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"My Daughter's Eyes": Stories of Young Dominican Women

March 25, 2009

Counseling Center Director Dr. Annecy Baez was the featured speaker at Lehman College's 13th annual Student-Faculty Read-In, where she read from her book, My Daughter's Eyes and Other Stories.

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Transcript

00:00

[MUSIC]

SARAH SUMLER:

This is Sarah Sumler, a student at Lehman College. Counseling Center Director Dr. Annecy Baez was the featured speaker at Lehman College's 13th annual Student-Faculty Read-In, where she read from her book, My Daughter's Eyes and Other Stories. Its 14 interrelated stories are about young Dominican women living in the Bronx, as they deal with the choices they must make in their daily lives. Winner of the 2007 Marmol Prize for first Latina Fiction, the book explores topics like mother-daughter struggles... father-daughter betrayal... emerging sexuality... and love, loss, and healing.

00:42

Dr. Baez is a poet and fiction writer whose work has appeared in several journals. A psychotherapist by training, she holds a master's in social work from the Hunter School of Social Work and a doctoral degree in clinical social work from New York University School of Social Work.

The Student-Faculty Read-In is held at Lehman every year in celebration of Women's History Month.

01:04

Annecy Baez:

Well, I thank you all for your presence here today. And I just wanna say a little bit both about myself and about the collection so you can have a sense of me. I work here at Lehman College.

I'm very private about my fiction so I don't go around telling people I write stories. So, when people saw the collection come out in 2007 they're like, "When did you write that?" They couldn't believe that I-- I was doing that 'cause-- I kind of kept it to myself. And I still kind of do. And, you know, people are like, "No, toot your horn, talk about your book," and stuff like that. So, I really welcome the invitation and to be here today. The collection of short stories, My Daughter's Eyes, another thing about me is I was raised in this community. I was raised around here in the Bronx. I was raised on Walton Avenue on 170th street.

And I went to Walton High School right next door. So, Lehman was, you know, part of what I saw every day when I went to school. When I went to school I was-- I loved literature back then, always have.

02:00

And I always wanted to read stories about a girl like me that lived in the Bronx, you know, and walked through the Bronx and went to Fordham to buy her shoes. And-- I didn't read those stories. So, I said, "One day I'm gonna write them." And my stories are gonna be about just girls making decisions about boys and about the things in their lives. And-- and that's what I did with this collection. It was a dream of mine when I was an adolescent and-- and it became-- real for me as I grew up. I told my father I wanted to write. And he said, "Oh, that's not a profession. You're not gonna make any money. You know, why don't you go to college and do something that you could get money for?"

And so, I did. I said okay. And I got my-- my bachelor's and I went to Hunter and I got my social work degree. And then I went to NYU and I got my doctorate. And when I wrote that big, fat dissertation, that's when I said, you know what, I could write my book.

I could write what I want. And I did. I started to write my stories. And it took a while. You know, people read it and they-- they're like, "When did you pop this up? It doesn't work like that. You're constantly writing. And you're writing for a long time

03:07

The stories themselves can be very long. So, what I usually do is I just read little pieces of stories. So, I'm gonna start. The story begins in the 1970s. And the main character is 13. And the stories end when the main character is an adult and her own daughter is 13. Okay? So, it spans the '70s, the '80s, up to the '90s. I'm gonna start when the main character Mia is going to Walton-- to Wade Junior High School on 100-- on-- on Mount Eden, somewhere around there. And she's playing hooky. And back then-- there were a lot of gangs. And the gangs wore colors. And they wore jackets that let you know who they were. And-- that's kind of put in the story because that was her life in-- at that time. And that's how it was back then.

So, you might see that in the story. The second piece that I'll read to you is about how she gets into trouble for playing hooky. And-- and what her family does and how she reacts to that. And then I might read you two stories, just little pieces of when she's an adult. So, the first story-- is called Amor Sucks.

Cousin Eva and our best friend America lock themselves in the bedroom with the boys. They usually start slowly. Eva goes with Snake and then Rica follows, then Pito. I stay alone in the sunken living room, hearing the Temptations or watching One Life to Live. Sometimes it is quiet here and I can listen to the noises they make and the giggles. Today, Pito stays with me watching One Life to Live until he hears the sounds coming from his father's bedroom. The ooh and the ahhs and the laughter calling out to him like spices.

