Posts Tagged ‘abuse’

“There are many more layers to innocence than one might ever imagine, and we are ever unaware of them until each barrier is breached.”― Paula ReedHester: The Missing Years of the The Scarlet Letter……..

Night Wind, graphite on paper A4, (8x10)…...

Night Wind, graphite on paper A4, (8×10)……

Part of the story, an aside……..

My brother, Number 5 (with me being number 1) of my siblings, lived in Houma with his Cajun princess bride. All of us had chipped in and made their wedding possible in the house in New Orleans. Only my aunt and myself were happy for him and his beautiful bride. The rest of my siblings, including Capitán, thought they could have picked someone better for him. There was great and inappropriate hatred expressed by sisters number 2, 3 and 6 that made the bride cry. It was both a happy and sad day.

So when my sister (number 6) came to New Orleans to stir the pot of evil with my aunt, her long fingers reached out to my brother. Unbeknown to her case manager she was mingling and meeting with the local drug lords and even some who had ventured from Miami to take advantage of her semi freedom. I saw her with these burly types who reeked of darkness; and when she involved my innocent and emotionally slow brother I felt she had gone too far and stepped forward. I tried to tell her case manager who laughed at me. I even called the local FBI to report her but her case manager had already notified her and she had contacted Capitán who was now in town, who told the FBI that I was jealous and trying to defame my poor sister in order to keep all the family money…. and they believed him and told me not to bother them again. (My family in New New Orleans did have some very powerful and corrupt contacts.)

So the evilness of it all began to take shape as my sister began to ply my brother with drugs and convince him to leave his wife and children and go back to Ecuador into the loving (?) arms of Capitán, the man who had emotionally tortured and abused him as a child.

When Michael called me and asked me what he should do, I immediately called sister #2 in Ecuador to ask what the devil was going on and why. My sister responded, ” You are not considered a member of this family and what we do is none of your business. If we need your help, someone will contact you and tell you what to do.”

Like hell they will, I told her…her need to dominate and control everything had just gone too far. “Remember”, I said, “when we were children and if we did not do what you wanted us to do you would tell us “do not speak to me further, you are dead in my eyes”? Well my dear sister, please consider yourself dead in MY eyes.”

I did what I could but one day Michael was gone and his wife called me in tears. There was nothing I could do. In his innocence he could not defend against all the lies they told him and once back in Ecuador, they took his passport and his life became misery as they tried to make him into something he could not be. It took him nearly 3 years to escape and return to his wife and children, but he was changed, his wife was changed, so much damage had been done that could not be reversed.

Although I stayed in touch with my sister-in-law during his absence and did what I could to help her, I did not see my brother again for many years. By that time I had disowned all my family and although I loved him dearly I could not keep contact with him for fear the family would use him to get to me, he never could understand that I was trying to protect him. We would both hug each other and cry.

It would be many more years later I would get a call; from sister #2 saying “Michael is near death and demands to talk to you.”

I said my tearful goodbyes and told him how much he was loved. I would only later learn from a stray conversation, that he was divorced and had stage 4-lung cancer.

I spoke to my sister-in-law once once a few years later when my mother died, but it was only a casual conversation about Michael’s share of the inheritance and since my mother had basically disinherited me, I could not answer any of her questions; I could only advise her to contact the attorney in charge of the estate.

I often wondered what happens when all the barriers to innocence are breached, do we take the remaining shards and try to hold onto the illusion of what we once held to be true? Or do we rebuild a new illusion that allows us to carry on as we discard the shroud that once tried to devour our souls?

What does happen to the dreamer when there are no more dreams?

“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”

― William Wilberforce

Night Lines graphite on paper 8x10

Night Lines
graphite on paper

…Back-tracking ….an aside that is part of the story…….

Beatrice was my grandmother’s housekeeper/maid. Beatrice cleaned house, washed clothes, helped cook and care for my grandmothers 9 children. Beatrice only had the one daughter, LiliMae, born about the same time as my aunt (circa 1924). Beatrice would bring her to work with her six days a week until she was old enough to attend school. Hence, LiliMae and my aunt grew up together.

I do not think LiliMae went very far in school for as Beatrice became too old to continue with the heavy daily work, LiliMae took over and when my grandmother died, she stayed on and worked for my aunt and other members of the family including my own.

The family took good care of Beatrice and continued her salary until the day she died and then paid not only for her funeral and burial but that of her husbands as well. LiliMae stayed in the run down rented shotgun home of her mothers, married a good and kind man and continued working six days a week. My aunt and Uncle took care of all her extra needs whatever they might be. This was all quite normal in New Orleans where slavery was still alive and well just hidden under the veneer of social correctness.

LiliMae, being 1 or 2 years older/younger than my aunt (I never knew for sure) was in her late 70’s when I arrived on the scene in New Orleans. Still working for my aunt but only every so often as she was quite frail and arthritic from all the years of hard work. LiliMae’s husband had long since departed and my aunt was “taking care” of her in the sense that she would take her to the grocery or just go buy groceries for her or to the doctor if LiliMae could not go by herself, and of course as tradition demanded, she continued her weekly salary.

With my arrival and the fact that my aunt was now getting a regular month stipend and had more opportunities to go out and spend her money in the social circles, she turned the care and feeding of LiliMae over to me, proclaiming in the classic southern princess tradition, that she “just couldn’t take it any more”.

Yes, LiliMae was a bit of a pain, a 4-foot 3-inch scrawny whirlwind of a woman, an incessant talker and complainer, she reminded me of my maternal grandmother, but I always had a tender spot in my heart for her and her plight in life and her ability to continue despite any and all obstacles thrown at her.

