Finding True Refuge

Updated: Jul 10, 2020


| This is the 105th story of Our Life Logs |

In 1989, I was born in Medellín, Colombia. I lived the first six years of my life in Colombia before my parents moved our family to the United States. At the time, Pablo Escobar, a drug lord and narco-terrorist, was wreaking havoc in Colombia and my parents didn’t feel that living there was safe anymore. My parents settled in Miami, Florida in hopes of giving my older brother and me a better life.

Me (left) with my brother, 1992.
Me (left) with my brother, 1992.

Beginning school in Florida was difficult because I had to first overcome the language barrier and navigate the cultural shock at just six years old. I had trouble keeping up in my classes and kids would make fun of me. I dressed and spoke differently than other kids, which made me feel like an outcast. My sanctuary was the class held after school by the lunch lady. She taught English to any kids who were interested. She would play Beatles songs for us to help provide examples of the language in a fun way. I remember I learned a lot of my English from The Beatles. Whenever I hear the song, “Yesterday” I think back to those great times learning English from the lunch lady.  If it wasn’t for her, I don’t think I would have learned the language so quickly.


My childhood was a constant uprooting because we were living in the US illegally. My parents had to move us around a lot to different places in Florida and had to use other peoples’ identification to help them get jobs since they were unable to get work permits. A lot of my childhood was spent with just my brother while both of my parents worked multiples jobs at once.

Me in 1999.
Me in 1999.

Alongside the stress of working and living under threat, my dad was never good to my mom. I remember he had major drug and alcohol problems. He also had an awful temper. It caused a lot of fights between my parents. He also used to take his anger out on my brother and me too. He wanted everyone in our family to be perfect. When we didn’t live up to his standards, he would beat us. I remember once getting beaten because I hadn’t written neatly enough on a homework assignment. Though I lived in fear of my father, I tried to understand him. I knew that he had been brought up getting beaten too. It was the only form of discipline he knew.

Regardless of the risks of living under false identities, my parents were able to make enough income for us to live comfortably for about seven years, but our years of stability didn’t last longer than that. When I was 13, my dad finally got caught with fake identification. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained my dad and searched for my brother, mom, and me. We were lucky to have found out about my father’s capture before the officers arrived. We didn’t go home to our apartment for days until officials had left the place alone.

My father’s arrest devastated us. We had tried so hard to create something stable in the US and it was ripped away in an instant. My mom tried so hard to keep our family together. Until my dad was deported, we didn’t have any contact with him. After three months in jail, my dad was sent back to Colombia, and when we finally had the chance to talk to him. He seemed disinterested on the phone. It was like his deportation made him feel ashamed that he lost his sense of duty as the patriarch of our family. I think it broke him. He stopped trying to be there for us. He gave up on being a dad for a long time.


My mom, brother, and I were forced to flee to New York where my aunt lived. For two years, we remained under the radar, trying to get by with just my mother’s income. We moved back to Miami after things had calmed down. It was only a matter of time until immigration got my mom too. She was driving home from work one day when she was stopped by a cop for an expired license. At the time, cops were allowed to ask drivers for their resident cards or proof of legalization in the country. Since my mom couldn’t provide that, she was detained and eventually deported.

A year after my mom’s deportation, my brother and I ended up going from home to home, anywhere that would give us a roof over our heads. The first home was my aunt’s, but we didn’t stay long because her husband didn’t want to support my brother and me. We were desperate to find any place to stay because we did not want to sleep on the streets. I was forced to leave behind many material things like pillows, instruments, and clothes, because I couldn’t take things with me.

I was 15 by this point, and knew I had to get a job since both of my parents were gone. I  searched for a job. Since I was unable to get a work permit, I had to rely on my friend from school to help get me jobs in South Beach where we lived. After school, I would go work a retail job part-time getting about $7 an hour. And I kept working and going to school until high school graduation.


My brother was in a liquor store one night and overheard someone looking for roommates. He thought this guy could be a possibility for a new temporary home, so he exchanged numbers with this individual. Within the same week we moved in with a complete stranger. My brother was hesitant, but we were desperate to find a home. Our new roommate was addicted to cocaine and had a drinking problem. I hated being around that environment, but it was all we had. We had to suck it up until we found something else. Eventually, we had made plans to move out.

On the night before my brother and I got another place, our roommate came into my room, drunk and under the influence of cocaine. He quietly sat on my bed, touching my hair and trying sweet talk me. I couldn’t move nor understand him. Before I could react, he jumped on top of me and locked my arms in place. He began touching me aggressively. He silenced my several cries of “no.” I was sexually abused that night, and it was the most horrible feeling I had felt in a long time. Thankfully my brother broke the door in and stopped him from continuing even longer. I only had my brother in this foreign country, but even he couldn’t always protect me. I felt soulless.

After that incident, I was a different person. I was no longer me. I was a careless version of myself. I began living a roller coaster ride of depression, with really high, happy moods followed by low, miserable moods. During those dark times, I had a desperate need to feel connected to life but couldn’t figure out how.  Searching for a way to feel something, I began harming myself. I would cut and burn my legs, forearms and areas near my pelvis. The pain was a way of keeping me from falling into a dissociative state of being.

When I was about 16, we caught a break and moved in with my uncle. Things felt more reliable with him, or at least I thought it was at first. What I didn’t know was that my uncle and his former girlfriend were alcoholics. They would drink every single day. Drinks for breakfast, drinks for lunch and wine for dinner. Their favorite drink for them was Aguardiente Antioqueño, with 35% liquor volume. There were fights on a daily basis due to the excessive drinking and they would encourage me to drink along with them to the point where I was going to school drunk. I was their toy. This was my environment every day for a year. I felt obligated to my uncle and his girlfriend for taking us in, so I would do what they asked of me. I could handle the drinking, but I couldn’t handle the beating from my uncle’s girlfriend. She would beat me for staying out too late on school nights. They didn’t realize that the reason I stayed out so late was to avoid the drinking and fighting I had to deal with in their home.


One day, when I was only 16 and very naïve. I made the mistake of trusting someone that told me he would help me get my green card. I was desperate and somewhat alone. This man was charismatic and made it easy to trust him. The man was a personal trainer, and he offered to train me for free after hearing my story. He sympathized with my situation and seemed to truly care.

Before training, he would help me stretch.  He started massaging my inner thighs, but very differently from the rest of my body. I felt the same discomfort that I had with the guy who held down my arms to my bed. I began having flashbacks. The trainer claimed that it was normal routine for him and the rest of the girls he trains. I was filled with utter disgust. I wanted to ki