I’m killing myself slowly.

I’m killing myself slowly.

It was around 8pm on a Saturday night in early March. I was in bed, watching my umpteenth rerun of “The Golden Girls” on Hulu.

That was when I noticed a missed phone call from the One Medical group, my medical provider. My iPhone was set to send all unrecognized calls to voice mail. Needless to say, this was one phone call I should have answered before the second ring.

Early Friday, before I made my commute to work. The one that feels like a living documentary? Yeah, that commute. I stopped by to see the phlebotomist at One Medical’s DTLA office as ordered by my physician. Nothing out of the ordinary, unless you factor in the day I slurred my words after a family lunch. (I don’t drink.) How about the interview where it took an effort to get full sentences out while I was in Atlanta? (No one noticed that episode but me.)

It’s been nearly six months since I’d had my blood check for all those damn demons of mine. The results were predictably bad. Why else would the nurse practitioner call me on the Saturday night after my blood was drawn? No suspense music sting here.  I’ve written about my stratospheric A1C and triglycerides readings before. After steady declines, it only took me a few months, but I’m back to a 13 reading (A1C) and over 1200 (triglycerides). After speaking with the nurse practitioner for a few minutes and reading the lab results, I reclined on my bed, took a deep breath, and said quietly:

“I’m killing myself.”

Was it intentional, this act of self-murder? I don’t know. What I do know is that all I can say more often than I care to admit is, “I don’t care.”

I thought after Dad’s passing that some magic window would open and I’d find myself on a new path. We’d spent so many years making sure he’d never feel like a “sick person” because of his Alzheimer’s, my siblings and I literally hit the Pause button on our lives to give him our undivided attention. That hasn’t been the case. Even my younger brother moving on and out of my apartment didn’t manifest itself into some giddy “Space Unicorn” moment.

No, I’ve opted to kill myself because I can’t handle the loneliness and anger that has me in a vice grip. I turn 53 this year, single, not caring to mingle, and determined to live out some “Leaving Las Vegas” agenda. I will literally eat myself to death. The truth is, though, I don’t know if I really want to die right now.

My family, extended and otherwise, is a shambles right now. We’re a microcosm of the world, never happy, always critical, and aggressive in terms of how we express our feelings. We eat. We criticize. We eat some more. We laugh for a bit. We eat a bit more. Someone gets hurts feelings. Someone leaves. Eat. Speak. Yell. Slam. Repeat. We are better is small groups, but it has to be a certain combination of temperaments. I can weather it just fine on some days, but most of the time I find I want to be left alone. That mindset has been the catalyst for some serious health issues.

img_20150710_110400486I’ve felt broken for a long time, a total relic in this modern age of “Notice Me Now!” Flirting with pancreatitis is not romantic, neither are the signs that my body is no longer coping with inactivity, which are visible and painful. I’m in trouble, folks. I don’t think I’ll withstand another episode like the one 10 years ago where it felt as if I was in the throes of a heart attack. I want to send out a search party for my will to live and to care about life, myself, anything. It’s been gone so long, I don’t even know if I’d recognize it, but I know it exists. Will is what keeps us from falling into the gaping maw that appears so inviting, but is only out to destroy you.

I’ve been staring up at this mountain of issues, feelings, and tasks for so long. It’s all I have been able to do for years now. Wedged in between are this selfish rage, apathy, fear, and other wickedness. Sigh. I have seen doctors. Meds are being replaced with other chemical life preservers. Anti-depressants are back. A visit to Overeater’s Anonymous is in the books. The search for the appropriate therapist is also in full motion.

I know how this may look and sound to some people. I can’t worry about it. More, I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. No one wants to look weak or vulnerable to the people they love. Yet, at what point do you be strong for the person who needs you the most? Yourself. At what point do you stand facing your image in a mirror and say “I love me?”

That’s what I intend to find out.

Quotes, Pedro Almodóvar Edition

Quotes, Pedro Almodóvar Edition

“People have stopped surprising me so much, they’ve stopped exciting me as much. And secondly, there’s the pain.”

He paused.

“Pain is not something you can share with other people.”

Oscar-winning filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar on his latest film, “Pain and Glory.” Quote from Kyle Buchanan’s interview for the New York Times, Sunday, 10/16/19

 

Quotes, Stephen Sondheim Edition

Quotes, Stephen Sondheim Edition

“I’m interested in the theater because I’m interested in communication with audiences.”

