Total Anarchy!… Sorta

Lorena has been pushed from foster home to foster home after the state found out she was taking care of herself.  After no luck in the U.S., her caseworker contacts Lorena’s cousin in Mexico who offers to take her in.  The new culture provides to be a challenge, even for the girl who usually seeks out adventure and dangerous situations.  My plan is for this series to show the growth and development of a fifteen year old upon her immersion into a new culture and her first real family.  For now, it’s just a plotsy story that contains the spanking of a fifteen year old 🙂  Let me know what you think!

———-

I had crossed the line. Had taken it too far. After my mother’s death, my father’s abandonment, and four failed foster homes, I sat in my caseworker’s office on a Friday afternoon, slouched in my chair, staring at the ceiling. My latest failure was a middle-class white family with two other foster kids. They were supposed to be the problem child experts. They were supposed to be able to handle me. Although I guess the weak monthly payments weren’t enough compensation for my mood swings and temper tantrums that usually lead to breaking something important. And then there’s the whole anarchy and communism thing that kinda freaked them out. But it was priceless to see the look on their face when I came home with the communist tattoo.

“We came in contact with some family members in Mexico,” my caseworker told me.

“Are you deporting me, Mrs. Hardt?” I asked, looking her straight in the eyes. “I think that’s against my rights as a United States citizen…”

She straightened up in her chair, giving me this look that I couldn’t quite read. “Lorena, we’ve tried everything we can to keep you here, but…” she trailed off, not finishing her sentence.

“Nobody wants me. Yeah, I get it,” I said, rolling my eyes.

“You’re not exactly the most pleasant child.”

One thing I liked about her was that she always gave it to me straight. And she was right. I was anything but pleasant. “I’ve never lived in Mexico,” I told her. “My mom came here like 30 years ago. I don’t know any of them… never talked to them… don’t even really know that much Spanish.”

She sighed. “Our goal is to keep minors with their families if there is a family member who is willing and able to take them. And I spoke with your cousin – his name is Daniel – he seems like a really nice guy.”

I shrugged, leaning my head back against the wall and looking at the ceiling again, trying not to cry. “Daniel,” I repeated. As if this Daniel person even really mattered. The genetics we shared didn’t make him anymore significant than a random person walking down the street. Why were we so hellbent on considering blood the only important deciding factor in families? I had plenty of friends who were more like family than those douchebags.

“I know you don’t wanna go,” Mrs. Hardt told me. “But the only other option is to stay in a group home.”

“Why can’t I just take care of myself? I did it long enough anyway.”

“Because you’re only fifteen,” she said.

“Almost sixteen,” I replied.

“And still a minor under United States law. Mexico, or group home.”

“Whatever,” I said softly.

I felt her staring at me for a minute longer, then heard her sign a paper and call her supervisor to let her know it was a go. “We head out tomorrow morning,” she told me.

Great. Delightful. Lovely. Just what I’d always wanted. To pay for my father’s fuck ups. As if I hadn’t done that enough already. I wish he’d have never gone on that stupid vacation to Mexico, never met my mom, and never contributed his sperm to me.

And what about these stupid laws? Yeah, sure, maybe some sixteen year olds couldn’t take care of themselves, but can’t they at least have a decision in the matter? And I certainly wasn’t one of them. I’d been surviving on my own since my mom passed away… and yeah, ok, so maybe part of the survival involved breaking laws, but laws are dumb anyway. If it had been a communist-anarchist community, everyone would’ve helped everyone have all the things they need. And I’d contribute to the community in my own way, too. Fucking capitalism… and individualism… and greed.

Mrs. Hardt flew with me to Mexico City, and was very respectful to the fact that I didn’t want to talk. She read the newspaper while I turned up the angry music on my iPod, blocking out all noise on the airplane. My window seat provided me an excellent view of the Mexico City smog when we landed. And then my heart began to pound because I realized what was really happening to me. I was used to being scared. I’d walked around dark alleys in the middle of the night, I’d confronted numerous police on any given night, I’d lived with sexual abuse, physical abuse, I’d spent nights without knowing where my next meal would come from. I’d become used to fear. It was like a second language to me. But for some reason, when the wheels of the airplane touched Mexican soil, that nagging feeling came back again. At least all those other things I’d experienced at home, in a familiar place. Now I was some place completely different, with a different language and culture. Would I be able to make it?

The taxi took us to a small two story house, and I’ll have to say, I was quite impressed with Mrs. Hardt’s Spanish skills – I hadn’t expected her to be able to communicate so effectively with everyone. She helped me lug my suitcase to a big metal gate, then knocked on it. As we waited I scanned my new neighborhood. All of the houses looked alike to me… little two story boxes with high fences around them. There weren’t really any yards, just kind of a porch-like area where some houses had placed a table and chairs for summer evenings. Some people were even sitting out there, staring at me. Spanish rock music blared from one of the houses, and at another house, two people were yelling at each other. Lovely.

I heard the locks shift on the front door and I turned to face a guy in his 20s, spiky hair, a little stubble on his chin. He gave a huge grin as he walked towards us. “Hello!” he said in an overly-cheerful voice.

Mrs. Hardt smiled back at him. “Hi, Daniel?” she asked.

He unlocked and opened the gate and shook her hand. “Yes,” he replied. “Daniel Tlatempa Lopez. Nice to meet you.” Okay, first line of business: change my last name to Tlatempa Lopez. How much cooler is that than Cummings?

“Janice Hardt,” she said, then looked at me. When I didn’t say anything, she introduced me herself, “And this is Lorena.”

Daniel extended his hand toward me, and I nervously shook it. “Nice to meet you,” he told me with only the slightest hint of accent in his voice. “Please come in.” He took my suitcase and closed the gate behind us, then motioned to follow him inside the house. “Would you like something to drink? Juice? Water? Coca Cola?”

