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Howling to Emptiness

4 Sep

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.

 

I got into Stanford and I’m a Stanford Kinda Gal

9 Oct

I can’t remember how I first heard about Stanford and started dreaming that I would attend one day. I do remember the walks home from Roosevelt High School freshman year vividly.  I lugged my backpack over my hunched shoulders, leaning forward to offset the weight, and dreamt. As I passed by the Food 4 Less parking lot I dreamt about getting the acceptance letter. As I passed by the 7 Mares, I dreamt about walking on campus and attending lecture. I dreamt and I dreamt until I walked into my home.

My life took many turns and the Stanford dream slipped away, seemingly impossible to reach.

Three years ago, Bella, Iza, and I made the joint decision to uproot our lives and move to the bay area. A few months later, I enrolled in the local community college and went to school on Thursday nights, Saturdays, and online. For almost three years I juggled a demanding career, being a mother, being a partner, and school. I studied after everyone went to sleep and studied before anyone woke up. At times it seemed impossible to continue. But no matter the road bumps, I made it work. I persevered.

When I kept getting straight A’s semester after semester, the Stanford dream crept back in. But this time it wasn’t a dream, it was a fantasy. During my morning runs I would pound the pavement for 5 miles or more until my body could take no more. I think I was physically punishing my body. Punishing myself for daring to dream about Stanford. I equated that dream to fantasizing about becoming a billionaire (from my multiple successful startups of course) and solving the world’s problems. I didn’t dare hope that it could happen.

When it was time to apply I applied to the UCs and hoped that Berkeley would say yes. I started the Stanford application weeks ahead of the deadline but didn’t know if I would submit it. I loved the questions they asked, how thoughtful and insightful they were. I enjoyed working on the application and I figured it didn’t hurt to write. I could always use those answer for my UC applications.

As the deadline neared I agonized about asking for recommendation letters. I felt like others would see me as ridiculous for daring to apply. But I asked.

The night that the application was due, I kept toying with the submission button. Everyone was asleep and I was downstairs staring at the screen until I hit submit at 11:30 pm.

I would have put it completely out of mind if not for Ryan telling everyone that I applied to Berkeley and Stanford. I appreciated his confidence but I felt incredibly pained when he said it out loud. I could see others thinking – Does she know the acceptance rate hovers around 1 – 2 %?

I found out that I got into Berkeley the day after I had Valentina. I thought we were set to move to Berkeley and make it work.

During the drive up to Berkeley for a transfer student welcome event I figured that I would log in and check the response from Stanford. I had received an email the day before from Stanford and had to request a password reset to access my account. I hadn’t told Ryan that I had a response. I neededed to compose myself and process the rejection by myself first before telling him. I figured I was in such a high from getting into Berkeley that I could take the rejection. Valentina, only a few days old, slept in the car seat next to me. My mother (staying with us for a couple of weeks to help) sat on the other side. Ryan was driving and braving traffic as the day was grey with fog and rain.  I logged in from my phone and saw the letter. I read the first few lines. Puzzled, I read it again. My blood ran cold and I felt disoriented; only the heaviness in my stomach anchored me to my seat.  “One of the best parts of my job…” Only after I read it a third time did I cry out suddenly, “OH MY GOD!” “Oh my God! Oh my God!”

Ryan braked and accidentally exited the freeway. He and my mother both looked at me with a mix of bewilderment and concern. “What’s wrong?!”

I couldn’t speak. I took a breath, and another. “I GOT INTO STANFORD!”

My mom teared up and Ryan cried out. He pulled over and parked on the side of a road and I read them the acceptance letter. I called my sister and told her. We screamed with joy and excited energy.

We did attend the orientation event and I was inspired by the future Berkeley students but I was still dazed by the news. We left early and went home to tell Bella and Iza.

A few weeks later and I’m now two weeks into my first quarter at Stanford. It is everything and so much more that I dreamt it would be. This place is paradise. I feel an incredible sense of belonging, of being cared for and guided, and of the infinite possibilities for my future (well finite only because at some point I will have to graduate).

When I started this blog I wondered if and when I would be able to write happy stories. Would I only be sharing stories of pain and survival? Would I ever be able to share stories about my life thriving?

