Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much Or berate yourself either Your choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s
— From columnist Mary Schmich‘s essay for the Chicago Tribune, June 1997
Finally, a reason to write an essay about being proud and happy. I’m hitting the “Pause” button on my ravings to concentrate on an experience shared by many of us: the day we graduate from high school.
It goes without saying that we are never really ever out of school. Classrooms are either ground zero for inspiration and imagination or a repelling force that hurtles bodies into other stratospheres of life. I will never judge those who deem the classroom as their Waterloo, either. Valuable lessons can only be learned if we’re open to them, whether out of a book or experience. But the act of graduating, of moving forward, is such an empowering reality.
I’ve never been good about letting go of things or moving forward. Hell, I didn’t even graduate from college. But that’s another story. It’s just too easy to choose the safe confines of avoiding confrontation or making decisions that can alleviate all that ails or stagnates us. But, sooner or later, you get your PhD in courage and strength. You walk, head held high, smiling at all that you’ve accomplished. You’ve shed that extra weight, that 10-ton magilla of emotion and/or fear, and you move forward.
It was a glorious day to see the photos and videos of my godson graduating from high school in June. He was the first grandchild of my aunt and uncle to graduate from high school. I know my cherished aunt, his forever Nana, was smiling that glorious smile the moment he made his way down the aisle to receive his diploma. Lord knows the family has endured some trying times, but my godson has grown into one of the most sincere, intelligent, genuine and decent human beings on this planet. We need more like him and that’s a testament to his parents’ upbringing, my divine cousin and her husband. I admire their tenacity, more, I admire their ability to remain a unified front against that could tear them asunder. They were not destined to life an acrimonious life of arrogance, keeping up appearances and regret like Las Hermanas y Hermano Coraje, That in itself is a lesson for all of us to uphold and appreciate.
It is going to be exciting to see what happens to my godson next. And rest assured, we will all be there to cheer him on to his next achievements. That goes for all of the grandkids, because that’s what family does. Whether by blood or choice, you stay together through the challenges, emerging stronger and more united. Even if it seems like the pain and emotion will never subside, you will survive intact, and most of all, loved.
I recalled the famed Mary Schmich piece for the Chicago Tribune as I was writing this essay. Immortalized by producer Baz Luhrmann as a surprise pop hit, “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen),” it is the perfect commencement speech. It is a delicious slice of life advice that any columnist worth their Pulitzer Prize would like to represent their abilities. So, in a rare bid of optimism, I am concluding this essay with a special address to the Class of 2017…and anyone else who is taking a step forward into becoming the person they were meant to be.
Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’97: Wear sunscreen.
If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.
Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.
Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blind side you at 4 PM on some idle Tuesday.
Do one thing every day that scares you.
Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts. Don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.
Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.
Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.
Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.
Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.
Get plenty of calcium.
Be kind to your knees. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.
Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.
Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.
Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.
Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.
Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.
Get to know your parents. You never know when they’ll be gone for good.
Be nice to your siblings. They’re your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.
Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.
Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard.
Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.
Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble, and children respected their elders.
Respect your elders.
Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you’ll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.
Don’t mess too much with your hair or by the time you’re 40 it will look 85.
Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.
Struck with the fever to clean my online house, I finally got around to deleting some files from my Drafts folder on MediaJor.com. These were unfinished essays that seemed like great ideas at the time but never really flourished for whatever reason. Imagine my utmost thrill to find one particularly glorious remembrance of days past. Oof. I guess I forgot about it or maybe I calmed down enough NOT to get involved in the escalating drama that inspired me to write something. It still makes me say, “Wow.” Reading it again made my skin crawl, particularly since it’s a fetid example of this Age of Rage we are living in.
This post harkens back to the Fall of 2014, which was when I had the brilliant idea of writing a coda to the now infamous “Hermanas Coraje” series. Coraje means “angry” in Spanish, itself a joke and a play on a famed Mexican telenovela known as “Los Hermano Coraje,” which I loved watching with Mom when I was a kid.
The essays were intended to be a means to an end, of dealing with the painful consequences stemming from my aunt’s battle and demise from cancer in 2014. It seemed to help to turn certain relatives into characters in a Mexican telenovela. Adding fuel to the fire was the endless back and forth of these covertly shared texts and Emails from the so-called Coraje sisters, exchanges my warring cousins that personified Latino Drama and then some. I wasn’t at a loss for inspiration to keep this serial going for a while. However, this entire exercise proved to be anything but a laughing matter in the end.
