They try to come into the lecture hall unnoticed, but that's out of the question.
I stop talking, acknowledge them, drawing the class's attention as well.
"You're late. Late! Never be late to my lectures again. Understand? Sit!" I point up an aisle, and off he scampered.
I get back to my lecture, then the door opens again. "Hello late person. You know you're late, right? Don't be late. Alright, don't just stand there, sit.... there!" I point at the front row, and she slips right in.
Not even a minute later, a guy stands frozen in the doorway. "You are late. Promise me and yourself this is the latest you'll ever be, understand? Now sit!" I point at the front row, and down he sits, plunk.
Then, just as lecture starts to roll again, another guy walks in and stands by the door. "You are LATE.... oh, but don't worry, you haven't missed anything. Class, please hold up the money I paid you come to class on time."
Sixty happy people wave $20 in the air.
The latest late sits, laughing without me even having to tell him to.
"Is this your worst first day of class nightmare?" I ask, and he shakes his head.
"Not even close," he replies.
"Never ever be late to my class again, I'm being clear, right?"
He laughs again, which is fine with me.
I return to covering the entire scope of the course in a twenty minute run-through of maps, images, and key quotes.
Then, just as I'm in the middle of the Industrial Revolution, something happens which strikes me speechless.
I don't know if the class noticed, but I did.
In she walked, late, tiptoing in sandals, quietly sneaking into my class, holding up a crisp new cup of coffee that looked so fresh I could practically see the dollop of foam on the top of her latte.
Coming late to my class?
With a nice hot fresh cup of coffee??
Never, never do that again.
Next time, $2o -- AND the late latte is mine.
Make it a latte with whole milk, and three splendas, hold the syrup and flavoring.
From 12/6/07 “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known" Corinthians 13:12
It's about 8:15pm on Wednesday December 5 , and I am home in Tallahassee after a long drive from Fort Lauderdale.
I am surrounded by love, hugs, coloring pages and candy canes, all things that make me thirsty.
I open the cabinet, grab my favorite aqua cup, the one with the Mickey Mouse insignia so subtly and artistically etched on it, then cry.
This was HERS, I sob to the unlistening sink and the empty 2 liter of Sunkist.
Wave after wave of sadness and guilt wash over me.
I stole this cup from Abuela.
She had a set of 8 that my mother bought her at Downtown Disney a few years ago. One day I poured myself a "to go cup," stuck it in my car, and never returned it.
Every time I've used it, I've thought, "nope, not going to give it back... not until I get myself a set..." I always loved that set, and each of the countless times I've been to Downtown Disney I haven't made a single sincere effort to buy myself Mickey Mouse cups.
Maybe I didn't really want my own cups. Maybe I just couldn't be honest. Maybe the truth was just too ugly. What I wanted was Abuela's cups.
The cups aren't that old, and maybe they aren't very special looking, but they mean something to me.
I imagine that other people -- maybe people who aren't descended from refugees? -- have heirlooms like great-grandpa's rifle, great-great-Grandmother's teapot, lace curtains, WW2 letters, tiny silver spoons.
So instead of things, we have traditions.
And then, of course, tell stories about our lies.
For example, my abuelos lied to their children when they were leaving Cuba in 1960.
Instead of saying "tell everyone goodbye, we are OUT of here!" they told the children it was just for a vacation.
This is forgivable.
Tearful goodbyes or packing sentimental things-- baseball gloves, love letters -- were red flags that have jeopardized their safety.
Just a small lie, but a memorable one nonetheless.
During her month-long visit, Tiafi's son Eduardo had a heart attack.
She kept trying to call him at home, but he wouldn't answer.
Because, of course, he was in the hospital.
Finally someone -- I won't point fingers here -- told her "Oh! Didn't you hear? Eduardo is in the Keys."
For awhile, every time someone was sick or dying, we'd say, "Oh? Visiting the Keys?"
Lies, lies, lies.
One year while I was home from graduate school for Winter Break my mother confided in me that she had three tickets for the Orange Bowl -- don't tell your father!
Later that same day, my father pulled me aside to show me the three tickets he bought for the Orange Bowl -- don't tell your Mom!
When the three of us were together, Mom would rant about how she wished we could go to the game, how we couldn't afford tickets, how there were no tickets to be found.
Dad kept making speeches about how he wouldn't dream of going to the Orange Bowl and missing other games on TV.
Keeping their secrets and watching them lie made me physically ill. This went on for a painful long week until game day, when they both broke it to me there really only was only one set of tickets.
We still see that as a positive family experience.
And then there's last Saturday, December 1.
I guess we couldn't tell my abuelos why I was really driving down.
Imagine "Melissa is coming here to say her last goodbye."
That's too deep.
Too honest and painful.
So when I got to the hospital, Abuelo asked, "Where is it that you're giving a lecture again? University of Miami? On Cuban History? That's something! " I stammered, said something vague, changed the subject.
When I sat next to Abuela, my mom elbowed me, and I dutifully looked the woman right in the eyes and let out a string of lies.
"Aren't I lucky to be here, now, giving a paper? What a wonderful coincidence that they brought me down right now, and I can see you?"
Abuela pulled her hand out from under mine, narrowed her eyes.
I could hear her thinking all sorts of curses for me.
This has been a rough year for Zack in school. The roughest part was when we just didn't know what was wrong; after we found out, it didn't get easier, but it became more understandable and maybe the tiniest bit less overwhelming.
After a months of trying this and then that and taking this away and earning that thing back and cancelling that entirely while pushing a little this way and pulling that way, it is finally happening: He going to school, all day, several days in a row, bravely acing makeup work, taking exams, distributing candy, making plans and doing normal 6th grade things. Fantastic.