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Sondheim (left) wrote the lyrics for West Side Story; classical-music superstar Leonard Bernstein (center) was the composer, Jerome Robbins the director and choreographer. The story of the show’s genesis is told in the special NPR series 50 Years of West Side Story.

Otherwise, I would be in concert music. I’d be in another kind of profession. I love the theater as much as music, and the whole idea of getting across to an audience and making them laugh, making them cry — just making them feel — is paramount to me.

The process of putting something down on paper is very important in keeping the stuff alive in your head. You can improvise and think, ‘Wait, that A-flat doesn’t sound right,’ and you change things as you go along, even though you’re just sketching.

From Stephen Sondheim‘s interview on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” February 16, 2012.

Quotes, Janet Mock Edition

Quotes, Janet Mock Edition

“I believe that telling our stories, first to ourselves and then to one another and the world, is a revolutionary act.”

Janet Mock on the set of Pose. Photo: FX Networks

It is an act that can be met with hostility, exclusion, and violence. It can also lead to love, understanding, transcendence, and community. I hope that my being real with you will help empower you to step into who you are and encourage you to share yourself with those around you.”

― Janet Mock, Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More

Quotes, Margaret Atwood Edition

Quotes, Margaret Atwood Edition

“I’m a writer. I figured that out young, and writers write.”

IMG_6202They speculate. Engage ideas. And at that moment in time, in the ’80s, I was hearing a lot about what people would like to do if they got into power, and having been born in 1939 and been through WWII and its aftermath when we were all trying to understand what happened, I knew Hitler spelled it all out in the 1920s, in his book, what he would like to do if he got power, and people did not take that seriously.”

So I believe if someone says they will do certain things, unimaginable things to many, they will, in fact, do them when they get the power they’re after. That is what you’re seeing now. What’s going on now with those in charge in this country was forecast then and since: They told us what they were planning and now it’s in progress. We can’t say we’re in a totalitarian state now, not yet, because we wouldn’t be talking—I wouldn’t be talking as much as I am—I’d be in jail.

Margaret Atwood on writing “The Testaments.” Interview by Amy Grace Loyd for Esquire.com, 9/24/2019

Quotes

Quotes

“I didn’t know how it was going to take shape I never know. I just kind of have an idea and have a few moments that I need to get to, and sometimes I know what the end is, weirdly enough.”

I wrote it pretty quickly. I was really in the free-fall — that’s a word we used to have in the play that we cut — in the free-fall of the writing.

Is the feeling as you write the same?

Not the same. For a book, it’s more meditative and controlled, and I feel like can return to it. I feel like an adult. When I’m writing a play, I just feel like an adolescent.”

Writer Adam Rapp, with Mary-Louise Parker, on writing his new play “The Sound Inside,” opening October 17 on Broadway.

From the New York Times, September 29, 2010

Quote, part II

Quote, part II

“The writer is situated in his time. Every word has consequences. Every silence, too.”

Jean-Paul Sartre (June 21, 1905 – April 15, 1980) was a French philosopher, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, political activist, biographer, and literary critic.

He was one of the key figures in the philosophy of existentialism and phenomenology, and one of the leading figures in 20th-century French philosophy and Marxism.

Sartre’s work has also influenced sociologycritical theorypost-colonial theory, and literary studies, and continues to influence these disciplines.

Eulogy for My Dad or #Poppadoodlesforever

Eulogy for My Dad or #Poppadoodlesforever

IMG_7617My sister Nancy coined the name “Poppadoodles” way back when. I instantly loved the sound of it, both frivolous and absurd, two words you’d never use when you wanted to describe Dad. He was Big George, Jorge Sr., Tío Jorge, but never Don Jorge, or Jefe. He represented many things to many people.

Dad passed away the morning of  Tuesday, February 26 at the age of 94 at our home in Pico Rivera. It didn’t rain that day. The sun was out. He was surrounded by family and our closest friends. Alzheimer’s was also his nefarious companion during the last 12 years of his life. It finally left us alone, but it never fully took Dad away.  Jorge Sr. knew where he was and who was the source of the love in that living room space that day.

