Humans of FIU: March 2019

Stephanie Fernandez Feature

The following pieces of writing are from Elizabeth Hanly’s course: Creative Non-Fiction.

 

SPEED

By: Carolina Fajardo

 

 

As I look down at my pink Casio watch on my wrist, I stumble into the kitchen with my heavy bag on my right shoulder, and see that it’s 9:30 AM. I have to be in my car already and on my way to school before I am late to the one class that takes attendance at 10:00 AM sharp.

My dad is sitting on the kitchen table, looking at me with a faint smirk on his face as he takes occasional sips of his coffee. There is no time for my café con lecheor any tostadas, so I grab the first thing in sight to eat on the way.

I give my dad a kiss goodbye and he tells me what he always tells me, “no corras!”. He knows I have the tendency to speed, but I don’t seem to listen to him. I’ve never gotten caught before and I honestly don’t think I ever will either.

I rush out of the house with a banana in hand and my bag in the other. Getting in the car, I throw my unzipped bag on the seat next to me. Blasting Metallica to lighten my mood, I carelessly put on my seatbelt under my arm.

Surprisingly, there isn’t much traffic this morning and I start to think it’s a sign from above.

I make a right turn on Miller and 127thavenue. No cars are on the road, just me. As I drive down the street, I scan the road to see if the cops are in their hiding spot, under the tree with the blooming red flowers, but they are not there today.

I speed up from 30, 40, to 50 mph, and that’s when I see a figure of a man in what looked like dark clothing, standing in the middle of the road, extending his arm out. The glare of the sun hitting my windshield is blinding and didn’t allow me to see clearly at what he is trying to tell me. I slowed down, as I got closer and that’s when I realized what had just happened. The cops moved from their typical location and I had fallen into their trap.

“May I have your license and registration please?”

I quickly searched for my wallet under the mountain of books that had fallen out of my bag and scattered all over my passenger’s seat. Trying to keep calm and hold back my tears, I hand the officer my license and registration. All I could do was apologize and explain how I was running late to school, but the officer doesn’t seem to care and went back to his motorcycle at his hiding spot, under the shade.

My dad is going to kill me when he finds out! I see cops in this area every morning and this had to be the day that one of them, finally got a hold of me.

I check the time and it is about to be 10:00 AM. There is no way I am going to make it on time now. The officer finally came back to my window after taking his sweet time, writing not just one citation, but two. Never have I gotten into any type of trouble before and I don’t know if to feel ashamed or angry. He explained to me that my seatbelt wasn’t supposed to go under my arm and how I was going 15 over the speed. I agreed with all he was telling me so I can just leave already.

Driving off the scene, I burst out crying and start to think about all the times my dad warned me about driving fast. I call my mom to tell her what had happened, but she doesn’t answer. I then call my boyfriend and he doesn’t answer either. I am so disappointed in myself that I don’t even care about missing class at this point, so I turn the car around to go back home and hope my dad is not home.

I park in the driveway of my house and notice my dad’s car is still outside. Great! He hasn’t left for work and will be wondering why I am back so soon. Feeling empty and nauseous, I walk back in the door with my bag and the banana I never got to eat. I hear my dad open the door of his room and walk towards me. He asks me what happened, but my throat feels like it’s tightening every step he take towards me and I can’t bring myself to say any words. With tears in my eyes, I reach in my bag and hand him the two yellow slips and just prepared myself for the worst.

 

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THESE HANDS

By: Samantha Morgan

 

 

Tri-ple-let long. Tri-ple-let long. Tri-ple-let long.

I tap my pencil along with this tempo while reading Beowulf for the thousandth time. The boy beside me shot daggers with his eyes in my direction, threatening me to stop. Out of spite, I pulled a crescendo. As he was opening his mouth to speak, the bell rang.

Walking to my next class, I imitated the finger placement of Beethoven’s Symphony #7, Allegretto, on my phone. We had to absolutely nail it this time. Our embarrassment at MPA’s could not be relived. This spring show would be my last show; my last bow on stage. Lost in my own mental aria, I failed to notice the violin’s frantic whining. Suddenly, my eyes met a very familiar plum-lace headband— I already knew who was coming my way.

