new homepage graphic


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.


I am sixty six years old and live a relatively peaceful and "normal" life in a suburb gated community in a small town in Florida. You could say I am happy, but more than anything I am content and feel safe enough to sleep at night. To be able to say these words is a million miles from where I came from and how I got here.

The quest for "normality" has been a long and difficult road with sky-high hurdles to jump over just to achieve the most mundane of things. If you read some of my other stories you will find that my family was persecuted by a dictator, that my father was a political prisoner, that my brother was almost kidnapped, and that, in a nutshell, my life revolved around chaos. This was not of my doing but it was brought on by fate and my parents very naive way to live their lives playing with a devil and think they were not going to get burned. Their burns affected us in ways I am still defining.

After all the political strife,  hiding, fleeing and returning when it was over, civil wars and chaotic political transitional periods, my father was offered a position in Miami as consul for the Dominican Republic in Miami, Florida.  I was 12 when we packed everything and went off on, yet, another adventure. One that would change my life forever in the worse and best ways all at once. The best because I still remember arriving in the US and feeling in every inch of my body that I was finally home. That somehow the stork had dropped me in the wrong country and I had finally rectified her mistake, my mind expanded like it does when you travel, and learned English. The worse because it would expose me to situations that I would have never been exposed to in the Dominican Republic (DR) and one of which would impact my life forever.

As a Dominican girl from the 50s, I was raised with no knowledge. Women were not supposed to know anything about anything other than to take care of a home, their husbands and their kids. They weren't supposed to know how to defend themselves nor what they would be defending themselves from. No one explained anything to me about sexuality, men, procreation or perverts! I also grew up in the outskirts of Santo Domingo in a very rural area, in a house with 9 foot fence and huge gates, and killer dogs in the yard. No one came in or went out without permission, since the failed attempt to kidnap my brother. We thought we had left all that chaos behind. Unfortunately, in Miami we were like fish out of water in a culture that forced you to be on your own more than we were accustomed to. Nothing had prepared us for city living and the American way of life. Even though my mother went to college in NYC, she lived in a dorm in a very high end finishing school for wealthy girls and nothing would have prepared her for this. My mother who was used to many servants, had four children in school, a brand new baby and my father who, being a Latin husband, did absolutely no housework at all. So, to say that my mother was overwhelmed is an understatement. Because I was a girl, I got to work and help my mother with all the house chores and taking care of my sister and my brothers, something that I resented for years. On school mornings, I sat alone on a small fence in front of the consulate to wait for my school bus, while my mother walked or drove my brothers to their school nearby. I went to a private school in Coral Gables so I was picked up by the school bus.

One morning, while waiting for the bus in my usual spot, an older, very white man, balding, very thin, very sickly looking and probably in his 60’s, came up and engaged me in chit chat. Something inside me made me fear this man and I started moving away. That is when he sat next to me and tried to touch me in the crotch with his trembling hands while he said “give it to me”. I was the perfect pray,  I had never seen a naked man, didn’t know anything about sex, still played with my Barbie dolls, and really had no way to defend myself nor understand his actions. But I knew this guy was a creep and I had to get away from him. I said no and ran to the house. I didn't get raped, nor was I battered and it was over in seconds. But, what it did to me as a child was no different than a full rape. It killed the child I had been up to that point.

I didn’t run upstairs to tell my parents. I sat at the bottom of the stairs crying and shaking with fear, anger, indignation and shame. Unfortunately, instead of feeling that I could go to my parents and get their support and protection, I felt that I couldn't and that I would be blamed somehow for what happened. I pulled myself together and proceeded to go back out and get on the school bus. I cried and shook all over all the way to school. I never told a soul until I told my husband years after we had been married.

The happy but shy kid that played with my brothers, who was in every school play, who wanted to be a ballet dancer, turned into someone that never left the house and was frightened of men for most of her life. By the time I was 16, I would shake with fear if a boy even looked at me in school. Forget having anyone touch me or have any kind of relationship. I stopped looking at people in the eye. I questioned every sign of affection a man might have towards me. It became so bad that I would go to school every day because I had to. I would not participate in anything or have anything to do with anyone. I only spoke if I was spoken to. I am a relatively smart person and yet, no one would ever have known this because, if the teacher called on me to read or answer any question, which I might even know , my eyes got full of tears making it so I couldn’t see the book and my mind went blank. This went on through all of high school. I was a mess. I tried to cover it up by acting dumb, but it only made things worse. 

I would get home from school in the  afternoons and go to my bedroom. I would close the door and start my daily “Mia Culpa” ritual. I would start crying because I was stupid and ugly. It didn’t help that I was 5’ 6” and weighed 94 pounds and had braces to correct the buck teeth left from years of sucking my thumb. It was an unimaginable mental torture. Sometimes my mother would come in and catch me crying. She would ask why I was crying and I honestly didn’t have an answer for her. How do you explain that you are worth nothing. That you don’t want to come out of your room because you don’t think you can deal with what is outside and yet what is inside is worse. So, I spent most of my time in my room reading, painting and listening to music by myself. The outside world was not for me.

