Home, (bitter)Sweet Home!

I was stopped three times by total strangers on my short walk from the bakery to my aunt’s apartment. ‘Excuse me, where did you find bread?’, ‘Sorry, can you tell me how much that was?’ ‘How long did you wait in line for this?’ By now, I had become an expert in answering these questions, but a week ago when I first arrived in Venezuela, I had no idea this would happen. We were on the subway when my mom went up to an old lady and asked her ‘excuse me, where did you buy milk?’ I was a little embarrassed to be honest. It was as if we were so desperate for milk we needed to ask strangers on the subway! I rolled my eyes and told my mom to stop doing that. ‘Estefania, don’t be ridiculous, this is normal’, she said.  The grocery store where we would find milk was not on our way home. At all. But still, my mom decided we needed to go, ‘right now!’

My mom and I, along with my aunt and sister who were also with us, made our way to Plaza Venezuela right away. As we were reaching the Bicentenario, government owned supermarket (everything is government owned nowadays), we noticed people running past us, so we started walking faster. Surprisingly, the supermarket was relatively empty and there were no lines at the cashier. My aunt’s first thought: ‘All the milk is gone, we’re too late!’. We walked into the store and started looking around. The Bicentenario supermarket is huge with long, wide halls and tall ceilings. A perfect place to fit hundreds of people buying food everyday. But most of the shelves were empty and some of them were stocked with random products like ketchup and cleaning supplies. As we continued walking, we ran into some employees who were still unpacking milk cartons to put up for sale. Two shelves were still stocked from end to end; obviously not enough people had found out yet, but they would. Between the four of us we probably bought 16 cartons of milk. As we walked back to the subway station, I had my first personal interaction with strangers asking me where I bought my food. My mom and my aunt quickly answered people’s questions, pointed them in the right direction and told them the prices. By the time we got home I was catching on, but I was still shocked that this had become normal. It only took a couple more days of getting groceries for me to get completely used to people’s inquiries. ‘There’s a bakery right over there, there was plenty of bread and the line wasn’t too long! You should go get some bread.’

Food shortage is only one of the many problems Venezuela is facing today. Everyday people struggle to find products such as milk, butter, sugar, rice, pasta, coffee, and bread but it doesn’t end there. Many other basic products like soap, toilet paper, toothpaste, deodorant, diapers, and laundry detergent are also scarce. People are cutting open toothpaste tubes to get all of the toothpaste out before throwing it away; they are going back to using fabric diapers they can wash and re-use; people have to be resourceful every single day.  Finding medicine is another major issue in the country. Cancer patients are struggling to continue their treatment, diabetics can’t get access to insulin and something as simple as an aspirin is almost impossible to find. Sick people have to rely on their family abroad to send home the medications they need. Venezuela is going through a major crisis.

I arrived in Caracas in June, in the midst of some of the most significant protests since 2014. It all started in April when the Venezuelan government decided they didn’t quite control enough of the power in the country. The supreme tribunal of justice, completely made up by government magistrates, announced they would take over the legislative power from the National Assembly, the one and only place where the Venezuelan opposition had a majority of representatives. After intense public protesting, and outraged reactions from opposition leaders, the court decided to back down and reverse their decision. However, because the government must always win, new elections for the ‘Constituent National Assembly’ were announced. This new assembly was to have supreme power over any and all other constitutions, and only candidates designated by the government could be part of the ‘special election’ process. This is where things got really scary.

Everyone knew something had to be done before the July 30th elections. When I got to Venezuela, people repeatedly told me ‘I hope you leave before July 30th, I’m scared of what will happen if this new assembly takes power’. People were genuinely afraid, but also very angry. There was no time to waste, and the protests grew larger and relentless, and took over the country. Honestly, I was glad I was here for this. This was my chance to go out on the streets and walk alongside my fellow Venezuelans, to fight for a change. Many people had already been murdered by the national guard during the protests. Young men and women had their life taken away almost every day. But the fight had to continue. I was determined to march with the opposition while I was in Caracas, but my parents were scared, and so was I. On Saturday, June 24th, my aunt and some of her friends were attending the march towards La Carlota, where only 2 days earlier another young man had been killed.  I told my mom we were going to the march too. I wasn’t asking her, I was letting her know. The day of the march I called my dad just before I left and told him ‘you might be mad, and you will be worried, but I am going out today’. I also told him everything would be fine, I would be careful and I was coming back home that day.

Going out in Caracas while the protests were at their peak was very different than what I was used to. Caracas, capital of my beautiful country, is one of my favorite cities in the world. I wasn’t born in Caracas but I’ve loved it from a young age. My mom has 5 sisters who live here, and since I was very little, we have been visiting frequently. I also lived in Caracas for one year before I moved to the US for college. Caracas is vibrant and alive, full of people always going somewhere or doing something. Theaters, amazing restaurants, parks, malls, beaches at a short distance; the city has it all. And from almost anywhere in the city you can always find the north by looking right at The Avila, a majestic mountain that’s been baptized as ‘El Pulmon de la Ciudad’, the lungs of the city. There are also many issues, the biggest one being the increasing crime rate that has made it harder and harder to enjoy this beautiful city. For months now, protesters have taken over major highways impeding any traffic to go through, so Caracas feels empty, it feels dead.

