Personal

Dear Moisés,

You once told me about the cactus you kept in the bed of your truck. How’d you drive, parading it through the city. You told me people would give you looks. Maybe even a quizzical lift of the brow. 

I wish I saved those emails so that I can paint a better picture – the one who painted with your words. Because all I imagine is a bed of sand with your cactus planted in the middle. I don’t imagine the nopal, but the saguaro as it is the most referenced in popular culture. 

I feel that this logo is off center. Maybe I’ll leave it that way.

I can’t remember the color of your truck, or if you ever told me the model and brand. But I think of an old red pickup, the sort abuelos drive. 

We reconnected when I was in college. You found a review I made on Amazon and that led you down the rabbit hole to whatever social network I was using back then. Probably MySpace. We emailed each other, old friends catching up. You were always pushing me to share my work, find my voice. 

And I eventually did, though I’m sad you never got to see me recite one of my poems on stage. Never heard me voice my characters.

I still wear the rings you gave me. These biker rings that appeared on Facebook. Rings that became the bane of my former employer’s existence. Rings I wore to push the limits one October and never took off until my weight got away from me. 

And the moment my fingers allowed me to put them back on, it brought me so much peace. I can’t explain to you how exposed I felt without them. Every time I forget to wear them, a part of me is missing. And I’m sure you’d have loved to know that. 

In some small way, I always felt that I carry you with me when I wear them. When I thought of buying new ones, I second guessed because these rings were from you. 

Among other gifts you sent me, a Harley Quinn tee shirt, copies of your sister’s books, a book I never read, and several inappropriate birthday cards. How I loved those inappropriate cards. 

I’m sorry that I stopped making that effort. Sorry I never held my word in writing those things for you. It’s easy to say that life gets in the way. That I was raising a child when I still didn’t feel like much of an adult. Sorry for never writing or reaching out when that illness began to take you. You were a better friend than I ever deserved. 

It’s just that I scare easily, and I make it a habit to keep people I love at an arm’s length. I always think this will make the pain easier to take, but all it does is leave room for regret.

And there is a lot I regret these days.

As you know, I don’t have much faith on what lies beyond this life. Whether we simply stop existing or go into a higher plane of existence – be it Heaven or whatever. But I do hope that I see you again. 

You once sent me this song and told me that you were the pretty girl. You didn’t care if I was Dr. Dre or Eminem.

Personal

“if i could see your face once more”

You learn something when your estranged father passes. It’s like losing sight of something from your peripheral – you understand that something is missing in your field of vision, but you can’t place just what it is. And the more you look around, the more you realize its absence. The more you begin to comprehend that this random item in your life meant more to you than you were willing to admit.

I think about my father more these days than in the years before his death. He remained in the edges of my life – estranged, always there, but never present. In those days, there was an option to reach out and grow a relationship. Though, there is little regret in the way I handled our relationship – it was a two-way street after all.

There isn’t a doubt in mind that my life might have taken a different path had my father just tried a little harder. Or if I had in my adult years. However, it’s a life I cannot envision. Javier may have not been the best father figure in my childhood, but I will no longer dwell on that. Why mourn what I never had instead of being grateful for the days I did?

Poetry Break

“Grief Calls Us to the Things of This World” by Sherman Alexie

After he passed away, I wrote my father a letter. In all the years we spent estranged, I never once bothered to write him anything. There were things I wrote about him, but they were never meant to be dedicated to him. Every so often, I write him another letter. It feels like life after my father is much life during his time on this planet. There are times when it slips my memory that he’s gone, because he was always gone. It’s just it was never this permanent.

Continue reading ““Grief Calls Us to the Things of This World” by Sherman Alexie”
Doldrums

One Year Later

A little over a year ago, I made my father smile. It’s the first smile I’ve seen on his face in a long time. He lay in a hospital bed, recovering from an amputation. At least trying to recover from an amputation. The doctors, try as they might, cannot get his heart to climb up to a normal rate.

He didn’t have a good heart before the surgery. I recalled the scar that ran up his sternum from when he lounged around shirtless in the house.

“Javier, mira quien vino a visitarte,” my mother told him as we entered. Her voice soft, sweet. It was moments ago when she told me that it was only a matter of time.