“No thanks,” Mrs. Hardt said, and I shook my head, too.

The living room was small and contained only a sofa, recliner, a small end table and a television set on top of a tv stand. An old man was sitting in the recliner and I tried not to audibly groan. I didn’t get along well with old men. Well, I didn’t get along well with most people, but especially men, and especially especially old men. Daniel shouted something to him in Spanish after he closed the door, then turned toward Mrs. Hardt and me. “This is my grandpa, Miguel Lopez…” he said, then, looking at me added, “our grandpa.”

Mrs. Hardt shook the old man’s hand and introduced herself in Spanish, then said “mucho gusto,” which, as I had learned in Spanish class, means “nice to meet you.” Daniel was kind of surprised that she spoke his native tongue and began talking to her really fast in Spanish, saying words that my Spanish class hadn’t taught me… or maybe it had… who knows, I didn’t ever really pay attention in there anyway. I was starting to regret that, though.

“Let me show you to your room,” Daniel finally said, realizing how bored I was at listening to them chatter in Spanish. I reached for my suitcase, but Daniel already had it and was on his way to hauling it up the stairs.

“It’s heavy…” I told him.

“Don’t worry,” he answered.

I shrugged and followed him, tucking a lock of hair behind my ears. This was all too weird. Never had I imagined that I’d be so far away from home living with two people I’d never met in my life.

It didn’t take long for me to settle in. Mrs. Hardt stayed long enough to go through the paperwork with Daniel and me and then promised to return Monday with a Mexican caseworker who would take me from there. Then Daniel and the old man – er, I mean, our grandpa – settled down to finish watching some Spanish soap opera on tv. I knew all about those… telenovelas they called them. Highly dramatic and supposedly entertaining, according to my mom who had been addicted to Univision back when she was around. It made me kind of sick thinking about it, though. In fact, the whole situation was making my stomach a little uneasy. So I excused myself to my new room.

It was small. Not that I had a problem with small – the only things I really needed in life had been shoved into my one suitcase. Part of my communist-anarchist lifestyle had been to do away with consumerism. And all space should be shared space anyway. But it was still weird. And different. This was most definitely going to take some adjusting to.

I stared at the ceiling first, wondering what to do. If I were at home, I’d wave goodbye to the family and catch the bus to my dad’s neighborhood in the ghetto, stop by the grocery store to lift some gummy bears and chocolate covered raisins, bring the offering to my friend Matt’s house, then smoke weed and have philosophical conversations til we fell asleep. Or I’d go to Demarcus’s house and listen to his mom fuss over how skinny I was and shove food down my throat til I thought I’d burst. Or I’d hang out with Shana and watch bootlegged movies with her and her girlfriend. But neither Matt, nor Demarcus, nor Shana were in Mexico City.

I rolled over and stared at the wall now, fighting the tears that wanted to stream down my face. I was not going to cry. This was not any worse than all the other shit I’d been through. I had to be strong. I would find someone just as awesome as Matt, Demarcus, and Shana. Except the whole Spanish thing. Maybe that should be my first task – learn Spanish.

I pondered that idea for a moment, then dozed off, my old Spanish teacher’s voice ringing through my ears: “estoy, estas, esta, estamos, estais, estan.

*****

“Lorena?” I heard the soft voice call, and then there was a tap on my bedroom door. I didn’t answer at first, opening my eyes and wondering where the hell I was. This wasn’t an uncommon feeling for me… wondering where I was. But I’d learned the hard way to figure it out before answering any knocks on doors.

When the previous 48 hours were clear in my mind, there was another tap and I said, “yeah?”

Daniel pushed the door open. “Hey, sorry, did I wake you up?”

“Yeah, no worries,” I said, sitting up and rubbing my eyes. “What’s up?”

He gave a nervous grin. “I guessed you must be hungry, so we made lunch – do you want to come downstairs and eat? Or do you want to rest some more?”

I yawned and glanced at my clock. Lunch at three in the afternoon. It’d been a while since I’d done that. That sick feeling crept through my stomach again as I remembered why, but I had to push that away. Authentic Mexican food sounded amazing, actually. I wasn’t usually much for eating unless mind-altering substances gave me the munchies, and it had been a while since I’d been able to smoke, therefore a while since I’d eaten. Count me in on food.

“Yeah, I’ll be down there in a minute,” I said.

“Okay,” he answered, smiling and closing my door. I listened to him jog down the stairs before I stretched out and opened my suitcase. I dug through my things, mostly clothes, until I found the jewelry box that I’d snagged from my mom’s things after she died. I opened it up, smiling at the array of important things that such a small box could hold. The Che Guevara pin Matt had found during a trip to California and spent $2 on just for me; the ticket stub to the first big concert I’d ever been to; the gold bracelet my mom had given to me as a baby with my initials engraved into it; and finally, what I’d been looking for – my best friend’s anarchy necklace… the one she gave me the day before she died.

I ran my fingers over the tips of the “A” remembering that night. A tear slipped down without warning and I coughed, closing the jewelry box and shoving my suitcase closed. My fingers were shaky as I put the necklace on, but it was like I could almost feel her energy when I latched it around my neck. I could hear her laughter, see her smile, and remember her smell as she leaned in that last evening, putting it on me herself and kissing my cheek.

You’ll change the world someday she used to tell me. You’ve already changed my world.

I heard a whistle outside and it distracted me from my thoughts. Probably for the better anyway. I glanced out the window and saw a tall thin guy, probably close to my age, with black hair, a backwards hat, and a lip ring. He was accompanied by a prepubescent girl who was kinda chunky, her hair in a ponytail and a wide grin on her face. They were carrying a plastic bag that looked like it had a laptop in it. Daniel opened the door, then the gate, and gave the guy a hug, the girl a hug and kiss on the cheek, then invited them inside.