Saturday, the day of the march, things were a little different. The main highways were still empty, so people were just walking in the middle of them like it was nothing. I saw a guy with his headphones on and his backpack over his shoulders, an old lady with a bag of vegetables, and the occasional motorcycle that made its way through somehow. A sight I was already getting used to. The rest of the streets were packed with traffic; everyone was trying to get to the big march. You could feel the anticipation in the air. We finally managed to find our way to a mall nearby to park, and we walked a few miles up the highway to get to the main concentration. Everywhere I looked, I could see a Venezuelan flag. The tricolor yellow, blue and red, and white stars I have so much love for. People were waving their flags in the air, or wearing them on their t-shirts, hats and bandanas. I have worn a bracelet of the Venezuelan flag on my left hand for the past 5 years, but I also had a flag around my neck like a cape. By noon, there were thousands of people gathered on the Francisco Fajardo highway, as usual.

When we got to La Carlota, I noticed the crowd started parting itself in two to let a group of young people through. They were wearing homemade gas masks and armors over their clothes. Everyone started clapping and cheering as they walked by. These young people are called ‘The Resistance’. These young people put their life at risk everyday by being at the front line of every march and every protest. Many have been killed, but many still continue fighting. I couldn’t help but cry as I saw them walking through the crowd with nothing much but their courage. They stood in front of the guards together holding hands; they were chanting slogans everyone knew by heart at this point: “QUIENES SOMOS? VE-NE-ZUE-LA! QUE QUEREMOS? LI-BER-TAD!”.They were calling at us to join in. I wanted to run to that front line so bad and hold their hands like so many other people did. But I was terrified. I couldn’t move. Seeing them so close to the armed guards made me feel like a coward, because I knew I couldn’t do that. I felt like I wasn’t doing enough, just like I always felt when watching the protests from abroad. I had to think of my mom and dad and how mad they would be if I got anywhere near those guards. I thought about everything I could lose if something happened to me. I told myself I was being careful like I promised, but it felt a lot like being selfish. That day no one was killed. 

I spent a month in Caracas after arriving in Venezuela, and I just needed to look out the window to see the city on fire almost every day, literally. To close down the highways as a protest, people burned tires, or tree branches, or really anything that would do the job. My mom and I would go down for a few hours to stand with the protesters in front of the building. Everyone from the community just stood there for hours with their flags, signs and chants. When my mom and I went back to my hometown, Cumana, it seemed like no one there got the memo. There was no protesting at all, and July 30th was coming. The week before the special (illegitimate) elections, there was so much tension. Some people didn’t think they would take place: ‘the president quit’ ‘the president left the country’. You would hear all sorts of rumors. How could the government go through with their ridiculous elections when most of the country was out in the streets every single day, demanding freedom from a regime that has been in power for over 17 years? How could they? Inevitably, the day came and elections were held. Venezuelans’ hope was once again ripped apart by their oppressors.  I was devastated, because this time I really thought we stood a chance. Over 150 people were killed, parents lost their sons and daughters, children lost their parents too, sisters lost their brothers; people lost something they would never get back. Everyone did everything they could, and still it wasn’t enough. Slowly protests started dying out all over the country and people went back to their life. I was heartbroken and frustrated that we had lost yet another battle. There were still hundreds of young people in jail for protesting. The national guard would go into people’s homes to grab them, even after the protests had ended. Opposition activists were shot dead by government gangs, best known as ‘collectivos’, as they tried to move on with their life after everything was over. No justice was served for anyone, and nothing could be done.

Before my time in Venezuela was over, I went to visit my dad for a month. He lives in another city called Puerto Ordaz, about 6 hours away from my hometown Cumana, and 8 hours away from Caracas. My dad and I would drive around almost every day to run errands and food-hunt at different super markets until we found what we needed. This is when it really hit me how screwed up the Venezuelan economy is. We would go to the store and buy sugar on Monday, and by the time we went back on Friday, the price had already gone up significantly. This happens all the time. Prices in Venezuela can change daily, and they will only go up. The inflation rate in Venezuela at the moment is 800%, which makes it the country with the highest inflation in the world. To help put this into perspective, the inflation rate in the US is less than 3%, and the second highest inflation in the world doesn’t reach 45%. Since I moved to the US, 5 years ago, it has been hard to keep up with Venezuelan prices because they change too often and inflation just gets higher and higher. I knew everything was too expensive, but I never know what is considered expensive anymore. People start getting used to these price escalations, and at some point, things go from being ‘expensive’ to being ‘affordable’.

When I first arrived in Venezuela $1 was worth 7,000 bolivares. Today, only three months later, $1 is worth 25,000 bolivares and the value changes weekly. This has a huge effect in products’ prices for Venezuelans because we import most of our products from other countries, so prices go up constantly. People in Venezuela most literally work only to eat. A month’s salary for one person is 136,543.40 Bs. However, the basic food basket for a family of 5 people is, as of right now, about two and a half million bolivares. One person needs at least 4 months’ salary to eat every month, not including buying any hygiene products, medicine, clothes or going out for a beer Friday night. But, a full tank of gas will only cost you 100 bolivares, so about 0.004 cents! It is such a dysfunctional economy. Thankfully, my mom and dad still make enough money to be able to eat every day and get the things they need. Once or twice a year I send home a lot of the basic hygiene products they need as well. For my parents getting anything other than the necessary things has become a challenge as well, but at least they can do that. Too many people have to live one day at time, not knowing what they will have tomorrow. They are going through other people’s trash to get anything they can put to use somehow. Chicken bones’ soup and mangos have become quite common in people’s diets. People are struggling to live, but continue hoping for the best. Still, there’s no change in sight, and things continuously get worse.

