My half sister Yolanda was 10 years old when I was born, so I literally and figuratively looked up to her. I remember her teaching me how to do the Twist. When my mom wasn’t home, I could always count on Yolanda to boss me around. I didn’t mind. She didn’t yell like my father was prone to do, and she didn’t talk to me like I was simple, which my mother tended to do. My sister always took the time to explain things to me, at times seeming wiser than either of my parents.
In my eyes, Yolanda was the most beautiful girl in the world (not counting Sarita Montiel, who I considered the most beautiful woman in the world). When I was a little older and we moved to the Ditman house, my dad and I would watch beauty pageants together on TV. We’d take a pencil and paper and score the contestants. We’d see who could pick the most winners after each elimination round. Once, my sister walked into the living room while we were doing this, and I remember looking at her and thinking she could beat them all. After that, I hounded her for weeks, begging her to enter a beauty pageant. I could imagine my sister on TV, having a crown placed on her head and having a big bouquet of roses handed to her. She’d smile at us through the television screen and I would be jumping on the couch with joy! I was sure she’d be a winner, but my sister dismissed my pleas with a flattered giggle, and eventually I gave up.
My sister was the only other person besides my mother and I to experience my father’s rage on an ongoing basis, and when I think about it now, it must have been harder for her to bear than it was for me, because he wasn’t even her natural father. He was just some random ogre who beat up her mom. My sister and father rarely spoke to each other except in the most cursory manner. Yolanda had lost her real father to cancer at a young age. It would have been nice if my dad could have given her a father’s love, but I don’t think she wanted it from him. I suspect that Yolanda deliberately tried to make herself invisible when my dad was around. Whenever possible, my sister stayed out of the house.
When we moved to Ditman Avenue, my sister Yolanda entered Stevenson Junior High School and met Angel Lujan, with whom she would eventually get married and spend the rest of her life. Yolanda spent most of her time after school at Angel’s house. When she and Angel did come to our house, they could usually be found making out in the narrow space between the neighboring apartment buildings. Being a typical little sister, I’d sometimes spy on them and throw rocks at them, and Yolanda would toss back empty threats at me. It seemed like Yolanda had managed to find a little piece of happiness and a way to save herself from the ugliness that thrived in our home. I don’t blame her for moving away from home at the first opportunity.
Yolanda died of cancer a few years ago. Being at my big sister’s side during the last few weeks as she struggled to fight off the inevitable was heartbreaking, because she was in excruciating pain. The type of cancer she had was incurable, and the doctors sent her home to live out her final days with her family. All we could do was try to dull her pain with morphine, but on the day she was sent home from the hospital, the nurse practitioner was delayed in getting to her house, and Yolanda began to moan for help as the drugs wore off. Panicked, Angel and I tried to figure out how to ease her suffering. I thought seriously of calling a friend who might have access to heroin. Finally, the drugs arrived and Angel, unable to see clearly through his grief, asked me to administer the painkiller into her mouth. “You can’t give her too much,” he said to me, but he needn’t have, since we were both thinking the same thing. Yolanda was in so much pain by then that all I could think to do was to help her by ending it. Every time she awoke and cried out in pain, I gave her more morphine to ease her suffering. In the end, I honestly think I may have taken my sister’s life by overdosing her on painkillers.
I dedicate this version of Angel Baby to my beloved older sister, Yolanda. This song will always remind me of you, sis.