Tuesday, June 25, 2013


    Spending part of my childhood in the humid climate of southern Louisiana, exposed me to so many different bugs.   Between cicadas, red ants and crane flies (Oh, My!), I was surrounded.  No, really, once while playing right field at a softball game, I could barely see home plate through the fog of crane flies.  I could feel them in my shirt and on my face.  I spent most of the game swatting.

    Being the introvert loner that I was, I looked to animals and stuffed toys for friendship.  One spring I found the most elaborate caterpillar I had ever seen – The Live Oak Tussock Moth.

    It reminded me of a groomed poodle with its short tufts of hair and tail-like poof.   I decided to take him in and ensure his evolution into moth-hood.   For this I needed a nest, which I made out of a Danish cookie tin, soil from my backyard and ripped leaves from local bushes. Ta-Da, Caterpillar Palace.

    I started reading all the library books I could get my hands on to ensure I was knowledgeable and ready.  This only made me more interested in other caterpillars and since most of them were wormy, spiky and gross, I decided to take in the cutest and furriest of caterpillars – The Salt Marsh.

    After putting these two together in the Caterpillar Palace and confirming they would not harm each other, I started a collection.  After a week, I had about 10 caterpillars, one for every human hair color from platinum blond to red heads to brunettes.

    I decided to take the Caterpillar Palace to school.  It was a big hit with half the class. The other half thought I was a creep for making pets out of the creatures they stomped on for fun while running laps during P.E.   I dreaded P.E. since I spent the hour doing laps with tears running down my face while I tried to avoid the live caterpillars as well as the endless squished bodies and guts of the stomped ones.  I was a bit of a sentimental and compassionate kid.

    From the day of the caterpillar tin, I was known by my 4th grade class as “The Caterpillar Lady”. I’m not sure if that’s good or not, but I took my ‘pillars’ home and soon they all disappeared into the dirt.  Within days almost all my caterpillars were gone, grown and flown.  All but one, my poodle, who was eaten by red ants while he slept.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

4TH GRADE - 4 Leaf Clovers and Garage Sales

     Right before 4th grade, I moved from Miami Beach to Harahan, LA.   Several things changed.  My classmates changed from mostly Cuban children of working class parents to middle class, suburban white kids with southern accents.  Instead of walking with my mom to school, I had to get on a bus with strangers and bullies.

     I was very shy and I had a hard time fitting in.  I would especially dread moments of forced socialization like recess.  Recess was basically letting half the school out into a large field to form groups and make up games to play. 

     I hadn’t made any friends and wouldn’t dare try.  Instead I made it my mission to look busy with important things such as locating as many four leaf clovers as possible. 

     I’d find several 4 leaf clovers a day and I’d bring them in to Mrs. Fulton’s class to lay them out in the back of the room to dry right before class started.  I even miraculously found a 5 leaf clover once.  Four leaf clover duty did not gain me any street cred with the other 4th graders, but Mrs. Fulton, the science teacher gave me two thumbs up.  After a few weeks of this, I could tell even she thought I was a weirdo.

     Another difference between me and the other school kids was where we got our clothes.  My parents did not buy new things. Everything we owned except for food, socks, and underwear came from other people’s houses – garage sales.  We wore things that other people were discarding.  These garments included a really awesome cougar jacket.  It was a jean jacket with an iron-on embroidered cougar patch going across the shoulder blades. 

     I wore it to school for about a week and got a number of compliments about it.  I had a feeling this would be my ticket to friends.  One girl, Betsy, finally asked me where I had gotten it.  Unfortunately I made the mistake of bragging about what a find it was at a garage sale.  I thought she’d be impressed, but instead, Betsy let out a “Ewwww!” loud enough to get the whole class’s attention.

     She announced to everyone that 'Susana wore other people gross used clothes'.  She made such a scene that I felt myself slumping lower and lower in my seat as everyone laughed at me and made comments on how dirty I was.  That was the last day I wore my cool cougar jacket to school.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


When I was 1, my father lost me in a high rise apartment building by leaving me in the elevator.

