Authors: Erica Mena
Underneath It All
Published by La' Femme Fatale' Productions
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Lisa, Linda, Josie and Gisele
Underneath it All
all know how this goes;
I came, I saw, I conquered. Typically when someone sets out to chronicle their life that’s usually the form it follows but we both know that this isn’t one of the “typical” situations. I know just as well as the person reading this that the only reason you picked this book up is either a) I was on the cover, b) you think this is going to be some sleazy tell all or c) you’re actually interested in what I have to say. I’m going to go with either A or B because from my experience I’ve learned that the truth doesn’t sell, at least not in this industry. No one cares about the truth. Nothing matters but finding out who slept with who, if this person had surgery, if this chicks ass is really fake, if her boobs are real, if that person really likes girls or if he really takes it up the ass. Sorry to disappoint you but you won’t find any of that in this book.
I’m not mad at the fact you think it’s one of the first two, actually I’m happy that you do, simply because I thrive off of proving people wrong. While I have had relationships with other celebrities this book isn’t meant to expose them or paint them in a negative light. This book is to allow you to see who I really am and that contrary to popular belief I’m not this crazy, psycho, nut bag that you see on TV. I’ve fought, I’ve struggled, I’ve laughed, and I’ve cried just like a real person. I’ve had reasons to do the things that I’ve done whether good or bad and regardless of how you feel after reading this, I’m still going to be me at the end of the day. I’m a girl from the Bronx, and I embody everything that being from New York entails. I’m the product of a Puerto Rican mother and a Dominican father and I’m proud of it. If you can’t respect my hustle then fuck you, it’s that simple. However, if you’re interested in getting to know who I really am then I suggest you get comfortable; make yourself a drink, roll a blunt, do whatever you need to do to relax because by the time I’m done, you’re going to need it.
look in the mirror I don’t recognize myself. I try to pretend that all the makeup, the glitz, and glamour are enough to hide who I really am but it isn’t. I see someone who is damaged, broken, hurt and confused. I see someone who has trouble sleeping at night because the little girl inside of me is still afraid of the dark. I’ve spent most of my adult life looking for love in all the wrong places and no matter how many relationships I’ve been in whether they were just flings or long term, I still haven’t found it yet. How do you set out in search of something when your idea of what it is, is so obscure?
I stare into my eyes and I see all the bruises, the bloody lips, black eyes, and the scars they left behind. You can’t see them but I can and they haunt my dreams as well as the man who put them there.
But before I get too far ahead of myself, allow me to back up and tell you how all of this started....
La linda manita
tiene el bebe
linda, que bellla
If any comfort could be found inside a prison cell then I believe my mother found what little she could each time she sang to me. I spent time in prison before I even entered the world all because my mother put my needs before hers. She was shoved into a 6x8 cell with the very basic of necessities. She was doing a three-year bid for something that I believe any mother would have done if they were in the same situation.
She was convicted and found guilty of trying to provide for her children and her unborn child. She was branded as a criminal for having a “by any means necessary” mentality in the sense of doing whatever she could to make sure I came into this world not wanting for anything.
My mother has always been a go-getter, a real hustler in my eyes. To me, hustling isn’t something that you can teach, you either have it or you don’t. Hustling is something as simple as bathing everyday. You can’t make someone want to wash their own ass just like you can’t make someone want to grind and better their lives.
See, as big as my father was in the drug game he was also very cheap. Yes, he would occasionally shower my mother with gifts and he made sure that she was well taken care of but at the same time he wasn’t really a good provider. It’s along the same lines of people saying any boy can be a daddy but it takes a man to be a father; make sense?
My father made my mother struggle more than she had to instead of helping her and giving her the things that she needed which ultimately led to her being sent away. His priorities were fucked up in the sense that he would do dumb shit like buy her a necklace instead of making sure there was food in the refrigerator or he would buy himself a new watch when our lights were on the verge of being cut off.
My mother got tired of depending on him so she took matters into her own hands and ended up taking a job to get her own money. My father’s nephew presented her with the opportunity to make some extra money if she agreed to drop off a “package” at a specified location.
She figured it sounded easy enough and even if she was hesitant, the only thing on her mind at the time was being able to provide me with a crib before I entered the world so she agreed. When she was exiting the apartment the police were going in to raid it and she was caught up in the mayhem that followed.