05:02

He says, "You wanna come?" And I say, "Nah, I'm not ready for that." And I catch myself worrying that Pito will think I'm not tough enough to be dragon slayer. Pito and his brother Snake are the leaders of the Dragon Slayers. And so, being with them makes me a Slayer Girl or kind of.

The Dragon Slayers wear black leather jackets with a red and yellow dragon on the back with multicolored letters drawn on the bottom that say Dragon Slayers. We're not officially Dragon Slayer girls until we wear our jackets and our pants. But at the moment we're not allowed to wear pants. And the jackets don't look cool with our dresses. I wear mini dresses. But Eva's religious father Tio Qinto forbids her to wear them. Eva wears colorless clothes, black knee high skirts with white blouses like she's going to church. She looks like a saint but she doesn't fool anyone at Wade Junior High School because Eva is tough and beautiful. Today she wore Snake's jacket over her long black skirt and no one dared to mess with her because she's a Dragon Slayer. Some day I'll wear Pito's jacket. And I'll look-- feel beautiful, strong and cool too.

Snake and Pito are twins. But I can tell them apart because Snake is mean and willful just like Eva. He likes to grab and touch what doesn't belong to him. He's hard like an old callous. Pito is sweet and won't try anything unless he thinks you want him to. He's calm and gentle when he's alone with me. But when he's with Snake he acts just like him, mean and tough. Pito wears a whistle around his neck. That's why they call him Pito. He tells me his mother brought him that whistle when he was just five years old. Shortly after that she died of cancer. He wears that whistle proudly. It's his protection, he says, and the memory of his mother. He won't let anyone touch that damn whistle.

06:57

Now, Pito stares and me and gives me his hand. "You wanna come," he ask and I just stay quiet wondering what to say next. My hands start to shake as he comes close to me. And I hide them underneath my skinny things. But they tremble like the trees on the Grand Concourse on a stormy night.

He kneels in front of me and I steady myself with a deep breath. "I don't know," I say because the truth is I'm not sure that I'm ready for the kissing and the touching stuff they're doing to each other in that bedroom. I could act like I know, like I'm ready and be scared in there. Or I can say, "I'm not ready" and not play hooky with them anymore. Except that I don't have the guts because I wanna belong. I want to be loved and to be part of something big, something like the Dragon Slayers. Pito sits next to me on the sofa. I sit like a good girl with my hands on my lap. My thighs sweat and stick to the plastic of the mustard colored sofa.

And I don't dare to look at him as he comes close to me. I look at my folded hands and move my face away when he tries to kiss me. He stops and stands. "You sure you don't wanna come?"

08:09

I look at him closely. He stands in front of me and I realize I wanna go wherever he wants me to go because I like him. But I'm not ready for that. My heart starts pounding-- pounding and I can see my chest rising. Pito is beautiful. And I wanna please him. But I don't want him to think I'm an easy little puppy who will sit when he says sit or stand when he says stands. I have to give myself importancia, a sense of importance and then I can give in according to Eva because Eva knows everything. I look at Pito up and down. He's tall and dark skinned with long brown curly hair, soft to the touch.  His lips are always wet and smooth reminding me of a ripe, juicy mango.

I'm quiet and don't know what to say to him. I've never liked a boy this much. I've never had a boy as cute as Pito want me. And just because of this I feel my heart swell. I feel so important and special and different from everyone else.

So then, I'm gonna skip a few days. Okay? 'Cause she doesn't know if she wants to play hooky. And then she does play hooky. And then this is another day that she's talking to her cousin late at night if they should do it or not.

09:22

"Are you coming," Eva asked. It's late and I'm lying on my back at the ceiling-- and staring at the ceiling at Eva's bedroom. Eva is next to me staring at me and asking me endless questions. I like to stay over on the weekends. Our whole family lives on the-- in the same building on 170th street in the Bronx. And one on top of the each other like steps on a ladder, my grandmother La Guela Los Tios Las Tias and a whole bunch of cousins all in the same building.

