Dinner conversation with the family

Hair bear dos. Blue AquaNet. Cruising Castro Valley Blvd. Muggg’s before people got shot. Will To Power’s “Say it’s gonna rain.” Drinking Cisco and Bartle and Jaymes.
Playing Barbies. Being afraid of clowns after seeing Poltergeist at Eastmont Mall. Sleeping with the closet light on. Watching el Chavo del 8 y El Chapulin Colorado.

I had fun as a kid.
Gotta love my cousin.

At last, the tribute to my Play Brother

Over 40 days have passed since Brett died. Over twenty days have passed since I spent a day remembering him. 7 hours translated into approximately 2 hours of audiotape, 17.5 longhand pages of word for word transcription, 3 hours of editing and word processing, and approximately 7 typed single-spaced pages. What follows is an edited transcript of that day.
The morning of June 1, 2007. I will be spending the day memorializing Brett. Brett was born December 17, 1972 and passed away the morning of May 9, 2007. He was a good friend, teacher, coach at SLz High and C. College. He was a good man who lost his five month battle with liver cancer.

I hope to spend the day as if it were the first day I found out about this loss. I plan to spend some time in a Catholic church in front of the Blessed Sacrament, doing a rosary in Brett’s honor. For the Morning Prayer, I plan to do the Office of the Dead and do some praying before the altar I have here at home, to pray for the repose of his soul. I’m going to tour important spots in Brett’s life in Hayward. I hope to do some ceremony. I may have lunch at Val’s and/or have a drink in his honor at Buffalo Bill’s.

I’m always going to remember the good times and the times when I’d go to his classroom for moral support, whether I was upset at work or in my personal life. He was always there for me. It’s difficult to accept he’s gone. I counted on him. He was a constant. He was someone who got birthday and Christmas gifts from me. We didn’t spend a lot of time together because he was your typically busy Sagittarius. He meant a lot to me. Besides my brother and the guys from Cal, he was the only male in my circle that I truly trusted 100% and pulled into my confidence. I called him Play Brother, Cutie Pie, my cousin, my homie. This loss is huge and has left a hole in my heart.

I found out about Brett’s death on the morning of May 9th. I had gone to work as usual. I was coming off a high from the wonderful day before, when I had gone into the City to hear Don Cheadle, one of my favorite actors, speak out about Darfur. I was excited and motivated. It was a Facing History and Ourselves event which got me back in touch with my roots as a teacher and activist. I had finished a great phone conversation with Soldier in which I told him I’d be visiting Nashville in early June. The weather was beautiful and I had walked all the way up Nob Hill. I felt so happy with everything. I felt untouchable, invincible, healed. I have been struggling with depression since January and that particular Tuesday, May 8th, I felt 100% better. When I went to work the next day, I was oblivious because I was loving life.
At about 8am, my Principal called me on the Nextel. I had already begun the AP in Calculus and I didn’t want to be interrupted. I felt wary. We had been dealing with difficult situations the day before. I’m always nervous when she calls because I’m a new assistant principal and I make mistakes. In my heart, I knew why she was calling. Why else would she interrupt this important examination? She insisted on sending a counselor who came down in a few minutes. I walked outside and the Athletic Director was there. At the time, I thought it was a coincidence but I now believe she asked him to be present. I said, “I don’t know why she is calling me. I hope I’m not in trouble.”
“Everything’s going to be all right.”
“I’m really scared because you know exactly what I’m thinking. I always think the worst.” Around this time, Brett had already taken a turn for the worse so we had not been able to see him and were giving each other updates on his status. We knew he was dying but just did not know when. He repeated himself and walked me up to the office. I walked in, ready to close the door behind me. Instead, he followed. She looked at me and said, “I need you to sit down.”
“No, that’s okay.” I tried to keep things casual because I knew full well what was about to happen.
“No, I need you to sit down.” She put her hand on my shoulder when I was seated. The Athletic Director put his hand on my other shoulder. I knew.
“I’m really sorry to have to tell you this…”
“No, no…”
“But Brett died this morning.”
“No, no” probably exactly how I’m saying it now. It was one of the saddest moments of my life. I have not felt a death so acutely. I lost my godfather to leukemia. I lost my grandfather to old age(which was very hard on my father.) I lost my uncle to emphysema. I lost a friend to AIDS. I lost a friend to gang violence. But this is a situation in which I went through the process of watching someone get ill, get worse, and then to have to be told they had passed. It was awful. I broke down crying and sobbed.
“I didn’t even get to say goodbye.”
My boss cried with me. Then we pulled ourselves together. She said I had permission to go home and I said I wanted to stay for the AP exam. The kids needed me. They were worried and had jokingly said, “Oh my God, you’re in trouble.” I wanted to be there for them. I knew they would help me.
I went back for a few difficult hours. My boss made a beautiful announcement about Brett’s life. I was able to talk to the kids about his cancer and the times I had visited him. I carried on until the test ended. As more adults came to check on me, I got very angry. I wasn’t ready for my anger and resentment. As I headed back to the main building, I saw my colleague approaching and I didn’t want to see him. Two other colleagues and a former secretary, who was visiting from out of state for my boss’s retirement, also came. I was so mad. Q, our student assistant, had come to the AP exam to get my materials and give me a hug. He was the only person I allowed to comfort me. Everyone else kept offering support but my response was, “I don’t want to talk. I don’t want to talk about it.” With Q, I could. He was in front of me, carrying my testing materials box, and I said, “I can’t do this. I have to leave right now.” When I saw all those adults, I became another person. My colleague offered to buy me lunch or a drink but I replied that I didn’t want anything. My former secretary gave me a hug but I recoiled. She said, “Honey, I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“I don’t walk to talk about it.” I walked away.
Mingles walked by and said “How you hanging in there?”
“I’m not!”
“Yeah, well…”
“I don’t want to talk about it!” I walked away. I was a wreck. I went to the Main Office, told the Office Manager I would be leaving, and went to my office to try to wrap up. I told my secretaries I didn’t want to see or talk to anyone. At one point, one of them entered and gave me a Reese’s Pieces.
“I didn’t want to see anybody! What are you doing in here?” I was full of rage.
I went home for the rest of the day. I wept, felt angry, processed, and contacted my loved ones so they would know. I had told my brother, my sister in law, Ade, Lisa, and my mom in the morning. I called Fernando and he called me back later. Everyone I’m close to was there for me that day.
I feel like all I gave was half a day. I went right back to work. I went back to it all, the numbness and other emotions. But I feel like I haven’t been dealing with my grief.
In addition to the other plans, I want to leave time in the day to do some writing, probably longhand, some kind of eulogy in which I honor him, and eventually put it on my blog. This is not the best day to go online so I won’t.

