by Koylan Massiell Gomez
Awoken by the calderos slammed on the kitchen floor. The first time she saw her grandfather intoxicated, she was about nine years old, visiting her grandmother in the Dominican Republic.
She hated staying at her grandmother's house—more like a run-down shack made of concrete; the air was always damp and moist—one room with bodies on top of bodies. Abuelo returned from his late nights hanging out in the barrio, talking shit with the motoconchos. Everyone would slowly wake up, taking turns telling him to be quiet, that his granddaughters were sleeping. Still, he was entirely uncontrollable.
She remembered how scared she felt—a feeling lodged between that wall of her brain, rising whenever she sensed things were out of her control. Feeling heartbroken for her grandmother, who had endured decades of alcoholism and verbal abuse, which explained why she barely spoke and nestled in the sala, staring out in silence. Tired. Run down. Defeated.
Abuelo arrived at church drunk;
he insisted it brought him closer to God.
When her mother came of age, she was sent off to live with some relatives, where she fell in love with her father—a nobody, yearning to be somebody, determined to get out of the campo, and knew his only way out would be through education. With three siblings before him, his parents couldn't afford to send them to college.
Impatient, he began stealing his father's chickens from the farm and selling them on the side of the road, stuffing them with rocks and selling them for just a few more coins. Everyone thought the kid was an idiot until they got home and saw the insides of their chicken. Who was the idiot, then?
There were days he had nothing to take home for dinner. The pressure of choosing between receiving an education or acquiring a job to provide for his children was unbearable—blurring those emotions with Brugal than facing them head-on. Drinking gradually became part of the daily routine. Having saved enough for a semester’s tuition, he rode to the university on his horse and carriage and told her hungry mom that his daughters would reap from all his efforts. He proudly graduated with his degree while simultaneously becoming a master at concealing his alcoholism.
My father would have a bottle in his suitcase,
in his car, and his office drawer.
The way he carried around his asthma pumps
in case of an emergency.
While her parents remained together, her mother endured years of verbal abuse and infidelity—succumbing to severe depression and being malnourished. She eventually left her life love for the states; she confessed that moving saved her life and regrets having left him sooner.
Her mother met a man, and within months, they were married, revealing that what she loved most about him was que el siempre respetaba a sus hijas. Her stepfather was quiet and reserved; he never felt the need to contribute to any conversation. Emotionally absent, her mother was reminded of her childhood; he felt like home. As she grew up, he became a body, slowly blending in with the furniture until one day, he disappeared.
As an adult, she wonders about the women in her life and how they came to choose their partners. Each relationship derived from a need to survive, a familiar unhealed wound, not from compatibility. Her mother confessed that when you are poor, you pray for a man that can provide financial stability; all else is secondary.
It didn’t matter
that these men were made
up of broken pieces
of all the men missing in their lives.
What mattered was
a roof over your head
and a semi-full stomach.
No seas mala agradecida.
Subconsciously, we mirror behaviors observed in our youth. Unknowingly choosing relationships that remind us of the familiar. The body is unable to distinguish the difference between right and wrong until it has experienced true healing.
Her stepfather was not an alcoholic; he was emotionally absent. Her father physically absent. Her grandfather both emotionally and physically absent. Her grandmother, having been traumatized by the negligence she endured from her parents, allowed it to ripple down to her children. Her grandmother had a 3rd-grade education and could barely write her name, but she raised seven children unaided. Her mother had to learn how to survive in these circumstances and, to this day, cannot sit with herself; every day is a battle to survive. Her mother expresses that sitting in silence feels like drowning. “Y Quien quiere hacer eso? Who wants to drown intentionally?” But mami, aren't you tired of swimming?
The silence is unbearable, slowly creeping in like black molasses, suffocating her. She enjoys her busy home because of her need to fill an infinite void—an emptiness that constant distractions can only serve. Her mother rejects stillness because, for her, there’s a hurricane whirring within, and she exhaustively tries to tame it every day. Tell me, how do you tame the wind?
Pero si mami supiera que
sometimes we’re required
to drown. To die.
To rise and die. Rise
and die. Required for us
to mourn ourselves,
to unfailingly show up
to our emotional funeral.
A repetitious theme plagues her family, that of the woman enduring destructive, toxic relationships. Conceding that they weren’t given the tools to know what better is, they haven’t pushed through the healing needed to identify a healthy partner or spent enough time alone to learn how to love themselves first. It’s not as simple as saying these women can do better.
Aware that her mother is limited. She consistently made herself available to men, reminding her of her father and childhood disarray. She never imagined that the baton of raising fatherless children would, sooner or later, be handed down to her.
When we first met,
Oh, the countless red flags.
Sneak a bottle
into the movies.
Spend every dime. All acts screamed
Learning to forgive myself
I deserved that sort of love.
for holding onto that void
I failed my children.
She mustered the courage to discuss her failed relationship, and her distraught mother confirmed they were cursed. She opposed such ideology because a curse removes all responsibility from those involved, as if they have no control or their choices have no influence.
She disclosed that she was in therapy and was forced to reflect on her relationship patterns. Mami believes that what's in the past should remain in the past, unable to understand that nothing remains hidden until we make peace with those experiences. Her mother has difficulty reaching a space of emotional vulnerability. Her mother’s survival instinct was clasping onto everything until her cup ran over. How can you undo all the years of suppressed emotions?
My daughter helped me
run my bath today. She
brought me a candle
asked me which book
I wanted to read.
She hugged me and
we sat in that embrace
until she was ready
to let go. I could hear her
whisper to my son, “Mommy
is having some me time.”
I smiled at all the ways
I’m showing up
for my children
by first showing up
Tired of feeling like she’s drowning, making excuses, pointing a finger, and refusing to accept blame, she looks inward. Eagerly initiating the healing she desperately longs for, she sips from her family’s forbidden cup of overflowing trauma.
Perhaps she won’t leave behind a financial legacy. Still, the generational trauma plaguing her family will be remedied, beginning with her and rippling down to her beloved children—she offers them the gift of a loving and stable home free of addiction and mental health battles. Bestowing onto them the wisdom of self-love.
Koylan Massiell Gomez is a poet and essayist with fervent adoration for the written word. Born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Corona, Queens, Koylan’s exposure to Caribbean culture, music, and language infuses her writing, through which she explores her Dominicanyol upbringing and portrays her dual identity. She is the proud mom of two beautiful school-aged children and resides in New York City.
Koylan graduated from Hunter College with a major in Creative Writing. Her literary work broaches love and spirituality, being a minority, and healing generational trauma. She is featured in Spanglish Voces online journal. Dominican Writers Association has published her poetry and essay in the #dwaCuenticos chapbooks: La Doña: Essays on the Dominican Matriarch and Dominican Moms Be Like.