The next week is another animal entirely, and instead of building on success we start from zero. Nothing works, he can't go to school, he doesn't feel good, he hurts, the pain is real and no amount of pushing or pulling will get him out the door. The next day is minimally better, the day after that was not much better but it was something. Then I found out what the source of his torture was: a history test.
A History test? This is awesome, we got this, I get his backpack, pull out his study guide and say "let's do this, let's face this" but he can't, he can't and I let it go.
But then I don't really let it go, because I'm the mom. I'm not supposed to let it go. So I don't.
Again, even though I'm tired of all this, I take away his this and limit use of that, push and pull using other bits and pieces in my mom arsenal, and create a situation where really his only option to get any single thing in life was to study for this history test.
So he does.
And while I'm putting away dishes he comes out and decides to start quizzing me.
I'm like, bring it, and he's like "no joke, this is the hardest test ever, this stuff is nonsense."
But I'm not scared, it's just a 6th grade history test. I remind him I have a PhD in this.
He doubts me anyway and asks questions. I get them right. It goes like this:
Mom! How do you KNOW all this???
Me: I literally teach this in college. You know this and yet you don't, which is very confusing. Keep going. More questions, please, this is heaven.
He nods his head, like "wow" then continues with the questions. I continue to get every freaking one right without hesitating.
descended from gods
His esteem of me appears to increase by a bazillion points -- I'm now maybe almost as smart as his sister in his world.
He puts his study guide away and asks, sincerely flabbergasted, MOM How did you LEARN all this?
Me: Yes, books. (I point at the books above his head, the books on the bookcase, the books over there and there and there). This is the stuff that is in all those books.
Him: Books. Wow...... (....and then walks away, off to his room because now he has earned this and that back, at least until 9pm).
The next day he makes it through school without a bump and earns an A on his history exam, probably never considering that maybe just maybe I looked over every single answer on his study guide before he even started studying it, just to make sure they were all correct because I'm his mom and that's what moms do.
(From 2097) On Thanksgiving, the official start to the holiday season (which, in my mind, ends around the 4th of July) I get the impression these crazy people who live in my house want me to cook for them.
I can't cook until the house is bleached down clean, and I don't feel like cleaning because, well, I'm the Mom and I say so.
Anyway, I have something more important to do – I have to warn you about the 7 guests that will be visiting you this long Thanksgiving Weekend.
She might've hit your house three weeks ago, when someone went through recipes and "planned." I hear She visits some people predawn hours, possessing them to drive towards bright lights that line Box-shaped buildings.
She likes to drop in around noon drag you to that ONLY place which is open to find that ONE thing you didn't get.
To be brutally honest, I was hoping Shopping wouldn't stop by this year, and when she called me at 8pm the night before Thanksgiving my stomach hurt as I drove to Publix expecting it to be a loud bright crowded holiday nightmare.
It was quiet and empty. In less than 20 minutes, I got everything I needed for under $100 and was out the door.
I enjoyed my time with Shopping and I hope she comes back to visit soon.
It's inevitable she's coming by, so you might as well prepare. She can sometimes be a bitch and try to keep you distracted all day, so watch out.
Before she arrives, set a timer for 30 minutes and get ready to work. Spray her favorite perfume around (Clorox Cleanup), clean off a few counters and toss some laundry in the wash. Or at least kick the clothes completely under the sofa.
Take clutter off the refrigerator, sweep the Legos into the shoebox science project and put it all in the closet where you keep your board games (the ones with the missing pieces).
To make sure Cleaning doesn't stay all day and drive you crazy, I suggest you turn on some music and introduce her to your family and friends if at all possible. With all that attention, Cleaning gets all shy and slips away. (Then the fun begins).
He is going to show up - He *always* does - so be ready. Hopefully he will not bring his favorite date, Punishment, because when they arrive together their idea of a good time is ruining the holiday for the rest of the guests.
Maybe he will give you a surprise and unwelcome bear hug after you ate that last piece of pie standing up in the kitchen with your back to the chaos.
Maybe he will bring up the grief you hoped wouldn't visit today, reminding you of loved ones you can't see and a places you can't be.
Perhaps he will just punch you in the arm and say "you deserve something so much better."
You have two options when Regret inevitably arrives.
1) Spray Clorox Cleanup right into his (invisible) face and shout "AWAY" while spinning around three time or 2) take a deep long breath of the air that is around you and come back into the present.
Regret loves to drag you through time (forwards and backwards) but if you make space for him to visit for just one or two breaths, he will go quickly on his way to visit someone who welcomes his presence.
Dancing and/or Football:
I promise Dancing (and/or Football) will visit you this holiday weekend.
Maybe dancing with a baby, a grandparent, or because that Wii game is FORCING you to, you will be visited by Dance (and/or watch Football).
I'll just say what I say every year when they come over: Hopefully no one gets hurt.
The Guest of Honor, Celebration rare arrives on cue.
She might come early, at the airport, in a tearful hug.
She could hug you when that awesome dress zips up.
She might show up late, when “they” packup and finally leave.
On a rare lucky occasion, she will show up at the meal intended for her.
If you recognize her and call her by name when you see her, Celebration will make herself a constant companion. Generosity.
Generosity is a shape-shifting guest who likes to disguise himself in gestures of patience and hospitality.
Make sure to leave extra room for him because Generosity’s constant companion is Gratitude.
The guest few people expect visits everyone, every year, and many of them dread it.
Sometimes she visits everyone at once, covering the table with an awkward stillness.
She may swing by when they all leave and you feel alone. (Please don’t take the wine if she offers).
