There is a depth here that is undeniably moving...A beautiful and tender book." Benjamin A. Sáenz
My Daughter's Eyes and Other Storiesby Annecy Baez, Annecy Bez
My Daughter's Eyes and Other Stories, winner of the 2007 Mármol Prize, is a collection of fourteen interrelated stories about young Dominican women living in the Bronx as they deal with the choices they make in their everyday life. These stories span three decades, beginning in the 1970s, and their topics range from mother-daughter struggles,/i>… See more details below
My Daughter's Eyes and Other Stories, winner of the 2007 Mármol Prize, is a collection of fourteen interrelated stories about young Dominican women living in the Bronx as they deal with the choices they make in their everyday life. These stories span three decades, beginning in the 1970s, and their topics range from mother-daughter struggles, father-daughter betrayal, family, and child abuse, to emerging sexuality, love, loss, and healing.
Annecy Baez's daring treatment of taboo themes, such as sexual child abuse and the struggle of the individual against restrictive traditional values, makes this book unique in Dominican fiction.
There is a depth here that is undeniably moving...A beautiful and tender book." Benjamin A. Sáenz
Báez delves into three decades worth of a community of Bronx Dominican women in these linked stories. Though many characters flow in and out of the stories, a few turn up frequently, including Mia and Zuleika, teenage friends who take their adolescent and postadolescent lumps together. In "The Red Shoes," Zuki lusts after a pair of red heels that her mother thinks are whorish; as in almost every other story, a sexual undertone seethes, if awkwardly, throughout. "To Tell the Truth" is a more dramatic portrayal of sexual tension: Mia is caught skipping school and carousing with boys, bringing forth her father's wrath. In "Como Se DiceSuccess in Spanish?" Zuki and Mia read tarot cards and reflect on some of their lovers and their life decisions. Spanglish dialogue peppers the narrative, and though the prose is utilitarian, Báez's sympathetic portrayal of a niche group has flashes of insight. (Nov.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
The 14 stories in this 2007 winner of the Miguel Mármol Prize span three decades in the lives of others like author Báez: Dominican-born women raised in the Bronx. The stories are sometimes gentle, sometimes fierce, with innocence and adolescent sexual tension and traditional and individual values all competing within a tightly knit immigrant community. Playing hooky from school results in accusations of sexual activity, followed by severe beatings, for 13-year-old cousins Eva and Mia in "To Tell the Truth." In the subsequent "Awakening," the still-bruised Mia discovers spiritual gifts and ultimate reconciliation with her father. While some of the stories were originally published separately, all are interrelated, and together they form a moving, sensitive novel. In addition to writing fiction and poetry, Báez, a trained psychotherapist, works as a clinical social worker. Highly recommended for larger public libraries and academic literary collections.
Mary Margaret Benson
Adult/High School These powerful and loving stories are told by a daughter recalling and expanding on the tales her mother recounted of her own life. They cover an almost 30-year arc, from the early 1970s, when the mother was the same age that the daughter is now. Ynoemia spent her youth in the Bronx with her Dominican parents and friends. New York is richly portrayed, but Santo Domingo and its culture are never far away, and Mia's family returns there when she is in the midst of her turbulent adolescence. Sex hangs like a dangerous cloud that is ready to consume young and old. The family doctor, a child molester, is finally caught and subjected to a cleansing ritual. Mia and her friends run the gauntlet of angry parents trying to protect them from trouble at the hands of both welcome and rejected boyfriends. Mia's parents love her but fear the shame she could bring to the family if they let their guard down. The author shows the years passing by, parents growing old and dying, and the young aging to take their place. The characters are raw and real, and the relationships are deep and complicated. People lie to and hurt themselves and one another, but as life and the stories come full circle, most of the characters have found love and forgiveness.-Will Marston, Berkeley Public Library, CA
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My Daughter's Eyes and Other Stories
By ANNECY BÁEZ
Curbstone PressCopyright © 2007 Annecy Baez
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Storyteller 2000
In the morning when the sun rises, my mother, Mia, wakes up and does her morning meditation. She always does this before she goes to work. I always know for a fact that by 6:30 a.m., she will be facing east towards the sun, her face covered by sunlight. She'll be in lotus pose, legs folded like a Buddha, hands open with her palms facing the ceiling, and both placed neatly, the left on top of the right. She always faces east, and she takes in the rays of the sun because they are healing, she says.
