“I’m glad I cleaned the house today,” she thought in her best Lady Macbeth fashion. “Too many damn cobwebs. Out damn memories.”
She’d contemplated burning some sage but settled on removing old totems from the past as being enough. Finding the photos of “that other family” triggered this latest “limpiada,” a lesson taught by her mother.
“The best way to get rid of the past,” her Mamá Coraje once said, “is to believe it never happened at all.”
Rewriting history was a family skill so well-honed, even Orwell would blanch out of shame. For the Coraje women, lies were irradiated truths. Truths were best regarded as lies told by those who only wanted to destroy their gossamer veneer of perfection. The singular male Coraje — the son or brother — seemed to lack the focus required. He was a man-boy with feet of clay, desperate to be liked and loved, lacking integrity and grit.
Adept at creating her own reality since youth, this particular Coraje sister didn’t even break a sweat at the effort anymore. Ignoring events, people, the color of her skin, her family’s lower-middle-class reality, it didn’t faze her in the least. She chose to dance on the jagged edge, to remain a beautiful liar en pointe. Yet, the years were now revealing their own subtle truths, manifested in her stick-thin figure and the frozen look of bitter disappointment on her face. Whatever beauty or character was erased now.
It was seeing a photo of her mother with her American-born cousins that triggered this bolt of divine inspiration as she finished cleaning. She’d send the found photos to their original owners. It would be easier to simply place them in the trash.
“La basura se junta,” Mamá Coraje would say about people who had lost their use to her.
Another pair of trembling hands would soon hold the plain manila envelope she’d carefully filled with photos covering several years from what was now a different lifetime. The note? Benign in its phrasing, but packing a wallop that would reverberate beyond several area codes: “I thought you could use these.” Its simplicity was almost too perfect! Minimum effort for maximum damage, this bread & butter note written with the same intent as a “Thank you” card or a grocery list.
Would she know that sending this package would elicit feelings of anger and rage? Would she know that emptying her house of what was once treasure would be deemed callous and heartless? That the question of “Who does this?” would be muttered via texts and phone calls and several lunchtime conversations? The frozen smiles captured in these wrinkled black & whites and torn color images belied something she would never allow herself to acknowledge: her own feelings of malignant envy.
As la Hermana Coraje transported the sealed envelope to the post office, she reflected on the scorched earth demeanor of the Corajes. It was a cold feeling, cold and lonely and terrifying in its power. Was this too much? Had she gone too far? But she caught herself before any rationality or humanity could take root. Gripping the steering wheel of her sensible Japanese car, a trace of a smile revealed itself as she accelerating on the gas.
God, how long have I been basking in the glow of hyperbole?
It’s like I don’t know any other way to express myself or view the world. Everything to me is:
It’s all just a cover-up, really. This endless search of non-information that clutters my brain, distracting me from the narrative that I really want to express, not just to the world, but to myself. If there is anything to offer as a resolution for 2015, it is to abandon the hyperbole and focus on what matters in defined terms. Fuck these endless social media streams, I want truth again.
I haven’t been too eager to promote many entries on this blog of late. It’s been a combination burn book and teen girl journal for weeks. “This family member talked so much shit about my me!” or “Those family members had the nerve to make it all about them!” or “This date was just another Harry Houdini! Now you see him! Now you don’t!” I bet even Taylor Swift would go, “Fuck bitch. Get a new theme!”
What happened to self-reflection and understanding, to humor and positivity?
What happened to the last third of 2014?
Well, a lot.
John Kander and Fred Ebb composed a song for Martin Scorsese’s “New York, New York” called “The World Goes ‘Round.” I’ve had it on a loop these last few weeks. It helped shape what I decided to write today, summing up exactly what sort of year many of us experienced in 2014.
Sometimes you’re happy, sometimes you’re sad
But the world goes ’round…
And sometimes your heart breaks with a deafening sound…
Somebody loses and somebody wins
And one day it’s kicks, then it’s kicks in the shins
But the planet spins,
and the world goes ’round….
