Tag Archives: childhood

Time Split within Languages

31 Dec

“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.

A Belated Mother’s Day Post

14 May

A Belated Mother’s Day Post

The rise and fall of my emotion is punctuated with bouts of extreme joy and maddening sadness on this day.

Your excitement, hardly contained, explodes into a dazzling smile that reaches your eyes – like shining angels that guide my way.

“Cookies! We made you cookies and a cake! It’s a surprise but it’s a cake.”

It’s a reminder of everything good in my life. Seeing the two of you grow up is piercingly beautiful, hauntingly sweet. I see your smiling faces start to grow sharp with the angles of pre-pubescent youth and I gasp.

Where has the time gone?

I held you to my chest and your body would rise with each breath.

Rise and Fall

Now I hold you close as you cuddle up to me but I can’t breathe with the weight of your growing bodies on my chest.

Where has the time gone?

Am I doing right by you? The happiness of holding you close makes me break down inside and weep openly within the confines of my conscious as it weighs heavily on me that I only give you myself. Will you be fine?

Rise and Fall

We get home and you take my hand, running up the stairs to show me your beautifully hand crafted decorations on the sugar cookies you have baked with your tia. Colors of happiness – light hues of green, pink and baby blue.

“A cake, we made you a cake!”

A strong palette of dark chocolate with accents of light pink mini hearts: a reflection of your own spirits. And I know that you are not just fine, you are wonderfully enveloped in my blanket of love.

Rise and Fall

Day by day. Smile by smile.

Rise we will.

The SuperFlyingMonkeys at the San Francisco Golden Gate Slides

22 Mar

Helpless

15 Mar

The tide recedes
each time
a bit further
taking with it a little pain
and a little strength

When the sun is out
it warms my face
On my palms
it tingles
and I sigh
relief

I hear the birds sing again
the sky, a gorgeous hue of blue
beauty everywhere
fresh air
never tastes sweeter
sharp
full of promise

I want to run
but not away
towards something, someone, somewhere
Clearly defined

peace

I smile
wide and free
show my teeth even
and giggle endlessly

Self love
the color of my skin
the way it shimmers in the sun
the shape of my body
the softness of my lips
in harmony with my strength

I feel
and more importantly
I Want
to feel

A day, a week, or a month goes by
and I wake up
feeling strange
unsettled

Heaviness sets
my thoughts pained
a cold sweat
as the memories take hold

Alone
the quiet scares me
as it creeps in
the lack of sound

In a fog
everything hurts
my mind lays
Dormant
withdrawn

Those muted days
I don’t wish on anyone

Sadness fills me
at the thought of
Wasted youth
in a frenzy to feel nothing
to fade

Release the gray days
for the clear blue days
learn to feel again
Not so
helpless

Shining Eyes, Burning Bright

11 Mar

I look around the room
Seeing smiles

I feel warm laughter
bathing me in
glorious luxury

Moments of spontaneous humor
Bursting fits of disengaged silly laughter

Shining eyes
Burning bright
with intense joy
Found in unexpected love

Walking in a dance of contorting limbs
body moving back and forth
trying
to cap the exulted happiness that bubbles up from deep within
Head back – melodious music – flowing out to the sky

Falling back onto my bare shoulders
tickling me
with sprinkles of kindness

Shining eyes
Burning bright
with intense joy
Found in reciprocated love

Holding hands
walking in unison
down a pillow-y pathway
of carefree embrace

Daylight outside
slowly receding
to a muted evening
giving way to the inner guide
of jubilant light

Shining eyes
Burning bright
with intense joy
Found in honored love

Everyone else melts away
Except
their kind smiles
follow us everywhere

Giddily joining us
in our quest for frozen yogurt
Eagerly following us
with dancing eyes
as we sing out an inside joke

In step
we fall
souls to match
walking down LA streets

Night greets us
In a sweet sleep
I lay my head

Waking to see you still here
by my side
Caressing my hair

Shining eyes
Burning bright
with intense joy
Found in unmeasured love

Bronzed Beauties

5 Mar

Running
little legs
Giggles that chase
fear away

Stopping only
for a look
a nod
and they’re off
running
again

Warm light
bouncing off
sun streaked hair
Bright red
shiny cheeks
Riding high on laughter

Smiles
growing wide
Eyes full of wonder
twinkling on the water’s surface
Breaking it
as they jump in

Endless giggles
Bouncing off

Jumping higher
Reaching heights
of carefree happiness

Sunning
Bronzed limbs
in the glow
of California desert nights

Moving Forward

20 Jan

How do you balance your own dreams and ambitions with those of the collective good? The collective good being: your family, your people, and for those so inclined, society as a whole. How do you balance any dreams with the reality of a failed attempt? How do you move forward when life seems stalled or worse yet muted?

