Hermanito

I wonder how you are doing.

That part is easy, it could be a feeling of self satisfaction, wondering how you are. Where you are. If you are in the streets again or have a roof over your head.

But it doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt just the same. The wondering, the not knowing, The wondering if you know that I care and that I want to help. Truly help. Not like yesterday.

Because I still swallow the bile in my throat every time I remember coming to see you after you asked for twenty bucks. Groceries in tow, things I knew would not go bad. Because I’ve been there. Without refrigeration, squatting under a roof and four walls but no assurance for tomorrow. Gathering the bread, staples, things I hoped would last. Things I hoped would keep you alive, all the time wishing you’d come with me. Sweet brother of mine.

I love you.

And yet I’m too much of a coward to really wonder where you are. Because every time I see a statistic on the LA Times I wonder.

Is it you?

I devour the description, the tattoos, looking to see if they cover the beautiful surface of your face.

Your eyes, so kind. Those gorgeous almond-shaped eyes that haunt me every day. Those eyes that haven’t changed since you were two years old. I have loved you. Always, and yet, I know nothing of where you are and how you are.

And none of it should be your fault hermanito, and yet it seems only you pay for it all but we all pay. Over and over again I would pay, to have you safe. And those you love.

What is Abuse?

It was dark, in the middle of the night, and cold. I stood shivering in my thin polyester Scooby PJs peeking at the swollen, disfigured face of my aunt. Flashes of red, blue, and very bright lights pulled up into our driveway.

My aunt crying again with a new bruise blooming in her cheek and eye, swollen belly before her, carrying my cousin who at nine months in the womb was ready to burst into this world.

A beautiful dinner of carne asada, salad with generous slices of aguacate and tomate on top, and beans – always freshly made – on the side. As I inhaled the plate before me I heard the crack, centimeters from my ear. I coughed on flecks of porcelain dish that sprayed throughout the table once it ricocheted off the wall. The wall where my dad did not aim, my mom beside me. Was she beside me? Or standing by the comal warming tortillas as she always stood, her face hidden in the walls away from everything and everyone, away from him, from us.

The red eyes. The staggering walk and angry whispers to himself. To themselves.

All of these memories are jumbled and sometimes, hard as a I try – I can’t ensure I know whom was who and what I saw or what I was told – over and over again by my mother. Her stories. her account. Of me, my dad, my life – it’s hard to disentangle what I know to be true to what I hope I can convince myself happened, the happen she wants, her truth I hope for.

Velour pants, copper-colored, matching velour jacket hugging my body. Curled hair after hours with a curling iron, glossy lips and my eyelashes curled. I pulled the jacket down to cover the thin strip of skin exposed every time I stood up straight. I’m ironing his shirt and as I turn it over to him, I’m not sure what happens. I go back to the bed curling the last strands of hair and he makes a comment about Who Am I Dressing For? And then there’s the smell of burning flesh, the iron stuck against my hip, an angry red strip. He’s crying and I’m trying not to implode from wanting to run away but having nowhere to go. DJ is loud and everyone is drinking and dancing at my mom’s house. Oh You Know How Clumsy I am! I wave off the burn that is beginning to blister but I don’t cover it.

I can’t bring myself to share more than that.

The shame, the shame, the shame.

Shame of having failed at marriage. Of not putting up with it, of not being better, or good enough to deserve better. The oily feeling of failure sticking to your skin, the fear that your pores are emanating a stale smell of desperation. The feeling of having to depend on only yourself when you feel so broken and bone tired. The angry words of disappointment and disgust of others for not staying. Prostituta. Cualquiera. Mujer de la Calle. Desgracia.

And those two little faces looking up at me wondering, What Next? In our car in the cold nights, bundled in their car seats. The constant prickling of tears that refuse to spill because that’s not a luxury you can afford.


It’s taken me years to forgive myself for leaving, for failing. Even now, against all logic, I feel guilty, guilt intertwined with incredulity at How Did I Get There in the First Place? I left that abusive relationship only to fall into another that would take more a few more years to get out. To finally get out of the reach of the same cycle that preyed on my insecurities, my precarious financial situation, my housing instability, and low self-esteem. I grew up in an abusive home and walked on a path that naturally led me to another abusive home, this time as an adult. I was fortunate enough to have had the strength, the looks, the luck of getting out without the help of my family. The family that normalized that abuse and would gaslight me each time I had tried to leave. I’m out and have been out of abusive situations for years and all I can think of is how I would mourn that younger me if she were still in that basement being hurt in silence or in that loft in a luxury building being hurt in different ways. I mourn those still in those situations.