I debated silently as to whether this was a good or bad thing that two people I didn’t know were in the house. Although, considering I’d just met Daniel and his – okay, our – grandpa, technically there were four people in the house that I didn’t know. I wasn’t sure that I was up for introductions and company, but the guy was kinda cute, and close to my age, and probably could be a good companion at some point. Maybe even a Spanish teacher for me.

That was my cue to go downstairs. They were already in a full fledged conversation when I arrived, and Daniel was now holding the plastic bag.

“Lorena!” he said with excitement, “this is Leo and Francisca. They’re our neighbors and like family.” He then introduced me to them, but in Spanish, and then told them basically that my Spanish sucked.

I smiled shyly, face flushed with embarrassment that I didn’t know more Spanish. “Hola,” I said with uncertainty in my voice.

Leo laughed a little and said “hola” back then kissed my cheek, and Francisca did the same. The little girl looked at Daniel and asked if I was really from the U.S. and if I could teach her English and about a million other questions that I didn’t understand. Leo smacked her playfully upside the head and told her to chill out (at least that’s what I think he said). I looked at Daniel for translation.

“She has a lot of questions about the United States,” he summed up.

Then Leo said, in a really strong accent, “she is a little… crazy.”

She gasped, folding her arms and demanding that it was not true. “No, no, no. SHE crazy!” Francisca said, pointing to Leo.

Leo corrected her improper use of the pronoun “she” and then rolled his eyes.

“Leo and Francisca’s oldest brother works on computers, and repaired my notebook for me,” Daniel said, holding up the bag. “We don’t have internet in the house, we share with the neighbors across the street, so sometimes it’s hard to get a signal, but any time you want to use it, I’ll have it here,” he said, taking it to the end table.

I nodded. “’Kay, thanks,” I said, then looked back over to Leo and Francisca who were both staring at me.

Quiero aprender ingles!” Francisca chirped, glancing at Daniel, then back at me.

Daniel told her something, and she answered back, then he pointed to me and said slowly to Francisca, so that she could repeat it to me, “will you teach me English.”

“Will… you…” she paused, looking back at Daniel who repeated the phrase, and then said slowly with excitement, “teach me English!” She paused again, thinking about something, then shouted, “please!”

I couldn’t help but giggle. “Yes,” I answered, then, for good measure, said, “si,” with almost the same amount of excitement as she had displayed when repeating a phrase in English to me.

She jumped up and down and told Leo what I assumed to be “she said yes, she said yes, she said yes!” as if he couldn’t hear me himself.

He smiled and looked at me and said, “me too?”

I nodded, blushing again.

Daniel carried on another conversation with them and then invited them to have lunch with us, but they declined, saying their mom was expecting them, then said goodbye to the three of us, just as they had with their greeting – a hug and/or kiss to the cheek (apparently it wasn’t okay for guys to kiss each other on the cheek, which I don’t get, but okay, I’ll roll with it).

Lunch was kind of awkward because Grandpa Miguel and Daniel did a lot of talking about me without informing me of what they were actually saying. I could tell they were talking about me because Daniel kept looking over as if trying to see if I could understand them. And judging by Grandpa Miguel’s tone, he didn’t seem too thrilled that I was the third occupant in this house.

Daniel tried to lighten the mood by asking me questions about my favorite foods (which at the moment was definitely this roasted chicken, beans, rice, and tortillas we were eating) and what I liked to do at home. He then explained to me that school had already started for the year. The Mexican caseworker and he had signed me up to go to a bilingual private school where most of the classes were taught in English, so I would still be able to learn math, science, history, etc. without the language barrier. Then they’d have me in a special Spanish grammar and composition with other students whose native language isn’t Spanish. And Daniel had a friend who taught basic Spanish for exchange students at a local university who was going to tutor me twice a week. Oh, and if I was interested in teaching English for a little extra cash on the side, he could arrange that, too. And if I wanted to join any sports or clubs or play any instruments or anything, just let him know.

What an overwhelming amount of information to take in at one time. I think Grandpa Miguel realized that before Daniel, because he said something to him in his rough way of speaking Spanish and Daniel backed off. “Sorry, I know it’s all new and everything,” he said. “I just want you to know what all the technical discussions have been about… it has to be difficult for you with so many changes and not knowing what’s next, right?”

I shrugged and took another fresh tortilla from the basket in front of me.

“Do you have any questions?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “I don’t know anything about you guys. And I don’t know how I’m really related to you. And I don’t know much about my family down here. And I don’t know much about Mexico either.” I paused. “It was actually really random… I walked into Mrs. Hardt’s office yesterday expecting to get shoved into another foster home with some rich white family, and today I’m in another country. I didn’t have much preparation time.”

He nodded. “Yeah. Sorry about that.”

“I didn’t even know you existed, really.”

He looked kind of hurt by that statement, but remained stoic. He opened his mouth to speak, trying to find the right words to tell me whatever it was he had to say. Then he looked at Grandpa Miguel who gave him a mean look – but then again, it was the same look he’d been wearing since I’d walked in the door, so maybe it was just his natural look. “Mrs. Hardt had been trying to contact someone down here for a while,” he began, but then paused. “Well, really, let me start with myself.

“I’m Daniel, but everyone calls me Pancho, from my middle name, Francisco. I’m twenty-nine years old, I work as a social worker with urban youth, and I advocate for indigenous rights. Your mom and my dad were siblings. Abuelo Miguel is their father. He’s been sick for a while. I stay here to take care of him and the house and everything… it’s practically my home anyway.

“Mrs. Hardt tried to call my dad, but didn’t know that he’s been dead for four years now. She called Abuelo Miguel, too, but didn’t really have much luck with him,” he said, taking another bite of food and leaving me uncertain as to what he actually meant with that statement. “So after my dad died, I went back to live with my mom in Chiapas until this summer. I moved back here with Abuelo, and Mrs. Hardt called, and I happened to answer. And that’s how you ended up here.”