I’m going to begin with a prayer service. On my altar, there’s incense (smells like cinnamon), a rock my Puente kids gave me as a reminder of Schindler’s List and strength in the face of adversity, a heart I got at an Angeles Arrien retreat that says “humility” which Brett exemplified. The Serenity Prayer: serenity, courage, and wisdom are qualities my friend had. A Vatican rosary which reminds me of John Paul II, whom I also mourned. Seven candles: white, blue, Virgin de Guadalupe, St. Jude, a Chinese candle, Christ at the Resurrection, one large white votive and one small white votive. Seven is an important number in most Judeo-Christian religions. It is the number of the Lord. Figurines of the Virgen de Guadalupe and St. Martin de Porres. Pictures of Jesus as the Divine Mercy and Jesus with the Sacred Heart. An origami bird and a butterfly which I think is appropriate because it represents new life. No fresh flowers but a silk sunflower and daisies and a small American flag. For today, I’ve added the incense holder and the only picture I have of Brett in the house. My framed picture is at work. It watches over me. This picture is a school portrait, when he had shaved all his hair off, which he loved to do. He had beautiful hair but he always did that. I’m going to light all the candles.
I’ve lit sage, a sacred herb for Native peoples, which cleanses and lets spirits know peace. I’ve made the Sign of the Cross and I’m also going to bow to the four directions in honor of my own heritage as part Native and Hayward’s heritage as part Native. The Ohlones lived in Hayward. Brett was a Hayward native, born, raised, and stayed all of his life.
I ask you Lord to look out for my friend, Brett. I’ve prayed for the repose of his soul and offered prayers but today is special as I will not be able to do this on Sunday. My friend was not religious but he did believe in God. He valued my faith. The last few times I saw him, I shared with him that I had been praying the rosary(that’s when I was still with the Legion of Mary) and that my church friends had also been praying for him. He said he felt our prayers and that they meant a lot to him.
We open these prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
(Reading from Joyce Rupp prayer pamphlet)
I come before you today, Lord, to offer a prayer for my friend Brett that he may be resting in you, that he may have strength, youth, and happiness once again, that he may be free of pain wherever he is.
(Easter reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John)
I’m now going to offer an allocutio (brief talk.)
It’s fitting that my friend passed during Easter. It is my belief and the belief of my faith that Easter commemorates the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the cornerstone of my faith that death is beautiful, not the end of life but the beginning of a new life in the Resurrection. My friend became ill during Advent as we awaited the birth of Our Lord, suffered during Lent along with the passion of Our Lord, and was taken away to the Lord during the Easter season. My friend has become like Christ.
He would probably laugh at that because he didn’t believe in organized religion. If he had had to choose, and he wouldn’t have because he didn’t like commitment, he probably would have been Christian, given he was part Irish, had Catholic friends, and had a lot of respect for Catholics and for all faiths.
In his death, he is like Christ because he has helped all of us come to a greater understanding of what it means to be a good human being. Hundreds of people have said beautiful things about my friend, what a kind, giving man he was. His whole life was about giving to others, helping other become the very best they could be, whether it was a as a high school English teacher, football coach, good friend, son, brother, and partner. He was generous and loyal to a fault.
There’s a line in Scripture where Jesus says there is no greater love than a man give up his life for his friends. I have full faith that at the end of his life, in those moments when he looked around the room at the people he loved the most and wanted at his side on his last day, that he had accepted what was happening and that it was his time to go. He wouldn’t have had it any other way. He wouldn’t have wanted to sacrifice any of his loved ones. He was a good and noble person and would have realized that he was the one that had to go. He would have done it for us. He would do it again. As ugly as cancer is and as painful as it had to have been, he was such a good man that I believe he had accepted his illness and death.
He would look on our grief and be humbled by it. He would want us to continue his legacy, to look out for young people and athletes. He would want us to live a life o integrity and humility. You don’t have to pray the rosary and go to Mass all the time to be a holy person. You do things the way Brett did them with simplicity and honesty. I never knew a more straightforward person. He was a prophet in his own way. He drank, partied, had bar fights in his youth but at the time of his death, he was a faithful husband. He was committed to his partner for eight years and he was more married to her than many married couples I know. He was committed to his parents and spent every weekend with them. He was committed to his brother. I know this hurts him so much because he and Brett were best friends. I look at that relationship as the ideal of sibling love. He was a wonderful friend to dozens of people. It didn’t make him any less of a friend, whether it was to me and T. who are more solitary and independent or all the athletes and students he knew. He was a person who knew hundreds of people. I know that place is going to be filled because he touched many lives. What we’re all going to agree on is the goodness of this man. He didn’t have to quote Scripture to be holy. He was a man who reached out to all, gave his all, a man who put others before himself, and a man who truly lived the gifts God gave to him, without drama or complication, with bravery.
Brett was my brother. H was my friend and will continue to be. God bless and welcome him. He joins a host of angels and saints because he already is an angel and saint. I’m happy that he’s gone home.

