“‘Resilient’ is one of those stories that wears its heart on its sleeve—full of heartbreak and hope, with characters you’ll want to hold close. I adored this story.”
—Becky Albertalli, #1 New York Times bestselling author

It’s not like we left right away. No one could accuse us of giving up after María—throwing our hands up in defeat, packing our bags and fleeing like some did, a week after the storm. There’s just a limit to how long you can live in the dark when it means living in despair.

I pull the edges of my knitted hat—the one Abuela made before we left—and sink a little lower into the back seat of the van, trying in vain to muffle the quiet sobs of the woman sitting in front of us.

“God, is she still crying?” my cousin Rosita whispers, leaning her head on my shoulder.

“She misses her father. He’s sick.” I sigh, grateful for the good health of my parents and my abuela. They’re heartbroken about us leaving, but have tried their best to be supportive.

“We all miss someone. You won’t see me crying about it,” Rosita scoffs below her breath. I shush her, praying no one else heard her harsh words.

“I’m freezing,” she says, nuzzling her face closer to my collarbone.

I fold her hands in mine, rubbing them for warmth. It’s ten degrees outside and, as far as my eyes can see, everything is covered in snow.

When we stepped out of the airport in Sioux Falls, the wind gusts felt like a million razor-sharp needles pricking my skin.

I glance towards the front of the van, searching for the guy who arrived in shorts. We’re not in Puerto Rico anymore, amigo! He has a recent sunburn and that sun-bleached hair surfer dudes normally wear. Too bad for him, the nearest decent stretch of coastline is 1,200 miles away.

“How much longer?” Rosita asks.

“About an hour until we reach Huron. Do you want to put your head on my lap?”

Rosita moans. “Can I borrow your scarf?”

“Where’s yours?”

“I think I left it on the plane.”

“That was your only scarf!” I whisper-yell.

She shrugs, untroubled.

“Where are your gloves?” I demand, remembering she almost left one at the gate before we boarded the plane in San Juan.

“Right here.” She raises both hands, displaying the blue fabric enveloping her fingers.

I roll my eyes at her, gently pushing her onto my lap. Then unravel my purple scarf from my neck and place it over her shoulders, gently stroking the back of her head.

Even though she’s two years older than me, at times like this it feels like I’m the adult. Mami calls me “más madura que un plátano”—too mature for my age.

Rosita prefers the laissez-faire approach, a “take life as it comes” philosophy that leaves the rest of us scrambling after her. Meanwhile, my seventeenth year of life was fully mapped out since my birthday. It just didn’t account for cataclysmic forces of nature.

On September 19, the day before María, I had a cushy job as a receptionist in a doctor’s office, a college admission for a degree in Latin American Studies, which I deferred for a gap year, and I was saving to pay for my dream trip through Latin America, with a teen tour company that follows the route Ché Guevara took in his Diarios de Motocicleta. According to the description on the website, it would be a time of awakening, of leaving my mark on the world and allowing it to leave its mark on me.

Hours before the entire island lost power, I was on the tour’s website going over the route. First stop, Buenos Aires! Then travel north, hugging the continent’s west coast until we reached Bogotá. Twenty-five cities in all.

Like Ché, I would keep my own diary and jot down observations about the complexity of life in South America, my own life unfolding in the process.

A pang of resentment hits the pit of my stomach every time I think of everything that was lost to that beast named María. It’s senseless to be enraged at a mass of wind and rain, but that’s exactly how I feel. My dream journey through South America turned into a one-way ticket to the middle-of-nowhere South Dakota. Not exactly what I had in mind when I told my parents I wanted to see the world.


* * *


“It’s a way out of here,” Rosita said a month ago, desperately waving a worn newspaper in my face. It had been almost four months since María, and our homes still didn’t have electricity or running water. Mercifully, our cell phones worked, provided we found somewhere to charge them.

“They pay for the flights and give you a room,” she explained, bouncing on her heels.

“In a motel,” I replied, reading the small print. “You want to live in a motel?”

“If it has electricity, yes. Yes, I do!” Rosita declared, falling to a seat next to me. “They’ll even pick us up at the airport. Pay starts at ten dollars an hour.”

“Cutting turkey parts?” I asked in disbelief.

How had our dreams suddenly become so small?

The full-page ad read Empleos Garantizados in big, bold letters. Then in smaller type a description of the so-called guaranteed jobs, “South Dakota turkey processing plant needs breast-pullers, carcass-loaders, bird-hangers …”

Two questions popped to mind: what the hell is a carcass-loader? And, is this the only option we have left?

