Why BLM Matters So Much To Me

Over 90% of communication has nothing to do with the words that are spoken. Tone matters, but not as much as body language. Spoken words account for only 7% of how you interact with another person. 

Anyone who has owned a pet knows that you can tell a lot about what an animal is thinking, their mood, or their temperament without a single word.  They too know your mood at any given moment even though they do not understand a word of it. 

Words mean very little. The way you act and how society shaped you involuntarily speaks volumes. In fact it is so loud that often the words you say cannot be heard. 

I grew up in Brooklyn until I was 12. We lived in a predominately Italian and Hasidic Jewish neighborhood right on Coney Island Avenue. I’m the daughter of an Italian immigrant who came over in 1970 because his large family dragged him here at the age of 20. It wasn’t an easy life for my father’s family here in the United States. At that time immigrants no longer had the opportunities they did just a few decades earlier. All but my father and one of his brothers returned to Italy. My father’s reason for staying was that he met and fell in love with my mother.

My father grew up in a small town with an incredible work ethic and even stronger ambition. For his family this paid off immensely. But in the United States his work ethic and ambition went unnoticed and did little to get him ahead. He couldn’t get ahead and even learn English when he had to work so hard just to put food on the table to feed my two brothers, mom and I. 

His parents were of the traditional followed traditional, old-school Italian practices. The mother was barefoot at home taking care of the kids, while the breadwinner male provided for the family. The male raised his hands to his wife and kids when he felt he needed to in order to keep his family in line and teach them the value of putting up with crap life throws at you without bitching and complaining about all you don’t have.

Consequently, that is how I grew up. My Brooklyn neighborhood felt dangerous. There were creeps on the street everywhere. We often had various homeless people living on our front step. Our front door didn’t lock. We lived three stories up in a vacant building in a small apartment with only 3 small bedrooms where you had to walk through 2 in order to get to the 3rd. Privacy, my own things, or own room never even crossed my mind. 

I moved to Long Island in Middle School. A poor town in the middle of what seemed like nowhere compared to Brooklyn. My father knew a handful of Italian friends who moved there, so our very Italian traditions seemed normal. My mother dropped out of high school in 10th grade, was in love with my father and didn’t even want to tell her family about the dark side of living with my father. 

Growing up all I ever saw was my father working and never getting ahead, and my mother depressed at home all day in a ratty mumu.

No one helped me with my homework. No one asked how my day was or what I was learning. No one told me I was smart or pretty or really even hugged me. No one said I love you in our home. My father’s workday dominated how our evening would go. Children were an aside. You fed, bathed, and clothed them until they were 18; then they were on their own and expected to come back every Sunday night for football and dinner. 

Believe it or not I saw nothing wrong with this. I did want something more. I wanted healthcare and time off. I wanted to not depend on a man. I think everyone I know, knows my story. I joined the military, got skilled in a few trades, used the Montgomery GI Bill and then my own funds to get an MBA. I got married and had children young (19/21/23 respectively), worked 2 jobs for several years, and spent the first 10 years of my oldest’s life going to school in one form or another. 

I was proud of myself. Many people ooh and ahh and say they are proud of me for being “self-made”. White privilege didn’t benefit me. The first time I heard the term I was pissed because it seemed to disregard all I worked for. 

I was one of the happiest people I knew. Not to toot my own horn, but I was also one of the hardest working people I knew (if not the most). To say I put 110% into work, my kids and my family was to say the least. I was really happy this way. 

In 2007 after 12 years of marriage I learned about a secret my husband had been keeping that absolutely devasted me. We recovered and I was almost back to my old self, but the same issue came up again just 3 years later. This time the marriage did not last. 

Being a divorcee and remarrying someone of a different background and current societal class changed my life. I broke down. I liken it to Richard Rohr’s book called “Falling Upwards”. 

I broke down but I also became a better person. A more aware person. 

There were prominent issues from being in two different economic classes that came to a head many times where I felt myself and my children didn’t measure up to what my step-children’s lives were like back at their mothers house. The division between private school, spending a lot of money on opportunities to beef up a high school and later college education, and even what kind of school should be looked at created a large divide where myself and my children felt as if the things we strived for and were very happy with were what the lower class does.

My most enlightening moment was a few days after my current husband and I moved in with our 4 kids into an incredibly, too large for my liking house, down a beautiful cul-de-sac not far from my old reasonably sized house just a few miles away. In this area no one ever saw there neighbors so it was a welcome feeling when our neighbors right next door came out to meet us. They also had 4 kids around the same ages as ours. They were very nice until they realized we had two 11-year-olds that were not exactly the same age. We explained we were blended. It wasn’t the words they said – because the words were sweet and nice. It was the body language, the surprise and uppishness in their voices. I don’t think we ever spoke to them again.