I say to her, "Coming," I ask. I take a deep sigh and I can smell the coconut oil of her hair, the cool peppermint scent of her mouth and see the sparkles of talcum powder left on her breasts now exposed through her thin nightgown.

Eva is pretty with her light, smooth skin like sea stones and eyes of blue velvet set upon her heart shaped Dominican face. Her dark hair is chin length and kinky like brillo. Pelo malo, bad hair, the family calls it. But Eva, she doesn't go around envying the straight, more silkier hairs of her cousins because at 14, she looks 18. And her huge breasts are a source of pride to her. Often she measures them with the hope they continue their promising course. Me, I am so odd. I don't have the almond shaped light eyes of the women in my family or the heart shaped face with the pointing little chin and the straight, small nose.

10:38

I have a wide nose like sighing mountains across my face, large lips like Papi calls them "Bembe," and he says, "Yes, bembe Mia." He'll question whenever I pout. Bembe, lips, big lips, so big I often try to hide them by pressing them against each other in a thin line.

And I don't have Eva's eyes. I have small Asian dark eyes like my paternal grandfather El Chino. And I'm skinny and tall, not the kind of girl cute Dominican boys in the corner colmado say things like, "Mami, tu si estas Buena?" (LAUGHTER) and stuff like that. That kind of stuff they tell Eva when she passes by.

Eva awakens me from my thoughts. Mia, are you coming? "Where?" "To Pito's, idiot." Oh, Pito, Pito. It's been two weeks since I've seen Pito in his apartment. I see him in school in the hallway fooling around with the girls, pulling their hair or talking to them softly. And I won't speak to him for hours after that.

11:34

When I stay with Eva we often talk about boys and plan our whole week in Wade Junior High School. Before the boys, we used to skip school, go to Alexander's on Fordham Road and look at clothing.

Sometimes we'd sneak into the white people's building on Grand Concourse and we'd sit in their pretty sofas in the building entrances and maybe take the elevator up and down until one of the old women with blue tattooed numbers on their wrists asks us to leave or threaten to call the police. Back then the buildings had sofas. They really did. And bureaus. So, it was really bizarre. But they did. Lately (LAUGHTER) I've been thinking it's dangerous to go to Pito's apartment. I can have babies now because blood flows through my legs once a month. My godmother Tati says that these bad feelings are Presentimientos. And when you have Presentimientos, she says, an inner voice telling you to be careful, she says women have a strong inner voice.

Lately, I just don't listen to that inner voice. "I don't know, Eva," I say to her. But she jumps up. "What?" "I said I don't know. I think we'll get caught, you know." "Are you getting chicken shit on me," she says. "No, no." "Okay. So, that means that you are coming, right?" "I guess so." We lie on the bed and she's on her side looking at me. "You're not gonna change your mind?" And I say no.

12:51

So, this is the last piece I'm gonna read from Amor Sucks 'cause Amor Sucks continues until some things happen. But (LAUGHTER)-- that I won't read. But this is the last little vignette 'cause Amor Sucks has little vignettes, most of the stories have stories within stories. And this is the last little vignette from Amor Sucks.

I'm getting scared of playing hooky because I'm kissing Pito more times than I probably should. I know Eva and Rica are doing sex stuff with Snake in the bedroom. But I act like I don't know. Now, Pito and I are having kissing marathons. Long kisses without breathing, sucking kisses, little nibbling-- kisses and dry kisses that leaves our lips chapped and tired.

And these kisses are so powerful they make us wanna do more than just kiss. Now, Pito won't go with Eva and Rica in the bedroom but wants to stay with me in the living room. He says I'm beautiful, more beautiful than Eva and Rica. He says I'm smart too and he really likes that. He says I'm his special girl. And I'm scared because I really like him. And when you really like a boy you wanna do everything with him. Yeah, you wanna share the world with him. Now my inner voice is a whisper. Shh. I don't listen to it anymore, that inner voice inside that warns me of danger all the time. I don't. I listen to my body which reminds me of the fun things I'll experience when Pito's soft lips suck my lips or his hands touch me leaving his memory all over my body.

