Tuesday, February 17, 2015

I am the same; I am me

I'm in that same dark spot; that windowless room; there is the pain, so familiar. In my stomach the yawning hurt, on my chest the anvil, my vision blue and blurred, the relentless horn in my ear, the buzz that trails all my thoughts.

I have lived with this resident, this squatter really, almost all of my life.  I wear pink with this, I serve meals with this, I laugh and share stories and marry and work with this. Still and always. This.

I have tried to convince myself that I am not that child, who's dad was a treat in her life, and then gone. I am not that little person, trying so hard to be mature, to hear the words that were being spoken to her, to receive and understand them and be o.k. with them. And then I am that person and I do not understand and I am not o.k. with any of it. All is lost. I am so tired by it.

My compassion for children, my demands of them and aspirations, my immersion in the children in my life is by design. I am the constant that could not be for me. I am the ready, the steady, the immutable hug because I have to be. I know what it is.

I am crippled with the force of a million faults - not mine - theirs, for having failed at the simplest of things, for having tried and failed to make me the most important thing. And then I am broken, knowing they tried with all their might and I was, truly, the most important thing and still they failed. So I could fail too. Any one of us could fail and then the hurt would all come back and hurt again.

And there we'd be in that same dark spot, that windowless room. And we wouldn't have changed at all. We'd be the same. I'd be the same.

And no matter my pink and smiles, that is me.


Friday, February 6, 2015

I Remember, Don't Forget

I remember inviting a friend from high school to my place after school. As we approached the large public high school just three blocks from my apartment I saw my friend begin to pale. The closer we got, the more nervous she became. I guess I looked right past some of the rougher edges of my neighborhood, but she was quite entirely focused on every one of them. She tried desperately to maintain conversation while slowly using the automatic controls on the driver's side to roll up all the windows in the car and lock the doors.  I was at once bemused and saddened.

I have no recollection of how long she stayed at my place that day or what we did, only that I never invited her back. I never invited anyone from high school to my house.
-----
I thought about that today when I received a note from a broker who's doing an invitation-only open for a place across the street from that same public high school. List price? Let's just say I couldn't afford to live there anymore. I now live in a more affordable area, pretty close to where that high school friend lived. Isn't that funny?
-----
I remember later, in my junior year of high school, I had another friend insist on driving me home after we'd gone out to do something. I was already in the car so I frantically raced through my options - have her drive to someone else's house? feign nausea and vomit to distract? lie and say I was going to work and then take the bus from there? I couldn't think quickly enough and absurdly blurted out my actual address instead.

She took me home, windows down, music blaring, chewing and chatting all the while. When we stopped in front of my apartment she stopped smacking her gum for a moment, looked up at the building and said something like, 'You live here? Nice. See you tomorrow!' And back she went to making a job of that gum.

She is my son's godmother.

There are a few kindnesses in my life I don't - won't - forget, no matter what comes after. I remember them always and still, still they bring me comfort.

Don't forget to be kind. It matters immensely.



Monday, December 29, 2014

The Perfect Gift

Here's the way I see it:  By the time you're 70 you've gotten every sweater you'll ever want to get, and you only wear two anyway. You have every household item anyone could want. Twice. You're trying to clean crap out not bring more in.

Generally speaking by the time you're 70 you're practical in your needs, simple in your tastes, wise in your choices. If you're not, you probably missed a step.

You don't wear tons of jewelry, you don't eat crazy foods or care for expensive venues. You don't appreciate tight, uncomfortable theater seats. You do everything you can to avoid being cold.

So my mom is turning 70 and I've been really killing myself to think of the perfect gift. I've wanted her to be able to celebrate in a big way - or at least a memorable way - with as many people as she could. But it's been impossible, precisely because she's at an age where she doesn't want much. My dilemma is made all the more challenging by her struggles with health issues, which make it hard to take her out or have loud, busy parties with lots of people.

Then it came to me! The one thing my mom loves more than anything else is to read. And while I do my best to provide supply, she devours everything you give her and she has read so much it's hard to find new things.

That's where you come in: I'm asking - I'm begging - could you write me a letter for my mom? It could be to her if you know her, or to no one in particular, or just the re-telling of a funny little story, or a joke (clean, please), or any little thing, a favorite saying and why, a memory, an ode. I'll collect all the tidbits into a book and give it to her for her birthday, and I'll sign your name (if you'd like) to the card. You can send to me via FB comment or PM or send to my email: carrodcares@gmail.com

I know this is a big ask, but I'm desperate to show my quiet, introverted, sweet, kind, gentle, and generous soul of a mother that she is deeply loved and appreciated for her 70 years on earth. I think this kind of gift might just do it. In fact, it might be the perfect gift.