My aunt came to our house time and time again until she stopped. My aunt was a beautiful woman, deep caramel brown skin that shone whether day or night, and she loved me. How she married my uncle remains unclear except for the fact that she was the darkest of her family and was simply ignored and sidelined. She may have wanted what so many of us wanted, what I wanted, what my mother wanted and didn’t know how to give – she may have wanted to feel wanted. She stayed with this man her whole life, no matter how many times he beat her. No matter his illogical jealousy that resulted in a swollen lip, no matter how pregnant she was he still unleashed the same anger against her jaw and stomach driven by some slight he imagined she had committed by having another man open the door for her.

She tried to leave, she moved so many times. No one ever offered her safety and I don’t know that she even thought to ask. Each time, he seemed to find her. And each time a new child would fill her swollen belly which would make him kinder for a time.


I didn’t understand how lonely, how painful it was for her until I stood in her shoes. If you can, check in and be there for your friends and family who may in similar situations. And no matter how many times it takes them to leave, be there every single time.

While we Mourn We Should See

I wore the only dress I had that seemed semi-decent
It rolled up around my neck but hung dangerously low
so I pinned it
pin pin
fix it.

But nothing could fix your absence.
You were supposed to lift us.
I looked to you to save us.
You’d gone so far already…
Was it really that much to ask?

But mother effer, this life is so cruel
it doesn’t abide by our rules

Why won’t you do my bidding?
SO I won’t have to
Grieve
Someone like you.

I grew up in East Los.
I thought I was used to this.
The loss.
The end.

But no,
don’t you see?
You left a large gaping hole.
And it hurts,
because try as I might
I won’t ever fill it for those that loved you.

How dare you?
How dare you?
Leave?

New Words

You just don’t even see

You don’t even hear
How you not gonna see
me humpin a teddy bear
with my milk teeth
but you turn around
and walk out
Don’t even flinch and see you way out
What I gotta do to make you see?
But why I try?
Why I care?
for a woman who
don’t bother tryin’
don’t bother blockin’
what my future really be?
15 years flash forward
Baby on each hip
Who you think I learned from?
who you think I try to escape from?
Love
Love
Didn’t even know what that was
I thought college…College…College
Education?
No
It was my last line
Working at the office
library
Mervyn’s 11 pm – 3 am
Practically hoeing
on the metro
for cents on the dollar
tryin’ to be honest
trying to pay u bills
White man tender couldn’t see
No loan for you
keep workin’
keep hopin’
Thanks LMU
I’m lookin’ at you
But what you see?
what you hear?
Nothin
Nothin
Nothin
That’s all you remember
Nothin’ to do wit you
My mama
the one who should be caring
the one supposed to love me
Love at first sight
Or was it Hate At First Sight?
couldn’t get that hanger hook on right?
Boyle Heights walls be translucent
Paper thin
paper white
You wish
But let me know somethin’
if White ruled your world
why you sleep with that creep in me?
I thought I was garbage
Why you think I try those pills
and not one
but two and three
and more
was not enough?
Lying in that bed
probed
pumped
stripped
And all you and he could ask
What They Gonna Think?
Hell hole you had me livin in
Hell hole you seemed so content with
But I know now
I know different now
That hate you spilled
is me
Sad for you
but I love me
I could keep going
but only a lifetime can be told
and I’ve known
one or three

Memories of a Daughter of Immigrants

My father is an immigrant. He crossed the Mexico/US border as teenager, on his own, to find another life. My father is from a small, rural, town in Mexico. We live in Los Angeles, the second largest city in the country. The Second Largest City in the Country. His town’s population hovers around 1,000 people. Los Angeles’ population hovers around 3.5million.

Can you even imagine the difference? My high school had a population of 5,500 students. My freshman class, at 1,500 students, was larger than his town’s population. But don’t worry. My senior graduating class magically pared down to half of his town’s population to 500.

I could tell you about MY memories from the first time I visited Mexico, the first time we traveled to his town. But I’d rather not. I’d rather focus on my dad.

Can you imagine being 18 and leaving your town, your state, your country, your mother, your brothers, your sisters, your father, your mother tongue, your culture, your identity, your pride…All behind?

Can you imagine jumping on trains, finding  a way across the desert, finding a way across. Across. A hostile crossing.

Can you imagine –

Rejection,

so Painful that it cuts into your being,

cuts you down.

Every rejection, every categorization, every generalization,

Every Migra Threat.

Fear.

Fear so cold that it freezes your blood on its tracks.

Fear like an ice pick piercing your heart.

Fight or flight.

Can you imagine ignoring both and choosing instead to

Survive.

Keeping your head down. Smiling. Paying taxes. Ignoring condescension.

