‘Let lightning strike me if I ever forget your birthday,’ read the card. It was almost 1 o’clock when I came into the room after getting home from school. The last couple of months had been hard, and now that May was here I was thinking how Mamá Amparo was going to feel on Mother’s Day when he is not here. I feel blue, even when my dad didn’t forget and sent me that funny birthday card on time, to me this is the saddest birthday ever.
The day wasn’t supposed to go like that. I was a big kid now. After all, I had been alive for a whole 10 years and that was a reason to feel proud. However, it was the saddest birthday ever because at that moment I was missing my father terribly and thinking he wasn’t coming back. It had been six years since my mother moved out and while she was still in the Dominican Republic, my dad was the center of my world.
It was the beginning of 1987 when my father was granted a visa and decided to emigrate to Puerto Rico. He was 27 year old divorced man with five girls and things weren’t going so great financially. Back then, emigrating to Puerto Rico became a common thing among Dominicans due to the harsh financial situation under Joaquin Balaguer who won the presidency again in 1986.
He went to Puerto Rico and moved with his former stepdad, my grandmother’s ex-husband, Obispo, who welcomed him in his home as many Dominicans have done, and still do, for new immigrants anywhere they go. It is the thing that we do, Dominicans. We are good at emigrating and also good at being hosts, and lending a hand.
Looking back, I know my dad was probably pressured by friends and family and the financial situation when he made the decision to go. I know my father was the kind of person who never really wanted to leave his country, to be uprooted. He wasn’t the adventurous type. Maybe it was also the saddest birthday ever for papi as well, since he was probably homesick and imagining how this day was going to be for me. Being an immigrant, I know how much you miss your family when you venture away like that.
On this day, however, I was not only sad, I was angry because I felt no one really cared. My mother had left, and now my dad, my whole world was gone. I knew a couple of kids who had a parent overseas and they seemed to love it; they use to brag about the toys, the money and the clothes they received from the US. Maybe, secretly, they were sad too, I thought. All I know is that I didn’t understand and didn’t want to.
I think now that during that time is when I started getting good on hiding my feelings. An overwhelming sense of responsibility for my grandma came on me and I felt it was my duty to be strong for her. After all, her only son was gone and she was holding the fort for him with two of his girls. So, I did my best to be cheerful and optimistic but I was devastated inside.
As you can imagine, being only 10, I wasn’t sad all the time. I grew up outdoors, playing sports, being a tomboy; there was a lot of that during those months. But at that age, the days were really, really long and the time my dad was gone seemed like forever. Thinking that I wasn’t going to see my dad in a long time was hard; so much that in my memory my father was gone for over a year…
In reality, with those unpredictable turns life takes, my father came back to Santo Domingo just six months after living. A terrible accident took my dad’s stepfather and without him, he decided to go back home. I know how unfortunate that was and how sad Mamá Amparo and my father were about his passing. As a kid, all I knew was that my dad was back and that was a relief.
In retrospect, 1987 was a good year. It wasn’t easy, but it made me grow and mature. Plus, it ended up being okay because my daddy was back. I really don’t know how my grandmother and my father managed to keep afloat with so little. I just know we were together and everything seemed to work out.