I nodded. His tone of voice made it sound like the rushed story might have left out some tiny details. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what, though. Probably just that the grumpy old man didn’t want some nuisance teenaged girl living in his home. Not that I could blame him, this nuisance teenaged girl didn’t want to live with the grumpy old man either. But with Daniel, or Pancho, or Francisco, whatever his name is, it looked like it didn’t matter what Grandpa Miguel or I wanted. We were both stuck with each other.

There was an awkward silence while we finished eating, and even more awkward when I realized that I was the only one still eating as both Grandpa Miguel and Daniel stared at me.

“I’m not usually this hungry,” I defended, feeling fat all of a sudden.

Daniel smiled and translated my statement so the old man knew what I’d said. “Don’t worry, Lorena. Have as much as you want.”

I’d actually lost my appetite by this time, but as a strong opponent of wasting food, I scraped the remaining bits of food into a tortilla, and shoved it in my mouth. Then we all sat there, staring at each other.

“Finished?” Daniel asked.

“Yeah, thanks.”

He smiled and gathered the plates, leaving just Grandpa Miguel and me at the table. Talk about awkward. But that’s not the worst part… As soon as Daniel turned on the water to wash the dishes, the old man decided to ask me a question… in Spanish.

“What?” I asked, not understanding a word of it.

He repeated himself, louder this time and more frustrated.

But I just didn’t get it. I stared at him blankly, desperately wishing that Daniel would come back and translate for me. He became more irritated, shouting something else in Spanish that seemed kinda mean, and then finally standing up and going to the kitchen.

He came back with two peaches in his hand and repeated himself again, to which I finally understood as: “quieres durazano?” or something like that. Although, it didn’t really matter anymore. He gave me the peach without waiting for a response and my cheeks burned from embarrassment. I felt like such an idiot for not understanding him that I went ahead and ate the stupid thing. Ugh, this was not going so well.

Daniel came back to the table with his own half-eaten peach. “I need to do some things, would you like to accompany me?” he asked.

“No thanks,” I answered.

“Are you sure? I can show you around. Then you’ll have an idea of how to get where you need to go.”

“Yeah, I’ll figure it out on my own,” I said, probably a little snappier than I should have, but oh well. I wasn’t about to go suffer through his errand-running. It’s much more exciting to go alone and get lost a few times. I’d learn better that way, and could use the adrenaline rush of getting lost.

“Okay,” he said with uncertainty in his voice. “Where do you think you’ll go?”

I shrugged. “Dunno. Just around. I need the fresh air,” I said.

He nodded, finishing up his fruit and tossing it in the trash. “Well, be careful please. If you want, Leo can probably go with you. It would be safer, and you wouldn’t get lost.”

“Nah, I’ll be okay,” I said.

He put on his jacket, glancing at me. “Okay, if you say so.” It was awkwardly quiet again as he washed his hands and dried them, then scribbled down something on an old envelope. “That’s my number, and Leo’s for if I don’t answer,” he told me. “Just in case you need something.”

I nodded. “Okay, um, thanks.”

He gave a half smile, about to say something when Grandpa interrupted in his cranky voice. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at it, hoping that he didn’t see me.

“Oh that’s right!” Daniel said to me. “I almost forgot something.” He ran upstairs (leaving me with grouchy Grandpa, thanks primo, I appreciate it) and then back down, a small book in his hands. “Not sure if you already had one, but here’s a –” he paused, looking for the right word, then concluded: “welcome gift. Welcome to our home. If you ever need anything, don’t be afraid to ask.”

I took the “gift” from his hands, overwhelmed – part of me was overjoyed at the cute dorkiness that was my new family… but the other part of me was itching to get out, pushing him away, knowing that he’d eventually hurt me just like everyone else. I put both feelings away as I looked at what it was. A pocket-sized espanol-ingles dictionary.

Daniel had the biggest, dorkiest grin on his face. “It’s from Abuelo Miguel and me.”

I gave a sideways look at the old man and he rolled his eyes, in a similar manner as I had just moments before. I smirked. Maybe I did have something in common with him after all.

“Thanks,” I muttered, blushing a little.

“See you later,” Daniel said. He waved goodbye to us both, and headed out.

I sat there for a moment, fingering through the pages of the dictionary. Apparently “walk” could be translated as “caminar” or “pasear” and “ayuda” means help. Guess those words could be useful. Then I started feeling weird. Reality was hitting me again. I really didn’t know the language of the country I was in… I wouldn’t be able to navigate the public transportation, or ask for directions, or order food, or understand when someone’s threatening me. It wasn’t just this insane family I had to deal with, nor the non-English speaking neighbors, but the systems! All of the systems were in Spanish and I didn’t know any systems! I didn’t even know how to calculate the pesos that Mrs. Hardt had shoved into my hands hours earlier.

I realized that in my moment of panic, I’d stopped breathing. I let out a sigh and tried to remind myself that I would be okay. I had endured far worse in my life… right?

Then I realized that Grandpa was staring at me. “It’s not like you’re any saner than I am,” I said aloud, not taking my eyes from the dictionary and smiling slightly as I realized he had no idea what I’d said. At least I’d found one benefit to speaking a different language.

*****

Escaping from new foster homes is a favorite past time of mine. My first was when I’d just turned fifteen… when the state found out that the people taking care of me weren’t blood-related, and decided to put me with a wholesome and picture-perfect family. They wore nice clothes, had a big backyard with a swimming pool, and attended church on Sunday, and the moment I walked in the house, I was already plotting a way out. When they tried to stop me from leaving, I responded with a few choice words and gestures and told them politely that I would do as I please. Then I ambled around the suburbs for a bit til catching a ride downtown.

