Roberto Olivera (RO) and Debra Olivera (DO)
RO: My stepfather was a cruel man to my mother, my sister and I, and everyone in the family. The beatings? Humiliations? I remember them every day. But my mother was a long suffering, beautiful woman. She was tall and she had radiant, light brown eyes. She made sure I read. She made sure I wrote. As I got older my stepfather and I were continually at odds and I found my refuge in school. I remember the counselor at the school called me in one day and said, um, “There’s a program at the University of Santa Barbara that will place you there for a summer in preparation for the university.” And I said, “There’s no way I can do that. My stepfather will never let me leave home.” But the counselor, he was persistent. Then the director of that program showed up and asked to speak to my father. It was not a very pleasant discussion. My stepfather, he said, “No way, he’s not going anywhere.” And then, when I’d been officially admitted at the university, I went to bed that night; I used to sleep on a cot in the kitchen, it was about 12 o’clock at night. And, um, in the quiet I could hear the match and my mom lit a cigarette. She was sitting in the kitchen in her bathrobe. She didn’t turn the light on and she said, “I’ve packed the suitcase. It’s in the garage. Next Saturday, leave, and do not look back. Go.” So I left. And, you know, I could never go back. The hostility was unbelievable. I don’t think I saw anyone in the family for maybe two years. But I, I thought of her constantly. I left her with that cruel man. The guilt with that still bothers me today. But if you could have seen her smile when I graduated. She whispered to me when I came down from the stage, “The applause for you was louder than for anybody in the room.” And I can look back today and I know she believed I had a place on the other side. Where would I be if it wasn’t for her?