14:19

I don't listen to the voices even when kids in school tell me Pito does this stuff with other girls. Or when ex Dragon Slayer girls remind me they were in my place just a month or two ago. And I-- and out of the blue Pito just dumped 'em. I don't listen to them.

I ignore lies and gossip of has-beens. I only listen to my heart. Maybe those rumors are true. But Pito has a special place for me in his heart. I'm different from the other girls I say to myself. I'm special. And lately, I've been feeling very, very special. But Rica says that's trouble. She says, "You have to be real cool with a boy, not take him too seriously and expect that he might leave." She says boys are like dogs and the next thing you know they need a brand new dog to bone.

And I laugh. I really do. But what she means is this, that one day out of the blue Pito could just be gone, gone with some other girl, gone like the wind with no cause or reason. That happened to Rica when she was with Romero. All she did was feel special and then what happened, he left her for a girl named Julietta.

15:26

And what did we see? Heart all over the handball court. Hearts that said Romero and Julietta 1972 forever. Even bilingual hearts in Spanish that said Amor Para Siempre, Love Forever, Romero y Jullietta. And Cupid arrows inside the heart connecting them 'til death do them apart. Rica was so devastated. But it didn't last long because Eva wouldn't let her feel sorry for herself. She said boys were like lollipops. They come in different flavors and sizes and there were too many of them to cry over the loss of one. So, over the hearts with Romero and Julietta they drew hearts, large hearts with daggers dripping blood and all that. And then between they wrote, "Amor sucks."

(LAUGHTER) So, that's them. It continues and continues. But she gets into-- the next chapter is she gets into a lot of trouble. Now imagine a very strict, traditional Dominican family, all of them live in the same building and they find out their 13 year olds are playing hooky with boys that are gang leaders in the Bronx. Okay? Not a good thing. Okay? And totally unacceptable. So, she gets into trouble. And what I'm gonna read is how she gets into trouble. You'll kind of figure it out because she won't speak to her family anymore. Okay? (APPLAUSE) Thank you.

The next story where she gets in trouble is called The Awakening because she gets really into trouble with her father. And she will not speak. Her father actually asks everybody not to speak to her for six days. And she decides she's not gonna speak forever, period. The six days have passed and she won't speak. Months have passed and she won't speak.

17:11

So, her family is a traditional Dominican family. They're both Catholic and Evangelists and Pentecostals and Santeras and spiritists. Okay? So, you know it's gonna be a mishmash to wake her up out of spiritual-- spiritual things. Okay?

So, the grandmother is-- is using-- you know-- you know the thing. You know, agua de florida with Vick's vapor rub all boiled up. That's what she's doing. (LAUGHTER) Okay? Okay. So, the first vignette in this story-- and I'll only read, I think-- yeah, three vignettes. El Paso de Mano. El Paso de Mano is a healing hand that passes over you to heal you.

Aura arrives with her frankincense and her mysteries, her scent of wet earth and crushed flowers, a touch of jasmine and hibiscus. Her dark hands passing over my body, he warmth of prayer a whisper. I stir. The energy of her hands passes through me. Un Paso de mano. In the distance my grandmother, La Guela, hums while she boils herbs with Berron, the Vick's vapor rub and the bay rum making a warm substance they rub over my body, their hands full of love healing my brokenness.

18:17

Now the cool scent of their magic brew awakens me. I stir, open my eyes. I move but I cannot get up. Aura sprinkles agua de florida to bring healing spirits my way. They pray, "Ave Maria, Madre de Dios Ruega Por Nosotras." Their love awakens me.

The next vignette is called Forgetting Is Easy. Forgetting is easy. I close my eyes and I don't think of the beating. Yet I find that my body remembers as if memories can lock themselves inside of me reminding me of the past. I feel fear and pain. I close my eyes to forget and I dream. Sometimes I dream of Pito. Pito's hands gliding up my thighs, his warm lips upon my mine. I dream of Eva. I try to forget them. Lately I move and I walk and I eat again. But I do not feel the same. There is something different inside me. There is something broken.