Less than a year later, I was walking down the side of a street in Mexico City, dodging little kids and angry dogs, wishing everyone would stop staring at me. And it was everyone! Not just creepy old men who wish they could get down my pants, but kids were staring at me, and so were their parents, and their parents’ parents. Literally. And while I was kinda used to this (I tend to draw attention to myself, oftentimes without meaning to), it still made me feel weird and I wished they’d stop.

Another thing I was wishing was that I’d find someone who could provide me with something green. Smoking may be unhealthy, but so is distress… which is precisely what smoking would alleviate… thus, it would counteract the negative effects of smoking.

I hadn’t the slightest clue where I was headed, but it most definitely was not the place I ended up. After I’d been wandering around for an hour or so, I heard a familiar voice chirp: “Lorena!” Now, as I had never even stepped foot in the country of Mexico before that day, it should’ve been obvious that whoever called my name had actually been calling someone else’s name. But I stopped walking anyway and turned my head, only to see a little girl plowing towards me. I recognized her as Francisca.

Tia! Tia!” she shouted, taking my hand and talking to me quickly in Spanish. She dragged me towards her house, still talking, until we reached her gate… and her attractive older brother.

Leo quickly stood from the lawn chair he had been sitting on and said something to Francisca, then looked at me. “Hello!” he said, smiling.

“Hi?” I answered.

The siblings exchanged words for a few seconds, Francisca still latched onto my hand. Leo acted frustrated as he reprimanded his sister, who merely cocked an attitude right back at him. Finally, he sighed and looked at me again. “Please excuse, um, my sister.” He paused, thinking for a moment, then said, “she’s a little crazy sometimes. Um…” he moved away from the gate and showed me inside, then said, “welcome!”

I giggled and Francisca pulled me inside, bouncing all over the place. She finally let me go, and Leo offered me a chair, so I gladly seated myself to escape the over-zealous pre-teen. “Would you like to drink?” Leo asked. Francisca shouted something over him, then tried to repeat what he’d said, then when I didn’t answer, she decided that she already knew what I wanted, and ran inside to get it.

Leo laughed and sat down next to me. “Sorry,” he said. “It’s because she hasn’t met a, um, gringa before.”

I raised my eyebrows. “It’s okay,” I said. “She’s cute.”

He nodded. “Yes, cute. But annoying.”

I laughed, leaning back and pulling my knees to my chest.

“You like drawing?” Leo asked, picking up a drawing pad from the table and showing me where he had sketched some characters.

I shrugged. “I’m not very good at it,” I admitted.

“Don’t worry, I will teach you!” he offered. “Maybe you can help me to write in English. I want to do a comic strip.”

“Of course!” I said, although I didn’t know anything about writing comics. It sounded fun, especially being able to hang out with Leo a lot. “Can I see your drawings?”

He smiled and handed me the drawing pad. I flipped through, giggling at some of the images. He was pretty good at this. It would be cool to get lessons.

Francisca soon came back with juice for us all and we sat around, chatting and drawing and teaching each other our native languages. As the sun settled behind the house, their oldest brother (the computer guy) and mom came home. I could tell that I would like them both already. Señora Rosa was a larger version of Francisca – plump and friendly, worrying over the fact that the kids hadn’t offered me anything to eat and talking so quickly that even with the Spanish lesson I didn’t understand a word of what she’d said. And Erick just seemed cool. He brought out some popcorn and beer, then smothered it in hot sauce and chatted with me slowly in a Spanish that I could actually understand. Apparently he played the guitar… and taught about computers at a university… I think.

It was late and I was slightly intoxicated when it seemed a good time to go home. Erick had been strumming chords on his acoustic guitar for hours and Francisca was curled up sleeping in her chair. I’d been chatting almost non-stop with Leo, whose English had improved immensely with a few beers (and I’m fairly certain my Spanish was getting better, too!), and to be honest, I really didn’t want to stop. He was quite fascinating, talking about politics and history… Telling me about Mexico and social movements and different cultural values. It was cool to talk to someone my age who cared about more than just finding a girlfriend or what amazing score our football team supposedly made last night. And if the sky hadn’t started turning a lighter shade of blue, I probably would’ve never stopped the conversation.

Well, I didn’t stop it, Erick did. “It’s almost six,” he yawned. “I’m going to sleep.”

“Yeah,” Leo said. “I should probably walk you home so that we can get some rest, too.” He stretched out and stood up, poking Francisca on the arm. She whined and stretched out, muttering something that I couldn’t understand. Leo answered her with a soft voice. Erick then took over with Francisca, sending me off with a hug and kiss to the cheek, telling me to take care (“cuidate” – a new phrase I’d learned!).

The streets were lonely now, all the vicious dogs and children sleeping soundly in their bed. “Sorry for keeping you out so late,” Leo said.

“Don’t worry.”

“If Daniel is angry, tell him it’s my fault.”

I laughed. “Nah, I’m a big girl. I can take care of myself.”

He peered down at me as if wanting to refute that statement, but held it in. “What will you do tomorrow… er, I mean, later today?”

I shrugged. “No plans. Just taking it one day at a time.”

“I will come over in the evening…? If you would like. We can practice more English… and Spanish…?”

We’d arrived in front of my gate now and he leaned against it. Ughh, he was so hott. I wanted to make out with him so badly, but tried to resist. “Sounds fun,” I said, then in a moment of panic realized I didn’t have the key to get inside.

“What?” he asked, noticing the changed look on my face.

I told him of my dilemma and he only laughed at me, then gave a high whistle and yelled “Pancho!” After another whistle we heard rustling and finally the door pushed open. A sleepy and shirtless Daniel stumbled outside, babbling something and opening the gate for us.

Leo answered him in English – “sorry, brother. We didn’t look at the hour.”

Daniel glared at Leo and said something, then looked at me. “I’m glad you’re okay Lorena… I was worried.”