I feel fortunate with my life, with the structure she provides, knowing that every morning when I wake up she will be there doing her meditation and that I will take a bath and get dressed and have breakfast with her, and later I will come home, and she will be returning from work always at the same time. Sometimes, in the evening when she does her meditation, I will sit with her for five minutes and then when my legs have had enough, and the fantasies in my head begin to feel real, like I'm getting married to Usher and he writes songs about me, it's time to go, and I slowly get up and leave. My mom says that a person becomes disciplined by taking baby steps. You do a small thing and in time that becomes a big thing. At times she makes me feel that there is nothing to fear and that life is good, beautiful and it makes me want to tell stories.
I watch her now; I have her Maybelline eyeliner in my hands, and I will ask her to do my eyes. I want them just like Jennifer Lopez, but I know she'll put up a fight and say that I am too young, thirteen to be exact, and she'll remind me of some time in the past when she was thirteen, and she'll go on and on. Often I wonder if in those meditative moments she can really remember the past, back then when I was not born yet, and she was about my age and thinking of boys.
There are days when she tells me stories. Even when I was a little girl she'd tell me stories while she cooked or drove, stories about her life. Some stories she told openly, honestly; others she hid from me. I would have to decipher her silences like a puzzle, or a riddle. Sometimes, when she tells me stories, I listen and record them in my mind, and those that she does not share, I invent.
Chapter TwoAmor Sucks
Wednesday, January 12, 1972 Bronx, New York "Hump Day"
Cousin Eva and our best friend America lock themselves in the bedroom with the boys. They usually start slowly. Eva goes with Snake and then Rica follows, then Pito. I stay alone in the sunken living room, hearing the Temptations or watching "One Life to Live." Sometimes it is quiet here and I can listen to the noises they make and the giggles. Today, Pito stays with me watching "One Life to Live," until he hears the sounds coming from his father's bedroom, the ohh, ahh, ahh, and the laughter calling out to him like spices.
He says "You want to come?" and I say "Na, I'm not ready for that," and catch myself worrying that Pito will think I'm not tough enough to be a Dragon Slayer. Pito and his brother, Snake, are the leaders of the Dragon Slayers, and so being with them makes us Slayer girls. Kind of.
The Dragon Slayers wear black leather jackets with a red and yellow dragon on the back, and multicolored letters drawn on the bottom that say "Dragon Slayer." We're not officially Dragon Slayer girls until we wear our jackets with our pants. But at the moment, we're not allowed to wear pants, and the jackets don't look cool with our dresses. I wear mini dresses, but Eva's religious father, Tío Quinto, forbids her to wear them. Eva wears colorless clothes, black kneehigh skirts and white blouses, like she's going to church. She looks like a saint, but she doesn't fool anyone at Wade Junior High because Eva is tough and beautiful. Today, she wore Snake's jacket over her long black skirt and no one dared to mess with her because she's a Dragon Slayer. Someday I'll wear Pito's jacket, and I'll feel beautiful, strong, and cool, too.
Snake and Pito are twins, but I can tell them apart because Snake is mean and willful, just like Eva. He likes to grab and touch what doesn't belong to him; he's hard like an old callus. Pito is sweet and won't try anything unless he thinks you want him to. He's calm and gentle when he's alone with me, but when he's with Snake he acts just like him, mean and tough.
Pito wears a whistle around his neck. That's why they call him Pito. He tells me his mother bought him the whistle when he was just five years old. Shortly after that she died of cancer. He wears the whistle proudly. It's his protection, he says, and a memory of his mother. He won't let anyone touch that damn whistle.
Now Pito stares at me, and gives me his hand.
"You don't want to come?" he asks, and I just stay quiet, wondering what to say next. My hands start to shake as he comes close to me, and I hide them underneath my skinny thighs, but they still tremble like the trees on the Grand Concourse on a stormy night. He kneels in front of me, and I steady myself with a deep breath.
"I don't know," I say, because I'm not sure I'm ready for the kissing and touching stuff they are doing to each other in the bedroom. I could act like I know, like I'm ready, and be scared in there, or I can say I'm not ready and not play hooky with them anymore, except that I don't have the guts because I want to belong. I want to be loved, and to be part of something big, something like the Dragon Slayers.
Pito sits next to me on the sofa. I sit like a good girl with my hands on my lap. My thighs sweat and stick to the plastic of the mustard colored sofa, and I don't dare look at him as he comes close to me. I look at my folded hands and move my face away when he tries to kiss me. He stops and stands up.
"You don't want to come?" he asks.
I look at him closely. He's standing in front of me, and I realize I want to go wherever he wants me to go because I like him, but I'm not ready for that. My heart starts pounding and I can see my chest rising. Pito is beautiful and I want to please him. But I don't want him to think I'm so easy like a puppy who will "sit" or "stand". I have to give myself importancia, a sense of importance, and then I give in, according to Eva. Eva knows everything.
