When Suegra declared that she’d be traveling with us to El Salvador, I knew that drama was only a plane ride away – What I didn’t know is just how much.
I can’t give too many details or show too many photos regarding all this, out of respect for Carlos, but here are the basics of what happened.
A Tía picked us all up at the airport. After a quick roadside stop for agua de coco, we went straight to Carlos’s childhood home in Soyapango.
I was kind of expecting open warfare, gunshots, tattooed mareros dealing drugs on street corners in broad daylight – but Soyapango was pretty much as I remembered it – a rough neighborhood to be sure, graffiti on walls and barbed wire on rooftops, but calm on the surface, at least at that moment on that particular day.
I sighed a sigh of relief. It wasn’t the safest place for us to stay, but I was prepared to spend time in the neighborhood – to sleep in Carlos’s modest childhood home for several nights and let the children experience the real El Salvador that you can’t get while staying in a hotel.
We pulled up to Carlos’s house and the outside looked uncared for, but not to the point that I worried. The house badly needed a fresh coat of teal paint – mareros had taken care of that in their own way with red graffiti.
Inside the house, was another story all together. For one thing, it was extremely hot, (even locals complained about the heat while we were there.) We arrived from the airport needing to use the bathroom and dehydrated, but the house’s water was turned off. Once our eyes adjusted to the darkness of the house, we became aware of its condition. Due to lack of maintenance, the house had deteriorated in various ways – it seemed abandoned. Suegra had sold most of her furniture, (who knows why), and what was left was dusty, dirty, infested by rodents – and totally unsanitary. I was fully prepared for poverty, but when it comes to cleanliness, (especially for my children) – I don’t compromise.
Carlos’s face registered the same look of shock, disappointment, sadness – anger. To see his childhood home in total disrepair, and to have to show his children that this is where he lived, really hurt him.
For an hour or two, Carlos quietly tried to figure out what to do – stood in the window of the enclosed patio, shaking his head and sighing. It was clear we couldn’t stay there.
Finally Carlos confronted his mother – asked what happened, why she hadn’t kept up the house – why she had lied to us about its condition before we arrived. She became defensive and told him nothing was wrong with the house – that it was virtually the same as it had been when we visited 12 years ago – that in fact, she felt it was actually improved. She denied the damage, safety hazards and unsanitary conditions that were right there before our eyes, told us we were being snobby. It was clear Suegra was seriously delusional or that she thought we were incredibly stupid.
After a walk through the neighborhood to buy bottled water, (because at this point the boys and I were becoming physically ill from dehydration), Carlos calmly told her we were going to have a friend take us to a hotel. We had told Suegra all along that we would spend some time in a hotel, so we were just going there earlier than we had planned, but Suegra acted like this option was totally unheard of. Suegra exploded with accusations and manipulations, yelling – first at Carlos, then at me, then attempting to drag the children into it.
“Tracy! Of all people, I never would have expected this from you!” she said.
We grabbed our suitcases while she cursed us to a Tío who had come by to say “hello.” We piled into the friend’s car while she called a Tía on the phone to tell her what horrible people we were. We drove off as she compared me to one of Carlos’s old girlfriends. (A woman he dated before coming to the U.S. who Suegra hated for stealing her son away from her.)
The first few hours were emotional and ugly – this isn’t what I wanted the children to remember, but I was proud of Carlos. He took care of me and the kids as he promised. He didn’t give into his mother’s manipulation. Despite what we wrestled with as we tried to sleep that first night, in the darkness of the hotel room, we agreed we wouldn’t let this ruin our time in El Salvador – and we didn’t.
A few days later Suegra called demanding that Carlos hand over her plane ticket so she could change it. She didn’t fly back with us and hasn’t spoken to us since we gave it to her, (which was another drama filled encounter.) She’s telling family members and friends that she won’t move back in with us. What she doesn’t know is that if she changes her mind and decides to stop playing games, the door is not open for her to return this time.
Yesterday Suegra had a Tía call and say she was in the hospital with chest pains due to the stress Carlos had caused her. We found out from another (more honest) Tía, that the story was completely fabricated, that Suegra never went to the hospital and was perfectly healthy.
Carlos is dealing with a lot emotionally right now. Not only is he struggling with missing El Salvador and his best friend who he became very much re-attached to, but the drama with Suegra is far from over. For one, her [former] bedroom here is still full of her things. She will eventually need to come collect her stuff, which, I can tell you from past experience, doesn’t go well. She will drag this whole situation out for years, or for the rest of her life.
Carlos understands that he deserves to be treated with respect and love, and that those who don’t treat him that way, do not deserve to be a part of his life. He knows that at some point, one has to stand up and refuse to be abused any further – It’s harder to follow through when the person being abusive is one’s own mother.