JJ, Juan Jr., is anticipating his twenty-first birthday. On the eve of his birthday, he stares at his father, whom he both loves and hates. He loves his Papa for showing him what not to do as a husband and a father, but he hates his Papa for all the awful things he has done as a husband and a father. Eighteen years ago, JJ’s Mama, Cleoflias, tried to flee with him and his little sister, Esperanza, whom was still blooming within Cleofilas’ sanctuary. Cleofilas’ husband made her nightmare become reality when he showed up at the Cash N Carry with a smug look upon his face. He wasn’t even surprised, as she would have thought. He caught drift of her plan, but he waited just long enough to get her hopes up of finally being freed from his power.
That night, eighteen years ago, was when little JJ, who was a brisk three years old, finally witnessed why Mama was trying to escape. JJ’s weeping mama fell down onto the kitchen floor. When Papa shoved his way out of the kitchen and through the front door, JJ ran to his mama and lay by her side while she slept. He noticed a stream of bright red blood coming from her pursed lips, so he quickly grabbed his pack of wet wipes and cleaned up her lip so she did not have to know that Papa had made her bleed. Mama woke up, eyes filled to the rim like the arroyo in the story that she would tell JJ when he would not go to bed when she put him down. Hollering of pain and embarrassment for her son to see her like this, Mama grabbed JJ and her plunged belly and said, “I am your mother. I will never abandon you.” From that moment, he knew he had to protect Mama and his little sister and make sure the promises he made Mama would come true. JJ would love and protect her no matter what.
Throughout the years, JJ had been doing odd jobs around the town, mowing lawns, delivering groceries, washing cars, and walking dogs, to save up all the money he could to get them away from Papa. He had gotten into contact with his Abuelo Don and asked him if they could all come to live with him; he happily agreed. JJ had finally saved up enough money to get them all out of there Mama, Esperanza, Catalina, his pregnant fiancé, and himself. They would all leave and never look back.
Papa wasn’t always awful. Sometimes he would take little JJ down to the arroyo and go fishing. When they would fish, Papa would always tell JJ he loved his Mama very much, him and Esperanza too. He told JJ he never meant to hurt his Mama, and that he needed to be a better father and husband than he ever was. Those were the times were he saw the good inside his Papa. Then they would walk back home and the evil clawed its way out of him again. Not all the time, but a lot of the time, JJ would find himself lying next to Mama on the floor. Sometimes in the living room, the kitchen, the bathroom, his and Esperanza’s room, even the front lawn. And every single time, Mama would holler with pain and tell them, “I am your mother. I will never abandon you.”
Eighteen years was a long time for all of them. He hated seeing his Mama go through hell night after night. When he would intervene, it would only make things worse, but he rather take it if it sacrificed his Mama one less time. Each blow filled him with hate and guilt, but he would never fight back; he never wanted to be his father’s son. His pride in knowing his purpose was his family’s safety and happiness made him stronger each time.
The one promise that he expressed to the three women in his life was what kept them going all these years. They all did their part to try and keep the peace when they noticed Papa downing the Modelos, sometimes were more successful than others. They made it though; it was time to leave, finally.
The night of JJ’s birthday, Mama made a cake for him, and everyone sang, “Happy birthday, happy birthday to you” (Cisneros 8). After dinner, Papa wanted to celebrate his son’s coming into the man’s world. He brought out the twelve pack of chilled Modelos, popped off two bottle caps with his brass Mexican flag belt buckle, and handed one to his only son. They cheered. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, and eleven. Papa drank the rest of the pack. His head became fuzzy and he turned into bed.
As they waited a few moments to make sure Papa was sound asleep, they all grab their small duffel bags. JJ quietly put all of their belongings in the bed of his beat up, sun blistered, white Toyota pick up truck that his Papa gave him for his sixteenth birthday. He got everyone inside the truck, but Mama stopped him. She asked him if he was sure this was the best thing for them. He kissed her forehead, smiled and said, “I am your son. I will never abandon you.” One single tear trickled down her face as she embraced her son and loaded into the truck.
They all held their breaths as the truck rolled in neutral to the road, to not risk being heard by Papa. Silence fell over them until they crossed over the arroyo. In unison, the family, “let out a yell as loud as any mariachi,” and all cried in laughter (Cisneros 55). For the first time in their lives, they hollered of happiness. Not of sadness or pain like La Llorona for her children, but of pure bliss and freedom.
The trip was six hours long to reach his Abuelo’s ranch. Mama’s eyes widened as they turned onto the familiar narrow dirt road that led to the burnt red ranch that she knew all too well. JJ turned over to his Mama as he noticed her grasp his hand so tightly he could feel her freshly painted nails digging into his palm, but he didn’t mind. As JJ put the truck into park, the screen door burst open with Abuelo Don rushing out. Mama’s tears could not be contained once she saw her papa looking frailer than what she remembered all those years ago. She stepped out of the truck hesitantly and wept so much she fell to her knees. “I’m sorry Papa!” Mama hollered. Her father knelt to his knees, wiped her tears, lifted her chin, and said, “I am your father. I will never abandon you” (Cisneros 43).
JJ helped Esperanza and Catalina out of the truck and they all headed to Abuelo Don. JJ stopped, and stuck out his hand to his Abuelo Don. As soon as his Abuelo reached in for his hand, JJ broke down in tears. All the hurt from the last eighteen tears came rushing out like a rapid white river. He had tried so hard to be strong for everyone. Never once did he show his hurt or the times he almost fought back. Him and Catalina had found out that they were having a son of their own, so JJ knew he had to break the cycle. The curse of La Llorona had left their veins once they drove over the arroyo, and they all felt it too. On the patio of the ranch was when JJ started feeling a little less heavy, he always hoped he’d keep his promise, but he was never absolutely sure. His heart warmed with the satisfaction that he could truly finally say that he wasn’t his father’s son. He looked to his family and said, “los amo a todos,” and they never looked back, ever.
Cisneros, Sandra. Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories. New York, Vintage, 1991.