Removing The Poison | The New Engagement

Removing The Poison

By Rachel Cuevas
Removing the Poison

An Excerpt from the novel, "The Unexamined Mind"

I was eleven when I went to my first audition. Summer of 1998. The interview was for a performing arts program that was part of a junior high school. My mom was not happy about it and took me because it was close to home. She wanted to continue to pick me up for lunch like she did all throughout elementary school. I despised her for taking me away from my friends. She wanted to make sure I ate a good lunch every day and often said, "A growing girl needs her vitamins".  I was a chubby kid and it was not going to kill me if I skipped a meal. I knew the real reason even though she denied it. She wanted to make sure I did not hang out with classmates who could possibly corrupt me. She did not acknowledge the fact that my home life had already done that. I was deep in thought when I felt a persistent poking on my shoulder. I was so lost in my head that I did not realize Britannia was trying to get my attention.

The spring of 2015 is when Britannia had her first audition.

"Mommy, you have to fill out the form."

We were in a cab heading towards Midtown. She was ecstatic about her audition; it was for a performing arts program and it was sponsored by a well known celebrity. They were offering a two-week scholarship and I could not be happier. I knew she would get accepted and so did she. Even though I was in a great mood, I was still a bit bothered by the unpleasant conversation I had with my mom. I guess she could tell; she gave me a puzzled look and asked me if I was okay.

Right before I picked Britannia up at school my mother called me and said I should not take her to the audition because it was raining.  I told her I was in a cab and not to worry. She responded with, "Well, I read in the application that chosen kids have to practice for over six hours a day for two weeks to prepare for a Broadway show audition". "What is the problem?" I said. "She is willing to work hard for what she wants, she has drive, ambition and confidence." Those are great qualities for a kid her age to possess. "Well then, how are you going to take her to Midtown everyday?" she said. "It's not worth it." I felt my temperature rise. " Are you fucking crazy, Mother?! I am going to make sure she takes advantage of every opportunity she gets!"

"Don't yell at me, Amy!" Truth is, I did not mean to yell and curse, so I apologized, said goodbye, and hung up the phone before she made me lose my cool again.  By now I thought I had gotten used to my mom's random bouts of anxiety. She's been projecting her neuroses onto me since I was a child. She started medication for her panic attacks when I was seventeen, a year before I got married.  I always thought what she needed was a good therapist, but for her, taking a pill was better than talking about her past. I knew she had scars from her childhood, but I had no idea how damaged she really was until a recent phone conversation. She was mad at my grandma again for starting drama; it was something she loved to do, even at ninety. She needed to vent and I was available. She told me she was sick of my abuela and was angry at her for never apologizing to her for being a bad mom. She said that "crazy Rita," my grandma, destroyed her dreams. She wanted to be a flight attendant. She had a friend named Maria, and they had plans to travel the world and escape their troubled lives. I was absolutely appalled when she told me Grandma used to have sex with random drunk men on the full-size bed they shared, but it gets worse. She used to have sex with these men while mom slept right next to her. She said her thirteenth year was her absolute worse. She was living a nightmare. She got molested by one of her mother's boyfriends. She didn't go into detail because as soon as she realized she babbled the word "molestation," she changed the subject. It became all clear to me right then and there. I finally understood her past and what scarred her the most—childhood instability, abuse, dysfunction, and her mother's addictions. She went from being an abused child to being a battered housewife.


Beginning of August is when a lot of changes started to happen. I left the shenanigans with the beginning of summer. I had a whole month before turning thirty one. Britannia was three days into her scholarship arts program. It wasn't easy taking her to Midtown everyday, especially with my crazy work schedule. Twelve hour shifts at a store in that neighborhood was mentally draining. She was worth every hour of sleep I lost. It was my duty to make sure she succeeded.

Two days later I found myself sitting in the back corner of my job, having coffee as I prepared myself for another twelve hour shift, ten AM to ten PM. The good thing was that I wouldn't be exhausted when I picked up Tannia in the morning for her arts program. I was a walking zombie the other day when I worked till three AM and had to take her to Midtown at seven in the morning. I looked at the package of BJ Blast and reminisced about my four-week affair with the pastor's son. I guess it wasn't an affair because neither of us were married. Still, it was an event to remember. I stopped myself from saying his name and shifted my focus to something else.

"Hi, I'm Amy, and I'm a sex addict," I laugh out loud as I recall some of the details of the previous night. I finally brought myself to an SAA meeting. I had been wanting to go for a while. Me and the bestie, Nicole, were planning on going together. The faces of concern those people gave me when I confessed to working at a sex store was alarming. Their expressions were right on, being surrounded by sex and corruption for twelve hours at a time can be challenging for people like me who get high on sexual adventures. One thing was certain: I needed to find a new job as soon as possible and leave adult shops in my past.  Socrates said, " The Secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new," and I knew I had to make serious changes soon.