Out of all the things I have experienced while I’ve been in Venezuela, one of the saddest moments came when I had to get my birth certificate legalized before moving to The Netherlands. It took me one whole month of constant anxiety to renew my passport; that’s what public services in Venezuela do to you. However, it seemed like the apostille process was easier, at least for those who already had a plane ticket to leave Venezuela for good. I had to go to the ministry of foreign relations in Caracas 5 days before my trip, show them my ticket, leave my birth certificate, and pick up the apostille the next day. I decided to take a chance and go to the ministry nearly two weeks before my trip because you never know what the government will come up with next. My mom and I decided to leave my aunt’s place at 5 in the morning so we could get in line early. My mom said not to worry though, because they were only seeing people with a plane ticket ‘and how many people can possibly have a plane ticket already to leave the country this week?’. As we got close to the ministry building we could already see many people lined up from a distance; it was only 7am and the ministry didn’t open until 9:30am. A young woman in line said she had been there the day before to check if she had all the paperwork before submitting it, and there were about 300 people. By the time the doors opened, at least 200 people were lined up behind me. There were a few families, but most of them were recent graduates, young professionals and young people who hadn’t even finish university yet, but couldn’t wait any longer to get out.

Every single day hundreds of people are leaving Venezuela, families, young people, smart people, people who would contribute immensely to our country, but who can barely survive here now. They have decided the risks of immigrating to another country are worth taking, and they will try their luck far from everything they know. The day I stood in that line with hundreds of Venezuelans who basically had their bags packed, I felt sad but I was also very angry. Venezuela is being robbed of so much talent, so many good, hard working people, because our government has taken over almost every single part of the country, and our economy is spiraling out of control. Young people can’t start building a future here. People can work every single day for years and still never be able to afford a car or their own place, no one can enjoy their life enough because there are too many things to worry about. I left Venezuela 5 years ago when I was 18, to go to college in the US, and at that time not a lot of people were leaving, it was still considered a privilege. Today people are running away as soon as they have the slightest chance to do so, even if it means risking everything they have. I am heartbroken that I am leaving my country in this state, but knowing I will be able to continue helping my family from where I’ll be is a huge relief.

The time came to leave home again, and it’s always sad for me and my family. There’s a lot of crying at the airport especially from my mom and sister. I usually try to keep it together so they know they don’t have to worry about me. But this time I was the one worrying about them. Wondering if they were going to be safe. As we went in for a hug I could already feel my eyes filling up with tears. My mom’s embrace was so strong it made me feel so loved and so safe. My little sister, almost as tall as me now, told me she would miss me so much. ‘And I will miss you too baby girl’, I said to her. I heard a heartbreaking sob from my aunt who was also there with us and I gave her a big hug as well. The four of us cried together while we told each other how much we loved each other. We fit right into the whole airport scene, because everyone around us was crying too. That’s what Simon Bolivar’s International Airport has become, a place of tears and goodbyes. Families breaking apart, couples kissing one last time and best friends saying goodbye to each other. But the airport has also become a place of fear for many. The newest trend for the national guard has become terrorizing the many Venezuelans leaving the country. They go through people’s things and keep whatever they want after making up an applicable law. ‘To carry a camera you need a permit, I’ll have to keep it’, ‘Carrying US dollars is illegal, I’ll have to keep it’, ‘International card? Illegal, I’ll have to cut this in half’. They’ll take anything from money to jewelry. This is illegal. But who do you call? Security? They are security. I was prepared though: I only left a couple dollars in my wallet and old cards I didn’t need and I put all my valuable things in my checked bags after thoroughly wrapping them with a lot plastic. After going through security I thought I was safe and put my money back in my wallet. Out of nowhere, I was approached by a guard, ‘give me your phone,’ he said. My first instinct was to ask why, but I knew better than that. He took my phone and went through all of my personal messages, while he asked me where I was going, what I was going to be doing, and who was waiting for me. I was quite the nervous wreck but I answered all his questions, and after what felt like an eternity he finally gave me my phone back. I forgot this was happening too because this had started long before I got to Venezuela. The guards would also go through people’s phones and send many people to jail if they talked bad about the government. Good thing I keep my phone free of trash.

After three months at home, it was finally time to leave and I felt ready. Through it all I was still happy to have spent time with my family and friends after my last visit two years ago. Now, I’m going back to enjoying my life the way I’d gotten used to. I can stop thinking about food being too expensive, about not using too much of anything because it’ll be hard to replace, about not taking my phone out of the house because I can get robbed. But, everyone I am leaving behind will still think about all these things every single day of their life, and that haunts me. All I can do is hope they will continue fighting to make it through these tough times. And I pray that one day I will come back to a thriving Venezuela, where life is worth living again.

Advertisements

Disclosure

I was three years old when my parents decided to get a divorce.

I say “decided” as if they had much choice. My dad cheated on my mom. Asshole. I would have divorced him, too. I suppose they could have tried to make it work if they wanted to, but I’m mostly glad they didn’t. As I was growing up I got to really understand my parents’ personalities. For instance, my mom, much like myself, loves change and adventure, she’s traveled all over the world; but my dad, he is quite the opposite. He does not like going anywhere he doesn’t feel perfectly comfortable at, his house is his temple. When I was little I loved looking at pictures of my mom in all these awesome places and I would always ask her where my dad was, “He always stayed,” she told me. To be honest, I couldn’t even picture how they got together in the first place.

