Posts Tagged ‘christian soto’


So often in times of loss our personal resolve is shaken to its core. Suddenly, all that we believed to be true– the attributes in which we define ourselves are challenged. Questions evolve. Tough questions. Questions a man in any state,  let alone one so fragile and vulnerable,  is ill-equipped to confront. In a process fueled by guilt and remorse we put our character on trial to face self-imposed accusations of inadequacy during the life of our fallen loved one.

We are our own judge, jury and executioner left to carry out a verdict of… GUILTY. GUILTY. GUILTY. Any logical man can process that we are a product of our actions and that a relationship (in loss) is not defined upon it’s weakest moments, but rather, through the sum of its parts. However, in a state of emotional suffering, it’s easy to falsely hold ourselves accountable for any and all human moments where we proved to be fallible. 

What remains is a truly character-defining moment. One where healing begins only when we find the strength to dress the open wounds that plague the deepest, darkest pits of our subconscious.

My good friend, Christian Soto, lost his younger sister to cancer yesterday. His wounds are suddenly exposed, as is the depth of his character. Rest easy Nicole, you will be missed.


“You’re the oldest. You must protect your sisters. They are girls…”

poker-coach-christian-soto-compressorMy mother migrated to the United States with the sole purpose of giving me, her only child at the time, a better life. She left the Dominican Republic, a poverty-stricken nation in the Caribbean, as a top of her class, university graduate in Economics. In exchange, she traded her diploma to become a waitress in New Jersey at a low-end restaurant located across the river from New York City.

My father, one year junior to my mother, came along to the United States, but he had his own version of the American dream. He would purchase large, fake, rapper-like gold chains on Canal Street. A street in New York City notorious for its wide selection of counterfeit items of your choosing. One may think this to be harmless, except we were a poor family getting by on a limited budget, and these purchases would leave us without food. My mother, a proud woman, would lower her pride, and plead with the corner deli owner for a loan on a Two Dollar carton of milk as I would cry in her arms from hunger.

With these actions and similar ones concurrent, the unity in which my parents entered this journey to the United State had become stricken. A climactic moment occurred on a late night where my father had been away without contact. My mother was home with no form of feeding me, barring asking for yet another loan from the deli owner. On this night my father would arrive, without funds for milk, but with yet another purchase from his go-to location in the city. A yelling match erupted. The loud noise woke me, and I crawled towards my mother in the kitchen. Nothing was ever too far away, as we lived in a small one-bedroom apartment. So I headed towards my mother and stood up using her leg as support as I hugged on tightly. I was scared, or I was protecting her. Nevertheless, my father, a six-foot-two man who weighed over 300 pounds, grabbed me by the arm detaching me from my mother’s leg. In one fell swoop, he launched a toddler across the kitchen. A baseball sized swelling proceeded to appear on my forehead as I had struck the corner of a cabinet. A small scar can still be seen today as an ever so clear reminder of the night. A relationship, once so promising to provide a child with a better opportunity in America, ended that night.

Unwilling to forgive these actions, my mother moved forward with raising her child in New Jersey alone. As a toddler, my mother made the decision to send me to the Dominican Republic to stay with my grandmother for 5 months, so she can work double shifts in an effort to save enough funds to be able to provide. When my mother returned to my life after this duration, I did not recognize her. I would cry when she would attempt to pick me up; when she would feed me; when she would simply try to play. It took an extended period of reconnecting to regain my trust. An extended period which included many nights of crying, leaving my mother questioning her decisions.

After two years, my mother met a man who dined at the restaurant in which she served. A hard-working Peruvian man, roughly ten years her senior, named Miguel. He would ask my mother for extra food, but for the same price listed on the menu. This was his way of flirting. My mother, focused on raising her child, gave the man little attention. Miguel remained patient. 13147689_10154787078964240_7152495907595635993_oEventually, my mother began to give him a chance but made clear that I was a priority and that if I did not engage well with him the relationship would end. With my father being absent from the picture, and me now three years of age, I connected with Miguel. A relationship brewed. A relationship between Miguel and my mother formed, but moreover, a relationship with Miguel and I sparked.

Miguel would love to take me to a park three blocks down– A park I only saw but a handful of times prior. This action did not go unnoticed. My father, out of jealousy and anger, hired a group of Haitians to attack Miguel if they were to see him, and provided them the location in which we lived. As an unknowing, innocent three-year-old, I would plead to go to the park three blocks down, and Miguel without hesitation would take me, even with this threat being ever so present to his well-being.

