Writing: Character Building

Fifth Avenue

One of my favorite characters, Carrie Ramos, is sort of real. I met the original version of her in the early seventies when I was a hot mess of an adolescent. That’s, at least, how I felt on the inside. I had just lost my older sister after a long illness and complicated surgery. I, like every other “Fifth Avenue Girl,” stood on the steps or hung out the window, wishing for something, anything other than the realities of my life.

A family moved around the block on Lincoln Place. The youngest, Carrie, about five or six, somehow took a liking to me. She had several older brothers and sisters- all too busy for her scrawny little ways. Carrie and I had something in common. We were both lonely. She’d meet me on the street and ask, “Esta, where you goin?” I’d grab her by the wrist, her hand was way too dirty to hold, and I’d buy us both Italian ices. As we slurped them, the orange or cherry flavors ran down her hand, making it stickier than it already was. I’d help her wipe it with the puny napkins we got at the pizza shop. Carrie told me she was named after a saint. Caridad. I had no idea that she was talking about Caridad Del Cobre- Oshun who is the Orisha of women, mothering, kindness and compassion in the Yoruba-Lucumi tradition.

My family moved out of the neighborhood not long after that summer of my prancing the streets with Carrie. The pain of grief made it impossible for my mother to remain in the same apartment.

Fast forward, when I was initiated as a priestess of Yemaya as an adult I was told that Oshun was my little sister, a lucky charm of sorts. I thought of the tiny, sweet dark blond Carrie who’d ingratiated her way into my heart many years before. I remembered how we linked hands together. She was my first sign of Oshun-of love, kindness and compassion that I’d received at a very dark time.

As the protagonist of Covering The Sun with My Hand, Julia Acevedo, channeled her story to me, Carrie resurfaced as her best friend. We meet the character during her red hot adolescence. She ripens into maturity and wisdom and is, indeed, Julia’s lucky charm in terms of providing only what a best friend can- a shoulder to cry on, frank and honest appraisal of challenging situations and unconditional love. I have no idea what happened to the “real” Carrie. I sometimes wondered who wiped her little hands, whether she married, or whether she missed me as I did her after I moved away. It was a tender time.

What I treasure about writing is that it’s a place for me to make up a story with all of the tragedy and sweetness that life can bring. The stories we share make us cry, build our self-esteem, take us down a notch and leave us differently than when we first open a new leaf- either as a reader or a writer.

I can’t wait for you to meet Carrie on my pages when my book is published this spring.

Are there characters that were seeded in your young life that somehow found a place on your pages?