When I was a kid I thought anything was possible. I was living in low standards (in quality of life, expectations, and interaction) that I drew up my own world of existence. When I try to recall memories, many of them are of me just sitting, lying, standing – alone, lost in thought. A loud buzzing is in my ears as I lose track of time and wake from my fantasy to find that hours and sometimes only seconds have passed.

The hours spent dreaming were my escape from my life. My time spent reading and writing were a respite from admitting where/when I was living.

And in these dreams with limitless skies I saw myself as an attorney, as a businesswoman, as an inventor – with an empire that would spread its wings in Boyle Heights and provide a higher quality of life to its residents: to teenage moms, to boys on the cusp of being lost to drugs/gangs/apathy, to immigrant parents providing for a better life. I dreamt of a world where I wrote my way to the top, sharing my stories, and then my profits to this community. Buying a beautiful house for my parents and siblings; making enough money so my parents could stop their backbreaking work; financing the education of my siblings so they could escape the soul crunching cycle of poverty; realizing these goals would make me happy I thought.

Yet along the way my heart wasn’t strong enough, my mind became weaker, and I dreamt longer and longer. My escape became a necessity and I would lose track of time, lose track of my goals and ambitions, until I just lived. I breathed, I ate, I woke and I slept. I loved with an immature sense of what this meant or what it would bring.

And those goals became silly notions meant for another. My self-questioning became louder, a feverish pitch of self-doubt that drowned out any positive thoughts and immobilized my inner sense of worth.

A failed marriage, an unaccomplished degree, and single motherhood at 23.

It seemed the only dream I had “accomplished” which I couldn’t even take credit for was growing into an attractive woman. As a child, I had wished daily to be beautiful, graceful, to possess the ease of human interaction – the ability to connect and feel with others, but this desire was misguided as I did not know the difference between healthy and unhealthy connections in relationships.

I was in a downward spiral that was quickly finding its way to the bottom. I had no sense of where I could go from there, of what life meant anymore if not my definition of a perfect loveable family.

But with pain, failure, and darkness comes revelation. You cannot hide from yourself when all that is left is you.

So I took the shreds of my motivation and began a painstakingly slow mending process. I recognized my faults, which were many, and realized that no matter how sympathetic a past I had, it did not constitute an excuse for where I had landed.

And 5 years later you find me here, full of life.

I didn’t give up on life. I placed one foot in front of the other and though I had many missteps, I keep walking forward. And I feel a sense of pride in my life; I have two young daughters that grow lovelier every day, I have a career that I enjoy and brings me a sense of fulfillment, and I am ready to go back to my restarting those childhood dreams – even if that only means coloring the life of my loved ones with my happiness.

We can spend days philosophizing about what true happiness means and what we need to possess it. We can spend an equal amount of time debating whether the singular task of making ourselves happy contributes to the improved happiness of the collective; I believe that it does. By being a happy mother, daughter, sister, friend, and partner I am bringing that positivity into the lives of those connected to me. By sharing my stories, I hope you feel the hope that has carried me through daily and how this hope has changed as I have gotten older. I once thought happiness would come when I married and had children, a family to love me and receive my love.

But I learned that you can’t smother the darkness, you can’t swallow the bitter memories, you can’t hide from the gray that is nestled inside you and lures you into endless sleep; you have to face it in order to bring a sense of peace and happiness into your own being.

Imagine that you are in your dark hole, surrounded by darkness that eats at your perceived happiness away, that chips at your will to live, that hammers you down when you try to move forward, that suffocates you when you try to take a breath of hopeful air. You are left slumped on the ground choking on the hurt, the pain is so strong it keeps you pinned to the floor and no matter how hard you try to ignore it; the ringing in your ears makes it impossible for you to function at a higher level than mere existence. It becomes a sub existence and time passes by, passing you by.

But there is a ladder amongst this darkness. Barely visible at first but you feel it with your hands as you wander around unrelenting in your desire to escape. Each rung on that ladder brings you a different memory – a painful shameful moment in your life; and in order to move past a rung you have to come to terms with it and the implications it has caused in your life.

If you were abused, you need to know that you did nothing to invite this undeserved attack onto yourself. There is nothing wrong with you. You do not have something in you that can elicit this behavior in others toward you. You may have been repeatedly abused, by many, but you need to realize that it is not your fault. You were a victim but over time and with a lot of work you can heal and stop living like one.

