It was almost two years ago now. It was my first trip back to Bolivia after I had made the heartbreaking decision to leave. We were in a taxi crawling slowly through the traffic-ridden streets of La Paz when Lucia turned to me from where she had been looking out the window and said, “Tu me dijiste que me ibas a cuidar para siempre”, “you said you were going to take care of me forever.” The comment caught me completely off guard and I stuttered something about it being “complicated” and turned away.
That moment tears me up inside. I should have explained it to her. I should have told her how much I love her but had to take care of Inti and I. I should have said something, anything, but I didn’t.
Lucia is my stepdaughter. I met her when she was two years old, and fell head over heels in love with her at the same time I was falling in love with her father. She was my daughter before I had my own child, and she was treated as my mother’s first grandchild and my grandmother’s first great-grandchild. Everyone in my family treated her as their own, and I believed, deep in my heart, that I treated her the same as I would treat my own children.
Until I didn’t. Until I couldn’t. Until my own pain became more important than hers.
After my (now ex) husband came out of the closet as transsexual, my first reaction was to try to make things work and my body just sort of did what it had been trained to do: keep going for everyone else. Keep keeping on, get breakfast on the table, get the kids to school, go to the gym, go to work. Automatic pilot. Inti, my son, was barely 1 at the time and Lucia was 9. They needed my attention. But when the grief and the doubt and the anger and sadness started to surface the first thing I did was say, “I can’t keep being Lucia’s primary caregiver. She has to go back with her mother”. And then, just 6 months later, I made the decision to leave Bolivia with Inti until I could “figure out what to do”, which turned into a permanent move.
Was that terrible? To be honest it didn’t feel terrible at the time, it didn’t feel anything. I was in such a state of shock and dismay, I don’t think I was actually feeling anything. I was on pure survival mode and I just wanted to make sure I was ok so that Inti would be ok. But now…now that she is 12, and is having problems at school, and is getting bullied, and is severely underweight, and needs so much support…now it feels gut-wrenchingly awful. I love her. I said I loved her as my own. But I abandoned her.
I know…she had her mother, and her mapi (that’s the word she came up with…papi turned mapi). But she didn’t have me. And I had always been there for her, I prided myself on being the open and loving and communicative stepmom.
I think I shut down to her in a way I didn’t shut down to anyone else. I have been really open about my feelings and about what happened when I talk to Inti, and my ex and I have been pretty open about what we are feeling as well. But I have not moved beyond my feelings of guilt for leaving Lucia, despite the fact that I know I had to do what I did. Instead I have built up a kind of a wall to protect myself from that pain, which at times feels too much to be able to process. So I don’t.
And that is where I am right now. We talk all the time, about school and her friends and her life. We skype and we visit but there is still a huge gaping hole between what we were and what we are now. Does it feel better to write about it? Not really. It feels sad, and hard, and like my day would be much easier if I just didn’t think about it. I know that’s not what I’m “supposed” to say but it is the truth. I wish I had a happy conclusion to this story but I don’t. There is no fairy tale ending, at least not yet. It is very much still a work in progress and a part of my life that feels not quite resolved, not quite fixed. Maybe someday I’ll get there. 283535_10150252661514139_3204667_n