She might be sitting on your chest when you wake up, alone.
When she comes to visit this year, please don’t be a rude host and shoo Silence away, because she’s just trying to introduce you to her best friend, Peace.
(I 'm not cooking, let it go.)
From Marvin's Book, The Story of a Professor and a Promise, with permission giving by me, lol. Happy Turkey Day, I'm going to Cracker Barrel on my broken-foot-wondergirl-scooter and eating fried eggs and biscuits FYI
Until recently, I’ve seen praying as a ridiculously formal exercise.
CCD (Catholic Sunday School, I can’t tell you what it stands for because I think only the Pope knows) teachers taught us chants, lists, macabre stories of beheaded men. The worst CCD teacher I ever had was the one who prepared me for Confirmation.
I was about 11, the age of rapid growth and expanding curves.
In my case, Cuban curves. Everywhere.
One Sunday I decided to wear an outfit of stretchy red pants and a striped red and brown shirt (hello, it was the 70s, I forgive myself).
The outfit was a bit too small. Definitely unflattering, too tight in certain places, short in others.
I remember thinking that it would be the last time I would wear it before passing it on to another family. I didn't feel a great desire to dress up for church or CCD. Confirmation-preparation lessons were uninspiring, unspiritual and tedious.
Lists, facts, names. Things a Catholic must know in order to converse fluently with God.
When to look up, look down, stand up, kneel, quietly kick-up the kneeling-thing so people could pass through the aisle.
Specifically, our lesson that particular day, the day I wore the red pants, was The Seven Deadly Sins.
We were young, naïve, and words like sloth and lust were pretty much lost on us, so the teacher – an overweight, undercreative woman who seemed lacking in both the temperament and inspiration to teach – decided to use examples for each of the sins.
When she got to gluttony, she wiped her brow, which usually beaded up with the exertion of standing and pacing in front of us, yelling at us to sit still, hands on our laps, eyes forward.
I remember the moment before she locked eyes with me, then announced GLUTTONY is the sin that I’m guilty of, apparently (she gestured toward her large, lumpy body) and Melissa is guilty of, too.
12 pairs of pre-teen eyes whipped around my way, and a piece of me broke off.
That day signaled the first shots of the Civil War that I would wage against my body for 25 years.
I have looked for rest, respite, an armistice, but have only found temporary havens.
It has been a war that has engulfed me, stolen my happiness, and left me so completely ashamed that I couldn’t bear to ask for help.
This past weekend, by a lake in a secluded camp, a friend sat back and admired the sunset.
She told me a story about a man who walked around for a long time in a suit that didn’t fit him, just because he thought it would be the only suit he’d ever have.
He was afraid if he took it off, he would have nothing.
I know that feeling.
I’ve been long afraid that if I put down the guns, cannons and bombs that volley around in my head and heart I would not recognize the terrain of my spirit.
Because of that, I’ve spent little time praying, facing a cross, feet flat on the floor, skirt knee-length-or-longer, chanting.
At the lake, after my friend told me the story, I decided to throw my suit into the lake, along with my idea of a God who gives pop-quizzes and multiple choice tests.
I will talk to God, but not with lists and chants. I will pray with bad posture, pen in my hand, laughing the whole time.
I rolled over Zoe and swatted around the floor of the dark room for a second before finding the blinking source of the noise.
One new text message from Tita, telling me to not wear perfume when I came down today.
I knew that, I remembered that, but I guess after five days of being at her mother's side for 24 hours, my mom just wanted to make sure that every single detail was in line.
I texted her back "Thank you. I love you. Can you rest?"
She didn't text me back.
I couldn't sleep, so I roamed the house, took a shower, finished some laundry, packed the car for my ride to Fort Lauderdale to take part in exactly what I wasn't sure.
What I did know was that it was time to for the drive.
On Friday morning, during a tearful conversation, I asked my mom, "Isn't it time yet? I want to be there. Please say I can come."
Her response? A deep sigh, a sniff, resignation. "Almost. It's almost time."
That was enough for me.
My mind was made up. I heard what I needed to hear, and I made the decision no one could make for me.
Within hours I'd rented a car, arranged to cancel classes for part of the upcoming week, and took my brother up on his offer of a place to sleep.
At almost exactly 6am Saturday morning, I was all set in my rented PT Cruiser, about to pull out of the driveway when I decided to text my mom again. "I'm leaving now. No texting from the road. I love you & Tata. Happy First Day of December!"
See, we have this little (but fiercely competitive!) game of wishing each other a "Happy First Day" first. This game, which involves our extended family and friends, has gone on for decades.
When I arrived in Pompano Beach, dad and I grabbed lunch and then headed to the hospital.
Abuelo was happy to see me, and told me how proud he was that I was giving a speech in Miami. That was a lie, of course, but I understood. Mom told her parents I was coming down for work, that way they wouldn't think that I .... that I was here for ...
So I only spent about 10 minutes in the hospital room.
My abuela was suffering much worse than I'd imagined.
She was suffering so badly that I was only really allowed to make brief eye contact and touch her cold tense hand before being shooed out of the room.
I had never before seen Abuelaunlaughing, rocking, seized with pain.
Gone, already, was her her twinkle, and her wonderful splendid shamelessness.
My father and I caravaned toward the beach where he keyed me in at my brother's rental house.
Alone with my thoughts, I had a nice hard run, unpacked a few things, checked email, and considered a shower.
Beep. A text message.
Before I checked my phone, I prayed..... Please God don't let this be a text telling me she's gone. Please, please not yet.
It was my dad telling me to stop by Publix and buy something for mom.
