I can always tell when my mother was angry. Actually, I can only tell whenever my mother was about to get angry there was this spark in her eyes. This spark looked like a tiny star that had burst in one of her irises. This spark is what I call the spark of hate. I say hate because once that spark burst in my mother’s eyes, her actions are something terrible and painful. Once that spark burst, it would continue to burst in spurts until it would die down. However, that only happens after my mother gets tired. Sometimes, my mother would tire quickly and other times I felt like she would never tire at all.

I remember the first time I saw that spark in my mother’s eyes. At the time, I had not put a name to it yet. I remember it as if it were just yesterday; I was six-years-old, coming home from school. But before I tell you how my day ended, first let me tell you how my day began.

Every morning for school, my mother would dress my brother Osvaldo who is 11, Kathy who is 5, and I, in our best clothes. On this particular day, I wore my favorite dress. The top of my dress is white with short sleeves. It has little white buttons that come down from the neck, and continue down the front. My dress has no fancy collar and it is in the shape of a “u.” The skirt area is red with pleats, with white lace around the hem, I would wear my white long socks with pompoms that are hanging and facing the outside of my legs. I also had on my black patent leather Mary Jane shoes. My mom did my hair in three ponytails. One of my ponytails is on top of my head while the other two are on each side of my bead. I felt like a princess. I know this because Kathy is wearing the same dress only one size smaller and she looks like a princess too.

My brother always wears dark suits and dress shoes to school. He always looks like someone going to work, not someone going to school. Instead of plastic book bags like Kathy’s and mine, my brother carries a small black leather suitcase. I do not know what he puts into that suitcase but one time he asked me to get it for him and it was heavy. I had to drag it to him.

Everyday, right before we all walk out the door for school, my mother will say “Recuerde ni una mancha y ni un roto en la ropa.” She had been saying this as far as I can remember.

While we put on our jackets, in response my brother and I would say “si mami.”

Every morning is the same ritual. My mom will let my brother have a head start on his walk to school, while I wait for my mother to put on her final touches on her hair.

We live on 161st street in Manhattan. We live in a building that did not have an elevator. But growing up, in my mind, the building had forgotten to build an elevator. We live on the sixth floor.

Our school, P.S. 28 is on 155th street. My mother will carry Kathy while I hold on to my mother’s right hand. When we get to the school, right before I line up with my class, my mother would remind me again.

“Recuerde Miriam, ni una mancha ni un roto,” she says.

I would say, “Si mami, si mami” in such a way that would sound like I had already memorized the saying. I reached at my mother to give her a kiss and she returned the kiss back to me. She left me to line up with my class and took Kathy with her to her class.

While in school, I will not eat breakfast. I am too afraid to eat breakfast. I am so afraid of getting a stain on my dress with syrup, milk or something. I often have seen my brother and my sister eating breakfast. I don’t know how they do it but I can’t and I won’t.

When my class falls on a day that we have to go to the gym, I will not play. I will not play not because I do not have on any sneakers but because I do not want to dirty my dress or scuff my shoes. I will always remember my brother’s punishment for coming home with a hole on his pants near the knee area. He said he got it from playing dodge ball in the gym. I watched my mother put raw rice on the floor near the kitchen entryway and told my bother to put on his shorts and kneel on the rice. He had to raise his arms above his head. It took a long time before my mother told him to get up. He almost couldn’t get up. I can tell that the raw rice hurt his knees. He told me that it did hurt. Yet, not once did my brother ever cry. I decided then never to play any games in the gym.

At lunchtime, I would look for my brother. I could never call him Osvaldo; in fact he hated his name. I call him Bardo because I could not pronounce his name. But Bardo liked it and Bardo he became. I could never find my brother. It never dawned on me that at lunchtime, we would never eat in the same lunchroom. I just assumed that he had a big breakfast.

I will eat lunch, depending on what is being served. I may eat an apple or a banana but I will not eat fruit soaked in syrup. I will eat a hot dog without ketchup or mustard but I will not eat a hamburger because it is too greasy. I will not eat macaroni and cheese nor will I eat a grill cheese sandwich. Today for lunch is cake and pizza. I will skip today’s meal because the frosting is too drippy and the pizza is too saucy. The safest drink is water from the hallway fountain.

