Monthly Archives: May 2014

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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My Two Moms

The first time I met my stepmother, three things happened in this order:

1)  My dad gave my sister and me a Nintendo.

2)  A dark-eyed woman with red lipstick walked into my dad’s apartment and said “Hi.”

3)  We then replied, “Bye” and turned back around to play Super Mario Bros. (the original version)

During this time in my life, I watched The Parent Trap (the Hailey Mills version) again and again, trying desperately to figure out how to get my parents back together.  If only I had a twin sister.  If only our parents had sent us to a summer camp together where we could discover our past and unite against divorce.  Instead, I had a dopey little sister, who cried almost every day for our mom when we were with our dad—and for Dad when we were with Mom.  I also had a mom who cried every day for my dad when we were with her.

 

One weekend my father took the four of us, him, my sister, the new girlfriend and me, to see  Arachnophobia.  It was 1990; I was wearing a shirt with tassels all over it and a gaudy peace sign choker.  While watching the deadly Venezuelan spiders claim victim after victim, I couldn’t shake the feeling of crawling across my skin.  I remember twitching a lot in my seat.  I remember thinking, Parent Trap.

In The Parent Trap, the dad has a new girlfriend.  A young, beautiful girlfriend.  My dad too had a young, beautiful girlfriend.  (A girlfriend my mother often referred to as “The Mexican Hussy”.)  The girlfriend in the movie barely tolerates the twins.  Thus, the girls are totally justified in pranking her. During an unfortunate camping trip, the girls attract a bear to lick honey off the girlfriend’s feet. The beauty queen surrenders, leaving the dad behind with his very naughty but victorious daughters.  With the girlfriend gone, the mom is free to reclaim her throne.

 

I excused myself to go to the bathroom and walked a couple of rows back in the dark theatre.  I untied one of my high-tops and removed the shoelace.  I tied a knot at the end of lace and tugged it a couple of times.

Popcorn stuck to my hands, as I crawled down the movie theatre aisle until I got one row behind my dad and his girlfriend.  I positioned myself ever so quietly behind them and waited for the music to swell.  Waited until the spider crawled ominously across a towel, down a shirt sleeve across the big screen.  Waited until the music hit loud so I could throw the shoelace over the shoulder of my dad’s beauty queen.   The music inflated; I threw.

I wanted her to scream.  I wanted her to jump up and run down the carpeted rows of the theatre, shouting to my father that we were horrible little monsters.  I wanted her to cuss us out, to say something so heinous about us that my dad could never forgive her.

I held my breath and tried not to squeal with delight.  At any moment she was going to shriek, rip the spider-like tangle from her hair and run.  And be gone.

But she didn’t.  After a minute, she casually turned around and looked at me in confusion.  Maybe it was pity.  Maybe she had seen The Parent Trap.  Maybe she knew what a sad and confused girl I was.  But by then my dad noticed, and he hissed through his teeth to get back to my seat.

 

She married my dad less than a year later and asked us to be the flower girls.  She was kind to us even when we asked her things like, “Are you a real Mexican?” knowing full and well she was Puerto Rican.  She took us out a lot—bowling, swimming, golfing, horseback riding, even when our dad wasn’t there—which was a lot.  Even though we probably never said thank you and probably always talked about our mom.  Our perfect, beautiful, broken-hearted mom.

But our new stepmom sang at the top of her lungs in her car.  She danced when she heard a good song on the radio.  She made our dad laugh which was rare.  She was even kind to our mother who was, often, not kind to her.

As I got older, and I struggled with issues with my own mother, my stepmother, who had lost her mother at twenty-six, reminded me that I would never get another mother.  She told me to be patient with my mother, to forgive her, to never stop loving her, to be kind to her even if I didn’t feel like being kind, to not judge her.  She often urged me to call my mother, to go and see her.  You only get one, she said.

 

But the truth is, I got two.   My mom is my mom.  But my stepmom is my mom too.

 

Mother’s Day is about so much more than mothers.  Mother’s Day isn’t necessarily about the woman who birthed you.  It’s about women.  How our sisterhood, our love, and our contributions to this world are inimitable and momentous.  If you’ve ever been loved by a woman, you know the love of a mother.

Oh sure, it’s about moms too.  But it’s also about the stand-in mothers.  So many of us were raised, influenced, and encouraged by women that weren’t our mothers.

So here’s to you: To our mothers.  Our stepmothers.  To our aunts and grandmas.  Great grandmas and godmothers.  Sisters and cousins.  To our friend’s mothers.  To our mother-in-laws.  To our teachers and mentors.  To our best friends.  Here’s to the women who have loved, love, and will love us.

Happy Mother’s Day.

 

Dad & Deb Shaver Lake

My kids, my dad, and my Mom #2.

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are you my mother?

It will be Mother’s Day again soon. I am not scheduled to have the boys on that day, but Ryan is being more than accommodating. We will feel our way through this holiday like we have done with the past several, and we will be a little stiff but kind to one another. I have no biological mother to buy flowers for and celebrate. I have no stepmother. And though the paperwork is still unfiled, I now have no mother-in-law. The latter was the closest I ever had to a mother.

In P.D. Eastman’s Are You My Mother?, a confused baby bird asks one animal after the next if it is his mother.

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He naively thinks a kitten, a hen, a dog, a cow, a car, a boat, and a plane are his mother. He bumps around from one to the next, growing more and more frantic. He finally winds up on top of a seemingly dangerous, harmful-to-the-environment bulldozer-type machine. He feels panicked and trapped. He pleads for his mother. Fortunately, at the most crucial moment, he is miraculously dropped back into his nest, and they are reunited.

I was 10 when my biological mother died, but only 4 when she left me. I was raised by a stepmother who could be cruel and irrational, who hit me often. Like the baby bird, I bumped around, seeking the nurturing I lacked. I felt fortunate when I met my future mother-in-law at 15, and I eventually became part of her family when I married her son. We are both tall and brunette, with broad smiles. In public, people often mistook her for my mother, and I loved that. She told me she loved me like a daughter, and I believed her.

But circumstances change. People say parents love unconditionally, but I’m not sure I believe in that sort of love. Or maybe it’s the blood that makes the difference. I have moved from one mother to the next, but they either die, or resent, or give up on me.

I get the feeling that it would be much easier for Ryan’s parents, especially his mother, if I could somehow be erased. I understand that this is painful for them, too. Like that photo of the McFly siblings in Back to the Future, maybe they wish I could just gently fade away and disappear.

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The problem is, I am everywhere. I am in all of the family photos from the past two decades. I am at birthday parties for my nieces. Their grandchildren have my DNA. Worse, I am in their memories. I won’t fade away because I exist.

I am no baby bird. I am an adult now, and nothing will drop me into the comfort of a mother’s arms. I only wish I could kill that instinct in me that still longs for that kind of connection. Fortunately, this feeling lives in a tiny corner inside of me, and on most days I don’t notice it. I try to give my boys the unconditional love and connection no mother ever gave me. I am lucky to have plenty of people who love and support me, even if I will never have a mother. I have figured out how to fly, and most of the time I fly just fine on my own.

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