Whatever hard reality was or is your life you have two choices, same as anyone else; climb the ladder or cower in the false safety of your known darkness. Don’t beat yourself up for decisions and choices you made, even if you ended up hurting others. You have to learn to forgive yourself and push forward. If you don’t, your “reality” (your self-inflicted continuation of that twisted world) will always remain your captor.

I’m not credentialed to tell you how to get better, I can only share what I have gone through and have done to get to a better place. One thing I can tell you, when you climb high enough up that ladder, you will savor the ease with which you keep climbing and you will begin to shed your old tattered self and embrace the new stronger, happier, and more productive self.

I am not at the top of the ladder; I don’t know what I will find when I get there. But I do know that I am relishing the journey upward and that I am improving this world a little with my own sunshine brightening this beautiful new day.

Reflections

6 Jan

The four of us walked along
the cool night air gently biting our cheeks
Laughter and mirth filled the air and nothing else was there

Surreal to look around and see the crystal like sharpness of this new reality
A gift, really.

The smiling, silly, quirkiness of Iza as she contorts into a hundred personalities: she makes me believe in things beyond what is here and tangible, the unattainable becomes feasible with her, she IS magic surrealism.
She’s a dream all in her own.
She makes waves of laughter; raining bubbles of giggles wherever she waltzes through.
And that is her: etheral in her magical purity – untouched by the gray all around.

The balance of her comes bounding by – her sister – so logical and angular in her gist of existence.
She’s kindness measured by well-meaning. She pulls you up and makes you see it for what it is but never unkind. She is loving and profound, deep in her perceptions, observant and uncanny, real and steady. A beauty that runs deep.

And now I see the charge I have been given. No longer a child to begrieve what may have fallen; I am now a witness to beauty that unfolds for all to see.

Hope.

They endlessly give me the desire to go on to the next horizon. To reach for that line where the sky meets the distance of the land.

__________________

I tailed my dad wherever he’d go. I was his shadow whether he cared for it or not. The best times spent were when he found himself among his native land, his native tongue, his learned ways.

The small town where the sun comes down hard, making the top of your scalp prick up and take notice; where the arid wind blows red earth onto your skin, your clothing, and sticks to your tongue.

He would sit around the kitchen table with my abuelito in the morning, the horizon an hour away, drinking a cup of the oily black cafe de olla. Eventually he would make his way to the labadores where he would find his childhood friends drinking and retelling stories I grew to memorize verbatim. After a few more refreshments their thirst for adventure grew until they were finally moved into action. This day as I crouched behind a walnut tree I heard as they prepared to go on a hunt for rabitts to test their shot.

They hastily stamped out their fire and scurried over to their horses where they mounted the remainder of their drinks, food, and the long tantalizing metal of a gun.

The desert laid before me as I walked about 30 feet behind them, keeping a slow quiet stride so they wouldn’t notice Pepe’s girl trailing them.

When they stiffened, I knew this was the spot and my muscles were so frozen that I soon began to ache in every unused muscle of my body. My father turned and looked directly at me where I lay pressed to the ground and motioned with his finger to wait and remain still. One of his friends took aim, shot, and was rewarded by the dust cloud of the wild hare kicking up its last step and laying down to later bed fed to a family. A chorus of congratulations and hearty manly laughter broke out and when I looked up, my father was there, with his hand outstretched for me to join them properly.

We spent the evening walking and following a scent/trail and when they would relax, I would run to and from them as fast as I could with their cheers giving me fuel to pump my little legs even faster. I looked out onto the furthest point where land seemed to kiss the sky and I thought if I ran fast enough I would be able to jump onto the clouds from that point. I spent the day running at full speed trying to reach the blue sky but it kept slipping away from me.

As dusk came it brought colder temperatures and a change in the group’s mood with it; everyone said their goodbyes and parted their ways, my dad and me walking hand in hand back home with a conejo and his rifle hanging over his shoulder.

________________________________________

This memory comes to me as I walk with my girls and I see some of my qualities in them; how amazing it will be to see them grow up with love, patience, encouragement, and nurturing.

How far they will go.

Hope for Happiness. But no longer just for them, for me too, for us. Hope for us all.

Runaway

18 Dec

Oh I try to stay away
in my own quiet darkness
I plot 
To runaway

It’s too good
Too kind
Too normal to be real

Isn’t it sad?