Sometimes the elder-- the elders will ask me, "What's wrong, Mia?' Grownups, they ask stupid questions all the time. They cut your arm and then they ask, "Does it hurt?"  "Habla un chin, un chin, chin," Zuleika says. She wants me to speak a little bit. But I don't. I write to her that I can't. That's how it all begins. And that's how I begin to write in this notebook. I write and the writing comforts me.

19:45

Invisible Bruises. My room is black, a blue black like a bruise. Black walls and black carpets with psychedelic colors, dark blue bedspreads and a lamp that makes rainbows on the black walls. The ceiling is red like blood. And when I lie on my bed the blood red reminds me of the past.

Mommy cried when she saw the room black. Mommy who loves everything white, whose bathroom is so white and clean you could eat on the floor. She says black is beautiful but not for a bedroom. I have dark shades that don't let the sun in. Sometimes I wake up and I have no light in my heart, no hope.

I feel a deep sadness as if someone has died. It is an awful feeling that doesn't go away. I open my eyes and I wonder about living. But death, it is so final. Aura comes to tell me stories, stories about our ancestors, Los Taino Indians, or Yoruba stories, about Yemaya, Oshun, Elegua, and Obatala. She shares the mysteries with me, the knowledge of the spiritual world. Sometimes I listen to her. But other times even stories make me sad. I look away. I sit on the window sill of the fire escape and I see my reflection. It's an ugly reflection.

21:05

Today I'm covered with bruises. I see bruises all over my body although it's been a long time since the beating. Some of the bruises are fading now. But others stay-- to remind me. They are now all sorts of color, blue, purple, pink and yellow, a sick looking yellow.

My face is the same. But if you look closer you will see that the left side of my face is swollen with sorrow. I write this down for Zuki in my notebook. Zukie reads this and says, "You don't have any bruises, Mia. Tia only hit you once." I realize now how different memory is from one person to another. I feel he hit me a lot. But she says he did it once so I don't know the truth. I don't know what the truth is. Aura walks in with Mimi and Rosa. Zukie asks them, "Do you see bruises on her?" And they come close. Rosa and Mimi stare at my bruises but they can't see them.

Aura looks at me and says, "I think I see bruises. It's just that we don't see them." I sigh and I feel relieved. Aura believes people could have bruises on their body. It's just that normal eyes cannot see them because the bruises are invisible. She says that loss can cause bruises, losing the mother you love or the father you love or losing something important to you. We stay quiet when she speaks. She says that words can cause invisible bruises too. Bruises can be deep, deep inside of your heart. She points to my heart and there the bruises hide causing a tangle of sadness she says. If left along and misunderstood this sadness can be like a shadow that you carry everywhere. We nod. "It can change the way you see life, love, people", she says.

22:55

"How can you see them?" Zukie asks. "Look very slowly and stay still," she says and places her fingers on her lips. "Shh. For bruises to be visible you have to be silent and still. Shh. And then they can being to be visible. You have the magic, all of you to see invisible bruises. Wait and listen," she says. And we stay still watching them. And I begin to see that Mimi and Rosa have bruises too.

Others remain quiet. Mimi has her eyes closed and Rosa is attentive, waiting. And we are quiet. My family is full of secrets like all Dominican families. They rarely speak about their pasts or their beginnings. And the women in my family do not share anything about their history. My mother comes into the bedroom and she's followed by-- by her sister, "Tia Socorro, que estan haciendo?" I can see their bruises too. I guess we all have bruises, bruises that become invisible when we cannot name them.

And that vignette ends there. (APPLAUSE) Thank you. Yesterday I was speaking to someone about a woman's intuition. I'm not saying that men don't have it. But women do have a good intuition about things, you know, if only we could listen to that inner voice within us.

24:18

You know, when I work with men and women I-- I feel that everybody-- has an inner wisdom. You know, people might come to me for counseling-- but I really try to help them find the wisdom within themselves. And when you are silent and you-- you listen inside you find it and you have-- more knowledge than you think about your own life. So, if people think counseling is about me telling them what to do, it's not like that. But-- that's the counselor in me kind of squeezing in here.