I thought a lot about what this closing blog entry of the year should contain. But, as I sit here in my bedroom (More teen girl imagery. That has to go in 2015), I find that I don’t want to replay any of it. I want to focus on the reality that the world will continue to spin — and that hope matters.
My boss Alan and I got into a rather revealing discussion about hope, an ideal my friend doesn’t seem to think exists.
But I do. I really do.
Hope, like love, has lost its power. It’s a brand. It is a campaign logo. It has been appropriated by the self-help contingent, those annoying life coaches and magazinespeak spinners. It is that blanket statement too many of us use to cover up our woes, disappointments and our other beautifully weak and frail moments. “Don’t worry. There is always hope.”
Hope, like love and happiness, takes effort. It takes work to NOT let yourself fall prey to the myriad of distractions and stupidities that dominate our daily lives. You can’t use hope blindly. Hope needs to be seen clearly. It isn’t like prayer. “I hope” is not like talking to God. You are talking to yourself. You are being your own source of faith and courage to face the challenges that we face. And the challenges, particularly at this age, will arrive with the efficiency of a high speed train.
Hope, like love, is not for pussies. And hope needs to be taken back from the legion of those wanting to cash in on our gorgeous neuroses for their own gain. Before any of us can begin to understand just how important love is in our lives, we have to reeducate ourselves in the power of hope. Where there is hope, you will find love. You will find them exactly where you left them before you let all the static of modern life cloud your own beliefs and true self.
In a few hours, 2014 will join the album of detritus that is memory. It will be relegated to the tales we tell whenever we reunite. Those who are lost, will be remembered. Those who hurt us will be reviled again, but ultimately forgiven because they just don’t know any better. Those who made us laugh, will make us laugh that much harder. And we will all be glad that we survived to tell the tales again and again.
I also found great comfort in another song, one composed by Hans Zimmer and Trevor Horn for the film “Toys,” performed by Wendy & Lisa and Seal. It features this lyric:
This is a Time to be Together
And the Truth is somewhere here
Within our love of People
At the Closing of the Year.
I spent these last months in a state of free fall. I haven’t hit ground yet, but I see it below. I have not lost sight that it is with my family and my family of friends, new and old, here and abroad, where I did find my truth in 2014.
I can’t wait to find out what I will learn in 2015.
Wednesday, December 31. Written and posted from Wayne Avenue Manor in South Pasadena, CA.
Everyone gets these things confused with love. But in reality, love is the only thing in this world that covers up all the pain and makes someone feel wonderful again.”
We will stumble, crash and land into a pile of shit of our own making when it comes to matters of the heart. Sometimes, we are so wrapped up in our search for emotional sustenance, we obfuscate the needs of the other person. Perhaps their sense of urgency isn’t about a lasting connection. It can be a moment of vulnerability, of needing that human interaction to stave off that powerful sense of loneliness we all get from time to time.
It flares hot, hot enough to burn until you find the means of cooling them down. It’s a fever, a burst of madness. Holly Golightly called these feelings the “mean reds,” emotions so intense they are not some common variety of the versions of the blues.
Can it be viewed as selfish? Yes. But the real selfishness is the naiveté of thinking it’s about you, when really it’s about them. Confusing their explosion of passion with being a lifeline is dangerous. Again, you need parity to make that sort of emotion flourish into something that caters to both your needs. Parity takes time, patience and the will to not let your own need overwhelm the delicate diplomacy required. That’s what creates a strong bond. That’s what allows for a foundation of trust with which to build something lasting, with friendship representing the first floor. Anything beyond that is up to fate.
I have a propensity of getting carried away. You don’t always get a second chance when you allow the mean reds to color your rational self. In light of recent events, I hope I’m proven wrong. To err is truly human and to forgive is divine.
And I took too long to simply say, “I’m sorry.”
