I’ve been reading the latest posts in Spanish, and remembering my years living in the Dominican Republic.
There are a lot of stories to tell from that time in my life. All of them are sitting — not quietly sitting, but stirring uncomfortably — in my memory. They live behind a cloud of smoke and are difficult to extract. There are painful moments that I usually try to avoid (think Operation… getting the wishbone out with shaky hands while trying to ignore the terror of the big red nose and buzzing, vibratory failure indicator).
I would like to tell you about my host family, the Rosarios. Only a few people know this story, but I think it’s time to put it to rest, and I can think of no better way than to get it out into the open. No more squirming in the smoky darkness for you, story.
When I moved to Jima Abajo, I was temporarily placed with a host family. We were in rice country, and the view from my room was incredible.
There was a lot of teasing, but I didn’t mind. I was the “Americana”, and I was como una niña. They seemed to tolerate my constant questions with grace. However, unbeknownst to me, they were growing tired of “my American ways” and eventually decided that I was either unwilling or unable to accept Dominican values. Being from a small pueblo, they had only ever been around a couple of non-Dominicans in their lives, and didn’t understand that the differences in our respective cultural upbringings made it impossible for me to intrinsically know what was acceptable in their view.
At this point, I had lived with them for almost six months, and they were the closest I had to family in the country. With mixed feelings, I accepted their judgement and their help in finding me my own living quarters.
We maintained contact and I made sure to visit weekly. It would have been considered rude if I did not, and as I was working with the local government to improve education (and seeing as the mayor of Jima Abajo was related to my host father), I did not want to become a pariah. I put aside my feelings of betrayal and abandonment and went on with my life. The Rosario family and I had a respectful, if not warm, relationship. My host brother, Robert, and his new wife, Lela, had a baby. I came over more often after that, grateful for the happy distraction from the previous discomfort of my visits.
A few months after moving out, something happened. I had been at a Bachata with some friends, and some piece of information made waves through the crowded dance floor. Everyone began moving as a unit out the door and down the street. I caught little tidbits of conversation, but didn’t understand what was happening. Finally, a young man called Rubio, a friend of the Rosario family, saw me walking with the crowd and took me aside.
“Lela is dead,” he said. It hit me like a fist. I had been with her the day before. She had served me coffee. I had commented on her green nails… something about how they matched the coffee mug. She had laughed, and I remember thinking, “maybe we could be friends.”
The crowd was headed for Robert and Lela’s house. I had never been there… they had always been at the Rosario’s house for family visits. “What about the baby?” I asked Rubio, but he had already turned away to talk to other people. I followed the mob, feeling like a zombie.
When I got there, I saw that the house was already crowded with people. Lela’s mother was wailing, and her sister was screaming, holding Lela’s head in her lap. There was blood everywhere. No one would talk about what happened.
After much questioning on my part, I learned that Robert himself had shot her, and then himself. Their baby son was with my host mother and father, and Robert was in the hospital. I saw then that the crowd was forming two sides: the Rosarios and Lela’s family (I don’t remember their last name). The family of the dead girl was threatening to kill Robert if he lived through the self-inflicted gunshot wound.
I see now that this story doesn’t end so easily. Following this tragedy, there are many things burned into my memory; the nuevo días, the visitations, the internment, and the children (the children especially).
There were petty happenings as well. Political upset and choosing sides, and other things which I find distasteful. When Robert died, I went through it all again. As an outsider, I was able to stay outside of the conflict for the most part, but the Rosarios’ sudden interest in “bringing me back into the fold” was a bit specious.
The long and short of it is that this is not a story. There is no clear beginning, middle, and end. It is a memory.
I feel that I must apologize to my readers for subjecting them to such an objectionable memory. My motives were selfish. I wanted them out of the dark corner where I had hidden them, and now I have dropped the wishbone. The red nose is blinking, and the buzzing is intolerable.
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