The essays I penned got angrier and angrier as my family’s situation deteriorated further and further. Each new text or Email was like a bomb going off and no one was spared from the shrapnel. Today, we’re still living with the injuries inflicted on both sides, which ultimately destroyed all of the tropes of the unified Latino family in the process.
The first coda I attempted to write was an attempt to get away from Ground Zero, one that was a direct result of what became the last secret Email I would receive. I say “last” because the contents of this particular letter filled me with such contempt, I asked to be taken off the CC list altogether. I also decided to end my imagined telenovela on MediaJor.
The real hermanas Coraje were at their conjoined peak of “But we’re real the victims here!,” which was quite a feat since we had already buried my aunt. Make no mistake. These women were the actual instigators, the lead stirrers of one big cosmic pot of rancid menudo. The elder Coraje sister saw it fit to fire off a truly evil Email to her soon to-be ex-sister in-law, a punch thrown so low it hit the family at its lowest point. Our collective grief was turned into absolute rage again.
Given the way most families work, it was a matter of time before the contents of this destructive Email made their way around to the rest of us. We had an inkling as to the involvement of the sisters Coraje in wrecking their brother’s marriage. Their grotesque agenda of revenge and acrimony turned their brother’s wife into a member of our family. Yes, the family split and sides were taken. We sought to at least be a sounding board, but we turned into a means of emotional support as her marriage broke apart. Yet, we really had NO idea just how far the Sisters C were willing to go in ensuring her destruction.
Revisiting this letter, it was obvious that only making grammatical corrections would not be enough. Whether or not the entire family views this essay, it is just smart to only keep the emotional intent of the original note to protect the innocent and guilty and not retain any of the original text. So yes, I did rewrite the entire thing to best fit this essay. Also, note the “countersteps” have been fictionalized, too. While Hermano C’s ex-wife did offer her own rather pointed rebuttals, again, it would not prudent for me to air them out with the rest of the dirty laundry.
To read the original post was to almost hear the elder Coraje sister slamming the keys on her insidious PC. Each hit nailed a coffin shut, forever keeping out any light, love and all things human from a couple’s union. Vengeance would be mine if I left it as is to give readers a better sense of the epic pendejismo of it all. Trust me, this collection of twisted maneuvers was devised by someone who has been burned by life one too many times.
In the two years since we ceased all communication with the Corajes, I’ve realized theirs is a house built on a foundation of resentment. They’ve done nothing but shift the blame for their imagined woes onto other people. I have zero respect for those who prefer to exist within the Cult of Victimhood. All of this makes me want to subtitle this post as “Own Your Shit!” But, perhaps ours is a life lesson that can do us all some good, which is what led me to revisit this essay one more time…
They’re baaack. And not without leaving a few commandments behind for good measure. In fact, I should thank Las Hermanas Coraje for the wealth of material they’ve inspired me to compose. They’re web spinners and string pullers, the most cowardly roles to undertake when it comes to fucking shit up. These aren’t people who carry baseball bats to deal with shit. They prefer to do the side step as deftly as Charles Durning in “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas!”
Regardless, no matter how you choose to meddle in people’s lives, wreckage will be left behind. A broken family will find the means with which to pull itself back together, but it is never really mended. The cracks are there to see forever, just like the words used to inflict the most damage possible in this digital age.
That said if you still want to know how YOU, too, can be a Hermana Coraje, follow their simple rules listed below. As for their ex-sister-in-law, bless her for having rebuttals at the ready, reminding us all that for every action you will experience an often equal or even stronger reaction:
Step 1: “Tell her to get back to work!”
Counterstep: I have NEVER stopped working. I am not sure what your brother, my husband, tells you. He’s probably — and conveniently — NOT telling you that I pay my share of thousands of dollars in household expenses, too. If either of you need a reminder, keep advising him in the manner you seem to think fit. I’ll show you the receipts.
Step 2: “Move your ass and starting talking to the lawyer and find out how you can protect yourself!”
Counterstep: That’s right, let someone else do the dirty work. As if no one will ever notice the stains on your hands.
Step 3: “DO NOT give her permission to exchange ANY information with the lawyer.”
Counterstep: What? Permission? Since you see fit to meddle in our marriage do you think I’m NOT going to know what crap advice you continue to give my husband? For the record, I’m reading this Email, too!