I am incredibly fortunate to have so many people around me that love me and that I can pour my love into. My life has been healthy and happy. But it is now bursting with the promise of personal achievement. I thought that I had permanently failed all of my great teachers, coaches, and cheerleaders from my youth when my life took a different path. But I now have the luxury and great fortune to be able to go back to school and invest in myself.

Now I run without bounds. I recognize no limits. I’m taking life by the horns and making it my b!tch. And damn, does it feel good.

LA: The smell of urine feels a lot like Nostalgia

30 Jul

The intense smell of urine shoots up my nose
paralyzing my senses
Flinching, I look down
the cracked sidewalk is a patchwork of black gum pounded into the pavement
smeared brown outlines of footprints
and cracks that swallow stilettos

I can see why visitors may be turned off
why they may see the hustle on street corners
the homeless slumped on the side of the building
and think
Why would anyone live here?!

I continue down Spring Street
soy latte in hand
expertly made in Spring for Coffee
and look up

I absorb the energy of parents pushing kids in their strollers
Hipsters mulling over a trip to Joshua tree
someone out for their morning jog
and old man on a walker asking for directions

I take a deep breath and exhale a loud sigh
which surprises the woman next to me
on her way to work
I smile sheepishly
and she returns the smile as she crosses the street

I sip on my coffee
as I now smile at everyone walking towards me
Not a large smile
Just a nice face saying
Good day

The Spring Arcade building has changed dramatically since I last visited
a large outpost of Guisados commanding great real estate
two artisan bakeries
A juicery
and the same ugly yellow paint on the walls
Some things never change, even when you want them to

I walk back to the office
sticky with sweat
but full of hope

This place has the feeling of potential
waiting to explode
Creating
discovering
Always Being

Against a backdrop of desperation and sadness
a city thrives

It gently sweeps its locks aside
revealing a weathered face
looking in a mirror
full of once youthful beauty
still holding the satisfaction of irreplaceable memories and
the knowing that tomorrow will always bring more

This place has been through a lot
and it speaks to me
Feeds who I am
and I am temporarily satiated

All the Pretty Things

1 Aug

Do all the pretty things in life make up for yesterday’s sadness?

lingering in sweet moments

I wonder

But it’s hard to think with a drink or two in hand

relaxing for once

All the sad moments

from another life

blurred away

Moments stitched together

Harder to remember

like a foggy morning melting into a sunny day

Rays of heat burn

whispers of grey floating away

Bathed in golden sun

I look at the broad smiles of happy girls

and forget

the thought of anything but present

Happiness

Daughters of Mine

28 Jul

After a hectic day of work full of several meetings and deadlines, I rushed through rush hour traffic to pick up my girls by 6 PM from the Horizons Day Camp, where I had guiltily dropped them off for the first time that morning.

After spending a short weekend in LA being enveloped in sisterly love celebrating my mother’s birthday, I was back in Silicon Valley where I’ve been living for a year now.  We got home around midnight which made my early morning routine a little foggier and a little bit slower.  After fighting the urge to sleep in, we made our way to Starbucks to pick up coffee and chicken and hummus boxed lunches for the girls because I didn’t have a single thing in my fridge that could quickly materialize into an edible lunch meal for my girls.

I ordered ham and cheese breakfast sandwiches for them to eat while I sipped my coffee and slowly came back to life and thought how nice it was to be able to grab breakfast at a coffee shop on a weekday like we used to do in LA.  Lost in my thoughts as we made our way to the day camp center, my girls sang new songs they had made up, recited stories and asked me question after question which reminds me, I need to define equinox to them as this morning when they asked, the morning coffee had not peeled away the sleepiness that I have been fighting for the last week of 4 hour sleep nights.

They seemed excited to go to the day camp and meet new friends.  As we walked into the center we heard a child crying for his mom which made the girls reassess the desirability of the situation and they quickly clung to me asking me not to go.  “Take me with you mommy, I can stay at work with you.  Don’t leave me here.” “I can’t sweetheart, you will both have fun and remember, you have each other.”