I can’t accept that I deserve this
Or at the very least 
Accept that I don’t deserve
constant pain

It’s all so very bleak inside
The cobwebs that linger in the corner
They remind me of those years

Clinging to me
They refuse to disappear

It’s all so hideous
So very sad

Don’t you see?
Isn’t it clear?
Runaway

Let me be
So much easier to bear this pain
Neatly tucked behind the smile of a promise
That the year end is near

Year after Year
The end is near

Why don’t you just
Runaway?

 

Santa Comes to Mexico?! First time meeting my family in Chihuahua, MX

28 Nov

I was six years old, flying to Mexico – that country that my father always whistfully spoke about - to meet my father’s family for the first time.

Memories of that trip come in bursts: arriving at the airport, the chaos of a Mexican airport drowning out the sound of my father’s voice, staying close to them, fearing getting lost in the crowd. 

In the plane, my dad sat between my older sister and I as my mom sat with my baby sister in another row.  I remember her being nervous while my father acted calm but I could feel that he too was nervous, wondering how he could protect his family 30,000 feet in the air.

When we landed in Chihuahua, we walked outside, lugging our luggage, only to find that the last bus to Villa Coronado had already left.  We waited in the dark street with the smell of fried dough emanating form the street vendors.  My father was able to coach a taxi driver into making the five hour trip through the backroads of the desert.

We had brought a lot of luggage, at least two of which contained clothing, home goods, and other gifts for our relatives, so much that they didn’t fit in the trunk where the taxi driver kept his spare tire.  “La dejamos!”  My father shook his head, rejected leaving it behind in case we got a flat and would end up stuck in the cold night out in the middle of nowhere. 

So he offered to carry it with one arm hanging out the car window.  The driver looked at him incredeously, “Apoco la puede cargar?”.  “Used no se preocupe, yo la cargo.” 

So we all piled in.  My mother and sisters quickly fell asleep and though I could feel my eyelids growing heavier and heavier, I wouldn’t allow myself to doze off.  I had to stay awake and help mi papi in case anything happened.  I was convinced that if I stayed awake, nothing would happen.  The night was cold, with the wind blowing up a steady wall of dust into the car as my father gripped on to that spare tire. 

It was dark as the black of my eyes, the headlights illuminated only about a foot and a half of the road ahead.  The crunching of the plants below the tires were accompanied by unidentifiable birds, the hiss of a snake, the howling of coyotes.  A chorus under the blanket of the most gorgeous sky I had ever laid eyes on. I got lost in the stars, the longer I looked, the more I saw, deeper and deeper into an encompassing beauty that hipnotized me.  I grew up in LA, the most stars I had seen in my life were three at once, with a high likelihood that one was probably a small airplane. 

The sound of the conversation between the driver and my dad was a source of comfort.  The elongated vowels, the ssh of the “s”, the drawl of each ending word in a sentence; this form of Spanish was new to my ear and I liked it.

We finally arrived at the wee hours of the morning to this sleepy town charmingly frozen 50 years in the past. 

Unrecognizeable in our dusty state, our hosts - our family in Chihuahua – slammed the door on my father’s face in greeting to his thunderous knocking. 

 Granted, when a hushed voice inquired as to who stood at the door at this ungodly hour, “Quien Es?!”, he cheekily responded with a booming interrogation, “Aqui vive Jose Benavides?!”  He asked for himself, he the son who had not stepped foot on that door in at least 20 years and who had left in the cover of darkness for reasons better left  unexplained in print.

 He knocked again, this time with a gentler touch on the door, a languid caress of leathery hand to wood not touched since he was 19.  The door opened again slowly and he smiled into the dim crack of light and asked his sister, “No me reconoces Ricarda?”  I heard the snap of her inhale and yelp of emotion before she stepped back and swung the door open to reveal an ample stocky frame of a woman smiling up at him with tears in her eyes.  She let out a loud shriek of joy and grabbed him and then smacked him for scaring her. 

 I looked around and I saw two girls around my age, brown-skinned like me, dark hair, almond-shaped eyes still heavy with sleep but shining with curiosity.  I saw adults all around me hugging and shoving, crying and laughing, kissing me, hugging me.  I went along with it all, so much so that my sister asked if I knew who they were.  “No, I have never seen them before.”  She stared at me with feigned annoyance until she too became part of this rotating human touching machine. 

 I crouched down and crept away, searching for air and a respite from all of the affection from strangers.  And I saw him.  Mi abuelito.  He was a giant, with graying hair below his cowboy hat, a face so full with wrinkles that they seemed to form the Chihuahua sierras across his broad forehead and hatchet sharp cheekbones.  I stood dumbfounded before him, my greatest love affair about to begin with a man who will always hold a reigning place in my heart.  He looked down at me and as I gulped I could feel the saliva slowly trickling down my throat and the shivers covering every inch of my arms.

