The Family I Wish I Had

6 min readMay 22, 2020

By Skyla Pena

My favorite place is my imagination because it’s where I go to escape from the world around me. In my imagination I am on a beach that is always surrounded by a beautiful sunset. The ocean is as clear as a crystal ball and as blue as the sky on a summer day. The sand is as white and soft as a blanket. The palm trees on the beach have the most calming sound when they are swayed by the summer breeze. The beach is always relaxing and free of violence and danger. It smells of fresh ocean breeze and tropical plants. It is almost “perfect”.

But there are times when even my imagination can’t help the stress of the outside disappear, and sometimes they end up making my dream place a nightmare. Instead of the relaxing sunset on nice calm water, there’s just a plain night sky as dark as the pupils on a person’s eyes, with no stars, just plain darkness. There are all these loud distractions about my parents and their problems that instead of calming me down, they add more commotion in my brain and the noises make it hard to feel safe in this place. It makes me realize that I couldn’t escape my problems in the real world if I tried.

My name is Sienna Fontanez-Maldonado and I’m a Dominican/Puerto Rican teenager that lives with her mom in the city of Manhattan. My parents divorced when I was a baby and my mom got custody over my dad, who was a drug addict and always in a bad situation. My mom always tells me that my dad was a slob and he didn’t care about anything but himself.

My beautiful mother works as a home attendant and only gets paid about $7 an hour and never talks smack about anyone or anything… except when it comes to my dad. Those are the times that I usually go into my imagination, when my mom is talking about how much of a low life he was.

I just close my eyes and think of my happy place and soon the world around me disappears. But this time it doesn’t feel right and it feels like I can’t escape, almost as if something wants me to stay here and find something…. As if my mind is trapping me in and doesn’t want me to escape… I give into the force and I look around the beach and I find my parents, but it isn’t like my actual parents. They are… happy? They are hugging each other and laughing.

I then move and look at another memory I don’t know I had. This time it’s me and my dad on my fifth birthday. I don’t remember this party… My mom told me he was in Brooklyn picking up girls and was too drunk to come to any of my birthdays. Where do these memories come from? I ask myself as I look at all the other memories that somehow go from sad and lonely to happy and full of family time. Now that I think about it I can’t remember anything about my life before the age of six. Anything else is from what my mom has told me happened…

Then all of a sudden, I wake up. I’m on my bed and my mom is stroking my hair and she asks me if I am ok. I am so confused… I don’t know what just happened but all I manage to ask is, “Mami… what happened between you and Papi?”

“¿De que estas hablando mi amor?” she asks me.

“Mami… did Papi come to any of my birthday parties?” I ask, trying to see if she will help me figure out what I just saw.

“No mi amor…you know this already,” she sighs.

“No Mami, I don’t ‘KNOW’ this! YOU told me that Papi didn’t come…. but why do I feel like he was there Mami…” I plead.

“Sienna, are you okay? Tu estas hablando porquerías.” She touched my forehead as if checking to see if I had a fever.

“Mami… what was the real reason you and Papi split up?” I don’t really ask these types of questions but I have to know what happened…

“Sienna no voy a hablar de esto contigo…” She gets up and leaves.

I never bother asking her about it again and I try to act like it didn’t happen. My quiet space has now become the place that reminds me of the family I don’t have…. or at least I thought I didn’t have. I let Mami calm down, and then I walk to her room and knock on the door and walk-in.

“Hey Mami…” I say slowly and quietly, almost whispering.

“Sienna,” my mom says as she finishes folding her laundry.

“Mami… I didn’t mean to make you upset but I just wanted to know what happened. Why did my family break apart?” I plead.

After hesitating for a moment, Mami takes a deep breath and finally says to me “Okay! Okay… I’ll tell you what happened…. Pero por dios mija, calm down!” She yells.

“Thank you,” I say.

Running a hand down her face she says to me, “Okay, I don’t know where to start…. Sienna, your father and I were together for nine years before we had you. When you were born we were one hell of a happy family. In my eyes, the most perfect family…. until, your father started disappearing on me, on us. After that, he was having money troubles and he got into some real deep things…things a person shouldn’t be doing…. things that could get you killed — ” She was about to continue before I cut her off.

“Wait Mami, how did that affect us though?” I ask.

“Do you want to hear the story or not?” She asks, now annoyed.

“Yeah…” I say as I sit back down, not realizing that I had gotten up.

“Okay then, as I was saying your father put his family in danger with drugs and gangs. It was unsafe for you to be around him… when I first found out what he had gotten into, I gave him a chance to change. I told him it was either us or the streets?… He continued to do as he pleased, so I took him out of the picture by taking him to court… but before the court day, your father got drunk and he put you in the car…. the next day I got a call saying that you were in the hospital and had suffered a concussion due to a crash, you had lost your memory… that’s when I decided that your father was too dangerous for you to have in your life, so when you were discharged from the hospital that day, we never made it to our home. I ran away with you, left Florida, and moved to Manhattan,” she went on.

“Mami, do you still know Papi’s address?” I ask.

“Yes, why?” she asks.

“I just want to know,” I lie.

She gives me the address and I run to my room. She doesn’t find it weird considering I’m always running around. I don’t know what to do with the address so I start writing. I don’t know if I am ever going to mail the letter, but I know I just want to get my thinking on paper. I want my father to answer my questions.

The Family I Wish I Had was written in Jacqueline Woodson’s Family and Friends quaranTEEN voices, our virtual writing workshop for teens. Help support the unique voices of our young authors by sharing their stories and making a donation! To receive notices about opportunities for your child, sign up for our youth writing opportunities newsletter.