“South Dakota? We might as well be moving to Canada.” I took the newspaper from Rosita’s hands. “What about Florida? The Garcías left for Orlando last week. Maybe they can help us get jobs.”

“Marisol, everyone and their freaking abuela is moving to Florida. And they’re all competing for the same jobs. The Ramirezes are living in a hotel because they can’t find an apartment. That girl down the street, what’s her name? Smart, pretty, pre-law?” Rosita snapped her fingers, searching for an answer.


“Yes, Dora! She moved to Miami and is working at Hooters. She posted a photo.”

“Hooters? With the tiny orange shorts?” I combed through a feed on my phone until I found Dora wearing a white tank top with a bug-eyed owl over her breasts. Her pretty round face was caked in makeup and a red shade of lipstick Mami would call “inappropriate for señoritas.”

“She’s making a killing in tips. I mean, look at her. She’s hot.” There was a tinge of envy in Rosita’s voice. “FEMA kicked her out of her hotel and she didn’t want to come back. Can’t say I blame her.”

Rosita had a point. It’s just waitressing. It’s a decent job and it pays the bills. But Dora wanted so much more from life. I hoped she remembered that. I turned off the screen, praying Dora could at least use the money to finish law school like she wanted.

“I heard there’s a bunch of Puerto Ricans already working at the plant. It won’t be just us,” Rosita argued.

“I don’t know, Rosita. What if we don’t like it? We’ll be stuck out there.”

“It’s only a year-long contract. It won’t be forever.”

“A year?” Twelve months cutting turkeys up north sounded like forever.

“Come on, Marisol, I won’t leave without you,” she begged. “Look at this headline.” She held the newspaper over my face. “Thirty-two murders. It’s the second week of the year! Those sinvergüenzas are taking advantage of the dark. We can’t live like this—in fear every time the sun goes down. There’s nothing left for us here.”

I wanted to say it wasn’t true, that there was plenty left for us on this island that we’d always called home. There were barefoot walks on the beach, tertulía nights over coffee and Mami’s asopao siete potencias, a Sunday favorite. This was our life and if you looked closely, some shreds of it still remained.

Ultimately though, I had to face reality: none of the things that had filled my life with so much joy would help us rebuild. Our home had flooded and the only help FEMA had offered was a tarp and a loan.

As much as I loved eating my Mami’s asopao, it would not save us from the rut we had fallen into. We’d gone from a contented existence to surviving day-to-day. Even flushing the toilet had become a struggle.

The only way out was to leave.

“Fine,” I finally said. “Where do we apply?”

Rosita wrapped her arms around me and kissed me on both cheeks.

“It will be an adventure,” she said, jumping to her feet. “You wanted to travel, right?”

I forced a smile.


* * *


Now, with the lights of Huron blinking in the horizon, the trip through Latin America that I spent months planning seems like a great idea—one that belonged to someone else.

The driver slows down, stops, and turns right. A man in the front row claps enthusiastically, chanting, “Ya llegamos.”

“We’re here.” I nudge Rosita awake. It’s ten past midnight, and we’ve been traveling for more than twelve hours. My mind can barely form a coherent thought.

I glance out the passenger window, where a giant statue of a bird stands beside the highway.

“Is that a duck?” Rosita leans over my shoulder.

“I guess.”

“Pato, no. Es un fisant,” a woman calls out from the front. It takes me a moment to realize she’s saying the statue is a pheasant—still looks like a duck to me.

The driver pulls into the parking lot of the Huron Motor Inn, a sad, two-story beige building overlooking the giant bird.

“Good evening. Buenas noches.” A woman with thick glasses and blonde short hair greets us, poking her head into the van. “I’m Elena. The plant sent me to welcome you. Are you doing all right? How was the trip?”

I nod silently. Too tired, cold, hungry, and homesick to care.

“I’ve got your room keys,” she announces, flashing a set of plastic cards in her hand.

Rosita and I wait our turn to exit the van, trailing the woman who cried all the way here. Someone calls her “Esperanza,” which is ironic in and of itself. I don’t recall anyone ever looking so hopeless.

Elena directs the new arrivals to their rooms like a traffic officer at a busy intersection. It’s a small comfort to see someone take charge.

“Marisol Rodriguez?” Elena asks, her eyes darting between Rosita and me.

“That’s me.” I raise my hand.