Hooray, finally, I was part of things.
I arrived at Holy Cross at 6:05pm and headed to the 4th floor.
As I walked down the corridor I could see my abuelo (Holy Cross Hospital's Volunteer of the Year) still in his work clothes and tie, eating potato chips and looking out the sunset out a large long window.
"Geez," he greeted me, "you are too much!" Then he hugged me and whispered in my ear, "You're my number one." Together we returned to the hospital room where my mother's sister, Aunt Milly, and my cousin, Samantha, were sitting with my mom, comforting Abuela.
Abuela's attention was on my mom, like a baby bonding with its mother. "Mari... Mari..." then she'd try to breathe, hold her chest, lean back, lean forward... the entire time focused entirely on my mom.
For a few minutes I sat behind my mom, holding her while she held her mother, then -- in order to keep the room peaceful -- I left the room with Abuelo and stood out in the hall for a few minutes.
A male Filipino nurse joined us for some small talk.
Abuelo told the nurse that Thursday, December 6, would be their 63 anniversary. Did he think that Abuela would be home for that?
The nurse looked at me uncomfortably, stammered a vague answer.
I interuppted. "Abuelo, she can't stay in this pain for another five days..."
He nodded his head, but I don't think he really heard me.
We returned to the room, and surrounded Abuela, gently.
She wanted to go, it was clear that she needed to go, but she couldn't.
Sam, Milly, Mom, Abuelo and I shifted turns so each of us held her cold hand, felt her anxiety, offered her a tiny drop of solace in the sea of pain that was drowning her.
Abuelo sat in a hard chair, saying a rosary.
At 7:25, Abuela called her daughter's names, and then called for Sam.
She didn't call me -- not by name -- I figured I was next so I stood before her, joining the circle.
Abuela took a deep breath, looked right at me, then at Sam, then she didn't breath again.
A tangible explosion of love and peace shot through the room, filling us all, expanding through the room and to eternity.
At 7:25, December 1, 2007, Marta Carmen Polo Fornias slipped out of her suffering and into heavenly peace.
This time, I didn't pack kleenex. I don't think I'll cry.
I know the story, I'm immune, and anyway, we found parking so quickly this time, I just feel happy energy all ove the place.
When Barb talked at the Death and Dying class at FSU last November, the class started about two hours earlier, and parking at FSU was much tighter. We ran a bit late, but she was cool. Much cooler than I had been. Especially telling total strangers about such personal stories.
******************* Rewind. 5:00pm, Tuesday, March 13
Zack is standing in the living room, no underwear on, crying because he has cut his knee on a yard ornament.
The doorbell rings. It's Barb.
I hoist the howling three year old under my arm, trying to keep his knee-blood and boy-dirt off my suit.
Barb isn't worried about running late. She floats into my house, a breathe of calm steadiness in a whirlwind of whining. She stands next to him and distracts him with her purring voice and silly teasing.
After his boo-boo is cleaned, she finds a ballpoint pen (a pen! in my house! miracle!) and writes smiley-faces on his band-aids.
He is hopelessly in love.
Things are calm, I can leave. I swoop down to kiss Zoe. She hugs me and murmurs "Bye Miss Barb, I sure miss you."
I pull back. "I'm your MOM not Miss Barb!"
Zoe laughs at her mistake, a little embarassed for being caught starry-eyed, and kisses me on the cheek.
******************* Rewind Again. Thursday, March 8, afternoon
It's the Thursday of Spring Break, and Barb picked me up to go to lunch. She drives us in the milf-mobile, which feels ridiculously high compared to my Hyundai. I clown around, pretending to be a rock-climber, checking for my safety ropes.
After sushi, we go to Wal-mart. I had just gotten a new pond, I wanted to look at yard decorations. I've never actually had the impulse to even consider yard statuary, so Barb volunteered to chaperone me.
While I was sorting through the statues of bunnies, turtles, and other silly yard-creatures, Barb stood in front of something else.
"We need to get a new one of those for the graves." I stood completely still, head cocked like a friendly dog. She continued, "Well, things outside wear out."
They do. They do.
I didn't really want to actually buy anything, so we kept meandering. I think she bought cat food and paper plates.
You know, Wal-Mart stuff.
************ Fast Forward 7:10pm, Tuesday, March 13
Before we entered the auditorium, we went to the cramped florescent-light bathroom. I'm used to rotten lighting, so I just wash my hands, smile at myself while I gloss up my lips and left the bathroom to make a call.
I waited about five minutes then returned to the bathroom on a search-and-rescue mission. Barb was standing in front of the mirror, pulling her blonde hair back, scowling at herself in the mirror.
She was beating herself up, focusing on perceived flaws.
Maybe she does that when she's scared. I don't blame her one bit.
Barb is sitting up front now, cool and calm.
Looking more gorgeous than she probably should, given the topic and situation.
The professor spent the first 35 minutes of class taking roll and answering questions.
I cannot decide if he is a saint or a fool, but given his line of work -- grief counseling -- I have to lean toward saint.
He introduces Barb in these exact words, which I know for sure, because I am sitting in the back row, writing them down.
"This is Barb C. She is here to talk about her life. It is a sad story, a tough story, a story about resiliency."
He pauses, and I see about sixty heads turn slightly toward Barb, probably nodding, smiling, checking out her gorgeous dress.
And then, before Barb can tell the story herself, he tells the class how and when Barb's children, Ryan and Rachel died.
I understand that he wants to prepare them for her story, but I resent it the tinyest bit.
It's her story.
She's earned the right to tell it.
As she starts to ask the audience questions, warms them up, builds her credibility as a speaker, my mind goes back to the reason she brought me here tonight.
