Monthly Archives: January 2013

inheritance

brainfromplanetarous

My kids can pretty much forget about inheriting any material wealth. Ryan and I both have MFAs in creative writing. In fact, they’ll be lucky if they don’t inherit any student loan debt. It’ll be an exciting race to the grave to pay those off. My talented friend Anthony has a funny and honest blog called My Gay Mom. He posted a couple of days ago about he and his wife’s decision not to have children because he doesn’t want to pass his bipolar II disorder onto them. This hit pretty close to home. Our first kid, Ben, had many developmental delays. At 20 months old, he could recognize and say every letter in the alphabet, but he couldn’t say “Mom.” He had obsessive tendencies, like lining up Tupperware containers for several hours at a time. He also had sensory processing issues. He had to sleep with paper towels pressed against his cheeks, and would crumble them into tiny balls every night. He couldn’t stand amusement parks or crowds. He didn’t truly begin talking until after he was 3 years old. A lot of that has fallen away, but he still gets some speech help, and it is clear that like Ryan and me, he has obsessive compulsive disorder. It is very difficult to watch your child suffer what you have suffered. You give him tools to try and help him manage it. You read books. You seek the help of professionals. But nothing takes it away.

We were certain things would be less difficult with our second child. The day he was born, it was clear we were naive. In fact, the very next day, Benjamin came down with the stomach flu. Elliott had severe jaundice and needed to be hospitalized. Then he had severe digestive problems, severe ear infections, severe sensory processing problems. A severe speech delay. He was ultimately diagnosed with autism. There was a period of three years that were almost unbearable.

Ryan and I have a genetic predisposition to have children who struggle with the things that many kids and parents never have to worry about. I’m not complaining. What I am saying is that sometimes it is difficult to know that we are the ones who gave these struggles to these people whom we love more than any other people in the world. And it is difficult to help them navigate through situations that we still have trouble navigating through. Of course, we have gotten better at understanding and managing our disorders as we’ve grown older, but put me in a crowd of people on a busy day at Disneyland, and watch me disintegrate. Still.

And now we’ve given a combination of our strange brains to our children. That is their inheritance.

Having children isn’t really a practical decision. One day, my uterus demanded babies, and we simply did as it commanded. We painted a room, and put a crib and lots of other baby-sized things in it, and I felt a tiny human grow and press against the inside of my body. It’s a terrifying and incredible process. We read some books and made some plans, and almost none of that prepared us for the actual experience. Now we have these extraordinary boys, and, like every parent, we watch as the combination of our strengths and flaws takes shape in them. I hope that we have given them more good than bad. I hope that we can teach them to, even on the very worst days, look up from whatever they struggle with and see that there is so much more.

Photo credit: http://www.monsterbashnews.com/pics/brainfromplanetarous.jpg

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I Hate You Lena Dunham/Hannah

Ok, hate is a strong word and I apologize for it but I couldn’t think of a creative title. My creativity and critical thinking skills have been low for the past two years.

I don’t hate her because I don’t know her. I will admit that I can’t help but be jealous of her. She’s 26. She’s a writer. Her looks aren’t up to “beauty standards.” She has a $2 million book deal. She’s considered by some to be “the voice of her generation” MY generation. Her character on Girls lives in a hip city and apparently rent free. The guy she was only supposed to be sleeping with but ended up falling in love with and then breaking up with, desperately wants her back.