We are celebrating her big day on Sunday January 11th so I'd need your note by Friday, January 9th to get it done.

Thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping me make this day special.

~Carmen

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

I Bought A Crooked Christmas Tree

I bought a crooked Christmas tree this year. He's terribly crooked, actually. So much so that his crown appears to be standing behind him.

I'm usually very particular when I select a tree - just the right height, it has to be, not too broad, not too narrow, only a certain green will do.

But when I saw this tree, he just took my breath away.

I recounted tearfully to my son, why I absolutely had to have him. 'Imagine being a tree,' I told him. 'Full, and lush and green in some forest somewhere. And everyone around you is growing straight and strong just as they should. And you are warping and twisting, trying as hard as you might but still going entirely the wrong way. I would think your mother would watch over you even more carefully. Imagine then that you were cut down, taken away from your comfort, knowing you were going to your death. The only reward for this suffering would be that you might get to be a Christmas tree for a family. You would be brightly lit and decorated and sung around and adored. And then imagine that when the families came to select a tree, every time you were passed over. No one wanted you. Can you imagine that? So I just had to bring him home.'

I was sobbing by the time I finished. My son looked at me like I'd grown a fish out of my forehead. He hugged me nonetheless, being the good boy he is, and when the girls came down and looked at the scene he just waved them off and we stood there until I shook off my melancholy.

The thing is, it's not just about the tree.  It's about an imperfect world, my city so worn and weary from its troubles, my children's schools, a million things. All of these things capable of great glory and wonder, broken in places, entirely wrong in others. I wish I could fix all of those things. I wish I could get people to see.

The message of the season is not, 'Be pretty, even if you have to pretend. Love and appreciate only the right and righteous in life. You must pass by the ugly, disregard the broken.' 

What good is there in that?

The message of the season is, 'Love even the twisted and failing. Love before all other things. Love as He loves, completely and without judgement of your flaws. You are all ways beautiful.'

So I bought a crooked Christmas tree.  And I love him. Isn't he grand?





Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Party is Over

Fairness and Righteousness are shy cousins. Until you get to know them.

Anger is bold in the room, first in line, and full of fire. But she burns quickly and dies. She cannot stand. Revenge can be slow to arrive, but he is childish, and sullen. He's often sent to sleep early by Justice, left to sulk, unspeaking. Lazy cannot be bothered from the couch, let him sleep. Talk is cheap, she's been told, no matter her power to persuade. She winks at you and sallies off. Truth talks only to her twin in her sleep, rarely heard in shine. So when Pain and Hurt arrive, all rush to the center (save for Lazy, dozing as her norm). And while these banter, Fairness and Righteousness sit quietly in a corner, huddled. Until Justice weakens at her knee.

Casting aside their plain and wear these are the goddesses bright in the place, standing giant and unmovable, tremors at their steps. You can bluster, foolish, past all the rest but these hold the walls that keep safe, and strong in their shadows are we all. You can tire of waiting but they come to the fore only on their own calling. Throw your bricks, so what? You do nothing for the better.

Bring yourself to the guardians and stand, fair and righteous. That is the end.


Friday, November 21, 2014

Not Just Decoration

My home is decorated with my family.


 In fact, I try to make sure their photos are in every room, so you can't miss them.



It's important to me that both you and I know, and remember,
where I come from.


Because although I was born here, my great grandparents, my grandparents and my dad were not. 


So when you see me, and I am not brown or dirty or unable to speak English clearly, you may get the impression that I'm one of "us", not one of "them".


But that hand holding my handsome husband back when he was a beautiful baby is an immigrant hand. His parents were not born here. He is one of "us" but they are one of "them". The man sitting beside me here as I take my first steps is my dad, an immigrant, a "them".


The smiling silver-haired gentleman in the picture here, with my lovely grandmother, was also a "them", didn't speak a lick of English (except to curse you out if you beat him at cards). 

And these are my children. I couldn't have these - 

looking all American and fabulous - without those who came before. They were brown and dirty and did not speak English. And they worked wicked jobs and tore their skin in cold and muck so that my children could be treated with a softness in life my grandfather only dreamed about. They were beaten down in deed and in word, hurt and cold and undeterred. And with all that, they had the bitter dignity of calling themselves American, so that I could, so that my children could.