So once a week I went to see LiliMae. Now this was a very big thing for her and when I arrived she would come out of the house, before she would let me come in, and loudly make sure the entire neighborhood knew who I was and what I doing there and the fact that I (“a white girl”) was taking care of her “black ass” as she use to say. This would continue on for several months until LiliMae’s knees gave out and the doctor suggested a knee replacement. Medicare took care of most of the cost and my aunt (or rather Nan) paid the rest. The recovery was slow and so home health care was needed. But something else was going on and it was two months later when the second of the home health care agencies quit because LiliMae was beginning to prove to be “too difficult to handle”, that I realized there was a serious problem. I took her to another doctor and after some test she was diagnosed with bi-polar dementia. I managed to find another agency to help out and make sure that LiliMae was taking all the correct medications, to do her exercises so she could get out of the wheelchair, but it was becoming a downhill battle.

Of course I kept my aunt informed of everything that was going on except the fact that before her surgery, she had me take her to the bank one day and added my name to her account in case of an emergency. She said I was the only person she could trust not to steal her money. LiliMae knew my aunt larcenous heart very well and I could not, in good faith, tell her of this occurrence. Over the years LiliMae had managed to set aside over $20,000 from her salary and gifts and whatever, and she was afraid my aunt would take it all back.

A year passed and by this time my sister had her hooks deep into my aunt and along with my first cousin Nora they decided that LiliMae was a “family” concern and that “thank you very much” but she would take over now, and boom!, that was that. My relationship with my aunt was strained at best at this point and with my hands being tied and no voice in the matter, I stepped back.

One month later they, the family, put LiliMae into a State-run nursing home. My aunt being the closest thing to a living relative signed the papers and walked away. Within a week my aunt had made arrangements for all of LiliMaes possessions to be sold at auction. I do not know what she did with the funds.

No one asked me about anything, so I waited out of curiosity to see what was going to happen. Two weeks passed and my aunt called me saying, “The nursing home wanted to “talk to you”. When I asked about what she responded, “I have no idea”. I knew she was lying through her teeth as she always did when she did not want to face anything difficult. So my aunt and I went to the nursing home and we discussed the financials, I explained the situation and said of course I would turn over the account to the state for her care. My aunt never said another word except “well that’s taken care of”.

I would visit LiliMae once a week until she no longer recognized me; the home had put her in bindings to keep her from hurting herself, she was heavily medicated, and she would nonsensically rant to anyone who was close. My aunt never mentioned her name again; it was like she never existed.

LiliMae died of a heart attack about a month after I stopped coming to see her, I received a note from the Home saying they wanted me to know since I was the only one who ever visited her and that she would be buried next to her husband.

I laid a flowers on her grave and there was, like most things those days, a sad finality to it all, and perhaps I was the only person who shed a tear.


“A single slim trunk – Branches that bow in a storm – Green, leathery leaves with a soft centre – Glittering against blue sky – White bark scarred, bleeding – Heart wide-open – Bandaged, but upright she stands… ” ― Fadia Faqir, The Cry of the Dove

Traveling on the Spine of the Dragon (2005)- acrylic on canvas - 182x137 cm (72x54) -

Traveling on the Spine of the Dragon (2005)- acrylic on canvas – 182×137 cm (72×54) –

The story continues……….

There was a bit of  trouble writing this part, unsure as to the feelings my memory evoked, words eluded me for a while, I was interrupted by the holidays but clarity returned and I condensed it all…..

My friend who had sold my car met the plane and after one look rushed me to the hospital where I was loaded up with antibiotics.  Confident I was on the road to healing I asked him to drive me down to Galveston where I would stay with my grandmother until I was better and could make some clear-headed decisions.

When we arrived, he said he would wait to make sure she was there and everything was all right, so I headed up the walk, onto the porch and rang the bell.  My mother answered the door with “ You! And what are you doing here?”   Surprised and a just a little miffed, I explained I had just gotten back from my sailing adventure, managed to get a massive infection and was planning on spending a few days with “mawmaw”  to heal and rest until I could make plans.

“Well you will have to make other plans,” my sweet mother said. “Your grandmother died two months ago, I now own the house, your sister is living here and there really is no room for anyone else.”   “Well, then,” I commented, “let me get my things from the attic and I will be on my way.”   “I sold everything.”  My mother said.  “Why?” I asked.  “We had no idea when you would be back and those two boxes were taking up room I needed.”  “I see”, said I, “well I will just leave you to it and move on, nothing here for me obviously.”  As I headed down the walk back to the car she called out “Let me know if you need anything.”   All I could do was laugh.

Quietly I closed the door of the car and asked my friend to just drive.  Once we were headed back to Houston I told him what had happened.  He said his wife would be glad to have me at the house and offered to put me up for a few days until I could find a job and a place to live.

The next day I bought a few clothes and started the search for a job. The Sunday classifieds offered a position with the University of Texas School of Public Health (now the Health Science Center) for an administrative assistant in the International Health Module.  I set up an interview on Monday and was hired that afternoon. I would be working with two professors: an epidemiologist and a demographer.  By Wednesday I found a furnished garage apartment walking distance from the school and moved in the next day.

I loved everything about my job, my bosses, the students, the Dean, the environment, I felt most fortunate.  I even was given the opportunity at night to teach a non-credit language course in Spanish and in French for use in rural communities.

The more involved with the school I became, the more I wanted to continue my own education.  My other sister had been in touch with me letting me know that when my grandmother died she had left a sizeable amount of money in a trust fund for her grandchildren’s education.  My mother’s brother had been made executor of the trust and I would need to contact him to apply to the board.  He was a captain on one of Lykes Lines cargo ships and it was not difficult to find out his schedule and arrange a possible meeting the next time he was in port.