Step 4: “DO NOT reply to Isela’s email She’s either trying to flirt or dig up info!”
Counterstep: Isela is a friend, a real friend. She’s not part of the Vibora club like you and your sister. She’s just concerned about both of us as this entire situation goes from bad to worse. Honestly, why do you even care? Or is all of this really about YOU?
Step 5: “DO NOT go to the meeting with the realtor. And for the record, why are you even thinking about going?
Counterstep: We have to deal with the house as that’s OUR home to deal with and not yours. It’s the house where you were welcomed but are now both having to LEAVE because of you.
Step 6: “Stand up for yourself! Move on!”
Counterstep: How can he move on when you’re the one writing the map?
Step 7: “Be a man! Don’t be some little boy doing what mama tells him to do!”
Counterstep: And what is it that YOU’RE doing now with this awful Email?
Step 8: “Tell her you will respond that text from the ex-girlfriend. The one we liked.”
Counterstep: Oh, that’s being mature. As if his texting his Ex is going to cause real damage. YOU made this happen, dear. Not me. YOU. Remember that.
Step 9: “Remember that everyone we know and knows you think you’re awesome. Just not your wife!”
Counterstep: I never stopped believing he was awesome until you and your sister poisoned the well and ruined us.
Step 10: “The marriage counselor said most of the money from your remaining sessions can be refunded. You won’t face a loss!”
Counterstep: We’ll never know. You took away any real chance for us to find out if we could fix things. All you’ve done is make sure they stayed broken.
Step 11: “She only wants access to your financials to mess you up. Are you stupid enough to just hand this info over to her?”
Counterstep: Spoken like a woman who’s never been in a marriage. I have a secret: Spouses are SUPPOSED to know each other’s “financials.”
I really hope you’re pleased with yourself. You’ve prided yourself on being an actress, another lie the family believes. You’ve been nothing but a bit player all these years, always in the background. I never would have guessed the best role of your tiny “career” was to be the lead player in ruining my marriage. Was it worth it taking center stage this way? You always referred to yourself as the big Catholic. Let this weigh heavy on your soul because I believe you will be paid back in full when it’s your marriage. That’s my curse for you.
Since you took it upon yourself to write this list of “steps” for my husband, I will make sure to keep them on hand for the future in case you or anyone in the family needs a “reminder.” Better yet, I’ll keep them in a safe place for our kids so they can read them one day. After all, isn’t what family does best, sharing everything?
Your sister-in-law under God’s law forever…
Two years have passed. That note was the last we heard of Las Hermanas Coraje. In the end, this once star-crossed couple lost their house. No one earned a real dime from its sale, so the said “financials” were never improved. The ex Mrs. Coraje moved on with their kids to a new home and life. Meanwhile, the entire bitter lot of siblings are now existing under one deluded roof, just like when their dad lost their business and was forced to move them in with an uncle, the very family they would turn their back on in the most callous manner.
I am loathed to report that they’re still playing their pueblito games, too. So much for growth and maturity. But, I will never forget the elder Coraje‘s parting shot. I still can’t believe the nasty tone and manipulation found in that note. But the worst part? It’s just pathetic to know the Coraje brother’s balls are still being kept by his sisters.
Somehow, I don’t think this is the final chapter. The Resurrection of Las Hermana Coraje? After all, writers are encouraged to “write what they know.” Well, the author of this family’s narrative is God himself. I suspect even he would need major encouragement to pen a revision.
“I want to break free
I want to break free
I want to break free from your lies
You’re so self satisfied I don’t need you
I’ve got to break free
God knows, God knows I want to break free…”
If my long-held fears were corporeal, I’d sing Queen’s “I Want to Break Free” to them at the top of my lungs. It is what you say to a lover who has kept you down for too long. The one who keeps you at arm’s length, the one who keeps you begging for a love that is on their terms and so not worth it.
The same applies when you’re locked in the grip of abject fear. Rejection. Failure. Unfriended. Unliked. Unbelievable.
For me, it is my connection to fear that has been my longest running romance. Time is slowing down in some ways and the quiet I’ve been experiencing of late is granting an audience to my inner thoughts with unsettling frequency.
I go to therapy twice a month, but it is more a stop gap measure than a real solution. Do I see the enormity of fear? Yes, its features have taken their full form now. It is me as a kid, seeking attention from those who did little to try to understand me. I find that my most painful struggle is that of finding a partner in this life that understands me. My inability to do so is starting to anchor me deeper into this toxic morass of depression.