(Traditional prayer in Spanish for the souls in Purgatory)

Lord, please accept of Brett into your arms. Lead him and all the dead that gone before him to your heavenly light.
I want to say out loud the names of the dead I want to honor: Marcelo Calderón. Malaquias Mercado. Ricardo Barreda. Danny Pastor. Aaron Olivares. David Villalpando. Lew Hedgecock. Keith Rogers. Fr. Bob. Mathews. Lupe Contreras. Mariana Ferreira. Michael Cambra. LaTonya Miller. Isaac Fanene. Brett Haagenson.
I’m now going to extinguish the seven candles. For the nation’s and world’s leaders, that they may bring about peace and not death but promote life and mercy.
For the church, the Catholic Church, all Christian churches, and all faiths, that we may lead people to make good choices of peace that promote humanity toward others.
For all who grieve, all family and friends who have lost a loved one, may God console you in your time of need.
The next candle is St. Jude. For all those suffering with disease, both physical and emotional, especially for those suffering with cancer and depression.
The Virgin of Guadalupe candle is especially for Brett’s mother, who has lost her child. For all mothers who suffer because their own children are gone or are overseas in wars. May God give them peace.
The Buddhist candle goes out to people of all faiths who have lost loved ones. May their prayers for their dead be heard.
The last of the seven candles is the Resurrection. May everyone who believes in the Resurrection, or doesn’t, be filled with God’s love.
I am now going to share a few moments of silence with Brett. I have one final candle burning.
The incense has burnt. I spent time reading Scripture. I found the original blogs I wrote about Brett in 2003. At the time, he was a brand new friend to me. Even then, I could tell he was going to have an impact on my life. We close this prayer in the name of Jesus the Lord. Amen.