Two months later I received a call from my uncle inviting me on-board for dinner, the ship would be in Houston in 3 days and we could discuss the trust’s provisions.  At the appropriate time I took a cab out to the port and went aboard.  The captain’s cabin was quite large with a small office/dinning area.  The meal was wonderful, the conversation informative and I was looking forward to having my expectations fulfilled when my uncle asked me to come over to the desk so he could give me forms to complete and send in to the board of directors.

As I approached the desk he turned to face me, grabbed my hands with one of his and slapped me hard with the other knocking me down to the floor. He then proceeded to hit me again, pulled up my skirt, ripped off my underwear and while I lay there stunned, he raped me.  Climbing off of me he said, “ You are not the good little whore your father said you were, so get out of here! …and don’t expect this family to do anything for you.”

Humiliated, shamed, in pain, and partial shock, I straightened my clothes, gathered my purse, held my head high, left the ship, found a taxi and went back to my apartment where I laid in a tub of hot water shaking, unable to feel clean, unable to get warm. I called in sick the next day and the day after.  The swelling around my mouth had gone down but my mind was in turmoil, shadows flooded the dark memories, but I could not hold onto the whirlwind in my heart and soul, so I let it all sink back into the darkness.  As I lay there, in that dark dank cave, I looked up, found a shred of light, pulled up my socks and just moved forward. It was the only thing I knew how to do best.

The months passed, work consumed me, I made new friends, I joined groups, I spent my evenings in the bowels of Rice Universities’ library where I read every book I could find on cultural anthropology, my favorite subject.

December arrived and with it a phone call from Capitán offering me a job as Operations Manager for a Yacht Charter he had just established in the Galapagos Islands with two diesel-powered 60’ converted fishing boats.  He was having difficulty finding someone to handle the job as well as the crew and I was, he said, his last resort.

I have no explanation for what I did next.  I accepted the offer.   The only thing I can think of is that at the time, my torn, battered and broken mind was damaged beyond any reasonable repair.  The invisible bandage I wore covered my delusional state, and in that twisted madness, I saw his offer as an opportunity for my personal redemption.

I hung up the phone and cried, making small cooing sounds like the doves that sat on my windowsill each morning.

Within the week I was back in Ecuador showing no sign of what the past year had wrought.



We suffer primarily not from our vices or our weaknesses, but from our illusions. We are haunted, not by reality, but by those images we have put in their place.

Daniel J. Boorstin —

Kachina Dream,2013, oil on canvas, 35x50 cm (14x20)

Kachina Dream,2013, oil on canvas, 35×50 cm (14×20) —


An aside to the story……

Capitán’s eldest sister and the first-born, was named Eleanor after her mother.  She went by the nickname Noni but behind her back was called “the war department”, for her iron fisted, unrelenting rule over not only her parents but also all her siblings.  A milky skinned redhead, her thinking was completely linear, a progressional,  pre-determined path to personal and societal success, there were no deviations, and no obstacles she could not overcome to achieve her goals. She was beautiful, graceful, intelligent, cruel, selfish, and very determined.

Patricia Roberta was Capitán’s youngest sister, and although he was the last of his siblings, Patty was the last girl, only 11 months his senior. A green-eyed brunette she stood in the shadow of her successful elder sister and watched with admiration and jealously.  Unlike Noni, Patty’s thinking was complete circular and it revolved around herself.  Spoiled and petulant she obtained whatever she wanted by whatever means necessary.  She considered herself to be quite special, and in many ways she was, but her values were shallow, based on what she thought society required of her, her personal needs superficial and her innate view on life was that it owed her more than she got.

Noni was very good at setting and achieving goals; Patty was very good at making other people tend her needs and make her happy. Noni allowed Patty to hang at the edges of her success and Patty never forgave her for the cruelty.

Noni choose carefully and married into an established local Irish dynasty. She gave birth to 4 children. Patty married the man she fell in love with, contracted a debilitating internal virus at a young age and was left barren.  Her greatest desire to be a mother would go unfulfilled and her sister would remind her of this failing for the rest of their days.

While Noni never had a kind word for anyone, Patty had a heart that was too big compensating for the great emotional need for a child; and it was that emotional need that softened her edges giving her an almost irresistible sheen, allowing her to move with ease at the mid to upper levels of New Orleans society.

When I was born Patty bonded with me like no other, and I must have reciprocated, because from that day forth, unbeknownst to me, she became my surrogate mother.  When my own mother had the 4th of her 6 children, Patty asked if she could adopt me, as my mother was capable of having many more children.  My mother was horrified at that thought and never forgave Patty.  Denied the one thing she wanted more than anything, Patty’s love for me grew exponentially over the years. Something I would not discover until much later in life.

Noni had a wealthy, powerful life, a full life, a rewarding life, and while her 3 sons succeeded in law, government and the arts, she would abuse and bully her only daughter into obedient submission, leaving her to grow into a fragile, bitter, narrow-minded, clueless, uneducated woman. My first cousin and one who would become the underlying sponge that soaked up the lies, the half-truths and innuendos, created by Capitán, spreading them as gospel.

I was in New Orleans when Noni was released from the hospital after a major heart attack at age 82.  None of her children, grandchildren, or even great-grandchildren had time to collect her from the hospital and bring her home.  Patty and I did. Physically weak, breathing shallowly, her fragile body seemed to disappear within her big four-poster antique canopy bed.  As I sat in a chair next to her listening to her breath, I could hear Patty down the hall on the phone making more arrangement with the maid, with a nurse and others when Noni reached for my hand and pulled me over.  “How could I have never known you were so kind?” she asked, “I am so very sorry.”   “Its OK, Noni, rest now.” I answered.  She died quietly 3 weeks later in that same bed.

