Tag Archives: death

5 Reasons Why I Have Cried 100 Times in 5 Days

1.   Wednesday, May 28, 2014 3:27 P.M.

I run over a rabbit. This doesn’t sound that extreme especially given that I live in the desert mountains where jack rabbits and cottontails are constantly darting across sun-bleached asphalt.  My kids are in the car; they don’t see anything.  They hear me screech and slap my hand over my mouth. Tires thrum once—twice over the little gray body.  What’s wrong?  Mom, what’s wrong?  They both echo from the backseat.  Are you sad?  I look in the rearview mirror and see the little white puff of the tail lying beside gray ears. Hot tears roll down my face and I say, Yes. Mommy’s sad.

 

2.   Wednesday, May 28, 2014 8:43 A.M.

Maya Angelou is dead.  Or so my Facebook news feed says.  I am immediately sad.  Maya Angelou was the first female poet I ever learned about.  Before her, I had never heard of a woman poet.  Ever. I knew Shakespeare and Wordsworth and Frost. I credit the following lines with drawing me to a life of language and wordsmithing:

But a bird that stalks

down his narrow cage

can seldom see through

his bars of rage

his wings are clipped and

his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing.

 

Dr. Maya Angelou opened my throat to sing. I can’t help it.  I cry.

(Read it here: Caged Bird)

3.   Friday, May 23, 2014 10:16 P.M.

He looks like a Political Science professor with his salt and pepper beard and wired-rimmed glasses.  But when he speaks of Christopher, when he speaks of his loss, his anger towards politicians and their failure to do anything about the mass shootings, Richard Martinez’s voice deepens and swells, rumbles like a fucking hurricane.  It catches in his throat and he sputters out words through tears that make me ache.  His anger is so raw, so unmasked, I can’t help but to cry when I hear his grief.  When he speaks of his son, his beautiful, lovely, articulate, twenty-year-old son, I cry.

 

4.   Tuesday, the day after Memorial Day, 6:26 A.M.

She is dead. She is dead and I am confused. I just saw her last week. I click on her Facebook page because there must be a mistake. But there is no mistake. Her uncle has announced her death. Her cousins and friends add to the thread, endless good-byes and R.I.P.s. I am still confused.

I quickly message another student, a friend of Genevieve’s and another former student of mine. What is this business about Gen? She didn’t really pass, right? Before my student can get back to me, the posts keep coming. I will miss you, Gigi. God has another angel. I know it’s true before I can even log off.

I don’t cry. Not immediately anyways. I just saw her. She came to my office just two weeks ago to announce she was transferring to Asuza Pacific. I chuckled. Not because she wants to go there, but it is the way Gen talks. She is so excitable that she can’t contain it; she almost has to hold down her hands when she is telling me. Her eyes—her beautiful copper eyes shake while she laughs—almost guffaws at herself. I tell her no. Don’t go.

We have these conversations almost weekly. Gen comes in and flops down in the maroon chair by my desk. She usually gives me a quick hug but more often than not, she is talking before I can even look up from my computer. She is not my student anymore, but I love that she still comes by to confide in me.

Sometimes she shows me pictures and videos of her little brother Timmy. Once she complained about a guy who broke up with her via text. She laughed at his stupidity. I laughed too. Gen is beautiful and smart and so vivacious, she can’t walk more than three feet in any direction without someone talking to her. Boys are stupid. I sound like a big sister and not an English professor.

Our last face-to-face conversation, I am in a hurry to get her out of there. I have a class in thirty minutes that I haven’t yet prepped for. Don’t go to APU, I keep saying. Stay here. You don’t want to start your life in debt. Private school is debt. She smiles and says that she’s been here—at Chaffey—too long. She needs to move on. Plus, what would we do without you?  I say it as a parting gift because I know that I have class and I am unprepared and sometimes I wish I didn’t have so many students who seek my counsel. She leans over my desk and hugs me. Don’t go, I say and we both chuckle because we both know Gen will do whatever she wants. She may ask my advice, but that doesn’t mean she’ll take it. She is twenty-one.

I scream as soon as I am back on the highway after dropping off my kids at school. It is the first time I am alone all morning. Genevieve is dead.

I cry louder than I have in a long, long time. There are so many tears, I veer the car into a turnout and sob. After a while, I stop and listen for her laughter. My favorite laugh—the one where she laughs at herself for a cluck or two and touches her chest in a dramatic fashion. The one where her eyes burn gold.

When I get home, I hike back into the mountains and cry and until I am certain I am devoid of tears. Later, I shower and I cry. Much, much later, I cry into my pillow so my kids can’t hear me.

I have cried a hundred times this week. I can’t open my Facebook without seeing Gen’s pictures come up in my feed. I can’t choke out her name without falling apart. I can’t bear to feel the weight of the world without her effervescence. I will be forever looking for her smile in a crowd of students and waiting to hear her laugh springing up from around the corner. But the enormity of her death will not fully hit me until I go back to work in August and she is not in my office crossed-legged and giddy with summer vacation stories that she will never live.

Genevieve Gutierrez

  1. Wednesday, May 28, 2014 2:52 P.M.

The school bell rings, and my son wraps his thin arms around my waist.  He says, I’m sorry you’re sad, Mom.  They know about Genevieve; they know I am devastated.  I still love you, he says.  I know, silly, I say.  I muss his gold hair. I wipe the tears running down my neck as we walk back to the car. I am so full of love and tears. But mostly love.

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mother’s day

Sunday is Mother’s Day. This year, I decided to end my relationship with my stepmother, who raised me, and my biological mother is dead. Both of these women lacked the resources or capabilities to be effective parents. My mother-in-law is amazing, but she did not raise me. And so there is a bit of an empty space where a mother should be. Most of the time, this does not feel like sadness. It feels like relief. Every year, I used to try and find a neutral card to give my stepmother. There were rows and rows of cards with pictures of flowers and heartfelt, saccharine poetry. Generally, I’d find something blank and scrawl something inside.

