Most people who pick up Suelyn Medeiros: A Memoir will search the Internet for Suelyn within fifteen minutes of reading her name. At first glance, they will see a gorgeous and successful young woman in skimpy clothes—or none at all. But they won’t really know her. They will not know the story of how she was raised by immigrant parents in New York, worked at a five-dollar-an-hour retail job, and was given the chance at one golden opportunity on a modeling gig that she turned into a multimillion-dollar personal business empire. In this memoir, she recalls it all—including how she did it.
The real Suelyn Medeiros is a smart, generous, and loving daughter who is independent and wise beyond her years. In her personal story, she shares her failures and mistakes and explores how she turned them all into one triumph after another. Along with her story, she offers advice for young women everywhere.
Suelyn Medeiros: A Memoir is the story of the true Suelyn Medeiros, the one even some of her best friends don’t know—a far cry from her public persona.
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By Suelyn Medeiros
iUniverse LLCCopyright © 2014 Suelyn Medeiros
All rights reserved.
A Seven-Year-Old in Queens
Once again, the music and laughter are waking me in the middle of the night. I pull the pillow over my head to drown it all out, thinking I can lull myself back to sleep with the pleasant thoughts of my seventh birthday just a week away.
We are living in an old apartment in Queens, New York.
My parents are "playing" again, celebrating nothing in particular with drugs, alcohol, dance, and cards. As the music seems to grow even louder, I can barely hear the clop, clop of their boots and sandals on the worn-out wooden floor down the hall. I throw off the pillow covering my ears. I have to pee. While I shuffle through the kitchen to get to the bathroom, I realize I won't be able to get to sleep for at least another hour. I have on my favorite Barbie pajamas and pull down the bottoms to sit. I'm still a little woozy, keeping my eyes shut, hoping the light won't wake me up too much. Though I close it, of course, I don't lock the door as my parents have taught me in case something happens and they need to get in.
I sit dribbling into the toilet when suddenly the door is thrown open. Instinctively, I clinch my legs together and throw my arms over my lap. It is a tall, burly man who I recognize as one of my father's workers, Marom. He reeks of tequila, sweat, and marijuana. I feel my face flush and quickly say, "Usando o banheiro," Portuguese for, I'm using the bathroom. I'm almost done.
I think he's probably drunk and is going to leave, but then he leers at me like a hungry wolf who has stumbled upon a young deer caught in a trap. Immediately, I know I'm in trouble when he extends his arm backwards to close and lock the door with one hand, never turning his eyes away from me. The clack of the bolt feels like a death sentence.
Still, he says nothing, just grinning like an ape as he pulls something out of his pocket, places it up to his nose, and then snorts loudly—a white powder I am more than familiar with; it is the same powder my parents suck up into their noses. Now, I crumple up tightly, my head nearly resting on my lap, and I can feel my heart pounding through my pajama top onto my thighs.
He takes a step toward me and I can see his dirty work boots. My heart is racing so furiously, I think I am going to die.
"I'm finished; can I go?" I ask, actually thinking he might unlock the door. Instead, he takes one final step to me until his knees are touching mine and he is towering over me. Should I scream for my father?
My throat is closed and not even a peep escapes my mouth, though I am screeching inside.
"Please," I say, "I want to go." My body is trembling; my legs are pressed together so hard, the blood has stopped flowing into them, and I'm squeezing the fabric of my pajama top so hard, my hands are white.
Suddenly, he grips my chin and pushes my head up.
"I've seen how you look at me," he says, grinning and showing his awful crooked teeth, the color of old corn.
I slowly very carefully pull back the bathroom door and peer out into the living room where the party continues. As my eyes trace the faces, I can see my father helping my mother with the white powder. There are about 15 people in the room, arms and feet jerking to the loud music, and then I see him. Our eyes lock. I want to turn away and run, but my feet won't move. He narrows his eyebrows again and moves his lips silently, mouthing in Portuguese, "I will hurt them." Then he crosses his lips with an index finger as if to tell me to be silent.
Now, no one noticing the little girl in the Barbie pajamas, I run down the hall to my room, jump into bed, pull the covers over my head, and lie there awake, trembling and crying until the sun peeks through the window the next morning.
When I sit up, giving up the desire to be asleep, to somehow pretend it was merely a nightmare, I see all my Barbie dolls lined up on the shelf, each of them staring at me with the same expression—shame on you, they all say with their eyes—shame on you!
Before last night, they were all my friends. I would always play a teacher, or a dancer, or an actor and they would all be my students, partners, or other actors in my movies. Now, they were as disgusted as I was.
In the blink of an eye, my childhood was over.