His face, weak, scrunched up in confusion. How long had it been since we last saw each other?

“Hey Dad,” I said because nothing better came to mind.

“Es Willie. No lo reconoces?”

And there. At that moment, a smile. It started with his eyes. Life being brought back to them. His thin lips stretched. He smiled. And though I’m sure my eyes betrayed my emotions, I smiled back.

My father was scheduled to enter a rehab center after recovering in ICU. Because of his heart rate, those plans were changed. Instead, he was admitted to Amara Hospice – a stone’s throw from Bert Ogden dealership where my father worked for most of my life.

(Side note: The year previous, I visited Jeanna in that ICU after the car accident. The rehab my father was to attend was the same Jeanna spent her the last months of her recovery. The same facility her mother, who lost her life in the accident, worked.)

I visited my father on July 8th at the hospice. His weak voice managed, “They lied to me.” He was told he’d learn how to walk again; instead, he was moved to a hospice. And understood what all that meant.

“Visiting dad,” texted Jeanna. “He knows what’s happening.”

I sat on the couch and just tried to talk to him. I wanted him to know me in his last days, but I couldn’t muster up the words or courage. Instead, we watched TV.

With each passing day, his voice grew to a whisper. Until he said nothing at all. I bought him Ensure because he wasn’t taking in any foods. I split my attention between work and him until he dominated my thoughts.

On July 14th, I was given an opportunity to say my goodbyes.

“I could have made an effort just as much as you could have. But we’re just so goddamn stubborn, I guess. Just don’t think for a second that I didn’t love you. That I didn’t want you there, because I did. And I’m sorry you never met Shaun before all this. That’s on me and I’ll have to live with that. But look, I’m not mad anymore. I forgive you for going when you did; I don’t think I’d be the man I am now if you hadn’t. And I won’t contemplate if I’d be a better one or a worse one because all that doesn’t matter, you know? What matters is now. If you have to go, it’s okay. I understand. I’ll be okay. Mom will be okay. Jay and Martin will be okay. We’ll be okay. I just needed you to know that I’m not angry anymore, and I forgive you, and I love you. And you can leave if you have to. We’ll all be okay.”

I intended on visiting him the next morning, but drained from emotions and work, I opted to stay instead. I had a 4-hr shift that day, so visiting him after work was probably for the best. While Mom and the girls signed in at the front desk, I walked to my father’s room to say hello.

You won’t understand silence until you notice how loud it can be. The breathing machine that pumped oxygen into my father’s lungs for the last days of his life had become commonplace. Part of the background. Ignored but noticeable when missing.

“Dad?”

I stood by the door understanding what my mind didn’t want to process. As my mother approached, I turned to her and said, “His breathing machine. Why would they turn off his breathing machine?”

My father died an hour before we arrived to the hospice. I settled down in the visitor’s kitchen and made an attempt to eat my burger. There were phone calls that needed to happen. We called my older brother who had power of attorney. I called my aunt, my father’s sister.

I wasn’t angry at myself for missing my last moment with my father. I made my peace the night before. And my being there may have just prolonged his pain. Maybe he would’ve continued to fight as to not let any of us see him slip into that good night.

Before they took him away, I returned to his room and told him one final farewell.

“Thank you and goodbye.”

Personal

Airing Laundry

Sometime after the 9/11 attacks, someone started a blog. In this blog, they wrote about someone they lost. Someone they loved. Someone stripped away from them. Each day, they wrote about this person. Maybe my memory has romanticized it, but I believe it was a widow writing about her husband. Or, just as easily, a widower writing about his wife. A mother about her child. A child about their parent.

None of that is the point. The point is, this person, this stranger, who lost someone they loved, decided to write a poem a day. I don’t know when the blog started, and I can’t remember when it ended. This was years ago. And any internet searches lead me to dead ends.

And it doesn’t matter if I find the article that sent to the blog in the first place. What made me remember was a comment on Facebook. (And coincidentally, it just so happened that the 18th anniversary of 9/11 was mere days away.)

I posted a “preview” picture of my last post. Sometimes, I like to make the announcement a new post is coming up and share it on my Instagram, which, of course, is connected to my Facebook. My cousin saw the photo and remarked, “Why are you so morbid? Everything is a learning experience in life. Some to forget some to remember. However yes the past should stay in the past but not to be forgotten. Move forward never backwards. Just saying little cousin.”