“Of course I’m okay,” I said with a little attitude, then repeated. “I’m a big girl and can take care of myself.” I gave Leo a hug and kiss on the cheek (I could get used to this custom!) and waved goodbye, leaving the two guys on the porch. I almost skipped up the stairs but caught a glimpse of Grandpa Miguel out of the corner of my eye. He was already awake and sitting in his recliner, grumbling at me like he’d been doing the whole day. “Oh whatever you old grump. Go back to bed,” I said with an eyeroll and trudged upstairs. I changed into my pjs and plopped face-down into my new bed, falling almost instantly asleep.

*****

Things got worse before they got better. I didn’t totally trust Leo or Daniel right away and didn’t really have anyone else to talk to. My Spanish slowly improved and I started school where I sat around all day with wealthy self-centered douchebags, known in Mexico as “fresas”… the word that also means strawberries. My lack of cultural competency made me the butt of a lot of jokes, and I punched a couple of guys before people got the hint to leave me alone. Grandpa Miguel was still grumpy and grouched at me almost every time I came home late, or didn’t call when I’d miss lunch, or came in smelling like cigarette smoke.

I fell into this negative mood, missing my friends and the familiarity of my hometown. It was hard to fall asleep at night because of all the racing thoughts, so I often snuck out, walking through the neighborhood to clear my mind. Sometimes I’d stay out all night and arrive just in time to have a quick breakfast with Daniel and Grumpy Grandpa before showering and leaving for class. A couple of times I skipped breakfast and school altogether and just wandered the city. The school was keeping an eye on me since I was a foster kid and all, but I didn’t care. Maybe if they bugged Daniel enough he’d just send me back to the U.S. (which is what I wanted).

One day that I ditched class, I felt confident enough with my Spanish to take a random bus to where ever it took me. Then I took the train. Then I took another bus. I ended up in a not so nice neighborhood and everyone was staring at me like always, but I tried to blend in and act like I belonged there. I hadn’t eaten in a while and it was making me slightly dizzy, and I was short on cash… I wasn’t sure how much weed cost in this country but I wasn’t getting any food til I had some green.

That’s what the mission was for, actually. Marijuana. I had gotten to the point to where it was difficult to focus through all of those racing stressful thoughts. If I didn’t get something to calm them down soon, I was going to have a nervous breakdown and end up doing something really stupid.

I had been walking for about twenty minutes when the dizziness got worse, and I couldn’t even see straight anymore. Okay, Lorena, just suck it up and get a taco, I told myself. There was a street vendor only yards away from me, but I wasn’t sure if I could make it. I needed to sit down. I couldn’t even tell where I was going anymore… I was stumbling around and I felt drunk. I nearly fell into the grass and leaned my head back, closing my eyes and putting my arm over my face to block out the sun. Ugh, I felt awful…..

I don’t know what really happened, nor do I know how long it was before I heard male voices around me. My first thought was to panic. Unfortunately, I didn’t really have the energy for that. I managed to push my arm from over my face and peeled my eyes open to see a handful of gangster-looking teenagers standing over me.

“Hola…” I said weakly.

They chattered to each other about me in Spanish, and I couldn’t pick up on what they were saying. One of them asked me a question or two and I just stared at him blankly until finally saying that I didn’t speak Spanish. So they chattered again until one finally said, “Are you okay?”

“Food,” I answered, sitting up slightly and feeling dizzy again. I pulled my knees to my chest and rested my head on top of them.

“Water?” he asked.

I looked back up and he thrusted a half-empty water bottle towards me. I took a few sips, trying to stop my head from spinning. I finally managed to croak out in half-English, half-Spanish, that I wanted a taco from the taco stand, and if they’d get it for me, they could keep my change. They seemed ever too happy to assist me and I ate up, slowly so I wouldn’t get sick.

The smell of marijuana radiated from their clothing. I should’ve probably been scared and everything, seeing as they fit the stereotype of a gang member (the look, the accent, the smell of weed, etc.). But for some reason, I felt at ease. My head told me that they probably weren’t bad guys, I should look beyond stereotypes, underneath they’re just doing what the capitalist economy in a classist society has pushed them to do. And my instincts just said that if they did rape or rob me, I didn’t really care. It wouldn’t make me feel any worse than I already did. So I asked them: “Do you have mota?”

Mota – the street word for marijuana in Spanish. It always made people laugh when I said it, and these guys were no different. They chuckled and looked at each other and finally answered my question: “Si.”

I smiled and dug in my pocket taking out the only money I had left. A guy with a flat-billed cap half covering his eyes took it from me and motioned for me to follow them. Minutes later I was sandwiched between the guys on a worn-out sofa, sharing a blunt. It was fantastic and weird all at the same time.

They taught me all the vulgar and insulting phrases I’d ever need to know, catching me up on the slang I didn’t know. One of the guys, Chivo, was even kind enough to write the words down for me. We did this for hours… smoking, writing down words, smoking, writing down words… It was like I was back home again, kickin’ it with friends. I almost forgot I was in Mexico.

When I noticed the sun setting, I yawned, smiling at the prospect of getting some actual good sleep for once. “I’m going,” I told them as I stood.

“Where do you live?” Chivo asked.

I told him my neighborhood, assuring him that I would arrive safely, but he only shook his head at me.

“Chucho will take you,” he insisted then shouted something to his young friend, the quiet one in the group who knew the least amount of English. This could be fun.

“It’s no problem, really,” I said. But Chucho had already grabbed his jacket and was walking towards the door. “Okay, well, see ya later,” I told them. We said farewell as friends always do in Mexico – with a kiss to the cheek – and then I followed Chucho outside, squinting as the sun hit my eyes. I breathed in the fresh air, content for once. It was a beautiful evening. And I had a bag of weed in my pocket. Everything was going to be okay.