With Noni’s death, Patty stepped with ease into the societal vacancy gaining the respect and admiration she craved.  In exchange for all she did for me over the years, I would help her go even further, by becoming her ghostwriter. She achieved great acclaim and fame if you will, for her talks, her committee installations, her prayers in multiple women’s groups and organizations throughout the city.  This would open the door to other latten talents and others would come to compose the tunes she heard in her head that would later be recorded by the Boston Pops.  Her world would grow, bloom, flower; her ego was now off the charts but her personality became child-like, loveable, generous, kind and those qualities made the superficial side of her seem insignificant.

A lovely side effect for me in this relationship was that Patty rarely bought anything off the rack.  All her clothes were classic in style, color and hand-made by her personal seamstress.  Worn only one season, she would give them away to charity each year making sure the charity knew exactly from whom the clothes came from; I received my yearly donation as well, and for about 25 years except for jeans and flannel shirts I never had to buy another stitch.

There is no lesson to this tale, no moral, no insight, just an observation, just a story to set things in perspective.  A family not unlike others who held grudges all their lives, who made people pay dearly for real or imagined offenses.   A family who lived and died by the drama they created, thereby giving their lives a reason for existence, meaning and purpose.  They lived two lives, their private ones which were “nobody business” and the public ones where “saving face” was paramount.  They were all unforgiving until the end, on their deathbeds, asking for forgiveness for a lifetime of cruelty.

I was not like them, never wanted to be like them, never truly understood them or their reasoning, never admired them, but I did find them amusing and I always loved them all in spite of their multiple failings.  All I ever asked of them was to be accepted and of course never was, except by Patty.



Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” Marie Curie —

Receiving Information ©2003- graphite on paper, 25x30 cm (10x12)

Receiving Information ©2003- graphite on paper, 25×30 cm (10×12)


The Story Continues……

Been giving a lot of thought to time and memories, how the memories we do hold, can be distorted by time. Sight, sound smell all come together to form the perceived image of what transpired, our eyes seeing illusions of what we want to believe is true.   I just may have too much time on my hands right now not painting and when I have too much time, I think……dangerous, because then I ask questions!

What I know now, I did not know then and when I look back I wonder how is it possible not to have been aware, not to have known, not to have remembered.  The answer is quite simple: it was safer to forget.  My Pollyanna attitude and can do spirit found itself when I left for Europe and buried the reality of my childhood.  This allowed me to frequently return to Ecuador, hating Capitán, but not truly understanding why; so somewhere in me for the next 20 years, I searched for redemption.  If that makes any sense at all!

Truth is always hard to believe, it never paints a pretty picture. My personal painting formed the image of what others saw:  the bravado, the fearlessness, the voice saying I could do anything, I was something, I was somebody.  Beneath the thin veneer, I was part of nothing, belonging to nothing, being nothing.  I had no real self-esteem, I saw my self as ugly and not having much value, conditioning that had constantly been driven into my being with the words of my family. Two different people, the child and the adult, fragile and strong, day and night.  Like waves it flooded me, lifting me up, dragging me down, only to lift me up again.

Coming to New Orleans to live with my aunt was a revelation, a freedom, a blessing, a gift.  They gave me the space to find myself, or at least search for something I could hold onto outside of myself.  They provided the foundation, the base, the balance, from which I could come and go, do or not do, be or not be, as long as I was there, with them, part of them, as long as they could touch me, talk to me, hold me, love me.  I reciprocated with equal intensity.

Via summer school I finished my missing classes with honors and got that American degree to add to the others. But at the time, my need for education had evaporated.  I spent my afternoons with my aunt at luncheons and teas, roaming the dense and dangerous vegetation of New Orleans high society.  At night I found a waitress job at a little joint in the French Quarter called the Kings Room.  Managed by a wonderful, older Italian man named Stanley who instantly adopted me, letting it be known that I was under his wings.  I was now “street people” of the Quarter, and could go anywhere in the city safely without fear.  The Kings Room was just one of Carlos Marcelo’s Mafioso enterprises and Stanley was one of his Capos. The bartender was a handsome tall Irish lad nicknamed Dino. I fell in love for the first time.

My relationship with Dino was passionate, strong and lasted for nearly 2 years. What I did not know was that he was an enforcer for the mob, he was an alcoholic, and when he was drunk he talked.  I was living upstairs in the small apartment on Philip Street, but my nights were spent at his place in the Quarter.

Of course my aunt and uncle were not pleased about this situation, but understood, they had met him, he attended family affairs, he was charming, gracious and ultimately was acceptable.  I was happy. Then a series of events came to pass, fate manipulating my life again.

It was in December, a typical cold, wet day, the dampness eating down to your bones. Stanley was not in the bar that night, I was informed he had a sudden heart attack and died, the funeral would be the next day.  The sense of loss was great, but more so was the knowledge that I was now on my own without protection.  After the funeral, on Dino’s advice, I quit the Kings Room and went to work at the Hotel Monteleon rooftop bar.  Dino went to work at an upscale restaurant down Bourbon Street. Christmas passed quietly and the New Year was looking bright, then shadows began to emerge.

Dino’s alcoholism became worse, something had triggered even heavier drinking, and from his babbling I knew his enforcer responsibilities had taken him a step deeper into the mob and there were  “disappearances”.  I was giving serious thought to perhaps it was time to leave him and this situation when my aunt informed me Capitán was in town.  I stayed away from Philip Street trying to avoid his presence.

The next night after work Dino informed me that Capitán had made an appearance in the restaurant bar and with gun in hand created a scene, threatening him, and advising  him to leave me alone least he be eliminated.  Dino of course laughed at that situation, but at the same time that confrontation was unacceptable to other powers that be and people began to notice and to question.  I no longer felt safe on the street.

What followed was inevitable, a confrontation with Capitán.  I took it upon myself to defend not only myself, but also my aunt and uncle against his attacks and accusations.  A horrid scene evolved, leaving my aunt in tears and my uncle telling him he was no longer welcomed in their house.

