, your loss could not relate and it made them feel uncomfortable. The only time I could cry was when I would hear one of that summer’s hits on the radio called “I’ll Always Love My Mama” by The Intruders. I say radio because back then we had so many radio stations in New York City that all you had to do was turn the dial and listen. I was a big fan of WBLS. But whenever I heard that song, it brought back the pain I was trying to forget. So closing up my feelings was the best way to survive, pretending that I could handle it, not understanding that I was on my way to becoming someone who would cry in silence.