The winter sun warms Mari's apartment in the late afternoons as we sip coffee and watch novellas. The image on the screen is a flurry of dots, and the music fuzzes out of the speakers on the ancient console. A revolving apple with a single bite out of it punctuates each commercial break in PECADO DE AMOR, Mari's favorite show. She gawks at the lovely Venezuelan actresses, studying their beauty, their caramel-colored skin and honey colored hair, their fuscha and aquamarine dresses: short, tight, and low. Mari sighs at the romantic parts. " I used to think it would be like that for me," she says. "I was young then." Mari is only 24, but all her life she has been waiting for her Prince Charming.
The apple spins, the music swells, and Mari once more tells me her sad story—starting, as always, at the beginning. It was love that first drove a wedge between her and her mother: when Mari became pregnant, at the age of 12, her mother tried to throw her off the roof of their apartment building. Mari was subsequently sent to a group home, but she missed her mother, so she kept sneaking back to her apartment: eventually, the authorities simply let her move back. After Mari terminated her pregnancy, she and her mother became more like friends. When her mother couldn't find a babysitter for her, she would dress Mari up like an older girl and take her along to nightclubs.
It was different when Mari got pregnant at fifteen by her second boyfriend, a musician who was more than twice her age. Mari loved him, and her mother thought that he would be a good provider. He visited her once in the hospital, and then she never saw him again. Two years later, she fell in love with someone closer to her own age, a young man from Puerto Rico who gave her a second son. Now, with her boyfriend Alex, she has had two more boys.
At first things had seemed really good with Alex: he had bought her pizza and taken her to the movies; he had accepted her two sons. But now Mari is a mother of four, Alex has a roving eye, and things are much harder. Alex also refuses to give her any money, because he feels he has already provided them with an apartment and she gets SSI for her epilepsy; when they run out of food, he simply goes upstairs to his mother's.
By the time winter turns to spring, Mari is pregnant again.
When she goes to have an abortion she is turned away from the clinic because she has no ID. She can't get an ID because she needs rent receipts or a bank account to complete the New York State requirements. She can't get a bank account because she has no ID, and Alex's mother won't give her rent receipts. The hospital will terminate her pregnancy with her Medicaid, but not without proof that she is taking her epilepsy medication, due to the possibility that she will have a seizure during the operation. Mari refuses to take her meds because she says they make her drowsy, and when she is drowsy she can't take care of her kids.
Mari didn't have an abortion, but she did slash up her wrists. A few weeks later, I dropped by to see how she was doing. The gas had already been turned off and a man from Con Edison was out front waiting to get in to shut off the lights. Anthony was naked, standing in a puddle of urine. Mari began to cry because there was no food in the house and she wanted to go across the street to her mother's house to eat, but she couldn't because she didn't have a diaper for the baby. The TV was on, and familiar music blared while the apple with the bite out of it twirled. I asked Mari what the name of her favorite novella, PECADO DE AMOR meant in English. Mari told me that she wasn't exactly sure what it meant but she knew that it had "something to do with church," " In English" she said "you would say it was Sins of Love".
© Copyright 1989 - Brenda Kenneally. All rights reserved.