It's my job to figure out what we will have for dinner.
Yes, it'll be a late dinner, since this Death and Dying class doesn't end until almost 9. I am sure we won't leave the building until almost 10.
By that time, after telling about the accident, answering student questions, and walking a room full of strangers through the darkest days and years of her life, Barb will be elated and exhausted.
When it's all over, and she's through bearing her soul, we will eat.
No, we will not just eat.
We will have a mini-feast, celebrate life, enjoy being happy and healthy today, and -- I am sure -- laugh loudly together.
Part #1: 6 Stockings We are at the most wonderful baby shower, Zoe and I.
Finally he is arriving, the child they have been expecting for 9 years. It is a small gathering, a happy one, but also a nervous one.
The baby could come at any time, which means Mom and Dad – two former soldiers who left the service after—well, it’s not my story to tell, and I haven’t told it, but it’s not a secret – Barb, in fact, would greet you with a warm hug and tell you herself if you were lucky enough to meet her one day.
Rob and Barb's young children Ryan and Rachel (along with their grandfather) were killed in car accident in 1999.
Since that night my friends have survived. They sleep, they eat, they go to Walmart. And their family has grown to include a daughter -- Marina from Russia -- who has brought joy, laughter, and thousands of doctors visits. They adopted her from an orphanage that had no medical history, no story of prenatal care.
As long as I’ve known Barb, she’s been wanting another baby.
We discussed this over wine the first night we met, back in August 2005 sitting on a blanket in my living room. I told her I was an accidental and begrudging parent who loved her children as people, “but the whole responsibility of socks? And meals? And butt wiping? No, those don’t play a role in my ideal life.”
She shook her head, “It’s wonderful raising a family. And putting socks away and taking care of them, and the looks on their happy faces when you feed them…”
Soon after that, we got up and went outside so she could smoke. “Rob won’t let me get pregnant until after I quit smoking.” It made sense, we agreed.
She smoked while pregnant with her first two children, and both came out extra early, extra small.
In mid-2008, Rob and Barb signed up with an adoption agency, and I hardly saw her for months as she had home visits, wrote letters and filled out forms.
By Fall, a birth mother several states away also signed up with an adoption agency and wisely selected Barb and Rob to adopt her child.
On the December Sunday of Sean's Baby Shower, Barb sat on her screened porch, smoking, as Zoe and I walked up their long driveway, swinging presents and holdng hands both wearing long Royal blue dresses (she copied me, and if she tells you different, show her this article).
“You two are overdressed,” was her welcome, just before she hid her cigarette behind her back and hugged me with one hand.
“Overdressed? No way! This is the most important and wonderful party we’ve ever been to, if I had a ball gown I’d be wearing it!”
As the party settled from standing to sitting, Zoe and I found a place next to the wall where six stockings were hung. Zoe counted out in a polite whisper, “Rob, Barb, Marina…. Mom, why do they have two, each?”
My attention pulled back from the jalepeno cheese square on a ritz cracker as I counted the stockings then remembered, “Zoe, baby Sean gets one…” she nodded, “And who else?” Zoe shook her head.
“Their other two children?” I offer.
“Oh! Ryan and Rachel….I see, Oh Mom, where’s our gift for Barb?” Her voice drifted off, she stood up, and joined Marina rearranging the presents in front of the room.
Part #2: Bichos Malos I am alone with my Blackberry, watching Zack play made up superhero games with a new friend at the park. Ass Zack and his new friend traverse a bridge in front of me, I take a picture with the phone and send it to my Mom.
The day doesn’t feel as warm as I thought it would, and I am thankful for my red shawl. A brown squirrel runs right in front of me, pursued by an albino one, and I follow their pursuit up a fat-trunked tree, half bald, draped liberally in Spanish Moss.
The Blackberry buzzes in my pocket where – unlike the phones before it which died awful deaths – it is snuggled safely in ruggled holder.
Mom replied to the picture with a text that began, “In the ER with Papi…..” My first thought was not something I am proud of. I am not ashamed of it either, but I am surprised by how quickly it popped up. “No way, there is NO way this will happen again. He had a heart attack on my 30th birthday, and now on my 40th? Please don’t let my last visit be my last visit." (From November: Goodnight-abuelo & Everywhere-now)
Of course, I know better.
It isn’t about me, it’s about life, and love, and my mother who has heaved herself from the depth of grief this year, and stood there with a lifeline for him so he wouldn’t drown in grief of his own.
I texted her back, “Tell him his heart is still under warranty from ten years ago. And remind him about ‘bichos malos’”
She didn’t reply until several hours later, but I’m sure she passed the message on, and fully understood it.
It’s from a Spanish saying: Bad bugs (bichos malos – also meaning, cranky mean people) don’t die.
Part 3: Sean Arrives At the baby shower, I bet Rob $20 that Baby Sean wouldn’t arrive until after January 1.
“He’ll be born on a Tuesday, I know it,” Rob said, firm and quiet.
On Tuesday, December 9, Sean Busby entered the world, tumbling from the sky through a kind woman’s body and into the arms of his real parents.
Barb texts me the news of his arrival from their car as she and Rob tackle the thirteen hour drive to where Sean has been born.
I call her back.
She has not yet held him, but the attorney emailed pictures to her.
For the first time since I met her over three years before, Barb is downright giddy.
The next day she calls again and describes his face, his gestures, his perfect eyes and face and soul.
We do not talk again for a few days, but I see her online where she uploads celebratory pictures to her Facebook.
I cannot remember the specifics of phone tag that ensued that week, but I know when she and I actually talked next.
