Sometimes, many times, it’s difficult to come up with the right words to express my feelings. I’ve never been the most intelligent, or the most tactful, or even the kindest person in my life. I’ve been privileged in many ways. I never really had to face any hardships in my life, and this made me complacent. I thought happiness and fulfillment were things that would always be on my table, never in short supply. My personality developed around this, and though I love myself and who I am, I can’t quite understand why I could never see the darkness in the world.
I see it now.
Some time ago, I couldn’t even imagine having these thoughts. Any plans I made were based on whatever was happening around me; I always went with the flow, because the flow was always in my favor. Don’t get me wrong: I loved this! It was so satisfying to be able to live without a care. This way of living, though, made the rude awakening so much harsher. I wasn’t ready.
And now… who am I? When my happiness is snatched away and I’ve never had to face difficulty in my life, how do I deal? How do I find the strength to move forward? When the biggest source of joy, of pride, and of fulfillment in this world, my world, is in danger… where does that leave me?
I’ve been hiding secrets from everyone. Revealing my inner heartbreak is, perhaps, the best way of finding my path back to happiness, but who knows?
I certainly don’t.
This story begins at the end of a long period of bliss during my time living abroad. It’s useless to discuss the specifics of the setting, because… well, you’ll see.
I was living in a big old house with some of my best friends, a sort of celebration since I had graduated university early and wanted to feel the freedom of choosing where to live and what to do. We had a lovely home, held big parties, and, as some would say, lived our best lives together. We were a good group, the four of us. We loved each other, cared for each other, and had no worries. There were dark times coming soon for each of us, but how could we have known any of that? We were young, attractive, and fun! Those things weren’t even on our minds.
Aurora and I had been close for years. We majored in the same field while at school, and did everything together. Living together while discovering the world was a logical step for us and I considered her to be the sister I had always wanted. On the morning that everything changed, we were chatting about our plans for the future. We had been feeling that maybe it was time to move on to new things, and we had been discussing just what that meant for us and the little world we had created. Aurora wasn’t too happy about the idea of moving away from her family again. Our conversation that day revolved mostly around this.
“I’m just anxious about leaving them behind again,” she said. “I don’t think my mother is going to take this well, I promised I’d at least stay in the country!”
I chuckled, thinking about Aurora’s mother’s overbearing nature. “Are you sure about that?” I teased, “because it seems to me that you’re trying to escape from their clutches again!”
“You’re too much sometimes, you know?” Aurora giggled. She was used to my teasing so she never took offense to my occasional jabs.
“What do you think you’re going to do about…” she hesitated before reformulating her question. “Do you think Adrián is going to take this well?”
I stopped to think a little. “Why do you think he wouldn’t take it well?” I asked, curious about her concern.
“Well, his family is even more involved in his life than my own is in mine,” she pointed out, “and that’s not even getting into, well… you know. You’re kind of part of their family now, too.”
“Do you really think they’d have a problem with us going away somewhere else?” I asked. I could see what she was getting at, but I hadn’t truly thought about it before now.
“I just think you should really discuss this carefully with him. It’s not just you your decisions will affect from now on.”
She was right, of course. I didn’t like thinking about confrontation, so I hadn’t taken the time to tell Adrián about what I wanted to do aside from throwaway comments here and there.
Adrián and I had met at the beginning of my time in this country and I was instantly attracted to him because he was a sweet, clever, and handsome guy. We met at a party thrown as a way to welcome Aurora back to her home after some years away. He was related to her in some way, I’m not exactly sure how, some sort of distant cousin or something. He brought me drinks and snacks and made me laugh all night, and by the end of the party I felt the fluttering in my stomach that preceded an infatuation. I fell hard.
After staying with her family for a few weeks, Aurora and I had planned to rent out a place from a guy she knew. He flaked out, though, and Adrián came to our rescue, offering to rent out some rooms to us in a house his family owned. He lived there, he said, would that make it awkward? I said no, obviously not! We had been seeing each other for some weeks at that point and I felt comfortable enough to live in the same house as him. We would have different rooms, I said, there’s not going to be a single problem! I was excited; life was just so much fun in this new place!
