Faces of Long Island celebrates the uniqueness of everyday Long Islanders. In their own words, they tell us about their life experiences, challenges and triumphs. Newsday launched this social media journey into the human experience to shine a light on the diverse people of this wonderful place we call home.

‘I was a 14-year-old girl with $10,000 to $15,000 worth of gold in my backpack.’

Kings Park

“When I was a girl, my dad owned a jewelry- and watch-repair shop in Brentwood. Gold was big then. He would buy any scrap gold people would want to get rid of, melt it down, and I would take these little bricks of gold with me on the train to Penn Station.

“I was a 14-year-old girl with $10,000 to $15,000 worth of gold in my backpack. I would go into the Diamond District, where everybody knew who I was, sell the gold, and get back on the train with thousands in cash in my little bookbag.

“Part of me is still grounded in that humble Brentwood shop where I learned everything I know about business. I had immigrated with my mother from Honduras to the United States when I was 6 and a half years old. When we landed at LaGuardia Airport, coming from a Third World country, I was starstruck, thinking the United States would be all castles in the sand.

“My dad, who was already living on Long Island, bought the Brentwood house where I grew up. I didn’t play sports or do extracurricular activities after school; I was my dad’s gofer. I learned street smarts, negotiation and my work ethic from him.

“Though successful, he was very mentally abusive, typical macho. The concept of a business owner in my father’s eyes meant sacrificing everything for the sake of a buck.

“I graduated from Brentwood High School at age 16; my guidance counselor had told me it couldn’t be done. I took additional summer school and school courses to graduate as a junior. I was studying business management. Then, I decided college wasn’t for me. I dropped out and went to massage school, graduating at age 17.

“I started my career as a massage therapist in 2002 in Florida, but my heart is in New York, where I returned in 2007. I was 22 and seven months pregnant. Everybody was saying that having a child when I was so young would interfere with my goals. But my first son, born in January 2008, became my biggest motivation.

“Four months after he was born, I opened my practice in Kings Park. I became a licensed esthetician a year later. I evolved the concept of a spa that is less like a factory, more like a family. We grew and grew. Then, five years ago, I almost lost everything when my livelihood and business were seriously threatened.”

After years of soul searching, I had to self-heal for my own sanity.

“I met my sons’ father when I was 17. We moved in together when I was 21. He was a hard worker – he owned an auto shop – but also a tortured soul and brought those demons into our relationship. First it was mental and verbal abuse, then it got physical.

“Initially, I thought, no matter what, he was my boyfriend, we had two boys together. By the beginning of eight years together, I asked him to go. He had to be physically removed by the police.

“Then he began stalking and harassing me. It got so bad I tried to commit suicide. I was 29 at the time, and I wasn’t going down without a fight. I sent my kids to live with family in Honduras. I told my clientele I had to leave, but that I’d keep coming back to New York to see them.

“I packed my car and drove to California. I found a place for us, brought my kids back to live with me, and traveled back and forth between New York and L.A., where I also built up a good reputation. One of my clients is a former U.S. ambassador.

“I specialize in Swedish, Ashiatsu and yoga Thai massage. When the pandemic hit, I was overbooked because everybody was so stressed. I got a bigger space in downtown L.A., about 1,000 square feet with single and couples massage rooms, break room and reception-retail area.

“As a woman and single mother, after years of soul searching, I decided I had to self-heal for my own sanity. Part of that was to allow my sons to also partake in that self-healing and create closure for them with their dad.

“In December, we met in a public space, and they spent four hours together. I’ve never seen my children so happy. Pursuing a doctorate in natural medicine, I’m learning how our emotions can make us sick if we don’t let go of resentment.

“I’ve employed a few women while they were going through spousal abuse, and because of my own experience, I was able to help them to navigate their exit out of their situation. As a survivor, it’s important to be the voice for other women who didn’t survive.”

Interviewed by Jim Merritt