“You and your cousin—Rosa, right?—will be sharing a room.” She hands me the key card, then checks our names on a clipboard. “If you’re hungry, here are some food vouchers for The Plains.” She nods towards a building across the parking lot. A banner hanging from the side wall of the restaurant says they have bowling lanes, a lounge, and a casino.

“Thank you.” I take the vouchers. “What’s the schedule tomorrow?”

“You can sleep in. We’ll pick you up for new-employee orientation around one,” she says, then moves to shorts-guy, who’s standing behind us in a hoodie. Did this guy even bring a coat?

We haul our bags to the second floor, reading the numbers on the doors.

“Found it.” Rosita jiggles the handle. “Key, please.”

I drop the card into her palm and she opens the door.

The smell of ash and stale beer hits me before I walk in. Rosita turns on a lamp. There’s a used Band-Aid on the carpet. An old picture of a pheasant (looking like a duck) hangs from the wall above the TV. Inside the bathroom, the tiles around the toilet are covered in pee. It’s all enough to do me in.

“We can’t stay here.” My voice breaks. This room seems as hopeless as Esperanza’s face.

“What do you mean?” She turns on the TV and quickly clicks through the available channels. “Oh, how I’ve missed you,” she croons, caressing the screen and smiling in a daze.

“It’s dirty … and cold,” I complain, trying to swallow the knot forming in the back of my throat. I can’t cry. If I start crying, I won’t stop. And then Rosita will call my aunt, and my aunt will call Mami, and Mami will tell Abuela, who will tell the neighbors, and before you know it the entire neighborhood will be worried sick. I can’t do that to them.

“We got electricity, hot water, and cable. I’m not going anywhere, so make yourself at home,” Rosita says forcefully. “Why don’t you turn up the heat?”

I walk to the thermostat and push the needle up to eighty. Then I move my bag against the wall, unzip the top, and pull out my pajamas and flip-flops. I wear my flip-flops to the bathroom, even when I get in the shower. At least there’s hot water, I tell myself repeatedly. At least there’s hot water, and electricity, and cable. Rosita is right. “I have to be thankful. I have to stand tall. Like a palmera.” I think of the palm trees that withstood María’s 175 mile-per-hour winds. They bent but never broke. I have to be a palmera.

Out of the shower, I dry myself with one of the worn-out motel towels hanging from a rack. I make a mental list of everything we need to get from the store: cleaning products, towels, bed sheets, food, and a scented candle or anything that will make the room not smell like a nightclub.

My stomach grumbles. “I’m starving.” I remember I skipped both lunch and dinner, too nervous to eat.

“That restaurant is still open. I’ll walk with you.”

I stare out the window, across the parking lot where The Plains sits. There are about a dozen SUVs and pickup trucks and a few people are outside smoking, even though it’s freezing. I shut the curtains, deciding instead to feast on the small bag of pretzels I saved on the plane—let’s call it dinner.

I crawl into bed, next to Rosita. She’s watching a movie about a Latina maid in Manhattan who meets her Prince Charming while working at a hotel.

“I wouldn’t mind marrying a gringo.” Rosita reaches for my tiny bag of pretzels. I let her have a couple. “If he takes care of me, it’s okay if he’s a little boring.”

I chuckle. “Maybe you’ll meet one at the plant. Instead of Maid in Manhattan, you can be Turkey-Hanger in Huron.” We both laugh hard. I laugh through the tiredness, the hunger, and the heartbreak until my eyes are wet with the tears I’m holding back.

After all the pretzels are gone, we lie in bed until the movie ends. In the end, the maid gets it all: her Prince Charming, the perfect career, and a life surrounded by people who love her.

I scoff. “What a load of crap.”

“It can happen! You don’t know anything …” Rosita walks to the TV and turns it off.

“No one gets everything they want.” My voice is edgier than I intend.

“Maybe you shouldn’t want so much.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t want so little,” I spit back, immediately regretting my outburst. Like me, Rosita is too tired to hide the hurt. She stands unmoving next to the TV, staring at me through the pain in her dark brown eyes.

I open my mouth to apologize, but she cuts me off.

“I want things too, you know …” she says quietly.

“I know,” I whisper back, ashamed. My body sinks into the bed with a long sigh. How will I ever find my way back to the life I had envisioned? How will Rosita find the way back to hers?

I wasn’t raised to be poca cosa. Mami always encouraged me to dream big. But that was before María, when dreaming didn’t cost us anything.

“Can I sleep with you? I’m so cold.” Rosita climbs into my bed, snuggling beside me. “Are you sure you turned up the heat?”

“All the way up.” I turn off my bedside lamp and drop my head hard into the pillow, convinced I will never feel warm again.


