Happy Reading. Happy Mother's Week.
The Latina Book Club congratulates Manny Melendez. His book, BATTLE FOR A SOUL, is a finalist in the 2015 International Latino Book Awards.
When God created mothers, He decided to add an exceptional ingredient, which no other of His creations possessed. And that is an incredible strength, a determination that would take them from hell to heaven, and back to hell. They could easily move mountains, if their children were in danger, in trouble or just in need of that special touch to remind them that no matter what the circumstances, even as bad as it might look, she will make everything alright.
Growing up, I was fortunate to have a ringside seat to see such power, and still to this day I see that power whenever I speak to her. My mother is an incredible woman, who throughout her life she faced many adversities, from coming to this country from Puerto Rico without any knowledge of the language and a fourth grade education. Still she not only learned the language, studied and received her high school diploma, she then went to college to further her career with the Department of Welfare, and all that was accomplished by juggling the role of wife, and mother to my two sisters, my brother and I.
Her wisdom, her talent to listen and advise you, without preaching, is one of the reasons she has always been my confidant, especially with my writing. She’s always there to be part of my triumphs and failures when it comes to my desire to become the best writer I can be. While writing “Battle for a Soul”, a story that haunted me for years, a story that I felt I needed to write in order to banish it from my soul, she was there from the planting of the first seed.
A brief history of how I was born and how the story was born as well. My mother gave birth to me in Puerto Rico, when laboring mothers were assisted by a midwife, and their newborns saw life in their own home. When I was born, complications made my chances to survive those first few hours as slim as they could possibly get. We were both rushed to the hospital, where cold hearted doctors advised my mother that it was best for me to be transported to another hospital, a hospital well known for no survival. God only knows what grave condition she herself was inflicted with, yet my mother’s strength stood up to the doctors and told them that if her child, her newborn was going to die, he will die in her arms, in her own home, not inside a cold, strange place where no one cared if I lived or died.
I used that as a backdrop for a scene in the novel BATTLE FOR A SOUL.
“Your son almost died the day he was born,” Francisco uttered with authority. “After he was born in your home and rushed to the hospital, the doctors felt that there was nothing they could do. They wanted you to go back home and to leave your baby with them, where you knew he would die if you left him there by himself.”
“Yes,” Josefa sighed as fresh tears rolled down her eyes remembering that awful day. “I knew where they were going to send him…to another hospital where only patients who were about to die were shipped...like infected cattle.” Josefa came closer to the table and placed her elbow on the edge while resting her head on the back of her hand. “I refused to let my baby die by himself,” she sobbed, snapping forward and grabbing the edge on the table. “I told those cold-blooded bastards that if my son was going to die, he wasn’t going to die inside a cruel place like that, but he was going to die in my arms in his own home.”
I was brought back to her house, and my father was dismissed in the early morning to seek the Catholic priest in order for me to be baptized, figuring if I die, at least I’d be clean from sin and ready to join God. But through her strength, her love, and the help of holistic herbs from the midwife, soon this little dying boy received the power of an incredible woman and when taken back to the hospital a few weeks later, the same doctors who placed the death sentence on me, were astonished that I was in perfect health.
Throughout the years, I learned more and more about my first minutes, hours of my birth and always curious to know as much as possible. I asked many times for my mother to give me every detail of that night. It was in one of those conversations where I learned of the lonely, sickly boy from my mother’s youth. How this boy was madly in love with her, even if it was only in his mind and no one knew his secrets. My mother grew up, met my father, got married and moved on. During that time this sickly boy died, but his love for my mother was too powerful, perhaps the infatuation confused with love, kept his spirit from accepting his fate, therefore he remainedin limbo…always close to her. And listening to those stories, stories that hinted that a spirit was also part of my very own existence, my very own name…the seed was planted.
Many times the story came to me, like a whispered message, and I would listen, and again the conversation with my mother about my birth became once again a topic of major importance to me. Was I obsessed with the story? Was the story a fictitious one laced with a few real details, consumed by my wild imagination? Regardless, the story went from an interesting notion to this hunger, this thirst that I needed to satisfy no matter what. The story haunted me, especially at night, when dreams became nightmares that left me yelling and jumping out of bed covered in a cold sweat.
Finally I decided to listen to the whispering voices in me, and soon that seed in me began to grow roots, and a life of its own. As I began to write the story, it felt like a porthole that opened and soon I was possessed by the magic, and I knew that no matter what, I needed to rip this story off my chest once and for all. In the early stages of the story, I remember one day coming home after work and turning on the computer, discovered that 60 plus pages written now looked like Egyptian writing. The entire document was corrupted, which it puzzled me because I have a habit of saving every other paragraph. Thanks to my notebooks, where I write my stories first, I was able to rewrite what I lost, yet something was bothering me. I didn’t know exactly what it was, but it felt weird. As the story began to take shape, more pages on my notebook were filled. One day I found myself out by Hunts Point in the Bronx waiting for a bus to take me back to the train station. It began to rain, there were no bus shelters as a downpour took me by surprise and drenched me within seconds.
Arriving home, I was shocked that inside my knapsack, everything was dry, with the exception of my notebook. All the pages were stuck to one another, the ink had bled throughout and it was impossible to make out what I had written…over 40 pages turned to blue smears and ruined wet paper. I sat down to rewrite it, hoping for my memory not to fail me, because many times what your imagination tells you to write in one second if not recorded all those words become fading memories, like those of a dream that soon you forget when morning turns into midday.