I’m moving on to the tour.
Traveling down Bockman Rd. This was the site of the Iron Gate Bar and Liquor Store. It’s now an empty lot which is going to be converted into new homes. The Iron Gate was the first bar we went to on our “team meetings.” We started this tradition because we were an English 9 team and needed to plan curriculum. So we decided we would do it in local bars, the diviest bars we could find. The Iron Gate was where Brett almost sold me off into being an old man’s wife. That’s a great story and memory.
Turning onto Hesperian Blvd off Bockman. That is the site of the Village Plaza, another meeting site, across the street from the McGonaghy Estate.
Cruising down Hayward. Passing The Hollow Leg, which we never visited as a team, but was a favorite place of Brett and his brother in their college days. We’re now passing C.College where Brett was assistant football coach. He was a student and star football player who led the team to a championship back in the day. The mascot is Gladiator which fits Brett’s personality, not in that he was overly aggressive, but he was a warrior in life, illness, and death.
The Sleepy Hollow area of South Hayward. This is where Brett grew up. He has a home in this neighborhood that he purchased with his girlfriend a couple of years ago.
Passing Kaiser Hospital in Hayward where many East Bay residents were born. In a few minutes, we’ll be passing Brett’s alma mater.
Passing the intersection of Panama and Hesperian, Mt. Eden High School, home of the Monarchs. He ran track, played basketball, baseball and football. He loved all sports but football was his passion. Hopefully they’ll retire his number. There’s talk of dedicating the football field at Mt. Eden on behalf of his graduating class of 1991.
Turning onto Industrial Blvd headed to Mission Blvd to the Chapel of the Chimes Memorial Park and Funeral Home. This is where he was cremated this past month. It is also the final resting place of my godfather, Malaquias Mercado so I’m happy I’ll get to say hi to my nino.
It has been difficult because there has been no service at which to mourn Brett. His ashes were scattered his parents’ cabin in the Sierras. His partner has the rest of his ashes. It would be nice to have a place to visit him but at least I can be here where it happened.
This was a worthwhile trip. I spent a lot of time here. My godfather passed in 1997, 10 years ago. It’s been a decade since he passed so he’s fully a saint. I know he is helping Brett with his transition. I’ve asked him to do so.
Now in downtown Hayward. Cruising B St. and Mission. Passed Buffalo Bill’s BrewPub, one of our favorite spots, a place we often came to lunch and dinner. It was one of the last places we went before he got sick. We also came to the Bistro at the corner of Main and B St. once. Down on Main and C St. is the Hayward Area Historical Museum. There was a retrospective on the 70s with lots of clothes, toys, and games, which we were fond of, having grown up then. Great fun.
Back in the Washington Manor area, where I live. We came to Schelly’s, which is popular for district employees and has quite a reputation for folks that have grown up in the Manor. We had a great time there.
I will go to St. Felicitas for Adoration. From there I’m going to a place that’s become special to me, Shoreline Park in Alameda.

I’ve made it to Shoreline Park and it’s breathtakingly beautiful. It is sunny and so clear I can make out the boats on the piers across the way and all the buildings in the Financial District. I didn’t want to bring a camera because I wanted this to be a private moment. Brett must be hearing me because it is so gorgeous. I’m going to look at the ocean and the City and reflecting. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the rosary, if I will leave, bury, or throw it in the sea.
I spent a few minutes at the seashore, talking to Brett. I sat on some rocks. I found some sand and some shells so I buried the rosary and said my goodbyes that way.
I’m headed home to write a final letter to Brett which I won’t tape. I’ll put it online and just have for me to keep.
This concludes the day’s celebration. I feel that I’ve dedicated this entire day to his memory and to my grief for him. This has been an important process for me. It’s taken me on a journey.
God bless Brett.

Another disco classic for the man I miss

Love Sensation
Loleatta Holloway and Dan Hartman

Love sensation
Love sensation
Love sensation
You got me burning up with your love sensation

oh, Love sensation
Oh it’s got me in its spell
It’s such a good vibration
A feeling that I know so well

And when you hold me close,
it’s so so nice
that you’ve got me burning up with your love sensation

Refrain with ad-libs

Sweet sensation
I can’t find the words to explain
You’re such a hot temptation
You just walk right in and take me away, yes
You’ve got the kind of lips that touch me
When they’re feeling mine
And all I wanna say is thank you baby
Cause you’re right on time…

Can’t you see that I love nobody else
Can’t you see that I love nobody else
And time won’t take my love away