I look Pito up and down. He's tall, and dark-skinned with long, brown, curly hair, soft to the touch. His lips are always wet and smooth, reminding me of a ripe juicy mango. I'm quiet, and don't know what to say to him. I've never liked a boy this much. I've never had a boy as cute as Pito want me and just because of this I feel my heart swell. I feel so important and special, different from everyone else.
Pito stares at me now, waiting for my response.
I say, "What?"
"Do you want to come to the room?" He shakes his head a little towards the direction of his father's bedroom. He's sitting next to me now. He leans toward me and gives me a kiss. This is not one of our usual, little pecking kisses, but long, his tongue twirling and locking with mine. I taste Juicy Fruit gum and a hint of his musk oil. I want to eat him.
I return his deep wide kiss as if I know how to do this with a boy. I kiss him like I see people kiss on "One Life to Live," only better. His kisses release something new inside of me, like a butterfly flying inside of my stomach. Deep within me this new feeling takes wings. I want to fly. I don't know what to do with these feelings because something is happening to my pompo private part as he's kissing me, a new sensation, and slight flutter, something moving about down there as if my palpitating heart just sank there like an anchor. I feel like I have to pee. Then thoughts of Papi come to mind. A warning. I push Pito away. Full of shame, I take a deep breath. I don't know what to say to him.
But, God, a part of me wishes I could just run into that bedroom with him because there's this new feeling inside of me. I want to kiss like this for a long time, and float on the riverbed of his father's room, letting him hold me and play with me. Pito stands up and says, "Come!" as he gives me his hand.
"Na, you go," I say "because I'm not ready," and he goes and that's okay.
Saturday, January 29, 1972 Day of New Beginnings
"Are you coming?" Eva asks me. It's late at night and I'm lying on my back staring at the ceiling in Eva's bedroom. Eva is next to me, staring at me and asking endless questions. I like to stay over on the weekend. Our whole family lives in the same building on 170th street in the Bronx, one on top of each other, like steps on a ladder, my grandmother, la Guela, los Tíos and las Tías, and a whole bunch of cousins.
I stare at her. "Coming?" I ask. I take a deep sigh and I can smell the coconut oil of her hair, the cool peppermint scent of her mouth, and see the sparkles of talcum powder left on her breast, now exposed through her thin nightgown.
Eva is so pretty with her light smooth skin like sea stones and eyes a blue violet set upon her heart-shaped Dominican face. Her dark hair is chin length and kinky like Brillo, pelo malo, "bad hair" the family calls it, but Eva doesn't go around envying the straight more silkier hair of her cousins because at fourteen she looks eighteen and her huge breasts are a source of pride to her. Often, she measures them with the hope that they continue their promising course. Me. I'm odd. I don't have the almond shaped light eyes of the women in my family, or their heart shaped face with the pointy little chin, and the straight, small nose. No, I have a wide nose like sighing mountains across my face, and large thick lips Papi calls a "bembe." "Y ese bembe, Mia?" he'll question whenever I pout. Bembe, lips, big lips, lips so big I often try to hide them by pressing them against each other in a thin line. And I don't have Eva's eyes, I have small Asian dark eyes like my paternal grandfather El Chino, and I'm skinny and tall, not the kind of girl the cute Dominican boys in the corner colmado say things to like "Mami tú si 'ta buena" and stuff like that, the kind of stuff they tell Eva when she passes by them.
Eva awakens me from my thoughts.
"Mia, are you coming?"
"To Pito's, idiot."
It's been two weeks since I've seen Pito in his apartment. I see him in school, in the hallways fooling around with the girls, pulling their hair or talking to them softly. I won't speak to him for hours afterwards.
When I stay with Eva we often talk about the boys and plan our whole week at Wade Junior High School. Before the boys, we used to skip school, go to Alexander's on Fordham Road, and look at clothing. Sometimes we'd sneak in the white people's buildings on the Concourse. We'd sit on the pretty sofas in their building entrances, or maybe take the elevator up and down until one of the old women with blue tattooed numbers on her wrist asked us to leave or threatened to call the police.
Lately I've been thinking it's dangerous to go to the Pito's apartment. I can have babies now because blood flows through my legs once a month. My Godmother, Tati, says that these bad feelings are presentimientos, and when you have a presentimiento she says it's your inner voice telling you to be careful. She says women have a strong inner voice. Lately I don't listen to my inner voice.
"I don't know, Eva," I say to her and she jumps up.
