The Essay: A Brave Writer Reflects Upon The Dominican Republic, Games, Bachata, Family Violence And Loneliness

Licey al Medio, the town where Jeison Liranzo lived in the Dominican Republic.

By Jeison Liranzo

Growing up in the Dominican Republic in the town of Licey al Medio, I hated Sundays because it was always the day I was the loneliest. Almost every other day I had something to do. Monday through Friday I had school, and afterward, I did homework with my cousins. Then, we would always play baseball either in the backyard of my uncle’s house or on a big open grass field that was about a block away from us (but only if the cows were taken away to another farm for about a week so that they could get milked). 

I remember always waking up to music every day from el colmado (the convenience store) where adults would always group up to play dominos, drink, and gamble. Whenever the adults left to go work, us kids would go to el colmado to play dominos, too.

On Saturdays, my morning mood would depend on whether or not there would be electricity. For some reason, there would only be electricity some days in the morning and night and no electricity in the afternoon. If there was electricity, I would spend my Saturday morning watching cartoons before it left for the afternoon. If power was there in the morning, it meant that we were going to have electricity for the night. So we would be able to turn on the fans and be cooler, well, a little cooler. If there was no electricity I would just be slightly disappointed but I would still be okay because I lived with about one cousin and another one in the house next door. For the rest of the day friends, my other cousins and I would group up and usually play dodge ball, and some card games. 

On Sunday, cousins and friends weren’t usually there because they would go visit their relatives that lived far away and others went to church. I didn’t really care about religion so I never would go to church: I was alone for the day. But on the bright side I got to spend the day with my grandma. We would usually spend time cooking (I learned most of my cooking from her), watching TV if there was electricity, sitting under a tree that was in the front of the house, or we would just play card games. She was my best friend.

My favorite card game was called “Tres y Dos.” I used to play it with family members and friends and we would gamble during it. The game is usually played between two to seven people and everyone gets five cards. All the remaining cards are put in a stack and one card is put next to the stack. The person who goes first is either the person who shuffles the cards or the most recent game winner. Now for the gambling part of it, we used to use Panca mints which I miss here in the U.S. You would have to use three mints per game. If you didn’t have any mints, you would have to ask someone to lend you some mints – but you would have to return it with interest. This would occasionally cause some arguments among us.

There were three piles. The mints would go in “la mano, par negro, y corazon negro”. La mano (the round) would only be received by the winner of the round. Par negro (Black pair) was won by whoever that the highest black pair, the pair could both two black heart cards, two black leaf cards, or one leaf and one heart card. If no one had a black heart card the first person to get one would win it. Like all the games I play, this one took me away from the burdens of real life.

Life with my grandparents wasn’t always happy. My grandpa was an alcoholic who honestly traumatized me. Whenever he was drunk he would get really violent and I would become scared of my – and my grandma’s – safety. My grandma would always tell me to stay in my room. I couldn’t bring myself to stay in my room because I was scared that he would hurt her. I would always cry out for help. I would go running to my uncle’s house screaming for him to come help my grandma. Even through everything that happened, I was never able to bring myself to hate my grandpa because when he was sober he was the greatest grandpa. He tried multiple times over and over to get sober. But he was never successful. 

I was so happy to get my first ever Nintendo 2DS (My mom bought it for me the first time I ever came to visit the U.S for Christmas break). I used to hate when Sundays would come to an end because it meant I would have to focus on school. On the 2DS, I would play Zelda, Mario, Sonic, and a game where you could take a picture of something and the picture became a villain. It was a free game that I completely forgot the name of. I remember that before I had the 2DS I would use my cousin’s Game Boy Advance. But he would only let me use it if I paid him money.

Through everything that happened, the 2DS was always my best game friend because it was the only way I could bring myself to smile again. I would think of everything that was happening to me as a journey – just like the people in the video game had done. 

When I was in school in the DR, I used to do really bad in classes. But as I got older out of nowhere my brain turned on and I started doing well. That was once I came to the U.S. My favorite part of school iwas lunch and an hour long playground time after school because that was when the dance group would practice. When I was little I used to love to dance. But as I grew up, my bachata and merengue skills slowly disappeared. 

If I could go back in time like a game character, I would stop myself from losing my abilities since dance is such an important part of our culture. I remember when the dance group would practice, I would watch and practice alongside them but from a distance. One day, the dance coach noticed that I knew the entire choreography and asked me if I would be interested in being part of the group. I accepted. We practiced until the end of the year party where the entire school and their parents would meet and celebrate their kids moving onto the next grade. I remember how excited I felt when I was dancing up on the stage. I think my aunt took a video. I hope I can find the video someday. 

At the party everyone had their parents with them which made me jealous because I didn’t have parents at the party. The kids and their parents had such a good time celebrating together. But at least my aunt and uncle were there. Unfortunately, my grandparents weren’t there because they were too old to travel. Even though I had my aunt and uncle, I still felt lonely. At the end of the day they weren’t there celebrating me, they were there celebrating my cousin who was in the same year as me. But I was okay because I knew my mom was working hard in another country to be able to provide for me.  Even so, I wished for once to be selfish and ask my mom if she could come celebrate with me so she could see the hard work I put into dancing. At least I had my grandparents to congratulate me by phone once I got home from the celebration.

The day I went to the U.S was one of the hardest days of my life because it meant I had to say goodbye to my grandparents. I cried the entire plane ride and I couldn’t bring myself to eat for a week because I was craving my grandma’s food. Even playing the 2DS didn’t help.

I’m not sure what happened. Now, I can’t bring myself to call my grandma. Last time I talked to her was about six years ago. I remember crying when I heard her voice. Once the call was over, I told her I would call her the next day – but the next day never came. I’ve wanted to call my grandma for years now but I just can’t. And I don’t know why. I told one of my high school teachers about this and they recommended that I should write down what I would want to say to her. But when I sat down to write I couldn’t write anything. It’s like there is an invisible force that is stopping me from writing. I heard my brother talking to her recently. I found out that she is doing okay and that my grandpa is sober now. That day, I almost cried because they’ve changed so much since the last time I spoke to them. That same night I had a sad dream where I saw both of them and I just hugged them and cried because I missed them.

When I woke up, I thought to myself, Can I even call myself a writer if I can’t even write a letter to them?

Jeison Liranzo is a New York Videogame Critics Circle intern, part of our ongoing partnership with Bx Start.

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