I do not remember when it began or who started the violence. My father and mother’s alcoholism, the gambling, the life of a “mujeriego” father or, perhaps, my mother’s need to control everybody and everything served as the lightning rod, the “agentes catalíticos”. I remember the beatings until I was around fourteen years of age when she stopped to beat me up. It was around the same time when I told them that I was going to finish my high school a year earlier and go to Ponce to become a “normalista”. I guess the shock of seeing the last of her children moving away made a difference. I think that since I was no longer a child and willing to make decisions on my own led my parents into stopping the violence, the unexpected violence.
A year later, the alcoholism ended when I decided to take the “caneca de ron” away from my parents and threw it away against the concrete floor. Fifty four years later the memory Is still quite vivid: my mother screaming and my father threatening me with, “te voy a matar si le pasa algo”. Terrified, I ran away. After all, he had killed someone “a machetazo limpio” back in Jájome for reasons that were never clear to me. So many decades later the memories come back as I had to call my building's security guards. A few minutes ago, I heard the screams of a woman or an old person. The anxiety, the palpitations, the fear led me to write this blog immediately but did not stop me from making sure that this person or someone else is not abused if I can do something about it, including this brief essay.
“De eso no se habla” is a common phrase in Puerto Rican families. Shame and keeping appearances is more important than the safety of children or others in vulnerable situations. “Los trapos sucios se lavan en casa”, but what about if the “trapos sucios” are covering everybody, hurting children, women, whoever, and there is a pattern to the recurring violence? Then “lavarlos en casa” only camouflages the true dirt, “el fango que se compenetra en la piel, en la sangre, en el alma” and remains there for a very long time. And every time you face the violence, be the bullies’, el gringo bully at City College*, the neighbors at home or the lovers who threaten you with a beating, the palpitations come back, the fear, the terror. And if you keep quiet , "… de noche, quieto, la escondes sobre la almohada; y sueñas con vidas idílicas junto a los tan felices personajes del cine o triunfando en otros entornos más allá de la pobreza y la miseria; cuando te preguntas por qué te tocó a ti vivir esa vida y nadie te oye. Nadie te oye.”* But so many decades later to speak up, to write about it can help with the “limar las asperezas”; might even force others to stop the violence, to face the truth, the painful truth.