For the most part though, I can’t remember living with my parents together. I get flashes every now and then but sometimes I’m not sure if they’re just part of my imagination. I remember we lived in a three bedroom apartment, that I always thought was huge and it was my favorite place in the world. When it was almost time for my dad to get home I would climb on a chair and look through the peep hole on the door and if I saw him coming I would quickly hide and then jump out to greet him. When my dad left our apartment, for a while I didn’t know where he was living. I would see him often but I didn’t know where he called home. One time I finally got to spend the night with him, he picked me up at home and off we went. I was excited to see his place. We drove into an old car repair shop. It was very dark and I was confused but I grabbed my backpack and my teddy bear. We went through a door that led to a very little room.  I noticed there was only a bed, a dresser and a TV. It wasn’t pretty. The bathroom floor was wet and dirty, no curtains in the shower, and there were spider webs all over the place. At least I can’t remember what it smelled like. After I made my dad get rid of the spider webs so I could use the bathroom, we laid in bed and turned on the TV. I still remember we watched the Lion King together until I fell asleep. For some reason this is a very precious memory of mine. I guess I was just happy to be with him. But, in the morning when he dropped me off at home I told him I didn’t like where he lived, because it was dirty and I didn’t want to go back there. As I write this, it kills me to remember how I said that to my dad. I can’t remember his reaction, knowing him he probably didn’t make a big deal about it in front of me, but I can only imagine how hurt he must have been. I didn’t have a clue what he was going through. I told him to get me again once he moved somewhere nicer. Asshole.

Eventually, my dad ended up marrying “the other woman.” I call her by her name now.  When my dad moved into a nice apartment, years before he married the other woman, I would spend the night with him often. In the morning, he would help me get ready for school, but I hated how he would wake me up early. My mom used to dress me in my sleep and wake me up just before we had to leave. Also, I thought my mom did my hair better. My dad would try. I always wanted my hair in pigtails at the time. He did his best. Every day when I got back to my mom, she would ask me “Was there a woman in the apartment too? Don’t lie to me.” I told her no, and I wasn’t lying, at first. After a while a woman was there too. She would do my hair in the morning. Whenever my mom asked me I would still say no because I was afraid she wouldn’t let me see my dad.

I don’t remember how old I was when my dad told me he was moving away. He got a job in another city about 6 hours from home. The news crushed me. No more sleeping over at his place during the week. I was sad. Before he left I gave him my favorite teddy bear “So you think of me every day” I said. I know it’s been long over 10 years since then and that teddy bear is still in my dad’s closet. I check every time I go visit him. Today, my dad’s house is like a second home to me but it wasn’t always like that. His wife and I didn’t get along for the longest time. We were very alike in some ways and it was like we were always fighting for my dad’s attention. She would make fun of me sometimes for the way I acted around him. We always got into arguments and my dad was the mediator. The year before I was moving away for school, we all sat down and talked things out. I was glad we were in good terms then because at the end of the day she’s with my dad every day, I know she loves him and she takes care of him.  They’ve been together for over 10 years and their relationship has always been pretty stable. Like every couple, they fight sometimes, but it never takes long for them to get back at making their very corny remarks about each other. They call each other ‘Vida’ and ‘Cielo’. That’s Spanish for ‘life’ and ‘heaven’. I think it’s sweet.

They have a good relationship, one that might have influenced the way I behave in relationships if I had grown up with them. Maybe I would have learned to keep my fights short and sweet and move on. Our parents’ relationships affect our own behavior in relationships in the future. It only makes sense, since we grow up with them. We see the way they act, the patterns they follow, how they talk to each other, all those things. Are they clingy? Are they distant? Do they show their affection often? It all affects how we behave in the future and the things we prefer in relationships, whether we realize it or not. I didn’t realize this. But someone brought this to my attention, as if I really needed to think about this. My dad’s relationship with his wife could have influenced the way I would behave in relationships later in life. But I mentioned this before right? I lived with my mom.

After my dad left, my mom was single for a couple of years at least. I must have been six years old when she met some guy. Later, he would become “my sister’s dad.” That’s how I call him. He is not my stepdad, he’s not my mom’s anything, he’s simply my sister’s dad. I don’t quite remember when or where my mom and this man met, but I know my cousin introduced them to each other.  For some reason, I do remember this though: I woke up in my mom’s bed one morning but my mom wasn’t in bed with me anymore. Don’t ask me why but I decided to check if she was in my room, it was the biggest mistake ever. I opened the door and she was in there with this man. I will spare you the graphic details, but we’re all adults here. I think you can guess what they were doing. I was in kindergarten. The image was horrifying. Hadn’t they heard of locks? Then again, I had heard of knocking. My mom yelled at me to get out and I did. I went back to her bed and pretended I didn’t see anything. I wish I hadn’t. That man kept hanging around the apartment for days, weeks, maybe even months, I can’t remember. After a while they decided we would move in with him. And his mom. He lived with his mom. I repeat, he lived with his mom. Back then I hated him because he was making us move out of the place I had grown up in. I had to leave all of my friends behind. Friends who I never really saw again, and never really missed anyways. But my hate towards this man just kept developing throughout the years. I’m the first one to say that hate is a strong word and I rarely ever support people using this word towards other people. So, believe me when I say I hate my sister’s dad I mean it. God knows I’ve tried to forgive him for the things he did to me when I was a kid, but I refuse. The older I get and the more mature I am, the more hatred I feel towards him and what he did to me. It’s one thing to be a scared kid and not know what to do in some situations, some things are hard to understand and it’s easier to pretend nothing happened. But as an adult you can better evaluate someone’s actions and what he did to me, and the way he disrespected and mistreated my mother for years doesn’t deserve my understanding or forgiveness.