I could say that I wished she would have been smarter about her decisions but it’s a maternal and almost animalistic instinct to want to protect your young and do whatever is necessary to make sure that they’re okay.
If my back was against the wall then I’m sure I probably would have done the same thing.
As crazy as it may sound I wish I could’ve stayed inside her womb. I wish I could’ve stayed protected, stayed sheltered from the world and its harsh realities, stayed nestled in a place of unconditional love and warmth but that’s not how life works. Life likes to wait until the bases are loaded and it seems like you’re going to go home only to turn around and throw a fast ball right at your head and knock you down. Seems like a weird analogy to use but I would soon find out how true it was and the significance it would have on my life.
I was born Erica Jasmine Me
na on November 8th, 1987 at New York Presbyterian Hospital.
When I could finally open my eyes I saw the prettiest woman ever. My mother was beautiful. She had long brown curly hair, pretty brown eyes and a smile that made my heart melt. She really was an angel.
I wasn’t able to stay in the comfort of my mother’s arms long before the doctors came and took me away and my mother was taken back to prison.
My mother’s caseworker had done nothing short of a miracle in being able to make it so my sister Lisa could take me home.
Lisa took me home and I was able to meet my other sister Linda who looked a lot like my mother, seeing her made me feel like maybe I would be okay here but it wasn’t long before the responsibilities of motherhood began to take a toll on Lisa and her health and my mother was faced with yet another heartbreaking decision; she would have to split us up and put us in foster care.
People think that being in foster care is a good thing, they think that people who choose to take in someone else’s children are seen as saints and saviors to the less fortunate. While that maybe true in some cases, it isn’t in most and it definitely wasn’t in mine.
Foster kids are often seen as burdens to the family they are placed with and the only reason that they are there is so that they can collect a check. It’s very rare that you are placed with a family who actually cares about you and treats you like their own. Biological children are favored over you, boys over girls or vice versa and as bad as it sounds you’re even shown more attention depending on your skin color.
Society acts as though they are ignorant to things like this but the truth is the world is slowly being over populated and most of us are overlooked and a lot of things are swept under the rug. At an early age children learn how to push certain things to the back of their mind because they aren’t old enough or mature enough to process what’s going on with them. This then turns into adults who have grown up with all these different issues that they kept bottled up and they are released into general population still not having dealt with whatever it is that’s bothering them.
I wish I knew all of this back then, I wish the circumstances were different but there was nothing my mother could do at the time. My mother grew up in a girls group home ran by Nuns so I knew this was a hard decision for her. She knew firsthand how it was to grow up outside of a loving home with your own family but what else was she supposed to do?
My sister Linda’s son Jason and I were only a year apart and since my mom was so adamant on not separating us it was hard to find a home that would keep him and I together. Most families wanted one or the other but never both, by the time my mother’s caseworker found a family that would take us we had already bounced around between three homes.
Linda had been placed with someone else and eventually the search to find Jason and I a stable place to stay ended and we landed inside the house of The Wicked Witch herself.
he memories I have of being in foster care haunt me to this day. I
hated everything about that place especially the highchair. It was always the same thing, she would pick me up and buckle me in making sure the seat belt was extra tight and that there was no chance of me escaping.
I would sometimes sit
there for hours looking on helplessly as the other children watched cartoons or movies, played outside, engaged in story time, or did other activities that I was forbidden to do since I was strapped in that stupid thing. I went hungry a lot of days, not that I didn’t have an appetite but because most of the time the food would be cold or either too hot and she wouldn’t take the time to either cool it off or heat it up to a temperature that made it edible.
I often wondered how I ended up there. I didn’t know what had went wrong and how I had gone from listening to my mother’s voice and being so excited to meet her to being taken away from my sister and sent to live in that hell hole. I knew Lisa had tried her best to take care of me but everyone has a breaking point and between everything else she was juggling at the time she had finally reached hers. Besides, she was my sister, not my mother so it was unfair to think that she should be able to step up and act as such when she had never really gotten the opportunity to be a kid.
I would hear Lisa and Linda talk about their father and I wondered where mine was. Why hadn’t I been sent to him while my mother went to jail? Why wasn’t he at the hospital when I was born? Did he not care enough about me to want to meet me?
I remember she would always get super close to my face when she talked to me and she would sometimes grab my face forcefully to make sure I was paying attention to her. Looking back on it now, I wish I were old enough to know how to articulate just how much I hated her. I doubt that would have had a positive outcome but it would’ve made me feel better.