So that one day you would have children, your own family, and hope to –

dream.

To believe that they could break the chains of fear because they Did Not Belong to

Anyone but America.

America the Free.

Be Free.

And they came, and they came, and they came, and they

Will Continue to Come

whether you care for it or not.

Whether you care for it or not.

They will come. As you did.

And they will borne others like Me.

 

 

Howling to Emptiness

Aoooooooohhhhhhhhh!!!!!!

I’m howling.

But no one seems to hear.

I’m hurting, but I don’t seem to feel.

Madness.

Self-serving, legitimate action, Stupidity, willful ignorance – who can tell the difference anymore.

When I lashed out in pain at those who had voted for Trump I received admonishments from people who defended their reasoning, defended themselves from being labeled racists, defended themselves as different. They were just ready for a different administration they said. And with reticence I tried to listen, I tried to empathize, I tried to understand.

Only to realize that I was listening to no one.

Because they have nothing to say.

There is no one there.

There are only echos that ricochet off well-meaning deaf walls that were constructed long ago.  And those walls will remain standing long after the truth comes raining down. A glaringly obvious acid rain that will be hard to ignore. That rain has come and gone and those echoes remain. I am not racist. Not everyone who voted for Trump is a racist.

That may be true to a certain extent because can a hollow being with no substance truly be anything but an echo?

Ricocheting hate.

Ricocheting pain.

Ricocheting ignorance.

Aooooooooohhhhhhhhh!

I’m howling.

And you hear.

But you won’t listen.

 

Stain on Your White Dress

My hands twist together

grubby, brown fingers hiding each other.

It seems selfish to mar your fragile innocence,

your crisp, white, clean slate,

with my damaged truth.

You speak of your hardships

and I listen without judgement.

But I can’t help but feel dirty in comparison

and I shuffle my feet

and I bring my arms tight against my body

my hands under my thighs,

pinching hard.

It’s my turn to speak.

My voice catches in my throat,

mingled with the swallowed past trying to escape.

Like an overflowing trashcan,

I push it down and I blink away the sting.

I would speak

but I don’t want to be a pesky stain,

soiling your beautiful white dress.

Or worse,

a stain that doesn’t stick

and is washed away with water.

I want to linger.

My words remain inside,

festering.

But they remain mine.

On the Fast Lane with the SuperFlyingMonkeys

giants
Life moves quickly when you have two flying monkeys by your side.

Santa Monica called for work. I drove to Main Street for a work event with SiliconBeachLA. Smiling, chatter buzzing over mojitos, beer and sliders. Tech tech tech. Drinks and introductions, Connections – Stimulating.

A reminder that I am making the right choice in moving to Silicon Valley this summer. Excited.

All networking events must end and this one did with the avoidance of a marriage proposal. That must have been the most progressive and increasingly creepy pick up line I have ever heard.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Susana. Hmmm. Susana, it’s a pleasure. What do you do?”
“Marketing. For law firms.”
“Do you know social media? Yes? I need a social media manager. I need a co-founder. Do you want to be my co-founder?”
“Thank you but I am relocating to the bay area.”
“Really? Where? I like the bay area. I could live in the bay area. I’ve been to Tiburon. Have you been there? Yes? I could live there. We could live in the bay area.”
“Good meeting you but I was just leaving.”
“You have my card. Hmmm. Susana. Such a pleasure. Call me, we need to work together. I’m from Sydney. You’ve been to Sydney? Would you..”
“Goodnight, good meeting you.”

As I quickly scrambled out the door averting one of the more bizarre first time interactions with another human being, I looked forward to my escape up north. I drove to Boyle Heights and spent the remainder of the evening with my parents and family, celebrating my father’s 62nd birthday.

Saturday, 5AM. We are piled into the Honda, filling up the tank with gas.

You can do anything in LA as long as you have a full tank of gas. I will miss that feeling. Completely freeing; to roam a sprawled city intersected by freeways, back roads, and hiking trails full of lululemon.

I placed my two 16 oz. Red Bull drinks on the center divider, covered the girls in their blanket, tuned into KZRW and looked forward to a promise of opportunity as I rolled onto the I-5 North.

Podcasts about India’s marriage and matchmaking trends, sourcing food, and music swirl around the car around me blending into the highway’s hum. Auto cruise.

Two hours. Two and half. Two and 42 minutes go by.

KZRW is long gone – faded into the majestic mountains before the grapevine that block all internet reception. 70 miles. 75. 80. Rolling along en mass.

The air is thick with cow dung flung onto the earth by the huddled, crowded mammals that reek of sickness and death. I hold my breath and shut off the AC. It seeps into my car and takes hold of my nostrils, curling into my breath and wrapping around my gagging throat.