Monday, October 1, 2012


    The next day was back to business as usual, and I went to school with the events of the previous night half forgotten.   I came home that afternoon through the usual entrance, our back door that leads directly into the kitchen.   This was the door we used the most, since everything we did was on or near Lincoln Road, and this entrance was the closest one to it.
    I immediately noticed something was wrong, there were patches of dark smudges all over the door and kitchen walls.   I could see fingerprints all in those smudges.  It looked like dirt or ash, but this much dirt wouldn’t have built up after just one school day.
    My mom came into the kitchen; her neck was swollen, scratched and bruised all the way around. She looked like she had been crying. She asked me to close the door, which we usually just left open all day for fresh air.  Then she told me what happened.
    She was doing the dishes earlier that day, with her back to the opened door.   This door was a strong solid wooden door with a window made of fogged glass panels that opened and closed just like a venetian blind.  On the inside of the door a metal grate covered the window to keep someone from easily breaking in by smashing those glass panels. This grate had been damaged by a prior tenant and had a fist-sized hole with spokes that protruded outward.  We often used this hole to grab the door to pull it shut since the doorknob was broken.
    With her wet hands still in the sink, my mom sensed something was up, the way you do when you feel someone is watching you.   She turned and peeked out the door and down the alley, with her back still to the door.   A short, mustached Latino man, wearing blue cut-off shorts and a white t-shirt was slowly making his way up the alley towards our door.   It was clear he was trying to be sneaky, almost cartoonishly tip-toeing.   They locked eyes and my mom slowly began to reach for the jagged grate with a soapy hand.   She did this slowly, I assume, to not insult this stranger, in case he was not there to do her harm.   This action caused him to change pace and he began rushing towards the door. She had just grabbed the busted grate and began pulling when he caught up.   She wasn't able to close the door in time.
    Instead he swung it open so hard, it cut her fingers.   They began to fight, and he soon had a tight grip around her neck with both hands.   This went on for some time and my mom fought to cry out for help.   The choked cries happened to wake my father who was asleep in the bedroom nearby.
    My 60 year old father was practically blind without his coke-bottle glasses and spent all of his time at home wearing nothing but his European-cut bikini briefs.   So he wakes up, doesn’t bother to put on his glasses and slowly walks into the living room.  His wife’s attempted murder is playing out right in front of him, but he can't see a thing.   Annoyed and practically naked he grumbles at my mother, “What is it?"
    The would-be kidnapper slash murderer, startled by this half naked, clueless, blind old man, releases my mother's neck and runs off through the same door.
    Fast forward a bit and I arrive just after the police has fingerprinted the place and left. It wasn’t until she described this person down to the exact clothes he wore the night before that we realized I already knew him and he must have watched us walk home.
    The police never notified us of his capture, and for a while I did most of my playing indoors.  The back door was never left open again.