At the time we moved into his big house with his nice mom I was only six years old. I call his mom grandma. I like her very much. She has two sons: my sister’s dad and her other son who lived in a different city with his family. He was good and kind. I call him uncle. I could not understand how these nice, sane, good people could be related to my sister’s dad. It never quite clicked. I wouldn’t say I was unhappy though, I never really felt that way. I had a good life for the most part. School was good, I made new friends who I loved. The house we lived in was a dream house and it did feel like home. The patio was really big, we had a huge mango tree in the back and in the front yard 5 huge palm trees I adored. My room was the size of the living room of the apartment we used to live in. And my favorite part, there was a mirrored wall in the living room. For hours I would perform the most amazing concerts in front of that mirror. Yes, I was happy. But there was a resentment in me that kept growing stronger over the years. Towards my mom, towards my grandma, towards my sister, who was born when I was nine. But especially towards this awful man.

At first I felt bad for my mom. Everyone on her side of the family did. How could she not see this? Was she blind? This man didn’t deserve her. This man was a mean drunk who didn’t really care about anything. I do not remember him ever having a stable job. Ever. But my mom stayed, no matter what, she would always stay. Everyone tried to intervene; my aunts, my cousins and I would talk about ways we could get her to leave but nothing worked. They made me tell her what this man had done to me, which is something that up until this day I don’t feel comfortable saying out loud or even in writing. But I told her and I told my dad. This had to be it. How could she stay with that man after I told her what he did so many times? There was no way. For a few weeks we left the house and moved in with my aunt. But guess what? We came back. She came back to him. Why mom, why would you do that? I’ve never known what he told her, maybe he said I was lying and maybe she chose to believe him. I don’t know, I’ve never asked, chances are I never will. Another time she almost left him, he came home drunk at night and put a knife to his throat in front of me, my mom and his mom and cut himself enough to bleed. That night when it was all over, I went to bed and pretended that hadn’t just happened, only to be reminded in the morning by the stains of blood on his clothes in our laundry basket.

When I was a kid I couldn’t understand why my mom stayed with that man. Can you? It doesn’t make the slightest sense. It was as if she depended on him. She needed him. I didn’t understand why. I do now. Like I said, we both are adventurous beings, I’m a dreamer like my mom, and I’m also very emotional. My mom is extremely trustworthy and very spontaneous. So am I. Thankfully, I have a little of my dad too. My dad is extremely practical and down to earth, and like him, I’m very driven and very goal oriented. I’m analytical, I think of possibilities and consequences often before making a decision. I’m organized and I love having structure and direction. But the traits of my personality that mostly come from my mom have shaped the way I behave in relationships. Thankfully I do have a little bit more of common sense. Thanks dad.

I had my first serious relationship when I was 17. It lasted over two years. We thought it would last forever. When my ex and I started dating years ago my mom was thrilled. My mom loved my ex. He was perfect in her eyes. He was perfect in my eyes for a while too but he was very different from me. He liked things I had no interest in whatsoever. He wanted things I couldn’t envision for myself. For years, I went along with everything. My mom said he was “a good guy, you can’t let him go. Compromise.” I did, I compromised. But he didn’t. I knew I had to end it. I did several times. “Fix it,” my mom would say. “You don’t know what it is like being alone, you say you’ll be okay but you won’t. You need someone.” On and off our relationship kept going. We finally decided to take a temporary break that soon after turned permanent. For a while I was okay. But it didn’t take long for me to start feeling like I had made a terrible mistake. I would think about a future without him and I would have anxiety attacks. Suddenly everything was wrong. Without realizing it I had developed a very strong dependence on him. I would text him and tell him I needed him. I really needed him. Somehow, how different we were and all the different things we wanted didn’t matter anymore. The only thing that mattered was that I needed to be with him again. I felt lonely, which, sure, is normal after a break up, but it was in a very unhealthy way. I didn’t want to leave my room, I didn’t want to eat. Sometimes my friends would make me and I would go to dinner looking like a complete mess. I didn’t care. My mom insisted we should try to get back together. I told her I was trying.

When I saw my ex again, I quite literally begged him to give me another chance. I told him I had changed my mind about everything, I wanted everything he wanted, I’d do anything he wanted. I would move to the country and live in the middle of nowhere, it wasn’t a problem, I would work for his family’s company so we could stay close to everyone; skiing all the time? Of course, that was my new favorite sport, I would take every Iowa winter with grace for the rest of my life, I promised. I was willing to compromise everything I wanted in life because I felt I needed a man. This man. I wonder where I got that from. If he had given me another chance who knows what things would be like right now. Don’t get me wrong, he was an amazing person. He never treated me wrong or disrespected me. But our goals in life were too different and that drove us apart. There are so many things in the world I want to see, and so many places I want to go to. He wasn’t willing to do any of those things with me. But what if he had taken me back? I might still be with him. I might still be with someone who I knew I didn’t want to be with. Someone who I knew would make me give up my dreams to help him accomplish his. Someone who ultimately didn’t make me happy anymore. But that loneliness I felt, that dependence I had and that need for having somebody almost ruined me.