I graduated from high school and went on to work at a boutique and model for them on TV. It has always shocked me that I was able to do that when I didn't feel that I could go out of my room. Somehow, being on TV made me become someone else. I understand why actors act. Why they become someone else. I imagine most of them started acting out of the fear of being themselves.  I tried to be part of society. I tried volunteering. I tried being "normal". But it always ended badly. Normal people have the tools to take things from others or to give it back to them. It reminds me of "A Clockwork Orange" where they take a vicious criminal and make him have no malice. They release the rehabilitated version of this human into a world full of malice and he gets beaten by some of his victims without having the ability to defend himself. It is a terrible idea. 

I went to college in Philadelphia. I had my very outgoing husband who always diverted the attention from me. I was always the supporting act. It was a much better role for me which allowed me to make it through those years. Philadelphia almost broke me though. I spent most of the time there in deep depression. I always thought it was the dark, cold winters, but it was me all along.

I got pregnant and moved to the DR once more. I was on my own while my husband finished his education. After all, I had been raised to believe that his education was more important than mine. The fact that I didn't finish wasn't sounding any alarm bells yet. I had my baby and then a hurricane devastated the island so we had to move back to the USA.

After the birth of our daughter I believe I went thorough postpartum depression. But, since I was already depressed, I didn't realize that this was something different. I should have been happy. By the time she was 2, I was living a wonderful life in Orlando with my husband and daughter. We lived in a wonderful older neighborhood full of azaleas, and yet, I wasn't happy. I cried and cried. My poor child must have picked up on my unhappiness and acted out also making things even worse. She was a handful and dealing with her left me exhausted and even emptier. I felt empty inside and numb. I believe I was blocking all feelings. My marriage fell apart. I left for the DR once more. We got divorced.

I got a dream job in Altos de Chavón, a beautiful recreation of a medieval artist village in the Dominican Republic. I had a wonderful life as and artist / graphic designer and for the first time in my life I didn't have a father or a husband. I made some terrible mistakes in my self discovery journey in Altos, but it was a small environment to try things out for the first time. I had never dated, I knew nothing, and had done nothing. If I had been in a big city the results could have been devastating.

After Chavón I kept moving to the next place and the next job that would change everything: Mount Dora, Sarasota, Huntsville, Madison, Mount Dora. I could run and run, but, sooner or later I always caught up with myself again. While in Sarasota I had what I believe was a nervous breakdown. Again, no one knew. I became the master at going to work every day and acting normal. Then coming home and falling apart. I still don't know how I managed to get out of bed every morning, get my daughter ready for school, drive to work and work all day when I felt like being in a hole somewhere.

I have been on a spiritual quest for most of my adult life. I have come a long way since that frightened child crying at the bottom of the stairs. I am strong, independent and at peace. But, I have paid a very high price to reach this stage... living alone and distanced from everyone. I totally understand nuns and convents. It is only in this separations and isolation that you can work on your self without distractions and reach the ultimate goal of peace within. When I was young I hated that isolation. I wanted so much to belong. Now I have embraced my isolation. It is who I am. I am not like other people. I am me. Whether the creep had a “hand” in this or it was my nature anyhow... I am a loner... have always been... will always be.

Something happened in 2007. My sister invited me to go with her to the Sivananda Ashram in Paradise Island, Bahamas. She was doing a meditation course and wanted me to enjoy the beach and do some yoga while I was there. The swami convinced me to do it too and I am forever thankful. I was there for 14 days doing 100 hours of lectures, learning how to do and teach meditation. and learning the tools of self examination in order to find peace. There were many things that we covered in this class. But the most important thing I came out with was the ability to define the moment when I was starting to get depressed and the tools to deal with it so I would not fall into the abyss. Nothing has been more important for me. This and the realization that everyone is the same. That we all share the same energy and therefore no one is better than no one else. That even if I am awkward, it doesn't mean I am worse than anyone else. I can just embrace who I am and not worry about things. It was a lot of work at the beginning but I had less and less bad days. The moment I felt it coming on I stopped everything and dealt with it. I really can't remember the last time I was depressed. 

Tommy and I got remarried in 2011. This time around we have made it work. We are friends sharing a life together and neither needs more than that. We have merged our lives and baggage into a simple life without hurt, drama, or conflict. We will not suffer anyone who brings that with them. They are not welcome. We have structured our lives to be able to live in this chaotic world and emerge unscathed from it.

If there is another good that came out of this story, it is the fact that, because this happened to me, I swore that it would never happen to my daughter. I started preparing her and teaching her what was inappropriate behavior from the age of three. I made sure she understood I would always be there for her. And that if she felt that something wasn’t right, I didn’t care who she offended, she needed to call me and let me know right away so I could deal with it. I enrolled her in Karate classes at age 11 to further ensure she could defend herself.  There isn't any reason that any woman has to take any kind of abuse from any man. My daughter has grown up to be an amazing woman. One that can stand on her own two feet and doesn't need a man to complete her of to survive. She has a live in boyfriend of 10 years now, but he isn't necessary for her survival.


In this day of the Internet and media, you hear everyday about another child that got abducted or molested. Or about women who got raped. Almost every woman I have ever known that I have asked has been sexually abused... some by a family friend, a relative or even a parent. 

1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. In 2006 there were 272,350 victims of sexual assault. 80% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police. 

It is an outrage that this can happen so easily in this society. At least I can say now

#ME TOO!!!

I wrote this story in 2006 but updated it in 2018.