I didn't really want to write about this story of mine. Yet I felt like I was supposed to write it, like it was a responsibility that I couldn't avoid. It's so hard to go there, you know?
The abuse and neglect from my mother and the time was forced to spend in Saint Joseph’s Catholic Home for Children, aka “the Home,” have affected a big part of my life. And I’ve hated that fact. I’m a forward-moving and positive-thinking person, and it was hard to have that albatross hanging around my neck.
I’ve hated my past so much that I’ve spent countless hours downplaying or even hiding bits of truth of my childhood in an attempt to make it seem less severe, less hurtful, less shameful, than it felt.
From Chapter 2
Tia spoiled the shit out of me by smothering me with love and attention. Her three daughters – Titi, the oldest; Millie, the next oldest; then Cookie – were all instructed to take extra good care of me. When I was a baby, I thought they were all my sisters rather than my cousins, and they treated me in kind.
Everyone, all the neighbors also, treated me special, like a “miracle” baby. Some new friends thought that having another baby at Tia’s age was beyond incredible. Yes, a lot of people thought I was her daughter – to this day many are surprised to learn I’m not. Her dear friends knew the truth but never spoke on it.
Tia never officially stated that I was not her daughter, but she didn’t explain the situation either. That was private family business. That’s why, when I was a baby, I knew her as my mother and referred to her as “Mommie” instead of “Tia.”
From Chapter 3
St. Joseph’s Catholic Home for Children in Peekskill, New York, was fifty miles north of the city. “The Home” was situated on the edge of the Hudson, along the Metro-North train tracks, right up the hill from the train station. The campuslike compound, consisting partly of medieval-looking stone buildings and partly of plain cement buildings, sat on eight sparsely green, hilly acres.
I don’t remember the ride up to the Home. I don’t remember how many days had gone by since Lydia took me from Tia. I don’t even remember if I went to Lydia’s house or if she took me straight up to the Home. I just remember finding myself sitting in the “Baby Girls” playroom, seated on Lydia’s lap across from an old lady with a funny scarf on her head. She looked like those church ladies in the hold black-and-white movies Tia and I used to watch. Lydia was talking to the old lady – in a calm way, negotiating a deal, but also like a victim, acting as if she didn’t want this to happen.
I started to get scared. I was fidgeting, looking around at this unfamiliar place. There were other ladies with the same thing on their heads, along with some young women dressed in regular clothes, leading other tiny kids around who were formed into lines. Some stole glances at me. A couple of men with dark robes came in. They made me more scared than I already was. I didn’t want to be there. Lydia kept bouncing me up and down on her legs, trying to calm me. I tried to wiggle out of her arms. Then she shook me, hard, and I went still.
Excerpted from Handbook for an Unpredictable Life: How I Survived Sister Renata and My Crazy Mother, and Still Came Out Smiling (with Great Hair) by Rosie Perez, available wherever books are sold February 25, 2014.
I read Rosie Perez’s magnificent, very real, and heart wrenching book with equal parts joy and horror – horror that the world can and routinely does inflict its terrors on its children, and joy that Rosie made it out to become not only the superior, iconographic artist she is, but the magnificent woman this book reveals her to be. Her voice is the captivating instrument here: forthright, funny, and utterly her own. ~Hilton Als, staff writer, The New Yorker
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