The weeks that followed my father’s incarceration were probably some of the worst days of my mom’s life, but I finally felt like I had a family. My mother didn’t want my brother and me staying in the house after the arrest. She feared the suppliers would come by and react badly to their product being taken by the police. So my mom — my 135lb mom — stayed in the house waiting for them to come by to explain. My brother and I stayed with my aunt in her apartment. The daily routine was simple. I got on a bus at school, got off two stops after my regular stop, walked about 15 minutes to pick up my brother at Kiddie Ranch (the same fucking daycare that taught me what drugs were), and then walked to my aunt’s apartment for another 15 minutes. My mom took on two jobs to make sure that if there was anything we needed we could have it, but also so that she could pay for the lawyer. Looking back on it now, I realize that my mom was and still is one of the strongest people I have ever known. At that time though, I honestly didn’t care. I thought it was cool I had family in the same city.
My aunt and her two daughters moved to Atlanta from Puerto Rico the year before. I had always heard of people talking about cousins, aunts, uncles, and family time. These were things I didn’t know. My dad’s sister moved from Atlanta shortly after our arrival here. So our interaction was minimal. My mom’s family all lived on the Island. Family was something that I always wanted but never had. While my mom slaved at the two dry cleaning spots where she worked, I was singing Selena songs with my cousins outside on their apartment patio. I should have missed my dad, but I didn’t. Or maybe I just thought I didn’t.
I remember one day my mom told me that instead of going to pick up my brother, I was to come home on the bus. It was the first time riding that bus since my dad’s arrest. I remember looking up and searching for the sea of black cars. They weren’t there. I walked up to my door and my mom opened it. My brother was already there and as I walked past her to my room, she asked me for a kiss. I looked at her like she was crazy (because in my family we don’t do affection unless someone dies.) I gave her a hug but not a kiss, that shit was too weird. When I banked the corner to my room, there he was. My father. He had the biggest grin on his face and held his arms outstretched so far I swore that they were longer than his body. I remember running to him crying and jumping up and down… and crying. I did a lot of crying. When I was done with my crying, my father explained what had happened. He told me that he was out on bond. He explained that it was just until his trial, but that even after the trial, everything would be fine. I believed him. I trusted this man so blindly, anything he said was gold.
I finished out my 5th grade year at Woodward Elementary with several new incidents acting out. I had turned from a star student to the class clown. Don’t get it fucked up, my grades were always on point, but when it comes to being quiet in class I just couldn’t do it. My mom came to the school a lot. Which means I got the living shit beat out of me… a lot. My mother asked why I was adding to everything going on. I knew my parents were preparing for trial. I knew that if anyone was going to get attention in the home, it was my baby brother. The mind frame everyone had was that “Joselyn can take care of herself.” So, because I knew that they were so caught up in other things, I really and truly did whatever I wanted. I learned how to suppress pain and hold back my tears. No matter how hard my mom beat me due to me acting out, I stood there and took it. My father would tell her to stop, but it didn’t matter to me. I knew that she had to get out her frustration somehow and I was providing the outlet.
My 6th grade year, I calmed down some. I discovered boys. I knew that my father’s trial was approaching and because of it, no one ever wondered where I would disappear to. When I asked to go to my best friend’s house, it was just because she lived in the apartments where all the cute boys lived. To say I was “fast” is an understatement. My best friend’s older brother had a friend that would come over all the time. I never thought that it was strange that he would ask me to sit no his lap. I never thought to question when we were in the pool, why his fingers would slide under my swimsuit when he was dunking me in the water. I liked it. I knew he was 3-4 years older and if anyone found out, he’d be I big trouble, but I felt no need to share. In school, I would flirt with the boys and play truth or dare on the playground. I was a lot people’s first French kiss. Boys and girls. To me, any opportunity to feel another person’s body against mine meant love. I know some of you are reading this with disapproval, and I completely understand… but when you are getting no attention at home, any attention will suffice.
On my 12th birthday, my mother took me to the hair salon to get my hair straightened. She always dropped me off, ran errands, and would pick me back up. The stylist was a friend of the family, and what I mean by that is she bought drugs from my dad. When my mother left, I asked the stylist to cut my hair off. I remember her eyes widening and trying to talk me out of it. My hair had reached my waist and thanks to puberty had turned into this wild kudzu shit that curled and knotted. I fucking hated it. The stylist agreed to cut my hair, but instead of the “boy haircut” I wanted, she cut it to just under my ear. When my mom came to pick me up her mouth dropped and she told me that my father was going to kill her. This was a welcoming thought to me at the time. My father didn’t kill her though. To be honest, he didn’t care. He just wanted everyone in our home to be happy before he prepared for trail. What was left unsaid was that he planned on going away for a long time. It didn’t matter to me if he would have had a problem with it, that haircut was so much more to me than just a cut. It was my first rebellious act against my family.
There were more to come…