She used to wear these shoes that would always squeak when she entered the room and it made me think of the scary movies the older kids would watch. That’s exactly how I felt when I heard her approaching, like the boogeyman himself was on his way to get me, drag me off somewhere and torture me.
I don’t know her house passed inspection because there was an overflow of toys and miscellaneous garbage everywhere.
She was barely there and when she was it seemed like she spent most of her time yelling in my face.
One day in particular I had refused to eat my pees so she left me alone in the kitchen for hours. I had fallen asleep by the time one of the older boys took pity on me and tried to help me out of the highchair. For a brief moment I thought someone was finally being compassionate, that someone actually cared about me but when she came back into the room all of that changed.
If her skin could glow green it would’ve at that moment. She looked at him with pure hate in her eyes and specifically told him “don’t touch that, that’s not one of us.” She had referred to me as an object, a thing. This one contraption that she used to keep me in was suddenly a symbolism of her hate.
Although I was sitting high above everyone else with those few words she had made me feel so low. I knew I didn’t belong there she had made that perfectly clear. I wasn’t one of “them”, I wasn’t one of anyone for that matter; I was one of myself and unfortunately at that moment that’s all I had.
When she dismissed him from the kitchen she turned back to me with such disdain in her voice I can still hear it today.
The force in which she snatched my
sippy cup away caused some of the juice to splash back in my face but she didn’t care. She turned the highchair towards the wall, turned off the light and left me there.
I cried and cried because I didn’t know what I had done. I cried because I could no longer feel anything from my waist down. I cried because I wanted to get down, I was hungry and I was wet since I wasn’t able to go to the bathroom. I was filth to her and she made sure that I would remember it.
No matter how loud I screamed and tried to get out, I couldn’t. I felt trapped and abandoned. Lisa and Linda had never treated me like this.
That night my eyes closed because eventually I gave up, I started to lose my voice and my throat was dry. Crying had made me thirsty and I knew if she didn’t let me use the bathroom she most certainly wouldn’t come and give me any water.
The older kids would always sing this song about sticks and stones anytime they were teased and wanted to let the other person know their words weren’t effecting them but if given a choice I would definitely take the sticks because her words had pierced straight through to my heart.
If it weren’t for my mother’s caseworker coming to check on me I feel like she would’ve left my in that highchair forever. I began to eat my food even if I didn’t want to just because I thought if I did what she wanted then she would let me down and allow me to play with the other children but I was wrong.
She found any excuse she could to keep me confined and quarantined to the kitchen. As a child our sense of right and wrong is only what our parents teach us and if she was what I were to use as an example then everything I did was incorrect. I didn’t know what I had done to upset her so much or make her hate me but it was evident that she did.
Bedtime wasn’t any better and as a kid the night played tricks on me. Young imaginations run wild and the branches on the tree outside the window appear to be long, bony, skeleton like fingers that are reaching towards you. The baby doll that you know was sitting on your dresser when you got into bed has now disappeared and is somewhere lurking in the dark.
As congested as the rest of this house was the girl’s room was a little scarce. I guess scarce maybe the wrong word; it wasn’t very inviting for a little girl. There were three girls to each bed and almost always someone would pee in the bed. I was miserable. There wasn’t any paint on the walls and when one of the other children tried to draw on it with some crayons she was reprimanded and made to scrub the entire room with a tiny sponge.
My fear of the night wasn’t any better than it was during the day and while I should’ve been happy to be sleeping in a bed my attention was focused on the shadow blocking the light underneath my bedroom door. Whoever or whatever it was had been standing there for a while and I kept thinking that it was The Wicked Witch coming to take me back down to the kitchen and force feed me the dinner I had refused earlier. As the door creaked and the figure entered I shut my eyes and pretended to be asleep.
I peered over the sheets and exhaled when I realized it wasn’t The Wicked Witch. It was the same boy who had tried to rescue me from the highchair the day before.
He crawled in
to the bed and lay next to me as I tried my best to keep my eyes closed. He slid his one hand under the sheet gently pulling it down exposing my thin body. In the beginning he used to rub on my prepubescent vagina while touching himself until he reached a point where his breathing became ragged and he’d stop. Afterwards he would look at me with this embarrassed expression on his face, tell me goodnight and leave my room. I suppose he had gotten bored with our usual routine because he had chosen tonight to take things a step further.