* * *


“Marisol, está nevando.” Rosita is on top of me, jerking me awake. “Let’s go see the snow.”

I rub my eyes open, sitting on the bed. Rosita has opened the curtains, washing the room in sunlight. I follow her to the doorway, where we silently watch the snow fall. It’s so quiet, we can hear each other breathe.

“It’s beautiful.” Rosita extends her open palm to catch a few snowflakes.

I do the same, but instead of snow, a white feather lands between my fingers.

“Look, they’re everywhere.” Rosita points to the floor of the balcony, where a handful of white feathers lie scattered.

We search for the source but only find the almost-empty parking lot, and beyond that, an overgrown baseball field.

No birds in sight, just their feathers, floating in the air like particles of dust.

A woman waves at us from the room next door. Like us, she extends her hand to catch a floating feather.

“I think they’re from the plant,” she says, looking out towards the highway. “Must be the wind.”

I stare towards the plant, a bleak horizon, snow-covered and gray. I’ve never felt so far from home.

Another feather falls from the sky and I catch it midair. The pristine white plume glimmers in the sunlight like something from the wings of an angel. I pray it’s a good omen—an ascension of sorts.

“Come on, Rosita, let’s get dressed,” I say. “We can send Mami and Tía Milagros some pictures. They’ll like that.”

We find the thickest sweaters we brought, but in this bitter cold the fabric feels flimsy and thin.

“I think I saw a Salvation Army on the way in,” I say. “And a Walmart. Maybe we can call a taxi and get a few things?”

“I don’t want to spend all our money on the first day,” Rosita says, snaking herself into a pair of leggings. “We don’t even know when we’ll get paid.”

“What about the bathroom? It needs to be cleaned,” I argue.

“I saw a cleaning cart parked on the stairway last night.”

I sigh and resolve not to make a fuss. Rosita is right, we shouldn’t be spending money we don’t have. She sold her laptop and her road bike before we left and I had the money I was saving for my trip. Still, it may not be enough.

We head outside, bundled in our warmest clothes. We take the stairs to the lower level and join a group of other Puerto Ricans gathered outside the motel’s dining room.

“Desayuno gratis,” an older man with white hair and bushy eyebrows says. He nods towards the dining room, where he says there’s free breakfast.

“Anything good in there?” I ask.

“Pancakes, eggs … it’s okay,” he says with a shrug. Something about the dignified way he carries himself reminds me of my late abuelo.

“I’m Marisol.”

“Arsenio.” He flashes a crooked smile and pats the side of my arm with his free hand. In his other hand, he holds a steaming mug of black coffee. “This American coffee is pure water. Aguao—like dirty water.”

“There’s a Latin supermarket in town,” I say. “Maybe they have good coffee.”

He sighs, looking up at the sky. Then empties the cup in the snow where it leaves a dark stain. “They won’t have Yaucono.”

“Marisol, take my picture.” Rosita joins a group playing with the snow. She falls back, making a snow angel with her limbs.

I snap her photo with my phone, then take one of the motel and the giant pheasant.

“Let’s make a snowman,” she says, balling the snow in her gloved hands. A few turkey feathers stick out, turning the snowman into a snowbird.

We dress him in my purple scarf and hat and Rosita’s sunglasses. A woman we just met offers to take our picture.

Rosita and I squat next to the snow-bird-man and smile, holding up our hands in the air like we’re waving at everyone back home.

I send the photos to Mami and text her that we arrived safely and we’re having fun. If I call her, she may not believe me. Mami is no bruja, but she does have some kind of mind-reading divine power that, as her daughter, I find terribly inconvenient. There’s no lying to that woman. If I call her now, her heart will burst with trepidation. And I can’t handle someone else’s heartbreak right now.


* * *


At exactly one, we pile into the van and drive to the turkey processing plant—a sprawling white building in the middle of an open field. About half a dozen trucks are lined up to enter the side gate.

“They bring in nineteen thousand turkeys a day,” shorts-guy says behind me. Today he’s wearing jeans, a proper winter coat, and a beanie hat with a Puerto Rican flag—subtle.

“Nineteen thousand? That can’t be right,” a woman says.

“My padrino works here. He says they bring them alive every morning. And then …” He makes a slicing motion with his index finger across his throat.

I turn away from him and take a deep, long breath. I hate blood. I hate the sight of blood. I hate the smell of it too—that metallic pungent odor that sticks to the inside of your nostrils.

“I’m not killing turkeys,” I whisper close to Rosita’s ear.

