I was 12 years old when my twin brother and I started living with our estranged father at a trailer park in Reno, Nevada. We’d only met him once when my mother drove us across country to try again with her first husband. After three grueling days on the street (where we lived on pigskins, Snickers bars, and Pepsi) she got out of her Buick to find the woman my father had left her for greeting from the balcony of his apartment.
We didn’t stay long.
This time everything was different. It was just me and my brother; The new friend was gone. And my father now lived with his two dogs in a shabby family house on the outskirts of town. He said he moved because he wanted to be closer to “nature,” but I was sure it had more to do with my mom hitting his girlfriend and the firefighters having to keep his home from burning down.
If you don’t count the two dogs, I was the only dog in our modest apartment. Therefore, according to our Puerto Rican Bible, I was responsible for most of the cooking.
My father’s kitchen consisted of a refrigerator that was small enough that I could dust it off without stepping on my toes. The sink was the size of a salad bowl and sat next to a tiny clothes horse on which he kept his mismatched plastic plates and the empty Imperial margarine containers for leftovers. The stove consisted of two coiled burners and an oven large enough for a personal size pizza.
I had limited kitchen skills, so homemade meals consisted of eggs in every way: soft-boiled with toast, scrambled eggs with hot dogs and placed in a tortilla and mixed in steaming cups with instant ramen where they turn in. turned bright yellow ribbons.
All my father asked us to do was allow him to quietly drink a Carlo Rossi Burgundy mug after coming home from his FedEx delivery gig. Then he repeated his two favorite mantras: “The prophecies of Nostradamus are real” and “Visualize the life you want”.
I didn’t care about Nostradamus, but several times a day I visualized the life I wanted. As a tween, this consisted of dreaming about my first kiss with pop singer George Michael, whom I would wholeheartedly marry. I didn’t have any money, but I knew I had to buy his latest solo album, Faith, so he could walk down the aisle. How could I ask the question without her? I imagined George eyeing the Debbie Gibson and Michael Jackson tapes that made up my entire music collection, pouting his perfect lips, and then parting as he broke into a song:
“Oh, when that love comes down with no devotion, well it takes a strong man, baby, but I’ll show you the door. Because you should have bought Faith, Faith, Faith. “
If I didn’t get this album, my whole life would be derailed, I explained to my father with outstretched hand for cash. He gave me a drunken smile. “Mija, money doesn’t grow on trees. Find out what people want and sell it. “
The kids in the trailer park wanted all sorts of things, but nothing caught their attention like candy. A bag of candy could create a stir in the playground, and a brownie or biscuit made everyone beggars. When I found a peanut butter cookie recipe in an old newspaper, I knew it could be a moneymaker. Only three ingredients were used, and luckily my father had them all in stock: peanut butter, sugar, and eggs.