In the meantime, it is equally important to forgive ourselves. Because, as Mary Chapin Carpenter writes in “Why Walk When You Can Fly”
“In this world there’s a whole lot of shame
In this world there’s a whole lot of sorrow
And a whole lotta ground to gain
When you spend your whole life wishing,
Wanting and wondering why
It’s a long enough life to be living, why walk when you can fly…”
Let them wings spread out and be strong. We are not a weak as we sometimes think we are…
“Good morning, everybody. And thank you for being part of this extremely special, and important, occasion.
We are taught that it isn’t the destination, but the journey that defines us. They obviously never met Raul Valadez and Susanna Contreras. It’s been quite a journey, but they were meant to be each other’s destination.
They are defined by the life they’ve built for over 35 years. They are a poignant example of loyalty, patience, honor, and most importantly, love.
In technical terms, they are indeed a partnership. But, those who know them, who shared their joys and tears for these many years, understand them as what they are: as husband and wife – and in ever sense of these words…”
That is as far as I got in writing my wedding notes for Uncle Raul and Aunt Susanna’s nuptials. At 11 am, on a sunny Monday morning in September, my sister called to tell me she passed away.
It was a long day. We sat at the house on Francisquito. We heard the usual sounds, too. Laughing. The kids were running around. Little Abigail was wielding her blankie like she was Shirley Bassey flinging her cape on stage at Royal Albert Hall. (Google it.) Sydney slapped my face with a new diaper, thinking it’s the funniest thing in the world. (It was.)
There was a lot of hugging. It was good to hear everyone talking. It was good to hear everyone laughing. It was the crying that was hard to watch. It came in in waves, in between the sweetness and calm. For a moment, we felt awkward that we weren’t grieving more. It’s such an extraordinary process.
It isn’t only in movies where we admit it’s a relief when the person we love puts down their arms in their fight against cancer. But isn’t a relief. It hurts. It’s as if you’re being punched in the most tender place on your body with brass knuckles and a blackjack.
Haven’t you had enough this year? How many more people do you need to recruit? Nobody asked for this conflict. Nobody wakes up to say, “I want to join your ranks.” I know at this very moment, another family member is sitting on some floor, laptop open, tapping the keys in an effort to make sense of all this emotion and reality. We are aware that when a military war comes to an end, the survivors’ tale becomes the narrative. It’s that rousing, nationalistic chronicle of victory. But no one wins in the war with cancer. It is all scorched earth.
I want to scream right now. My mind knows that while cancer may rob people of who they love and cherish, compassion and strength should bring those left behind closer together. That hasn’t been the case with us. Wounded pride, insufferable smugness and other examples of self-absorption have tainted our grieving process. It started with one, only to spread outward like a virus.
My mind can’t seem to focus on what is going to happen next. The most I’ve done is scroll through my phone to find all those Instagram moments. I just wanted proof that sad isn’t the only memory I am going to have of “that day.”
The Susanna from 71 weeks ago is not the same aunt from three weeks ago. I don’t want to focus on what we all witnessed “that day.” I choose to focus on the constant in these photos, her smile. Gosh, it’s Osmond sized, sincere and uninhibited. She exuded life, even when life offered things not worth smiling about.
I can’t believe how little time we had with my aunt this year. I’ve been given the task of saying tomorrow’s eulogy, a task she gave me in June. You can deconstruct the gravity of such a request. It didn’t faze me in the least. It went beyond privilege and honor in my mind. She accepted me from day one. How could I not oblige? (Uncle Raul later pulled me aside to make sure I knew just how connected she was to me. I didn’t know, Uncle. I really didn’t know.)
The hard part now is reconciling how we all let the summer go by without pushing for a day to see Raul and Susanna get married. I was in Spain from the end of June through the end of July, but August was a relatively quiet month. We had the cocido brunch, but I could see my aunt was slowing down again. Man, she was determined to make that meal special. And it was, but we avoided the reality a ticking clock was present.