It was the morning of December 15, and I was on my way across town, heading back from campus where I had cleaned my office after submitting final grades.
“Do you have a pen?,” she asked, and said no, that I was driving, so don’t make me write anything.
Instead, she explained what exactly had been found to be wrong with her baby Sean’s heart, that he was facing open heart surgery, and that he might go on the transplant list.
Not once did she say, “Why me?” or “This is not fair.”
And, for the record, you should know that she didn’t say, “I can’t do this, it’s too hard.”
She did say, clearly to me and the universe, “I will not bury another child. I will not do it.”
The conversation continued. I said, once, “I’m sorry.” But then continued, “I mean, I’m so glad that he has you to take care of him, and I know everyone is scared, but I’m sorry you didn’t get immediate blissful joy you were expecting and so deeply deserve.”
She sniffed. I asked what I could do, and she told me, “Call me. Just keep calling me. If I’m in the NICU or with the baby or whatever, I just won’t answer.”
And so I did.
I called and texted her Tuesday. No answer.
Again on Wednesday. No response at all.
My stomach sank.
On Thursday I tried again, not too much, just a little so she’d know I was thinking of her – only good things, of course.
Part 4: My Birthday On the morning of my 40th birthday I woke at 5:00am to write my 1,000th blog.
I want it to be a good one, but I am not sure what it will be about. I start writing the story about the 6 Stockings and about baby Sean, then write about my Mom text about my Abuelo.
Around 6:45a I stand up to stretch and find Zoe sprawled across the sofa. Sing me happy birthday, I command, and when she doesn’t, I pull her on my lap and tickle her mercilessly while singing it to myself.
Soon enough Zack hears the commotion and snaps his fingers while strolling to us, wearing his black and yellow SpongeBob jammies, hair standing straight up in the air.
When neither of them can produce a single present for me, I sing happy birthday to myself while tickling them both at the same time.
After I drop the kids at school, my mom calls to sing me happy birthday.
I let her, and laugh, and then she tells me how lucky I am to have my grandfather here to sing to me on my 40th birthday.
She passes her phone to him and he sings to me, “Happy Birthday to you, you are my number one, I love you Missita, Happy Birthday to you.”
I clap my hands and he laughs at our little party. “You know I was your age when I left Cuba and had to start all over?”
No, I tell him. No, I didn’t know that, and I hadn’t thought of it.
I’m just so glad you’re here, today, I tell him, and I guess a doctor entered the hospital room, because I could hear a bunch of people talking and then the phone went dead.
After that, I called Barb while driving across town to my office where I needed to fetch some books on early Spanish Empire and land grants.
She answered with a choked up voice, “Let me call you back in 10.”
I turned down my car radio, tucked the Blackberry between my knees and prepared myself for the worst.
I imagined that if he passed away, she should not have to tell me. Or anyone.
In preparation for her call, I switched lanes, avoiding the highway in case I needed to pull over and cry.
She called as I passed the Walmart where I get my oil changed.
“Critical. But stable. He had open heart surgery yesterday.”
I laughed involuntarily and banged the steering wheel happily, “Best birthday present EVER!”
Barb didn’t laugh with me.
She exhaled with a sound that sounded much like she might be smoking a cigarette, standing outside the hospital, probably wearing a thick coat because where she is can’t be nearly as balmy as Tallahassee is this week.
“I said critical but stable, don’t have a party yet.”
“Are you kidding? Sean is alive. My grandfather is alive. They’re both here, and it’s my birthday. It’s a great great day.”
An hour later, I was back home and finally able to finish my 1,000th blog, happy again to have found another slice of something wonderful to write about.
I used to look forward to your thin crispy crusts and your cheap child pleasing cheeses.
You were cheaper then, easier then, convenient and cheerful.
Then during last summer's gas crisis you raised your prices, and I said nothing, but I started exploring my options.
That same week -- you would not know this, but it's time I told you -- I joined Costco and I found dinners far cheaper and more interesting than you ever were. (Can you say "Tilapia?")
Also -- you would not know this either, but it's also time I told you -- I got this amazing sharp knife from my father this past Christmas, and I now I love cooking. Or at least, I love chopping. I'm looking for good pots and pans, maybe some glass bowls.
I don't know exactly what I'll buy, but I know I can't get what I want by turning to you anymore.
I can't say this any clearer; I've shown you with my actions by not ordering from you since before Christmas, and now I'm telling you with these words.
I don't want you to cook my food, I don't want you to bring me food, I don't want to eat what you cook. I want to cook my own food.
Please, please, stop texting me and emailing me and sending me mail bragging about your specials, promising me satisfaction, delivery, warmth.
Maybe you haven't changed, but now, to me, you seem greasy and actually kind of desperate.
I would be ashamed to place your box on my corner in the recycle bin.
If you have any dignity at all, please don't text me any more, don't email me anymore, and don't bother mailing me any more of your brightly colored flyers.
I am immune to your charms.
Delete me, Pizza Chain, forget we ever knew each other.
It was just as I was getting the class into the 1990s that his phone went off. This never happens in my classes, most especially to the brave souls who sit close up to the action in the front row of the auditorium class.
It's a boring buzz buzz ring, and its clear whose phone it is because he's stretching his leg out to pull his phone out of his pocket.
I ask "Is it your mom?" and he nods his head.
I need to get the class back to domestic terrorism during the Clinton administration, but I can't let this moment go. I wait for him to give me $20 for interrupting lecture and compulsively lecture him on ringtones. "You can do better than that, I know you can. No one has to have boring ringtones. I have Usher singing YEAH YEAH. And one with cool bells from Harry Potter. Right now I'm using the Godfather."