I call my love. His cheerful voice full of excitement takes me away from the I-5N and the dead grass with dark nauseating earth. It blocks out the cows that eat what the others digest. Recurring. I won’t be eating meat for a while.

We plan and together count down the hours of our arrival. Together never sounded sweeter.

Spotify saves the day and my hours quickly fall away until I see the 101 N to San Jose and the exit to Palo Alto. I drive up under the big tree and wake the girls so we can run up the stairs together. Together, always, it has never felt so good.

We stretch and hug and kiss and smile. And out the door we go to downtown Palo Alto. Thai food at Siam Royal for a lunch of yellow curry, Pad sew eew, and tofu, only tofu please.

As we walk out I feel my legs leisurely stretch out before me and I realize I am home. With him by my side, flanked by the flying monkeys, we are home. We stop at Stanford to frolic in the grass, dance around the fountain, and giggle down the archways.

We get home and nap. A blissful unworried sleep shadowed with sounds of light laughter coming through the window, likes rays of sunlight gently warming my skin. Even the shower that follows feels different. As the water runs down my back so goes with it all the tension from the drive, the residue of LA.

Sushi Fuki for dinner. Rolls and nigiri and sake. And smiling girls across me. Gently lifting their pieces with chopsticks, deft hands a true sign of LA childhood.

Champagne once home. We are celebrating many things, all things that lead to us, together in life. Dom Perignon treats us well as we cuddle and love life, love our little family.

After my run, I make breakfast tacos with sizzling bacon and egg whites kissing each other with mozzarella. Yogurt for me, the cows have not left me. Oohs and Ahhs over breakfast, followed by scuttling about as we all walk to the local school. Two Flying Monkeys racing along from tree to tree. Like Santa Claus he strides forth with a sack over his shoulder, but these are basketballs. Layups. Free throw line, base line, back board, rim, start low and carry through – in the wrist. Chest pass. Two on Two. I’ve never felt such admiration for patience and happiness. Basketball drills, who knew?

On the road again but as one. To SF for the Giants. Freezing in our seats we play a game you think of to ease the focus on the chilly weather and bring to light the joy and wonder of life. You breathe in new life into baseball, already a passion, you make it magical.

We shower, we prim, we aim to impress as we make our way to Madera for dinner. The view is amazing. Rolling fog over the hills, enchanting grounds at our feet, and smiling faces all around me. Over wine and seared tuna he dazzles. He charms and he loves and I memorize every minute.

At home over movies all four of us sit close – an entanglement of wonderful cuddling.

In the morning we rise and smile. Off to the market today. Camarones, tomates, aguacates, clamato… I love the sounds of Spanish markets. Mi Piquito de Oro by Ramon Ayala playing in the background as we check out. The musical goodbye of the cash register lingering long after we walk out the door.

At home we cook and we sit. We dance and we sing. We play Loteria and roll our R’s and silence our T’s and laugh. Rich and deep laughter that fills my soul and carries me through. We sit by the low tables and eat our cebiche and talk the language of happiness.

The morning turns afternoon well into the evening and night beckons us to bed for dreams of tomorrow, our tomorrow together. Even the gray following morning that feeds the hurt in my chest doesn’t diminish the gift of today. I woke by your side, in your arms and you loved me as I love you.

Miles away now but with me, I carry you, together, never sweeter, never felt so good.

Swipe the card

Sparkly sandals, boxes piling up at my side
Platforms
Stiletto black patent leather
kitten heels
Swipe the card

Men’s wear
Dad’s birthday
Lovely polos
Swipe the card

Walking back
Shiny red sign of SALE
Toss it aside
Keep
Swipe the card

Red gel manicure
pedicure to match
smooth legs
Humming of the massage chair
Swipe the card

Whole Foods
Bright and fun
Kale
Wild Caught Salmon
Swipe the card

Sports gear for the girls
sneakers
for basketball
sandals
for summer

A dress maybe?
Or two
And shorts
or a jumper
All three
Swipe the card

Theatre camp
piano lessons
dance
lunch money
Dinner out
a movie
Rent

in LA
on the freeway
pulling in to fill the tank
Swipe the card

Gotta keep moving
and working
to swipe the card

Running

Running

I feel the music
flowing
spreading through my body

I have to fight the urge
to dance
Wild and Free

My arms start swinging
propelling me
my legs find the rhythm
hitting the pavement to the beat

The lyrics carry me
Forward

I feel myself
Floating
Invisible

A wide grin flashes on my face
I can fly
I can soar

Stronger
Faster
Happier
I go

Hip hop
Cumbias
Rap
They heal me
Transform me
As I run

Run free