These are mostly true but very exaggerated stories as we had to emulate the tone and style of The House on Mango Street with our own autobiographical stories.
(“The House on Mango Street”)
We moved to my house when I was about five. Through the entire moving process I screamed, kicked, and cried in protestation. But to no avail as we still moved to this house. At the time, I was an only child. But the time I was six, this was no longer the case. I got a little sister when I asked for a puppy, and the playroom got turned into a nursery much to my dismay. She got the bigger room because the front facing window made me nervous, I had watched too many movies and thought a burglar would come in at night. That never happened though.
Our house was new construction, and to me it seemed like it was on the edge of the universe because through the back fence you could see cornfields until I was about ten. A few blocks down there is a forest. I said we lived in the middle of nowhere. But we lived in a dull yellow, one-story house that I was determined to hate because I didn’t want to move. I am not the biggest fan of change.
Our house has two round, frosted windows in the front like eyes glazed over. Most of the back wall consists of rectangular windows overlooking the admittedly small backyard. The floors were tile, and seemed extra cold to my feet that up to this point had only ever lived in a place where the floors were carpet. I got used to it soon enough, but I complained constantly. Hoping this would convince my parents to let us move back to our old house.
There is no defining line in the front yard to show where our house ends and the neighbors begins. We usually end up mowing the grass because otherwise it ends up
looking like a jungle. A knee high, suburban jungle, but a jungle all the same. We have bushes right up against the wall of the house, and a tree off to the side that is perpetually overgrown. It’s too long branches sagging into the driveway. At night it forms a hand hovering over the yard. When I was younger I thought the tree looked sad, bending under the weight of its own leaves.
A lot of things changed when we moved to this house. Like the fact we were now closer to family and didn’t have to drive for so long on a daily basis anymore. And the fact I got to see my cousins more often as well. And then things changed again when my sister was born. I wasn’t an only child anymore. I changed from private to public school. The walls were repainted as well. I remember I wanted to paint my walls this bright turquoise color to match my Winx Club fairy poster. But we accidently ended up with baby blue. I sulked for days before I realized I liked this new color. We haven’t changed it since.
My house is the home I have lived in for eight years with my parents, my sister, and the pets we have had through the years. My house is one story, and is painted a pale yellow on the outside. The cornfields I used to see through the fence are now a park. And the backyard now has a pool. And my house looks different now from when we first moved in, because now my house is home.
(“Boys and Girls”)
My sister and I are six years apart. 1999 and 2005. Both of us born in October. Mine the 8th, and hers the 23rd. She has dishwater-blond hair like silk. And the kind of baby blue eyes newborns have, like she just never grew into her real eye color. Compared to me, my hair was brown-curls when I was her age but has turned into a light-brown/dark-blonde mass of frizz. Partially due to the humidity South Florida is famous for, part because I dyed my hair purple in middle school. My eyes used to be blue like hers and now they’re this hazel-gold-brown-green color that changes by the day.
I am almost 15. Almost old enough to drive. Almost an adult. Almost about to almost graduate. Almost about to go to college. Almost old enough to have to worry about it. She is almost 9. Almost in the fifth grade.
I’m a Libra, she’s a Scorpio.
We couldn’t be more different. We aren’t very close, but a six-year age differencewill do that to you.
We are very different, but she’s my sister. And I love her.
I think that’s all that matters.
My name means “Listener”, which is funny because I love to talk. My name means unoriginal, it was one of the top five names of my birthyear. There is always at least one other girl or boy who shared my name. My name means never being told apart from those who share it. It means three tries before you get it straight which one I am. My name is Samantha. It is too long, too common, and sounds too much like an American Girl doll. I go by Sam. People say Sam is a boy’s name. I say its my name. I am only ever called Samantha by professional strangers (i.e teachers, doctors) and when I am trouble. Though in that case, I am called Samantha Aileen Bonge. My full name, middle and all.
Samantha is a mouthful. Its awkward in the mouth of non-English speaking relatives like an ill-fitting retainer. It doesn’t quite fit. They inevitably mispronounce it as Samanta, no h. The name Samantha comes from a TV I have never seen but both my parents have. The name Aileen comes from my mother’s sister, chosen because it begins with an A, and my father’s stepsisters and their daughters all have middle names beginning with A. Aileen means compromise, two families coming together. It means tradition, and forever being mistaken as my aunt’s child. As the other granddaughter, it means immutably being called Alien by kids who can’t read the Spanish name.
Bonge is a name that doesn’t exist. The sole relic left of a man I have never met, my father’s father. His name was too difficult to say in English, so it was shortened to Bonge. Bonge is like the name of a ghost. Maybe it existed once upon a time. Maybe it belonged to a family with twelve kids in a small Italian village. Maybe the father was fair-haired and the mother was brunette. Maybe their children were a dishwater-colored mix of the two and they shared the name. But Bonge doesn’t exist; it belongs only to the four people that live in my house. Bonge belongs to my parents, my sister, and me. Bonge sounds like a fairytale in a language you can’t read. My name is Samantha Aileen Bonge, it means listener, tradition, fairytale. But I go by Sam. And that’s me.
(“Cathy Queen of Cats”)
Unlike most kids who have a dog or a fish-tank, I have cats. Three of them to be exact. Max, Angel, and Jackie.
None of them are purebred. I don’t actually know what breed they are, any of them. They aren’t fancy hairless cats that everyone wants but are terrified of. They’re all rescues. They’re street cats.
Max came to our door during a thunderstorm before I was even born. He is about 16 years old now, at least in human years. He is an old, fat cat. He is diabetic as well.