“Samantha! We’re fucked with a capital F for forte.” Ale ran her pale hand through her ebony hair. Wide-eyed, she searched for a tuner and turned away from me.

Alyson, with a discreet nod, concurred and followed swiftly behind Ale.

“Why are y’all losing your heads over this? If you had just practiced, you might know what’s going on.” She rolled her large green eyes— I always admired Emily’s makeup skills.

Scoffing, I wondered where exactly I should stand in this situation. True, I was prepared with my instrument and music, but my hands never ceased to shake on stage and under critical eyes.

“Guys it’s going to be ok—”

The second chair 1stviolin began to play.

“No, it’s not Leslie, they’re going to trip up and screw us over,” Sarah retorted. Avoiding eye contact in general, she disappeared into one of the storage rooms. Though usually monotone, she never failed to intimidate the rest of us.

Out of thin air, an outrageously loud cow bell rang out— it was our one and only orchestra conductor, E. “Alright guys, let’s run it through” he sighed. A heavy man, he made his way uncomfortably up to his podium. Disaster ensued, given my nerve’s old habits settling in yet again. My hands were shaking, unintentionally giving vibrato to every note of the piece.

“Well, that’s as good as it’s going to get,” he said at the end of it. “It is what it is, folks.”

The air was so dense that you could drown. While everyone put away their instruments, I remained playing. I played till my fingers turned black with bruises and swollen with cuts.

“How do you manage to play this?” Ale interrupts mid-bar.

“I don’t,” I looked up at her with a poker face.

“Hey Sam, let’s go catch the elevator.” It’s Emily.

Letting out a heavy breath, I follow her.

I put my hand on the side of the elevator steadying me and my instrument, my digits feeling relief from the cold surface. The closer we get to the stage the tighter my grip gets on the neck of my cello, ensuring its safety for my sanity. Upon reaching my seat, I adjust the end-pin and place the cello stop on the ground preparing myself for what would come. It did not even take a minute before my hands began to dance again.

Once on stage, the conductor raised his baton and set the tempo. Somehow my heart settled and I became one with my instrument— the notes just flowed through me. The vibrations of my instrument eased my nerves— the best drug there is.

When playing, I felt a sudden connection to this piece- the melodies ran parallel to my day. A chaotic build up and a symphonic ending. Once the last note resonated, I let my bow fall. My fingers, though, were still on the strings. I failed to process that this was my very last song. My very last performance with the people I loved the most.

When E signaled for us to stand up and take a bow I felt tears form in my eyes. I look at the audience and then back at my second family. All I can think of is even though I flipping hated this song I will always remember the happy tears it gave me that day.

 

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FORGIVENESS

By: Andrea Remiro

 

 

I ran as fast as I could when I heard the Hot Dog Dance on TV.

David had woken up super early to watch the episode because The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse was his favorite show ever. I got to the living room as he screamed “Well, what a hotdog DAY!” really loud at the screen.

He didn’t see me yet, so I threw myself onto the couch and grabbed the remote he left all alone on the new red pillow mami made.

He was still dancing to the music when I changed the channel to Cartoon Network so I could watch Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy. I laughed my evil laugh when I saw him freeze and turn around slowly. He had his mad face on and started shaking his hands really hard. I knew he was going to try to fight me, so I stood on the table and waved the remote in the air. “What do you want, baby chicken? Do you want to cry?”

My sister tried to cut his hair by herself yesterday, but she sucks so she ended up just cutting everything off and now everyone in the family calls him un pollito pelado(a peeled chick). This is why adults shouldn’t have scissors.

David started screaming like the dumb dinosaur from Meet the Robinsons, it kinda scared me a little. But his face was too funny so I kept waving the remote around and laughed at him jumping around trying to get it.