It was at that VERY moment a flash of awareness came across my consciousness. I suddenly wanted to cry for all the black families moving to a white neighborhood or how an LGBT couple may feel buying a home in the suburbs. I became aware of the stigma of how mixed races try to explain how they are being looked at when going about their lives; or how someone who doesn’t speak English perfectly is treated. A divorcee is probably much lower on this totem pole, but it helped me to see and feel how society treats people that they feel are the non-traditional humans you see on TV. It’s why I relate to the line in the BLM rules about breaking down the notion of the traditional nuclear family.

Over the next few years before I started having clinical anxiety, I continued to get angrier and at the same time continued to climb the ranks at work. 

The contrast between my husband’s kids and family became almost unbearable. My step-kids were told constantly by their mother that my extended family is white trash and that their step-siblings were not as good as them because they went to public school. It morphed into me and my ex using my husband to put my kids through college, me using my husband for money and a host of really other rotten things. Everything I did was looked at through the lens of me being a monster. Obviously none of this was true, but because of my background and my non league education, I wasn’t one of them. 

I understand that after dozens and dozens of “digs”, it’s possible to get really angry in a situation that seems like it didn’t call for it. Similarly to how a black person might storm out of a room because of a comment no one understood could even be offensive.

One specific example is how private schools and fancy camps was one of the great divides of our blended family and one of the main reasons that created a rift between our children gelling into something new. After a lawsuit, a camp dispute that went on for months, when in the same evening the high school my children went to and then the camp my daughter was going to were put down by two separate people, I got what may have seem unrealistically angry by the second comment.

Black people have all kinds of digs in their day to day lives. Just walking into a store perhaps and seeing the elderly white woman behind the counter reach under to get closer to the panic button is a little dig that me as a white person we would never notice unless someone pointed it out to me. Perhaps I did that or something to the like too, but didn’t even notice I was discriminating or questioned why I was.

Take that example of the panic button as one part of a whole day of these digs that weren’t meant but are a part of how we accept society act it is. Then imagine a black person going out to participate in a peaceful riot to ty try to explain how what we can’t see is hurting them and in many ways holding them back (it goes far deeper than this, but it is too much to write about here).

Then imagine being in this peaceful demonstration and then getting called the “N” word and told to go back to the rubbish where you came from and off “my street”.

Can you see how the experiences this very normal black person had in their life and day may cause an otherwise very rational human being to riot and lose their mind? I’m not saying that it’s OK to riot or loot or loose your mind, but I’m saying I understand how it gets there.

I understand because it happened to me a few times. I can understand how not feeling heard and being forced to live in someone else’s perceived “better, more civilized” society would make the person who is in the perceived lesser category feel.

Riot is the voice of the unheard.

We aren’t listening.

I sincerely fear that an executive order from the president banning cultural sensitivity training and marking it as “un-American” and “divisive” is a horrific move in the wrong direction.

It leads to more “not listening” and more ignoring of what too many are trying to say. It ignores the fundamental built in narratives that if you work hard in America you can make it.

That is absolutely not true for everyone. Not everyone is granted the same opportunities due to where you are born, the color of your skin and even the gender you are attracted to.

I’m a democrat and I believe in hard work. I don’t think that conservatives hold the only claim on this. I don’t think anyone is looking for handouts, but I think they are looking for a fair chance. I know I’m smart, but without tutors, money, or even support; please don’t tell me I had the same opportunities as everyone else. And my skin is white! How can we expect for a moment that a black person in an impoverished neighborhood could compete with a good school, tutors, not having to work after school, being able to easily study because the heat and lights are on and their belly is full. Meanwhile they are being marginalized while going into a store, looking ratty when the family can only provide hand-me-downs and consequently have to waive the flag and say the pledge that there is justice for all.

How can you expect the average black kid growing up in a ghetto to possibly make it out of there through hard work and education when their school was so sub-par to one right outside the gates of the ghetto and then claim it’s socialism if we put more money toward schools? I think it’s quite Christian to take care of others and still a democracy.   

Citizens who don’t have access to healthcare cannot get help when they are sick or help with mental illness at any kind of age – let alone when you are young and can still “make it” in America. It’s not socialism to want to find a way to give people access to healthcare, the very thing that will keep them healthy and contributing to the society we hold them down in.  I never had healthcare growing up. Mostly because my father was an immigrant. Even thought he was here legally, he couldn’t get a job that provided for it. Not because he was stupid or lazy, but because he didn’t have the same inherent opportunities that are so invisible and part of what so many people think comes with life, that they can’t see them. 