Two years later, with continued absence from my father, Miguel and my mother married, and I was expecting a sister. Further, my father had begun his own relationship and was expecting a daughter of his own. At five years old, I now had a father present, a step-father of course, but I did not know the difference and was anxious for two sisters. With things in what seemed to be a good place, my mother pleaded with my father to begin a relationship with his son. I needed to know who my father was. I was a smart child and accepted that my father was not with me for reasons that I would later discover in life and that I now had two father figures in my life. My father set up visitation to come see me. Eager to get to know him, I would climb onto the sofa which allowed me to look outside the living room window and onto a street. With enthusiasm attached to every word, I would question my father via telephone in regards to the time he was coming and what his car looked like. I then glued myself to the window from the scheduled time of pickup, until hours very much past my bedtime. He never showed.

It became evident that the path towards inflicting continued pain was through me. Actions that would cause a naive child sadness, would then hurt those in care of that child. Eventually, my father (with me now 8 years old) agreed to see me, for what seemed to be, reasons of simple curiosity. Regardless, I was in glee. This reward came with a steep price, however. My father would feed me racist comments about my step-father. He would call the person I looked up to and the man that was now teaching me soccer, a Red Skinned Indian; a common derogatory term for people of Peruvian descent. I would then repeat this phrase in the presence of my step-father Miguel. As a child, who followed the lead of my biological father, I now created a self-inflicted undeserved rift between my step-father and me.

The happiness that came alongside from seeing my father, although with a steep price, did not continue for long. The extended hours by the window resurfaced. However, these instances were now accompanied by feelings that included an equal mix of rage and sadness. I blamed myself, my mother, and my now red-skinned stepfather for my acquired neglection. Years passed, neglect continued, and the empty pit in my heart grew deeper. I demanded answers to what had been occurring. My mother obliged, and at the early age of thirteen I learned of all the actions my father had committed. Further, I was informed my father had forcefully evicted my ninety-year-old grandfather from his home in the Caribbean. It was a home that was purchased under the presence of my parent’s former marriage. My mother had paid for the small home with no help, and pennies at the time. However, my father felt he should lay claim to half. He was paid. I was not developed enough to understand the gravity of these situations. The tell all plan backfired on my mother. I wanted answers to why my father did not feel the need to see me as his son, and why I was forced to live with this other man who did not resemble me. Whose fault was it?

My relationship with my sisters, who were now three, remained solid through all the rift. I never viewed them as half sisters, nor do I believe they viewed me as a half brother. However, we were about to come face to face with a crisis. It was the Monday after Thanksgiving, I was now fourteen years old, and my sister Michelle and I were getting set to head to school after a long holiday layoff. She said that her foot was asleep and she could not feel sensation in her toes. Thinking that she did not want to attend class, my mother insisted she stop the games and get ready. Michelle, in an attempt to behave, gets dressed and begins to head down the stairs, but falls. At this point, we knew something was wrong, as she continued to not retain feeling in her lower extremities. We head to be the family doctor, who immediately suspects a condition and advises us to head directly to Hackensack University Hospital, that of which he already contacted.

What followed, saw my 9-year-old little sister facing a condition called “Guillain-Barre Syndrome”. A rare illness with the cause being unknown and the cure being none. It is an autoimmune disease where our immune system attacks our nerve cells leading to paralysis. In less than a week, my sister went from a healthy little girl to being fully paralyzed, breathing only with the help of a machine. Our sole form of communication was through a system of coded signals using our eyes and blinking. My mother left her current job at an insurance agency to fight this long battle with my sister side by side in the hospital. She did not leave the hospital for a year with credit card debt mounting, and a mortgage to tend to.

My family attempted to shield me from the situation. They encouraged me to continue to live a normal teenage life which included playing on sports teams and dating my then girlfriend Celina. The last words whispered to me by Michelle prior to losing her ability to speak was, “I’m going to be like you, you’re so strong.” She had seen me deal with the issues of my father, so according to her I was made of steel. Truth is, my sister was stronger than I was. I allowed myself to be shielded away from the gravity of the situation and attempted to live a teenage life. In my eyes, I had been through too much, and another dose of overwhelming pain was something I wanted to avoid. Maybe I had a complex issue where I questioned if I belonged with this family to begin with, and together with an early teenage mind, I was weak. Nearing a year later, my little sister exited the doors of the hospital, but not before having to relearn how to walk, with pain described to me as consciously walking on a strip of broken glass. This was a result of the nerve endings having no coating. She did not exit those doors prior to a sense of guilt washing over me. I should not have accepted the shield, not from this. This was too grave for anyone, especially a little girl. My problems were much smaller than this. I can only hope my sister forgives me for not being by her side throughout the hardest time in her early childhood.

