My family always hosted holiday parties, birthday parties, and family gatherings. Watching Dick Clark’s rocking New Year’s Eve and counting down the seconds until the crystal ball dropped was always fun. Easter was also a big holiday, but mostly because our annual egg hunt took about an hour to complete since my aunts and uncles hid over 500 bright plastic eggs around trees and drink coolers. On Thanksgiving Day the palms of my hands would get sweaty around dinner time because I knew I would have to say grace. I didn’t really mind it, especially since I had done it since I was five. I also enjoyed eating my aunt’s famous enchiladas instead of turkey since I didn’t really like turkey or stuffing. Christmas time was my favorite because it meant decorating the whole house with bright Christmas lights and putting up the same old faded green Christmas tree. It also meant that for the next month or so my living room would have a singing Santa that my mom got on clearance after Christmas when I was ten.
My siblings and I also had the best birthday parties filled with piñatas, marble cake, and Blue Bell ice cream. All of our loved ones were always there to sing happy birthday. I guess you could say that my family was picture perfect, but one year we stopped having family gatherings and every year after that the house got quieter around the holidays.
I remember the very first time that my dad left like it was yesterday. My dad was outside with my eldest brother Alex, cooking steaks and my mom was cooking baked potatoes. In the middle of our family dinner, my dad got a phone call and started acting funny. He excused himself from the table and took the phone call outside. All I could hear was my mom saying, “Give me the phone!” over and over again. My picture perfect family was falling apart right before my eyes. Alex rushed my sister and me out the front door and into his car. It was pitch black outside and the cold winter night made me shiver. Alex was explaining to us that we were going to spend the night in a hotel room, but my mom threatened to call the cops on him if he didn’t bring us back into the house. I went to sleep confused that night, and I awoke even more confused when I didn’t see my dad’s rusty old baby blue van in the driveway. A couple of days later, my dad was back in the house but it was still awkward. I could feel the tension in the house and it felt like I had to pick a side. I ended up siding with my mom, because I felt betrayed that my dad could throw away his family for what I often referred to as a home wrecker.
After a couple of years, my parents’ relationship only got worse. It felt like they fought over every single little thing, like my dad being late to pick me up from band practice. The second time he left I was the only one of my siblings that experienced it. It was my sophomore year of high school, which meant that my elder sister was off on her first year of college. My two elder brothers were working night shifts at work. This time it was my dad who decided to leave. All I could hear was my mom crying and yelling, but my dad just said, “I’m done”. I pretended that I was asleep because I didn’t know what else I could do. I didn’t want to humiliate myself and ask my dad to stay because he was the one that hurt us anyway, but I never actually thought he would leave on his own.
The next morning I didn’t want to wake up and have to deal with what had happened the night before. I got ready for school and hugged my mom really hard before leaving for the bus stop. When I got to my first period, it seemed like everyone was extra happy and that just made me ever madder. Before I knew it, there were tears rolling down my cheek and landing on my paper for class. Mrs. Pagan, my Spanish teacher, pulled me outside of class and asked what was wrong. I explained how my dad walked out on my mom and I the night before, but I’m not sure how much of my story she understood because my voice was cracking and I kept wiping away tears after every three words. When I was done talking she gave me a hard hug, similar to the one that I gave my mom, and whispered, “It’s his loss”. The next time I saw my dad was Thanksgiving, and it was only for a couple of hours because my mom gave him specific orders to leave before her shift at the local grocery store was over. We followed the same routine for Christmas. It seemed like the Holidays were no longer filled with joy like they’re supposed to be.
Eventually my dad came back to the house, but it was for a different reason. My mom and dad were really trying to work things out, but over the years the holidays weren’t the same, and my mom kept the big secret of my dad leaving from everybody, including the only aunt and uncle that live here in Houston. We stopped hanging out with my cousins, and our gatherings stopped all together. Even though the gatherings stopped, it seemed like my parents were actually working things out. Boy, was I wrong, though.
On my seventeenth birthday I went out to dinner with my best friend, and it was the most fun I had in a while on my birthday. When I got home that night my dad and Alex were cooking steak and fajitas. The house smelled great but I only sat to eat with them since I had already eaten dinner before I got home. I went over my whole school day and told them how many hugs and smiles I got. Later on that night Alex gave me One Direction’s CD and said it was from the whole family. At about nine I started to get tired and sleepy from the eventful day. My dad came into my room and said goodnight, and I drifted into the best sleep. The next morning I went to school and everything was fine. I had band practice after school, went back home, did homework, and showered. I realized that it was now ten pm and my dad was still not home. I decided to call him and ask if he was coming home soon. He replied with, “I’m not coming home” and hung up the phone. After I told my mom what my dad said she cried and locked herself in her room. There wasn’t much that I could do at that point except be strong for the both of us. Alex took it pretty hard as well, but he dealt with the separation with his friend Jack Daniels. My other brother, Bert, showed no emotion, he never does, but deep down I knew he had anger. My sister Maria was still in Aggie land finishing off her college degree. She called every day to make sure I was okay and to check up on our mom. I cried every night and turned to razor blades and an old bottle of ibuprofen to comfort me. However, they only made me feel worse and made my mom feel like she wasn’t good enough for me.
That last time my dad left, he never came back. Cutting him out of my life, deleting his number, and blaming all of my struggles on him was something I did every day until I had another Spanish teacher my senior year of high school who reminded me I should “Only let the pain make me stronger”. Now I’m in my sophomore year of college with the hope of graduating with a degree in Spanish and a minor in education, and to also one day have a family of my own and build traditions like driving around the neighborhood on Christmas Eve to see the bright and shiny lights.