“You were invited, you RSVP’d and then didn’t show up.” “No, I wouldn’t do that! I wasn’t invited, I would have loved to go to that wedding, but I wasn’t invited.” “Yes you were, we sat at the table where you were supposed to sit and there were two empty seats, because you didn’t show.” “Si, y ni dijistes nada.”
I racked my brain trying to go back 10 years and piece back that memory but I couldn’t. I felt awful for having done something so rude and not being able to remember how/why.
10 years ago at 19, my life was in Spanish. I went to work and spoke English for a few minutes a day to my supervisor but most of my work friends were Mexican, making it easy to lapse into Spanish during our morning breaks, during whispered conversations on the way to the bathroom and during our daily lunches filled with boisterous laughter that bounced off the cheap carpet at City Hall East. I even laughed in Spanish, “Ja! ja! ja! Ja!”
At home, I spoke nothing but Spanish. I spoke so much Spanish or Spanglish that I feared that I was losing my grasp on English. Whenever I had to switch over to English abruptly, the words came out thick, my tongue slow as if stuck on peanut butter full of consonants.
Then it stopped.
23, with a new job and single parenthood. Not a single Mexican or Spanish-speaking co-worker in sight.
I curved inwards, trying to find and make sense of who I was. Not being able to express my feelings as freely as they flowed in Spanish; I grew quiet. The English words I released felt so proper and guarded as I took great care to avoid butchering this language that I had placed on pause for so long.
Another job, another life flowed by and the Spanish hardly surfaced. Even my girls, who shared Spanish as a first language, lapsed into all English with a mix of Japanese learned from their Buddhist preschool.
English. Painstakingly listening to the pronunciation of words on Dictionary.com, over and over, whispering the words as I walked to work until I felt comfortable enough to say them out loud to someone.
Now at 29, I miss the reassuring shield that Spanish used to provide. Like a tattered baby blanket, it fell apart in my hands and I find myself working hard to mend it back into the vibrant pattern it once had.
I ran away from Spanish to obliterate the memories that were formed in that beautiful language. It was easier to stop the unpleasant flashbacks if I moved my mental lever to Spanish:Off.
Such a black and white solution might seem callous, cowardly and cold but it worked.
But as my thirties beckon; I find myself gingerly stepping in and out of my Spanish voice and then stomping back in and out as my thoughts swirl into a frenzy and come tumbling out in a new musicality.
A duet that twirls into a self that isn’t quite Spanish and isn’t quite English.
I finally figured out why I didn’t go to the wedding; a once bitter recollection that had been buried in mortification. But that was a lifetime ago, it seems.
As I look forward, shortly immersing myself into a new decade, I hope that I don’t lead such a segmented life. I want to waltz easily to the tune of yesterday while retaining the smile of today.
Not quite English, not quite Spanish but both, hand in hand dancing along.
My dad was an unpaid pollero, a coyote, an illegal boarder crosser. He was a young restless man, unfit to lay still in the small town he grew up in, he ventured North to the United States.
Prompted by the throbbing earth underneath, he’d jump up from his crouching position and run like a madman in pitch darkness alongside the iron monster that was his ticket out. Timing the passage of the passenger cars he’d jump and toss his body towards the train as he clambered up the side steps until he was in relative safety of the rooftop of the humming machinery that kept on going on no matter what new passengers were now clinging on to their new life.
Sunsets would set and mornings would rise with a promise of new territory, a new land that welcomed exploring.
Being a resourceful, hardworking and possessing a well-liked disposition, or so he claimed, my father would survey a new town (one on the good ol’ USA) and jump off the train several hundred feet before the train came to a stop to seek out employment while he felt out his new surroundings. He usually found work in the fields, picking fruit or in the cattle ranches as a skilled ranch hand.
On one of his trips to the North, my father led a couple of town mates to seek out their own versions of a fortune in the land of riches: the land of Hollywood telenovelas, shiny new cars and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
They followed the trains as they snaked their way out of Mexico to the U.S. with little consequence except their light frames from days of hunger. They stopped in the outer fields of Phoenix, Arizona along the way and crawled along the fields to scope out the reception immigrants received. This being the late 60’s, you could never be too safe but they were welcome as laborers. My father quickly befriended a ranch owner and secured jobs for all four in his party in the horse slaughter house.
“It was the easiest and most well paid job I ever had. All I had to do was push a button as the stunned horses came through to pass them through a chute that led to the slaughter house, I never had to see the blood or worry about handling the tools that actually killed and tore those animals apart.”