Why isn’t it enough to trust myself again? Why is it so important to see myself in the eyes of someone else and not provide myself with the strength to pull myself out of this bog? Part of me wants to see fear take on depression in an epic battle royale, but that’s assuming I can be a bystander. They are both a huge part of who I am as a person. If anything, I’ve allowed them both to use ME as their boxing ring.
Since coming home from Spain, a palpable sense of loneliness as returned and creeped into my mind again. That vacation was supposed to wash away all that was troubling me. Instead, it only drudged up more of what ails me. I can’t allow myself to be washed away with it. As much as I love the ease and promise of stillness from slipping away unnoticed, the collateral damage would be too great. Running away from my personal ground zero is not the answer. But these six years of romantic drought and depression are starting to take their toll and the struggle to find some sort of peace is becoming a insurmountable.
Chaos. Uncertainty. Anger. Screaming. Rage. Optimism seems incapable to puncture through this era of disconnection and dischord. Writing the pain away helps. As to what I’m going to express next, I don’t know. But for the moment, I am going to keep shining a light on fear until I am able to run right into it and tackle it for good. I just need one good play, dammit. And break free…
At times, I feel like my romantic past is some Spotify playlist I wish I could delete. Bad enough the good, the bad and the ugly of it all gets drudged up with the appropriate cues. Like the Lianne La Havas track, “Good Goodbye,” which I quoted above. It made a train ride last December to see my best college friend a wee bit melancholy, as if the encroaching grey skies weren’t enough proof of my fluctuating emotional state.
Getting over Him has been a less than a good goodbye. Actually, it’s been the longest. hitting its sixth anniversary and threatening to be held over for a seventh. And then I saw that Facebook photo around the time of that train ride south.
Social media is just a Pandora’s Box, really. It’s where memories, the wonderful and painful, fly about with ninja-like precision, triggered to pounce without warning. Hell, NASA should take interest. There they were. Looking so happy, their megawatt grins illuminating what I’ve tried and repeatedly fail to suppress: I’m single. He’s so moved on and I haven’t. That post-holiday tableau, where the Ex (and the Current) were surrounded by three adorable cher enfants, X’s nephews, did catch me off guard. Fuckin’ Facebook ninjas. And without hesitation, they sliced through an already compromised heart.
Every holiday season, I find it too easy to get into this fragile state. I joke that the only thing holding my heart together during Christmas is chewing gum and a prayer. God, it drives me crazy. The rational part of me knows that I’m idealizing the past; that it’s not so much about Him as it is missing being consciously coupled. Instead, I let these moments, like seeing this picture, dictate how this once happy and important part of my past looks so much happier without me.
Sensory elements surrounded that train ride down memory lane, from the music I was listening to the smell of warmed up leftover Chinese food and the cheap scents of fragrance gift sets worn by the passengers. Yet it was all overwhelmed by the stench of morose, self-pity. All I thought then was how it couldn’t it have been me in that pic? Just like the one where we went with his sister and brother in-law on a weekend trip to Napa. It was before that couple grew into a family of five. I was part of their narrative, not the short story titled “The Crazy Ex-Boyfriend Who Refused to Be Satisfied.”
It wasn’t such a short story. It was a five-year chronicle. But I wasn’t satisfied. I’m never satisfied. Something is always lacking. Someone is always disappointing me. It’s never enough. It has to be better. He has to be better.
Tomorrow has always been a big word for me. It’s the catch-all to validate all of my bad behaviors; the extended mixes of all my bad tracks. It’s an archive filled with mantras of wellness and awareness. Tomorrow always arrives, yet I still choose to take another plunge into the deep end of stagnation. In reality, being an Adele song works better for Adele. At least she gets paid for her pain. But, dammit, right on cue, I am thinking, “It’s true. Never mind, I’ll find someone like you.”
Someone like “Him.”
In an era where we are able to register an instant “like” for every post we see, why is it that we can’t seem to hit that button for ourselves? All these years of wanting to court a positive state of perception, of being liked, have yet to wane thanks to social media sites. It’s this perfect storm of shit for people like me. Inflating insecurities as you seek the adoring adulation of your “followers.” And through it all, we obfuscate our self-worth. It’s relentless and dangerous. Yet, what’s the solution? Hide your profiles? Take the news feed of your life into real time by being with the people who don’t enable this precarious state of existence?