When we moved in, Adrián mentioned that he had an extra room to rent out and asked if we knew anyone else who might want the space. During many of the parties I attended with Aurora, I had gotten to know a girl named Cielo pretty well. She was also somehow related to Aurora and Adrián, another distant cousin or something. At the time, I thought it was amusing how everyone seemed to know each other in this city, but didn’t think it was that odd considering how I had just fallen into Aurora’s friend group and was mostly meeting people she knew. I told Adrián that Cielo had mentioned looking for a new place, and since she was my friend now, I felt like she’d make the perfect housemate. I liked her a lot, after all. Adrián was hesitant about allowing her to move in at first, but he relented when he saw how excited I was to accommodate my new friend.
Cielo was never the most cheerful of girls, but she had a sarcastic wit that I loved. She was very mysterious and I enjoyed getting to know her as the months passed by. It seemed like she was always hiding something, but this intrigue fascinated me. Life for me had been pretty straightforward, I asked and I received an answer, so having a tought nut to crack, so to speak, was a fun challenge for me. Cielo went along with it, slowly opening up to me and becoming a strong friend as time went on. I learned that she was very loyal, sometimes to a fault, and fiercely protective. I thought, gee, that girl would not be the one to cross! Luckily, I was in her inner circle, which meant that this loyal protectiveness extended to me.
I never learned everything about her, but now I wish I had. It could have prevented… many things.
“…and then he fell asleep! It was so sweet to see that, he’s so precious!” I was saying, finishing a story I was telling Aurora.
“He’s certainly changed things,” she said, smiling.
“I never thought I’d love someone so much!” I gushed. I felt like I was glowing, just talking about this. “If you had told me just a few years ago that this would be my life, I wouldn’t have believed you!”
Aurora looked ready to say something in response, but she stopped when we heard steps behind us. We turned around to see Cielo walking toward us with a somber expression on her face. We were used to this by now, though, so we didn’t think much of it. She had always been like this, even though lately it had been rare to see her smile. I was concerned and planned to find out what had been bothering her, but she was so busy and gone most of the time that I hadn’t been able to take the time to discuss her recent pronounced moodiness.
She reached us and muttered a quick hello. I could see Aurora looking a little nervous; the two had never been too close, but I never thought this was too strange. They were similar to each other in some ways, even though Aurora resented hearing that when I pointed it out once, saying that she’d never be like Cielo.
“Um, hi Cielo,” Aurora said with a slight frown on her face. “Do you want to sit? You’re kind of blocking the sunlight!”
Cielo didn’t sit. Her dark eyes flashed when she sensed the confrontation in Aurora’s tone, but she kept her cool. “You girls having fun? You must be tired after all the parties and everything.”
“Oooh, yes!” I said excitedly, “Cielo, you missed the best party the other night! Everyone was there, even Raúl.” Raúl was Cielo’s boyfriend, so I thought it was strange she hadn’t shown up to the party.
“Yes, I know,” she responded, “but I had family business to attend to. You know how these things work.”
I sighed. “I wish you would take more time for yourself! It seems like you’re always taking too much time dealing with your family and their business. Have some fun, girl!”
“Yeah, you should chill,” Aurora said. I missed the tension in her voice, but Cielo definitely caught it.
“Some things are more important than parties,” she said in an icy tone, “but you know this already, don’t you Marjan?”
I laughed. “No worries! I made sure I was home early and was awake bright and early the next day.”
“Yeah, there’s no need to criticize us having fun,” said Aurora.
Cielo looked away. When she looked back, her eyes had softened. “Maybe you’re right, I’m just a little stressed these days,” she said, sighing.
“You should take some time off and we could have a girls’ night!” I said, “it’s been ages since the three of us kicked back and had fun together!”
“Perhaps. I’ll see if I have the time,” said Cielo.
Aurora rolled her eyes. “Don’t sound too excited, girl.”
“Anyway, Marjan. Adrián asked me to tell you he’s looking for you,” Cielo said. “He’s at the house.”
“Oh, all right!” I exclaimed. “I think I’ll go see if he needs any help.”
I got up and left my two friends. I could tell that there was tension in the air, but I didn’t quite understand and I always avoided confrontation, so I forgot about it when I reached the house. I was sure they’d figure things out, as they always had before.
“You look beautiful, love.”
I was so happy to see Adrián. I had been asleep when he got home the previous night, and that day he had been out all day, taking care of some business. It seemed like he was always busy, like Cielo, but unlike her he somehow always was in a good mood. He was the sweetest guy, and he made me feel so good. Every time that he was home, he was helpful and always made sure Aurora and I had everything we needed. Cielo wasn’t around much, so I hadn’t really see them interacting recently.