"I said I don't know. I think we'll get caught."
"Are you getting chickenshit on me?" she asks.
"Oh, ok," she says, "so that means you're coming, right?"
"I guess so."
We lie on the bed, and she is on her side looking at me.
"You're not going to change your mind?"
"Cause Pito's expecting you," she says. "You know?"
"Really?" I ask because I want to hear it again.
"Yeah, he's been asking like crazy about you."
I smile, and the thought of Pito wanting me there makes me feel warm all over, and my heart swells at the thought of him. I turn on my side and stare at her, our faces up close.
"I'm coming," I say, and she smiles.
Thursday, February 22, 1972 Amor Sucks
I'm getting scared of playing hooky because I'm kissing Pito more times than I probably should. I know Eva and Rica are doing sex stuff with Snake in the bedroom, but I act like I don't know. Now Pito and I have kissing marathons, long kisses without breathing, sucking kisses; light nibbling kisses and dry kisses that leave our lips chapped and tired, and these kisses are so powerful they make us want to do more than just kiss.
Now Pito won't go with Eva and Rica in the bedroom but wants to stay with me in the living room. He says I'm beautiful, more beautiful than Eva and Rica. He says I'm smart too and that he likes that. He says I'm his special girl. I'm scared because I really like him and when you really like a boy you want to do everything with him. You want to share the world with him.
Now my inner voice is whispering Shh, shh, shh.
I don't listen to it anymore, that inner voice inside that warns me of danger all the time. I don't. I listen to my body which reminds me of the fun things I'll experience when Pito's soft lips suck on my lips or his hands touch me, leaving his memory all over my body.
I don't listen to that voice even when kids in school tell me Pito does this stuff with other girls or when ex-Dragon Slayer girls remind me that they were in my place just a month or two ago, and out of the blue, Pito dumped them. I don't listen to them. I ignore the lies and gossip of has-beens. I only listen to my heart. Maybe those rumors are true, but Pito has a special place for me in his heart. I'm different from other girls, I remind myself. I'm special. Lately, I've been feeling very, very special, but Rica says this is trouble. She says you have to be real cool with a boy, not take him too serious, and expect that he might leave. She says boys are like dogs and the next thing you know they need a brand new bone to bone, and I laugh, but what she means is that one day, out of the blue, Pito could be gone, gone with some other girl, gone like the wind with no cause or reason.
That happened to Rica when she was with Romero. All she did was feel special and then he left her for Julieta. And what did we see? Hearts all over the handball courts, on walls, halls and in the bathroom. Hearts that said Romero and Julieta 1972 forever. Bilingual hearts in Spanish that said "Amor Para Siempre," Love forever, Romero y Julieta, and Cupid's arrow inside of the heart connecting them until death separated them. Rica was devastated, but it didn't last long, because Eva wouldn't let her feel sorry for herself. She said boys were like lollipops, they came in different flavors and sizes, and there were too many of them to cry over the loss of one, so over the hearts for Romero and Julieta they drew hearts, large hearts with daggers, dripping blood and in between them they wrote "Amor Sucks."
Saturday, March 4, 1972 Day of Resolution
La Negra, my old cloth doll from Santo Domingo, and I are sleeping over at Eva's tonight. It's a dark night and the moon is full. The wind whistles loudly outside, banging at our window like a warning.
I tell Eva I can't do it anymore.
"Just once more," she says, "Mia, please!"
"Ok, Eva, but we promise, after this no more playing hooky, ok," I say, but I don't look convinced, and Eva says "Scouts Honor," and that makes me laugh because we are not Girl Scouts. Our family is too strict for that. They don't allow us to participate in any group activities, to visit the homes of other kids or to have friends other than our cousins play with us. We're not even allowed to go on school trips and Papi and Mami, they've never even been to Wade Junior High. I wish they would, just for one day so they could feel the danger.
Just the other day, the Javelins plotted to take Shakela's wig off. She's a big, bald, black girl who wears a wig. When they took off her wig, we saw her bald head. She started to scream this wailing sound so painful I can still hear it in my head. "Mama, Mama, Mama" she screamed as if she were dying, "Mama, Mama, Mama" and she threw herself on the floor, crying, so humiliated by her exposure, "Mama, Mama, Mama," she cried and no one dared to go to her until Ms. Will, the gym teacher who looks like a man, came and took her to the infirmary. Shakela's wig dangling from the handball court fence was left behind like a defeated flag.
Excerpted from My Daughter's Eyes and Other Stories by ANNECY BÁEZ Copyright © 2007 by Annecy Baez. Excerpted by permission of Curbstone Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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