After lunch, everyone goes outside for recess, every boy and girl will run around to play all sorts of games. In one corner of the schoolyard, girls will be playing hopscotch. They stopped asking me to play with them because I would always shake my head no. I often heard them say that I’m weird. They just did not understand that I did not want to scuff my shoes.

In another corner of the schoolyard, there was always girls playing jump rope. The boys would mess up the girl’s turn and I always stood there watching with my right index finger in my mouth as if I’m biting my nails. They too stopped asking me to play and out of fun, the boys would pull my hair to get me to run after them. I made myself not run, I was too afraid of falling and getting my dress dirty, or ripped or gettimg my shoes scuffed

Yet, in another corner, there would be lots of boys hanging around the monkey bars, I just sit on the school bench waiting for this recess thing to be over. I played no games and I gained no friends. Every day is the same thing. This feeling of being alone in a schoolyard full of kids also came with the rush of boredom. Finally, when the bell rings, I would feel relief I would go into class and do some work with the help of the second teacher who spoke Spanish.

At 3:00, my mother would be at the schoolyard to pick us up. It was my job to pick up Kathy at her kindergarten class. I must hold her hand and walk outside toward my mother. She always waited for us at the same spot near the swings. Bardo is already there, waiting beside our mother. As soon as Kathy and I reach our mother, she would immediately inspect Kathy and would tell my brother to go ahead of us.

After my mother finish inspecting Kathy, I was anxious to show her my two stars I received from my teacher, for good work. She took it but didn’t look at it. My mother took Kathy’s drawing and along with my paper, she folded it and put it in her purse. Without saying a word to me, she picked up Kathy and started walking. Our walk home from school is usually slow. Today, my mom is in a rush. She is walking so fast I can not reach her hand nor can I catch up to her.

My sister looks at me over my mother’s shoulder just smiling away. My heart begins to beat faster as I watch my mother cross the street without me. By the time she made it to the other side, the light turned red and all the cars started moving in both directions, I wanted to yell for hermami, mami, but she was too far away. I almost started to cry. I started to heave just a little, I waited until the people around me started to cross the street. I knew then that the minute the people started to walk across, it was safe for me to walk across too.

Every afternoon is the same ritual. When we get home we must get out of our best clothes and hang them up. My mother made it a common practice because we wear the same clothes for one week straight. Once we hang up our clothes, we put on our raggedy clothes. We call them this because of the different shapes, sizes and colors of different materials used as patches to patch any hole or rip that my mom could not sew together.

When we finally do get home, my mother and Kathy goes to my mother’s bedroom. I go into my own bedroom. My bedroom is not entirely mine, it also belongs to my brother. During the day my bedroom belongs to my brother. My bedroom is my bedroom whenever I need to change and when its time for me to go to bed. At night, my brother sleeps in the living room. Right now, my brother’s not here as usual. He gets home, changes and goes back out doing what my mom calls boy stuff.

Once I finish putting on my raggedy shirt and shorts, I walk toward my closet, reach for an empty hanger and hang up my dress. As I put the hanger through the dress, my mother calls me.

“Miriam ven aca,” she said calmly.

“Si mami,” I answer.

“Traiga tu traje,” she said.

And that is when I saw the stain. A yellow stain and the memory of Bardo’s punishment came flooding back to me, I grabbed the dress and as I was coming out of my room and into the living room, I looked at my mother and that’s when I saw in her eyes a burst of sparks.

“Busca el javon de lavar ropa,” she said calmly as I hand her my dress. “Rapido,” she continued.

I walked very fast to the kitchen and noticed the drawing that Kathy made. It is taped to the refrigerator door. I smiled, it is cute and it looks like Kathy will be the artist in the family. She draws better stick figures than I do. There were only two stick figures. I can tell that Kathy’s teacher helped with the writing. The word mom and an arrow are pointing to the big stick figure while the name Kathy and an arrow are pointing to the little stick figure. Bardo and me are missing. I stared at the picture. What startled me was my mother’s voice.

“Miriam, tambien traiga un vaso de aqua,” she said in a loud but calm voice.