Dear Mom (I don’t want to call you Mom, but remember how you forced me to when I was 8?):

I don’t really know you even though we lived in the same household for many years. Please accept this candle/lotion/chocolate that I felt obligated to purchase for you. I hope the weather is satisfactory today.

Regards,

Angela

That’s what I always felt like saying, anyway.

This dumb photo of Gwyneth Paltrow and her mother made me cry one time.

gwyneth_paltrow_and_mother_blythe_danner-320x425

My friend recently lost his mother. Although I wasn’t close to my mother, and I didn’t know her very well, and I have in my possession only one photograph of us together, and I rarely think about her or cry about her, I feel that absence intensely from time to time, like  pain in an amputated limb. I am so sorry for my friend, who was close to his mother. I know the pain he must feel is 1000 times more intense than what I feel, and that there is nothing anyone can do to change any of that.

I guess what I am trying to say is that Mother’s Day, like all holidays, can be complicated.

I have two lovely boys, and I hope I know I am a good mother to them and I know I can do better. Last night, I helped Ben cast his Mario Bros. toys as characters in Hairspray (again). Mario is Link. Luigi is Corny. Princess Peach is Amber. Toadette is Tracy. I was exhausted after work, and this made me laugh and laugh. This morning, Elliott insisted he didn’t need a sweater, and I told him to step outside and see. I watched as he stood alone in the backyard and felt the breeze wash over him, squinting into the sunlight. He finally agreed to the sweater. Like me, he is stubborn. It is sometimes frustrating, but I also love that he needs to decide for himself.

I want to say thank you to these little guys for teaching me what it is to be a mother even as I am still figuring it out. I want to say thank you to them for making Mother’s Day meaningful to me, something to celebrate. And I want to say that I am sorry to those of you out there for whom this holiday is painful and complicated and nothing like the cards or commercials try to convince you to believe that it should be.

Let’s make this day, and every day, our own.

Photo credit: http://jjscholl.wordpress.com/2010/05/07/i-heart-mom/

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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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best-case scenarios

My friend Lisa shared this today on Facebook: “You’ll meet the perfect person, who you love infinitely, and you even argue well, and you grow together, and then you get old together, and then she’s going to die. That’s the best-case scenario.” –Louis C.K.

Last night, Ryan and I were talking about time. I had read this Angelica Huston interview and she says that no one can tell you how quickly time passes. I know this is true. I also know it is cliche. But when I think about it too hard, it is still terrifying. It is just like no one can tell you how fucking tired you will be when you are caring for a newborn. They try to warn you and you think, yes, I know what tired is. I’m in graduate school and I work 3 jobs. But this kind of tired is in your bones, your skin. It permeates everything. I remember that I felt that way, but I can’t actually feel it anymore. And I can’t explain it to people who haven’t experienced it, either. I just know that when a person without children tells me he or she is tired, he or she does not know what they are talking about. Unless they are, like, a P.O.W. That kind of tired isn’t real to me now anymore, so I don’t know what I’m talking about either.

Anyway, we got to talking about how you have kids and you love them so fiercely it almost hurts and then as they get older, they move away from you physically and emotionally. They become independent; they are supposed to. You work their whole lives for them to become relatively happy, functioning, independent humans. That’s your job, and theirs. But it’s like someone scraping your heart out of your chest slowly, over time. I have done the math. In approximately 1 year, Ben won’t sit on my lap or let me carry him. In another year, no hand-holding in public. In another, no kissing and hug resistance. That’s what he should be doing. Again, that’s the best-case scenario. He could become a drug addict or get cancer or punch me in the face and then my heart would break more. He will be 8 on Friday. He will be 18 in 10 years. And 10 years isn’t anything at all.

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dreams

Do you like it when other people share their dreams? I don’t think most people do. They can be intensely personal and bizarre, and people try to make sense of them when there is often no sense to be made. In light of this, I have a dream to share with you. I woke up crying last night, fat, real tears that surprised me. The dream that induced this was ridiculous. In the dream, my father’s first wife, Nancy, was my biological mother. She lived on the streets in the dream, just as she did for many years in real life, and she wore a brightly colored mummuu. Her greasy gray hair was pulled back into a scrunchie and her face was leathery and grooved. She opened the door to an office building for me and said goodbye. It was a final goodbye. Though Nancy is not my mother in reality, in my dream she was, and this would be the last time I would ever see her. We both knew it. We looked into each other’s eyes with intention. I walked up the carpeted stairs into a dreary office: cubicles, computers, fax machines. A man stood at the top of the stairs, wearing a short-sleeved dress shirt, slacks, and a tie, standard office wear. In real life, this guy is my neighbor. He is fat, mustachioed, and unfriendly. He never waves back when he walks his dog past our house. But in my dream, he was my co-worker and he opened his arms to me and I cried and cried and cried into his dress shirt, as he patted me on my back, gently consoling me. That is when I woke up still crying.

I don’t think about my dead mother very often. I don’t think I am a very emotional person in general, which is probably some sort of defense mechanism or survival tool or whatever. But every once in a while it bubbles up and surprises me. When I was younger, I used to think I was tougher than I really am, that there was nothing I couldn’t overcome. I lacked humility in this and so many other ways. I wasn’t close to my mother and I used to like to think that her death had no effect on me. One of my friends lost her grandfather this week. Another lost her father. This is likely what triggered this dream. There is no secret meaning that requires interpretation, just, maybe, a not altogether unpleasant reminder that I am human, that I have emotions (however strangely they are sometimes expressed), that life is tenuous.

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