It was time for me to attend college, and I was adamant on attending a private university in New Jersey called Seton Hall University. Truth is, it was expensive, and probably not the best value but I wanted to go there nonetheless. My mother needed help, and she reached out to my father for it. He agreed. But as with everything else, that help did not come to fruition; no matter how big or  small the help being asked for was, he remained absent. I took a semester off in order to organize the financial situation at a university with a sticker price of forty thousand a year.

During this time, my father took my mother to court in efforts to stop child support payments. Payments my mother never enforced, but since I missed a semester of college, and I was now over 18 years of age, he was within the law to stop payment. As we depart the courthouse, we arrive at an elevator– My mother, my father, and I. An argument ensues where my father exclaims for me go with him. I refuse, and my mother proceeds to tell him to leave me alone. My father grabs my arm with the force of a six-foot-two, 300-pound man. The earlier stories coming rushing to mind. The story of being launched. I can see myself waiting by the window. I respond with an emphatic “No.”, and rip my arm away from his grasp. I remove my mother away from the situation as my father enters the elevator. During the car ride home, and after seeing my mother’s familiar pain resurface, I tell her that she should no longer hurt through his inflicting pain by using me. At that moment, my father was no longer someone I wanted any attachment with beyond the mandatory blood connection, yet someone I should not disrespect because of my learnings in the bible.

Five years passed with no communication with my father since the incident in the courthouse. I would once again be faced with another moment which will test my fortitude. My sister from my father’s side, Nicole, contacted me and broke the news that she was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer. We met, and she described how she was doing fine until she encountered strong stomach pains that sent her to the emergency room. The tests results showed Cancer.

I supported her. I was not going to fail another one of my sisters in a time of need. I was older now. I brought her around my immediate family and introduced her to my other two younger sisters who have yet to meet her for all these years. I attended her Chemotherapy sessions in Hackensack University Hospital. cc56b11d02620a8da154b4ebc47386c9
We would fight this, and we would win. New Year’s Eve came around, and I invited Nicole to my home for celebrations. She came with her hair falling out, lips burned from chemotherapy, but to me, she looked wonderful in her white dress. The night went on and her emotions rode high as she became closer to my mother and sisters. My family explained that this was also her family. The night was nearing conclusion, and Nicole would ask me for a favor entering the New Year. A request that would require nothing short of all of my will. After many years of silence, she asked me to mend fences with our father. I arrived at the conclusion that the war she was fighting with cancer was greater than the battle I had with my father. I agreed to grant her wish.

Two days later, I arrived at my father’s workplace. No longer a 300-pound man, my father had lost a significant amount of weight and was now thinner than I was. Maybe he was a changed man. We entered a small office which was a closet in another life. I walk through my issues with him, as Nicole sits patiently outside. I attempt to explain that I had no interest in placing blame at this point, but would like for him to take responsibility for his role in all of the pain he had caused. He blamed it all on my mother. I responded that he must begin to acknowledge his role. He refused. The conversation ended.

A year passed, and my sister’s health continued to rise and fall. Since the duration of my sister being diagnosed with cancer, my father had been making trips back to the Dominican Republic. The reasons given to my sister were a mix of stress relief and business. One afternoon, news broke that my father had been cheating on my sister’s mother and had a newborn baby, a girl, from a relationship formed in adultery. My now fourth little sister’s name was Ashley, which was accompanied by a photo of her in a pink outfit. Any addition to the family was supposed to be considered a blessing. However, I could not fathom how someone could form another child outside of their marriage, while their only little girl was staring death in the face. They forgave him. I could not.

My unwillingness to forgive my father formed a separation between my ill sister and I. A clear line of separation was drawn. I could not be associated with a person willing to cause such harm. Painfully, I want to remain at a distance from this person who shares my blood, and the person I physically resemble most. I needed to protect myself, but more importantly, it is time for me to protect those around me. My sister refused. As a result, our relationship took the hit.

Yesterday, Nicole passed away from complications with her battle with Cancer. Her wish to mend the fence never came true. We also did not win. In an attempt to protect her from the pain I endured, I failed her. I failed to acknowledge that our efforts were best served enjoying our potentially limited, and now concluded, time together.

With heartbreak and a tear soaked keyboard, I’m sorry Nicole. I failed you.




Author: Christian Soto
Twitter: @christiansoto