“So I thought that the three of us could go on a trip soon,” Adrián said, flashing me one of his bright smiles that I loved. “I think we deserve to go away for a while after we’ve worked so hard!”
Trip. Going away. I gulped, thinking about what Aurora had been saying before. Adrián needed to know that my plans of starting a new life somewhere else were serious. I need to make sure he’s all right with all of us moving away to a new adventure, I thought.
“Sweetie…” I began, feeling nervous about the whole discussion, “we should talk about what I’ve been saying about moving.”
He didn’t react; instead, he took me in his arms, looking deeply into my eyes. “Yes, I’ve been thinking about that, too.”
“You have? You’ve been paying attention?” I was surprised, not because I didn’t think he was attentive, but because my comments up until that point had been rather noncommittal.
He laughed. “Yes, of course! I’ve always wanted to see what’s beyond this city.”
I couldn’t stop smiling. I don’t know why I was so worried!
“Besides,” he said, “I would follow you anywhere you decided to go.” He surprised me with a kiss.
I pulled away, still slightly shocked at how well the conversation was going. “Are you sure? I mean, leaving your parents and everything…”
“They’ll have to deal with it! We have to think about our own family now, the one we’re forming together,” he said, holding my hand. “There are other things out there for all of us.”
“So… really?” I said, “I thought it would be harder to convince you.”
He smiled. “Love, I knew we would be taking this step after we got together. We just had to wait until the right moment, and now I think it’s here.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. Do you see what I mean when I say that things always seemed to be easier for me than expected? I had been preparing myself for this conversation for weeks, lining up my arguments for why I thought our futures would be benefited by going somewhere new, steeling myself for confrontation, pondering if my wishes weren’t for the best. And then, this? It was better than I expected, but I felt somehow shaken by how not difficult this had been.
“I… I don’t know what to say,” I murmured, “thank you.”
“How about you just come over here?”
“So, you’re really just sitting here and chatting about frivolities when you’re aware of what’s going on?” Cielo said disapprovingly.
Aurora wasn’t happy to hear this. “I don’t think it’s your place to come here with your holier-than-thou attitude. You’re not her mother.”
“No, but I am her friend,” Cielo said defensively.
“Some friend, selling her out,” said Aurora.
“And just what would you know about that?” Cielo snapped.
Aurora let all the tension that had been building inside her come rushing out. “Well, first of all: yes, I know what’s been going on.”
“And just what might that be?” Cielo asked.
“I know your family and their shady businesses. Why do you think my parents cut everyone in your family out after… well, after…”
“You can’t even bring yourself to say his name. Typical.”
“And can you blame me? Your parents are scum, and now they’re dragging Adrián’s family into this? And you’re helping?” Aurora was growing more heated by the second. “You’re no better than they are, you know that?”
“I don’t like this either, but Adrián’s family knew better than to double-cross my parents.”
“And just what does Marjan have to do with any of this?” Aurora snapped.
Cielo had reached the end of her patience. “Aurora, don’t be dense. You know exactly why she’s a target,” she growled in a low voice. “She and Adrián have formed their own family now, for better or for worse, and this puts her in danger.”
Aurora gasped. “They wouldn’t.”
“You know better than most that they absolutely would,” Cielo continued to growl, “and I know better than anyone that getting in their way would be suicide.”
“There has got to be a better way to resolve this,” Aurora said, tears forming in her eyes, “I don’t see why they need to involve Marjan and…”
Cielo cut her off. “Keep your voice down! There are ears everywhere.” She calmed down, sighing, “I’m only telling you now because I want to make sure that Marjan complies with everything. You’re her best friend, you will know what to say.”
Aurora burst into tears. “I don’t want to be a part of this! It isn’t fair!”
Cielo softened a bit, squeezing Aurora’s shoulder. “I don’t want to either, but this is what we’ve been born into.”
Aurora dried her tears, attempting to gulp away the lump in her throat and drive away the knot in her stomach. “So… what do I have to do?”
I felt ecstatic. I just couldn’t believe my luck. I was in the arms of the sweetest, most wonderful man in the world, and he made me feel like I was the only woman in the universe. I was so in love.
“So when do you think we could go?” I asked, looking into his eyes.
“There are some things I need to take care of before leaving, but I think we should be able to leave as soon as you’re ready,” he answered.
He chuckled. “If that’s what you wish, then the sooner the better.”
“Oh, this is so exciting! I can’t wait to start our new adventure, all together!” I gushed.