I stayed in bed waiting for my parents to stir. Usually when they partied, they would sleep late. Today was no exception. I waited. After several hours, my mother came into my room and asked if I was hungry. She wore her ever-present smile and had a lilt in her voice as if this was the best day of our lives—but it wasn't. I lied and told her I'd already had some cereal. She came over and sat on the edge of my bed. She traced the cut on my face around the edges and asked how I'd gotten it. I quickly made up a story about wanting to try to shave as I'd seen Daddy do every morning.
As she stood up, she admonished me not to play with such dangerous things, especially sharp objects. Then she knelt down, hugged me, and in that sweet, sweet soft voice, said, "My little princess. You must be careful. You cannot hurt the most beautiful little face in the world." She kissed the cut, then my forehead. "I love you."
I said, "I love you, too, Mommy."
* * *
I was born in New York. Up until about 10 years ago, I had lived in Queens, New Jersey, Florida, and Brazil (alternately near Rio de Janeiro and practically on the banks of the Amazon River on my grandparents' farm). I now live in Los Angeles, California.
Since I began to model fashions in New York at the age of 19, I've lived all over the world: in Marina del Rey, California, then on and off in Paris, Rio, Mexico, Italy, Amsterdam, London, Germany, the Bahamas, Barbados, and many, many more. Eventually, I considered southern California and Brazil as my primary home bases. However, over the last four years my home has been airports and planes, at least that's the way it feels—a little like George Clooney's character in Up In The Air. It's been very busy, but I'm certainly not complaining; it's what I wished for and a far cry from my grandparents' farm.
My parents, Sergio and Elisabete Medeiros, are from Brazil. My father came to America on a student visa, and then months later brought my mother over. Though we moved back and forth several times, I was born on one of their earliest visits to New York in the mid-1980s.
We had tons of family in Brazil; eventually, I had 22 first cousins and I don't know how many second cousins—almost my own town with which to play! My maternal grandparents had 13 children. My mother has 2 brothers and 8 sisters, and they all have children. My cousin, Dayane, who is only a year younger than I am, became my favorite girlfriend. We bonded early and at different points of my life, she became almost as integral a part as my sisters.
My parents could not have been more different and yet, that's one of the effects of their personalities that kept them closely bonded. My father, though he'd driven a cab among other jobs, was essentially a construction worker. He was independent, strong, fun, and always enthusiastic—the more positive of the two, not that my mother was negative, just happily skeptical. She was small at five-feet-four with sweet light brown eyes, light brown hair, and as gentle as a dove—a woman with a beautiful, kind heart. She was also insecure, overly dramatic, and completely dependent upon my father.
My parents had known each other since they were teenagers—maybe been in love that long—and so he was pretty much like a father to her—he handled everything, not to make her dependent, but because he always wanted to protect and take care of her. Seeing how he treated her, I naturally assumed that was every man's motivation for treating women well. I maintained that fantasy until I began to date.
Though they were both close with their parents and were gregarious people who often had friends over, they lived in several worlds, but the constant one was his three girls.
When my father was around, my mother's world was uncomplicated and the future was stable. When he wasn't, she was a basket case: frustrated, weak, and confused.
Since they are the source of my DNA, their strengths and weaknesses run through my veins. Their world was shared and they had us, but although they loved each other completely and unconditionally, they had two very different personalities.
I was always an astute observer of human nature and behavior, even at a very young age; I think the experience I related at the beginning of this chapter, along with others equally as appalling that revolve around men, was the beginning of a lifelong defensive nature: one woman's survival mode, both physically and emotionally.
My parents, being so different and yet so much in love (coupled with my defensive nature), caused me to think about why opposites attract. I've concluded that this phenomenon is a fact of nature. For some reason, it is necessary for the survival of the species, or maybe the survival of everything on earth.
Think about it in physical and mental ways: If you look at a color wheel or have ever taken art classes, you know that "complimentary colors" are the ones that are on the opposite side of the wheel—for example, blue and yellow. When these colors are used adjacent to each other in a painting or in your living room, for that matter, they "compliment" each other, even though they are called "opposites."
Look at the flowers around you; look at everything in nature, and you will see the same laws. When colors are combined that are too "close" to each other on the color wheel or in color theory; they don't work; they don't balance.
Another example is "contrast." Again, in art, it isn't possible to render three-dimensional objects without using contrasts. A ball will appear as just a flat circle if it doesn't have shadows against the light parts. It takes an opposite tone to make it appear as a sphere. Perhaps the dating sites online already know all this—opposites attract because they create balance.
The examples go on forever. The point is, my parents were very different people and I am nearly the opposite of both of them in many ways; but we all love each other dearly and are very close—we are balanced. My mother was blue, my father was yellow, and I was what you got when you mixed the two—green.
This is my story. It is the story of a close family, lots of love, and a good share of mistakes and disappointments—the same ones we all experience to one extent or another.
