Where It All Started

Where It All Started

His glowing peach fuzz skin and perfect teeth were more than she could take.  She’d had to wear braces and spent a small fortune on acne products.  Anything to conceal, cover, dry up the constant pimply eruptions.  But none of them worked.  Uggghhh

Just wait, Martha told herself, till puberty hits.  This gunk will be all gone on this face, and his pores will erupt like volcanoes. Martha watched and waited for her baby brother to stop being the darling little boy, her dad’s tag-along, her mom’s baby.


Canela, Cinnamon.  That’s where it all started.

With his adoring gaze her father had christened her with a nickname that stuck: Canela, alluding to the cinnamon glow of her skin that won her compliments from perfect strangers.  Canela—the word brought aromas to mind:  the delicious spice sprinkled on Abuela’s/Grandma’s rice pudding, the stick to stir chocolate caliente—the real hot chocolate at Christmas.  Plus it was better than “Martha,” and served as a reminder for relatives to gift her with lovely silver jewelry that contrasted stunningly with her canela skin tone.

Sweet Canela, beautiful and brown.  Mom doted on her, and she was daddy’s little girl always.

Then gradually the blemishes came.  First on her chin, then on the forehead, and most dreadful of all—on her cheeks.  The dermatologist assured her it was temporary—“you’ll grow out of it, Canela”—but that was little consolation in the prime of adolescent socializing.  Make-up designed for coverage only exacerbated the red greasiness.

You could say her baby brother’s appearance on the scene was gradual, too.  Nine whole months from the big surprise announcement—first a private special moment revealing the news to big sister, then a huge family celebration—rented tables even! She had worn her silver choker with a strapless silk top, and no one had said a word to her.

This was followed by endless shopping and preparations for baby. It was all a blur to Canela. Nine-month gestation aside, there was nothing gradual about her baby brother’s intrusion in her world.

It was an explosion, as unwelcome as the oozing pus on her face.

That’s where it all started—again.

Canela remembered the day Abel came home, the pain of it like an infected cyst she wanted to be rid of.

She watched through the window, her father opening the door for her mom as if she were a delicate vase.  Her mom headed straight to the rocking chair in baby Abel’s room, her dad following holding his treasured boy cozily wrapped in blue.

And a few months later when Canela caught a peek of her dad, her papi, just staring at the sleeping boy in the crib.

“Caramelo,” she heard him say. Another christening alluding to the radiance of Abel’s skin, a creamy café au lait.

Caramelo—caramel. The word brought enticing flavors to mind.  The rich concoction poured over French vanilla ice cream, the honey-like spread mom used to put on Canela’s toast, the sweet topping on Abuela’s custard.

And like Canela, it stuck.  Caramelo—Melo for short.

Martha/Canela waited for Abel/Melo to stop being the family darling.  She waited for his teeth to come in crooked and impacted, for his face to erupt in pimply scabs.

But she waited in vain.

And as years passed, she could barely conceal the festering feeling that next to her brother she was merely silver next to gold.



“Eat your breakfast, Martica. You’ll be late for kindergarten, and I’ll be late for PTA.”  Canela poured syrup on her daughter’s pancakes, a cup of decaf for herself.

“Honey,” the girl’s father announced, kissing his daughter’s head.

“My Martica shimmers like honey,  so sweet.  My Honey.”

Canela felt her expanding waist, sipping her coffee-not-coffee.  She thought of the baby, here in six months.  And she thought of Melo.

“No,” she said. “Her name is Martica. I hate nicknames.”

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