Two nights later, right before my 21st birthday, the new manager of the Kings Room came to the Monteleon and pulled me aside. He advised me what I already suspected, that it was no longer safe for me, that Dino had become a liability, that I knew too much. In memory of Stanley he was providing me passage to California with an associate, there would be a job waiting for me, in addition, he promised Dino would follow in a couple of weeks.

I felt I had no choice, I had to trust the gods that be.  I packed a small bag, told my aunt and uncle that I had to leave for a while and would be back when things quieted down. Would write them when I was settled.

The mills of the gods do grind exceedingly fine with actions and consequences coming together, forming a brew that is not always savory. To make a confusing story short, a week later I was abandoned in New York, on the street with $50.00 in my pocket, my passport and more than a little concerned as to what I was going to do next.




I got treated very badly in Texas. They don’t treat beatniks too good in Texas. Port Arthur people thought I was a beatnik, though they’d never seen one and neither had I.      Janis Joplin

At Days End- ©2003- graphite on paper, 25x30 cm (10x12)

At Days End ©2003- graphite on paper, 25×30 cm (10×12)

-I remember sitting on a veranda overlooking the city of Zagreb, the beautiful clear blue sky, the mosaic tile flooring, the Marine Guard who had driven me from Belgrade sitting across from me talking away; the plane was delayed a couple of hours and we were having that marvelously sweet, strong Turkish coffee.

The next thing I remember is that I am in Houston, I am in a Catholic High School, I am in a kind of hell.

It is quite apparent that the trip back to the US was traumatic, the arrival was traumatic, the situation was traumatic. It is apparent I erase things easily. Later I eventually gleaned what happened.

Upon my arrival my mother had arranged for me to take the SAT’s at the University of Houston so I could continue my schooling, Capitán was to forward all my transcripts.  It never occurred to anyone that I had not spoken or studied English since I was 9 (well I did speak English to my parents), that I took everything “literary” not understanding the subtleties of the language, that I could read quite well but I had immense difficulty understanding test questions.  In South America and Europe most of my test were oral, very little was a written exam, and then only in essay form.  In America the questions tested your cleverness, not knowledge and I could not decipher the innuendo, still can’t to this day! No one even realized that even though I could write, I could not spell!!!!

I managed to make only decent scores except in English, which I succeeded in failing royally. I could not be accepted as a foreign student because I was an American and no exceptions would be made, thank you very much.  To add to my mother’s dilemma, Capitán never sent the transcripts, said they were lost in the mail, would get copies, never did. My mothers solution was to put me back in High School so I could graduate from an American school, be able to learn English and hence get into an American college.

I was 19 at the time, going on 30.

My memories of that High School as you might expect, are quite fractured. I spoke with a British accent, which my Texan schoolmates thought to be pretentious and snotty, so I was bullied and mocked on a daily basis. I learned to keep my mouth shut and tried to get rid of the accent. I use to practice talking when I alone at my mother’s apartment. To make matter worse, I was clueless to the culture of American “teenagerdom”.  Not harboring any concept of what America was  except what I saw in a movie or two I was lost, and there certainly were no bobby socks here! I did not even know what a football game was, much less a Bar-B-Que.

Severe cultural shock took hold, I was frightened, friendless and having an extremely difficult time learning anything in school to which my teachers attributed to my metal defects as outlined in letters Capitán had written. I asked too many questions and was moved to the back of the class where I could be ignored.  I even had trouble using my empathic skills because I found everything to be not what I wanted! “Dealing” with it all alone was becoming a burden.

To my rescue came an angel named Dee, two years younger, a classmate, fearless and brave to a point, she befriended me outside of school (unfortunately she could not be friends with me in school, social stigma because I was such an alien…..and all that stuff I never understood).  However, she quietly defended me when others put me down, she helped me with my English classes and taught me how to speak Texan.  But the best thing she did was introduced me to Garry her sometimes boyfriend, a junior at the University of Houston, with whom I formed a karmic bond. He became my brother, my counselor, my teacher, and my life long friend.

I rarely saw my mother in those days, she put in long hours working as an executive secretary, we talked even less, although I do remember bits of joy and laughter, so we must have gotten along well. One day when I came home from school Capitán was in the apartment, I think he had come to try to get her back, but I never knew the real reason. What I do know is there was one of those terrible yelling fests and I left, spending the night in the hallway of an adjacent building. When I returned in the morning, he was leaving but not before I received a tirade of what a whore I was (his favorite word to describe all women) accusing me of earing a living on the street. I remember silently standing there thinking how some things, some tones, some words never change and how very much I hated him.

One month after this incident and only 6 months after I had arrived, my mother’s boss was transferred to New York and asked her to come with him to continue her job as his assistant. It was only 1 month before graduation when she dropped me off at the train station, putting a ticket in my hand and telling me my aunt would meet me at the station in New Orleans and I could finish school there. I do not think she kissed me goodbye.  She had done what she could and it was time for her to move on.  I did not see or hear from her again for nearly 10 years.

I had come to the conclusion that life really was a magic act, just smoke and mirrors: now you see it, now you don’t, very little was real.  Of course I blocked out the memory of the train ride to New Orleans. The only thing I do know is that my arrival was welcomed with open arms.  My Aunt and Uncle became a solid lifeline, became the parents I always wished I had, loved me beyond what was humanly possible and gave me something sacred: they believed in me.

They also made me keeper of the family stories, passing on the good tales and of skeletons in the closet that created the family history. It was from that day forward I never forgot anything again.



You’ll walk a path of misty truths, Moving you where they will to, The road where you’ll likely be, Living out this Mystery. Michael Brown  —

Philip St

Philip St. circa 1920 —

An Aside to the Story……….

