Friday, July 21, 2017

Dear Ama, letter #1


It's been a little over three years - I wish you could just come back in your physical form so I could hear your voice and you could pinch my arm and tell me to stop being an enfadosa.

I talk to you in my head most days, can you hear me? I think you can right? Anyway - last night I was up thinking about that time when I was 11 years old and it was summer time - July 31st - and I was up late in the living room watching an infomercial about knives - the person demonstrating the knives was showing how after cutting through metal the knife could still cut through a tomato - it was almost midnight and the phone rang.

I answered the phone and it was your sister and she said that grandpa was dying - I remember running to your room and waking you and dad up. Suddenly, we were on 8th Street and grandma was screaming because grandpa had just died. I remember sitting in a room in the dark with Susy all night. In the morning they came and took his body away.

This was my first experience with death, and the first time I heard you say that you didn't like being around death. You hated talking about it, being near it - everything and anything to do with it.

I walked into the living room of abuelita's house and it was full - cousins, aunts and uncles. I ran to the bathroom and threw up. I felt overwhelmed - just seven days prior was grandpa's birthday and we had thrown a party - mariachi and all. That night haunted me for the rest of my teenage years - I could never watch infomercials or stay up late in the living room again. I remember that when we buried grandpa you refused to go to the cemetery.

We experienced the thought of death again that time dad's blood sugar was so high we had to call an ambulance. I think I emotionally blocked out most of that experience - both you and dad's health issues started to become apparent - and I was too focused on going to college and leaving Livingston.

In my mind - you were invincible - death would not come for you - you had endured so much already - you were strong - you'd be fine. So I left. You cried, dad cried - but in my typical fashion - I had to fly and leave the nest. And since - I've always been running away - from something - from everything.

I remember when I got the call - I burst into tears - I remember walking into the room - your heart was still beating - but they told me you weren't really there anymore. As time passed your heartbeat slowed and eventually faded - there was screaming, crying - and I threw up. IT felt like I was living a nightmare and I couldn't wake up.

I spend a lot of time analyzing how death has impacted me and how I wished I could have had more years with you - to develop our friendship - we were getting to that place where I wasn't so annoyed with the advice you had to give me and things you said started to really make sense. I thought we'd have time to be like you and grandma and call each other ten times a day.

I spend a lot of time thinking about how everyone misses you and how much hurt they feel now that you are not there for them to pick up the pieces the way you did. Or to put them in their place...

When I have especially hard days and no one to talk to - or to listen to me - I cry - because I need you to shake me a little bit and tell me that it doesn't matter and that I focus way too hard on things that do not matter in the long run. No one knows me the way you do and no one calls my bluff like you would.

I wish I could have asked you how you felt when grandpa died - how you really felt...I know that it is different because he had been sick for some time and with you everything seemed to happen in a matter of three weeks. In reality, I know you endured pain over the years but kept it to yourself in your stubborn fashion - you always said that if you went to the hospital you'd die there. I don't know how you knew that - but you did.

I'm sure part of you would tell me to stop - stop playing everything over and over in my head - because I can't change any of it. I know I can't - it sucks I can't. That won't stop me from missing you, loving you, having guilt and regret for being selfish and a bratty child.

Ama - I'm ready to go back to school already and get my Phd - to be professor Xicana and write about you and us - I don't know how I am going to get there, but I promised you that I would get there - I am ready.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

La Tiendita

It was the late 1970s - two young adults (in their early 20s) were new to America, raising two toddlers. The woman was a homemaker; the man was the bread winner. He worked in the fields, picking fruit, all kinds of fruit, shifting from farm to farm throughout the Central Valley as the seasons changed. During spring time that year it rained for far too long - there was no work for the young man - he had no savings and no money to buy groceries for his wife and children. He felt nervous going home empty handed; he walked down to the corner store, on 8th and F Street, and asked the man behind the counter if he would be willing to lend him enough money to feed his wife and kids.

The man behind that counter, my dad says his name was Rogelio, gave my dad a box and told him to fill it with enough groceries for himself and his family. My dad says that he filled that box with the basics: milk, rice, beans, potatoes, tortillas and as soon as my dad found work he went back and paid Rogelio for the borrowed groceries - my dad says it came out to about $20 dollars back then. I think from then on my dad learned to save money - or at least hide money from himself.

My dad tells me this story from time to time; today I asked him to share it again. This story humbles me - when I complain about my job, about not having enough money or buying things I don't need -  I remember this: my parents came to this country with nothing and they accomplished their American Dream. I am part of that American Dream - because they gave me opportunity.

Below is a photo of what the grocery store looks like now; ironically it is a grocery store again - it has been a movie rental place and ice cream shop.