When I was 11-years-old, living in Tampa, I was the only girl among my friends who still had married parents.
My best friend Megan was the latest casualty of the divorce train. Her dad left her mom for a 20-something-year-old blonde named Amanda, which meant every time I spent the night at Megan's house, her wine-soaked mother would wail "fucking Amanda!" until 2 a.m., while a female friend consoled her.
When I casually mentioned this to my dad one afternoon, he was horrified.
So, my dad did what any concerned parent would do: he found me an adoptive family.
My dad wanted me to see what a real loving, stable family was like. He discovered a little Mexican family who lived behind his favorite grocery store. They were lower-middle-class, but rich with love. There was a mother and a father, who were immigrants, and their seven children, ranging from 18 to 5. There was even a daughter my age, named Christina.
For one year, my dad made me spend every single Sunday with the Perez family. And since I was brown, I fit right in!
I accompanied the family on their daily errands and adventures. We would go to the Hispanic district for odd food items, such as tongue and pork skins. We would run in dirty, littered fields, clutching bottled Coke and Tabasco-flavored Popsicles. When the van broke down, the girls and I would sit by the side of the highway and giggle about Jonathan Taylor Thomas.
As a miserable only child, I couldn't believe my luck. All of the sudden, it was like I had seven siblings! And they all adored me! They even referred to me as their sister in public, and nobody questioned it.
It was the good life.
The Perez family taught me the importance of church. Every Sunday morning, we would rush into the Spanish-speaking Catholic Church an hour late, ignoring the livid stares of parishioners and the priest. I think I even accidentally got baptized at the church, because Mr. Perez had me stand in a line where a priest threw Holy Water on me, said a bunch of stuff in Spanish, and then gave me a cross. The Perez family seemed very satisfied by the experience and kept saying "good, good" to me.
The Perez family taught me the importance of saving money. Some Sundays, Mr. Perez would buy a ticket at the movie theater and then open the emergency exit for us in the back. So the ten of us basically got to see movies for the price of one!
Their choices of movies were always odd, however. The only film I vividly remember was called Baby's Day Out, which was basically a nonsensical story about a toddler running loose in Chicago. But the Perez family loved it!
A year later, however, my dad's job got transferred to Nebraska, and we had to move. I sadly said goodbye to my Mexican family. I thought I would never see them again.
Well, four years ago, my dad took me to Orlando to see Morrissey in concert for my birthday. A couple days before the show, we decided to drive to Tampa and visit Christina, who I had recently gotten back in touch with through Facebook.
Christina, who is now ridiculously gorgeous, had us over for dinner in her new house. She updated us on her family and we were not prepared for it.
You see, three years after my family had moved to Nebraska, Mr. Perez left his wife for a beautiful coworker. The family was split apart and most of the siblings aren't talking to each other now as a result.
Christina, suffocated by her broken home, ran straight into the arms of a wealthy married man she had met in a Miami nightclub when she was 18. That man left his wife and married Christina, but then he mysteriously took off for Morocco in 2004 and never came back. But Christina didn't seem too upset with his absence, as she had already fallen in love with another man.
My dad and I sat there, listening to her talk, with our mouths open. We were in total shock.
When we left her house, my dad and I were quiet for most of the trip back to Orlando.
I felt really bad for my dad, who had had such faith in the Perez family. He truly believed the Mexican immigrants, with their family-oriented culture and Catholic morality, would survive.
"Nothing is sacred anymore," my dad finally said, sadly. "America has them now."