Eventually he realized he could get on the table too, so he tried to get on in one jump like a Power Ranger. He fell and hit the couch, and it was so funny that I fell down too, but I landed on my butt and then rolled off the table. David went crazy and threw himself on me, fighting to get the remote from my hands. I started tickling and pinching his butt really really hard, and he would scream like a dog that got stepped on.

And then he bit me. On my elbow. Hard.

I pushed him off me and started yelling “Ow!” so loud my mother heard me from the backyard and ran inside still holding the barbeque scrape-y cleaner thing.

Que paso? Why are you screaming – oh my, Dios que es eso? What is that!”

She bent down and grabbed me, still holding the barbeque cleaner, and looked at my elbow for a long time.

“What is this?”

“David bit me.”

“He bit you? Porque?”

“I changed the show.”

She started laughing really loud and stood up. “Te duele? Does it hurt?” I looked at David, hiding in the hallway and watching us.

“Nope.”

She smiled, said okay, and went back outside to continue cleaning the yard.

I turned to David when I heard the backyard door sliding closed and started walking towards him. He screamed no and went to hide in the bathroom. “I did the Blood Mary yesterday so if you stay in there for more than 10 seconds she’s going to come out and get you.” I heard him start moving things around and scream a few times every now and then. When he opened the door, he was holding one of the broom sticks my mom keeps in there.

“I will hit you.”

I didn’t believe him. “Do it.”

He actually started swinging, and he chased me with the broom stick pointed towards me and kept poking me as hard as he could. We ran into the kitchen and I was backed up against the counter and he started smiling really big and getting ready to hit me.

I started moving a little to the left to where the knife holder was.

I looked at the knives, he looked at them too and then I smiled. He started screaming and running for his life. I grabbed the biggest, shiniest one and started running after him. He was going to die today. It felt like we were Tom and Jerry, and I was Tom, but I always catch Jerry.

He kept trying to turn around and wave the broom at me, but I had the knife so I was the winner here. He threw the broom away and ran to the couch, covering himself with pillows for protection. I put my knife down on the table and prepared myself. Then I jumped onto the pillows and sat over the one I thought was on his head. I held his legs down so he couldn’t try to kick his way free and waited until he started screaming that he couldn’t breathe.  I stopped when he started pinching my legs and decided that maybe I should let him go.

I was calm now, and kinda tired so I just sat on the couch watching the commercials. David slowly sat up next to me and hugged a pillow tight, before throwing it at my face like he was a professional dodgeball player. I grabbed it and stood up immediately, holding the pillow over my head so I could be ready to beat him up with it. He moved to sit criss-cross applesauce and held the remote in his hands.

“Billy and Mandy’s over, do you wanna watch Spongebob?”

 

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THE GUN

By: Ricardo Gomez

 

 

My dad knocked on the door and a tall-middle aged man opened it.

“Perfect, you’re here! Always on time,” said the man. He then walked to the side gate and unlocked it for us.

The house itself was beautiful. The front yard had long and tall palm trees parallel to the driveway. There were different types of fruit trees all along the sides. The grass was always kept short and nothing ever seemed to be out of place.

The pool in the backyard was huge. There was a jacuzzi that lead into the main pool. The floor of the pool had a light, crystal-blue color to it. We made sure that the pool was clean every week. We came every Thursday in the morning. Mr. Gonzalez’s house was always the first house in our list of customers.

With the gate unlocked, my dad and I started taking out the cleaning tools out of the old pickup truck. The truck itself had its wear and tear, with the tailgate coming close to disintegrating due to the chlorine. It was rusted and make a squeaking sound every time it was turned on. It was a miracle that the truck could even drive. The tires on it were all spares. My dad didn’t have the money to replace them.

As we started to clean the pool, Mr. Gonzalez started talking to my dad. It was always something about a business deal. I never really got to hear the conversations in its entirety though. Every time that they started talking business, they would go inside. Although I only got bits and pieces of the conversations, my dad would complain to me after the job is done.

Today was a different story though. Mr. Gonzalez was talking louder than normal, as if he wanted me to hear it.