“A machine kills them,” shorts-guy says over my shoulder. A hand appears next to my face. “I’m Mateo.”

I hesitantly take his hand. It’s warm and soft, nothing like I expected.

“Marisol,” I say. “And this is my cousin, Rosa.”

“Where are you from, Mateo?” Rosa asks.

“Aguadilla,” he says. “Used to give surf lessons to tourists.” When he smiles, his straight white teeth are a bright contrast to his brown, suntanned skin. If it weren’t for the ridiculous hat, he would almost look handsome.

“And you guys?”

“San Juan,” I say.

“Ah, city girls,” he teases. “My uncle lives in San Juan. Well … used to, I guess. They moved to Florida a week ago.”

“Everyone is moving,” Rosita says.

“Los cerebros que se van y el corazón que se queda,” I add, quoting an essay by Magaly García Ramis about the relocation of “brains” to the mainland. The brains may leave for a better life, but their hearts always remain on the island. Today I can understand what she meant.

“That’s very poetic and all, but what are we supposed to do?” Mateo asks, his voice bitter. “If I had work, I would’ve stayed. I didn’t want to leave. There’s no surfing here. Who knows when the tourists will be back. And who knows when they’ll open the university. I’ll probably lose the entire year.”

“Yeah, it’s the same thing in San Juan. No classes until further notice,” Rosita says.

“I’m halfway through a graphic design degree. I was going to open my own store—Yuquiyú Surf Shop. I wanted to design and make my own boards,” he says, sitting a little taller.

“That sounds nice,” Rosita says.

“Yeah, but who knows what’ll happen now,” he sighs and leans back, staring out the window at the open field next to the turkey farm. There’s a feeling I recognize in his amber-colored eyes: longing. After María we all seem to want things we can’t have.

Silly hat aside, I feel an affinity with Mateo. Maybe our dreams are in a comatose state and not stone dead like the turkeys.

When we pull up to the plant, Elena is waiting for us by the front steps.

“Welcome, amigos,” she says in a too-cheerful tone. “Did you sleep okay?”

Everyone nods and smiles politely, eager to get inside. We all want to see what our new lives will be like—what we left the island for.

Elena ushers us inside the plant and into a classroom with long tables and a projection screen. There are big binders on the table, one for each of us.

I sit between Mateo and Rosita.

After a brief introduction, Elena plays a video about safety at the plant. After the third example of an accident, I scan over the pages of the manual, searching for something to calm my nerves.

The same information is written in three languages: English, Spanish, and what I guess is Chinese. I turn to the Spanish section, pausing when I reach a photo of a plucked headless turkey hanging from a metal rod.

“My padrino says you’ll hurt for the first two weeks,” Mateo says softly. “But you get used to it.”

“Used to what?” I ask.

“The standing. The cold. The repetition. It’s not for everyone. It breaks some people.”

I instinctively search for Esperanza, recalling that she wasn’t in the van that drove us from the motel.

“Where’s Esperanza?” 

“She left,” Mateo says, matter-of-fact.

“What do you mean she left?” I move in closer, trying to keep my voice low. “She just got here,” I say, staring into his dark-brown eyes. His cheeks turn a soft pink at the closeness of our bodies. I lean back, a little embarrassed.

“Left for Puerto Rico this morning.”

Elena clears her throat and gives us a disapproving look from the front of the classroom. I mouth an apology and wait a few minutes before turning again towards Mateo.

“I didn’t know we could leave.”

“God, they’re not holding us hostage, Marisol,” Rosita interjects. I had no idea she was even listening.

I turn to Mateo for confirmation.

“You can leave any time,” he says with a smile that reaches his eyes and makes my breath catch.

My mind whirls. The words You can leave any time buzz inside my head like bees swarming over a beehive.

I can leave this wintry, far-away place. I can go home.

But go home to what? What kind of life will I go back to?


* * *


After three hours of videos, talks, and a million questions, Elena announces that we’re done for the day.

“Tomorrow will be your first shift,” she says. “The van will pick you up at five. Please don’t be late.”

Mateo grunts behind me. “I wish they had a noon shift,” he says. “Who wants to get up at five in this cold?”

“It’s colder in there,” a woman says, pointing to a conveyor belt behind a glass window. “They keep it to thirty-six degrees—year-round.”

“I guess I won’t be taking this off,” Mateo says, zipping his jacket all the way up. “Got it at the Salvation Army this morning. Like it?”

I nod, wishing I’d gone to the thrift store and found a thicker winter coat.