And that’s when the jittersbegan. Working a full-time job, my writing time is done during the evening, many times if all cylinders are firing nicely, I could easily write way past midnight. It was no different with this story; with one exception, I felt a presence as I wrote, making me turn around quickly expecting to see something or someone standing behind me. Many nights the willies got the best of me, and like a frightened child afraid of the school bully, I would run out of my apartment. Fearful of my own place, I would walk for hours in the middle of the night up and down Queens Boulevard, with this uneasiness about returning. For many nights this became my routine, until finally during one of my conversations with my mother, I told her what I was experiencing. Her first reaction, was to stop writing it. As many people who know me, I could be a stubborn individual, so of course my mother was not surprised that my answer was that I must write this story.
That’s when her motherly love and understanding and respect for my wishes came into play. She came up with an idea. If this story was so important to me, and if I truly felt something was trying to stop me, then why not bring God and my faith into the mix. She went on to suggest to do a Novena and to buy a candle, those that come in the big glass jars, light it up and for nine straight days,read any favorite passage from the Bible, and then just speak to whoever I felt was trying to stop me from writing the story. Of course I knew who I needed to speak to, the sickly boy from my mother’s youth, the one whose name was the same as mine (that’s another story for another time). And the last thing my mother advised me was to stay away from the story for those nine days. I followed her advise, at first feeling a bit silly, but trusting her, I complied. For those nine days, every morning I read Psalm 23, and then I would spend a few minutes explaining to the memory of this sickly boy that my intentions were not to belittle his spirit, but rather bring something out which I felt was part of me, and as much as part of him and my mother as well. Without me knowing, later on, my mother revealed to me that she was doing a Novena as well to help me.
Finally, the nine days were over, and interesting, the candle also lasted exactly nine days. The next night, to my surprise when I went back to the story, the words poured out, as if I was taking dictation, rather than thinking what to write. I wrote until my eyes couldn’t stay open. I wrote with passion, the story taking shape, and the characters becoming as real as the people who I see every day in my travels at work. Especially Josefa, the strong protagonist of the story. I wanted to give her the strength of a mother, therefore I fashioned her after my own mother. I also wanted to show the integrity all mothers have, and especially the pride of a Puerto Rican woman. I wanted to show all that, for everyone to see the Latina woman’s resilience, that refuses to give up. Even though “Battle for a Soul” is a supernatural tale, filled with spirits, demons and Santeria, one thing I believe stands out, throughout the novel, the strongest characters are the women, and no more did I show such strength than in this two experts from BATTLE FOR A SOUL. The first shows Josefa’s determination to protect her family any at cost.
“She slammed her hands against the hood on the car where the two cops were pushing Felix into, and before she could touch Felix, another cop came from behind her and wrapped his strong arms around her waist. She screamed, with a long ‘NOOOOOOOOO!’ Wanting it all to be a bad dream, she hoped that, as soon as she woke up, she would hear the loud snoring coming from Eddie’s room. She was going to wake up and find Agapito slipping out of the apartment to start his first job. She wanted so bad to wake up from this horrible nightmare, to have things back to the way they were, but this wasn’t a nightmare. This was the hard reality her family’s life had come to be. One son was in a coma in the hospital while her other son was being taken away in handcuffs like some two-bit criminal. Josefa screamed into the night; screams tearing from her insides, haunting every person that was witnessing the scene. Clenching her fist in the air, Josefa cursed Eduardo, knowing that this was his doing. Knowing he was enjoying the pain she was going through. She cursed his existence, cursed his name, cursed his obsession, and cursed him with every molecule in her being. She wanted him to be gone from her life, from her family’s life. Now she was ready to fight!”
And the second expert is the sacrifices another mother decided to make, just for the sake of her son.
“You hurt my son, Josefa,” the old woman whispered. “And for that I will never be able to forgive you. My hands will always be around the throat of your life. Your husband will learn to hate you, your oldest son will be shamed by his deeds, and your younger son will only return to your arms if he’s reborn with my own son’s soul in his little heart. Oh you mad horrible woman; you don’t know the powers of a mother’s love.”
As you gather in this article, my mother is my biggest influence in life and I’m blessed to have her in my life. Now she lives in Lancaster, PA, which makes it hard to see her as much as I would love to see her. I called her at least four times during the week, and we never run out of things to talk about. This Mother’s Day I’ll be heading out to see her, to spend the weekend surrounded by her love, her smiles, her excellent cooking and most of all her hugs that will never grow old, for every time I’m near her, the little boy in me always comes out.###
Read Manny's poem -- Quien Eres Tu? / Who Are You? -- written in celebration of his mother's 80'th birthday by clicking here.
Book Summary: BATTLE FOR A SOUL tells the story of a mother of two boys and three daughters trying to survive their first year in New York after arriving from Puerto Rico. Little did she know that a move for a seemingly better lifestyle would become a labyrinth of sorrow and horror. She is battling a curse from her past in the form of a spirit named Eduardo. It is the spirit of a man who once loved her from a distance, and who will do anything to possess her. There are no boundaries for this evil ghost, he is determined to destroy her family, and keep the youngest son's soul for eternity. This is a haunting story of an obsession, false love, and the strength of a mother who will fight for her family at whatever cost.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Manuel A. Melendez is a Puerto Rican author born in Puerto Rico and raised in East Harlem, NY. He is the author of a mystery/ supernatural novel (WHEN ANGELS FALL), two poetry books, and a collection of Christmas short stories. BATTLE FOR A SOUL was inspired by events that resulted in his own naming at birth, and these events haunted him from childhood and throughout the writing of the book. The author lives in Sunnyside, NY, harvesting tales from the streets of the city.