“Ricardo, you’re missing out a great opportunity.”

“There’s no way that it would work. We’re all going back to Cuba soon anyways,” my dad replied.

Mr. Gonzalez scoffed. He knew just how much love my dad had for Cuba. Even after the Bay of Pigs, he still thought there was a chance Cuba would get liberated.

“Think about your family; are you going to wash pools for the rest of your life?” said Gonzalez.

“Mr. Gonzalez went back inside as we finished up the pool. He always paid in cash, leaving a small tip so that we could get something after we were done.

We finished cleaning pools a little bit after sunset. As we turned the corner to our house, there was nothing but blue and red lights circling the building. There were police officers everywhere. My mom was standing outside, refusing to let anybody in. The officers dared not to enter the house without my mom’s permission. She was not about to let anyone in the house without my dad home. The second we got out of the car, two police officers came running towards us.

I knew why they were here.

One of the officers started talking to my dad, the other pulled me to the side. He took me to the side of the duplex and sat me down with my brother and sister. My mom came and sat down next to us. Nobody seemed to be surprised that the police were here. I was though. I had no idea how they knew I had such a thing. I was ready to get yelled at from my mom. I just hope my dad wouldn’t be too mad about it.

The police officers entered the duplex and immediately started searching. One officer came to ask us questions. He pulled me to the side first.

“Do you know why we’re here?” he asked.

“Yup. You guys are looking for my BB gun right?”

“What? No. Why would we be looking for that?”

“I thought it’s the reason you guys were here. You came to take my BB gun.”

The officer started laughing. “No we’re not here to take your BB gun. We wanted to know if you had seen anything suspicious around the house.”

I started thinking about what my dad was keeping in the second story of the garage. He told me I could never light a match there. When I asked why, he would only tell me “boom”.

“No sir, I haven’t.”

“Ok, thank you.” He then sat me back down with my family.

We were sitting outside for about an hour until we were allowed back in. There were still police officers, but we had to eat. I started thinking about my BB gun again. What if the officer lied to me? Was it still in my room? I ran past an officer in the hallway and went into my room. I opened my closet and it was still there. Thank God.

The fire department showed up now. They had found something in the garage; eight barrels of oil that weren’t properly sealed. My dad was given a citation of $100 and that was it.

The police couldn’t find anything else in the house. They weren’t looking hard enough though. The second story of the garage had C-4 explosives. The reason they came to search our house inn the first place was that my dad and a dozen other crazy Cubans were going down the Miami River on military-grade rafts with mounted machine guns. They were getting ready to go back to Cuba.

 

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The author of this piece has chosen to remain anonymous. As such, the names in this piece have been changed to protect their privacy.

 

WHERE AM I?

By: Anonymous

 

 

I was on a plane, headed to America to visit a cousin in the spring of 1962. I’d never met him before, but my father said that a week-long vacation will give us enough time to get to know each other.

In my lap was the bag of galleticas preparadasthat my family had wrapped up for me. I started munching on them as soon as the plane began taking off, despite the large meal my family and I had beforehand. As I chewed on the snacks, I looked around, taking in the strange aircraft. I noticed that the plane was full of children. Are we all going to visit family in America?

We arrived in a city called Miami. The officers led me and a crowd of other Cuban children, into a large yellow tower in the middle of downtown. We waited inside for hours, being called up one by one. There were hundreds of us. I was called up, passport and crumbled documents in my hands. They stamped the passport for me and took the papers, before leading me to an old, rusty bus along with some other children. I’ve never been so far from my family. I couldn’t understand what any of the adults were telling us. I wished my father were here to explain their strange English to me.

For about a week, we were transported to different churches to sleep for the night. I never saw the same faces twice as we were passed along, so it was hard for me to make any acquaintances.

We were then placed on another plane. Hours into the flight, I woke up shivering. I looked around, seeing everyone plastered to their small circular windows, “¡Eso es nieve!”came the cheers. I turned my head towards the window and saw the frothy whiteness sprinkling below. I’d never seen snow before, “Why is it snowing in March? Where am I?”

