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The Tree of Shame by Leslie Marrero

My mother was a virgin when she met my father. I remember her drilling this to anyone who would listen. She was his first virgin. Maybe she was his only virgin. She bore him two children, girls. I am one of them, their eldest. 

 She was also one of his mistresses. I am the daughter of a mistress. My mother strived to be seen as una “mujer decente”. She never drank, so her carefully crafted mask would not slip away: The mask of a good woman. The mask of respectability. The mask of wife, except she wasn’t. She did everything my father asked or rather demanded. He demanded she keeps her hair short despite having beautiful wavy hair. She kept it short almost masculine. He forbade her to wear skirts or shorts. So, no matter the weather or the occasion, my mother was in jeans or slacks despite her beautiful legs.

My father kept odd hours in our one bedroom apartment.  I remember being awoken late nights as he slipped in. My mother like June Cleaver,  would cook him elaborate meals suited for dinner time of 5:00 pm yet she served it at 2:00 am. I would hear him slip out at 5:30 am.

For Christmas, even though we were little kids, wanting to believe in Santa Claus, that wasn’t our way. He would take us to Toys R’ Us and fill carts with toys as if that would make up for him not being there on Christmas morning. Just like there was no Santa Claus there was no daddy by the tree waiting with a smile.

“Papa why do we shop with you? so we can know there is no Santa Claus?”  I asked him once. 

“I am Santa Claus! You need to know that. Eso es para los blanquitos. Ehhh  Santa Claus.” He shook his head, exasperated at me.

My father was often annoyed by me. How dare I question the god, the king. My eyes, his eyes, betrayed my feelings. I think he saw the contempt I had for him. I knew early my dad wasn’t shit. I swore my future husband would be different.

I swore I wouldn’t wait by a window in a one bedroom apartment while the father of my daughters never showed up like he promised. I swore I wouldn’t carry the shame in my arms the way my mother did, unable to get us something we needed because my father was punishing her by refusing to send the envelope of cash. I swore I wouldn’t be second or ten to any woman.I would be the only woman.

Shame is an apple that doesn’t fall far from the tree. 


He was unassuming, quiet as I was loud and outspoken. My opinionated nature to his quiet lurking presence. Truthfully, I would not have noticed him if he hadn’t come into my radar by asking out one of my younger homegirls.

“Girl you are 23. That forty-year-old man with two kids isn’t for you. Learn from me. I wish I hadn’t dated men with kids when I was single.” I told her.

Later when I was four months pregnant, he would tell me that I ruined his chances with her, that I was a “hater”. Predators strip your armor slowly; they undress it from you. It almost feels like a soft caress. 

“You are such a flirt”

“It’s too much drama.”

“Why do you have to take so many selfies? You are so obsessed with yourself.”

 “I am a quiet dude I can’t have that around me.”

“I love you but you just too much drama”

“Why are your tits always out?”

“You are crazy.” 

“ No one likes you.

“Les-lie your mother named you right.

I remember the day I discovered I had fallen in love with a man that didn’t love me. We were at Riverside Park, the sun beaming down as all the beautiful brown and black bodies of my people danced at their church rejoicing to the hymns of house music.  My hair, lustrous and curly, my skin lightly tanned, my summer halter dress, he was dancing with us and my girls, until he saw her. I don’t remember the excuse he gave me but he spent the rest of that day by her side. Dancing in front of my friends, his friends. I should have left him then. I wish that was the middle of our story. It was the beginning.

“You don’t understand she’s my daughter’s mother.”

“Her father is disabled.”

 ”What kind of person are you?”

A stupid delusional one, I thought to myself.

Shame is an apple that doesn’t fall far from the tree. 


I did everything but turn myself inside out to be different. I would delete my social media accounts, I would delete people he swore I was flirting with, I would delete clothes from my wardrobe. Then, one day I looked in the mirror, I was 120 pounds and skeletal- I had deleted myself. 

He was married in name only. His legal separation excuse was a lie, one of many. He was and is still legally married to the last women he loved. Lies followed out of his mouth quite easily.  I became his mistress, unknowingly.