It helps to put this down on paper. It helps to see what lurks in my brain on this page. I go back and re-read, changing things every so slightly. Yes, sometimes it does last in love and sometimes it hurts. That happens to all of us. Still, I can’t help but scream to myself, “Where is that someone like You?!”
What will You/he think of all this heavy emoting? You’re/He’s gonna notice a pattern of sameness here. If You’re/he’s not going to be the final chapter, will he instead become another entry in this log of self-reproach?
If I could tell Him anything today it would be to say, “I wish I didn’t lose You somewhere between love and death. And I’m sorry I threw you away, because I did do just that. Sucks. I did like You. I loved You, in fact.”
You’d think after holding this fucking torch so long, I’d have better strength to hold it all together when it comes to Him.
My optimism seems to be at a premium these days. Singing along with my Burt Bacharach playlist on my iPod in the kitchen? Dancing as if no one’s looking? These are things that I have to muster up the energy to even contemplate, forget about execution. Sure, we can meme our way through the tough times with slogans like “Life Happens.” We all know life happens on its own timetable, without reason or warning. However, what do you do when the “Big Moments” pile up like a Friday afternoon on the interstate? How do you not feel like that F-5 twister purposefully chose to hit your home, skipping over other parts of the neighborhood?
I can’t remember a point in my life where the issue of mortality has been so present. These little earthquakes of truth and emotion are growing in intensity. We are aware that our lives are curated like one big Jenga® puzzle, moment by moment. At some point, a silvery thread of fear begins to weave its insidious way through our consciousness. Some of us will deftly snip it away, while others wither under weight of knowing some force can and will pull that one piece out, sending the whole thing crashing down. It’s not a productive way to live. Based on this sentiment, the events that have occurred to my family and friends of late have left me grappling between wielding the scissors and succumbing to the weight of all this mounting grief. I have reached a point of reckoning, of great questioning. And given my propensity to FEEL things, it is starting to hurt, triggering an agenda of self-destruction that is starting to scare me.
We are about to enter the fourth month of 2016. It’s not quite April and so many of life’s grand themes have found their way into all of our worlds. It’s been a season of births and deaths, peaks of elation and valleys of grief. Parallels keep manifesting themselves. I wasn’t alone in feeling shock over the loss of my childhood friend Anthony Dominguez last Christmas and the concussive effect of his passing has yet to abate.
As if on cue, it was long after Anthony’s death that I received the wonderful news of two friends, who are in fact sisters, had given birth to their first children just weeks apart. The great Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez couldn’t pen this chapter any better. (Well, yeah, he could.)
Life. Death. Birth. Then the lightning round began.
In March, an important and much needed family reunion in Mexico was preceded by the news that the father of my childhood best friend passed away. While in Mexico, we were shocked to discover two close family members were grappling with their own mental China Syndromes. A few weeks later, on Easter Sunday, a day representative of rebirth and renewal concluded with a terse DM from another key member of my Pico Rivera family of friends.
Steve wrote: “Hi, I have some bad news. Please call me…”
My mind catalogued the litany that’s become all too common, particularly in Latino families. If the phone rings late at night, you need to steel yourself. Someone is gone.
“Was it his father?” I thought.
Blessedly, it wasn’t Mr. Chavez, but my heart still broke after I hung up the phone. The son of another member of our childhood group had lost his life in a car accident on his way back to college.
Reunions have been playing out with frequency these last months. In fact, this “Big Chill” group dynamic has alternated between being a welcome distraction to pulling the scabs off old wounds. Not that I’m complaining. It’s giving me license to feel other things, not just a sense of despair.
Many of these people were the formative friendships of formative years, personalities that have been reconstituted into the myriad of relationships I’ve encountered and nurtured in the 30+ years since graduating from high school. As many of us gathered to celebrate or mourn of late, it’s striking how we easily fall into the roles we played as children and teenagers. We reveal just enough to feel like we’ve closed the gap of time. We laugh, smile and upload pictures to our respective social media sites. Then we make the slow walk back to our cars taking us back to our own lives.
I am coming to terms with the biggest lesson learned in returning to the center square of my life. It hasn’t been said amongst us yet, but it is very much present:
We are mortal after all.