Not stopping to think about what you were inherently born with and took for granted is privilege. There are all kinds of privileges like just being American, being male, or having money. And skin color. With white skin it’s very difficult to feel the sting of how society looks down on others with different skin color. Even if you don’t look down on darker skin colors, it doesn’t mean that it is not real. In fact it makes it harder to believe that it is.

There is nothing embarrassing or humiliating about learning you have privilege and that being blind to it creates an unjust society. In the same way there is nothing that should be embarrassing about being a male vs a female. Unless you are an enlightened male or were educated on the subtle societal ways males dominate our society, as a male you will not see it.

As someone with money and maybe even the luck that some risk you took to build yourself up panned out, doesn’t mean that someone else isn’t working really, really hard – perhaps even harder than you, but circumstances will never allow them to compete to get to where you are.

This is exactly how black people are being held down. I’m several steps (maybe generations) behind my husband. 43 points exactly in a privilege walk. How can anyone believe a black person isn’t behind me on this scale? I don’t need data and statistics to know they are. I know because I’m alive. I feel the 93% of non-spoken word communication I’ve been treated with and I see the 93% that black people are treated with. And guess what? It’s much worse.  

This is why it matters to me. It’s personal because as a woman and as someone who can mingle in a different social class, I have experienced how many privileged don’t know they are privileged and make judgements and comments about things that are downright just not true or just plain insulting to me.

Women are sexualized and marginalized. The upper class looks down on the lower class and believes their more expensive schools and activities are better than the middle class school and activities. They don’t realize that these types of activities is what keeps America unjust and that the privilege they creates opportunities for them that do not exist elsewhere.

Black people have historically been treated differently. Because they were they lived in lower class housing and neighborhoods. Because they had no money there are not generations of families with college degrees in competitive jobs, making even more money to put more kids in college.

The field is unlevel.

It’s unfair how society just looks the other way and then blames the lack of hard work on those who just cannot physically or mentally make it. 

I may not have understood this as a white woman who in many ways has been marginalized. It wasn’t until I was 40 years ago and immersed myself in some things where I realized what I took for granted – the good of being white, and the bad, such as the role I was playing being a women; were things that I was blind to and when along with because it was just such an integral part of society that I didn’t see it.

I learned from extreme measures. The book I referenced above “Falling Upwards” talks about how it often takes extreme measures and extreme discomfort to learn about seeing another side. It’s a blessing to fall because the world makes a lot more sense to me. I can understand and see the injustices all around me. It’s not a Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish or any religious type of teaching life. Unless you stop to think about it, what we teach in American schools and homes as “success” is actually greed and looking out for #1. It’s the complete opposite of love.

Now at this moment in history we are being told that trying to understand where someone with a different background of the already made American dream and line “With justice for All” is un-American and creates a divide.

Not acknowledging there is a divide and ignoring what the a very large majority of a country’s people are saying is a divide.

My father will now be 70 years old this year. He will never retire. He is an alcoholic with tons of medical issues and terrible senior healthcare. My mother died at the age of 49 from lung cancer. Yes, she smoked earlier in life; but please don’t tell me that treating her during her life for depression and helping her find a way out of an abusive home and the stress that it caused would have done nothing for her. If nothing else, her quality of life and subsequently that quality of life for my brothers and I would have made a world of difference. 

The social issues we face are real. It’s the single most divisive element in this election. But I don’t understand how anyone can be against helping other members of society be brought up to simple standards of living with dignity. There are cases of lazy people, but they are not most people. 

Most people, given fair opportunities will take it. But those opportunities have to be there and visible. Without them there is no hope. You can’t blame someone for not working 80 hours a week knowing it won’t ever get them out of the ghetto. There are some where it can, I agree. Some of those individuals take advantage of it, and others squander it. But I do know that for the majority (like my father) – no amount of hours would have made a difference. I’m not advocating for giving money to lazy people, I’m advocating for creating opportunities for lower socio-economic classes.

That is why living wages are important. 

Black people are in this category of the lower socio-economic rung more so than any other sector of our society. They are in these rungs because of the history of our country. You want them to wave a flag and be proud of living here? Not try to peacefully protest and explain this in some way? 

We can’t have a conversation about fixing anything if these issues and the whole BLM issue are not acknowledged. BLM came up now for a reason. It’s not just because of police brutality. Police brutality was what made people get up and onto the streets, but it’s not the only reason. Privilege is so entwined into our society that unless you are living on the fringes you cannot see it.

Not seeing white privilege at work or how the lack of attention to these social issues doesn’t mean they aren’t real. Telling your own story of the hard work you did or the hard work your parents/grandparents did does not make anyone else’ struggles today null and void. It seems to be a valid excuse to turn your head. Helping others doesn’t turn our country into a socialist country, it turns our citizens into evolved human beings who can look past themselves for the benefit of others, which will in turn truly be beneficial for the society and county at large. It can be an even more thriving democracy when all our citizens are working and healthy enough to contribute and be proud to be an American. Right now it thrives for only some but not all. It’s not Justice for All.