Let me tell you
Let me tell you

You get down to the real nitty-gritty
You’re the only one
the only one who can tell
Who can fill me with my every desire
you make me feel good, so good
I want to say yes to your love sensation
I want to say yes to your love sensation
I want to say, baby, yes

tell you now
Can’t you see that I love nobody else
Can’t you see that I love nobody else
And time won’t take my love away

Flashback 3: how glory begins

See what had happened was I got tears in my eyes, just waiting for you to say that same shit I been hearing since I was fifteen, you a cool friend and a great girl but I just don’t feel that way. That’s why I couldn’t look at you right then cuz I was waiting for the knife to be plunged into my stomach. I even pictured a samurai, good old Mifune, looking so damn stoic but not me, I probably looked like I was about to cry and I was. I listened, heard what I did not expect. And then my laughter. I was wrong for the first time in a million years and I picked up my messy heart and put it back in my pre-Columbian maiden chest where it started to beat for you. Whose lips, whose tongue, I don’t remember and it don’t matter because you called me tiger. I had to rush to the bathroom and I think I ran into a chair or something because my arm was bleeding(I hope the scar stays forever)when I looked into the bathroom mirror. My face all flushed, all that wavy hair and that mouth you had kissed. Out into the mist, laughter as we leaned against the car door, quick let’s get back to the room, who’s gonna drive, me buzzin off the beer but mostly off you, my dream, my fantasy, my hope. Stumbling in a parking lot, don’t remember the elevator ride, but I remember the darkness of the room, which lamp was on? I remember starting to weep and I remember you. I said you were going to ruin my life but maybe I said that the next day. In either case, I lied. My life became beautiful that night.

Truths and transfiguration

I believe in miraculous events, both supernatural and ordinary. But I sometimes don’t believe in the miracle of me. Cognitive behavioral therapy has helped. Group has helped. Prayer has helped. Then the universe stepped in and touched me. Reached into my body and pulled out my crown-of-thorns-wearing heart, mixed up my blood, resurrected nerves and muscles I had taken for granted. My heart begins to pound when I remember.

Miracles can be so simple. My small hand caresses his cheek. Patches of dry skin on his hand. The salty smell of messy hair. An angry red insect bite on the soft skin of my forearm. A bloody scratch on my right arm which I can’t recall receiving. A quarter. The smell of rain. The first kiss neither of us remembers initiating. A hug between two strangers. A flash of lightning in the distant purple horizon. All of these images and sensations are burned into my mind. I get a lump in my throat as I see and feel them again.

Something beautiful happened to me on the second weekend of Easter. I believed I wasn’t worthy of a miracle. I had all hopes but one, the one I held dearest but which I was prepared to forget. Like always, I presented my heart to him, bloody and alive. I thought I would be rejected and humiliated. But my gift was received in ways I could not have predicted.

I cry as I did that first night. They are tears of gratitude, tenderness, acceptance, transcendence.

Morning musings

The alarm went off around 7 this morning. I had plans to get to 9am Mass with my family. After last night’s indulgence in food and merengue(no alcohol, though, guess that Lenten fast has depleted my craving for it), I feel a little dizzy and nauseous. In all honesty, I’m finding mornings difficult lately. Ever since I got home from Nashville, rising just is not the same.

My depression is waning. The negative thoughts that once ruled my mind are few and far between and balanced alternative thoughts take their place. I look for evidence. I go back to affirmations. My daily mood scales have been consistently high and my daily activity log shows that the negative moods connected with certain activities are practically gone. Then there are recent memories. These are what make my mornings harder, if only in that I’m moving a lot more slowly than usual.

So, today, I stayed in bed. Closed my eyes but could not sleep. Hugged my pillow because I can’t hug the man I miss. And remembered.


It was a feeling unlike any other. All 4’11” of me just strutting, parading, serving it, working it. Because if there was anything I learned all those years on the dance floor in gay clubs, it was to let these mothers have it. All of a sudden, it didn’t matter if I was short or Peruvian or carrying an extra pound(or five.) When I was walking across that floor, sometimes in the company of drag queens or club queens, sometimes alone, sometimes holding my Cookie Monster doll, once with an open umbrella, occasionally with a Corona bottle in hand, whether I was wearing a vintage Adidas jacket and sneaks or a cute little dress, I was invincible, magnificent, glorious. Just play one of these classic tracks(like my recent iPod addition, Patrice Rushen’s “Haven’t You Heard”) and I’m back. Ms. Cookie, Cookie, Mouse, Lil India, Hayward, me.

So fierce!