I’m going to pick you up from Church before the service is over but don’t mention anything. I want to show you something. It’ll be our thing. Hand on my shoulder, looking right into me with his fatherly eyes. Smile so safe it’ll put a priest to shame. I nod my head in blind obedience. Run back to the room and finish getting ready for Church. So excited. Feeling so special. Our own thing. Wow. Just ours. You see, when you grow up without a father, you grow up with a hole in your chest that you carry with you all your life. The emptiness. The longing. Always seeing happy father/daughters and wishing you could switch your life with that little girl. The feeling never leaves you, no matter how deep you bury it. It never does. So to hear this from him meant everything. He’s like a father or the one I wish I had – tall, handsome, with a presence. You can’t fuck with him. No way, no how. He’s a man. He’s a protector.
I anxiously look at my watch every 5 minutes. 10:20, 10:25, 10:30. Why is it that time always slows down when you start paying attention? One of life’s greatest mysteries, I guess. I was 16, full of life and still incredibly naïve. C’mon time!! Ahhhh! Legs shaking. Heart pounding. Couldn’t sit still. Dear Father, full of grace. Praying. Waiting. Praying. Waiting. 10:40. Oh My God! 5 minutes to go! I start to sweat. That excited, I’m about to jump out of my skin sweat. Put your hands on your armpit and they’re literally wet sweat. Ahhh! I didn’t care. I was too excited to care, to think. Legs shaking. Hell, body shaking. 1045, yes!! It’s here. I can go now. I meticulously make my way to the back of the room, slip out door, head to the exit. I stopped only for a slight second to look at the congregation – so much happiness. So much faith. Real, unadulterated goodness. I smile. I’m gone.
I see the car creeping up the block as I descend the church steps. What could it be? Oh my God. I dunno. I can’t think, I’m so excited. Palms so sweaty I could put Kleenex out of business. The wave. My heart jumped and I run to the car. You know when you’re a kid and it’s the night before Xmas – the joy, the anticipation, the I bet I have the best gifts this year cause Mami played me last year and gave my brother the best gifts. She owes me. It’s my year! Yea, that feeling; that was me. Heart pounding, smile that could light up Broadway. Where we going? I asked. You’ll see, he says. But his tone was different, he sounded so strange, so detached. OK. I look out the window and notice that we’re going back to the house. Hmmmm, maybe whatever he’s giving me is back at the apartment. Good! I can catch the Olympics. His hand to my knee, a squeeze. I look over to him. That look. I know that look. That’s not a fatherly look. It’s the look I get from the corner dudes that call out to me as I uncomfortably try to cover every inch of my body. 16 and growing into myself. Boobs that weren’t there last summer, an ass that to this day gets me more attention than any other part of my body. Changes that I was still managing to like, to understand. We’re going back home, he says. A grin. Piercing green eyes drilling a hole in my chest. Another squeeze. Oh ok, I said.
I knew. That’s when I knew. That’s when it hit me. I leaned down to pretend I was cleaning my shoes. I wanted that hand off me. I wanted my dreams back. Hand off. Cleaning my shoes. I sit back up, hand back on my knee. Sweat down my back, heart pounding. Head screaming – you know what this is. Do something!! Ana, don’t just sit here. Do something!! Back to cleaning my shoes. Think Ana, think. You’re in Jersey. Your Mom is in DR. Think!!! Hand off. Sit back up. Hand on. Squeeze. I swear you could hear my heart beating across the Hudson. I want Mom. I want my Father. Anger. An anger I never felt before. A voice in my head – you’re going to get yourself out of this. Now think!! Deep breath. Hands-shaking, Now, I’m really angry. Car speeding. All green. Hands-shaking. Eyes wide open. Focus on 100. Hand squeezing my knee. Clear summer day. Beautiful skies, warm sun. Cold car. Heart on fire.
Red. I jump out the car. Actually, I run out the car down a one-way street. He couldn’t believe it. I hear the yells behind me. I run. Yes! he can’t come down this street. No tears. Just anger and sweat. I need to get out of sight. I see a driveway, big white SUV. I run behind it. Squat down. I hide. Ok Ana, now what?! You need to get home. I dig my hand in my pocket – $22 dollars. “Hey girl!! What are you doing? Get off my driveway!! I’m calling the cops!!” The voice came from the front of the car. I don’t blame her. She didn’t know me. Shit. Go Ana, go!! But what if he sees you? What if he’s driving down the block right now?! Just run Ana, run! I ran.
It seemed like an eternity but I found a bodega. Run in, out of breath, sweating, angry, shaking. I need a cab!!! Girl, what’s wrong with you?? What’s wrong? Chubby Puerto Rican clerk asks me. I need a cab!! I yell back. Deep breath. I need a cab. Can you please call me a cab? Where you going? Washington Heights. Longest 15 minutes of my life. The cab is here little girl.
190th and Broadway. Go, please go. You wouldn’t believe me, shit, I wouldn’t believe myself if I didn’t lived thru it, but this fucking cab breaks down on the highway. I shit you not. 10 minutes from the GW Bridge and a cloud of smoke. Engine screaming. Just my luck. Poor Indian guy gives me back $5. I got into the cab as soon as I could and threw all my money at the poor guy. Just take me home I said. But God is good, always. The car found the strength to get me to the bus stop right before the GW. I get out. Still angry, mind racing, feeling completely vulnerable out in the open. I’m sorry, he says. I’m really sorry. It’s ok. I can make it from here. I hid behind a large man at the stop. Poor bloat, didn’t even notice me. I just hid and waited. The bus. Yes, it’s here.
All passengers off, please. I look up from my seat and make my way out. A little calmer, a sense of relief. No tears. Just Anger. I’m home.
I made it home.
Protect your daughters even from those who claim to love them.