I am 26. I hope to be a writer. My BMI says I’m obese but I really think I carry that weight on my ass, trust me, it also doesn’t help that I’m not technically five feet. My fitness instructor told me I look good, so fuck you BMI. But I am prone to bouts of Chicken Mcnugget sadness at least once or twice a month. Nobody pays me to write. In fact, I think some of my friends would pay me to stop writing. My only claim to fame is having a poem published in a college literary journal where they messed up my spelling. It was only a two sentence poem and it still bugs the shit out of me. I’m the voice of a generation of slackers, self titled. I live with my parents in a non hip city. Rent free though! That often comes with a price like my mom walking in while I’m changing my underwear (Ama!) or finding condoms and crying about it. Which, in my defense is actually a funny story. I had some condoms that a friend gave me and at the time I was new to sex. I opened the condom because I was curious and was analyzing it to see if it would be a suitable condom for future use (not that one but the brand.) I heard my sister calling me and I freaked out and threw the condom under my bed. I have a teenage tendency to sweep everything that I don’t want to clean under my bed and since my parents still rule everything around me, my dad would constantly nag about the mess under my bed. So, my mom tired of his nagging decided to do me a favor. That’s when she found out her daughter was unholy. It was also about the time she started to constantly ask where I was going, with who I was going and why I was going. Something I had never been accustomed to, not even as a teenager. With that said, the guy I was only supposed to be sleeping with but who I ended up falling in love with and who I broke things off  with doesn’t want anything to do with me. In the beginning yes. I was secretly delighted to hear his voice break and to hear him cry at the thought of us not being in each others life. And then we secretly started to talk again and then came the day where we both met up with our mutual friends and I drank too much so he drove my car home and I started to cry, drunk. Because that’s the best time to cry. So after berating him with insults and then acting like a drunk  victim, he asked “Where do we stand now?” “I hate you! That’s where we stand.” And those were the last words we ever spoke. It’s been a little over a year now. Sometimes I’ll scout web cams to see if he’s written songs about me. I’m just kidding, he didn’t write songs nor was he social on the internet.

That is why I am jealous of Lena Dunham and her fictional self, Hannah. I realize that is really petty and vain but I cannot help it. I didn’t even factor in that she probably had sweet connections or that she grew up “privileged.” No, that’s been said too much. I’m jealous because, dammit I am!

But, unlike Hannah (and I’m only judging from a few episodes from Season 1) I am incredibly self reflective. She’s a writer and most writers are self reflective but I don’t ever see her acknowledging how lucky she is. Maybe she has now, I don’t know? She lives in New York, unemployed and on her own! Come on. Can’t she move back with her parents? For my sake. Please.

I do realize that none of my basic needs are missing. Despite the superficial parts of living at home, (not being able to be naked and being told to clean your room at 26) I’m incredibly grateful to my parents. My dad and I aren’t the closest and we share the same stubborn attitude that keeps us from bonding. He often asks what the hell I am doing with my life and if I ever plan to move on from my meaningless little jobs. I seldom share any aspect of my life with my dad. He has no idea of the dozens of jobs I’ve applied to, the dozens of interviews I’ve been in and out of for the past year or the deep depression I felt at being hired as a Bookmobile assistant (no joke, I had daydreams about this) and then having that job cut the week I was supposed to start. I share none of this with him because I know somehow it will be my fault but I’ve learned to be patient. It’s incredibly frustrating but slowly I’m explaining to him that, well, both my Plan A and Plan B in life are career paths that always bear the grunt of cuts during tough economic times but passion is my driving force.

“Will that pay your bills?” he asks.

My bills, lets not even get into that!

It’s hard not to feel a little bit (or a lot) of envy when I see someone my age getting all these awards, accolades and money for something that in my biggest egotistical moments think, I can do better. Ok, I can’t direct or write a script but I am awesome at self deprecating humor. I do have a problem with eating cupcakes while nude. I don’t think I could do that. I would probably start crying. It’s hard not to feel envy when I have $150 worth of bills to pay the first half of the month and my weeks check was $34. I had the flu, I had to call off! That realization comes with bouts of reflective anger. My bills are a representation of all the wrong ways I’ve tried to fill my inadequacies and voids. I am 26 now and Forever 21 makes me feel ancient and oddly wiser. I seldom shop now a days. But I said lets not get into my bills.