I think that’s what ruined my mother.

I’m thankful that I’ve had the strength to end relationships that I knew didn’t make me happy.  But it’s still a continuous struggle. I keep going back to guys who don’t deserve me. In my mind I know exactly why I shouldn’t be with them. But for some reason I still want to be with them. Everyday I’m fighting through it. I have made some great progress because I am  wrapped up in the idea of being independent right now, but I have my moments of weakness. I understand the root of it all better now, and the awareness helps me fight through it. But it doesn’t make it go away. I have to live with it. It’s all part of me now. A lot of times I do resent my mother for not being strong enough to fight through the loneliness and the dependence. She has two daughters and I don’t think she realizes the consequences her behavior has on us. I’m often scared for my sister. I make sure I talk to her whenever I can and I try to set a good example for her. But she’s not growing up with me. Our mom and her dad is who she sees every day. Yes, my mom is still with my sister’s dad. As crazy as it sounds she has stayed with him all these years. Mom, I wish you were stronger. I know I’m trying to be. That’s all I can hope for now. But, sometimes I wish I’d lived with my dad.

One Way Ticket

The Night Before

You close your eyes and think of the journey that’s ahead of you the next morning. You feel your heart start beating faster and faster. Are you nervous? Are you excited? You think it’s safe to say both. You think of all the people you’re leaving behind and feel a tight knot forming in your throat. All of your family and your friends who you don’t get to take with you tomorrow. “Don’t cry, not again” you tell yourself. But you do. Quietly, so you don’t wake up your mom and little sister who decided to sleep in the same bed with you tonight. You know you will often miss nights like these. There is so much more you will miss. Spending time with your cousins on the weekend, making cupcakes and watching Glee. All-weekend-long movie marathons with your best friend in her room while you eat popcorn and drink coke. You will miss getting lost in the city and eventually finding your way because the subway connects every inch of Caracas. The food, you think how much you will miss the food. The perfect weather, the nice people and the noise. You will miss it all.

You think it will be okay because you’ve always adapted well to change. You like change in your life, enjoy the challenge. But maybe this time the change will be too much. You have thought about it long enough, you think, but once again find yourself wondering whether or not this is the right decision. To leave everything you know behind to follow what some call a dream you’re not even sure how you dreamed of anymore. You think about that for a few minutes. How did you come up with this “dream” anyway? Did you wake up one day and think “I want to go to college in the US”? Did it happen all of a sudden, just like that? And then you remember. The reason. Quite embarrassing to be honest. You think people would laugh if they knew. You know people would laugh.

There you are, 13 years old in your dad’s living room, sitting in his favorite chair because it’s so comfortable and familiar. You were watching the Disney channel when a music video started playing, the name of the song was “Kids of the Future.” Three guys were singing and playing guitar in the middle of a huge crowd, while some scenes from the movie “Meet the Robinsons” played on the background. These guys had so much energy! The guy in the middle was always doing something, jumping up and down the speakers, clapping and interacting with the crowd. When the video was over, you ran to your dad’s computer and typed the name of the band that appeared at the end of the video. The Jones Brothers, was it? Oh wait, The Jonas Brothers, that’s right. You immediately clicked on the images tab on Google; you just wanted to look at pictures of those boys. You noticed there was always three of them in the pictures. They looked alike. “Jonas Brothers, oh that makes sense now,” you thought. One of them caught your attention the most. The one always standing in the middle. The lead singer, yes, you liked that one. Then you wanted to read about them, find out their names, know where they came from, and figure out how you could find them.

For weeks you surfed the internet to find out everything you could about those boys. You listened to every song they had out there, looked at every picture, watched every music video, read every magazine article you could find. Your dad wasn’t happy about you wasting your time on a stupid boyband as he would call them, but you didn’t care. Sometime during those few weeks though, your focus somehow shifted from one boy to another. You can’t remember how or when it happened. But you started finding the youngest boy with the brown curly hair and the beautiful brown eyes more and more attractive than the lead singer. Without realizing it you had developed the biggest crush you would ever experience in your teenage years. And it happened. You decided. “I will move to the US and marry Nick Jonas”.

For years, yes, even though it pains you to admit it, for years, you were obsessed with this idea. At the time you were 13 and focused. You fantasized about moving to LA and running into Nick Jonas on the street and him falling in love with you. You even tried really hard to learn how to speak English, because that’s the only way your relationship with Nick would work, duh. English soon became your preferred language; you would listen to music, watch movies and TV shows and write always in English. Your mom helped you practice until you got really good at it. You thought you were set to marry the love of your life. Dreaming never killed anybody did it? It certainly didn’t kill you. Eventually (finally), you realized the unlikeliness of the situation. But the dream of moving to the states never quite faded away because the idea of being in the same country as him was still good enough. So your dream evolved. College came into focus. You decided that telling your parents that going to college in the states may be a good idea was better than telling them you wanted to marry a celebrity. And somehow 5 years later you forgot Nick Jonas was originally the whole reason you ever thought about moving.

But today, the reason is opportunity and change. Today, the reason is moving to a safer place to prepare yourself and have some peace of mind. The education in Venezuela is not the problem. You were accepted in the top national university in the country. The school you always dreamed of attending, the Central University of Venezuela, in Caracas, 7 hours away from home. Everyone in the country calls the main campus “The University City of Caracas,” that’s how big and fascinating it is. The campus is considered a masterpiece of architecture and urban planning, and you never pictured yourself walking the halls of any other school. Sculptures and mosaic murals everywhere you look. When you were a kid you would always visit the campus with your cousins and just walk around admiring its beauty. The day you registered for classes, you felt so accomplished. It felt like a dream come true.