My mom and I made good on our promise to go to the Buffalo Bill’s Resort and Casino in Primm Valley to see La Sonora Santanera the weekend after Labor Day. Susanna did her best, but we spent most of our time in her hotel room, talking and watching her favorite shows (Hello, “Law & Order”). She would barely eat and she ultimately missed the show. It was apparent to me at this time that her illness had transitioned from a waiting game to signs of a mortal end.
I knew that weekend at Buffalo Bill’s was a gift, but I chose to hide it well. I will never forget the blessing of seeing my uncle and mother look like teenagers again when La Sonora Santanera played the first notes of “La Boa.” I was meant to sit next to my aunt, who gave me “cosqillas” as she smiled that beautiful smile of hers while watching some of the rougher “Special Victims Unit” episodes ever.
A few weeks later, my aunt refused further treatment.
I went to visit her the Wednesday after her decision. My family then spent the following Sunday with her and Raul and the kids. Susanna was in a very frail state, but aware and feisty. She waved at me. I smiled. She needed her rest. But we were elated that Raul had proposed. Again! And she finally said, “Yes.”
After we all made our separate ways home, my cousins and I spent hours texting about when Uncle Raul and Aunt Susanna should get married. It was that Wednesday. No, it was Saturday. Saturday was perfect! Sooner was better. Aunt Susanna wanted to wait two more weeks, but my cousin Alyssa said, No. it was going to be this Saturday. (Aunt Susanna was so annoyed by that decision, exhibiting that fire of hers, but she acquiesced.)
We went through times, date, food, who to invite with an eye set for Saturday, October 4.
Monday, September 29: I was in my office, stealing a few moments to start writing my wedding comments. I had been ordained over the weekend. I wanted to keep my notes brief. We waited such a long time for this moment. Minutes counted now and this wasn’t “The Jorge Wedding Show,” complete with an entrance cue of “Maybe God Is Tryin’ to Tell You Something” from “The Color Purple.” (I won’t lie. I dreamt that.)
I was writing the final phrases, “…as husband and wife – and in ever sense of these words…,” when my sister Lil called to say Aunt Susanna had collapsed and was having trouble breathing. It was the most normal conversation. She’d had similar moments before, but something told me, “Move, bub. Be with your family.”
I left my office and the comfort of Los Monkeys, but before I made it to the corner of Wilshire and Crenshaw, Lil called back to say aunt Susanna had died.
Saturday, October 4 came and went. Some of us gathered together to honor the wedding day, to just be there for each other. Hearts were heavy, eyes were soggy at times, but spirits remained on high. We were going to honor the legacy of our cherished aunt in our inimitable style. And we did. The exquisite joy on Sydney’s face when she heard the first bars of “All About That Base” solidified why we will never be apart as a family. My aunt made that happen and we promised her achievement would never be in vain. (And, even if that damn Meghan Trainor song is on a perpetual iPod loop, we’ll do it for family.)
I wish I could have honored by aunt’s first request, but I will be delivering her eulogy as promised. I hate letting her down. I wish we had moved faster. But, I take solace that Raul and Susanna did exist in this world as “man and wife.” Life, love, memories was the foundation of their union. The house off Francisquito and Hacienda was their church. And we are all their followers. They made it work their way.
Let no man, or anyone else for that matter, ever tear that asunder.
#hueytutannaporvida #susannacv #lifeisart
Updated on Friday night, October 10, originally written and posted on Wednesday, October 8 from Wayne Avenue Manor.
Mi nombre es Jorge. En el barrio de mi nacimiento, todavía soy “George,” pero ya no me identifico come ese muchacho del ayer. Soy Jorge, pero no soy el original. Yo soy el segundo Jorge porque llevo ell nombre de mi padre. Mi madre quería llamarme Alejandro pero nací para llevar la marca de ser el primer hombre en una familia sencilla. El orgullo me nombró, no la poesía o el romance.