I watched as he pulled his pants down and began stroking himself. He positioned himself on top of me and placed his hand over my mouth.
I tried to scream but I couldn’t. I could hear the sound of my voice in my head but when I opened my mouth nothing came out. It felt like someone was tearing my insides apart. The more he moved, the more it hurt.
To be honest, I was okay with him coming into my room gently petting my vagina. Hell, I was only a child and I didn’t know any better. Everyone in the house seemed to hate me so for him to show me any kind of affection made me feel as though someone actually cared about me but that night I knew something was wrong. Looking back on it now I know that him pulling out and cumming all over my face was his was of letting me know that he didn’t respect me either.
I lay there motionless as he left the room. I didn’t know how to process what had just happened. My entire body was hurting and I felt like I had peed on myself. Tears were still streaming down my face as I looked up at the ceiling. I stared at the glow n’ the dark stars and wished that I could be among them. Shortly after he had left, the door opened again and I just knew I was going to die. He walked back towards the bed, leaned over me and began wiping me off with a warm towel.
He told me that his mother wouldn’t want me to bleed all over the sheets and if I told anybody they wouldn’t believe me anyway.
As I laid in the dark I kept hearing The Wicked Witch say over and over again that ‘I wasn’t one of them’, ‘not to touch that’. Funny thing about it, he had done exactly what she told him not to do and would continue to do so every night for the next three months.
Visitation day was the worst. Aside from some of the activities that we would get to attend sponsored by the Fresh Air Fund, this was the only time I got out of the house.
My mother was working as hard as she could to get us back and the closer the date approached for that to happen, the more we were able to go and see her. I cherished these days. Anything that allowed me to get out of the house and away from The Wicked Witch was welcomed.
At the same time I hated them also because it was as if I was being teased. I was able to be around my mom for short periods of time under the watchful eye of social services only to be torn from her arms and taken back to hell.
They would come and pick Jason and I up and cart us away where we would be placed in what was supposed to be a play room but instead resembled a small cafeteria with toys scattered about here and there to try and make us feel comfortable. I never cared much for the toys; I was too busy anticipating seeing her. My mother would always wear this red lipstick and I remember running up to her and kissing her to try and get some of it on my lips. She would embrace me and smother me with kisses, and tight hugs. I was brought back to the feeling of being protected in her womb and I never wanted her to let me go. Towards the end of our visits I used to try and figure out a way to let them know that things weren’t okay in hopes that they would take us out of there but I couldn’t. I wanted to tell them how evil the Wicked Witch was and then maybe they would lock her in a dungeon somewhere and make her eat peas but how do you tell someone that you’re being touched when you were too young to even grasp the concept of what’s going on?
Ironically enough the sun was shining on the day my mother came to pick Jason and I up from hell. I remember feeling like my life had started over and this was our new beginning. Turns out that my social worker had enrolled my mother into a program formed to help single mothers get on their feet. They did everything from furnishing the apartment to giving her vouchers so we could have clothes and even toys.
As we pulled up to 840 Grand Concourse in the Bronx my eyes and mouth widened in awe. I bounced in my seat clapping my hands and kicking my feet in excitement. It looked like a castle, my castle, and I was the princess that was finally coming home after being locked away in a tower with an evil foster mother and her creepy son.
The apartment was huge. There was an entryway that led into a living room and from there was a big dining area and a pretty decent sized kitchen. I was finally back where I belonged.
The living room was filled with toys. There was a small kitchen with dishes, a sink that made noise when I touched the faucet, a stove that sizzled when I placed a pan on it; I even had a cart filled with plastic food. There was pretty Barbie dolls and doll babies with hairbrushes, barrettes, and different outfits for me to dress them up in.
Our bedroom was painted purple and there were twin beds for Jason and me. My bed had a fluffy white comforter on it and a great big teddy bear. There were Dr. Seuss books and puzzles, there was even a lamp that had a carousel on the shade that lit up and played music. I felt so special.
Aside from any assistance she was getting I knew my mother had done all of this for me, she had gone out and bought me all these things just so I would feel welcomed and loved.
Seeing all these toys and being around my family made me forget about everything I had endured in that house. If I had to pinpoint a time, I think that was when my walls went up. That was when I learned how to channel different things as defense mechanisms and force all the bad out of my mind.