I believe in the rule of law, and I am loathe to see it trampled for any reason. Where the law fails, where it has failed many times and the weak and meek have failed to step forward to make a change, some must come forward to light the fire. We all know this, which is why when we see someone being robbed we shout and rush forward to help. There's a crime being committed, after all. But when we see someone tending to a neighbor's garden, we smile and wave and walk on. We buy our produce without pause, we lean back when the young man comes to bus our table, we tip the man who comes to our door with take-out, many of us buy elotes from a cart outside our child's baseball game. Have you ever called the police to report the undocumented housekeeper who tends to your hotel room?

The weak Republicans and meek Democrats who have had the power of legislation in their hands for generations, and who will keep it long after this President has become a dusty page in a book no one reads, have a responsibility they have failed to meet. The hour has long gone when it was time to do something to address the impotence of our current immigration system. Pomp and bluster no longer entertain. Action is the call of the day. 

Hush your hypocrisy lest you shame the ancestry that offered you the very right you have to dishonor. Self-awareness is your gift, if any can repay. When you step into the arena, fresh with your American hair, your American clothes, clean with your American soap and healthy with your American food, upheld by your American good fortune, remember who you are. Be thankful and lend your hand to the next. That is what it means to be an American. 

Patriotism, like a photo, is not just for decoration.



Thursday, November 20, 2014

It's On Me

Before I immerse myself in the season of thanks and goodness allow me a moment? Blame this on the fact that my doctor has insisted I switch to decaf and I believe the months of detox are having some sort of reverse effect. In my head, all day, I've been screaming.

SHUT UP.

SHUT UP. 
SHUT UP. 
SHUT UP. 
SHUT UP. 
SHUT UP! 

I wish I could shout that loudly enough for all the inanity in the world to hear it and shut itself up. Unfortunately, I can't rile myself to stand much lest shout from treetops. I'm stuck under the weight of all the stupidity that has left its silt on me so far in life, such that I fear I may be slug-like in my gait by the time I'm 50.

While there are students being taken, raped and murdered in parts of the world, we here are struggling to give as much air time to assholes like Ted Cruz as possible. Because that's what matters to us. If your child had been taken, raped and murdered would Ted Cruz matter to you? If it would, you frighten me. (And I'd argue one of your own has been taken, as we are all children of the same world.)

You know what else frightens me?  People who are surprised the holidays are here 'early'. Again. Hey guys! It's cold in Chicago in the winter, it's always Christmas after Halloween now, and has been for years, and Christmas music is sickly sweet and tiresome after a few days. What makes all of it unbearably Groundhog Day-ish is everyone walking up to one another on a daily basis saying, "Man it's cold out there - I can't believe it!" and "I can't believe they already have holiday decorations up - can you?" I can believe it and so should you. 

Moving on.

I am up to here (top of my curly little head) with the presumption of sinister motives behind every single thing anyone does. The current Pope is talking like he knows what Christ was all about and our out-going Cardinal's response to that is, essentially, "Don't be fooled. He's a hardliner just like me!" Gee, thanks, George, wouldn't want to get my hopes up. While I pray for the Cardinal's peace and comfort during his illness and his passage to the next life, I really wonder what this guy is thinking.

Cue the awkward and embarrassing overhead announcement at my most recent visit to a Catholic church. There are not enough young men moving into the priesthood and the church is now engaged in a marketing campaign that replaces the personal homily of the priest in mass with the droning announcement over a loud-speaker, trying to sell the church and trying to get you to sell the church. 'Tell the young men in your life who you think would make good priests that they should consider this life.' The young men I think would make good priests I wouldn't steer in that direction if they were standing in the parking lot of a Catholic church facing the door. Why? Well, for one thing, why the simulated, boilerplate homily? Don't trust the priest to say something meaningful that connects with the congregation? Don't think the congregation is connected to the church's real teachings? Or afraid they are and that the church is no longer connected to Christ's message? Think that booming in some disembodied TED Talk will fix it? Hashtag: YOUSTILLDON'TGETIT

I want desperately to be focused on loving my family, being kind to my friends, helping my community, succeeding in my business, and becoming the person I'm striving to be. Most days I work hard at all of that. But some days I'm so distracted by stupidity I can't manage to stay on the priorities. And that makes me so mad I just want to scream: Shut UP!

Decaf? No, dammit. I'll take Venti with a shot.