He shakes his head. 70 people behind him giggle, and I'm off topic for just a minute, but it's the end of the semester and they KNOW I'm going to pivot right back to lecture. But this is important. He can do better as far as ring tones go.
I ask the class if they knew that now you can set any song on your iPhone to be a ringtone or alarm. Several people nod happily.
I feel like I've performed ample public service for the moment and get back to explaining history.
And just as I'm deeply into the religious philosophy of the Branch Davidians I hear something strange but I keep going because these students do NOT know about the events at Waco, Texas and they're on the edge of their seats and I want to keep going but twitches on faces tell me they hear it too.
Where's it coming from?
Finger, faces tell me it's coming from my bag at the front of the class.
It's playing the beginning tones from "Somebody that I used to know" (you know the song, just like you know Gangnam style, I'm not going to sing it here for you).
I fumble for my cracked iPhone and turn the sound off.
The sound button shows the sound should already be off, so I turn the phone all the way off and spin on my heels, back to lecture.
A student asks, "Wait, were there PEOPLE in the compound when the ABT attacked?"
The music continues. I'm so distracted. It's the same song and now the guy is starting to sing "you can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness..." but my phone is off so I must be losing my mind.
There's the culprit, hiding under papers.
It's the super cool Samsung Galaxy I stole from my son. I love this little tablet except it won't synch up to my Mac and download my iTunes. Every other device I've brought to the Mac has been different -- the Mac finds it, welcomes it, shares with it, and everyone is happy. Now, with the Galaxy the Mac is acting like an old tired dog who is annoyed by a perky kitten.
I can't get the music to stop without logging on to the tablet with the long complex password I invented to keep my son from unilaterally reclaiming the tablet (fair is fair in love and war) and I fumble through it while the song keeps playing "But you treat me like a stranger and it feels so rough" and I realize I'm not getting the tricky password here and now with the tiny keys and I power the tablet off.
The song dies, I fist pump, the class cheers, and we head back to Waco, then to Oklahoma City and through the USS Cole before the end of lecture.
As the students file out I realize and remember there are no songs on my tablet, no alarms, no ringtones. I have no idea where or how that song came from or why the tablet just turned itself on and spontaneously started playing like a bad bad kitten waking you up at the wrong time.
The next class meeting, before lecture while the students are copying down key terms and asking questions about upcoming exams I stand away from the screen so I don't block their view. I'm wearing a long swishy dress with wedge heels and as I'm standing still at the front of the classroom I suddenly lose my balance like someone kicked my knees out from behind me and hit the rail of the whiteboard hard on my to falling flat on my butt in front of the class.
They stare in silence. I'm FINE I say as a throb tells me I'm going to have a big bruise on my back. A nice guy whose family should be VERY proud of him springs up from the third row and climbs over chairs to offer his hand to help my up as I'm already getting. I shake off his offer and say "Help pregnant women up! I'm fine!" and off we go back into lecture.
After class I find myself holding my Tigger keychain and remembering I'm like him. Bouncy. I go on Twitter and admit to the fall. I have to laugh about it or become the professor who falls down and acts like that's normal so get used to it. A witty student writes back that she thinks maybe David Koresh did it. I agree a little but admit it felt kinda like Oklahoma City and rub the bruises on my butt and arm.
In another class, while they were taking their exam, I slide up onto the window sill for a minute -- it's so hard for me to sit still, and I have to look everywhere for cheating.
I know the students by name and quirk and handwriting by this point in the semester.
No one in here would cheat on me, not a single one of these these respectful hardworking awesome students, but still. I have to keep looking.
When I finish my surveillance from this angle and start to move to another one I lose my balance and fall awkwardly almost down on my ass again.
Instead of crashing I catch myself, spring up and whisper shout "I'm Spiderman!" to the four students who saw it happen.
They shake their heads, giggle a little, and go back to their job of taking an exam by explaining the the pieces of the puzzle of American history. And while they're writing I turn on my phone and tweet my triumphant Spiderman moment to the world.
After finishing the exam several students see the tweet and are annoyed they missed my fall.
I tell them it was fast and quiet and all that matters is I laughed and got back up again -- just like I want them to do.
The next week the professor again couldn't stop thinking about the frog. She googled it (nothing) she tried to draw it (no, too flat, too cartoonish) and then finally stopped and sat herself outside to be extra extra extra quiet.
What is it I'm supposed to be learning from this frog the professor asked the universe and the answer was silence, silence and more silence.
Am I supposed to jump like a frog, she wondered, but that didn't sound right.
Maybe I'm supposed to work on this pose she thought and of course that was the answer so she got right into Tree Pose.
She stood straight up on one leg, tucked the other foot above her knee making a right triangle.
It was hard to hold, she fell out of it, laughing.
Again she tried to hold the tree pose, to be like a tree, strong, silent, balanced. Again she fell down, laughing.
Over the next week she worked on her tree pose over and over and over, telling people they should try it, they should try it and try to learn to be like a a tree - solid, quiet, flexible, strong. People nodded and changed the subject.
Morning after morning, night after night the professor tried to stand like a tree, to stand like the frog and keep her balance while looking up to the sky, to the universe and each time she tried she fell over, laughing.
It is Memorial Day morning, and the kids aren’t up yet. I sneak to the bathtub and settle down with my favorite purple pen, ready to draft a story for my favorite veteran, but it doesn’t come.
Instead, I keep drifting back to that Emily Bronte poem that I found yesterday.
I have dreamed dreams in my life, dreams that have stayed with me ever after and have changed my ideas; they’ve gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the color of my mind.