The original structure was headquarters for the Confederate Army during the Civil War. When the war was over, it sat empty and abandoned for many years.  The advent of the reconstruction era allowed renovation to begin, porches were added, palms planted, the property was sold.

My paternal grandmother fell in love with the house while she was still a girl, making a mental promise that when she married that house would be hers.  The house itself developed a long history of being a property of contention, haunted by confederate ghosts, and other entities, bringing anger and mistrust to those who dwelt within its walls. My grandmother could not care less what was said, the ghosts were welcomed guests, she only knew that the on day she married fortune smiled and that house went up for sale.

Unfortunately, there were other forces at work. Her parents did not approve of two things: her marriage to the Scott/Irishman she fell in love with and knowing her desires to have that particular house.  The stout German family did everything in their power to prevent the marriage, but the couple secretly left town one day and eloped, eliminating that problem.  They also did everything in their power to prevent her from buying that particular house. Their reasons remain unknown to this day.

Strong headed and determined my grandmother was not one to be denied her wishes, so she contacted her husband’s cousin in Mississippi, marking arrangements with him to quietly buy the house.  Once the paperwork was settled she could then purchase the property without her family’s knowledge.  The family of course, found out the day she moved in; she would never be forgiven.  “This house”, they would say, was not meant for you.”  A family phrase I would later hear more often that I would wish.

By the time Capitán’s youngest sister married all the older siblings had already married and left home so she and her husband moved upstairs in the big house creating an apartment, which they rented from my grandparents.

My grandmother died only 3 years after my grandfather and in settling the estate, my aunt and uncle wanted to purchase the house from their siblings.  Capitán headed the campaign against this, wanting the property sold and the profits divided.  Following in the steps of her mother, my aunt secretly gained the confidence of her brother-in-law who at the time was a powerful judge.  He arranged for the house to be sold on the open market, reducing the price for a quick sale, and to be purchased by a trusted associate. This pleased all the siblings who received their share of the estate per the Napoleonic Laws of Louisiana.  A month later, the property was quietly sold to my aunt and uncle.  To say this caused a furor among the siblings would be an understatement, their anger about this affair would last an entire lifetime.  That house was not meant for you…they said and the bone of contention was picked clean once again.

My aunt and uncle would live happily in this house for the next 40 years or so with another sister who never married living upstairs.  They would renovate it, keep it perfect, live a life beyond their means and almost lose it to 11 years of unpaid federal taxes.

No one knew about this last item except me and the other aunt who lived upstairs.  My aunt never shared the information with anyone else.  Arrangements had been made with the IRS to ignore the lien and allow my aunt and uncle, because of their age at the time, to remain in the house for the rest of their natural lives on the condition the house never be sold, and if it was, the IRS would then seize all profits.

One sister came to live out the last of her days in the house, as did another brother. Then the aunt that lived upstairs died and the upstairs was divided into two apartments and when my aunt was in her late 70’s my dear uncle died.

Over the years I had formed a deep and abiding relationship with this aunt and uncle. I became closer to my aunt who took on the role of a pseudo mother. This was completely unacceptable to Capitán and other New Orleans family members including my siblings and my mother, and for unknown reasons they all worked consistently and diligently to turn my aunt against me. It would take them a lifetime and Alzheimer’s to succeed.

The death of my uncle left my aunt very alone inspire of numerous family members ready to move her into smaller dwellings and take over the house.  The family began chewing harder at the edges of her sorrow wanting to take control. Adding to the pressure, my uncle’s sister’s boyfriend of 25 years died leaving her with vast amounts of money and property.  My uncle’s sister’s will left everything to my Aunt and my Aunt’s will left everything to her remaining brother: Capitán. Not wanting to wait until the death of the two women, Capitán decided it should all be his now.  My aunt not knowing how to protect herself and her sister-in-law called me, as the only one she could trust, to come and help.  Having made a promise to my uncle many years before that I would always be there in time of need, I had no choice but to go.

My arrival in New Orleans would start a bonfire that would turn into an inferno that would lead to an epiphany that would change my life…….all because of this wonderful old house on Philip Street and those who lived in it.

“It’s when we’re given choice that we sit with the gods and design ourselves.”- Dorothy Gilman —

Observation 3- ©2003- graphite on paper, 25x30 cm (10x12)

Observation 3- ©2003- graphite on paper, 25×30 cm (10×12)

The story continues……..

In spite of what many would have us believe, truth, I have come to realize, is quite singular.  My truth, your truth, it is all true. We hold our memories and beliefs tightly to our breast believing that they fortify us within our self-created history.  The illusion of our created lives is like a crystalline cocoon within which we wrap ourselves, reflecting that singularity. Unknowingly we assume we are safe, but reality comes along every once in a white with a little silver hammer.  Tap, tap, tap…it goes, and cracks begin to form.

When I speak of being socially ignorant, it is the truth.  I have memories of making friends in school but never being allowed to see them after school.  There was little free time in school to chat with the exception of the bus ride to and from school, and my classmates were never on my bus. Unfortunately, I had already become a quite child and listened more than talked. I remember being allowed to go to parties, but only to enter the room, say hello and leave, for Capitán was waiting for me in the car.

I had the freedom of a bicycle, but that was eventually taken away when I never would come home in time, riding until it was dark, not wanting to come home.

I did have one special friend and it took my family a long time to find out. She was a year older than me, German/Ecuadorian, and lived on my bike route. We met by accident one day and found ourselves to be kindred spirits.  On my first visit to her house I immediately fell in love with her family, they were intellectual, musical, loving, kind.  I never told my family about them for fear they would stop me from visiting. It was a secret I was able to maintain for several months. They had a beach house and would go there often on the weekends, one day during vacations; I just went with them, lying about having permission.  It took my family 4 days to find me and of course that was the end of that friendship.