You attended for a semester and realized how high the education standards were. In the classrooms, there was a great level of professionalism and professors’ expectations were set very high. You were taking history, literature, philosophy and science classes. You had never read so many essays in your life. The classes were three hours long and they were all discussion based. When it was time to take the tests, your wrist would be on fire after writing for hours and most people would be happy to get a passing grade no matter how low it was. You know college here will prepare you very well, you have no doubts about that. The education is not the issue. The issue is that bad politics have made a battlefield of your home country. The fear of going to school every day not knowing if you’ll come back home unharmed is almost too much. The crime and violence in Caracas keeps getting worse.

You have never been the kind of person to live in fear, like most people do nowadays. Although you don’t consider yourself completely careless. You used to take the public bus at 9:00pm, sometimes 10:00pm, from school to your residence. You walked to the apartment, where you had rented a room, from the closest bus stop. You listened to music and thought about how great it was to be independent and live in your favorite city in the world all by yourself. Meanwhile miles away, in a completely different city, your mom was going crazy wondering if anything was going to happen to you while you walked the streets of the Venezuelan capital at night. The fear was getting to you. Everyone in school had horror stories about how someone stole everything they had while they rode the subway home. Facebook statutes read more and more often “Send me your number, my phone was stolen AGAIN!”

You were starting to feel the paranoia. But it wasn’t enough for you to want to give up your independence in the big city, you still went out by yourself, you took the subway every single day. But you were more careful about where you were and what time it was. You always had to be alert. You and your family agreed it was in your best interest for you to go to college in the states. “Like you said you always wanted to,” your mom used to say. A few months ago you hired an advisor to help you choose colleges and help you through the application process. You found out you needed to take a couple of tests before you could apply to the schools, the SAT and the TOEFL. For a couple months you prepared for the SAT which was your biggest concern, specifically the math portion of the test. You ended up doing very well on it. The TOEFL, the Test of English as a Foreign Language, was fairly easy for you. Of course, you had to thank your Nick Jonas’ obsession for that.

You think you have prepared yourself well for this journey. You think it’s finally time to leave this city for a better place. For a safer place. You don’t want to feel afraid walking down the street. You thank God for always protecting you while you lived in the city alone. Nothing ever happened to you. You never had any horror stories of your own. “Thank you, God.” You know He will also be with you during this new phase of your life. You feel reassured. Moving is the right decision, it must be. You need to live, not to survive. You need to enjoy your life while you’re still young. “This is the right decision to make,” you tell yourself one more time. For what seems like an eternity, your mind travels from thought to thought until you finally let your body rest in the arms of Morpheus.

The Day of

You wake up in the morning with a strange feeling. You know something big is about to happen. Your whole entire world is about to take a 180 degree turn. Change is almost here. But right now everything is the same. You’re in the same apartment you’ve been staying in for years whenever you come visit your family in Caracas. The thought of you not being here in a few hours doesn’t feel real to you. Not yet. You think everything will feel surreal for a while. You might as well get used to this feeling. Your mom and your aunt wake up with you. They help you finish packing. They make sure you have all the documents you are going to need. Passport, check. School papers, check. One way ticket, check. You have everything you can take with you in a suitcase. Everything is ready; it’s time to wake up your little sister.

You get in the car. Your aunt is driving and your mom is in the passenger seat. Your sister, still in her pajamas, is sitting in the back with you. Her arms around your waist, her head resting on your chest. She falls asleep. You hold her tight while you think about how much you will miss her. You hold back the tears. “Be strong,” you think. If you break down now it will only be harder on them. Be strong. The 30 minutes’ drive to the airport feels all too familiar. You’ve been through it many times before. To travel, to pick up family, to wait for the love of your life. Two years ago, you waited for Nick at the airport the day before his concert and he actually waved at you. Best memory ever. But this time around things will be different. This time there will be tears too, but not of happiness. You don’t want to think about it yet. It still doesn’t feel real. The check-in process goes by without any complications. You go back to your family as soon as you’re done and fill out the paperwork. Everyone is oddly quiet. “Are you scared?” your mom asks. “I’m good mom, I promise,” you say with confidence. “Everything will be alright,” she says. You know this. She knows this. Somehow it doesn’t make the moment that much easier.

It’s about time to start going through security.You hug your aunt first. She has always been very supportive and helpful. You know things would have been a lot harder without her help. You hug your mom and your sister and tell them you love them. Your mom starts crying and so does your 9 year old sister. “Hold back the tears,” you think “It will only make it worse if you start crying.” But you don’t want to hold back anymore. You want to let it all out. You want to cry with them. You feel panic and you don’t want to let go. But you do. With your eyes watered, you tell them everything will be okay. You tell them you will miss them but you will be fine. You tell them they have each other and they will be fine, too. You share one last hug before you go through the glass doors. You wave at them. You’re waving goodbye.

