When I entered adolescence, a priest I used to turn to for advice about things I did not understand told me, “If life gives you lemons, learn to make lemonade.” I looked at him, surprised, not comprehending everything he wanted to express to me with the phrase that made me smile. Many years have passed since then and with them I have experienced many times of happiness but also times of heartache that I have taken as experiences and lessons necessary for maturity. This has to do with that phrase that if life gives you lemons, pushes, deception, well then let’s go ahead and made lemonade with them. Life is one big lesson and it’s up to us to make music and lemonade, just like what has happened to Karen, the narrator of her life story.
Karen is a 23-year-old woman from Guayaquil and mother of a five-year-old girl, a three-year-old boy and a one-year-old boy. I met her in the Casa de Acogida de Hogar de Cristo (Hogar de Cristo’s reception office). She was there because she receives constant psychological violence from her family, the type that damages the spirit and drills right through the soul to the point of total abandonment: children, dreams and even life itself.
“I have a mother and father, but I never met them. She abandoned me when I was six years old and I haven’t seen my father since I was seven. I was raised by my grandmother and my aunt. My childhood wasn’t very good, I didn’t enjoy it like other children because I was always doing household chores: cleaning, ironing, cooking, babysitting, until I got fed up and met the father of my children; infatuated by the idea of having a nice family, like the ones seen on television, though that’s not what I got.
He always brought other women around me. He didn’t hit me but I did have to put up with his betrayal because the family that raised me always told me how ugly it is for a woman to be divorced. I dealt with it until my son, then 10 months old, was operated for a hernia, became very sick, and almost died. I cried and pleaded with God to bring my son back to me, promising God that I would be a better mother if he was released from intensive therapy. My son was eventually released, but with cerebral paralysis. Until then I had lived in Colimes, but I left the father of my children and moved with them to Guayaquil.
In Guayaquil the situation was nothing easy; I was received by my uncle’s family who gave me everything, but in return I worked as their maid. My children were victims of insults, restricted from leaving the house and humiliated, but I put up with it as long as we had a home, food and gifts. I only left the house to take my son to the hospital, where he was in treatment for almost a year. Some doctors told me that he would heal and others gave me no hope because for them, the child was born with problems. That wasn’t so; he was actually a victim of mal-practice.
While I lived in my uncle’s house and my son was in pain they would insultingly tell me to carry him so that he would stop crying, though I still had to complete my household chores with my baby in my arms. There were some mornings that neither of us would sleep because he would cry, probably because he was in pain, but I didn’t know what was hurting him and I had to carry him so that he would let the other’s sleep. It was horrible and tiring.
In the Hospital del Niño (Children’s Hospital) I met a guy that also had a hospitalized child. We became friends then fell in love because with him it was different. He didn’t only tell me that he loved me, but also gave me encouragement to keep up the fight for a better life. He valued me, manifested his admiration because he saw me as different from other women that leave their children with sicknesses. He made me feel strong, like I could do anything. He motivated me a lot and still does, but in my life there are few joys. My aunt and uncle found out about my relationship and restricted me from seeing him again, the insults continually worsening. For that reason I left their home and arrived at the Casa de Acogida de Hogar de Cristo (Hogar de Cristo’s reception office).
I feel good with that guy. He gives me encouragement, tells me I am a woman who is worth it, tells me to keep trying to achieve what I want, but we cannot be together because he also has children and cannot sustain all of us.
My life is one of humiliation. If I could leave I would like my life to be different. I have dreams: for my son to walk again, to live alone with my children in our own home, to finish high school, study architecture or something faster like hairstyling, but I can’t do anything because of my children. I would also like to cook but right now I have a job. I have been contracted to help prepare food for $10 per day. I am gone from early in the morning to late at night, and I come home tired and attend to my children. That money isn’t enough for the four of us, because the baby is still in therapy and we need transportation. My daughter asks me to buy her crackers or yogurt because the other children at school bring food, and I would also like to buy them for her.
When the four of us are alone in Hogar de Cristo’s dormitory, the children tell me jokes, hug me, lay on my chest, and the oldest one tells me, “Mommy I love you, don’t abandon us, I will help you take care of my siblings but just don’t leave me.” I tell her, “And how are you going to help me?” She replies, “I know how to change diapers. I can help you with my siblings, let’s get out of here. You promised me a house, but don’t cry because I love you a lot.”
My children are my strength more than anything. I can’t give them away, though the thought has crossed my mind to leave them in an orphanage, but they want to be with me. If I had a job, even though I can’t give them many things, I want to at least give them a house of their own because everywhere else people rub in your face what they have given you.
I want to get ahead alone, take care of my children, fight for them, and be a more responsible mom. I want a secure house so that I can tell them no one will throw us out, to live alone and keep up the fight because that is the only way to get ahead in life. I know that I will achieve the things I want, even with everything I have been through; I just need a little push.”