Adrián held my head in his hands. “Marjan, you have to know…”
I sensed something in his voice. “Know what, sweetie?”
His eyes unfocused, then quickly focused back on mine. “…you have to know that you’ve made me the happiest man in the world.”
I laughed, shaking away his hands. “You don’t even have to say it, you know I know that.”
“Yes, but… it just has to be said over and over, because I feel so happy that I can’t even hold it back.”
“Adrián, you’ve made me so happy. I’m overjoyed to be able to create a family together. It has been the most beautiful experience.”
I laid my head on his shoulder, and he held me close. I could smell his comforting fragrance, feel his fingers delicately stroke my hair. I felt his heart beating.
“I love you, Marjan.”
“I love you, Adrián.”
“Stop talking so loud, you’re going to wake her up!” Adrián whispered furiously.
Cielo narrowed her eyes. “She’s going to find out sooner or later.”
“Cielo, you have to let me tell her myself,” Adrián whispered.
“Tell her what? That she’s been fooled by the person she thought loved her the most? She doesn’t deserve this!”
Adrián hushed her with a gesture, and said, “you’re one to speak. You let her think that you’re her friend!”
Cielo looked taken aback for a moment. “I am her friend, Adrián. Which is why I’ve been letting you and Aurora know about all of this.”
“Some friend,” Adrián snapped.
“Do you know what would happen to me if anyone found out about me talking?” Cielo hissed.
Adrián stopped to think. Cielo was right. “It’s so unfair that we’re being dragged into all of this… we don’t deserve it.”
“Life’s not fair, Adrián. We were born into this,” Cielo said. “All we can do is try to make it right, and that will take a lot of work.”
“Cielo… we’re all going away, somewhere far. You…” Adrián paused, thinking about how to word his invitation. “You should come with us, escape all of this.”
Cielo stopped to think. “If you’re going to get away, do it now.”
“And what about you?”
“It’s too late for me!” Cielo snapped with exasperation, “I’m in too deep!”
“What our families do doesn’t have to involve us, you know…” Adrián whispered.
“You idiot, of course it does! They’re taking Antonio!”
The color drained out of Adrián’s face. He gaped, slackjawed, at Cielo for several moments.
“They wouldn’t… they wouldn’t!” he stammered.
Cielo closed her eyes for close to a minute while Adrián continued to stare intensely at her. “Of course they would. And that’s why I can’t go against them on this. It would be suicide.”
“But… but… they can’t do that!” Adrián whispered, trying to convince himself. He knew deep inside that they absolutely could, and would.
Cielo gave him a tight smile. “If you’re trying to leave, get out now.”
I woke up from my nap, refreshed and excited about my future. I got dressed, went to my balcony, and stared out over the landscape. Life was good! We were going to go somewhere new, really begin a new life together. All of us, together. I could only wonder where this new adventure was going to take us.
I heard the door open behind me, sensing it was Adrián coming to join on me on the balcony.
We often came out here together, taking in the beauty of our surroundings. We talked a lot about our families, our friends, our plans, laughing about how someday they would all be the same. We were so in love, so looking forward to truly uniting our lives into one.
We had shared so much on this balcony. I learned of his fears, how he was wary of his family being involved in shady businesses, and how he wanted to avoid all of this. He learned of how my parents were calm, and supportive and he expressed a desire of one day being able to meet them back at their home. We talked about how our own little family would grow and grow. We talked about growing old together.
This would probably be one of the last times we were on this balcony together. What would we reveal to each other this time? Where we wanted to go, what we wanted to be? There was so much to look forward to, and I was so ready for it all.
I turned around, seeing that it was indeed Adrián behind me. He quietly closed the door to the house behind him.
He didn’t look well. He looked… awful.
“What’s wrong, sweetie?” I gasped.
He hesitated several times before speaking. “Marjan, we need to talk about something.”
“Adrián, you’re scaring me! Please just tell me what’s wrong.”
Adrián didn’t immediately respond. It seemed like he was taking his time formulating his sentences in his head before saying anything.
“Marjan,” he began, “you know how I’ve always said I don’t approve of my parents’ businesses?”
“Yes, of course,” I responded.
He hesitated again. “Well, they’re in big trouble. They’re indebted to… another family… and they’ve kind of crossed a line.”
“Sweetie, that’s terrible!” I said, feeling a sort of dread looming. Adrián didn’t like talking about his family much, but I knew from the things he had said that they were involved with some very unsavory people. I had never heard that they were indebted to another family, though, so I was shocked to hear this.