I’m sorry Lena Dunham and fictional Hannah. You are the voice of a particular generation. I do admit that when Hannah tried breaking things off with Adam and she was baring her soul to him, I cried. I cried because I related. I cried for all the dumb mistakes that smart women make. But you’re not the voice of my generation. You don’t represent the varying narratives of my generation. I guess I was just envious that people like me or people like my friends, who have struggled on their own, are seldom represented. People like us seldom have a “voice.” People like us are druggies, drunks, gang bangers, maids, welfare moms, anchor babies, and the most confusing stereotype, lazy. That’s very true for me though, I am very lazy but I am just a product of American culture (hehe.) People like us are brown, Mexican, Hispanic, Latin, Chicano, bi-racial and second hand American. People like us are self aware slackers who are trying to mend the past, products of broken families that didn’t deter goals of distinguished degrees, activists whose passion still reminds us that progress isn’t over, war veterans that echo a silent pain that we are more comfortable ignoring. We are the untold narratives of a floating generation that is caught between high speed technological advancements and a Bill Clinton era Pepsi Generation nostalgia that led us to believe that our 20’s would be magical. We’re caught in a Boccioni painting. Frozen but brushed with anxiety, painted with madness at the speed of the future. Maybe that’s just me? I don’t know, I’m pained like that.

It’s ok Lena Dunham, you do what you gotta do. I can’t hate, even though I am the worlds number one hater, but deep down inside I don’t hate. Deep down inside I know, I hope, that one day the universe will let my voice be heard. One day, I’ll finally have all my shit together because I know it’s really up to me. Procrastination and wrong priorities  were really my issues not shows on HBO or some famous person I’ve never met. It’s easy to direct envy and hate to forces outside myself. It’s been an incredibly brutal journey being honest with myself but necessary if I am to move forward.

I guess I should have named this, How Lena Dunham Helped Me Get My Groove Back.

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the big a

“By the way,” my father said on the phone this morning, “Diegolina died a few days ago.” He dropped it in casually, after detailing his weekend. He’d gone snowshoeing for the first time, with his girlfriend. He and my stepmother have been divorced for several years now, and Diegolina was my stepmother’s mother. I had been taught to call her Abuela. My father called her The Big A, made her a joke. She never thought that was funny.

Abuela had a hard life. She dropped out in elementary school, sold tamales wrapped in banana leaves on the street. Her home was a collection of tar paper and tin shacks. She cooked food over a fire in the dirt. She had seven children. Her husband was a drunk who beat her constantly and, once, tried to force her to drink poison as my stepmother watched. He hit her in the face with a belt buckle, and, as a result, she was nearly blind in one eye. Abuela lived with us for weeks here and there throughout my childhood. Ay dios mio, she used to say, all of the time, stereotypically. She watched telenovelas endlessly, the loud music and dramatic exclamations bouncing through the house. She cooked a red soup with chunks of shark meat floating in it, homemade corn tortillas. She cried for hours and hours. She told me I was fat. She told me my stepmother betrayed her country when she became a citizen. “Angie, Angie,” she called me. I bent to embrace her tiny frame, as I was required to do, and she’d cup my face and kiss my cheek with feathery lips. Her brown skin felt cool, and smooth, like wax. She smelled like flowers, and something else, something bad. I was expected to love this virtual stranger, whom I first met when I was 8, and whom I saw in short, sporadic bursts.

I did not make an effort to know her. I am ashamed to say that mostly, she annoyed me. I was a selfish teenager, and she sighed and criticized constantly. She took up a bedroom, and I had to share a bed with my sister. She spent what seemed like hours in the bathroom. My stepmother was even meaner than she usually was with Abuela around. I didn’t have the patience for it. My junior year of high school, she got sick, and I had to take over her job for no pay at the Wishy Washy Laundromat. Abuela was sick a lot–she had diabetes and gall bladder problems and severe depression. I was in high school at the time, and for weeks, I stayed up into the early morning hours, scraping hair and gum from the wheels of the laundry carts, sopping up strangers’ scum.

