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From the Outside, Looking In

Memoirs of an Observer

As long as can remember, I have been an observer. There are two kinds of kids, the ones doing and the ones watching. I was the watcher: extremely shy, awkward and skinny, too afraid to talk. I could watch for hours and never utter a word recording everything around me, taking it all in – every detail –  watching lizards, spiders, birds, and exploring the rich paradise that was Santo Domingo. And reveled in the stories around me carried forward by the women in my life: my mother, aunts, maids, etc.

I have started this site in order to share stories of my family and my life. I have led the most exciting, complex, chaotic life full of ups and downs, adventures, lots of fun, lots of pain, but at the end, full of peace and happiness. I wish I could go back and tell that scared little girl that it is going to be alright. To relax and enjoy the ride.

I would like to dedicate these stories to my daughter, Avaryl, and my nieces and nephews — a generation free of political repression, anxieties, and fear, full of hope and open to every possibility.  I am aware that your generation has no reference to relate to the world I grew up in. Even I, at this age, and in this reality, feel like this was just a movie I saw a long time ago, but, sadly, I know it was all very real.

I am adding entries in the Blog when I can. Short stories of memories, events, or just observations throughout my life. Browse through and comment if you like. I welcome any information you might be able to add to the stories. 

coat-of-arms arvelo-dalmau

Family Crest designed by my father in the late 1940s.


The Baby in the Bottle

When I was 3 years old, my father was finally freed after 14 months in La Victoria jail as a political prisoner. We moved back to our house in the country, and resumed our lives under some semblance of normality.

As soon as my parents got together again, my mother became pregnant. It seems every time they got back together, there was a new baby. My mother was about 5 months pregnant when she and my father went out for a drive. My father didn’t see a speed bump (in the DR they call them sleeping policemen. If they are very high, they are sleeping generals – This was one of those). The car went up and came down really hard. When it did, my mother felt a terrible pain. By the next day, she noticed that she had not felt the baby. The next day she had a miscarriage… She mentioned that the doctor my grandfather called was Julia Alvarez’ father who had not left the island yet. My father was in Plymouth England at the time, so my grandfather took care of everything.

My mother lost the baby. Because it was the DR, other times, and the doctor was a friend of the family, my mother asked to keep the baby. They put the baby in a bottle in some solution and my mother took him home. It was a baby boy.

I know this sounds very Adams Family... but to me, it was a very normal thing. I loved to go in my mother’s closet and see the baby. For years I would sneak into my mother’s closet and look at him for hours. It simply fascinated me. The amazing thing was how much he looked like my father. The baby was perfectly formed with little tiny fingers and toes.

Sometimes I would take my friends in to see the baby in the bottle. They were fascinated as well. This was a nature class not accessible to anyone anywhere.  I felt privileged. 

When my father defected to Puerto Rico, we had to leave the house in a hurry. My mother didn’t know what was going to become of us and she didn’t want the baby to end up in someone else’s hands. So she asked one of our gardeners, Abreu, who had worked for my mother for many years and was trustworthy, to please take the baby and bury him somewhere in the property. He did. We fled, hid in the country for about three months, moved to an apartment in the city where we lived for another 11 months. Meanwhile, the regime took possession all our properties. Then Trujillo was killed and we fled for Puerto Rico. There were all sorts of conflicts in the island for a few months, and in 1962 we returned to the island. After a while, the  government returned my parents' properties. We moved back to our house in the country once more. My mother went to look for Abreu so he could work for us again, but he had passed away while we were gone. Abreu was the only one that knew where the baby was buried and the knowledge went with him to his grave.

Now looking back as a grown up, it seems so surreal to have grown up with a baby in the closet. But, as a mother, I can certainly understand why my mother couldn’t let him go. It was her baby. It was part of her.  And, how many people can say they grew up with a baby brother in a bottle?