“Marjan, this isn’t the only thing,” he said.
“What else is there?” I asked.
“Well… it was very serious. That family is threatening my parents… my parents snitched about some things to the wrong people, and that other family has decided to come to charge my parents’ debts.”
“So… can’t they just pay? I’m sure there’s something they can do!” I said, pretty naively all things considered.
“It’s not that easy…” Adrián whispered. “That family… they’re awful. They’ve done some awful things.”
“And just what could they do to your parents?” I asked.
“Not just to my parents… to me. To you,” he whispered.
“To me? Adrián, what are you trying to tell me?” I said, fear creeping into my voice. I could sense that I was about to hear something life-changing.
“Marjan… they’ve threatened to take…” Adrián began.
“Stop! Stop it right now!” I screamed. “They wouldn’t!”
“I think they would.”
“No! This can’t be happening!” I whimpered.
“Marjan, we can solve this! We just have to go away…” he said.
“That’s why you’re so open to leaving?” I gasped.
He hesitated. “Perhaps.”
I ran away from him, slamming the door behind me as I went into the house. I couldn’t believe what I heard. I frantically searched for a place to be alone, where he couldn’t come after me. I felt betrayed. It wasn’t possible that I hadn’t known any of this before.
I ran downstairs, through the house, and into the backyard to gather my thoughts.
He knew that were in potential danger this whole time and didn’t do anything to prevent it? He knew that he was bringing me into this insidious world and allowed to me follow him into it? He knew about all this before…
I gasped again. I couldn’t breathe. I knew things were bad with his parents, with their connections, but I never guessed it was this bad. This place was always a little dangerous, I knew, but I had never truly stopped to think about it. I knew that Cielo’s brother had disappeared many years ago after a bad business deal fell through, but she never spoke about it. I didn’t think something like this could ever happen to me. I thought I was immune from all this, shielded from negativity because I had always been.
What was I going to do now? We had to get away! My desire to leave had never been motivated by anything but a selfish wish to see more of the world and continue my glittering life in a new place. I wanted to show my new family a new place, wanted to create a new life for ourselves in a place that was only ours; I wanted a new start, but not because I needed one! Maybe it had been intuition that had put this idea in my head?
And now… oh God, what was I going to do? My mind raced over and over, trying to find a solution to what was soon to be the worst thing that would ever happen to me. Couldn’t we help Adrián’s parents pay off their debts? I could get a better job! I could work hard, make more money, contribute to their paying back. I would do anything! Anything to avoid what I had interrupted Adrián from saying…
This couldn’t happen! I had never done anything bad in my life, and now I was being punished? They couldn’t possibly, they wouldn’t… they couldn’t take… they couldn’t take…
I froze. I could hear light steps on the grass behind me. Someone was coming. I turned to see a small figure running toward me on unsteady legs.
I knelt down and took my son into my arms.
“Mami, ¿dónde estabas?” Antonio said.
“Turtle, Mama was just taking a nap,” I said, holding him close. My nerves were frazzled. I couldn’t fathom ever not having my baby nearby. I picked him up.
“I love you, Mama,” he said, nestling his head into my hair as he always did.
“I love you too, Turtle. Mama’s always going to love you,” I said, smiling to him while choking back tears. “Mama’s always going to protect you.”
I wasn’t so sure of this anymore, though. I knew that, from that moment on, my easy life, my wonderful romance, and the most fulfilling thing in my life, motherhood, were all in danger. I didn’t know how I was going to move forward. I just knew that I had to do my best to protect my son from a world that had collapsed all around me.
Some secrets are easy to reveal. Others, not so much. Like a small sea turtle swimming across the vast and treacherous ocean, I feel lost. I used to think life was easy and things would always be simple for me. Success, friendship, love, motherhood… those all came easily for me. I know now that that was not true, but I have to fight. I have to be strong not only for myself, but also for my sweet and beloved son, who is somewhere out there; a lonely turtle the current has dragged away from its devastated mother.
So now you know.
Editor’s note: This is Marjan’s Top 4 pilot episode pitch. Make sure to tune into Episode 12 of K&GI, Season 2, to see how the judges react to Marjan’s show!
Author’s note: This was a hard episode to write. Marjan’s story is intense and much more multifaceted than I had ever expected it to be at the beginning of K&GI, so I feel so happy to finally invite all of you into it. I hope y’all enjoyed. There will be more to learn from Marjan, so stay tuned!