My father’s young town mate quickly grew restless from the Arizona ranch life. His dream to see the Dodgers play in Los Angeles’ Dodger stadium was what drove him North and he begged my father to lead him there. My father had no desire to leave this secure and warm receptive place but he felt an obligation to deliver his paisano to his relatives in Los Angeles so he promptly spoke to the owner and told him he would be leaving in short time.
The owner dropped them off near the train depot and the two of them, my father and his friend, slept near the train tracks so they could catch the 1 AM train that would lead them to Los Angeles.
Their eyes wide awake with anticipation and anxiety from missing the iron monster kept them awake.
Before the rumbling from the ground would rustle a squirrel from its tree, they were up on all fours ready to run and jump onto their ride.
The air whipped his face with the arid cold wind that the dessert howled around these parts but he kept running, even after he heard an odd thumping sound, he ran until he was on the train. He climbed the side stairs and waited for his friend to answer his call but nothing came but the unforgiving cold. He called out again and again as he started towards his friend, running as quickly as he could from train car to train car until he knew that he wasn’t aboard. The train had picked up speed and only a madman or idiot would think about jumping on or off to their death but without much of a second thought, my father wrapped his coat over his face and hurled his body off the train and onto the unknown darkness underneath.
It seemed like an eternity before he stopped rolling and when he finally felt the ground still below him, he tried to stand and hoped that he was in functioning order. He ran for hours until he thought he was deliriously imagining that his friend had not made it aboard and worried that he’d let him go along guideless. By noon, he finally made it back to see the tree where he’d slept near in the horizon and as he neared he saw a figure on the ground unmoving. As he crept closer he saw the light rise and fall of his friend’s breathing mangled body and gently flipped his body to see his face.
“Hmmmaaaaaaooooo!!!” His friend cried out as my father saw the wide gash across his skull, he had to press down the flapping skin to hide the whiteness of either bone or fresh flesh underneath. He took his bandana and tied it tightly across his friend’s head to prevent some of the bleeding.
“Estoy mal?” “No, estas bien pero deja voy por ayuda para que te limpien la mazeta.”
He dragged him to the shade to protect him from the scorching Arizona sun and went for help. He arrived at a gas station and could not find anyone that spoke Spanish but a crowd quickly huddled close and jabbed fingers, shoved his chest back and demanded something he could not comprehend.
Words cascaded all around him, cutting in deep but failing to penetrate his comprehension.
A young boy was missing in the town, his mother had not seen him for hours after he’d gone for a bike ride. My father – Mexican, brown, dirty and his shirt full of blood stumbled in amongst the frantic search.
In desperation he grabbed on to the nearest stranger’s shirt and dragged him towards the direction he’d come from pointing insistently to follow him. The wild despair in his eyes was tempered by his focused determination as he dragged the crowd a few miles to where his friend lay, covered in blood.
“What happened? What were you two doing?” When he shaked his head, they repeated, “Que hacian you dos?” in broken Spanish and a dance of flying hand motions. He motioned that his friend was running and tripped, carefully avoiding the train subject altogether.
The ambulance came and my father quickly slid into the back with his friend to avoid the local police hauling his Mexican ass back to some unknown area of Mexico.
His friend spent a year in the hospital. My father got his old job back and would visit his friend regularly. He was eventually released to a local nuns convent for further recovery and it was then that my father bid his friend goodbye as the local police was growing unreceptive to outside labor.
The trains beckoned once more and he rode them all the way to Los Angeles where he notified his friend’s family members of the convent and where they could find him. Years later, he ran into his friend again, a reformed, religious and nondrinking man.
His friend never did see the Dodgers but my father found something in Los Angeles that caged his restless spirit and tied his roots to the land of the baseball team he traveled hundreds of miles for a friend to see.
The process of moving and telling others that I am leaving LA has been a mixed bag of highs and lows.
I am a native Angeleno and I love my city with all its misunderstood and under appreciated idiosyncrasies. I grew up in Boyle Heights near El Tepeyac and Evergreen cemetary. I moved around but always in LA: downtown, Chinatown and a brief stint in the valley.
I’ve experienced so much within one county which includes the large swath of land that is home to 15 million.
I’ve lived the LA of East LA where you naturally fall into the lyrical song of Spanish, the early conversion to cool of Downtown LA, the ridiculous parties and outings that only LA can outlandishly provide, and the quieter and sweeter moments of growing a parent community as a mother.
