I was homesick. Worse: I was desperate for human interaction.

I settled into my new department and tried to focus on making money. I had my work cut out for me. While it was a new department, it was still, for the most part, the same entitled customer and there were more associates on this sales floor. Gabby gave me a quick training on my first day. She was due to go on vacation and wasn’t able to spend as much time with me, but I knew the routine.

I was deeper in the red than I wanted to admit. I had to cash out some of my rewards points from different credit cards for money to eat. Because I had stopped paying a Citi Bank credit card that I could no longer make the minimum payments on, Sears, which is also owned by Citi, canceled my credit once it expired. I was two months overdue on my car payments and worried that I would have to turn it into the bank. Plus, I’m sure I was going through some sort of PTSD from having to fight so hard with Nicole to keep my job. I was exhausted. I was sad.

One girl, I think her name was Tiffany, caught me crying one day and tried to console me. She had just gotten married and had such pretty hair, and when she saw me tucked away in the corner, red-faced and sniffling because I missed my home so much, she held me and let me cry on her shoulder. She was very nice and I will never forget that.

But forming friendships at work is always difficult, especially when you need them more than they need you. Jen and I formed a friendship and have continued to maintain contact, but she was the exception. Even then we still don’t see each other often enough as we’d like. The couple of times we’ve gone out she had to pay, and that bothered me. Everyone else was friendly enough, but outside of work they were back to being strangers.

Even though Tati had moved out and had left me with Madeline, we still hung out together from time to time. It depended on whether we were both free and whether I had the gas. But Tati’s apartment was something of a refuge from Madeline and work. There, I didn’t have to explain myself. I could smoke with abandon and just be with someone who understood me enough to know that I didn’t need to fill every silence with chatter.

Exhibit B

There were a couple of times Tati left me home alone in her apartment while she went out with friends. This was a bit irritating, especially when she took hours to get back, but I’ve never had a problem with being alone and didn’t pay it much mind. However every time I was at Tati’s, Madeline texted me to find out when I was going back home, which irritated me a bit more. I had my own keys and didn’t have a curfew, and while part of it, I’m sure, was out of kindhearted concern, I also knew that Madeline kept tabs on Tati’s social media accounts often enough to simply want to know what was going on.

Getting along with Madeline was also hard. It didn’t help that I was depressed about not making money. Almost every day I would go on about how I wasn’t making enough to live on comfortably, that I was sure as hell not making the kind of money I was used to, and I’m sure that must have been irritating. When I wasn’t going on about money, I would lock myself in my room and stare at the ceiling, or watch movies on my Kindle if the signal was decent.

Madeline was older than me by only five years, but she also had five children and different priorities than I. She had to take her children to school, put food on the table and make sure that the bills were paid. I’m sure that she would’ve liked for me to be a second set of hands around the house, but I was too afraid of getting dumped with child-rearing responsibilities that I proceeded with caution.

I was responsible for cleaning the bathrooms, but Shorty was still not properly paper trained and would leave a mess all over the bathroom floors, and I thought it unfair that I was inadvertently responsible for cleaning it. I could’ve done the dishes more but still refused to because the boys had a habit of leaving the mess for the girls to clean, something that I thought Madeline should’ve been more vigilant.

When I did clean, I made sure to do a job that my own mother would be proud of. For Mother’s Day, I cleaned the apartment from top to bottom with Ajax and bleach while Madeline was out with the kids. I wanted her to come back to a clean home and scrubbed everything down to a sparking shine, down to the bathtub floor and walls, something I had learned they never did.

I remember texting Ceasar before I started, saying I was going to show these bitches how it’s done. Then I read my own text and wrote: And then I wonder why I don’t have any friends. He replied that I should never change. Not for anyone.

When Madeline and I did interact about things that concerned her, we were never on the same page. For example, one of the first times I cooked for her, she sat down and before taking a forkful, threw me a look and said, “Vamos a ver si ya te puedes casar.”

It’s a phrase that I have been hearing my whole life, and I hate it. I gave her an earful about it. It was bad enough that she was trying to evaluate me and police me for male approval, even when there no men in the room, but I refuse to let someone gauge my worth as a human being based on my marriageabilty. I told her never to use that phrase with me again and my reaction was extreme enough that she complied.

But her priorities were something else. a little after that she got sick with a very sore throat. She told me that the doctors told her she’d need surgery, but she couldn’t figure out who could help take care of the kids, sending them and greeting them from school. We both agreed that I couldn’t. I was either out too early or back too late, and we both tried to come up with a solution.