What you do, how you act, what you post, how you treat people is what people perceive when they are communicating with you. I’d go the mat to say that most people are not knowingly racist, sexist, arrogant or pretentious on purpose. Knowing that, know you might be one of those people and not know it either. But those who aren’t know – because it’s being communicated so loudly, they can’t hear what you are saying. Stop and think about what you really think, what you really feel and what you really support. Is it justice for all? Or is it keeping you and you only safe and sound? 

This may sound disjointed, but the point is that I know I couldn’t see this message only a few years ago. I would have said society is fair. But I now know it’s not. Until we all acknowledge that we aren’t equal, the inequity will continue to grow.

I don’t think we want to do that to ourselves, our neighbors, our children or our country. But it’s happening.

Please. Wake. Up.  

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Voices Carry

Voices Carry


Shush, keep it down now, voices carry


The song “Voices Carry” by Til’ Tuesday always gave me somewhat of a chill. Not in a bad way, but through some haunting lens I didn’t quite understand but felt a magnetic draw to.


2 years ago while preparing some yoga classes April’s Sexual Assault month which has a strong hand-in-hand partnership with October’s Domestic Violence month (a topic that I feel very strongly about as a child abuse survivor) – I set out on a search for songs about these topics.


Voices Carry came up under Domestic Violence. Yes, I suppose – ‘shush, keep it down now, voices carry’. It wasn’t all too different from some of the other 80’s tunes like Luka and Behind the Wall. It had that same eerie vibe that drew me in, while not really digesting much what the lyrics were so poignantly about.


A few months ago on the way home from work my music was playing on shuffle in the car when “Voices Carry” came on. Likely for the first time I really listened to and digested the lyrics. The Internet search from 2 years ago plagued my mind, but I wasn’t so sure anymore that Domestic Violence was completely behind it. Was it a secret lover perhaps? What did the words mean???


Hours later after dinner, walking the dog and the nightly routine – Daren was out at hockey with Devin and I picked up my phone before bed to search the lyrics meaning.


No doubt it was about the power dynamic in an Intimate Partner relationship. But what I read over and over and over, is that the song was originally written with “She” instead of “He”. I read a lot about the video and how the man tried to control the woman… (never saw this video) and how it could be about sexual assault; but I couldn’t shake what almost seems now after one too many sources said that it was about a lesbian relationship.


Wow. That just shifts everything now doesn’t it?


I’ve written about this before- that back in May 2017 I was required to take a 50 hour CT state training on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault in order to teach yoga at Domestic Violence shelters. I was ambivalent about the training. It was a requirement. I had to shift my schedule a bit to fit it in. It ended up being a life-changer.


The topics were so eye opening. It wasn’t just about the topics. It was about the dynamic of relationships. The dynamic of human unfairness. The dynamic which children grow up and how certain segments of society are treated unfairly. How cycles of violence perpetuate through generations. How we treat and work with perpetrators. How the police are trained and not trained to deal with these issues. How the law works and how the laws have changed over the years. How our culture almost encourages boys toward violence and treating women as objects. How the LGBT movement plays into it all. How race is involved in this. I trained at the umbrella agency in Bridgeport CT. I was finally able to piece together that these topics are all so very related and are ultimately human rights issues. Human Justice Issues. All encompassing and under one umbrella.


It was there I very sadly realized that I myself have PTSD from childhood abuse. I was very likely unable to handle the awareness until then.  It was probably the most educational 50 hours I’d ever spent – professionally and personally.


Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and a same sex relationship – how can one song be related to all 3? How can these topics even be related?


Strange thing is that they are. It’s all stuff that as a society we’ve kept hush about and swept under the rug. Things that folks were ashamed of and had to hide. The unspeakable, but oh so very real truth.


I heard the song again last night on the way home after sharing a few drinks with a friend. It haunted me as always. Something I read a few months back when I search it the last time preoccupied my mind enough for me to try to find it again (of course I could not – go figure). A writer explained how she always believed the song was about a heterosexual couple in an affair situation until she read about the “she” word removal as well.  At that point she wrote a bit about how sad it was that the record company wouldn’t record it, as stations and the public were not ready for the topic; but how that changed the words and entire meaning of the song for her.


Voices Carry… Voices Carry… Voices Carry.


That was the main meaning. If we don’t keep quiet about a topic, the voice of it will carry to others. The message will get across. Yes, ‘shush’ we’ve been told to keep it down, that voices will carry. But on the other hand – Voices Carry! The more we talk and bring awareness, the more our voices will carry. Would it have been so bad to carry the message the writer intended to send?


