Copyright © Abandoned in a Hammock . All rights reserved.
Puerto Rico, 1961
Leonor had a hunch things weren’t quite right, so she hurried over to the ramshackle house. She heard the newborn screaming, right through the window, as insistent as a siren. “Iris, open up!” she shouted. No response. Leonor pounded her fists on the front door. Bam, bam, bam. No an- swer. Bam, bam, bam. “Iris! Iris!”
The west side window was loose, because Iris had never repaired it. Once Leonor remembered this, she swung back around and forced the window open. Leonor climbed in. She swept up the crying infant from his hammock. He was now nearly blue. She soothed him, holding a bottle of milk to his mouth as he hungrily sucked it down.
“That no good daughter of mine,” Leonor muttered to herself. “Dancing the night away. Leaving her newborn alone in all evening, with a bottle propped up next to him. As if he can feed himself.” Outside, the palm fronds whispered in the hot night. Leonor rocked her precious grand- son until he fell asleep, his gnawing hunger alleviated. How would this child make it, with no mother to speak of? She closed her eyes and said a silent prayer.
That child was me, Hector Abreu, and this is my story...
Creamy white bows trimmed my first dress. I was a five-year-old boy, but my crazy cousin Julia wanted a girl. She slipped a burgundy velvet dress over my head -- the first of many dresses she had bought for me. White ruffled socks and little matching shoes adorned my feet. Julia added burgundy bows to my reddish auburn hair.
“There you go, Iris,” she said. She called me “Iris,” which was my mother’s real name. My fa- ther had allowed Julia, a lovely but wild teenager, to move into our home so she could take care of me. Dad was busy carousing in the little towns that dotted Puerto Rico, enjoying a booze- filled lifestyle. He couldn’t be bothered with me.
Julia had a boyfriend, whom no one in the family knew about. Puerto Rican families were strict back then, and did not allow young girls to date older men -- not to mention married men. Julia had told her married boyfriend that she had a daughter -- which was not true, of course. To keep the ruse going, she dressed me like little girl. I was so young that when I was dolled up like this, I actually looked -- and felt -- like a girl.