But this story, The Silence of the Angel, I'm only gonna read a vignette because it-- it's highlighting that issue about a woman's intuition. And I won't-- The Silence of Angel, I won't read it completely. But you'll get the point. And when you read the story completely you'll even get it even more.

Zuleika walked towards her mother's bedroom followed by the singsong voices of the women on the television. Her mother Tati was sitting on the bed hunched over and intent on the drama unfolding on the small set. Zuleika walked towards her, kissed her sweaty forehead and asked for common blessings, "Bendicion, Mami." "Sorry I'm late," she said. "Dios te bendiga," her mother responded with a voice that forgave her for everything. And she continued watching her soap opera on channel 47. Zuleika glanced at the TV staring at the dirty blonde woman in the novella with her pretty light eyes and her Caucasian features. Her heart shaped face and her thin little chin, beautiful.

25:44

The woman spoke in a soft musical Spanish as her small, succulent lips quivered and distressed. She seemed to be on the verge, yes, on the verge of some pivotal decision that would either salvage or doom her life.

Zuleika watched in amazement as her mother began a heated discussion with the pretty woman. Tati's hand swayed like a conductor as she mumbled curses imploring the woman to take the right path. "No, No, por favor, no, lo hagas, no" her mother begged to the woman on the television to please not do whatever it was that she was planning to do. "Deja ese malvado," she continued. Her mother grew somewhat somber as she pointed at the screen. She told the actress the truth. The truth that happiness did not depend on a man, at least not this "sin verguenza," this man without shame, or integrity, sin corazon. Better to pass lonely nights then to loose dignity, self-respect, and amor propio.

"Hay, mami, por Dios," Zuleika said laughing at her mother's seriousness. "These are just actors playing a part. Just actors." Tati stared at her and responded by using a commercial break to enlighten Zuleika as to the events of the novella and why her counsel to the actress was so important.

26:54

And then she returned to her tele-novella. Zuleika laughed. She was like a guardian angel, her mother, really she was. These thoughts reminded her of kitchen dialogues between them from years ago when her mother seriously claimed that it was harder to be an angel than it was to be a human being. Angels, she would say, had to watch over you while you messed up your life unable and unwilling to stop you. Her mother spoke with such conviction it almost seemed as if she owned a manual of heavenly rules and angelic regulations.

She knew the ethics and the protocols, the dos and the don'ts of angels. She would elaborate at great length certain that she would impress her educated daughter with her celestial scholarship. Directly interfering with human life was against heavenly rules, her mother would say.

It was unfortunate but an angel couldn't say to you, "Stop, he's bad for you," or, "Don't take that job, take this other one." Zuleika once asked her mother, "Then what's the use of having a guardian angel if the angel can't intercede on your behalf?" And her mother said, "You must listen to the silence of angels," as if she knew the structure of their silence, their intricate details of their way of being and existing in the human world. "If you listen to their silence you will hear their message," her mother explained. "But you have to be open."

28:10

Her mother occasionally reminded her that angels sent messages in dreams and the synchronicities, the coincidences of life, or in those unexpected stories you hear from someone as they pass you by.

You could even smell angels, her mother said. They had dusty scent of withered roses like the ones Zuleika once found pressed in one of her grandmother's bible in Santo Domingo. And their wings, she said, exuded smoky scent of church incense. "Listen, look, be open," her mother said, "With angels, everything is "indirectas." Zuleika was startled from her memories by her mother's ranting and raving over the turn of events in la television. She stood there memorized by her mother's supplications. She realized that her mother must be right about angels. They did send you silent messages for often, when she made a particular difficult decision it had been due to an inexplicable intuition.

When she went on with her hunches, all went well. When she didn't, things never went as well as she hoped for. Days later she would reflect on how her intuition had tried to guide her. It was always like this, an inner voice much wiser than herself always sure to guide her.

29:26

And isn't that true? (APPLAUSE) Thank you. Thank you. This little vignette that I'm gonna read to you is from My Daughter's Eyes, actually the title of the book. And in My Daughter's Eyes the main character has a daughter who is now 13. And now she's worried about what her daughter's up to 'cause she's done her stuff, you know. So. (LAUGHTER) So, she's like, oh, my God, you know. (LAUGHTER) And the daughter, you know-- is asking her for something very simple.