No matter how different we all are, we are the same. We are all part of each other and every living thing, which makes life a wild ride!
* * *
My parents moved to New York in the early 1980s. I was born in 1986, the first of three sisters. My father came to the U.S. with his older brother, Orlando, on a student visa. They came to the "land of opportunity" with a dream to be free and a vision to become rich. They pitched in and bought a taxi, sharing the driving duties. Later, my father got a construction job; he loved to build and was a natural at it.
My First Plane Ride
After my parents settled in America, they would still go to Brazil at least once a year to visit the family. In 1993, at the age of 7, I went with them for the first time. Until then, I was just a New York girl, going to school every day, playing with my friends, living in an upstairs apartment, and often listening to my parents chatter in Portuguese, though they mostly spoke English to me.
The horrific and violent act by my father's worker had just occurred not long before our travels to Rio, and my nightmares were still vivid. It was as if I was repeatedly rewinding the movie of it. I couldn't get away from the visuals or the crime, or my self-imposed silence—I told no one. Maybe that's why it wouldn't disappear.
A certain calm finally came over me when two things happened that summer while we were changing planes in Miami: First, I found a pink diary in the bookstore. It had Strawberry Shortcake on it and an illustration of strawberry designs across the front and back.
For whatever reason, I decided this would be my salvation, not only to relieve myself of some of my burden, but also to express myself—all in secret, of course. I knew I would die if my father ever found the diary and read the story about the crime of his worker in his own home against one of his daughters. He might even kill the man.
I asked my mother to buy the diary and she did.
On the long plane ride to Rio de Janeiro, I sat with my mother, who was busy crocheting a shawl for my grandmother and too occupied to pay attention. I scrunched up against the window, my back turned to my mother. With the small pink pen, I began to make up a code, which was the second thing that happened.
First, I thought about shapes. I created hearts with arrows through them, plain hearts, stars, kites, happy faces, umbrellas, lips, triangles—all simple line drawings that would be quick and easy to use. Then I wrote down the alphabet in a long single line. Under each letter, I assigned a symbol and then laboriously began to write complete words using the thoughts in my mind. I was young and it was a fabulous distraction from the long plane ride.
I practiced so hard, I barely noticed the plane touching down in Rio; but by the time we arrived, I had the beginnings of a code. Later, I would refine it and use a single symbol for an entire word, streamlining it into what would eventually become my own form of shorthand. Oddly enough, as I look back, it seemed that the exercise was also a sort of psychological test. My symbols for a man were not stick figures; they were a happy face and a sad face. My attacker was most definitely a sad face. My father was a happy face. I was already separating out the chaff.
I became so proficient with my code, I wrote an entire book that summer between my playtime and before bedtime. I still have that pink diary, which I hid (along with 24 others of varying colors and materials): some leather, some hardbound books. That first pink one even has a small lock and key, not that it was ever needed.
By the end of that summer, I had pretty much perfected my code. The "real me" wouldn't be exposed. My nightmares, having seen the light of day in writing, would remain safe. The telling of them was the relief valve.
You won't have to imagine what is in them because, ironically, it's now all in this story.
We spent the first week that summer visiting my grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. I'd accumulated two entire journals of notes on all the fun we had and added some stories about my fears and the evil I'd encountered.
When it was time to leave, I was very sad. I'd become close with my cousin, Jackie, and my Aunt Martha, who asked my mother if I could stay with them. Jackie was only two years older than I was, but because I was at least her equal in maturity, we had great fun together.
When a thought occurred to me that I felt was important, I would pull the pink diary out of my backpack and begin writing. I hid the key in my lipstick case and Jackie, seeing me do so, would always ask, "What're you writing?" My pat answer was always the same, "Just all about the fun we had today." Then I would usually snap the book shut and hold it close to my chest. I was forever telling people that my journal was private and that someday I was going to use my notes to write my life story. Jackie laughed about that, as did everyone else I told.
In the end, my stay with Aunt Martha was shorter than expected. Two events while we kids were playing caused a lot of problems and heartache. I am to blame because the ideas were mine.
The first incident was in the aboveground swimming pool. My uncle had purchased a large Dough Boy that summer for the backyard. It was great, but it didn't have a trampoline for jumping and diving as I'd used at the YMCA in New York when taking swimming lessons.
As all the kids were swimming and playing in the pool, I had what I thought was a brilliant idea. There were many worn-out tires stacked in my Uncle Gilson's backyard, probably from the trucks he drove. I envisioned stacking a bunch of them on top of one another to make a diving board, of sorts.
Excerpted from Suelyn Medeiros by Suelyn Medeiros. Copyright © 2014 Suelyn Medeiros. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
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