My own emotional state of mind swirls with so much color right at this moment, high dynamic angry color. I see shades of vermillion, red and orange, all in heated tones that make me sweat without even moving. Is it alright to say that I’m sick of having cancer and Alzheimer’s invade my cherished family fold? Since the passing of my aunt Susanna in 2014 to the family implosion the followed and beyond, I’ve been searching for some sort of answer as to why these life events can happen without pause. And when friends say to me, “That’s life,” I just want to scream and have a violent release of some sort: “They don’t understand!” But they do, because it’s happened or it is happening to them, too.
I can’t help but note the irony. I was born into a culture that embraces death, celebrating it with riotous shades of color and the sweetest tasting of candies. While I proudly display my calaveras, Catrinas and other artwork by José Guadalupe Posada at home and in my office, I wonder if its the American propensity to stir up fear that is wreaking havoc with my strength. (I toyed with using the phrase “steel bougainvillea” here, but I thought better of it.)
I knew as I went home the night of Anthony’s rosary service that I was going to write something about the significance of his death. However, it’s been several months since that moment and what started out as a tribute piece to him has taken many strange turns, unleashing a torrent of so many themes. It became about being 40-something, of going from boys to men and the rediscovery how much real life wages a war with us all. Despite my intent, this post read so fake and uninspiring. The altruistic reason to write about Anthony was being smothered by my own narcissism, as if I wanted to show off some incredible power of syntax and phrasing. I was overthinking it. Words would come out in fits and starts, sometimes with way too much flourish, corrupting the emotion in the process. It didn’t help that I would project my state of mind onto whatever I wrote. Worse, it was became apparent that the spirit of Anthony was now lost in all this fancy word play. Ultimately, it became about nothing at all. Just noise. I only wanted to make sure my friend knew I hadn’t forgotten him. What I didn’t anticipate was that I would be adding names to create a list:
Tacho’s father, Roberto.
Anne’s son, Matthew.
It’s hard to keep a linear thread with this post. Since Anthony’s rosary service, I’ve been grappling with a total lack of focus. His loss magnified certain truths about what many of us stand to face from this point forward. News of other friends’ life challenges only cemented this creative block. I just folded all of this helplessness I felt into the depression that was entrenching itself in a way I’ve never experienced before. I wasn’t caring about anything, especially my own health. I only cared about my Dad, whose bout with Alzheimer’s is reaching a new stage amidst all this change.
This post couldn’t be a “Jeremiah” from the ‘mount, extolling the virtues of a cherishing a bountiful life while we can. How could it when a feeling of woe has saturated so much of what we see of this world on the daily? It rendered the spilling of digital ink on a white screen almost impossible. This was supposed to be a tribute, but I am empowered by what it has become in the last days.
I have been ruminating about the moment when we become aware of that thin line between life and death. Is it the loss of a grandparent? Or is it those hurried and emotional conversations you overhear from under your dining room table, where your parents process the news that Nana or Tío are “no longer with us?” Is it better to learn about death when your first goldfish receives that funeral at sea in the family commode? It doesn’t matter the context. In the end, you never forget that shocking wave of hot tears, whether theirs or your own, that leaves a stamp of realization.
As we get older, at least for some of us, dealing with death is supposed to get a little easier, recognizing it as being part of the ebb and flow of life. Sorry, but that doesn’t make the loss any easier to accept. However, honoring a sense of respect for mortality will do wonders for one’s resilience if you let it. You begin to understand that being born is not your only induction into the human race. It’s actually part of a longer process that culminates when you understand your place on this mortal Earth is not permanent.
I won’t forget the catalyst that prompted all this soul searching any time soon. Earlier this year, at Anthony’s service, I joined the growing crowd at St. Hilary on a chilly, damp Monday night. I was heartened by the amount of people waiting to head inside the church. As I walked, shoulders hunched, cold hands seeking warmth in my sweater pockets, I found myself already sorting out a rush of emotions, thinking to myself, “How did this happen?”
In between it all, fragments of the past starting to make their way to the front. All those pieces solidified the minute I heard my name, “George.” No one else but my people from home call me that anymore. And suddenly I was 10 years old again, as the past and present collided with incredible force. The crew was all there, the one that started at South Ranchito Elementary, gained new members at Meller Jr. High before reaching its zenith at El Rancho High School. I stood with these men, weaving in and out of solemnity and laughter from reminiscing. We fell back into the roles we had as teenagers, easily retaking our places as we filed into the church to pay our respects to our friend.