But she's been raised by a very traditional family. So, she thinks-- you know how you think I'm never gonna do what my mother did? But that's not true. You'll do it. (LAUGHTER) So, this kind of highlights herself being in that position. Now her daughter is 13 and she's like, no, I don't wanna do-- I don't wanna accept this. So, it's a simple request having to do with a Maybelline eyeliner.

My daughter Gabriella assaults me with a Maybelline eyeliner. Her hands are trembling. I suppose she's nervous because she's taking a risk asking me to do her eyes. I know she's afraid I'll disagree with the eyeliner thing. But I know too that if I disagree I'll give the eyeliner more value than it has. The Maybelline eyeler has not changed very much since I was 13. It's still thin, red pencil, the size of my middle finger.

30:45

My cousins and I used to place the tip of it on the fire to melt it so that our lines on our eyelids would be thick and dark, Latina style. But my eyes were too small and dark lines would threaten to overwhelm them.

Back then my cousins and I were not allowed to wear makeup, no lip gloss, no eye shadow and no eyeliner. My cousin Eva and our best friend America and I would make our eyes on 170th street on Grand Concourse on our way to the D train to Wade Junior High. Eva looked great when she did her eyes like Cleopatra because her eyes were large and violet like Elizabeth Taylor's. And she was short and shapely just like Elizabeth. And she had that same little Taylor face. And so, when she did her eyes the guys would whistle at her. When we arrived at school my homeroom teacher, Miss Rodriguez would just have this miserable face every time she saw me looking like a raccoon.

"You don't need all that makeup, Mia. You look beautiful without it," she'd say and brush it off. I used to love Miss Rodriguez. I like that she became the mirror to my beauty. It was later when she became concerned about my playing hooky with the Dragon Slayers that she called my parents and reported our absences at Wade Junior High.

31:54

She had no idea of the devastation she created. It's November now and it's early in the morning. And I've just finished my morning meditation facing east where the sun rises. Today I imagine that the beams of the sun were God's rays bringing peace and comfort to me. I work as a social worker with sexually abused children and it's not an easy job. I look at my daughter's eyes. They're green and a dusty green against her pale face. And they look very light. This reminds me of the first time her father saw her and he said, "She doesn't look like me." So, now she tells me, "Mom, it's just a little bit."

And I'm not sure about this. "Why? You're just 13," I say. And argue about her age and the months and day until she turns 14. "Okay, I'm 13 and a half," she says. Good. "Here, Mommy." And she hands me the eyeliner again.

I hold it. I hold on to the Maybelline eyeliner and it feels, reminds me of the past when I was young and I wanted to be loved and to belong. Gabby's done her hair straight in the Dominican salon on Beekman Avenue in Sleepy Hollow. And under the glow of the morning light I see strands of gold highlights. Gabby has been sneaking around with her cousins in the Bronx and lightening their hair with mousse that leaves their over bleach and dry like straw. But today, after a Dominican conditioner, it's silky smooth and straight. And she looks just like who she wants to look like, her idol Jennifer Lopez. I look around and I think of Jennifer who has taken over my house.

33:25

Jennifer's pictures are everywhere, over the mantel and the fireplace and tiny in the dining room, stuck on corners of mirrors next to pictures of my ex husband and-- and pasted on walls and doors. She's even on my refrigerator with her lips all puffed up in an O as she sings, her image frozen in time next to my magnetic poetry that says, "Luscious tongue suck love purple sunset orange spices".

Jennifer has been trimmed into four by fours and neatly placed in trendy frames from K-Mart. She smiles at us as if she were a friend or a relative. Her photo there in our living room sharing with us our joys and sorrow. Gabby and I talk about Jennifer as if we know her. I wonder about her leaving Sean Puffy Combs, a.k.a Puff Daddy, now P. Diddy and getting married too soon. I could've told her it doesn't work. I'm sure her mother did but she just didn't listen.

And now I'm there. (LAUGHTER) (APPLAUSE) Thank you.

SARAH SUMLER:

Visit us at www.lehman.edu. This is a production of the Lehman College Media Relations Office.

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