“You’ll need a coat just to wear to work,” he says expertly. “You don’t want to bring the smell of turkey flesh home.”

I tilt my head in confusion, wondering how Mateo went from being the shorts-guy to turkey-plant expert. “How do you know all this?”

“I told you, my padrino works here. He got me the job.” He glances at my brand-new, cream-colored coat and says, “I hope you brought another one.”

“Did you hear that, Rosita?” I ask pulling at the sleeve of her jacket. “We’ll have to walk around smelling like dead birds.”

“Coats cost money, Marisol,” she says, pursing her lips like I’m a petulant child. “Do you want to call your mother if we run out of money before we get paid? Because I’m not making that call. I’ll be damned if I trekked all the way here to have money be sent to me from the island.”

My hands ball into fists. I bite my lower lip so hard it may bleed. Deep in the hollow of my chest, I feel the pull of Esperanza’s sobs coaxing me to give up. To leave all this behind like a bad dream quickly forgotten in the morning.

Poor Esperanza. She traveled all the way here for nothing. Is that what I want? To be that hopeless?

“How much was that coat?” I ask Mateo, ignoring the scowl on Rosita’s face.

“Twenty bucks. It’s a nice brand too.”

I turn to face Rosita, feet planted firmly on the tile floor. “I’m going to the Salvation Army. I’ll use my money. I’ll go alone if I have to.”

She releases an exasperated sigh. “Don’t be stupid. I’m not letting you wander around Huron by yourself.”

“It closes at five,” Mateo says, glancing at a clock on the wall that reads 4:45 p.m.

Rosita shrugs with an “oh well” expression that makes me want to pull my hair out. It’s that resignación everyone on the island keeps going on about. An unchallenged acceptance that leaves no room to fight back.

“We’ll go to Walmart,” I say, refusing to give into this resignación. “They have coats, I’m sure.” And sheets and towels … and candles with names like Island Breeze or Tropical Punch—if they do, I’m buying one of each.


* * *


The next morning, the alarm goes off at four. I open my eyes and see the picture of the duck-looking pheasant hanging from the wall. I decide to name him Paco—the duck-pheasant. A daily reminder that we can be two things at once.

I wriggle myself into the new thermal underwear I bought last night. I had no idea this stuff even existed. A Walmart sales lady put the package in my hands and said in a Dominican accent, “Para trabajar en la planta, esto es lo mejor.” She had worked at the plant for three years and these—long johns, she called them—had kept her warm the entire time.

Over the long johns I wear a thick pair of pants, then two t-shirts, a sweater, and my new red coat. It’s so soft, it feels like a waste taking it to the plant.

“Rosita, get up.” I give her a little shove and she moans awake. “I’ll go get us some breakfast. Get dressed.”

I put on my boots and grab a can of Busteló coffee I found at Walmart, the only Spanish coffee they had on the shelves.

Outside, it’s snowing again. But today there’s no wind to carry the feathers. I walk downstairs to the dining area and find Don Arsenio tinkering with the coffee machine.

“Buenos días,” I say, showing him the coffee can. That crooked smile takes over his entire face.

“It’s Cuban, but it’ll do,” he says, winking at me. “I think I figured out where they keep the filters.” He looks around, making sure the motel staff are not watching.

I spill the watered-down coffee in the sink. Don Arsenio finds a new coffee filter and together we make a fresh pot of Busteló to share. We stand in front of the machine watching the dark coffee drip fill the glass carafe.

“If I can’t drink Puerto Rican coffee, Cuban is a nice second choice,” he says.

“Cuba y Puerto Rico de un pájaro las dos alas,” I respond, quoting the Puerto Rican poet Lola Rodríguez de Tió.

He pours the coffee into a to-go cup and puts it between my hands. Then, with his wrinkled palms still covering the back of my hands, he recites, “Otro aquí vengo a formar, y ya no podré olvidar, que el alma llena de anhelo, encuentra bajo este cielo aire y luz para cantar!”

I get lost in the old man’s voice and cloudy eyes as he recites the verses from Rodríguez de Tió’s magnificent poem. He enunciates every verse perfectly in a melancholic voice that makes me feel like crying.

“That’s beautiful,” I say after he’s finished.

“She wrote that poem when she was exiled to Cuba,” he tells me. “She was banished, but she never forgot her patria. No one can take that from you.”

I nod, smiling, and hand him a packet of sugar, which he pours into his cup.

“Ahhh, buenísimo,” he says, savoring the first sip.

