A Pact with the Devil

Photo by falconpr75/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Photo by falconpr75/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

On Elmhurst Avenue, there is a two-story white house. In front of the house, three bikes are chained to a white wooden fence and a Chevy Trailblazer is parked in the driveway. Walking past, you would think some wealthy, happy family lives there. Standing in front of the door is Felicia Alvarez, whose number-one goal has always been to have a perfect family. As you open the doors you’re greeted by the fresh aroma of Sofrito seasoning a marvelous stew. The scent of a Dominican home fills the air. However, if you go deep enough, you’ll discover a dark past hidden in the white American walls.

Felicia Alvarez was born on November 20th, 1980, to Ramona and Juanito Alvarez. She grew up in the Dominican Republic in Calle Villa Altagracia, a small village where the unfortunate roam the streets asking for a cup of rice to survive another day. The only source of water is the polluted Ozama river, where villagers bathe and wash their clothes. Felicia’s mother was a typical housewife and her father was a factory laborer for 20 years. At the tender age of nine years old, her father had a fatal heart attack at the dinner table. After their father’s death, Felicia and her three brothers tried to sustain the family by selling fruits and vegetables in the market.

The death of her father was not spoken about around the house; it was one of the first misfortunes Felicia experienced in her life. Two years later, her mother found a new man. But Felicia’s brother, Sunny, couldn’t process the change. He felt his mother had gotten over his father far too quickly, and he realized he was broken without his father. One day Sunny picked up his things and left. Felicia never heard from him again.

In those first few years after her father died, Felicia had a lot of responsibilities thrust onto her shoulders, so the best decision was to stay behind and support her mother. But this led to her becoming rebellious. She just didn’t understand how her mother could love another man. Her mother’s new boyfriend Ramos would make sexual remarks, like “oye nena, ven conmigo en mi cama.” Felicia would run and tell her mother, but her mother just called her “a foolish liar.” She felt as though her mother had gone to the dark side, and she could longer go to her for help.

It was rumored that Ramos had made a pact with the devil for fame and money. The price of the bargain was taking care of a demonic dog with red eyes, a long lower jaw, and unusually long legs. Ramos left the dog chained to a king sized bed in the back room of their house. The demonic dog was treated like royalty while Felicia suffered.

By the time she was thirteen, Felicia vowed never to interact or pay attention to the demon in the back room. But one day, the dog barked continuously at something outside while Felicia was home alone. She was afraid of the animal but her curiosity outweighed her fear and she let the dog out into the yard. When her mother and Ramos returned home and found the dog loose they were furious and blamed Felicia for ruining Ramos’ pact with the devil.

“You bitch, you ruined our chances of ever being rich!” Ramos screamed.

“Sal, y no vuelvas más,” Felicia’s mother said, uttering words a mother should never say to her child: leave and never return.

Felicia moved to her aunt’s house, where she was forced to sell fruits in the street and give all her hard-earned money to her aunt for rent. She never received a gift for her birthday, or was bought any school supplies. Sometimes she would go days without eating. If she refused to do any work around the house, she would be beaten with anything her aunt could get her hands on. Felicia could tell her aunt was emotionally broken; she could see it in her aunt’s crooked smile. Sometimes it felt too much to bear and Felicia would break down, tears forming around her eyes.

As a way of escaping the cruel reality of her aunt’s house, Felicia enrolled in school in Colegio Adventista Maria Dominican Republic.The new environment made her rebellious. She would stay out late with her friends and go to parties. She still got beaten by her aunt, but she was so used to it. It was like dinner.

Around this time, Felicia began dating a much older man named Tony, and was married to him by the time she was fifteen. As the relationship grew stronger, Felicia found out she was pregnant. The night she found out, she walked through the streets of her tiny village crying and thinking how cruel it would be to bring a child into the hard world. As her stomach grew wider, Felicia became desperate for a sign to tell her what her future held. On one blazing hot summer day as the concrete steamed the air like a cooking pot, her wooden home began to feel as if it were on fire. As the air grew thicker, it became harder to breathe, and all the family photos grew blurry on the walls. All Felicia could hear was the fan going around and around; she had fainted in her room.

She awoke later to hear her aunt screaming, “Don’t think because you’re pregnant I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt. Bring me a dozen eggs from the grocery store.”

Outside the store, Felicia saw a few of her friends gathered in the refreshing shade of the bodega’s canopy. “Hey, what you been up to?” she asked.

“Haven’t you heard? For tres mil pesos you get to live with the gringos.”

According to her friend, everyone in town was selling old couches, cars, and even their children if they could, for a ticket to go on a yola across the ocean to the United States. “Anyone would be insane to get on that, I heard thousands die every year.”

Felicia quietly returned to her aunt’s with the dozen eggs, but that night she decided to steal her aunt’s motorcycle and sell it to a man at the local bar for 3,500 pesos. If she was going to become a parent, she wanted her child to have a better life than she did. God will see me through, she thought.

The following night at one in the morning, she stood on the shore with 60 other people. Looking around, she realized she was one of the only pregnant women, let alone the youngest, to attempt the crossing. She carried her favorite books and the small amount of food she had snuck away to keep her sane throughout the long journey. As she a boarded the wooden yola, the boat began to wobble side to side, and she couldn’t figure out how the captain could see through the thick fog. As days passed, several people committed suicide by throwing themselves off the boat. The screams were torturous; she could see the sharks follow their blood trail. Food was running low, and so was everyone’s faith. An old man Felicia was sitting next to had died and the captain’s only option was to throw him in the water. Only 28 people survived the journey. They were thrown off to swim to the Puerto Rican Shore on a bright morning. Corrupt police stood by on watch.

The first night Felicia arrived, she found an abandoned home where many other immigrants stayed. She took housekeeping jobs around the city of San Juan before being admitted into the San Juan Bautista Hospital on October 8th 1995, when the reason she risked her life finally came into existence. She named the baby Carolann. The hospital kept Felicia and her child for a week because Felicia weighed just 90 pounds and was severely malnourished.

She didn’t know it on that day in 1995, but Felicia would soon meet a benefactor who would help her raise her Carolann. She would eventually move to New York City, meet her second husband, and settle in the white house on Elmhurst Avenue.

In the San Juan hospital that day, Felicia looked up at the ceiling, cradling her child, and knew she had made the right decision. She may have had to leave her husband and her home in the Dominican Republic, but she had saved her daughter.

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