As I stepped out of the airport into the frosted pavement, an officer led me to a dark vehicle, very different than the ones we had in Cuba—I noted, where there was a stern man in a suit waiting for me. He extended out his palm and I reached my own smaller one out, feeling the firmness of his handshake. He told me in perfect Spanish that we were in New York, and that he was going to take me to my cousin’s apartment.

I was relieved. Finally! Someone was telling me what was going on! I asked him if there was any way that I could make up for my lost time in school. His thick brows came together, and he looked at me with an expression I did not understand. In a deep voice, he said, “At 14, you’re too old to go to school in the United States.”

I kept my breath.

His eyes hardened. “You need to work.”

Before I could ask anything else, he ushered me inside the car, and we drove off.

Slowly, my soft hands had ruined to roughness and blister. After a less than warm greeting, the man known as my cousin employed me to work in his Chinese restaurant. Every day, at the beginning rays of daylight, I walked into the small restaurant, and started my days peeling vegetables, before alternating and scrubbing away at continuous piles of sticky, unfinished dishes. Every day, after the morning shift was over, I stayed near the dirty sink, watching as the other workers left and new ones came to start the afternoon shift. I was to stay and work with them. I sometimes wondered why I was the only one working so many hours, and why every time I tried to ask my cousin, his temper would flare before simmering, and he would tell me to get out of his face.

As the days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months, I started to wonder how long I would be staying here. I didn’t want to explain my situation to the other men, and I was too afraid of my cousin to ask him anything. Anytime I was near him, I suddenly became so aware of myself. I could feel how much he despised me being so close to him. Sometimes, when I approached him, the air would thicken, and the heat of his eminent urge to strike at me or tell me something hurtful would consume me to the core. I found myself cowering away ruefully anytime I wanted to ask for just a little more money.

After a while, I started growing agitated at not being able to understand the voices around me. At not knowing any English. I gathered my crippling courage and asked my cousin to let me attend a school for English. I think he found it a nuisance that I had to ask everyone to explain things to me, so he allowed me to attend a private school that taught English. I didn’t know what to do when the school demanded that I pay the tuition fee for the end of the month. The miserable salary I made at the restaurant wasn’t enough. Was never enough.

I approached my cousin one night after my shift, holding a damp rag in my hands to calm myself. He knew I was standing there, but he didn’t turn his head to look at me. Pleading that he wouldn’t be set off, I gently asked, “¿Me puedes dar el dinero para la escuela?

He must’ve known I was going to ask that. His lips formed a tight line. He reached for his wallet and pulled out a wad of bills.

I felt a slap across my face. The bills fell to the floor, scattering around my feet.

I remained in the same spot, staring at my cousin’s back as he marched away.

Was I really so worthless?

After a moment, I felt something being placed in my hand, and I looked down to see the rest of the cooks kneeling on the floor, picking up the scattered bills. “El es así mi’jito, no le hagas caso.

He never once handed me the money. Every month, the money was thrown at me. And every month, the cooks and I would bend to the floor and pick it up. I did not attend school for very long.

Whenever my cousin’s girlfriend came over, I was ordered out of the apartment. Knowing that I was a minor and that I was his obligation, I was told to stay within the complex. I was to sleep on the stairs. I hated those nights. Those were the nights I had to huddle close to the corner for warmth, feeling ashamed to meet the eyes of passing people. I had to make room for these strangers in the dark, coming through at all hours of the night. I’d never felt so low in my life.

Two years, I lived with him.

My brother Becho and I were reunited when he was sent here, but like me, no one had given him word about our situation. There had been no contact from our parents.

Becho and I decided to move in to a small efficiency together. At the time, hiring at 16 was unusual, so I stayed at the efficiency all day, waiting for my older brother to come home every night. I took care not to indulge on the only food we were able to afford. A loaf of bread, and a small carton of baloney was what we preserved by the cold window every week. On the days where it hurt to think and dwell on what I couldn’t understand, I’d walk to my friend Roberto’s house, and we would watch TV together.