Writing about him in the past tense makes me want to scream. Thinking about him in the past tense makes me want to cry. That is why I choose to focus my emotion on words these days. Words were my best friend as a chubby, eccentric kid. Words were what kept Dad entertained as he shuttled us all over Los Angeles to meet rock bands at record signings, shows, musicals, sports, everything. A carefully folded newspaper or magazine was also with him when he played chauffeur to the exciteable brood that was us.

I never did ask what he read about or what he even thought about what he read. I just know that when it was time to take us home, he carefully folded the material back up and we’d begin the journey. That slice of peace and quiet was always obliterated by our breathless stories about who or what we saw. He’d smile and listen as we cut through the city with caution because his precious cargo was aboard.

God, I wish I did ask him about those articles in the Herald-Examiner or Newsweek. One time, he even stood in line with my brother and me at Tower Records on Sunset Blvd. We wanted to meet the legendary child known as Boy George. Talk about your culture club. (Boom.) When we got up to meet George, we told him our Dad was a George, too. A huge smile stretched across the Brit crooner’s tastefully made-up face. Wouldn’t you know they launched into a nice little chat? Like neighbors stopping for tea. It was something George did not have time for with any of gallery of nightcrawlers and club kids that were desperate for a similar audience? Dad had no idea who Boy George even was, saying “That’s a nice young man” as we walked away. I wish Steve Jobs had already conquered the world for an iPhone! Imagine the photo, heck, the footage! Still, the memory remains a treasure, regardless, and unfiltered all these years later.

It is fitting that Dad made his living as a textile engineer. The yarn spun on the daily at the factory was no less important and as strong as the family ties he weaved at home. It never frayed. Even when it was pulled to maximum tautness, we didn’t break. Sometimes the words I exchanged with Dad were in anger, punctuated by the slam of a door or the start of a car engine. Even our silences carried the weight and text of our thoughts. That wasn’t the case once he began his travels with Alzheimer’s. I’d be damned if I’d let that bastard of a disease rob me of my time with Dad. I fought against the ALZ hard with smiles, laughter, and talks, real talks. It started out in English and then transferred to Dad’s native Spanish when his mind placed me in that category of awareness.

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I have no regrets. I only possess this incredible want to have him here for a little while longer. I was able to say what I carried in my heart to him way before he left us. It is my most treasured moment with Dad. It happened at the Arboretum in Arcadia early last fall. Walking was tough for him, so I got him a wheelchair. We ventured around the gardens. It wasn’t a particularly beautiful day. In fact, it was grey and humid. The grounds were going through some pruning and renovations. The only added color that day was the famed peacocks, which were plentiful. I chose to tell Dad that I loved him and that he was right about so much. That I was sorry for all the hell I put him through. He was quiet for a moment, then, he asked if it was alright if he pushed me around the gardens, that I’d done enough. I said, “I don’t mind.” He answered, “Okay.” Then he started to comment on the peacocks, saying they don’t do anything. Just walk around and show off. I laughed. “Dad,” I said. I can’t believe you’re arguing with a peacock.” He just smiled and folded his hands on his lap. “I want to go home,” he said. So, we did.

Dad’s burial services were on a sunny Tuesday morning in Pico Rivera. I had the task of speaking, along with my brother. Writing his eulogy wasn’t easy, but when I started to write it, the words didn’t fail me. As my dear friend Ann said to me as my grief was in its upswing:

“He may be gone, but please know, as someone said to me when I lost my Dad, “The conversation continues.”

And it does…

A Eulogy for Dad by Jorge Carreón, Jr. 

IMG_2403When you’ve been blessed to live a life as long, rich and vivid as Dad’s, the brevity of a eulogy seems cruel and unfair. Six paragraphs and out. I couldn’t do that. You only have to stop, pause, take a breath and take a look around a room like this and see the emotion and extent of the impact one life can make. You take comfort in knowing that this speaks volumes to the character and respect generated by Jorge Ramirez Carreón. Words were his power, and words are the inherited power we wield today.

I remember the day after my big performance in a high school play when I asked Dad what he thought of my “star” turn. He said, “Mijo, you’re a lot of things, but you’re not an actor. Write. It is what you do best.” He was “right,” for lack of a better word. He was pretty much always right about things.