Regardless of the time spent apart since graduating high school, the foundation set all those years ago is still very much present. More, I think of the legacies that were created as a result of our time together:
Anthony was a huge part of my adolescence in Pico Rivera. I was never going to be a jock, but I am forever grateful that he never judged me, or anyone else for that matter. Even if I was sometimes the least skilled member of the teams we were part of as kids, Anthony remained a loyal friend from elementary all the way through high school.
Tacho and I were from the same neighborhood, cultivating a friendship shaped by the countless walks to the three schools we attended together. His family opened the doors to their home and restaurant to us all without question or reserve. I shall never forget Mr. Baeza, who remains a true caballero in my mind, just like my Dad. It says something that our families continue to have their roots in the same houses after 40 years.
Anne remains this quintessential pixie, albeit with a wicked dash of punk rock. She is still her own person, full of spirit, possessing a singular wit and a brilliant smile. In the photos I’ve seen of her son Matthew, I am heartened to see how much of her is present in his own vibrant smile and the personality captured in those frames. It makes his loss so much more difficult to fathom. My only regret is missing out on so much of Anne’s adult life so I could have shared a little bit of her journey as a mother.
Their narratives are forever interwoven with mine, and vice versa, I hope. We talk so much about how we’re disconnected today, but back then we were the definition of connectivity. It was incredible how widespread this reach was when you think about it. Schools, parks, after school activities, church, Scouts, cheerleading, Little League, Pop Warner, everything and anything social. It was like we were living this John Hughes-penned life but with a lot of added flavor. I mean, we’re talking Tapatío, Tajín, salsa cruda, salsa verde and roasted jalapeños. Because how vanilla was a John Hughes movie in the first place?
This is going off topic, but it occurs to me how much of our lives surrounded food. It was tacos from Mario’s and nachos from Casa Garcia. It was being treated to Sir George’s Smorgasbord, Naugles or Omega Burgers. It was post-game celebrations at someone’s home or at Shakey’s Pizza. Even now, it’s hard to stop this list for fear of leaving things out.
Looking back, I do remember how we expressed our incredulous shock at those who left us before we turned 18. Kathy Esparza didn’t make it to senior year at El Rancho. We paid our respects and we moved forward. The pep rallies continued. From Homecoming to Powder Puff, Prom and Graduation, we kept going through all of the rites of passage on schedule and without delay. The concept of loss wasn’t something we would contemplate much. Loss was just something that happened on the field, on the track or on the court in the gym.
My concept of loss won’t be the same same anymore. Despite the poetry we can ascribe to it as being the closing of a circle, it is still an end. And to be honest, I’ve never been good with endings. These scenes are destined to be replayed again, alas, but they must be met with grace and humility, too. As I begin to compose these last paragraphs, I’m think I can find my way to some peace. I am grateful in many ways for the opportunity to have reconnected with so many people. It speaks volumes to know that these archetypes of what I now want to call The Desayuno Club would gather once more — and without hesitation, too. And I am privileged that so many opted to share a part of their lives with me. They answered the question as to what happened to the Class of 1985? And it proved an inspiring answer.
We worked. We dated. We got married. We had children. We lost lovers. We lost parents. We ended marriages. We lost jobs. We remarried. We started new jobs. We had second families. We got sick. We got better. We will get better. In short, life happened and it continues to happen as these words float across the screen.
As I continue to reconnect with the men and women that played a part in shaping my life, I am secretly thrilled to l see glimpses of what we were: The jocks, the brains, the cheerleaders, the cholos, the cha cha’s, the Oish, the strange, the wild, the calm and the cool, always beautiful and forever young.
But I also see an incredible beauty shaped by resilience, tradition, strength and love. I don’t think who we are and what we represent is ever erased or replaced in life. Yes, we have a shared outcome in this world. But I’d like to think we are just one more layer in a temporal pan of cosmic lasagna. We will all add our particular blend of flavor and spice before a new layer is placed on top of us, all representing every milestone we achieve, layer after layer, pan after pan, for infinity. Despite the context of what brought us together, it’s given me something to feel that’s as close to optimism as I can declare right now. We are not alone. Ever. Therein lies the solace we can offer each other without condition.