It was January eighth when I got the call. When I saw the name on the caller ID I picked up immediately. I hadn't heard from my good friend, Jack, in a while.  I understood his struggle with depression and anxiety.  Jack had a hard time loving himself in the body of a female because he feels like a male inside. His family's acceptance means a lot to him, however their traditional ways stop them from being supportive. I was a bit skeptical when he told me that his job wanted to hire me again. I had quit the previous year because the managers ran that place like an Israeli military camp. Jack informed me of their dismissal and said the store was about to be under new management. He said for once in her seven years employed there, he was about to watch a twenty four-year-old bi-racial woman become manager.  Most Israeli owners only trust their own kind to run their businesses, so this was a big deal. Jack told me that the manager-to-be, Grace, worked there two years prior. Eight months ago it seemed like a miracle. I needed the money badly and definitely had enough experience in the sex field. I told myself it would just be for a few months, while I looked for a new job.

I knew my days were numbered there. However, I thought that I would at least make it to the end of October. I ended up quitting the first week of September because the owner wanted me to work an eighteen-hour shift. I guess that psychic was right. New beginnings before my birthday. She also said I wasn't done removing certain toxins in my life. She also said October is when the real changes would start happening and positive productivity would manifest, if I allowed it. Good things were coming, that I knew, but how long depended on the amount of time it took me to get my shit together.

As I wait for the doors of the 7 train to open, I was startled by strong vibrations on my backside. For a moment I thought I might have left my lipstick vibrator in the back pocket of my jeans. It was just my phone. I looked at the name flashing on the caller ID and sent it to voicemail immediately. It was Dr. Shoshana calling again. She called eight times and left six voicemails since I left her place last week. God damn, she wasn't content with the mental torture she imposed on me every Friday since I started cleaning her apartment/office. I let it go to voicemail because I really couldn't deal with her shit today. I breathed in the evening's crisp air. October's autumn breeze was in full effect. I stared at the sky, admiring its unique array of colors. Different shades of blues and pinks adorned the atmosphere as the sun prepared to set. I sat on a platform while I waited for Damien's mom, Kathy.

There's a bar across the street called The Station, right next door to a Dunkin Donuts. I thoroughly looked over my surroundings, hoping for a distraction from my almost crippling anxiety. Inside I was a a wreck as my brain started to count down the minutes, fifteen remaining. Kathy called and told me to meet her in front of Dunkin Donuts. She gave me the twenty dollars I asked to borrow followed by a quick hug and poof! she was gone. I purchased a chocolate chip muffin and a large cup of coffee. I proceeded towards the last table in the back. My hands were shaking a bit. I try to set my coffee down cautiously, but it backfired. I watched half of it pour onto the table before I grabbed the cup. I ignored the mess and sat down anyway. I took the menu out of my bag and studied it for what seemed like a minute before I looked at the time again. In eight minutes I would start training. I experienced a strong rush of caffeine so I left Dunkin Donuts and jogged four blocks to try and shake it off. What the hell was I thinking, I was already on overload without the coffee.

Here I am in Queens, a block away from my new job, where in approximately six minutes I would start waitress training. I had to learn everything in three hours so I could start the weekend shift.  I was beyond nervous. This was not what I was used to, but I was done with sex stores. I took a deep breath and forced myself to walk into the café. My heart started beating so fast, and I felt as if I could hear its thumping in my chest. My palms got sweaty and my brain decided to take a break. Damn it! Now was not the time. I couldn't think clearly because of my mind's frantic curiosities. Can you do this? Are they going to be able to tell you've never waitressed before? I shouldn't have lied on my resume. Truth is, the times I've been honest I have been overlooked and deep down I knew I was perfectly capable of handling this position. I had lots of other qualities besides being able to sell thousands of dollars in sex merchandise.

I stood in front of the café, two minutes remaining. I gave myself a pep talk only I could hear: Amy, you have been underestimated since you were a child. I know that made it easier for you to doubt yourself growing up. That is the past and you have to leave it there.  You have proven to yourself time after time that you are capable of anything you set your mind to. My inner voice was absolutely right.  I took two deep breaths and smiled as I walk into my new place of employment. After two hours of training I felt confident about the job. The owner's wife seemed to really believe that I had experience. Two days later, I was working the weekend shift, on my own and was doing a damn good job. Unfortunately, I was only there for a month before quitting. When the owner's wife, Anabelle, interviewed me she informed me that the job was on the books and said she would need my social security number. That was not a problem for me, despite what my sister, Antonia, and my mom would say. 

After four weeks of receiving cash instead of a check, I started to question my pay, especially since Anabelle was taking taxes out of it each week. When I started to ask questions, she became frantic with her words and accused me of threatening her business. She kept trying to assure me that she was doing nothing illegal. She ended up emailing me  fake paystubs that her CPA whipped up. That wasn't what made me quit. It was the text after that email, which stated, "If we are going to continue to work together then you need to trust and not interrogate me".

A single mother of one and lifelong New Yorker, Rachel Cuevas began writing in the second grade. She fell in love with writing at twelve years old, when she realized she could make the ugly thoughts in her head look beautiful on paper. She self published her first book "An Unexamined Truth" through amazon in February of 2015.

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