Los Angeles
July, 1999

Dear Consuela,

As for what you asked, let me begin by telling you one of my childhood's memories

The scene always repeated itself in a grotesque routine: First, I could hear him outside looking for the right key to the apartment. Then, in an elaborate process, he would turn the key once, then twice, unlocking the door wide open with a creaking, frightening sound.

The crackling of his shoes against the wooden floor would always point to the kitchen, and, from upstairs, the sounds seemed all too familiar: the old hinges of the cupboard doors, the glass landing on the marble sink, the subdued opening of the refrigerator, the water being poured slowly but forcefully. One gulp, two gulps, and then, silence.

That was when the turn of events became unforeseeable, and my heart would start to pound in anxiety. Would my mother be awake this time? Would she be waiting for him to go to bed? Would she say anything this time, and spark yet another fight? Would he sneak in the bedroom, and say he loved her with his strong alcohol-scented breath?

What would it be that night? Those few minutes of waiting hurt me the most. If the silence lasted for more than five minutes, I would squeeze my stuffed pet real tight, and thank the Lord for His compassion. But more often than not, shouting, cursing and threats would break loose, and I would get down on my knees next to my bed, and start praying to baby Jesus to make it all stop.

Sometimes, He would answer my prayers, and the screaming would last no more than a couple of minutes. But most of the time, He wouldn't. In those occasions, I would think He was sleeping, or taking care of more pressing affairs. But that was only in the beginning. The more often the fights became, the less I believed in Him.

"Shut up, you bitch. Shut the fuck up! You've become an old woman, a wrinkled, whining old bitch," my father would shout. "Where was I? I was out! I had to be out because I can't stand this house, I can't stand you! What do you care who I was with? It's none of your motherfucking business! I am a free man. I don't owe you anything. I don't owe you any respect!"

The shouting would usually go on for at least half an hour, and the outcome quickly became highly predictable: The slamming of doors, and the muffled sound of my mother's crying echoing a melancholic melody through the dark night. I could not even begin to fathom how a woman could take that kind of abuse.

When silence was reestablished, I would climb to the top of our bunk bed, and hug my little brother. We would whisper in each others' ears that we would, one day, move out of that house, of that barrio, of that city; we would promise each other to live long enough to see my father pay for all the suffering he had put us through. And we would provide for my mother, for she should have everything she ever dreamed of, everything she deserved.

That was a long time ago, but those nights of little sleep and much fear left an indelible stain in my soul. My catholic education always left me thinking that I was to blame, that, somehow, I was responsible for all that was happening. Guilt was a burden I carried over for a long time.

But I had to let it go.

And so do you, my sweet Consuela.

I understand you too well. So I won't preach about what's right or wrong. But if there is one thing I could tell you, this would be it: - Don't let your father push you around. Don't let him walk all over you. I know it's hard, but you have to work your way out of this situation. You have to understand that his life, and your mother's life, are not yours. There is, and there will always be, nothing you can do to remedy, patch or change this situation.

Bare in mind that you're not to blame. It's not your fault for a misguided marriage, for an unhappy and painful union. You are a bright, intelligent and beautiful woman. So fight, my darling. Fight for yourself, and make your dreams come true far from that sick environment you are shackled to. Get out of your cocoon, of that clustering, suffocating house.

You have a great opportunity to smack them flat right now: - You have been accepted at a great college, which is both good and, most importantly, far from there. Your mother will be all right. Your father will be all right. It's their life, and they, only they, are the ones in a position to change it. If you stay, nothing will change, and, in this case, you, and only you, will be the one to blame.

Don't let them lock you in a world that is not yours. My childhood experience has been too intense, too painful for me to forget. But I learned to deal with it, to let the anger go, but most importantly, I learned how to walk with own feet. I carved my way out of there.

Your parents had a chance to choose what they wanted to do with their lives.

So do you.

Don't let them take that away.

I beg you.

Much love,

Maria Gonzales

P.S. You know where to find me, if shelter becomes a pressing matter.

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