I leave Don Arsenio and walk back to our room carrying a tray of coffee and waffles. Rosita and I eat our breakfast in front of the TV, watching an action movie about terrorists bringing down the White House.

“There’s nothing else on,” Rosita says.

“Doesn’t matter. We have to be downstairs in fifteen minutes.”

“Are you nervous?”

I drown my waffles in syrup and take a bite.

“A little,” I say. “You?”

“It’s cutting turkeys. How hard can it be?”

After eating, we head downstairs to meet the others by the van. Mateo is already sitting inside.

“Buenos días, señoritas,” he chirps.

We smile and greet him back. Then the door to the van closes and the horizon speeds past. Now, moving in the direction of my future, my stomach is not having it.

“Are you okay?” Rosita asks. “You look like you’re gonna puke.”

“I’m fine,” I say, leaning my head against the cold glass of the passenger window. I take slow, easy breaths until some of the churning inside me subsides.

I watch the lights of the plant draw closer. In no time, the driver is parking and we are all filing towards the entrance, where Elena’s familiar face is there to greet us.

“I will call your name and these lovely people will direct you to your stations,” she says, motioning to a group of workers behind her.

Rosita and I wait our turn in the back until we finally hear our names.

“You will start in the deboning room,” she explains briefly.

I’m about to ask her if there will be blood, but someone taps me on the shoulder. I turn around to find Mateo.

“Remember you will hurt today. But tomorrow will get better,” he says, smiling.

I stare at him, wanting to ask him how much more hurt can one person bear? But before I can speak, Rosita grabs my hand and pulls me away.

“Come on, Marisol, we can’t get left behind,” she says, following a short woman with dark skin through a long corridor.

I glance over my shoulder to see Mateo’s smile disappear behind two folding doors.


* * *


“My name is Sabina,” the woman says, speaking with an accent. “I’m here to train you. First, rubber boots.”

We stop by a table where an older Asian woman measures our feet with a ruler, and finds a pair of black rubber boots in our size.

She pushes a white marker into my hand and says, “Name. Here.”

I take the boots and the marker and stare at her blankly.

“Write your name on the boots,” Sabina explains.

I do as I’m told, and write MARISOL in white marker on the black rubber. I don’t exactly own the boots, but it’s nice to have my name on something new. These rubber boots will carry me through the first days of my new life. I draw a palm tree next to my name, the long trunk slightly bent as a reminder that it will not break. 

Sabina then gives us a white smock to put over our jackets. 

“This way,” she says, waving us down another corridor.

We walk through two swinging doors across a narrow, frigid hallway. We enter a room with high ceilings and blinding industrial lights. There are about two hundred people working here, all standing shoulder-to-shoulder over a conveyor belt.

“I’ll show you job. Pick up rest of equipment, here,” Sabina says.

A booth attendant hands us a vinyl apron, a hairnet, earmuffs, goggles, cotton gloves, rubber gloves, and a mesh steel glove.

“Look at me,” Rosita says, donning the goggles and mesh steel glove. She lifts her hand in the air playfully. “Rosita, space warrior princess!”

We both laugh and help each other tie the back of the vinyl apron. When we are fully dressed, Sabina takes us to our place in the line. I try to focus on her instructions, but it’s impossible to concentrate when there is so much I don’t know happening around me.

My eyes dart to a chute across the room spitting out headless turkeys. I follow one in particular with big yellow feet and short wings. In seconds, a worker picks him up and hooks his feet to a conveyor belt. Soon after, he’s getting hacked into pieces. His drumsticks go to the left and his wings to the right. The breast meat lands on a table where about a dozen workers trim each piece.

“Pay attention, Marisol,” Rosita yells at me over the noise of the machines. “This is what we have to do.”

Sabina grabs a turkey wing from a trough in front of us. She sets it on a white cutting board and expertly pulls the meat from the bone with a curved knife. The meat lands on the conveyor belt to be swept away.

“You try,” she says, handing me the knife.

I pick up a wing, drop it on the cutting board, and stick the knife into it. But when I pull back, half of the meat is still attached to the bone.

“Quick. Pull. Quick,” Sabina tells me, dropping another wing in front of me.

I give it another go, but this time the knife gets stuck in the bone.

I glance at Rosita’s table, but she’s not faring much better. Her wing slips out of her hand and lands on the floor.

“Five-second rule!” she yells, picking up the wing from the floor and putting it back on the board. Are we supposed to do that?

 “Again,” Sabina says, dumping three more of those giant wings in front of me. “Ten seconds each.”