I am separated.

I don’t love her anymore, I love you. 

It’s not cheating it was just texting. 

I didn’t mean to hit you. You made me hit you.

I will get help

I don’t need help.

I am sorry.

 Then, lies flowed freely out of my mouth.

 My kid kicked me in the forehead, you know kids they are so clumsy. 

The heavy makeup on my latest injury couldn’t cover my black eye. My face caked up because no amount of expensive moisture can make the jagged lines of a cut on your forehead smooth.I didn’t have health insurance to get stitches for because as a waitress I survived on tips and shift pay.  I doubt my coworkers believed me.

 Stop hanging out with bad people Leslie. One of my bosses told me as he handed me my last check.  

I lived in shame that entire relationship. Shame while seating at the few family gatherings I would be allowed in, the daughter of a mistress, fatherless, in her 30’s with two kids from two different men. At our baby shower, my family made appearances but not one of his family members came to celebrate the arrival of our child.  I took him back multiple times despite having scars on my face from his accusations of my supposed infidelity. I sat at bars with women whom he had hit on during our relationship.

Shame is the apple that doesn’t fall far from the tree.


2016, was the year I contemplated suicide more than once.  My life kept breaking apart, little by little. 

One morning, my daughter and I ended up homeless, with no place to sleep. I needed to find a new destination. It did not matter what brought me to that stage in my life. I sat at my desk at the job, the one I would not have weeks later, and called the man whose heart I had broken months before to ask if my daughter and I could crash at his house and without hesitation, he said yes.

Slowly the leaves on my tree of shame began to wither.

My family endured seasons of death. It seemed every autumn one of my family members passed on. First, it was my cousin, forever 40 years old, his death would haunt me the most. Then, my uncle, his father followed an autumn later. At every funeral, my cousins and my sister had their significant others instead I had my pretty black dresses and my pretty bags. I was left alone even when I had someone.

When my mother passed suddenly after lingering in limbo for two weeks, my new love was there with me every day. This is the loss that would break me but ultimately saved me. In that demise, I saw the path to my freedom and the way to allow myself to be loved.

My body was covered in eczema from the grief of my mother,  the stress of being blackballed after the job I lost because I stood up for myself.  My new love forced me to go to urgent care and footed the medical bill as I had no insurance. When I wasn’t able to make my rent, he paid it. He supported me when I fought for my son to live with me. He became the first man I did not have to wonder if he will be by my side to celebrate another year of life. He is the man that helped me chopped down the tree of shame.

For years, I tended to my tree of shame.  It led me to bad places and poor choices. I danced with my demons in clubs and bars in New York City until the wee hours, so I wouldn’t face it.  I once believed I belong to a legacy of shame and illegitimacy.

Today, I can proudly say I broke this cycle of shame. As I am shaking this tree, and the apples fall to the ground, I am gathering them to make apple tarts and serve them at my wedding brunch this summer.


Leslie Marrero, born and raised in Spanish Harlem, New York City is a lifelong storyteller, opinionated,  fashion junkie, part time vegan with a PhD in shade.



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About wendyang

Wendy Angulo is a New York City born Latina, raised in Caracas, Venezuela. Wendy is a mother, writer, lawyer and the founder of Wendy Angulo Productions, an organization whose goal is to support, encourage, and promote poetry and visual arts in the borough of Queens. Wendy, re-discovered her love for writing in the summer of 2011 after attending a spoken word event in Queens. She then joined the New York City Latina Writers Group where she has been an active member and has taken on the role as the organization’s Program Director. Wendy is an essayist who is currently working on her Memoir. She has read her work at several venues throughout New York City, including Nuyorican’s Poets Cafe, East Harlem Cafe, Sankofa Sisterhood, Camaradas and has been published in the online journal Mom Egg Review; she is a 2016 VONA alum and the sole creator/curator and producer of Canvas of Words, an art and poetry showcase that birthed of Wendy’s desire to bring the arts back to her beloved borough of Queens. Wendy continues to scout for new talent and build new connections to perpetuate the arts and strengthen the literary community.

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