Personal

Year Twelve

“It’s perfectly natural for butterflies,” I type. I pause for a moment, counting the years on imaginary fingers. “Twelve years into this game and it still takes a lot out of me,” my fingers click-clack on the keyboard, pausing for just a glitch of a second to take in the fact that, twelve years ago, I met Amado. Twelve years ago, he convinced me to get on stage for the first time and share my own work.

“Wow,” Nora responds. “Twelve years. That’s a whole career!”

Outside of this blog, work-related pieces, and my journal(s), writing and I have become estranged. Creative writing, I should say. When Nora asks if I wrote as well, my answer is banal. Empty. Even now when I look over the e-mail back-and-forth we had leading up to Love & Chocolate 2017, it reads monotonously—Once upon a time, I did.

Thoughts filled my head that night, and every night since Tuesday afternoon when Amado sent me a message via Facebook.

“Tonie Marie Cortez,” it read, “she passed away this Monday morning in her sleep… I thought you should know… I posted on my wall…”

I sat with the new generation of the children’s department staff, working on something. I can’t remember what. Or what we were talking about when I heard my phone vibrate from its place in my top drawer. I opened the message figuring it was about Thursday’s event or the one in April. Instead I see those words echoing from the screen. I’m sure they noticed the sudden drop of my voice. Even my response to Amado wasn’t the best.

“Oh shit. I didn’t know.”

Tonie and I weren’t the best friends. Press me on it, and I cannot tell you when was the last time I saw or spoke to her. It was either in line at the box office—she was there treating the boys to the Ninja Turtle movie and I, quite possibly, waiting to see something by Marvel—or at poetry event.

Like Richard Sanchez and Anne Estevis, I met Tonie at the Nueva Onda Poet’s Cafe all those years ago. All those twelve years ago. Twelve fucking years ago.

I excused myself. Sat in the back, and tried to understand the emotion swirling around me. Is this grief? Am I grieving? It only makes sense that my heart would ache for the loss of a friend. But this feeling? This is alien. This is new. Because mixed with the grief is the confusion. The confusion of not knowing why I felt the need to grieve to this extend.

If you never had the opportunity to hear her sonorous vocals as she sang on stage, then you were robbed of the experience. Robbed way too soon. There exists a recording of her singing at the Nueva Onda Poets Cafe all those years ago. All those fucking twelve years ago. Video that I never edited and posted on YouTube out of a promise to her.

These days I’m more content in organizing the events than I am writing poems or performing in them. A lie repeated until it became fact.

As the poets read, a thought clawed at me. There will never be a poetry reading in which Tonie will perform. I will never see her again. Never hear her voice again. Never think about contacting her as I had two or three weeks ago when the April event was also assigned to me.

My friend may have passed away, but she lives on through the memories of her loved ones. Though the voices of those still breathing, still willing to perform in front of strangers and friends alike. And while it wasn’t a poem. And while it wasn’t new. And while it was more personal than I might have liked, I did perform something that night.

Because if there is one way to honor the loss of a friend, it’s by doing what we do best.

Personal

I Just Want to Know You

There’s always a jolt of panic before a reading. I’ve done this hundreds of times in different venues, in front of different faces. It never fails that moments before I even set foot inside the venue, I become a lyric from an Eminem song. A blast of anxiety rushes through my head the moment my name is read off the list, and I’m introduced. I approach the podium/mic stand with caution, folder in hand with a collection of writings and musings, blog print outs and random things scrawled out on anything from emergency room brochures to napkins—my greatest hits, as I sometimes jokingly call them. My body moves along with my words, something that could be mistaken for nerves and jitters. But without the dance, the story would fall flat and it’s message lost in anxiety of my voice.

Carol & her uke
Carol & her uke

Tonight wasn’t any different, outside the ceremonial upchucking. The only difference that, for the first time in all my history in poetry readings, I brought someone into the group. And in a sea of strangers—with the exception of Richard Sanchez and Julieta Corpus—I had someone in the crowd that was a familiar face.

Nearly a decade ago, I was a staple in the poets/writers community. I traveled from venue to venue reading my words. And it got easier with time. I carried the nerves with me, but I managed them better. However, something in my life happened and I just dropped out. I declined requests and invitations and friends became strangers. When I started working at [redacted], I attended one poetry reading and had a falling out with the Alpha male poet—a pompous poser who calls himself a mariachi (and that’s all I’ll talk about on the subject)—and I vanished from the scene until Amado returned to host his Nueva Onda readings. And we had a good run until he vanished on us. I can’t say I blame him, though. Sometimes life gets in the way.

Tonight, at the Love & Chocolate reading, I thought about my good friend Amado as I watched Julieta Corpus introduce a somewhat nervous Carol Noe because that was me what feels like a life time ago. I still remember the night that I entered the dimly light Nueva Onda Poets Cafe off McColl and sat down watching the musicians play while the owner, a friend of my then-creative writing professor, Rene Saldana Jr., crouched down beside me and asked if I wanted to read. And after much reluctance, I agreed to place my name on the list. He assured me that it was only if I wanted to. No pressure. And, of course, the man lied through his teeth because it wasn’t but ten minutes later that I sat on the stage peering down at the audience and reading in front of a crowd for the first time.

When the assistant director asked me if I knew the young lady who played guitar last time, I shook my head. While I knew who he was talking about, I hadn’t a clue what her name was or how to contact her and Googling “Female guitarist who wears a hat” was getting me nowhere. And while I conceded to defeat that I’d never find her, I remembered that I met a guitarist a month prior. So I shot Carol a quick text asking if she would be interested in performing and she liked the idea enough to agree.

As she began the opening cords of Taylor Swift’s “Everything Has Changed,” I couldn’t hide my smile. Her voice coming out of the PA filling the meeting room and spilling out through the open door into the rest of the building, she attracted a crowd at the onlookers standing outside the twin doors. “She’s really cute,” my director said. “She’s good.”

Carol, who moments ago said she’d keel over dead and play as a zombie, was killing it at her first appearance at one of the events. And while I’ve never seen her play before, I knew to expect nothing less than a stellar performance. And as Julieta Corpus introduced me for the first time in a long time, I took a breath and spilled the lines. I might have missed up on the poem, but I won the audience with my best-of-piece, “Note to my Twelve-Year-Old Self.”

And after the nerves have resided the only thing I can think of is, when do we get to do this again?

Doldrums

What I Have Been Up To

There’s nothing like writing to keep me away from, well, writing. To my audience of one (Isabel, I’m addressing you), I have taken a leave because there’s a lot of things going on in my life (as you should already know), but mostly it’s the poetry reading—no use in redacting it—Love & Chocolate.

Flyer

I started writing two poems (and it bled into three poems) for the event, though I’m afraid to read the third poem—which I may title “On Modern Courting (The Dick Pic).” The first poem I started writing is entitled “A Made-for-TV Romance,” which I used a friend as the basis for the subject I talk about. I intended the second poem to be for Shaun, though I’m still dealing with the kinks in the editing process. And as for the third poem, well, that’s an obvious subject.

I’ll try to keep up with the blog a little better in the coming days. I’m also looking at the renewal of my URL in a few months, though I’m thinking of dropping GoDaddy and finding another service to host the domain name. In the meantime, just know that after the third poem I’m writing is completed (before final revisions and blah blah blah), I’ll post what I have for you to read.