I’ve been staring at a blank screen for days, crafting this message of remembrance and goodbye for Dad. All I could hear in my head are messages like, “Is this going to be enough?” followed by “I can’t do this.” When I finally sat down to put these words up on a laptop screen, it was surrounded by his spirit at our family home in Pico Rivera. Flowers, his favorite slice of nature, were everywhere. Music, the songs inspired by his varied tastes, provided the underscore. It made sense to me here. He made sense to me here, the house that raised my siblings and me.

My brother has composed a fitting testimony to his life, the details and achievements of a life less ordinary, but extraordinary. He ventured from the security of his home and living in Mexico to venture into the unknown territory of the US. He met Mom, married, had four children; he built the life of their dreams. The palm tree that graces the center of our home in Pico is that perfect symbol of our family history. It stands taller than ever before. It has bent with strong winds, never breaking, even when it felt like life was too much. It is the summation of who we are as his people, his family. You find a piece of who we are with each frond. Lil’s maturity and leadership as the firstborn. Nancy’s devotion and selfless protection of us all. Ernesto’s poetry and introspection. Mom’s love of life and strength. It is resilience incarnate.

With Dad’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s 12 years ago, the first impulse was to think life was over, that he’d forget us all quickly, that the damage to his mind and body would be relentless. We were scared he’d never be able to partake in our lives most crucial moments as adults. We were cursed and doomed. Yet, in the end, it was a gift. My father getting lost in the haze of this infernal disease allowed me to find him again. It is a personal detail that I will never let go.

My family mobilized upon the Doctor’s word. Nancy and Ernesto led the charge in researching every facet of treatment programs, medications, insurance allowances, anything, and everything to make sure Dad would live his best life with us beside him. That he was with us for as long as he was, glowing with color and filled with energy, is a testament to everyone’s role in keeping Dad healthy and alive. We involved him in all aspects of our lives. He wasn’t “sick” Dad. He was chingón Dad for us, for everyone he’d offer a smile. That’s the lesson of his life. Don’t fear the illness; make it fear YOU.

Like many Latino men, we like to live in our memories, tasked with the preservation of our family lore. Being Jorge is not just sharing the same name. Being Jorge means living as the chief chronicler of my family. You should see the epic collection of slides that remain encased and boxed, dutifully scanned by my sister Nancy with Smithsonian-like care. That is why I was compelled to record all that is Us before Dad’s mental files were purged entirely of data. My family and I will never forget the outpouring of emotion felt by many of you who never had a chance to meet Dad in person but were witnesses to his life in other manners.

My name now carries a stronger aura of poetry and romance. Yet, Dad is singular, the original creation. My task is never to let his memory fade, preserving that beautiful handprint in my heart, in all of our hearts.

Back to the power of words. Dad era creyente, a devout believer. He was a voracious reader, informed, an elegant debater who loved a good match of wits. I ask you all to take a moment at some point today to think of a word that personifies what Dad means to you. Share it with us today, tomorrow, whenever inspiration strikes.

As for us? Let me tell you: Dad is adventurous, sage, loyal, devoted, humorous, strict, careful, silly funny, lover of the song “Guantanamera,” classical music and Lerner & Lowe showtunes, Howard Stern-listener, admirer of Trini Lopez, Willie Nelson & Glen Campbell, damn good long haul driver, world-traveler, Christmas card address monitor, abstract pancake maker, mistaker of wasabi for guacamole, Nescafe drinker, eater of canned tuna fish in Italy, church leader, Eagle Scout motivator, industrious, a textile engineer, cultivated, Catholic, mustached, bald, native son of Celaya, Caballero, Mexicano, husband, father, tío, hero. He is forever our Poppadoodles.

We love you, Dad. Te queremos mucho, Pa.

**This is a video produced by my brother Ernesto for his Mateo & 8th line of home decor. We played it during the rosary services in honor of Dad. Hearing his voice sound so confident was shocking for a moment, then, restorative and calming. I hope you give it a view. 

***Please consider making a donation to one of the following charities:

Alzheimer’s Los Angeles: https://www.alzheimersla.org

Alzheimer’s Association: https://www.alz.org/

Hilarity for Charity: https://hilarityforcharity.org/

From the mind of an Hermana Coraje…

From the mind of an Hermana Coraje…

“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.