Sunday, September 23, 2012


   Miami Beach was my home until I was nine.   I lived a couple of blocks from Lincoln Road, which is more than just a road; it’s a wide touristy street with lots of shops and restaurants.   No vehicles are allowed on it other than shuttles for pedestrians.   Down the middle of this wide road were decorative seating areas.   There was one seating area in particular where my mom would always sit at after our 2 block walk and socialize with other local moms while their kids played in the surrounding area.
    One evening out, I chose to play by myself climbing a nearby palm tree. I climbed up and down for quite some time, having little adventures along the curve of the tree.   After a while, I heard a man’s voice from a few feet behind me.   While my mom was lost in conversation about 35 feet in one direction, this little man was asking me for help in finding a lost item in the other.   He was a short, tanned, mustached Latino, likely in his 30’s, wearing a white t-shirt and blue cut-off shorts.  He explained to me that he'd lost a ring somewhere around this palm tree.   He asked me to help him search for it and promised me five whole dollars if I found it.   I started to look around from my perch, but he said it was too small to see from all the way up there.
    He convinced me to get down as he gave me a further description.   Now the ring was gold and then it had a diamond, and then a few minutes later it was most likely laying a little farther from the palm tree. I continued to follow him, farther behind the tropical foliage where I'd be camouflaged from my mother’s view.   I walked about 70 feet to a nearby corner and 70 feet farther from my mom.
   What happens next is the luckiest moment of my life. I stood at one corner of a building, in the last few feet where my mom could still see me.   The mustached man who'd convinced me to walk so far away from where I should have stayed was just around that corner and out of view.   As he talked and waved for me to follow, I heard my mom’s alarmed voice.
   “Susana!!” she yelled.   She had to yell so I could hear her from so far away.   I pleaded back for her to wait while I finished what I was doing.   She yelled back again, “Susana, what are you doing!!”
    As loudly as I could, I explained to her that I was about to earn $5. She stood up! “Come back here!” She got even louder as she stormed towards me.  I looked back towards the man, about to beg him to wait for me but he was already gone.   I walked towards my mom, stomping my feet, pouting, and complaining that she had ruined my chance to make some good money.
    As she got more of the details from me, I could see her heart sink realizing what almost happened. Three more steps and I would never have been seen again, and even worse could have been subject to horrific things.   She immediately walked home as fast as she could holding my hand so tight, yelling at me about how stupid I had been to follow a stranger.
    The short walk home from that corner was basically a walk to the end of a parking lot on our block and a left turn down the pathway leading to every tenants' back door.   It was also a clear view to just exactly where we lived, should any would-be kidnappers be watching...
To Be Continued….

Monday, September 17, 2012


    Like many children, I was a very picky eater and did not like to try new things.  My mom fooled me into eating carrots by telling me they contributed to teeth and ear growth, much like calcium makes your bones strong.  She explained that the reason rabbits look the way they do was because of their high carrot diet.

    This was all I needed to hear! I started eating carrots every night after school.  How great would it be to transform into a rabbit?  I couldn’t wait!  I even bragged about it to my friends at school. "So guess what, losers? I'm gonna be turning into a rabbit pretty soon!" They would be so jealous when my ears came in! Sure, I told them my method, so they could follow me down this Kafkaesque hole if they wanted, but I had a head start, and I was committed!  As time went on, I swear I even began to notice a change in the tips of my ears. Were they were really getting pointier?

    No. No they weren't.  After a few months of not at all transforming into a bunny, I figured out I had been tricked.  To spite my mother for her evil lies, I haven’t eaten carrots since that senior year of college.

My Dream Come True

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


      My baby brother was born just 3 months after my 5th birthday. As my mom was heading in to the hospital to give birth, I was developing a nice case of the chicken pox. I stayed home in quarantine, slathered in calamine lotion, anxiously awaiting little Albert’s arrival.
     My mother and father arrived home and placed this tiny baby on the edge of the bed and warned me to stay away from him. But I couldn’t help it. I had been the only kid in the house for five years and I finally had someone else. I swooped in within seconds of being told not to and laid myself on him, hugging him and inadvertently rubbing all my sores all over his exposed baby skin. My mom screamed, but it was too late. Within days, this cute new baby was covered head to toe in an ugly rash.

      As time went on, his bumps healed. He could thank me later for getting chicken pox out of the way. I was still happy to have a playmate, even though he didn’t do much, but every now and then I was jealous of all the attention he was getting. I started sleeping under his crib, playing with his toys and one day, while my parents were out, I tried on one of his diapers. I had been potty trained for awhile, so I forgot what it was like to just go #1 or #2 right in my pants. I had to know. Why not? Soon enough I had a dirty diaper to dispose of and fast, since my parents had just walked in the door! 

       I stuffed it under my parents' bed and put the whole thing behind me. Days later, like a murdered corpse buried in your backyard, it really started to stink. My parents occasionally mentioned the terrible smell and kept checking my brother’s diaper. I knew exactly what it was and I didn’t dare bring attention to it by attempting to get rid of it. The smell got worse and worse and my mom looked harder until finally, she found the packed diaper under the bed. It was obvious by the size of the deposit that it wasn’t from a newborn.

      She stood there, diaper in hand, staring daggers into me, while I looked away hoping she wouldn’t suspect.