This is a story my mother use to tell me every night before going to bed. It isnt your typical bedtime story. Secretly, I think the main character in this story is her because of the small things that she has told me about her life in El Salvador. But anyways here it goes…
There once was a girl named Elena who lived in a poor village, in a poor country with her poor family. She lived with her four younger siblings who she loved dearly, her mom who she fought with constantly and a step dad who she ignored completely. She lived in an old shed made out of a straw roof and metal sheets for walls. Every night while she was laying in her makeshift bed made out of hay bails, she would hear the rats on top of the roof running around and this big fat grey cat running after them; she knew it was the same cat because every so often he would trip and roll off the roof and try again to capture his meal.
Elena was humble and kind. She grew up with almost nothing besides the basic necessities like clothes and the little food her family could afford to buy. Since she could walk she would help her momma with all of the chores as best as she could. When something fell on the ground, she would pick it up. When her momma forgot her gloves before going out to the fields; she would chase after her and bring them to her. When her step dad needed a beer or a second serving of food; she would provide it for him.
Elena was hardworking and brave, she was a dreamer. She dreamed of going to school and getting an education. She dreamed of getting older and going to college and getting a job that paid a lot of money. She dreamed of buying a nice house for her family like the ones on TV. She was very optimistic and always had hope that she would be the answer to her mother’s prayers, that she would take them out of poverty. That’s why she worked hard in the early morning before the sun came up, went to school, and then came back home to work some more. As her siblings were born, she took care of them as if they were her own. She would bathe them, dress them and feed them. Elena would even be their entertainment.
When she was 11 her dreams were shattered; she had to leave school. She was in the 6th grade and the top of her class. Her hard work had paid off, her teachers loved her and her classmates always asked for help. She was the talk of her village, everyone believed that she could be somebody one day, that she could leave this place and pursue a career. But all of that ended when her mother took her out of school. Even after begging and pleading as to why she would do that, she never got an answer. She never went back to school.
For the next 8 years she spent her life working, cleaning and barely sleeping. She would do chores for her neighbors in exchange for pennies. She would stay home to cook and clean after her younger siblings. Ever since she stopped going to school, her mother looked at her differently. She would yell at her if she didn’t do things correctly, if her siblings ever complained she would get “disciplined” (she would get hit, I didn’t realize what that meant until I was much older). As Elena grew older, she learned to resent her mother, hated her stepfather and envied her younger siblings. But things changed when she met him.
She met a boy named Jose when she was 17 years old. He made her so happy. He cared for her and reassured her that everything would be okay. He helped her with her chores and provided her with meals whenever he could. When ever she would push him away, he would try and try again to win her heart. They loved one another, they yearned for one another and gave in to their love for each other. But one night when they were scheduled to meet at their usual spot in a small forest West of the village, she decided to get there early this time and wait for him. She put on her best clothes and decided to wear shoes, Elena wanted to look beautiful for him. What she found at their spot broke her, she found her sister and Jose together. He was hugging her and she was telling him that she loves him, and he reciprocated. She stood there for what felt like forever until finally, she left. She had never cried as much as she did that night, she was devastated. Her dreams were gone, all she wanted to do was run away, so one day, she did.
Elena packed what little she owned and the money she had saved up, and ran to her friend Marcelo’s house. He was a ‘coyote’, a human smuggler who brings people to the border of America and Mexico, he had previously offered to take her with him whenever she liked but declined because of Jose. Now she had nothing to lose, so she took him up on his offer. Elena traveled through deserts and huge roaring rivers. The travel really messed with her body; she would always be sick and weak. But something, maybe God, urged her to keep going and not give up. Luckily for her, everyone in her group had a sense of protection for Elena so they all helped when they could. After many weeks, they finally made it across the border and touched American soil.
At first, things were very difficult for Elena, she knew no one, but she was young and pretty so eventually she got a job as a waitress. She was allowed to sleep in the back until she could afford a room of her own. Once more, she worked hard and saved up enough money for a room. Everyday she would work from 7am to 11pm, the same thing over and over again until one day she met an old woman on her way back home. This lady was very frail and small, she was offering to read people’s fortune in exchange for a dollar. This amused Elena so she obliged and had the woman read her fortune. She said that she could tell that Elena had just had a huge journey and left everything behind. She promised her that her life will be filled with great joy and love very soon. She claimed that Elena brought with her a gift like no other, and this gift would change her life forever. For weeks, Elena would think over and over again about what that woman said to her. What gift? It’ll bring her joy and love? What could it be?
A month later, she found out what it was, when she went to her first doctor appointment since being in America. She was feeling sick and throwing up all the time. She was scared so she decided to go to the doctor, and there she found out that she was 6 months pregnant to a baby girl. When she was born, carrying that baby girl in her arms made every sacrifice and decision she ever made worth it. She was her gift, and joy she did bring Elena. She made her the happiest person in the world. She taught her how to love again, how to be happy again. She taught her to dream again. She was Elena again.