The Death of My Extended Family

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extendedfamily-MEDIUMDo you believe people are intrinsically good? Is there something inherent in all of us that leads us to make moral decisions and, ultimately, down the right path? If so, are the people that fall prey to evil, lost forever? Or is there a way to tap into their internal psyche and bring back the good in them? Or will it be a forever harrowing processes to suss out the details and pull back the weeds to get to what lies beneath?

I ask this question, because the battle between good and evil has hit far too close to home. My extended family died a few years ago, and in the wake of the destruction, I came out clean.


I am a product of the Boricua Diaspora. My family immigrated here from Caguas in the 1960s. A decade later their family was complete, totaling eight children. My mom landed firmly in the middle of her seven sisters. I would describe the bulk of my tías as a mix of the norm. They are not perfect and not all together. Like the majority of society wouldn’t care to admit, they have their share of negative and positive attributes, just like myself. But as a whole they aren’t the catalyst of this pondering of goodness. It stems from the youngest two niñas.

My two tías (for a lack of creativity let’s call them Tulia and Shondra), were close to me throughout my adolescence. Better put, they were close to my mother and sequentially my sister and I grew up with their children. I was closest to Shondra’s daughter. She was almost the same age as us and spent many weekends over at our house, resulting in days full of laughter and new memories. She was quite charming and a natural comedian. However, these character traits weren’t nurtured as a child, which ultimately led to a teenage life full of acting out and seeking love at every heartbeat.

Tía “Shondra”

Shondra was the second to youngest daughter. Much to her chagrin, she felt like she was born at the wrong rung on the hierarchical ladder. She often would tag along with her older sisters, trying to be grown up while they went to parties she was years too underdeveloped for. Fast forward twenty years, Shondra turned out to be extremely uneducated, but you wouldn’t know it at first by the air she put on. Like a painted peacock she sticks out her chest trying to be noticed and deemed important. Yet, her education, that doesn’t pass beyond freshman year in high school, will always be her giveaway. These personality traits fall in comparison to the her denial of country. She doesn’t outwardly say it but she regrets not being born in the privilege of white society. Her internal oppression made her deeply aggressive to everyone around her, which is why she jumped on the bandwagon with Tulia.

Tía “Tulia”

Tulia is a rare species that hasn’t been tested much in the wild. She is the dragon of the family spitting fire at every chance. Her level of fierce reproach fuels the confrontations she so thoroughly enjoys. Anyone with a firm head on their shoulders can tell something is wrong. Her chemical makeup isn’t properly coded and her self-esteem suffered for it. After deep study, I can only conclude that she runs on self-hatred. At her core, she loathes the overweight body she lives in and barks out profanities as her only line of defense. Even those “on her good side” can be privy to her abusive episodes at a moments notice.


The last event broke my extended family apart for the long haul. Previously, cracks were forged in the surface that we foolishly tried to repair for the sake of the family, but this last assault created a canyon.

If you would have asked me before, I would have said the wave of insults, homophobic slurs and death threats was impossible to stem from someone along the same blood line. But I was naïve, because when a poison takes effect, there is no letting go. The virus of life took hold on to Shondra and Tulia and made walking examples out of them. Where their bodies once stood, now lies a toxic waste zone of unsuccessful provoking stares.


Now you can see why I came out clean when they left us. It was a rebirth, a new start away from negative comments and forced interactions. With their bottom of the barrel behavior myself and the rest of the Garays may have even climbed up on the social ladder of human decency.

Sometimes you have to wade through the thickest of mud to come out clean. My connection with my extended family died, and I’m ever more grateful for it.

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Patty Johnson

Patricia “Patty” Johnson is a true born and bred Chicagoan of Puerto Rican and African-American descent. Her maternal grandparents migrated to the Wicker Park neighborhood during the diaspora migration in the late 1960s. At a young age, Patty had to deal with the loss of her father and other family members due to socioeconomic issues that have plagued the minority community for years. In her professional life, Patty has worked as a copywriter, editor and publicist.