This post is a continuation of my last one (in case you're interested)
About 2 years into our new life, things were starting to look up. I had made some friends (some of which would become my lifelong best friends), my dad was already working in architecture, we had moved to a nicer area and were enrolled in a better school and I even had my first ever job, everything was definitely better.
Working as a teenager is not something I would have done had we stayed in Venezuela but I absolutely loved the fact that I could do it here; making my own money from the time I was 15 really taught me to be a hard worker and to value the effort that comes with it. I learned responsibility, work ethic, discipline, and many other skills that would prove useful in my adult life as well. I also bought my first car with my hard-earned money, so that was definitely a highlight of my first job!
See, coming to the United States was a CHOICE, there wasn’t a pressing financial or political reason to leave Venezuela at the time we did, we were just another family moving to a new country; I think my parents saw it more as a way for their children to grow up in a country with better opportunities all around, but the change did come at a price and I’d be lying if I said that even though things were better, it wasn’t a tough road. Choice aside, I am sure my sister Erika was a big motivator for that choice; she had been born in Texas in the late ’70s while my parents were in college and due to a case of medical malpractice, she ended up with mental retardation. Life in Venezuela wasn’t easy for her as a disabled person and I can imagine that it was very difficult for my parents to see her grow up in a place where there were no special considerations for anyone with her condition. In coming to the United States, my parents saw an opportunity for Erika to have a better life, to live in a place where she’d be treated humanely, somewhere she would be seen as a “handicapable” person and not some burden to society. And that is exactly what we found here; great special ed programs, incredible doctors, the right medications, the right approach. And because Erika was an American citizen all of the immigration paperwork would be made easier for the rest of the family, there was a clear path for us to become legal permanent residents and subsequent citizens once Erika turned 21; meanwhile, my dad held a professional visa (we were his dependents) while we waited for her to reach the age where she could petition the whole family.
But that day never came because Erika passed away unexpectedly on December 23rd, 1998, a month before her 21st birthday; our life was changing again, our family was crushed. Erika’s death is the single most shattering event we have gone through as a family; a part of us died with her and it took a long time for the devastation to set in and even longer for us to come out of it (not like it has ever been possible to feel completely normal again!).
With Erika’s passing came a lot of sadness, tears, setbacks, and a whole lot of reconfiguring of our plans and our lives in general. Our family was broken, our hearts were shattered and to add insult to injury, we had no place to go back to now because Venezuela was just starting its own nightmare with Hugo Chavez ascending to the presidency (if you know, you know!) and while I am sure my parents briefly considered the possibility of going back, the newly installed government quickly persuaded them to stay...and so we did.
I’d like to think that God used Erika for the very important purpose of bringing us here; it is no coincidence that her life inspired our move and the timing of her death cemented our stay. I am thankful every single day for having had the blessing of Erika in my life; there isn’t a day that I don’t think of her and I know everything that happened was part of the plan... and broken heart and all we needed to start over…
(To be continued)