The love of homosexuals. Any human or sexual orientation that is involved in intimate partner violence. Child Abuse. Sexual assault/abuse/rape. The mental illness of perpetrators. & their own sordid pasts… These are human rights issues. Things that have made people feel ashamed and lesser than. Things they’ve felt the need to hide. People who have felt they have no voice.


Not treating everyone the same regardless of the shoes they’ve walked in is ABUSE.

No need to listen to the bully who says “Shush & Keep it down now”. Voices do carry. All of them do. Like drops in a bucket. Each little drop will contribute to the eventual overflow that will change things. Every voice counts.




Voices Carry

'Til Tuesday


I'm in the dark, I'd like to read his mind
But I'm frightened of the things I might find
Oh, there must be something he's thinking of
to tear him away-a-ay
When I tell him that I'm falling in love
why does he say-a-ay


Hush hush, keep it down now, voices carry
Hush hush, keep it down now, voices carry


I try so hard not to get upset
Because I know all the trouble I'll get
Oh, he tells me tears are something to hide
and something to fear-eh-eh
And I try so hard to keep it inside
so no one can hear


Hush hush, keep it down now, voices carry
Hush hush, keep it down now, voices carry
Hush hush, keep it down now, voices carry


He wants me, but only part of the time
He wants me, if he can keep me in line

Hush hush, keep it down now, voices carry
Hush hush, keep it down now, voices carry
Hush hush, shut up now, voices carry
Hush hush, keep it down now, voices carry
Hush hush, darling, she might overhear
Hush, hush - voices carry

He said shut up - he said shut up
Oh God can't you keep it down
Voices carry
Hush hush, voices carry




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On “Her Story”

Last Thursday I was at our second home in Branford turning it over for our Friday renters, and doing some well needed yard work on the one non-rainy day in the forecast. I craved a short lunch break from the hot sun, so I decided to head down to the local watering hole for a hearty sandwich. While I was waiting, the news was on every TV. Something about a case and the name Kavanaugh. 

I am one of those people that does not watch or listen to the news. When something important happens I always seem to find out in some other form as I did last Thursday. Not knowing what everyone was glued to, I whipped out my phone to google the latest news. In about 2 minutes I was caught up to the current moment after Ford testified. 

Today I am in Hollywood, FL where my mom lived before she passed 12 years ago. I’m visiting with my aunt, her friend Patty, and my cousin Camille. Four absolutely beautiful women with different life stories. I hadn’t seen my cousin in over 26 years following a tragic event that rocked our family. This is a reunion I cherish. 

When I picked up my phone this morning, I saw that on old high school Facebook friend commented on a picture that I posted from the latest U2 tour this past summer. The picture “HerStory”.

Women over the centuries have their own beautiful, good, bad, heroic and tragic stories. Women have been oppressed and in many parts of the world still are. They still don’t have the same rights men have. Not but a century ago voting was in question, even in the developed world. Much has changed, but not enough yet. There is plenty of history and little ‘herstory’. None of us are equal until all of us are equal. This not only includes women, but all skin colors, gender preferences, sexual preferences, handicaps, spiritual practices… everything and anything that imaginarily divides us and seems to lead some to believe that they have rights and power over another human being.  

As for Ford… I believe her. I don’t believe this has political motivation. Anyone who has been abused in someway should really understand this. She moved on with her life and kept quiet as most victims do. She was successful at ‘moving on’. But the trauma of an attack usually stays with you. It comes back at random times when the body is triggered by something that the conscious awareness didn’t pick up, and pieces of the memory come back. We are now learning that it is how the brain works. The brain is wired to protect you by blocking out pieces of the event(s). She shouldn’t be written off if she can’t remember how she got home after an attack. Allowing that to happen takes away the believability of so many victims and only gives perpetrators more power. Aren’t we civilized and sophisticated enough to understand science and the brain? 

I believe her. I don’t believe she would have ever said anything if Kavanaugh wasn’t nominated for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. I think this was her own trigger. Whether or not he was 17 or 70; he hurt her, took away her power, and a part of her innocence. Most victims would have a hard time watching someone who hurt them be promoted, praised and raised to any position of power. I don’t believe it matters if he was a Republican, Democrat, Communist or member of the Rastafarian tribe. 

I believe her story. As a victim of abuse myself, I can almost sense when someone else has been traumatized in similar ways. It doesn’t matter how it started out or if anyone was drinking, or what age anyone was. For me, it’s about how it ended up, how someone’s life was affected by it, and the example we might set for other young men and women. 

It’s her story. The one that she experienced. I feel she did the right thing. Dragging up a 30+ year old traumatic event would be a difficult decision for anyone to make, not to mention making it into a nationally televised revelation. Knowing every moment you lived, skirt (or bikini) you wore, every tipsy laughter or wink… everything you ever did would be dragged up, scrutinized and questioned like a criminal when you know you are the victim. That takes guts and I feel Ford should be praised as an example for other women and victims to start talking.