You won’t be faulted for saying to me, “Stop your whining and man up!” We all process grief differently, so STFU. However, it is important to say that I don’t want this to be considered a “Woe is Me” post. I’ve taken to writing about these feelings to find a place for them so they don’t diminish the hope, care and optimism that my family members and friends need right now. It’s hard not to go from the micro to the macro in a given moment. For instance, most of us will accept the painful truth that the sooner we accept the truth about mortality, the sooner we can start living. That is, living for the moment and for the one’s we gather around us. No matter our stations in life, our wealth is the sum of our memories, darn it. That is truest and most vital achievement we are fated to accomplish. My challenge now is to continue to believe that, if only to stave off the rage that threatens to dominate my physical and mental self.
I am not sure how to complete this post. It has to mean something for those who read it, especially for the families of Anthony, Mr. Baeza and Matthew. An impact was made by their lives and it will not be forgotten. Maybe I should leave it open, for others to fill with their thoughts and sentiments? All I know is that we are connected again at a time when we need it most. Even if it is just for a moment, one thing remains certain. We will endure.
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.
Sometimes I feel like I’m sitting with the audience, viewing my own life from a distance. I don’t pay much attention to their reactions. I’m only aware of my own judgments. As we are heading into the home stretch, I am starting to reflect on the peaks and valleys of 2014. Some images bring me great joy, while others carry a sadness that is truly profound and challenging to accept.
I was told earlier this year that I am not good with change. I remember the distinct anger I felt over this statement. Perhaps my ire was raised because there is a bit of truth to it. Change has been working overtime this year. The abundance of hope and light that took me to Spain was replaced by repeated lessons on mortality and loss. I haven’t been able to process all of it, the extremes of it all have kept me in a state of suspended animation. Yet, a few things still broke thorough this barrier to force me to reconcile why living this way is not doing anyone any good.
My new boss sent me this track by OMD titled “If You Want It.” I had come home from from a set visit, my last as a freelancer. It arrived as I pondered whether or not to join his firm full time. The lyrics moved me, a sincere call to arms, to embrace the new. It was the reason why I decided to reroute my destiny to become part of this team. However, the static encountered near the end of summer only clouded my focus during these last months.
OMD sing, “Live the life you want to live, no point thinking about “what if?”
I keep waffling between maintaining the courage to keep living the life I want to life, to cowering under the fear of “What if?” It is exhausting this back and forth. Like the weight I keep packing, it is just easier being in my herd of one, grazing my way through the landscape, ignoring all that is good.
I am sure I am going to remain in this state of reflection a bit longer, but I recognize things do have to shift into a more positive drive. If there is one lesson to be learned, it is to understand that when I do move past this sense of arrested development, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Nothing lost but all the tears and pain.”
IF YOU WANT IT by OMD
One by one the walls come down
Spread the word all over town
Kicking screaming like I’ll drown
Can’t you see I’m fallin
I want you, do you want me
What’s it take to make you see
Like bomb that ticking endlessly
Can’t you hear me calling
Will you, won’t you, come with me
Wishin hoping that you’ll see.
If you want it, it will come
Through the rain and burning sun
Over hills and far away
Nothing stops this, not today
Take a chance on me tonight
Baby it’ll be alright
Nothing ventured, nothing gained
Nothing lost but all the tears and pain
Give me all you’ve got to give
Live the life you want to live
No point thinking about “what if?”
Come on. Make my day
Tell me what I need to know
If you don’t want this then I’ll go
Insane but I won’t let it show
Don’t let me walk away
Will you, won’t you, come with me
Wishing hoping that you’ll see.
If you want it, it will come
Through the rain and burning sun
Over hills and far away
Nothing stops this, not today
Take a chance on me tonight
Baby it’ll be alright
Nothing ventured, nothing gained
Nothing lost but all the tears and pain
If I could make you start to understand
If I could only make you see
What this all means to me
Let it in inside your heart
Set your mind and spirit free
If you want it, it will come,
Through the rain and burning sun
Over hills and far away
Nothing stops this, not today
Take a chance on me tonight
Baby it’ll be alright
Nothing ventured, nothing gained
Nothing lost but all the tears and pain
Boy you never told me
True love was going to hurt
True pain I don’t deserve
Truth is that I never learn
I keep going to the river to pray
‘Cause I need something that can wash all the pain
And at most I’m sleeping all these demons away
But your ghost, the ghost of you
It keeps me awake
Give up the ghost…
Is it because we don’t know any better that we allow the past to define us? We can either choose to live in the present and contemplate a better future. Or, we can remain shackled to the ghosts that we have allowed to haunt us.
We are doomed to live in a haunted house of our own making until we gather the courage to bury the rage and fear — and let in the light.
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…