Twenty years have passed since I graduated from high school and despite all I have achieved, I can’t help but feel like an outsider. I gladly refused an invite to cocktails last night with old acquaintances, choosing instead to tidy up our clutter-filled home and hang out with my toddler. Blues has started working the night shift so my little one and I are a duo until his weekends(which come every 7 working days.) I could have gotten the grandparents to babysit but they will care for her tonight and this workweek looks to be filled with evening commitments. But I didn’t need the alibi. I simply didn’t want to go.
It is empowering to choose solitude. It’s very different than being purposefully left out as in decades past. Maybe my peers sensed my need to have my own space. Or maybe they were just being kids. I hold no grudges. I’ll be happy to chitchat with any of them at tonight’s 20- year class reunion. But I’ll be equally happy on my little corner of the dance floor or laughing it up with my one best friend from high school. I know who I am now. I can only hope my daughter makes that discovery in less than two decades.
There’s something pathological about giving and giving without promise of reciprocal returns. Child of immigrants who grew up watching my parents support other adults a.k.a. childlike dependents? Check. In the business of helping others? Check. Middle manager pressed by the higher-ups and the masses to do more in eleven hours than time or energy will allow? Check. The only person I don’t begrudge her dependence on me is literally taking up residence in my body. She can take all the food and energy she wants; she is my solace during these hectic days of standardized tests, award ceremonies, end of school year preparation, and stress.
Evenings and weekends have become blissfully domestic and cherished. I get home, eat, watch TV or read, lie on my side so I can feel my baby kick and stretch. I giggle at her movements, smile when she responds to her father’s voice. Blues got in after a midnight run with stories of fellow runners following in step with his Army cadences. Our daughter seemed to enjoy a PT run of her own until we would down with talk about my strange dream of a hyena with a hunchback and crooked teeth. I resented the alarm, my obligatory return to the too-demanding pace of an understaffed office. I resort to to-do lists and thoughts of my comforting womb to get me through the workday.
It could be worse. I make good money, have a new car, should be done paying my school loan in a few months. My daughter and I are maintaining our health. I’m praying the Liturgy of the Hours on weekday mornings. My blessings still outnumber my burdens.
I learned a lot from Charlene Brown. I met her at Columbia University in July 2004. We were roommates while enjoying a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to study the Renaissance. We became friends right away. We shared a love of musicals and plays, art, good food, and the marvel that is New York City. We were also comrades, the only openly religious members of the summer teaching institute, and therefore supported one another when anti-religion ideas were put forth.I will never forget Charlene’s smile and her gentle manner. I am sad to learn she has lost her battle with cancer.
One of my fondest memories of that New York summer was rushing back to Morningside Heights in a rainstorm one night after watching a show. We were drenched but laughing all the while as we ducked into doorways and hopped puddles. Our shoes were damp for days.
I never kept my promise to visit Charlene in the Central Valley. We kept in touch via cards and emails. The last time we corresponded, she was hopeful about treatment and focused on her teaching. I am happy to learn she kept teaching history throughout her battle with her illness and that her funeral was a huge celebration of her career and life.
Now I know she’ll never miss a show and she will always lift a prayer.
January hasn’t always been a good month for me. Many moons ago, when I was still at Cal, it meant basketball season, but for the most part, it has meant very cold temps and the beginning of the blues. This year, as I keep alluding to, is so different.
I am 10 days into 08. I am feeling happy, whole, nurtured, grateful, and strong. I embrace the fact that I am not alone. Every hour of deep sleep, every sip of water, every meal is a cherished moment.
January marks the beginning.
We have a few more days of 2007. But I am alone in my office, after 6pm, on the day before Christmas break. The boys lost the soccer game and the varsity b-ballers have probably already started against our crosstown rivals. The new teachers’ evaluations were put in the hands of the assistant supe. My baby, Blues, is due to visit Sunday. I’m supposed to be back at work supervising the b-ball game at 7pm. But right now, I enjoy the quiet. Nothing but me, a custodian opening doors somewhere down the hallway, my fingers tapping the keyboard. When the kids return, it will be a new year.
An entire lifetime can change in seconds, minutes. I’ve lived it several times but in 07, I truly felt it. On my desk, I have a Gumby and Pokey I’ve had since I walked these halls as a student. I’m not that girl anymore. I’m not even the woman I was this time last year. When I declared 07 my year, I didn’t know everything inside my head and heart would change like it has. But I am grateful.
There are times when this job makes my head ache, when I want to turn off the computer and leave behind the cluttered busyness indefinitely. But my work is one of my passions. I love these kids, my community, my colleagues. I went from baby of the family to a self-proclaimed Obi-Wan Kenobi, an only hope for a school reeling from a complete change in leadership. I’m stronger now, in all aspects of my life. I won’t quit. I will stand strong and I will make an impact on this place that shaped me.
I’ve earned this break.
I’ve earned my joy.
He would like to be called El Mariachi or Desperado because of the guitar case he carried in high school and the night we first met. I am going to call him Blues because he plays mean blues on his guitar and stride on the piano, all by ear, and because he says he loves the blues because he’s had them for most of his life. But he is the most easygoing, mellow, cheerful bluesman I know. Blues also makes me not feel the blues.
Blues is different from other men who have made me smile. He is salt of the earth, the kind of man who can fix your car. He didn’t go to my alma mater but he knows 3 Asian languages, some Romanian, in addition to his native Spanish and English. He doesn’t like to text message and he mistakenly refers to my online writing as a “bog” which it certainly can be. He does not have a TV, an iPod,or a babymomma. He has never touched alcohol. And thank goodness he’s a Pisces.
Things are going well. The other night, he brought me a box of Filipino pastries. I filed his nails while we watched TV. The next day, he chatted with my dad about their respective Army days.
When I first met him, I had my doubts. He’s not a player or a bad boy. He is not smooth or polished. But he is a good man, one I can’t help but appreciate more each day.
I know I’m blessed to have my dad. He has been a good husband to my mom and a nurturing, patient father. He has not abused his wife, kids, alcohol, or drugs. He is a down to earth guy, whether he’s helping me bathe skunked dogs, enjoying a burger as we watch a Raiders game, or commenting on the latest installment of my fave reality show(his insights into I love NY were priceless). Pop turned 61 today but he’s funny and easygoing as ever. I’m grateful to and for him.
Right glad I am he was not at this fray
Romeo and Juliet
Another crying session at therapy but one of gratitude. Grateful for myself, my innate strength in the face of violence and turmoil. I am serenity and mercy.
Gang melee. Lockdown. Boys in backs of squad cars. Me between two enemies.
I woke up to an earthquake. I had been dreaming of the devil.
Day is done.
I am not.
Hola para Mexico. Guten Tag for those in Germany. And everyone else logging on from San Diego, Yuba City, Oklahoma, and anywhere else in the US and Cali. I’m humbled by your visit and hope I can live up to your expectations.
Comida borinquena in the Town. Quintessential Peruano BBQ. An unexpected but welcome text. Name called out by Jamaican MC. Cute but painful shoes. Ms. Pac-Man, pool, and reggaeton at one of my spots.