In my humble opinion, the more women and victims talk and share their stories, and the more the perpetrators are called out publicly; the less likely current and potential perpetrators will be to take advantage of others. It has been overlooked and gone on for too long. Stand up, fight for human rights and let’s put an end to any type of human abuse. 

I believe her. I believe he is shocked and tearful and truthfully… even that he wouldn’t do or condone such a thing now. I’m on the fence about whether it should or should not allow him to serve in such a position. It’s not political for me. It’s human. We need to set some kind of example for the younger generation. I don’t have an answer about what the right thing is to do from here. All I know is that I believe her and that HerStory is the story of so many. Like the beautiful women in my own family, we all have stories and I think it’s time in general to hear “HERS”. 

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My aunt Fran (left) and mom (right) as little girls

My cousin Anthony who left us all way too soon

Me, aunt Fran and Camille last night

My Mom

I wrote this story in October 2006 for my mother’s old boss Sean who was publishing some stories about my mom in the Homeless Voice in Hollywood, FL where she worked.


My Mom

By Esterina Messeder


Earliest Memory of My Mom

            The earliest memory I have of my mother dates back to when I was three or four years old. I could not have been any older because the memory I have is in a home that we moved out of when I was four. I remember waking up one early morning, and from my bedroom I heard my parents fighting in the kitchen. I heard a plate crack, more screaming, and then my father slamming the door on his way out to where I assume was work. Then I heard the sobs. I waited until I was sure that my father was not coming back in the house, and made my way to the kitchen. Evidence of the argument was left behind by glass on the floor, eggs splattered on the wall, and the kitchen sink running. My mother was sitting on the floor against the left leg of the table with her head in her lap, crying loudly. She did not hear me come in. While I can not recall the exact words that were exchanged, I remember the gist of the conversation. I asked her what was wrong, and she told me she couldn’t stand my father. I asked her why she did not leave him (I had no concept of marriage or divorce), and she said that she never finished school and would not be able to take care of us kids on her own. I remember from that moment on I made a vow to myself to finish school and have the ability to take care of myself so I would not have to depend on a man.


Growing Years with Her

            Over the next 15 years or so if I had to sum up my perception of my mother in one word it would be depressed. The image of her standing in the kitchen washing dishes, hunched over, with a cigarette hanging loosely from her lips, barefooted in a knee-length house dress is what comes to mind when I think of my childhood. I cannot say that there weren’t any happy times; I can distinctly remember a few. But only a few. She seemed so helpless against my father, so un-empowered, and so lonely. I could not help but NOT want to be like her when I grew up. I would fantasize about getting a job, getting her an apartment, and taking care of her so she would not have to depend on my father.


The Turning Point

            But on July 9, 1993 when I was 17 years old everything changed. It was my brother Frankie’s 13th birthday and he wanted McDonalds for dinner. My parents, Frankie, and I were outside eating dinner in the backyard as a family in the early evening. My father started an argument with me about how if my current boyfriend didn’t give me a ring by the end of the year; I would have to break up with him. I argued that I didn’t want to get married young and that I wanted to go to school and have a job first. Well it seemed like whenever I talked what I thought was sense, my father would get mad because I didn’t agree with him. Sometimes it was just yelling, but more often than not there was violence involved and I would get hit. This particular evening it was the latter. As usual the next few minutes would be a blur of trying to shield myself from blows, my mother yelling in the background, and my brother(s) pulling my father off of me. But this time it was different. Only my brother Frankie was there and he didn’t pull my father off of me… he disappeared into the house. My mother tried unsuccessfully to pull him away while I cowered on the floor and was being beaten with a chair. My father just threw my mother to the ground. Then we heard Frankie’s faint voice from in the house telling us calmly that he had just called the police.

This was a monumental moment. No one had ever called the police before. A male and female officer came to the house, and my mother and I were required to go down to the police station to write a report. As a female officer was asking what happened, my mom was being her usual self by defending my father. It was at this time that I think my mother’s perception of the world changed. This woman looked my mother straight in the eye and said “I don’t want to hear any bullshit, look at your daughter, he toked her”. My mother was silent and I could actually see in her the realization that she had been living with a monster. On the way home that night she said told me that she can’t believe she never realized until now that she is not in control, and she promised me that things would change.