When I wasn’t annoyed with her, I made fun of her. I have a photograph of her wearing a black t-shirt featuring a huge, fluorescent green marijuana leaf. It says, “This bud’s for you.” She had no idea what she was wearing. She poses for the photograph, stony-faced, somewhere in San Bernardino. None of my stepmother’s Mexican family smiled in photographs. It was only after she lived here for several years that my stepmom began to smile. When you think about it, the constant smiling is goofy, for people who don’t know true suffering, who expect everything to work out. For Americans.

It was cruel of me to make her into a joke. I make jokes all of the time, about everything, even when I shouldn’t. I didn’t want to deal with the guilt of knowing about her life and the lives of all of her family back in Mexico. Were they my family too? Who was she to me? Who were they? My stepmother didn’t seem to care, then, or now. Abuela was sick in a hospital in Mexico for awhile, and my stepmother didn’t visit. Her family will call her for money, and she will send it, like she always does, and she will do so begrudgingly. She will not go there to face all of those hungry and angry faces, all of the chaos that will surely result from this death.

Once, when I was maybe sixteen years old, Abuela sang a birthday song to me in Spanish, in front of my family and a few of my friends. She had tears in her eyes. I know it took a lot of courage. I didn’t love her, but sometimes I think she loved me.

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Gayle

Gayle died when we were fourteen. We were roommates in the Hematology/Oncology ward in Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles the spring of our thirteenth year, both theoretically in the eighth grade, though neither of us actually went to school. We kept up a constant chatter about blood counts and needle marks, cafeteria menus, diet softdrinks, jealous siblings, the trials of our wayward hair, even as hers fell out daily in clumps, what our chances were of ever growing up, whether we would get to go to high school, whether we would ever get to kiss a boy.

People said we could be sisters, twins even. We kept our window shades open, grateful for our tiny corner view of the mountains, the television conspiculously off, our dialogue dramatic, until one day, after multiple blood transfusions and an experimental splenectomy, I was discharged with high hopes of a full recovery. We waved goodbye, said our girlish goodlucks, and I tucked her picture into my wallet, her cursive writing wide and smiling on the back, dotted with purple hearts: here’s to a happy high school. We wrote to each other with devoted regularity, until she died nine weeks later, at which point I secured her letters and picture in the back of my makeup drawer and moved on. I didn’t like to think of her in the months or years after that, of why God apparently wanted her next to His side, certain that she was more of an angel than I would ever be, but not daring to question that line of reasoning. I closed that chapter definitely, turned away from the memories, tried desperately to acclimate to a life where people didn’t talk about white blood cells or platelet counts. My drive to be normal (fueled by what I now recognize as survivor’s guilt) kept me from contacting her parents, from offering her letters to them, from ever acknowledging their perpetual grief. I left her and them behind, sprinting toward what I assumed would be an early finish.

Here is her picture. I still look at it from time to time, at the frozen child she will always be in a world I have long since outgrown.

photo

My youngest daughter is fourteen now and to me, she is a little baby. I look at her sometimes and time stops; I remember Gayle’s blonde wig, designed to look like Farrah Fawcett. I remember Gayle’s father kneeling at her bedside, his trembling prayers to our Heavenly Father, uttered aloud, prayers that ultimately would go unanswered. Can I still be angry at that God, even now?

I didn’t earn my life. Gayle and I were interchangeable. There was no method to the madness of our illnesses, no reason why I got better, why she did not.

During college, I received a registered letter in the mail from Children’s Hospital, suggesting I get my blood tested immediately. The blood donated in the eighties was not screened for AIDS. Children from those months in those wards now had HIV. I should be informed and seek appropriate counselling.

This didn’t frighten me in the least. I went to the clinic with barely a thought of the past or of the future. If my luck had run out, I had lived more years than I had once hoped for. I had made it to college, experienced love, trusted in all my youthful naivite that I had already lived a full life.

My twin daughters are now twenty years old. I look at them and wonder what I could have been thinking.

