La gente dice that you were so intelligent that at 14 you received a scholarship to study chemistry in Puerto Rico. I can only imagine what that must've been like for a Dominican boy from La Vega during the 1960's. Little did the islands know that you were going to take the opportunity to transport bodies from one island to the next. I imagine you thought the classes were not challenging enough to keep you put, but the ocean---that was a whole other thing, huh? Papi, I've heard stories about you and other Dominicanos at sea that some times don't let me sleep. I have to convince myself that you were human, a boy, taking logical actions in the middle of a turbulent ocean.
You had patterns like me. Like you had 5 baby momma's--the first a Boricua at 14 who gave you a boy. Legend goes that (or at least Abuela Ana says) that you went to church and prayed all day to never give you a boy again. And shit, Papi, you had 9 girls after that--back to back--sometimes 2 in a year. So you became a father ten times. You must've liked even numbers. Every time you got with a woman, you took her first born away without consent. The first daughter was even with you in a Puerto Rican prison, getting fed through the spaces of cages. The last one you took away was me. You took me on a plane from NYC to the island with fake papers. And it took Mami months to find me. Four times, Papi, four times you kidnapped your daughters thinking it made you a better dad. In a strange way, it did. The ones you took away loved you most--it's been emotionally hardest on us to unload the loss of you. But Papi as a grown woman today, I can't respect anything you've done to hurt a woman. You hurt our Mamis, and you made us see the ugly...in you, in men.
The first time you told me about trust I was 4, but I still feel your hands resting heavy on my shoulders after we exited a court room. You got down on one knee, looked into my eyes and said, "Never trust that woman!" And I don't know why, Papi, but the Universe has made it so, I don't trust her. In reality, I don't trust many folks. I hardly trust myself sometimes, and it takes me hours to make a simple decision because I don't know if I can trust myself to make the one that serves me best. So that has had me wondering, how can a Papi that loves you plant such a seed so young? But de que hablo? Papi, I know you loved me. You called me your negra like you loved me for taking in all the melanin that your dad never gave you. You used to take pictures of me smiling widely and say, "La morena mas bella de el mundo eres tu." And then you'd cook tostones and chuletas and sprinkle them with salt. Morir soñando was your speciality. You stirred the mix of orange juice, milk, and sugar until there was no white crystals at the bottom, and a sip of the beverage was just like dying in a haze of a dream. And we'd have a full meal like that--you and I.
Then there were times you'd take me on runs when I chose you over Mami after one of your fights. People respected you everywhere, Papi, on your best days, even cops. But on the worst days, they came in and dragged you out of the bottom of beds, and put shackles on your wrist in front of us. Remember that time Tatiana and I ran down the stairs with the cops and you? When we made it downstairs and they were trying to push your head into cop car, Tatiana and I looked at one another, and decided to jump on them. We climbed onto them, scratching their faces with our 4 and 5 year old nails, and they had to let go of you just to take us off. When you started using your own, they just shipped you off. Like you was nothing, but dead weight, a bag, an alien to this land. And there was no yola, no papers that could bring you back. When we talked on the phone, you'd always cry, and even at 7, I sensed it you were disappearing. You were no longer majestic.
I found a passport with the original signature whited out and your signature--Miguel A Avila, on top. I cringe at how desperate you must've been. I love you anyway--for your journey. For giving me this fearlessness, for the DNA, for these stories I have to tell even though they haunt me decades later. I will never forget I come from the men with the thick, wet beard and the belly that shakes when its owner laughs at Chapulin Colorado. Still you weren't safe for us...not at the end. And that's why the Universe made space for him.