The Aftermath

            After that night things did change. I had a restraining order against my father so he was afraid of coming near me. That silly piece of paper really helped me to feel a bit more secure. But still, I could not wait to leave my house. The fighting continued, but I could tell that my mother was stronger and not quite so naïve anymore. As the weeks went by and turned into months, it came closer and closer to the time that I would be graduating high school and having to make a decision about my future. One evening in April 1994, I was in the car with my parents on the way home from seeing an accountant who did our taxes. My father was arguing with me about something or another, and I asked to get out of the car. I was only a mile or two from my house when I walked home alone that night thinking about my future. There was no money for college, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and there was no way I could live home any longer. The logical solution was to join the military. When the thought first came to mind I pushed it away because I could not imagine leaving my mother alone with my father and with no other women in the house. But if I wanted my life to be different, if I wanted money to go to college some day and be able to get a decent job and experience so I could take care of myself and not depend on a man like my mother had to, I would need to take this risk and do something that no one in my family has done before… leave.


My Adult Years

            Every day that passed since Frankie’s 13th birthday I watched my mother grow stronger and stronger. She started to have confidence; she was standing up straighter, and smiling more.  When it came time for me to go to boot camp I knew she was sad, but she was so much stronger and happier than she had been just one year earlier. Over the next few years she really made some changes that I was so proud of. She lost some weight, she got dentures because she was so self conscious of her teeth, and most importantly she went back to school. She realized that even she could be happy and it became her mission in life to help others be happy.

But her real happiness did not come until just a few years ago when she picked up her life in the end of 2000 and spontaneously moved to Florida. I was sad to see her go, but I could hear such a difference in her voice. She was a new person. My mother got a job at a homeless shelter down in Florida. Though I never really understood what she was doing, I knew she was happy. She was no longer Cathy the mother, or Cathy the wife, she was Cathy – the person who is making a difference in the lives of people that could not otherwise help themselves. She had a reason to get up in the morning. She had confidence. And I can’t say it enough, but I know that she was a lot happier than she had ever been when she lived back home in New York.

Last summer in 2005 she came up to NY and CT where I live now to visit. While I was driving down to LaGuardia airport to pick her up, I was SO excited to see her. I was imagining her getting on the plane and being just as excited to see me. My husband was calling me every 15 minutes or so from home tracking her plane to let me know where it was in the sky. With every passing minute my anticipation grew. I was so nervous and excited. When her flight let off I watched all the passengers coming toward the baggage claim area. I was enthusiastically looking for her when a lady walked up to me and said “Esterina it’s so good to see you”… it was her! And she looked so different! So different. She was older, calmer, wiser, and far more beautiful than I ever remembered her. I almost didn’t believe this person in front of me was actually my mother. As we walked toward the baggage claim area and she was talking, her voice sounded the same and I realized how much she changed. I was in a complete daze. It took about 10 minutes or so for me to calm down from the excitement. I couldn’t wait to spend the weekend with her, and after she grabbed her suitcase we made our way out to the parking lot to my car. We were only walking a few minutes when she asked me to slow down. She was holding her side and told me that her shoulder hurt. At that moment my excitement disappeared. I had an uneasy feeling in my stomach, but I could not put my finger on it.

Over the next few days my family and I had a wonderful visit with her. First she came back to CT with me, and then we drove her down to New York where we visited with my brothers. She told us stories about all that she was doing in Florida and Venezuela, and all the plans she had, and people she was helping. I didn’t understand most of it, but I was proud of her and the life that she made for herself. But her shoulder hurt, and she had a nasty smoker’s cough, despite the fact that she’d quit smoking a few years earlier. I pushed the thoughts of these odd health things out of my mind, and I made a vow to myself that we should have her come up to visit every year.


The Cancer

            It was the weekend when hurricane Wilma whipped into Florida last October. My husband, kids, and I were spending the weekend at my brother Frankie’s house carving pumpkins with our kids, and celebrating my brother Mario’s birthday a few days early. We ate, drank, and played the music loud. We never heard a phone ringing that evening. Mario went home on Saturday night and we all went to bed. Sunday morning Mario called really early to say that our grandmother had been calling us all night. I checked my messages, and sure enough she had. He said that my grandmother said something is wrong, and to please call my mother just to tell her we love her. Well, Mario called the homeless shelter where my mom was staying and talked to her boss Sean. Sean told him that the day before my mother went to the hospital and there was a mass on her lung. She got nervous, checked herself out of the hospital, and then got on the next flight out of Florida to Venezuela. After Mario called me to tell me the conversation he had with Sean, I hung up the phone and stood speechless in Frankie’s kitchen. The kids were running around, and my husband, Frankie, and Frankie’s girlfriend were all happily chatting away while making breakfast. When they realized that I had hung up the phone and was just standing there, all activity in the house seemed to come to a halt. They were all looking at me… waiting for me to say something, and I blurted out “Mom is dying of lung cancer”.