I had to get on a chair in order to be able to reach the cabinet to get my mother her cup of water. As I was about to get down from the chair, I could see my paper with the two stars, on the floor between the refrigerator and the garbage can. I was careful not to spill the water when I got down. As I reach between the garbage can and the refrigerator to get my paper, Bardo suddenly appears at the kitchen entryway. He scared me. He quietly opens the refrigerator door and grabs a Malta.

“Miriam, no llore okay,” he said.

I don’t understand why my brother would tell me not to cry. We both left the kitchen and Bardo went straight to our bedroom and I went straight to my mother with her cup of water and the powder soap. I handed both items to her. As she took them out of my hands, she tells me to sit down on the floor in front of her. With the powder soap and water, I watched my mom make a paste over the stain on the dress. The next thing I knew, the dress ended up on my face. She threw the dress at me and told me to scrub that spot hard. I looked up at her and that’s when I again saw that spark of bursting in her eyes. My mother smacked me across my face.

“Respetame, baja la cabeza cuando estoy hablando,” she screamed at me, crying, I quickly lowered my head.

My sister comes out of her room (my mother’s bedroom), crying. My mother gets up to cradle Kathy in her arms, calming her. Without moving my head, I steer my eyes in my mother’s direction and the spark in her eyes is gone until she looks at me.

“Que espera, avansa,” she said.

I started scrubbing and I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed until my fingers were red and stiff.

I lost myself into a world of hugs and kisses and presents and games all given to me by my mom.
She’ll comb my hair without brushing so hard. If it hurt, she’ll kiss the boo boo away.

In the distance, I smell food. I lost track of time and can see my mom sitting in front of me eating dinner. I had the urge to use the bathroom. I called to my mother, “mami, tengo que hacer pee pee,” I said in a soft voice. She let me got to the bathroom but I had to hurry. Upon my return, I can hear my mother in the kitchen washing dishes. I sat back down to scrub the stain again with more powder soap and water,

I thought back to lunchtime, wondering how on earth did I get that stain. Pizza was for lunch. Pizza sauce is red, the stain is yellow. How did I get this stain on my dress? What is this stain? Oh no now I remember, there was a fight. Two boys were fighting over something and the fight turned into a food fight. But I was far away, I guess not far enough. Mommie is going to make me kneel over the rice I know it. I’m scared. Within my thoughts, I heard a voice. I was startled out of my thoughts by Bardo. He tells me not to cry and he lightly pats me on my head and walks back into our bedroom.

My fingers are wrinkle and sore. Further scrubbing of the dress, started to hurt not just my fingers but my hand too. My brows are scrunched up together from holding my tears back. I will do just as my brother asks, he knows what is best, because he’s older.

I again lost track of time. By then I was no longer scrubbing hard. I was barely touching cloth to cloth, material to material of the dress. My mother asked me if the stain came out. I stopped scrubbing and looked. To my surprise, and in a quivering voice, I said “no.”

My butt hurt so much that I could not sit still. I began to rock side to side to rid the pain on each of my cheeks. My mother noticed this and told me to go to the kitchen for the time. I was glad to get up. I walked into the kitchen and described the time to her from the kitchen, I loudly said that the big hand was straight up and I go back to her to show her with my left arm that the little hand is laying down on that side, I usually go to bed when the little hand is underneath that number.

My mother told me to take the dress and put it in the hamper and I did. I return to ask my mother if I can have something to eat. She got up, went to her bedroom and turned on the black and white t.v.

“Mami, tengo hambre,” I said softly.

In response she said, “Para Ia cama tu vas.”

“Mami, please,” I pleaded.

She ignored me and she slowly closes her bedroom door. With tears forming in my eyes, I turn around to go to my room. Bardo comes out, he looks at me and says “Abajo de Ia cama, yo puse un poco de comida envuelto en un papel.” He also tells me that when I finish eating, to throw the paper out the bathroom window. He says that the bathroom window doesn’t make any noise. He also said that my paper with the two stars, is in my puzzle box. He wiped my tears off my face with his right thumb. He pulls me close to him and gives me a hug.

“Buenas noche Miriam,” he says.

“Buenas noche Bardo,” I said through my tears.

While he was hugging me, I heard him whisper, “Tu no eres la unica, you are not the only one, tu no eres la unica.”

And as more tears form in my eyes and fall down my cheeks, I tightly hugged him back.