Gayle has no daughters. Gayle has an eternal adolescence looking back at me from her angelic photo. Is this any consolation to her father, her mother, those who knew her as the baby she was? As grown up as we thought we were, I know now that our lives had not yet begun, that the decades since have changed everything we once knew. I see my son and my daughters and my heart crushes the air from my chest for Gayle’s parents. I am so sorry I didn’t keep in touch. I am sorry I didn’t know what you lost. I am sorry my memories of your daughter are worth so very little in their belated attempt to keep her alive.

Somebody I Used to Know

I saw a man I used to love on the streets, homeless and in hospital blue paper pants. This is not a metaphor.

I loved this man once, many years ago, for all the reasons one loves another person: he was smart and funny, kind and loyal, and we thought we could read each other’s minds. We hiked the national forests and chased waterfalls, ate Rocky Road ice cream from the carton, competed in Scrabble and listened to his stacks and stacks of music, testing each other on artists and song titles, brainstorming which tracks we would use as theme songs for the movies we would make from our favorite books. We had our inside jokes and our secret language; we shared our mindless minutiae and we spoke of forever.

A social worker called me a few weeks ago because I was the only contact she had. He had been admitted to ICU several times the past few months for drug overdoses and she predicted he was close to death. She apologized to me and said my number was the only contact he would give. I told her I hadn’t seen him in over ten years, that his family all lived in different states, but she said she didn’t know where to turn. She asked me for his full name and birth date, for the numbers of any living relatives I knew. I gave her what I could from memory, which was far more than she had hoped. I asked to speak with him, but she said he was unconscious. He had been living on the streets for over two years. I said I was sorry. She said God bless you. We both hung up.

He would call and leave me voice messages over the years, as his locations and circumstances changed, mostly when he was high and believed he was invincible. I was tolerant of his delusions of grandeur when I had known him. I wanted to believe his tall tales of adventures, his conquests, his plans for a glorious future that was surely coming, just as I once believed my grandfather’s prognostications that the end of the world was nigh.

A few weeks ago, my old friend rode the train without a ticket, walked to the Claremont Public Library and waited for hours until it opened for a used book sale on Saturday morning. I didn’t know he was in town or that he would be there, but I recognized him the moment I walked in. He was well over six feet tall, even with his hunch, and emaciated, weighing 140 at most. He looked 60, though he just turned 40 this year. His hair was thinning and I couldn’t tell if the blond was deeply dirty, or if it had turned a dusty grey in the decade since I last saw him. He reached out to hug me. The smell was palpable and I hope I didn’t flinch. I let him hold me while one librarian and hoards of books stood as witness. His ankle was healing from a break over a year ago that he never had set, so he dragged it behind him when he walked. I took his elbow and seated him outside, then walked across the street and bought him the largest sandwich CKs Café could make, and we sat on the bench outside the library while he ate it. I asked him to please use my phone and call his father. He shook his head, “Don’t be silly, I am a grown man, and can’t be bothering Jim with trivial things.” I asked him if he needed money, where he would go, who I could call and he said, ”I require no funds. All I need is right here,” pointing to his wrinkled temple. I stopped talking and watched him eat. He asked me if I still listened to music. I said yes and asked him what he wanted to hear. He said Chris Cornell, “You Can’t Change Me,” so I toggled my phone and played it for him. He smiled wide and proclaimed, “You are positively magic.” I laughed, “everyone can do this with phones these days,” and he chuckled back, like I was being modest. We sat on the park bench and listened in silence, the entire way through. He smiled wearily and said, “It’s good seeing you Krankstressa,” and he shuffled off into the dark misty night. I did not try to follow him and he did not look back.

There was something so final in this journey of his, crossing state lines to listen to an old song in the steely rain. I don’t know whether he believed he was about to die, but either way, I think it was goodbye. I don’t think I will hear from him again.

This is not a metaphor.

I wish it was.

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