I then suggested leaving the kids with their father. Every other weekend the kids would stay with him, and it didn’t seem unreasonable to see if they could stay with him while Madeline was in the hospital. But the moment I made the suggestion Madeline immediately got agitated. She said that he never came to see them, that he was a bad parent, that I was taking his side. I told her this was an issue about her health, not custody issues, but she wouldn’t budge. She told me he didn’t deserve to be with the children, that he’d “win” and tried to ask me if it was fair to ask her to “reward” him. I was livid.

I started to tell her about my mother, about the lengths my mother went through to make sure my sister and I had a father figure, the sacrifices she’d made to keep the family together, but I stopped myself. I don’t often tell people my mother’s story, and Madeline didn’t deserve to hear it from me. I told her I could pick up the phone and she could, herself, hear from Ramona Obaez herself the kind of sacrifices a parent makes for their children, even when they don’t appreciate it. But she still wouldn’t budge. We argued for over twenty minutes.

The next day she told me, sheepishly, that she had spoken to a friend who had suggested the same thing and told her she was being hard-headed. I made a face. I had made the same point, but it was only when her friend told her the same thing that my opinion was considered valid. Tati later told me that it wasn’t so much that the father didn’t come to see his kids, but that he didn’t make plans according to Madeline’s specific liking, and she was a brat about it. That didn’t surprise me one bit.

Later, much later, during a rare frank conversation, Madeline asked me whether I had thought about giving my mother grandchildren, like some sort of human sacrifice. I told her I’d have to have sex to get pregnant.
She asked me what I was waiting for. I told her I wanted a man who respected me and loved me, someone who could be my best friend and didn’t talk down to me. She told me I’d have a hard time finding that and that it shouldn’t keep me from getting what I wanted. I gave her a look. I don’t know if I want children, I told her. This surprised her. Falling in love was much more important.

It still is.

I tried to meet other people the best way I could: I got online. The results have been inconsistent for the most part. The internet is full of horrible people. And even though they tend to realize that I am worth more than they originally expect, they still try to play the same ordinary games and give me the same lame lines.

One guy I met online had dreams of internet stardom and had no intention of meeting me in person. Whenever I brought it up, he tried to neg me into submission. I remember he simultaneously tried to use the “dark and twisted soul” bit while at the same time blaming me for forcing him to retreat because I was simply pushing too much for him to handle. He was a wanna be Chuck Palahniuk character who believed his own hype. I called bullshit on it, and told him anyone can play the enigmatic card. It’s much, much more difficult to be clear.

Another guy found me through Facebook using a different profile. I thought he was a 25-year-old Puerto Rican from Texas. Instead he was a 36-year-old Mexican from Michigan. Apparently they both knew each other, and when Michigan came clean, he told me that he was mad at Texas and used his Facebook as revenge. I made Michigan call Texas and admit what he’d done while I listened in. After the initial reaction, Texas asked if I was cute.

Michigan kept trying to maintain some sort of relationship, but he thought that after coming clean our conversations would go right back to the same dirty talk as before (I am still a sucker for a dirty talker) but I couldn’t trust him and I wasn’t ready, and finally I told him he was really immature. He lashed out and told me he was glad he had messed with my head. I’ve changed my number since.

I’m still reeling from the last guy I met online. It always breaks my heart to see wasted potential. It breaks my heart to see someone who wants to be better but is afraid of change, especially when that change means trusting what I say. He asked me to wait, to be patient, and I am incapable of doing both, and part of me still believes he was giving me more of the same lines, so I walked away for the both of us.

But there is one guy who has yet to let me down, and much of this story isn’t possible without him. My survival in New York sure as hell would not have been possible without his help. His name is Todd, and I was the one who found him. I saw that he was a lawyer and worked in the community, and I was intrigued. I also thought he was Spanish, and completely missed the little field that said, “Jewish”, so when we met in person less than 24 hours later, it was a bit of a surprise.

Seriously, no clue.

But we bonded immediately, and I could tell I had made a friend. I told him everything: Tati leaving me, my disappointment at The Big Fancy, Madeline. I told him what I had left behind. And then I told him my dream: I wanted to write. I wanted to be better. I wanted to make a life here, and going back home, no matter how much my friends begged, felt like giving up.

He agreed. And then he made me a promise: He was going to help me make a life in New York. Because it was the right thing to do, he said. He was going to be my cheerleader and show me the city and help me make a home out of this place.

And he did.