 “Tu eres Susy?”  His low but booming voice asked me.  I didn’t know whether to cry or laugh, so I stood there silent and immobile. 

 I felt the gentle but firm shoving of my father’s hand on my back and it broke my stupid-like trance.  I walked to him shyly.  He held out his large hand and when I took it, it felt as if it has been molded to hold my own.  His rough farmer hands gripped mine and I stood there silently next to him knowing that I belonged to him.

 Before long the commotion died down to a whisper and became a chorus of grunted and hummed affirmations.  I looked around at my cousins, four in all, and noticed my youngest cousin eyeing my hand that was held by my Abuelito with suspicious jealousy.  I stepped possessively closer to him.

 My tia Ricarda corralled all the kids into two bedrooms and I slept with that young cousin in one bed as my sister slept with my other cousin on another bed a couple of feet away. We didn’t talk.  A soon as I felt the embroidered pillow cover scratch my cheek, the exhaustion of the day’s travel hit my body and knocked me out until the next morning.

 When I opened my eyes again it was still dark, but I heard hushed voices and followed them into the kitchen. 

 My father sat with my Abuelito, my tia Ricarda, and her husband, all chattering in a quiet sing song way over tin mugs of coffee and homemade flour tortillas as fat as pancakes. 

 They looked up at me and my tia quickly got up to pull out a chair for me, spread a thin layer of fried beans on my tortilla and gave me a tin cup full of leche, creamy on top with nata, freshly milked from the mooing cow outside.  

 My days were spent in this way, observing, nodding, smiling, and staying close to my Abuelito.  Soon the house came alive with the song of morning as kids rise from bed: banging and clanging and howling, as they get dressed for the day’s chores.  I picked up a broom and started sweeping and fell into the rhythm of this new and old country.  

 Soon my primas were our best friends, we, their shadow from El Norte, magnets for friendly waves and questions about Los Angeles.  We followed them to the tortilleria to pick up the fresh corn tortillas milled for the town, to the Carniceria for the day’s fresh cuts of meat, to the Papeleria, for the day’s supply of paper goods for the small store my tia kept at the front of the house. 

 Everywhere I was welcome with, “Eres hija de Pepe?”  Like a proud little hen I pumped up my chest and broadly smiled as I answered, “Si!”

~~~~

 As Christmas approached, the wind pierced your body as if with an ice pick, sharp pain that drilled down into your bones.  But every night I ignored the cold and continued to sit by the frosted window and waited in anticipation.  Would Santa Clos come here to Mexico?  Did he know I was here?

 On Christmas Eve, after Mass, we gathered around the living room as the adults toasted and warmed the room with their mirth.  I don’t remember what we ate, I might have been too nervous for the following morning or I might have just been avoiding my tia’s awful cooking. The house was packed, with our other sets of primas and primos joining us for this night, crowding the house with love. 

 As the day grew late and night took over, the adults began to shuttle us to bed.  I clearly remember being tucked in and feeling perfectly warm and happy with my newfound extended family.  I fell asleep with the sweetness of affectionate hands caressing my hair and a smile lingering on my lips. 

 Before dawn I was awake and slightly uncomfortable, something cold and hard was pushing up against my face.  I got up and looked down to find a baby’s lifeless face staring at me.  The plastic limbs were lightly colored to match my skin; the doll’s body was full of water which made it feel like a real baby’s delicate body in my arms.  I looked around and my mouth hung open as I realized that we all had toys by our pillows and slowly, like a leaky faucet, the thought trickled down from my brain to my mouth and I yelped out, “Santa Clos! Santa Clos vino!!!!” 

 All of my cousins quickly leaped up from their sleep as if I had pressed an on button and the sound of packaging tearing and cooing of motherly girls cradling their bebes filled the two rooms.  We ran from primo to prima, comparing what we had received from the dear Santa Clos who apparently also traveled to Mexico after all.  I looked out the window and smiled thinking, what a clever fellow to make me doubt him and then embrace him even more after he found me in this town with oil lamps, unpaved roads, and one phone for the entire community, what a wonderful clever and loving fellow indeed.

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Zack Hunter | Phenomenological Fiction

Zack Hunter is the pseudonym of a Californian poet, author, artist, musician, and researcher. He lives on a farm and spends his free time reading and writing about whatever it is he is passionate about at the time.

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