Chapter One, page 10
And I think
my sister shouldn’t go either, I went on through sobs. It’s
good for her.
My sister Mabel, four years younger than I was, would do as I said, I was sure of that. From the time she was born, my mother had made me feel that I was as responsible for her safety and well-being as my parents were. In return I had her loyalty. Mine was the hand she held on to as we crossed the street during family outings, and mine was the shoulder she sought when she was sad or conflicted. I wanted to spare her the humiliation and pain my admitted faith was putting me through. My parents looked at each other but didn’t say anything. My father finished combing his hair and, finally, spoke.
Okay, then, he said. Get dressed anyway. You are going to the movies with us. We went to see Los Incapturables, a Russian film with Spanish subtitles about a band of four youths who roam Russia in search of adventure. We laughed until we cried. And we never again talked about God, the church, or religion in our home.
In class I began to sit in the back and rarely raised my hand anymore. My grades started to slip, not dramatically, but enough for my mother to notice, which made her visit the classroom even more and question the teacher in greater detail, which made Tania intensify her mocking. Eventually I feigned headaches to avoid going to school. Soon enough the headaches became real.
For every day that I missed school, Tania had a special punishment for me. I was to complete, at lunchtime, five hundred lines of whatever humiliating sentence she could come up with: I will not talk in class. I will not miss class. I will not be late. My mother learned to imitate my handwriting so she could help me finish the assignments on time. I began to skip lunch to complete my lines, or if I did manage to eat, I would throw up on the way back to school for the afternoon session.
One day the teacher asked me to stay after class and accompany her to the principal’s office. I wondered what I had done this time to deserve such humiliation.
The principal, a stocky and stern woman named Iraida, was waiting behind her desk when we arrived. In front of her, she had a file with my name on it. She said something about being concerned for my future, worried that my behavior