It was a stupid thing to say at the time because we had no idea what it was. There was just a mass on the lung. It could have been pneumonia. It could have been something else. It could have been a much more mild stage of cancer. But within the next few weeks after all different types of tests in the U.S. and Venezuela we learned that she did indeed have lung cancer. It was stage IV, small-cell lung cancer. These words meant nothing to me until I looked them up on the Internet and learned that the average life expectancy of someone with this type of cancer was only a few months. I was beside myself. I cried that whole first night, and made plans within in the next day or two to visit her by week’s end.

When I went down to Florida I got to see the life my mom had been living. I met all her friends, co-workers, and Sean. She was happy and surrounded by people who loved her. Though I would have liked her to be closer to the family at this crucial time, I saw that she was happy in Florida and thought there might be too many bad memories associated with staying in the New York area. The second day I was there we took a nap in the afternoon. My grandmother was also visiting and was ironing in the next room. My mother told me right after she woke up that she had a dream that my daughter was there with us, and there were 4 generations of women together in the same room.

I visited her quite a bit over the next few months and each time I learned a little bit more about her life. I learned about her experiences as a child growing up. I learned about her father (my grandfather) that I never knew. I learned about what she had been doing in Florida and the close relationship she developed with God. I got much closer to her with every visit, but each time I went down she looked more and more sick. The last time I visited in May, I took the kids down there with me on Mother’s Day weekend. I knew my grandmother and aunt were going to be there and I wanted to make her dream actually come true where there were four generations of women in the same room. I got to her apartment with the kids while she was out at the doctor. When she walked in she was so surprised! And so was I, but not in a good way. She had lost so much weight since the last time I’d seen her, and she had a cane. I acted normal, but inside I knew she wasn’t really getting better. Her right leg was in excruciating pain. The night before Mother’s Day we all went shopping and cooked a fabulous dinner. Everyone contributed a food item to the dinner. We pushed the dining room table to the middle of the room and sat around it for what would be our last big meal like this together (though we didn’t know it at the time). It was such a wonderful, relaxing evening. The next morning on Mother’s Day my mom had a hard time getting out of the bed. I took her to the emergency room where she was checked into the hospital. I didn’t know that when she walked into the ER that day with my kids and me, that it would be the last time she ever walked on her own again.


Last Trip back Home

            Well to make what could be a long story short, she’d spent a lot of time in the hospital over the next few months. Sometime in mid-July her oncologist told my aunt that there was nothing more that he could do. He expected her to last only a few more weeks without treatment. I think all of our hearts broke that day. I was afraid to call my mother. I didn’t know what to say, or how to act. I was secretly relieved every time I called and no one picked up the phone. My mother called my grandmother the next day and asked her if she could “come home”. It was what we all wanted. Sean worked really hard to make her wish come true (God Bless him). I had no idea how bad off she was. When I heard she was too weak to travel on a commercial flight, and that it was dangerous to move her, I have to say that I was shocked that she deteriorated so quickly. After a LOT of cajoling, an air ambulance flight for her to come up to New Jersey was finally scheduled. I was SO happy. But I was nervous for her. It was only a year after the last time she came up this way to us. I was just as happy, but for completely different reasons. Again I imagined her getting on the plane and being just as excited to see us. This was going to be the last time I would be this excited to see my mother.

There were a few good days before her body started to shut down. She had a few good meals and had a few good laughs with us. She got here not a moment too soon. In the last few days we kept vigil by her bedside in my grandmother’s apartment. There was a lot of time to think about her and her life. I feel sad that such a large portion of it was spent miserable, but I am proud of her for turning it around and helping other people. With hospice’s encouragement I talked to her a lot even when she couldn’t talk back. I was surprised with my children’s ease around her. My 9-year old son was holding her hand, talking to her and kissing her. In her last few days and hours I told her how proud I was of her. I told her how she’d shaped my life and taught me through her life that being able to take care of yourself and not depend on anyone else is important. I wondered what she was thinking, what she was remembering. Did she remember the bad times? The day I saw her crying in the kitchen when I was three or four years old? Was she remembering the people she’d helped? I wanted her to know that I learned so much from her. Even when she was lying there on her last day she was teaching me that life is too short to not enjoy it, to hold grudges, or spend too much time over thinking things. I only hope that she is as proud of me right now as I am of her.

This picture resembles mostly how I remember my mom looking from my childhood.


These 3 pictures were taken fourth of July weekend in the summer of 2005 before we found out she was sick. She did have cancer at this time. We just didn’t know it. It was the last carefree time we spent with her.



She passed away right before midnight on August 6th 2006, but hospice didn’t arrive until after mid-night so the official date is listed as 8/7/06. We spread her ashes on what would have been her 50th birthday on October 25th that same year. We went to Steeplechase Pier in Brooklyn where she grew up and raised us kids until I was almost a teenager.


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