Elizabeth Miller-Reyes

Tin House is proud to partner with the Writing Our Lives Workshop to bring our readers a series of Flash Fidelity essays from their alumni.  

Medical eligibility means a physical; it means fasting.  It means being extra clean. To my mother, it meant making us drink oregano tea. She said it would kill anything inside of us that was not supposed to be there. It looked putrid—dark, forest green liquid against the white cup—and it smelled like the seasoning it was, not like a drink to be drank—salted, toasted oregano. It came up before it passed our throats. If there was any doubt we were fasting, there was none now.


Only now, when the government takes children away from their mothers, does the rest come into clarity. I am called into an exam room with my mother.   I lay on a table. Nothing is covering me. I am vulnerable while the towering figure of an older man looks over me, my mother across from him.  I feel cold instruments in places I’ve never felt cold instruments or any objects for that matter.  He blurts out a question much to fast for my fear to comprehend and I wonder if there is something wrong with my parts, something wrong with me.

My mother simply witnesses.


There’s a large brown paper bag we must get to Tia Carmela’s house before we leave.   Out of the corner of my eyes, I see my mother put a gun in it. It was a revolver—white, carved with black at the grip to match the cylinder. Had they always had it?  Where did they get it? I start to feel like we are fugitives.

We get to Tia Carmela’s porch, ask for her blessing and watch her and my mother disappear into a back bedroom. They return empty-handed. We say goodbye over refreshments and small talk. There are certain things you simply cannot donate or leave behind. They are much too special.

The day came, and we had green cards in our hands. There was mention of all the names on them, but one was missing—my oldest brother’s. There was additional information needed for him that we did not have.

How could a mother not know everything about her children?

The paperwork could only be provided by his birth mother. His birthmother was not my mother but another woman. My mother had raised him almost four years before having her first born. Mothers hold in so much more than what they give. We have never spoken of this.


We arrived in Los Angeles. My youngest brother and I started junior high and walked from class to class holding hands so as not to be separated. Everyone else finds this strange and ask if we are boyfriend and girlfriend. A school of mostly Hispanic kids could not understand why this dark-skinned girl with kinky hair who spoke only Spanish was neither Cuban nor Puerto Rican. In gym class, there was another girl who stood out. She was tall and African American. She sized me up and asked what I was mixed with. I was not a part of her. I was not a part of them.


My hair is relaxed to assimilate. The kids call me EZ-E because they don’t know tangles, they see a Jheri curl. When you don’t understand the words, it’s hard for them to offend you. When you are learning new words, you run as fast as you can to your next class so that you don’t miss a thing. In my momentum, I collide with a white teacher. He stops and asks me a question. I don’t understand. I attempt to continue to run, but he holds me back. He is asking me to apologize. I look blankly at him as I still don’t understand. I am now in the middle of a crowded hallway where everyone is watching me being made an example. He asks me to say sorry, but I don’t know how. I mimic what he mouths and repeat after him: “sorry.” I am free to go, only now I am late for class.

How many times must we apologize for things we have yet to learn language for?

Elizabeth Miller-Reyes is a poet and personal journey writer. She dances with nostalgia and humor from her experiences as a Dominican immigrant, wife, tia, and woman seeking a spiritual journey. Elizabeth is an alumn of Writing Our Lives Workshop and OneRoom Poetry Writing Group. Elizabeth is renowned from Arizona to California for her brown butter pancakes and empanadas. She resides in Phoenix, Arizona with her wife and three fur babies.