Beyond Mud & Vines
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SABINA had to do everything herself. Literally, everything. She even came into this world alone, in the midst of a ferocious storm. When a tree to crashed through their tin roof shack deep in the jungle of Puerto Rico, it awoke her father, SALVADOR, who had passed out drunk the night before on his own moonshine rum. Under that tree, he found his drunk, unconscious wife, CARMELA, with newborn baby Sabina sprawled between her legs.
Parental neglect was a blissful hiatus from the vicious daily abuse which was intensely focused on Sabina as the one blonde, blue eyed child in a fleet of more traditionally Latino-colored children. Years of incessant and grueling child labor in the hot sun to darken and toughen her up were only briefly reprieved by the genuine love of her GodFather, GREGORIO, who taught her to read and write.
When the American edict proclaimed that all children of age must attend school, Salvador proudly duped the system by lying about how many children he had and their ages, and sent only his eldest, his cruel and mean-spirited clone, EMILIA. Six-year-old Sabina was secretly delighted that she was sentenced to accompany ten-year-old Emilia on those daily multiple mile walks each way.
Sitting in the back of the class, Sabina burst with precocious knowledge, already way ahead of the class in terms of her letters and numbers. As soon as she could reveal her knowledge to the teacher, she was promptly advanced to the 1st grade, alongside her much older sister, causing malicious envy and incessant retribution.
Sabina’s early life was filled with castrating pigs, her father killing her pet goat and laughing as he tried to feed it to her. When the school is shut down for the war, Sabina’s heart breaks. Salvador takes advantage of this opportunity to create his own home sweat shop, and has the girls sewing gloves night and day for cash that he keeps every penny of.
One drunken, abusive incident bled into another in a life filled with so much violence and so little love, Sabina had little to look forward to or to even live for. Yet somehow, she coped through her imagination and amazing resourcefulness. One night when all the children hid, watching their father bludgeon their mother with a machete, flat against her back but threatening to turn it ever so slightly, they were sure she was a goner – and she looked like she just wanted to be mercifully put out of her misery once and for all. Sabina, ever the clever one, leaps across the room, grabs dad’s hand whittled rosary, lassoes it across the room. Salvador raises his machete for one final blow and looks up to see what he thinks is God’s hand, looping his machete as a matter of divine intervention to make him lay down his arms against his wife. Superstitious to a fault, he spins and barely misses the kids diving into their gunny sacks on the floor and sees nothing but the sleeping angels. She saved her mother’s life more than once. She was six.
Forced to watch the moonshine still one night in yet another fierce storm, Sabina barely escapes drowning several times into the rushing, muddy river down below. Only to come home to discover the one person who has ever shown her kindness, her GodFather, Gregorio, drowned saving the lives of several of her cousins. She completes the Novena, the circle of virgins in an endless wake as all that she had to hope for is lost.
When her father holds a machete to her own throat and threatens to kill her, she finally makes a break – and runs away. Almost drowning, she manages to literally claw her way out of the mud and vines of the jungle to lie her way into food and shelter and finally into a job in a glove factory that she has the skills for but is well below the legal age – but has no other way to take care of herself.
She lucks out by looking like the deceased daughter of a kind, wealthy couple, the manager of the glove factory, who take her in and raise her as their own daughter. She gets to go to school and keep the money she earns. When her adoptive father has a stroke and dies, her adoptive mother decides to move to New York. This is a critical turning point for Sabina as she decides to go back and rescue her siblings, now that she has her footing and thinks she can provide shelter for them and help them acclimate out of the jungle.
In spite of her advice and preference to the contrary, her generous adoptive mother sets Sabina up with a grocery store on the American military base that will do as interim housing for the whole family.
Sabina makes the scary trek back into the jungle to save her family, who don’t all come willingly and she risks her life once again talking them into having the courage to join her. Once settled, their father hunts them down with a ferociousness they’ve never seen before but together – and with the help of the neighbors and the law – he is vanquished.
The family is still dysfunctional but better off. And Sabina finally feels that she can marry out of the situation and move on with her own life, her conscience clear.