Chucho didn’t really talk to me the whole walk home, and I found myself chattering more than I normally do to avoid the weird silence. I guess it didn’t bother him so much, because he stayed by my side until I reached the front gate, then gave me the customary kiss to the cheek, a slight smile, and “bye” then walked off. I couldn’t help but grin in spite of everything. Or maybe it was the weed.

When I went inside, Daniel was on my case. “Lorena, we need to talk.”

I looked at him and rolled my eyes. “Not now, I’m tired,” I groaned.

“Where did you go today?” he asked, blocking my escape route upstairs.

“Out.”

“The school called. You didn’t go?”

He was in front of me now, and I peered up at him, noticing a displeased look that I’d never seen before. It made my stomach knot up a bit. “No,” I answered plainly, voice trembling a bit but maintaining a confident pose.

Grumpy Grandpa grumbled in the background, but neither of us paid much attention. “Lorena,” Daniel said, “you really can’t skip school like that. I was worried about you all day. I had no idea what happened.”

At first I really did feel bad.

But then I realized, it wasn’t like he really had been worried or anything. I mean, the people they shove me in homes with never truly care about me… they care about the benefits they think I can provide them with… like monthly paychecks or sexual favors. So they just fake concern until they see I’m not worth it, and then shove me off to another family. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I couldn’t let myself believe him… it would be traumatic for me later. So that’s why I said what I said: “fuck off.” And then I pushed past him up the stairs to my room and slammed the door behind me.

My throat tightened up and tears threatened to spill down my cheeks. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath in, clearing my head. This was for the better.

To reassure myself I opened the window and lit a joint. At least now I wouldn’t feel anything. At least now I could be strong and independent and not be weakened by my emotions. Nobody cared about me. That’s how it had always been and that’s how it would always be. Forgetting that would destroy me.

*****

When Daniel and Grumpy Grandpa caught wind of who I’d been hanging out with lately, I never heard the end of it. At lunch, the old grump moaned on and on about how they were drug addicts and I was going to become a thief just like them. I replied with snide comments in English that he couldn’t understand, but that always earned me an exasperated stare from Daniel.

As if it wasn’t enough that Daniel and Grumpy wouldn’t get off my case about them, they’d blabbed to my caseworker, who decided that I needed to go to counseling to ensure that I didn’t turn into a substance abuser. Whatever that meant.

Then Leo, who I saw a couple of times a week to draw comics and help him with his English, even mentioned it, warning me that those guys were up to no good.

I was quite peeved when I went home that evening. I’d smoked a joint in the park on my way home, but it didn’t help me feel any calmer. I was so annoyed that they’d gossiped about it to everyone and wouldn’t stay off my fucking case. Who were they to get into my business? I’d taken care of myself for long enough to know if I was hanging out with the wrong crowd so they could butt the fuck out.

I had a speech prepared for Daniel, but most of it was forgotten by the time I approached my front gate. I was so annoyed and upset that I knew if I tried to say anything to him, I would probably scream and cry and make absolutely no sense. And if I cried, I was vulnerable, and I didn’t want to make myself vulnerable. I had to remain stoic.

But leave it up to none other than Grumpy Grandpa to break my stoicism.

“There she is again, coming in late without calling, smelling like marijuana, probably hanging out with those delinquents. Don’t you have any respect, girl?” he croaked in Spanish.

I bit my tongue and glared at him, saying nothing as I crossed the room.

“Errant brat. You’re nothing more than a typical gringa who cares about no one but herself…”

I stopped, turning towards him with a piercing stare. “You know what, old man?” I said, then spattered off about three different offensive insults in Spanish. Then I grabbed the nearest object, a cordless phone that had been lying on the dining room table, and threw it at the wall. It made a loud crash upon impact, then broke apart when it landed on the floor. But my eyes remained on the old man. “I don’t have to respect anyone who doesn’t respect me first,” I said, storming up the stairs.

I was shaking, heart pounding like crazy. I tried to breathe, but my throat was knotting up again and it was taking all of the strength I had to not break down crying.

I shouldn’t have said those things to him, the bad words… they were really bad. But he’d made me so angry. And I’d already been so angry. I just exploded. I hated exploding. It usually meant that I’d be kicked out of a home and as much as I hated to admit it, I didn’t want to be kicked out anymore. Daniel wasn’t so bad, and I’d miss Leo, and I’d miss my gangster friends, and I really just wanted another chance.

The other side of me tried to calm me down by saying that this is what I wanted. I wanted to go back home, and sometimes extreme circumstances cause for extreme measures. Daniel would surely have me pack my bags and be out by morning. He was probably already looking up my caseworker’s number.

In a daze, I went over to my suitcase and started throwing clothes inside. Any minute now he would knock on the door and it would be over. And it would be all my own doing. I caused him to give up on me before I got anymore attached and he did it anyway. That’s how it had to be. I had to be in control.

I nearly jumped when I heard the knock a lot sooner than I’d expected.

“Come in,” I said with a shaky voice, not even trying to hide it anymore.

Daniel came inside and I sat down on my bed, studying him. He was still in his work clothes – black pants, long sleeved button-down shirt, and a tie. I could see a reflection of the orange sun in his belt buckle. His hair was caked with gel and he wore a serious and tired expression. Staring down at me with his dark brown eyes, he moved closer.

“Lorena,” he said firmly.

I braced myself. This was it. He was about to say those words, and I would be free of this place.

“I’ve let you get away with a lot,” he began. This part was always the scariest, the part leading up to actually kicking me out. Sometimes it was easy to block out, but with Daniel, he looked upset enough for me to actually feel bad about what I’d done. That didn’t happen often. “I know that this is difficult for you. I cannot imagine going through what you’ve been through, living in another country with complete strangers trying to tell you what to do, learning a new culture, a new language. That’s why I’ve tried to make you feel welcome, I’ve tried to give you your space, I’ve tried to help as much as possible without being overbearing and authoritative.