Once you’re through security you collect your thoughts. You keep telling yourself everything will be fine. You go to the food court and look for something good to eat. Something you won’t be able to have once you leave. You decide cheese empanadas will do. You order two and sit at a table by yourself to enjoy them. Empanadas, fried cheese-stuffed pastries that taste like heaven. You think you’ll try to make them yourself every now and then. You think they probably won’t be as good as the ones your dad’s wife makes though. When you visited your dad a couple of weeks ago, you made his wife cook empanadas for you because hers are your favorite. You think you need to call your dad soon, but you decide to wait until closer to the time you’re supposed to board the plane. Leaving him will be hard, but since you didn’t live with him, at least you’re used to not seeing him every day. His call every night at 9 has been a routine for years that you will make sure continues as usual.

Ever since your parents got divorced, you’ve maintained a close relationship with your dad. You always spent part of the summer with him and part of the holidays. There were times you actually considered moving away with him instead of living with your mom, but you never did. So every night, since you can remember, your dad would call at 9:00pm to check on you. He always asked how you were doing, how school was going and what used to be the most dreaded question of all, “What did you have to eat today?” He always wanted you to eat well, but you have always been a picky eater. Sometimes, you would lie to him and tell him you had some fruit that you didn’t even like just so he wouldn’t be mad at you. But when you visited him you couldn’t lie. He always made you eat everything you had on your plate. “You won’t get up from the table until you’re done eating,” he would say. Sometimes you cried but you still finished your plate. One night, you told him you wouldn’t finish your food and sat on the table until it was bed time. He had no choice but to take the plate off the table and tell you to go to bed. He was mad but you won for once. He could never be too mean to you. He tried, but he had a soft spot for you. He said you were his little angel. He still calls you little angel now.

You still have two hours until boarding time. You walk around the shops and buy some heavenly Venezuelan chocolates to take with you. You buy your boyfriend a box of his favorite ones. You think about your boyfriend. You haven’t had time to think about him today. Even though you’ve been together for a few months, sometimes it’s still hard to believe you have a boyfriend. You never thought you would meet someone so perfect and especially not the way you guys met. Your boyfriend and your cousin went to school together in the states and your cousin invited him to come home with him to spend New Years. Everyone was encouraging you to go talk to him because you could speak English and not many other people in your family could. The day after you met him, you went to the beach together with your family and you laid on the sand and talked for hours. He said your English was great and asked how you learned. Of course, you didn’t mention Nick Jonas once in the conversation. You spent a few days together before he went back home and then you would still talk every single day. Eventually, when it was finally decided you would be going to college in the states he asked you to be his girlfriend.

Last time you saw your boyfriend was 6 months ago when you visited him during summer break. Back then you had no idea what school you would be attending. You had applied to five different schools and had been accepted in all of them. Tucson, Seattle, Philadelphia, St. Charles and New Jersey. Those are the places you were considering moving to back then. It wasn’t until you went to Iowa to visit your boyfriend last summer that you even considered applying to the school he was currently attending, Graceland University. He and his family convinced you to look into Graceland to see if it would be a good fit for you. You visited the campus and met recruiters. They all seemed very excited about you considering Graceland and they helped you through the application process. You received your acceptance letter not long after you came back home. After considering your options again with your family you all agreed Graceland would be best. The main reason was that your boyfriend and your cousin went to that school too and your parents felt a lot better knowing that you wouldn’t be completely alone if you attended Graceland. So here you are today, about to board a plane to Atlanta with a connection to Kansas City, where your boyfriend will be waiting for you to make the drive to Lamoni, Iowa.

You’re now waiting at the gate. Only an hour now before you board and you realize you didn’t bring anything with you to remind you where you come from. You’re bringing things to remind you of your family and your friends but you have nothing to remind you of the country that 18 years ago saw you breathe life into the world. The country that has been your home all these time and that has given you so much to live for. You panic. You didn’t bring a flag with you! What were you thinking? Regardless of the many issues, Venezuela is your home and it will never stop being your home. You know you’ll always have it in your mind and in your heart, you know you’re taking it everywhere you go. But you still feel you need a physical reminder. Something to look at to never lose that sense of belonging. Something to look at when you feel lost. Something to remind you that change doesn’t mean forgetting where you come from.

The panic doesn’t last long as you realize you still have some cash left that will be useless as soon as you land in Georgia. You search the nearest store for a flag you can take with you. They don’t sell any flags. It doesn’t make sense to you. They have hundreds of knick-knacks you suppose you could buy but nothing speaks to you. You need something that speaks to you. After all, you’re not sure when you’ll be coming back. You decide you can buy a shirt or a hat, that would be alright, but then you hear it. Its voice calm and familiar. A bracelet is calling your name. You take it and inspect it. You think it’s so beautiful. Such a simple accessory, yet you find it fascinating. It has the flag colors with the word “VENEZUELA” in white thread right through the middle of the blue section. The white thread replicates the 8 stars on the flag representing the 8 original providences of Venezuela on the date the Declaration of Independence was signed. You buy it and wear it immediately. You stare at your wrist that looks more attractive than ever with the tricolor flag you saw every day growing up wrapped around it. You don’t know this yet but for years you will never take it off. For years you will show it to people when they ask you “Where are you from?” You don’t know this yet but you will find comfort every time you look at your left wrist.

It’s time to board the plane. You quickly call your dad and tell him you’re leaving now. You tell him you love him and you will let him know when you land. You get on the plane and find your seat. You read the emergency information and pay attention to the flight attendant when she’s talking. You’re scared of flying, always have been. You wish your mom were here with you. The plane starts taking off and you bury your face in your hands. You absolutely hate this part. You know change is about to hit you full force in the face. You think you’re ready. You look at your left wrist. You know you’re ready. Take a deep breath, it’s time to embark on a new life.