Every morning my dad has to inject him with insulin. He is black and white like a checkerboard. But now his fur is slowly turning grey. He has trouble jumping up onto the bed and couch now, but it doesn’t stop him. He’s long out grown leaving dead mice as presents, but he does like to follow people around the house and hang out in the shower. He must be the only cat in existence that likes showers, running water and everything. He still hates baths though.
He doesn’t like my sister much. But he likes to sleep on my bed sometimes. My mom says he used to sleep in my crib. He’s been with us my whole life. My mom calls him
my big brother. I don’t know what I’m going to do when he’s gone. He wouldn’t be the first pet to die, but he’d be the first I’d never truly lived without. I don’t think he remembers life without me either.
We got Angel next. She’s the only girl. She’s white except for the grey on her tail and ears. Her fur is longer and fluffier than the boys’. She’s also far more antisocial than the others. She doesn’t really like anyone except me. I was maybe seven when we got her. We found her outside our church the day we went to sing for Easter. My parents wouldn’t let me pet her; worried she had rabbis and that I’d get filthy. I begged and begged to take her home. I felt bad for her all alone, little kids throwing chunks of granola bars and pebbles at her. She’s about 8-years old now, maybe 9. She was black with dirt and grime when we found her. Like the monster from black lagoon from that kids book. Skinny like a skeleton too. But I named her Angel before I ever knew the color of her fur.
Of course, she took some time to get used to our house. She’d hide under beds. Refuse to eat if anyone was anyone near her. She tore things up at night with her claws and teeth. I woke up on day to find the remains of foam blocks everywhere like a rainbow threw-up. She liked to bring us present too. Rats, lizards, small snakes, dragonflies. You name it. Their dead corpses haunted the hallways.
But she calmed down eventually. But before then, she managed to break her leg by getting it caught on a tablecloth. It was wrapped up in a green cast for a few weeks. We stopped using tablecloths after that.
Max took to having a “little sister” fairly well. He took care of her. He also once got in a fight because of her. With a real street cat that tried attacking her. My dad had to rescue Max. It was scary. But kind of cute too.
The last of the cats is Jack. He’s orange with brownish stripes. Like a perpetually infant tiger cub. I had wanted to name him Simba or Tiger. But my dad nixed those ideas right away. I was famous for awful names. So we picked Jack and that was the end of it, Jack was more my sister’s cat. She calls him Jackie. He’s the one that gets struck on the roof and drags bats and dying birds into the house. We got him from the FurBaby adoption thing at PetCo, he was going to be put down. His name had been Prancer, because his entire litter was named after Santa’s reindeer. I think that’s why he loves the roof so much.
He’s about 5 or 6 now. He’s smaller than the other two. But still bigger than when e got him. He’s fully grown now. He’s the one that attacks for feet under the covers and sleeps on the pillow next to your head. Guarding you through the night.
Blood is Thicker than Water
(“Louie, his Cousin, and his Other Cousin”)
Most people don’t really understand the phrase “Blood is thicker than Water”. It comes from a longer quote, “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb”. Most people see the first and know it means that family is the most important bond. But according to the second, the bonds you chose to form (i.e. Friends), are stronger than those forged by familial ties.
I like to think of it as saying some ties you make are more important than the ones we are born into. That there is something more to family than just sharing blood. Like marriage for example, you chose to form that bond.
I am very close to my maternal grandparents, very close to some of my cousins. But I am also very close to some family members to whom I am not strictly related to. With whom I do not share a single drop of blood.
Like my Mama Rosario. Who is not my mother or stepmother, but rather my grandmother’s best friend of almost sixty years. She practically raised me. She and my
grandmother have been friends since they were six years old in Cuba. For all intents and purposes, she is family. Though we are not really related.
Or take my tia Lily. She bought the blanket they wrapped me in when they brought me home from the hospital. Her daughter Alejandra calls me cousin Sammy. And yet I am not related to her. But she has been my mom’s best friend for about 20 years.
I am a firm believer in the fact that family can be more than blood.
Because of this, I have more cousins than I can count.
Here Not Everywhere
(“Those Who Don’t”)
I have always lived in or at the very least near Miami. We moved to Miami from Miami Lakes. Those are the only two places I’ve lived. In those two houses. I have never even left the East Coast. At least, not that I can remember.
Miami is a big city, even when you live in the suburb type neighborhoods like Kendall. Here we do not talk to our neighbors. We do not send children outside to play alone even for a minute. You don’t walk home alone, especially at night. Not even if it’s a block away.
Here, flip-flops in winter are acceptable.
Here, we roll our eyes at tourists who squeal at the sight of the beach, because we are all so bored of sand and waves.
Here, we scoff at sunblock and silently suffer sunburns because we are too used to it to be bothered by the red peeling skin.
Here, humidity is never less than 50%. And the temperature dropping below seventy degrees means its time to break out the sweatshirts and boots. It might as well be snowing. Most people here haven’t seen snow once. Haven’t even seen the leaves change colors. But ask any Ten-year-old and they could tell you exactly when its safe and when its not to be outside during a thunderstorm. Because why should a little bit of rain stop us from running errands. Because you’ve never seen a rainstorm until you’ve seen the 15-minute flash flood Miami gives you. There’ll be water up to your knees.
Here, almost everyone speaks Spanish. And no one looks at you twice if you switch languages half way through a sentence.
Forgetting a word in one language, or only knowing it in Spanish is commonly accepted.
But anywhere else, a bathing suit any where but the pool is out of place. As is a sweater when it’s hotter than 50 degrees.
Anywhere else, forgetting how to say something in English makes people think you hit our head and are speaking in tongues.
But remember, anywhere else, there’s always someone who has never seen the ocean. Never been to Disneyworld.
Everywhere is different. And Miami is sort of messed up. But so is anywhere else. But Miami is home. No matter where we end up going to college.