Sometime during the flight from South America to New York to Zürich and then a train journey to Fribourg, Switzerland I became a fearless Pollyanna – ready to conquer anything that came my way. Very few people spoke English or Spanish when I arrived at school. Since classes were taught in French, I learned the language quite quickly; then Italian and German within the year.  Two years at a prep school, because I was so young, and then to the University. I remember very little about school itself, one of my many memory “holes”.  Capitán had already written letters documenting my “mental disorders” manifested by cheating, lying and my overall delinquent nature, so teachers accepted me with trepidation.

I would learn much later about the letters Capitán would write to family members, my employers, my friends for the next 10 years saying the same thing and worse, laying the groundwork for the epiphany to come. But I get ahead of myself.

At the time, I processed it all just like anything else that was distasteful, uncomfortable, or hurtful: I ignored it, shoved it into a file drawer, made it disappear in my memory and moved on with life.  I was experiencing the illusion of joyous freedom and in spite of letters written or hard teachers who reminded me what a failure I was, I made good grades, earned a degree and made friends.

Not just one friend but three! Classmates with whom I would spend breaks and holidays, from skiing in Gstaad, Mont Blanc or Zermatt, to city hoping in southern Italy, to museums in Spain, a weekend in Paris, Easter in Athens or a summer in Germany.  I saved all the meager funds Capitán sent combined with money I earned helping other students with math or chores enabling me to travel and explore.

Everywhere I went I felt I had been there before. I knew the streets, I never got lost, everything was familiar, everywhere felt like I had come home.

In 1967 change arrived in the disguise of a letter I received from old friends of my mother who were currently stationed at the American Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. They extended an invitation to come and spend a long weekend. Eagerly I took the train from Fribourg to Belgrade looking forward to a new adventure.  Two days after I arrived they sat me down and handed me a plane ticket to Texas.  Telling me my mother had lost custody of my siblings but had managed to gain custody of me (I was still underage) but there were conditions. They explained I had a choice. I could return to school and continue with my studies or I could leave tomorrow, return to the US and live with my mother.  If I chose the first, Capitán would pay for the schooling but regain custody.

I think it was late September when a Marine Guard from the Embassy drove me in his green MGB to Zagreb where without a second thought I boarded a plane to the US and the unknown.

Tap, tap, tap…and the first crack appeared.



“We live on because we can love, and we love because we can forgive.”― Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram sleep, perchance to dream...- ©2003- graphite on paper, 25x30 cm (10x12) sleep, perchance to dream…- ©2003- graphite on paper, 25×30 cm (10×12)

The story continues……

As I said before, she was loved by everyone and to a lesser degree by my sisters who only saw her though the eyes of Capitán.  She was mostly unaware of our existence except when we would come to her with a problem and her response was always “deal with it”.  It was her way of saying “I have so much more to deal with you must learn to deal with it as well”.  She also carried similes in her pocket, tossing them over her shoulder as she left the room. Her way of ending a conversation before it could begin. Therefore I am not sure she ever really noticed the fact that every house we lived in Capitán always removed the bedroom doors to the children’s rooms and his room was always under lock and key. Not that she ever had any power to correct anything.

When I was small I can vividly remember my favorite places to play: the attic, the basement, or a shed in back. It was there I would pretend to live, safe behind a door I could close.  She must have known what was going on especially with me, for even as I grew older she kept me arms length, there were very few kind words and little if no information shared.  Because I felt I was her protector I always forgave her.  It would not be until much later that I would understand why, and when the opportunity finally came to explain to her what I knew, to find some forgiveness or understanding, she would not listen nor accept.

She finally left Capitán a year after I left for school. Managed to obtain the assistance of the US consulate and take my siblings with her back to the US and get a divorce. Her family condemned her for leaving her husband and refused to help, Capitán’s family under his orders, ignored her. Being out of the country he could refuse alimony without consequences.  So, she pulled up her socks, held down two jobs, went to night school twice a week to improve her secretarial skills and did her best with the children.  Gradually the strain of being alone along with everything else, proved too much.  Three years later Capitán regained custody of everyone except me, taking my siblings back to South America.  She once told me she would not let him have me back because I hated him so much. But I think it was her way of trying to redeem herself for many years of not being able to do anything.

Returning to the US from Europe I lived with her for less than a year.  She boarded a plane for New York one day and a better job after dropping me off at the train station so I could go live with an aunt in New Orleans. I did not see or hear from her or even know where she was, until 5 or 6 years later years later when she sent a note via my aunt, saying her mother died and she was returning to Texas. Four years later I received a wedding invitation; she married the man she had met in New York. A retired Navy Commander who worshiped the ground she walked on. They rented her mother’s house and moved to Japan where he was working on a project. I received occasional letters telling me how very happy she was. They eventually returned to the US, lived in Texas for a while, then Louisiana, and finally settled in Arkansas.

I always loved her deeply, so happy that she was happy with this man who tolerated her every fault, every mood, her drinking, her tears, her inconsolable pain. He gave her everything she wanted or needed and more. I had hopped she would find peace, and in a small way she did; but her life with Capitán had permanently damaged her and recovery was not possible.

I would see her many times over the next 20 years and I thought we had finally established a fragile relationship. Unfortunately, there was always an underlying current, as she did not approve of my career, she did not approve of my husband, she did not approve of the houses I lived in, my pets, my life. She did however, form close attachments to my sisters who all had children, only natural I was told. The day my stepfather died, I feared for my mother’s future.

This is when the final card of the epiphany deck fell on the table. She had asked me to come and help settle his estate because he had made me his executor, “against her wishes”, she said.  So I went to Arkansas for a week and put everything in order.   The day before I was supposed to leave she asked me come with her to her lawyers so she could adjust her will.  It was there in front of her attorney that she finally eased her conscience and disowned me, writing me out of her will and her life. “I no longer have any man telling me what to do!” she said. “ I can do what I want.”