“I’ve not said much when you sneak out at night. I’ve not said anything about you smoking in this room. I’ve not kept you from skipping school or hanging out with your friends. And that’s because I know that you need time to get to know me and trust me before I can suggest to you what to do. I respect that you have taken care of yourself and you are responsible enough to make your own decisions.”

He paused for a minute, moving in closer and now towering over me. I felt like a kid suddenly. Like I’d gotten caught doing something I wasn’t supposed to do and had known I wasn’t supposed to do it. It gave me this funny feeling in my stomach and then a tear slipped down my cheek.

Daniel continued: “What I will not tolerate is disrespect to your grandfather such as what you just displayed. He is an elder, and your own grandfather, and you will not talk to him in that tone nor using that language. He may not have been around for you all of your life, but these last couple of months he has given you a home, he has paid for your schooling, and he hasn’t asked you for anything in return. And you know what? He didn’t want to take care of a teenager, but you’re his family and he would do anything for his family,” he told me, causing another tear to fall. “You know better than to be disrespectful to him like that.”

He paused again, letting it all sink in before he continued. “As your guardian, it is my job to educate you, Lorena. Why? Because I care about you, and I want you to make the right decisions.”

I was almost crying by now, hurriedly wiping my eyes so he couldn’t tell. I couldn’t speak… didn’t know what to say… didn’t know what to feel.

He took my upper arm in hand and lifted me from the bed, seating himself where I had been. He unbuttoned and unzipped my jeans, tugging them to my knees with my panties and then put me over his lap. I hadn’t been expecting this at all, and was surprised when I didn’t fight him. This seemed so natural for some reason, like it was what followed a lecture like the one he had just given me, like this is what I deserved. Like this is what family who actually cares about you would do instead of sending you off to live with someone else.

“Lorena Cummings Tlatempa Lopez, you are part of this family and you will be well-mannered, especially to your elders,” he scolded, smacking my backside with an open hand. The loud clap echoed through my room before he brought down another smack, and another, and another… Each swat stung like crazy and I squirmed a bit, knowing that I deserved this but hating every minute of it. “You should be embarrassed and ashamed of your behavior, I know that I am,” he added, delivering a few more smacks to my upturned bare, reddening bottom. “And I will not let a spoiled little girl remain uneducated and cause an embarrassment to the family name. Do you understand, señorita?”

“Yes, sir,” I squeaked out, tears now flowing freely down my cheeks.

“Elders are among the wisest in the community. They have lived the longest and deserve the utmost respect, even when they are annoying. I assumed that someone with your background and political beliefs would have known that already.”

He spanked harder now, moving to my sit spots and causing me to cry out and almost reach my hand back, but I resisted. My legs started kicking some though as the fire spread through my backside.

“I will support your independence, Lorena. And I will accept some of these ridiculous cultural habits you have picked up in the U.S. But I won’t allow you to speak to our grandfather like that, and I will spank you every time that you do until you learn.”

The tears had turned into sobs as the spanking started hurting more and more. I felt awful for what I had done. I felt awful for what I’d said to Grandpa Miguel, for the way I had treated Daniel, for everything. And he wasn’t giving up on me at all… instead, he was calling me part of his family, assigning me his family name, expecting me to be responsible with it and act like an adult. And that’s what made me sob the most.

No one else had ever given me their last name and said I was their family. No one else had ever understood my background and political beliefs and independence yet need for community. It was so weird because I didn’t want him to spank me, but somehow the fact that he was doing that rather than having me pack my bags made me feel like he actually cared about me.

And I knew he was right – I shouldn’t talk to elders like that, I shouldn’t be disrespectful and lash out in anger. I didn’t want to be like that at all… and I really and truly did deserve to be punished for it.

The sound of my crying mixed with the sound of bare hand meeting bare bottom. I felt the warmth radiating from my backside and it was becoming unbearable. I reached back, trying not to block him, but my instincts just wanting the pain to stop. He held my wrist, keeping my arm pinned at my side as he finished up the slaps, ensuring that I would feel this punishment for an adequate amount of time after it had been administered.

“I’m sorry!” I finally yelped, crying harder. My pride was all gone… I had done it. I had broken. He had won. “I’m s-sorryyyyy, Danielll!” I cried. “I’m sorry for everythingggggg…” I breathed in loudly, unable to get air through my nose as it was stuffy from crying so much, and then I just kept sobbing. “I’m so sorry,” I muttered.

“We need to establish some guidelines,” he told me, stopping the spanking and allowing me to slide off of his lap. I fell to my knees and buried my face into my arm which was rested on his lap, then rubbed my aching red bum with my other hand. Daniel pet my hair, pushing it out of my face and allowing me to regain my composure before he lifted my chin to have me look him in the eyes.

I sniffled and wiped my face on my sleeve. “I’m sorry,” I whispered again.

He helped me up off the floor and I gently tugged my panties up, kicking my pants off. He eased me onto his lap, hugging me tightly. I was tense at first, but finally relaxed, sniffling again and burying my face into his chest.

He cleared his throat. “Lorena…” he began, trying to find the right words to say. “I really do worry about you. I’m sorry if I was too hard on you… but it’s only because I care… and I want the best for you. I want you to be independent, but I want you to realize that it’s okay to be dependent sometimes, too. I want to help you. I want you to be happy.”

His words were jumbled and I realized that he sounded as scared as I was… or had been. For some reason, everything felt all better now. Except for my bottom, which hurt like hell. I shifted on his lap and finally hugged him back, my own sign that what he did was okay, that he could relax, and that I wanted his guidance.

He had conquered my stubbornness for the time being, and the real me wanted him to take care of me and be that piece that had been missing from my life for the last few years.

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