Joy was Sunday mornings with grandpa eating pancakes smothered in syrup. It was our ritual. Grandpa was diabetic and had already lost his toes on one foot. I loved spending time with him…helping him around the kitchen…trying (and failing) to carry his golf clubs…grabbing the newspaper on rainy mornings. He treated me like royalty. When I told him I wanted skates, instead of buying me those Little Tikes training skates, he took me to Target and bought competitive speed skates. I had never even skated before. Being with grandpa were the greatest moments of my life. 

Now, I want nothing more than to be with him instead of trapped in this car with this woman. Held hostage. 

She had pulled her old, white, buick-shaped vehicle into a garage. “She” was my mother. A troubled woman who had suffered abuse from every person she loved, physically and mentally. I witnessed much of her torment at the hands of men. My older sister, age 8, was in the passenger seat, me in back. Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative” on the radio. Mom exited the vehicle to shut the garage door behind us. The car was still running. The car was still running.

Minutes of silence felt like hours. Time moved at glacial speed. Finally, she spoke. Her voice cracked through her tears. Surrounded by darkness, I realized that this would be a double-murder and suicide. I hadn’t even finished kindergarten. I had a play coming up at school, and I had a whole one-sentence line I was preparing to perform. My entire kindergarten life was revolving around that play.

Her voice spoke of pain…the abuse from her mother who kicked her out of the house the day she graduated high school…her mom, who wouldn’t allow me to call her grandma due to my being Latino, didn’t even attend that graduation. She spoke of failed relationships…the abuse from my dad she suffered and tolerated because she wanted so badly to be loved. She spoke of the difficulty of raising two kids with a dead-end job. She never wanted this life for herself. Now, she was being forced to raise children instead of pursuing her passion, writing.

Because of this pain, the three of us were trapped in this car, in an enclosed garage, and I was wearing this dope ass karate uniform my mom took from her job…I don’t even know karate…and I’m really about to die in a karate suit. This is unbelievable.

Even though this was mom’s doing, she was trapped in so many ways. I once read that “everything breaks if you hit it hard enough,” and this was the moment of her shattering. The pains of her life now shards cutting deeply into two children she never wanted. 

“It’s better if we go together,” she said.

As usual, I couldn’t bring myself to cry. My sister cried hysterically while my eyes bolted back and forth between my mother’s distress and the waterfall running down my sister’s face. It always pains me to see people cry. I remember in that moment wanting to stop the tears from falling down my sister’s face. I just didn’t know how. While I anxiously wanted to help her heal, she was frantically trying to keep us alive. 

Mom hadn’t shown any signs of depression that I noticed, not that I would have recognized them. She wasn’t a loving woman. I can’t remember her ever giving me a hug or a kiss. I’m sure it happened at some point, but I just don’t remember. I’ve never resented her for that…it was just part of the norm.

Janet’s “Miss You Much” was on the radio. It was the only record my mom owned besides “King Holiday” (the MLK tribute song #GrowingUpBlack). She would put this record on at least once a week, turn the lights out, and we would dance around the living room as if all her worries went away. That was the only time I ever saw her genuinely happy. It’s also the only time I ever felt she enjoyed the presence of her children. 

I’m wondering what my grandpa, my dad’s father, would think when he finds out what happened. Why isn’t he pulling me out of this car? I want to tell him goodbye. I want to tell him I love him, grandma, and Aunt Carolyn for always loving me and trying to protect me. I had grown so accustomed to that protection that I ignorantly expected them to pop up in this garage. 

Mom didn’t deserve this influence and power over me. I should have stormed out of the car, but instead I had accepted my fate. Here I was being so strong that I could never shed a tear in moments like this, but so terrifyingly weak and timid that I wouldn’t open the car door and affirm to my mother that I will continue to live. The end for me would come in this garage. Mom would stop telling her stories, my sister would stop crying, and my eyes would close for the last time…and I would no longer be hostage.

She believes she’s doing what’s best for us. She is my mother…she would know better than me, right? My sister’s crying is making my head pound…or maybe it’s being stuck in this car. I really don’t know. I don’t even know how long I’ve been sitting here listening to the screams, my mom’s stories, and these songs in the background. I just want to escape, but I’m so tired. I can tell my sister is too…but she’s fighting with all the energy she has to convince my mother to let us out. She begins to struggle with my mother. I wish I could remember the tearful words they exchanged. She screams demanding that we be allowed to live…and finally…

It works. Mom frees us from her grip. 

Ten years later, I’m sitting in my room listening to C-Murder when my sister asks, “Do you remember when mom tried to kill us?” I had tried to forget. I hoped she would too. 

I wouldn’t describe my mom as honest, loving, or good. Sometimes it’s strange to even call her my mother. But I hate that she endured so much pain in her life. Years later I would find out about the incident that really drove her and my dad apart and the pain he inflicted on her as a result. He told me the story of that day and what followed as if it justified his actions. You won’t read that story in this book. It’s not my story to tell. It’s hers. I wish she hadn’t experienced that, and I wish my father hadn’t been so selfish. And I wish that I had the strength to speak when I was stuck in that car, but I will never be afraid to speak up for my survival again.

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