One icy night, Becho came back from work. Only this time, I didn’t see a bag of bread or carton of baloney in his arms. I blinked looking up at his damp and sagged form. I felt my stomach grumble, and suddenly felt lost at what we were going to do.

I visited my friend Roberto every day after that. The solitude of the room became increasingly unbearable, and I needed a distraction from the pains in my stomach. Roberto and I would watch cartoons on their plush sofa, and then every night, when his wife Nina began cooking dinner, I’d get up and thank Roberto for letting me stay. I forced myself to ignore the aroma of seasoned refried beans coming from the kitchen.

I couldn’t—didn’t know how to ask them for food. Was I really deserving of sharing their dinner?Was I worth a separate plate of food?  I was so ashamed of myself. I felt afraid of asking them.As I made the snowy trek back to our efficiency, I could feel the hot tears threatening to spill out. I shut my eyes and fisted at them roughly, biting down on my bottom lip hard. There was no dinner waiting for me back at the room.

The next evening at Roberto’s house, as Nina left her spot on the couch to start dinner, I knew it was time for me to leave. As I got up from the couch to say goodbye, Roberto stood with me and fixed me a hard look. I kept silent. “You stay here with us to eat,” he spat.

I froze in my spot. Why was he telling me this? “No, it’s okay, I don’t want to ruin your dinner—”

“Antonio, I know you haven’t eaten in 4 days.”

I looked off to the side and felt myself turning red, too embarrassed to meet his eyes. “Please, it’s okay, I don’t have to eat here.” I said in my broken English.

“No. You’re going to have dinner with us. Every night, you come here for dinner.”

My breath started coming up in short gasps, I felt my heart give a painful lurch, twisting around my center. Tears welled in my eyes and ran down my red cheeks, searing against my skin. Endless tears ran down my face. I choked before the hiccups escaped my throat. As I let out a strained cry, I felt the warmth of two arms envelop me. Nina ran a hand down my back soothingly, whispering to me that it was okay, that they wantedme to have dinner with them.

Many months passed before I was able to find work at a restaurant. I worked as a dishwasher and was kept company by two waitresses, who I later found out were lovers. It was a foreign concept for me. In Cuba, I did not know about lesbianism. They were so kind to me. The restaurant owner knew our situation and allowed my brother and I to have lunch there every day.

One day at the restaurant, I overheard a conversation between the cooks. They were talking about God and how he would help those who asked. I found myself wandering the streets after work, looking for a church, and stumbled upon a place called St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I walked inside and was stunned at the palace-like architecture. I looked around, looking for any sign of God.

“Where do I talk to God?” My words echoed across the immense room. There were two people in front of the stage, kneeling over some steps, with their hands clasped and their heads bent. I walked the long aisle towards them and decided to do the same. I bent my head and heard them mumbling to themselves. Is that how you pray? I let out a deep breath and turned my head towards the beautiful rostrum.

I told God about how much I missed my parents. How I never knew the pain of feeling my heart tear in two when I missed them so desperately. How lonely and worthless I felt. That I couldn’t have ambitions if I didn’t know what my purpose here was, and that I still didn’t know why I was here. Why am I here? Did my family not love me? Did they not want me? Is that why? My throat began to close. I rose from the floor steadily and sat down at the wooden bench behind me.

I stayed there for hours, waiting for something to happen. The church grew dark until it was only illuminated by the candles.

There had been no sign. I got up and left.

Two months later, I received a letter. It was a letter from my parents. They were coming to America.

I fisted the parchment in my hand, not knowing whether I wanted to scream or cry. I was a mixture of excitement, and anger. But most of all, I was hurt.

My mother and father arrived many months later, during the warmth of August in 1966. I was 18. It was then that my father sat me down and told me thereal reason I was sent here. And, I’d never felt my mother and father’s love more strongly than I’d felt it that day.