I'm participating in a writing group that my friend, Matt, put together for people who are looking to be encouraged to write more frequently. This is the fourth of 8 "assignments" I'll be posting as a part of this project. The assignment was to write something fictional, which is WAY outside of my comfort zone. While this story is fictional, it resembles the truth for far too many families.
The pale pink dress hung, crammed into the back of the closet, shamed and rejected. The plastic bag from the formal wear store was askew and only pulled halfway down, leaving the crumpled bottom of the dress exposed, its tulle layers limp like a wilted flower. The dress had been shoved into exile in a fit of anger – it was a disappointment and the very sight of it brought feelings of helplessness and disgust to the 14-year-old girl who hated it.
It was the wrong color.
“Just don’t cause any trouble,” was the mantra that had rung in her ears for the past three years. “If you don’t get in trouble, they won’t start asking questions.” This was the reason her Mamá never complained when her paycheck was less than it should have been at the hotel where she cleaned rooms every morning. It was the reason her tía always drove their old Nissan Sentra at least 2 miles an hour under the speed limit. For the first two years that they had been in this country, their entire lives had been structured around 2 basic goals: avoid all interaction with law enforcement, and of course, get their papers. Inés didn’t really understand how the papers worked, but they always made her think of the golden tickets in that movie about the boy and chocolate factory she had seen once. Everyone she knew wanted them, but they seemed nearly impossible to come by. She had just started to believe they might actually achieve that coveted status of “legal”, which would allow their lives to move happily forward; when, about a year ago, everything had come undone. It was all her fault.
When they had first arrived in the U.S. it had been a comfort to live with her aunt and uncle. She had felt so vulnerable and alone, barely speaking any English and homesick for her grandparents’ home where she had spent her childhood. She had felt secure, sleeping on the mattress on the floor with her sister who was just two years younger while mama and baby Victor shared the twin bed against the opposite wall. Her aunt and uncle, her mama’s sister and her husband, shared their room with their two little daughters, Luz and Susana. But then, Mamá had gotten Tía Beatriz a job with her at the hotel. The two women left before sunrise every morning, leaving Tío Lorenzo to make sure the older girls caught the bus and to care for the little ones until the women came back in the afternoon. He worked in the evenings, cleaning offices.
Inés had been glad that all the adults finally had jobs, but she didn’t like being alone with Tio Lorenzo. She didn’t like the things he did to her in the early morning hours, when the women had left. For months she had been silent, believing his threats that he would kick them out of the apartment if she said anything at all. She had been brave and silent, to protect her family; but on the day when she couldn’t keep it in anymore she told her best friend, María, who told their social studies teacher, who called the police. María also told her Papá, who had been angry that the girls told their teacher about a private family matter. He had called Tío Lorenzo to warn him. By the time the officers showed up at Inés’ apartment, Lorenzo was on a bus that was already in a different state, headed back south.
“Why do you hate us? You are a little liar!” Tía Beatriz had screamed at her before she unleashed a string of obscenities. “You’ve ruined it for all of us!” The next day Beatriz told Mama that they had to leave and find their own apartment – that she couldn’t even look at Inés. Neither woman could afford to live alone, though, so the living arrangement continued as it had been, only Lorenzo was in Mexico and Beatriz no longer spoke to her niece.
Mamá was more understanding. “You are a strong girl,” she had told Inés. She said she was proud that her daughter stood up for herself; and even though money was tighter than ever, Mamá said they would still plan a quinceañara to celebrate her fifteenth birthday. Inés had looked forward to her quince for as long as she could remember. She had dreamed of the music, being presented as a woman at mass, and the dance she and her friends would prepare. Most of all, she had dreamed of her dress. She knew she would feel like a princess in her big, white gown. But now … well, it wasn’t what it should have been. Mamá agreed that what had happened was Lorenzo’s fault; but she said it would be false for Inés to stand before God in Mass wearing a symbol of purity. They bought a beautiful dress that she should have loved – the perfect shape and style that should have made Inés feel like the princess she had imagined. But she didn’t love it. She hated it.
It was the wrong color.