My eyes widen. Is this woman serious? Ten seconds per wing. That’s it? I mean they’re dead. It’s not like they’re going to fly away if I take my sweet time.

But then I look around at the other people on the line. Their knife-wielding hands are flying at freakish speed. I count the seconds it takes them to debone each wing and move on to the next one—ten.

I adjust my glove and grab a wing with my left hand.

I can do this, I tell myself. I’m a palmera.

So I plunge in the knife the way I’d seen Sabina do, and quickly yank out the meat and skin. The trick, I realized, is not to think.

“Perfect,” Sabina says, giving me two thumbs-up. “Go to line.”

I join the line, while Sabina tries to help Rosita with her technique. Her wings keep flying off the table.

On the line, I can’t keep up. I grab a wing every twenty-five seconds or so—I’m timing myself—but the trough never empties. Every five minutes, a worker comes by and dumps in a bucket full of wings. No matter how fast everyone around me cuts, we will never see the bottom of that wretched trough.

There is no end in sight.

I stretch my neck, arms, and hands, trying to get some blood-flow back into my stiff body. And fighting to keep the feelings of desperation at bay. I turn around, searching for a place to rest my eyes that is not turkey wings. But instead I find another line. Whole de-feathered turkeys rush past at a relentless pace. I count 47 dead birds per minute. How am I supposed to do this for a whole day? A whole year?

Oh God, what am I doing here?

I stare at the knife I’m holding, overwhelmed, until one of the women working the line waves her hand in front of my face.

“You. Help,” she says in rudimentary English. When I stare back, she motions for me to re-take my place on the line. I follow the gentle coax of her hand. “Time fly by. Like the wing,” she quips, reaching for a wing from the trough, and flopping it around in the air. Her lips spread into a warm smile as she sets the wing in my hand.

I nod in understanding, returning the smile. One day I will leave this place, but today I have a job to do.

I cut and cut, ignoring the flecks of turkey sticking to my apron, ignoring the conversation next to me in a language I’ve never heard and ignoring the brutal cold that has breached the long-john barrier and crawled under my skin.

“You’re a palmera,” I say under my breath, pulling the meat from another wing bone. After two hours of the same repetitive movement, my arm feels like it’s about to fall off. A sharp wave of pain spreads from my fingers, up my arm and shoulders, and all the way to the back of my head.

I don’t know which is worse: the pain or the cold. Every so often I shake my feet and wiggle my toes, in a useless attempt to bring back warmth into my limbs. I realize I am working inside a freezer, and in here, there is no escape from the cold. The meat is cold. The knife is cold. Even the floor feels cold.

When it’s time for lunch, we leave the deboning room and enter a cleanup area where we wash off the turkey meat stuck to our uniforms.

As the workers take off their hair nets, goggles, and earmuffs, I realize I am surrounded by people from all over the world. I overhear a woman say she’s from Chuuk—which I learn is also an island.

We gather to eat around picnic tables in a large white room.

“How’s it going?” Mateo asks, sitting across from me. “I’m in the warehouse. My arms are gonna get huge from carrying boxes all day.” He laughs at himself.

Rosita lifts her right hand in front of us, trying to make a fist. “It won’t close. I can barely feel my fingers.”

“How about you, Marisol?” Mateo asks.

“I will hurt today. But tomorrow will be better,” I repeat back to him. We exchange a smile and the warm color of his sunburned cheeks gives me some comfort, as if he’s sharing a little part of the island sun inside him.



On September 20, 2017, Hurricane María barreled through Puerto Rico, leaving behind the worst devastation the island had ever seen. Like millions of the island’s residents and the diaspora, my heart was broken and desperate to help, hanging onto every shred of news coming out of our homeland. In January 2018 Washington Post journalist Chico Harlan published a story about a group of young Puerto Ricans that left the island for jobs at a turkey processing plant in Huron. Most were in college, worked part-time jobs, and dreamed of a future that didn’t include leaving Puerto Rico. Their stories stayed with me long after reading Harlan’s moving report. Only weeks later, my agent Saritza Hernandez, also a Boricua, encouraged me to submit a story to FORESHADOW’s New Voice competition. Instantly, I knew I wanted to write a story about these young María evacuees. They had been forced to leave everything they knew and loved behind, and venture into the unknown. This is how Marisol and Rosa’s journey came to be. It’s a story of heartbreak and longing but also hope. In Marisol’s own words, sometimes we “have to be a palmera. A palm tree bends but never breaks.

{ Edited by Trisha Tobias. }
This new voice is sponsored by David Levithan.