As I walked away heavy with guilt, I couldn’t shake off the blanket of sadness that seemed to suffocate me and threatened to make me cry.  In the car, I wondered if I was doing the right thing – working and studying towards a better tomorrow at the cost of seeing them race to adulthood before my eyes without me being there MORE.

They’re not toddlers mind you, they are 8 and 9 and are pretty independent and strong young girls.  I have always marveled at their resiliency and capacity to adapt to new environs.  I was confident that they would be fine but I felt this urgency to be by their side gnawing at my nerves all day.  During lunch I spilled water on myself as I wondered if I should have gone to visit them instead of eating my meal with colleagues.

After a meeting that ended at 5:30, I rushed to my car and looked at my map app.  I jumped on the 101 S towards Palo Alto and exited a couple of miles after to avoid the parking lot of traffic ahead. My estimated arrival time slowly got away from me, 5:48, 5:52, 5:58.  It tortured me as I took surface streets and it recalculated urging me to take a U-turn and teetering between 5:58 and 5:59 pm.  As I missed the left turn and had to wait another eternal few minutes on the intersection of Page Mill and El Camino, I willed the lights to turn faster, the arrival time to freeze at 5:59 and my girls to be okay.

As I finally pulled into the office park, I quickly parked in a loading zone and jumped out of the car like a madwoman running in my heels across the plaza to pick up my girls before 6 pm and hoping that they weren’t the last kids in the center thinking I had abandoned them.  As I walked into view, they came over and greeted me with their gorgeous big smiles and started showing me the lanyards they had made, the art work, describing the three new friends they had made until I interrupted them to hurry up and get to the car which was illegally parked.  As we dashed back to the car I couldn’t help but feel silly for having been so worried.  Of course they would have a good time, of course they would make friends – they were my daughters after all.

In the car, they took turns spilling out the contents of the day as I recuperated from my bad mom guilt trip hangover.  At the red light I turned over my shoulder and excitedly reminded them that we would be going on vacation in two more days. “We’re going to have 8 days of nonstop time with each other girls, we can have breakfast, lunch, dinner, cuddle sessions, all of the time and attention that you want.”  Bella looked lost in thought.  “Are you okay Bella?”  “Uhm, yes.”  “Aren’t you excited?” “Yes.” (In a very non-excited voice).

I couldn’t help but sigh deeply inside.  Here I was carrying the world on my shoulders all day, feeling like the worse mother in the world because I HAD to work for a living, because I am ambitious enough to move out of my hometown LA to pursue a better future with a loving partner and father to my children, because I come home tired after long stressful days at work to cook and be a good mom and then stay up late to study for my evening classes as I work towards my degree, because I wish I could stay home with them during the summer and be there for all of the moments of childhood that seem to keep slipping through my fingers – and they were oblivious to all of it.  Just like I was when I was a child.

When my mother would wake up at 3:00 AM to cook dinner before she got ready for her shift at work which started at 4:30 AM I always wondered why she bothered working so hard, I was critical of her dedication to us.  When I would come home after school and I saw her sleeping on the sofa, exhausted and still in her work uniform as a cook, I felt a mixture of sympathy and love with an edge of annoyance that I never got to talk to her, that she never greeted me, that she wasn’t like the other moms that were home all day waiting for their children to get home to ask them about their day.  Now as a mother, I am grateful for the wonderful mother that I had.  She has her imperfections like we all do but her qualities far outweigh the human qualities about her.  Her desire and hard work towards a better tomorrow, her strength through bad financial, emotional and marital times, her love for her grandchildren, her hugs filled with aromatic coffee, her gentle smile, her love and acceptance, her belief in all of her children, her tenacity to overcome a horrible childhood, her generosity in love – all of these things and so many more keep her in the pedestal in which I have her.  My own guardian angel watching over me, reminding me that someday my own daughters will see the sacrifice that mothers make for their children.  Reminding me that these daughters of mine will be just fine because I’m raising them to be like my mother raised me to be: resilient, hardworking, confident, ambitious, and kind.

 

It all began with the Los Angeles Dodgers

29 Sep

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.

Leaving LA

9 Jul

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.

Los Angeles.

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.

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