Imagine calling someone morbid and thinking it’s a teachable lesson. Mind you, this is a person who airs her dirty laundry on Facebook as if hanging fine art in an exhibit. (And, yes, I see the irony of me talking about this while chastising her for doing the same thing.) A person who talks about past transgressions as if they happened an hour ago. Who rants, raves, and spews venom about her sister; although, sister isn’t so innocent of herself. In fact, the pair of them are the reason I no longer accept friend requests from family.

Imagine the poet who wrote daily about their loss having a cousin who told them, “Why are you so morbid? It happened. Move on.”

If my year started in August 9, 2018, it can be charted with the people I lost. The night that a car accident took the lives of three wonderful people. The day I learned a college friend passed away. And the exclamation mark, my death of my estranged father, someone I only had days to make amends with.

Yes, people pick themselves up. They dust themselves off. And they continue. And, yes, life throws at us moments that can only make us stronger. And that was my point in the last post.

It’s the lifting yourself up. It’s the dusting your jeans off. It’s looking at your pasting and wondering how you got this far. It’s about looking at the people who made you who you are. The moments that shaped your being.

How am I morbid? Because I remember the days chasing trucks that look like my father’s? Because I still have nightmares of a phone ringing past midnight and entering emergency rooms to see the mother of my child in pain? Because the words of the ER nurse echoing in my head? (“She was the only survivor.”) How I remember the smile spread across my father’s slacked face when he realized who I was? How I spent the next few days watching him slowly slip into that good night? Because I remember how my heart dropped when I entered his room to find that he’d left before I got there? And how I refused to believe what was obvious.

These are moments that still haunt me, and so I write about them. And I will continue to write about them until I don’t. I’m sorry if you find that morbid.

Stream of Consciousness

Disjointed Text

We’re told to write what we know, but what if all we know fits comfortably in the torn pockets of tattered, unpressed jeans? What if all we know is scattered by the wind, blowing through the streets of familiar cities in unfamiliar territories? What if all we know are faces of people whose names we don’t recognize? The final chords of a ballad, but not the lyrics? Handwritten journals, but not the pens we used? Or the words we spoke? What if we remember the first dates, but not the last nights? Or the last kiss, but not the goodbyes? What if all we know is the abandonment, the pain? What if we can’t remember the words our fathers spoke before they turned their backs on us? Or the scent of our mothers as they embraced us? What if we remember our abuelas’ faces, but not their voices?

We’re told to write what we know, but what if all we know comes in the form of a pill? Easy to hold, but hard to swallow? What if all we know are emergency rooms and people killed by intoxicated drivers? If all we know is explaining death to our children, how do we manage to suss it out on paper?

We’re told that in order to empathize with a person’s situation, we must first walk a mile in their shoes. But how many of us would leave our homes behind and lock ourselves in cages? How many of us would allow our children to be stripped away from our arms and watch them get shipped off to who-knows-where? Would we stay up at night wondering if they’re still alive?

We’re told that a person makes memories, not the other way around. We are not situations, our misfortunes. That we’re not where we come from, but where we’re going. What if we travel this world without a map? What if we spun a globe and headed to wherever our fingers landed? I spent too many nights navigating the trenches of my personal war, wondering whose bed I’d awaken in. And what if that is all I know?

We’re told to write what we know, but all I know are other men’s wives. I know the sad embrace of my son’s anxieties and how they must’ve manifested from my own. I know the only relationship with my father went from watching him at a distance to watching him die. All I know is holding her hand after a fatal car accident. All I know is not telling her how I feel whenever we’re together.

They told me to write what I know, but it’s the things that I don’t know that keep my attention. I know the smile that spreads across her lips and the words that flow from them, but I want to know the way they feel pressed against mine. I recognize the patterns of my own depression, but I would like to know if its portrait is beautiful from afar. I know the path well-traveled and beat up sneakers. I know the shortcuts and the scenic routes. And I know what it’s like to be the bad guy, to be the other man. And the lessons I learned from each of my mistakes.

I learned that there are no such things as regrets when I stopped trying to fill the void inside me with the misery of others.

I stopped trying to fill the void inside me with the misery of others.