Every memory of this city remains etched in my mind; from my early years of living on Union by McArthur Park: drive by’s, elderly neighbors who always had hot apple pie, my grandfather handing us a quarter for a bag of pepinos and even the kind LAPD beat officers who handed out baseball cards to us.
Now it’s a golden sunset setting on my rear view mirror.
I drive past the grapevine, by the acrid smell of cows, the rolling hills covered in blankets of wheat and the fruit stands of Gilroy – to land here. Silicon Valley.
I’ve been here less than a week and already I feel the dull ache of a lost one long loved. I sense the need to see the awesome landscape below the hills of City Terrace. I miss the daily reminder of my connection to a city, a place, my memories… I fell the pull.
The bad, dark and shallow times we shared remain on my mind. The empty promises linger on the avenue of broken dreams. Not Hollywood. The place where broken dreams go to bury the pain is always darker than the pretense of the avenue of the stars. In the streets of daily living lie the real stories of LA. On Cesar Chavez Boulevard, Whittier Boulevard, Hoover, 41st, 18th, in every single corner that the downtrodden go to blend into the indistinguishable mess of sadness.
Los Angeles. Like a good-looking love that I can’t get rid of, no matter how bad you know they are for you. You cling to me. Days of fear and anger intermingle with days of triumph and evenings spent toasting on rooftops thinking we’ve done it all. I love you.
But for now, we need to take a break. I need space, I need time, I need a place to lay my head and make a mark before I come back to you. To you I toast, dear city of mine.
Ciudad mia, adoracion de mi corazon, dame tiempo y paciencia y con los aires de la suerte llegare a tu lado de nuevo.
Until then dear LA, find someone else to claw your heartless charms into. I need a break.
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.
Sparkly sandals, boxes piling up at my side
Stiletto black patent leather
Swipe the card
Swipe the card
Shiny red sign of SALE
Toss it aside
Swipe the card
Red gel manicure
pedicure to match
Humming of the massage chair
Swipe the card
Bright and fun
Wild Caught Salmon
Swipe the card
Sports gear for the girls
A dress maybe?
or a jumper
Swipe the card
on the freeway
pulling in to fill the tank
Swipe the card
Gotta keep moving
to swipe the card
Have you every been on a farm and played with baby chicks? Ok, if you’ve been to a farm more than a few times and have never played with baby chicks as a kid, you seriously missed out. You can scoop them up and get them all riled up and quickly let them go before they poop on your hand. It’s a good time.
If you had the chance to chase them around the yard, you’ll remember that as you paused long enough to rest your hands on your knees to catch your breath, the baby chicks would scatter about lost, trying in vain to rearrange into the proper grouping. They would flock to one another, huddle close as they flapped their wings and chirp as loud as they could, their confidence growing with their unified front. But you would always have the lone baby chick off to the side, captivated by the confusion as if thinking, why am I alone? Why is no one flocking to me? This would usually be the toughest chick that was used to being followed but when a six-year-old kid is going hog-wild running and giggling in the yard, no one follows the leader. They flock together as a crowd and as a crowd grow stronger and set in their ways, leaving the leader to the side, alone and confused.
During a recent exercise at work I noticed the same phenomenon. We were caught up on the excitement of being forced out of the comfort of our 9 hour a day nest, i.e. a fire drill with mandated evacuation. As we made our way to the general meeting area, people ran about excitedly until they found their “friends” and congregated in tight little circles laughing loudly and using exaggerated expressions to show how much fun they were having, how well they belonged. And off to the side I saw the day-to-day leaders of the office, i.e. the big bosses, standing by themselves shuffling from foot to foot looking confused as they felt the glaring presence of loneliness seep into their hard armor of fearless leader. They looked out-of-place as the sunny LA afternoon was awash with a glow hinting of summer BBQ’s, pool parties, and picnics in the park – everyone huddled under summer’s social blanket that warms and brings all Angeleno souls alive.
And just as quickly as I felt sorry for them, I realized that it is just as easy to walk up to a group as it is to isolate yourself and expect others to come to you.
So I looked up, made eye contact and waved – a friendly and artful gesture that says, hey I am happy to see you, come over. And they did and we talked and they relaxed and they felt at home again. And as soon as they reclaimed their sense of self, they led the way in conversation and direction and I was happy to sit back and enjoy the ride because there’s nothing more enjoyable after rousing a bunch of baby chicks than to gather the lonely one and gently coax it back to the group until it starts chirping with authority again.
Lesson of the story: Everyone has a tough time bridging the gap from alone to company – meet them halfway: smile, wave, and engage.