“Are you sure you want to do this Mary?” her attorney asked. “Yes,” she answered, and in turning to me said: “Del always thought you were the best of the lot, but I know different, you always were a cheat and a liar, besides you have no knowledge of the value of anything. After all who would have taught you?”

I think I faded out for the next half hour, “dealing with it”, as she insisted I remain and listen to her specifications.  I remember thinking “only Capitán could have done a better job of public humiliation”, and at the same time suddenly understanding why animals chewed off their paws when caught in a trap. Looking down at my big feet I knew I did not have that option. Stuck in the middle of nowhere, 50 miles from the landing field; there would be no transportation until morning.

As I headed out the door the next day, the hired car waiting in the cool air of dawn, she came up to me and said, “ You do not need to contact me again. If I need your help someone will call you and tell you what to do.”  I remember just looking at her with terrible sadness, told her goodbye, and left her to the comfort of my sisters who moved in like proverbial vultures.

I never saw or heard from her again. I knew she had been ill for many years with liver, heart trouble, and emphysema that would keep her confined to the house; so I was not surprised when 6 years later I was informed of her death long after the actual event. There was no funeral, no burial, nothing to mark her passing. She had donated her disease-ridden body to science.  A niece I had not spoken to in over 20 years had called to inform me of the passing and that at my mother’s deathbed she asked that the message “I’m sorry.” be passed on to me.

I remember laughing sarcastically at the irony of it all, I could not cry. I felt no sadness, only a bit of anger at the waste; and then, that too passed.

Dealing with it, as I had and would continue to do with everything in my life, I once again silently forgave her, hoping this time she had at last found peace.




I feel akin to the Platypus. An orphan in a family. A swimmer, a recluse. Part bird, part fish, part lizard.”  Trevor Dunn –

Clothed Race Horses, ©2003- graphite on paper, 25x30 cm (10x12)

Clothed Race Horses, ©2003- graphite on paper, 25×30 cm (10×12)

The Story continues………

I always believed that sisters were suppose to have a special bond, part of that Pollyanna ideal I had established for myself when I left home.  As I grew older I tended to erase or forget some things that never should have never been forgotten. Wanting to believe the illusion, enabling myself to live the façade of being a big sister, and to forgive and forget on a regular basis without question.

I know they were there, that I grew up with them, but I have no recollection of them being part of my life with the exception of two real memories.  One when I was about  8 years old and my Christmas present that year was my newborn sister. Everyone else received presents ……… Capitán thought that was quite amusing.

The second memory when I was about 10 or 11, and is my next oldest sister with tears in her eyes begging me not to down the stairs saying, “If you go down there he will kill you!”   Capitán would routinely call me downstairs late at night when his friends were in the house, whether it be a party or small gathering so I could entertain the guest with my pet McCaw. Of course the McCaw would never do everything I asked, especially after being awoken from bird sleep, consequently there was always public humiliation to show everyone how incapable I was and perhaps I was doing this on purpose just to “humiliate him” in front of his friends.

The worse was being called down after everyone left so I could be humiliated in front of my mother who usually was crying by that time. He had finished with her and still had some anger left over and it needed to be used.

After my parent’s divorce, Capitán re-gained gained custody of my sisters and brother. Now, not only was he Capitán, but was also “Madre Miquel”. He had a new social image and reputation to maintain and because of this situation my sisters enjoyed a fruitful existence under his wings.

After I left home for school, I never really saw much of my siblings until I was in my 30’s. Even though I vowed never to return, I would go back to South America many times over the years as an adult. By then, except for one, they had all left for other parts of the world.

My relationship with any of them was superficial at best. Between the time I was 30 and 60 we would come together twice in an attempt to form sisterly bonds. They would chat about their wonderful childhood and their life.  I hardly knew who they were, wanted to, but anything I said or shared they would disapprove or not believe, misconstrue, twist the truth and use it against me later as needed, so I learned never to say very much.

They all had more than I could ever obtain.   They could not understand or believe that I was actually happy in my life and my chosen profession. There was always an underlying jealously towards me, that certain tone in their voice, a dismissal or something else that to this day I could not decipher.

I never really knew my brother until later in life and by then Capitán had damaged him beyond any possible repair, by denying he was his son, the never-ending emotional and verbal abuse topped off by sending him to a Franciscan monastery for schooling, only to be beaten and abused by the priest.  All I could ever offer him was my love and understanding.  My sisters and Capitán controlled and manipulated him throughout his life and I do not think he ever knew any real peace.  He managed to have a career as a Capitan of crew boat in the Gulf, married and had children.  I carried a deep, abiding love for him that never wavered.   In the end, as he lay dying, he managed to get someone to call me so he could say good-bye; it was the only time I really cried.

I have two stepsisters somewhere in the world today – Capitán’s 3rd or 4th marriage, but they, like their mother, were demented children of the corn and I did not have much to do with them save for one instance. My husband and I were sitting at the breakfast table in their home having coffee. The eldest of my stepsisters (about 8 at the time) came into the kitchen carrying pencil and paper. She sat at the table with us smiling sweetly and drew a happy face. She then left the table, humming as she walked over to the knife block on the counter, withdrew a knife, returned to the table, looked at my husband and with a smile, pointed at the picture she had drawn and said “this is you”.  She then began to stab the drawing over and over again saying, “die, Gene, die!” She then looked at me and said “ … and you are already dead.” Giggling she skipped out of the room. I never saw them again.

In my illusion as big-sister, there was no room for the scenario that one-day, on the orders of Capitán along with cousins and aunts, my sisters would join forces to stand against me. The epiphany of those fatal five years yet to come would re-shape my life; I would lose the battle but win the war, protecting the innocent, doing what was right and setting a path to a new life.