Handing over those three metal keys, separated for the first time in five years, from a family of keys that included the keys to my mother’s apartment where I work and the key to my pareja’s house on the other side of the country, felt like a defeat. It felt like an acknowledgement of my failure as an independent adult woman. It was ad admission of my inability to keep a roof over my daughters’ heads. I walked down a street, that wasn’t particularly a beautiful street, it was crowded with garbage and people, and tears filled my eyes. I had walked down that street so many times in my life. When I was in High School, I walked down that street in the opposite direction, to the house where I lived with my father, his wife, and her daughter. Back then the Italian immigrants had (grudgingly) made room for the Dominican immigrants. Five years ago, I was 7 months pregnant, and I moved into my tiny one bedroom, with my then partner and my daughter. That street was no filled with Italians, Dominicans, and Mexican families. I knew every shop keeper and would wave and saludar a medio mundo everyday.
Three years ago, when we broke up, I was determined to keep my little apartment, with it’s leaky ceiling, loud neighbors, and occasional mice. Two days ago, I felt like I had surrendered.
My landlord and I parted ways with a chorus of apologies. They never did fix the leaks. I never seemed to be able to pay my rent on time and I bounced alot of checks.
“You’re a nice lady”, the husband of the husband and wife team told me.
And I left thinking they were a nice couple and in many ways they were. They never threatened to evict my little family, even as the rent came later and later and then in pieces.
On my ride on the 7 train to my mother’s, where I have temporarily moved my family into, I fell into deep sobbing surrounded by two big shopping bags of the last items that slept in Casa Mala : A vejigante mask, a box of chocolate cake mix, a Piri Thomas cd, among other things.
I don’t have keys to a home that is truly my own. In many ways I never did. I didn’t own the space that once was casa mala. Why do we even feel like we need to have/own space as opposed to share space? What is it about this place/country/society that makes it feel dirty to return to living with an extended version of family? Independence is praised and interdependence is looked upon as deficiency. Clearly I internalized some of these messages myself, even as I opened up casa mala to numerous friends.
There’s an overused saying about one door closing and another one opening. A donde los llaves que me quedan me llevan.