Mercado’s memoir chronicles how a middle child in a large family experiences love, forgiveness and hope despite a lifetime of abuse, neglect and abandonment in the mountains of Puerto Rico.
The memoir opens with scenes of an idyllic childhood. Mercado lived in a small town outside Ponce, Puerto Rico, where her life included colorful characters in a bustling community. There were eight children at the beginning of Mercado’s story, all battling to use a single bathroom and hairbrush. Doris’ mother, Lina, worked as a seamstress. She was stern, but she encouraged 4-year-old Doris to read the newspaper. Doris’ father was well-liked and played affectionately with the children in their chaotic but happy household. Within two years, two more boys were born into the Mercado family; both needed extensive medical attention. The strain took its toll, and finally, the family moved in with Doris’ beloved grandmother in the mountain town of Jayuya. After the move, Doris’ life deteriorated. Her mother beat her repeatedly with a broomstick, and Doris spent many days nursing badly bruised limbs. Life continued to fall apart for the Mercado clan, particularly when Doris’ paternal grandmother invited Lina and the youngest children to New York for a fresh start. Doris and five of her siblings were left in the care of their father, although it was 14-year-old Doris who assumed chief responsibility. Within days of her mother’s departure, Doris’ father also walked out without explanation, leaving Doris and the others to fend for themselves. This living arrangement continued for another three years. Doris warned the children to keep their situation secret, so they wouldn’t alert the authorities. This profoundly sad story of neglect is told in simple, direct language. Doris’ capacity for forgiveness is astonishing, as is her single-minded focus on the love she feels for the brothers and sister left in her care. She eventually moved to the U.S., and her reunification with her parents was filled with more pain and abuse. Mercado’s reaching adulthood in one piece is remarkable; arriving with her soul intact is miraculous.
A straightforward, moving story about resilience.