Llevar el nombre de mi padre tiene una gran responsabilidad. Como todas las cosas buenas, los griegos inventaron “Jorge.” Per mis padres Jorge y Lilia Carreón Ramirez crearon esta versión. El origen de mi nombre representa lo que es un granjero o una persona que cultiva la tierra. Ni siquiera puedo cuidar una planta. Sin embargo, esto me dirige a usar una metáfora. Las palabras son lo que yo cultivo porque soy periodista. Yo cuento las historias de personas que tú conoces para ver en la tele o leer en la Internet. Creo que eso me hace un granjero de los medios.
Siendo el segundo Jorge de mi familia es una historia diferente, una historia que no llevo a contar al mundo. Nunca pensé que mi padre y yo teníamos muchas características en común. Siempre estuvimos en una guerra de ideología. Ahora soy mayor y empiezo a darme cuenta de lo que tenemos en común. Como la mayoría de los hombres latinos, vivimos en nuestros recuerdos. Es como si fuéramos granjeros cultivando la tierra que da vida a nuestro´árbol genealógico.
Ahora mi padre está enfermo. Su mente está borrándose lentamente en una manera insidiosa. Un día no voy a ser el segundo Jorge, pero el primero. Es por eso que tengo que recordar todo relacionado con él y con nosotros. Porque ser Jorge es mas que compartir el mismo nombre de mi padre. Ser Jorge es vivir como el conservador de la historia de mi familia.
Porque anoche, al final de la fiesta de cumpleaños de mi hermana mayor, mi padre se olvidó de mi por la primera vez. Me dio su mano, como si yo fuera un desconocido, no su hijo mayor, no el que lleva su nombre. En ese momento, si cambio todo porque reconocí que sí, mi nombre contiene poesía y romance.
Porque llegó el día de ser Jorge el primero.
Domingo 28 de septiembre 2014. En mi casa en South Pasadena, CA
My name is Jorge. People still call me “George,” especially in the neighborhood where I grew up, located in the shadow of downtown Los Angeles. I’m Jorge, but I’m not the First. I am the Second Jorge because I carry my father’s name, a junior version. My mom wanted to name me “Alejandro,” but I was born to carry the name of our patriarch, the first boy born of immigrants in their new country. Pride named me, not a sense of poetry or romance.
To carry your father’s name is a huge responsibility. Like all good things on this earth, it was the Greeks who invented Jorge. But my parents, Jorge and Lilia Carreon Ramirez, created this version. The origin of my name is supposed to mean “farmer” or a person who cultivates the ground. I can’t even take care of a plant. Regardless, this does lead me to use a metaphor. I cultivate words and images because I am a journalist. I tell the stories about people you know to watch on TV or read on the Internet. Maybe that makes me a farmer with the media as my expanse of land to nurture?
Being Jorge the Second is a different story, one I never intended to tell to the world. Not really. Yet reasons exist why I can admit that I never thought my father and I had much in common. We were always locked in a battle of ideology. Now that I am older, I see what we do share and it is more than the name. Like all Latino men, we live in our memories. It is as if we are a special brand of cultivators, tasked with the preservation of our family trees.
My father has Alzheimer’s. His mind is slowly being erased in the most insidious manner. Since the day he was diagnosed, I knew that at some point I would no longer be Jorge the Second, but the First. That is why I have to record all that is Us before his files are completely emptied of data.
Because being Jorge is not just sharing the same name.
Being Jorge is living as the chief chronicler of my family.
Because last night, at the end of my older sister’s birthday party, my father forgot who I was to him.
He offered me his hand to shake, smiling and saying “It was nice meeting you.” Sure, it was a polite and friendly gesture. He meant it. That was the version of Jorge for when he met people he liked. But it was more than that, because I recognized that my name does carry poetry and romance.
Last night, I became Jorge the First.
Sunday, September 28. Posted in Spanish and English from Wayne Avenue Manor in South Pasadena, CA