I’ve lived a lot of the past fifteen years in my dreams, in the clouds, changing with the weather and seasons. I used to believe I was irresponsible and unfocused; now I know I was just born free -- one part body, one part fire, one part waterfall, one part vapor constantly floating away.Fifteen years ago this week, face-down sad and exhausted from a year of intensely silent suffering, I tossed down a handful of prescription sleeping pills. Actually, I took a few, then wasn’t sure if I’d taken any, so I took some more, and then, again, I couldn’t remember if I’d taken any, and I wanted to be sure to find some real rest, finally, so I took the rest.I tried to jump into the sky on that quiet warm late Spring night.Maybe I made it there for a few hours, I don’t know.I woke up from a dreamless black hole, sweaty, covered in sticky partly dried vomit, gripped with the worst headache I hope to ever know.The next events aren’t clearly spelled out in my journal, but what is clear is that within a day I was on a plane, headed back to Fort Lauderdale. There I would spend the rest of the summer holed up in my childhood and teenage room, reading thick romance novels, crying, and sleeping.At least that is what I remember.What I did not remember until finding that journal yesterday, what I could not have remembered because I popped pink and white and blue pills to calm my nerves and fix my sadness, was that I prayed boldly and loudly for help that summer.
Also, I tried my hand at magic that summer, sending up perfectly honorable prayer requests written in English and blessed in Spanish with oil from a botanica that sold platanos and pastelitos and along with powerful candles, waters, oils and herbs. ------------------------------ June 23, 1994 My life is mud. I would’ve gulped the entire bottle of (Rx) by now, but mom and dad are hiding them and just doling them out. That’s judicious because I’m so damn fed up with where I am, who I am and what I have begun. I’m so disappointed in myself, I hate myself. I starve myself, bounce checks, and push away good friends. I was in the hospital on Sunday, hyperventilating. My chest gets tight, I can’t fill my lungs, my eyes bug out, it’s terrifying. Mom talks about me being here this Fall. No. Hospital first. Then morgue. I will not stay here, like this.I have lit candles to St Jude (please HELP), St Theresa (inner peace, love), and St Anthony (companionship and marriage).After praying to St. Anthony last night and crossing myself with the “oil” that Abuela and Pepe Cortina and I bought at Santa Barbara farmacia, I dreamt vividly about marriage.I was on a familiar mountainous terrain, and saw a white stone peak mountain head. A hot salty wind blew from the West; I thought for a second we were in Cuba, but no, it was somewhere else. The city was a 16th century Spanish village, and my betrothed and I were having to prove our faith in order to have the union blessed. It was more of a memory or a flashback than a dream.
I hope that dream was a gift from St. Anthony, a sign that I have tasted love, that I will be loved and happy at the right time.
------------------------------------Every day for the rest of that summer, I sprinkled myself with the oil and the water, kneeled in front of the candles and said three, four, five rosaries to the silent angry God I did not yet know well enough to laugh with.I didn’t even think to ask God -- directly or magically -- to free me from the Anaconda of sadness and self-destruction I voluntarily wrapped around myself.
I did not ask to be freed from the addictions that were filling my mind, my hours and my days, whispering lies that I loved to believe.By the end of July, I was back in the hospital, throwing up blood, starving myself, paying a masochistic penance for sins and transgressions only I could see. Despite my best efforts, I didn’t jump into the sky in the summer of 1994. I stayed shackled down here, pacing, restless, believing the illusion I was powerless and alone. All my attention turned to my body, scapegoating it for every single transgression and trespass by and against my soul. In the darkness of the late summer days, as I gathered myself together to return to Tallahassee and finish my PhD, I slipped repeatedly back into the warm familiarity of that dream with a faceless groom whose hands held mine.
There, I would linger in limbo, letting his warmth flow into my fingers, through my arms, back into my heart.
I thought I would write and write while I was in Cuba, but instead I took a thousand pictures and found answers to questions I would never have thought to ask. In those pictures I found a clue and a hint to a piece of history that tracked down mercilessly like the Da Vinci code, and until found the answer -- or rather, the answer found me.
Now that I know the answer and can promise you this story makes a perfect circle (which maybe translates to “round trip” - “ida y vuelta”) I can tuck your arm under mine and pull you close so I can escort you Cuban style down through my recollection of three short days there.
On the day that my Mom and I leave for Cienfuegos, the flight is delayed enough that we make long tales of small talk with other travellers.
The conversation started at Cafe Versailles, where I shamelessly told on my father for trying to order the dessert “cascas (shells) de guayaba” and instead ordering “cacas(yes, that’s right, turds)de guayaba.”
My new friend offers that when she first came the US from Spain she tried to order something at a drive-thru, and when they asked what she’d like to drink, my friend answered, “Please give me a Coke.”
They asked her to repeat herself, so she did.
And they laughed at her, and she didn’t know why, but she was hungry and thirsty and she wanted her freaking drink so she said it again and again, “GIVE ME A COKE. I WANT A COKE!”
Only, the way she was saying “Coke” didn’t sound very American because the word coming from her mouth rhymed perfectly with “rock” and “dock.”
I have no story about myself to offer, but still we fill the time with stories in and about Spanglish, waiting for our flight to Cienfuegos.
The flight itself on a chartered 737 was unremarkable.
Finally when we arrived in Cienfuegos my Mom guarded me closely, making sure I had my papers out and ready. The nice man stamped my papers and buzzer went off and I pushed a door and it was official. I was in Cuba.
I stand mute and still transfixed by the site of the staff at the Cienfuegos airport. The female wand-waving security attendants wore khaki uniforms that included short skirts and rose-patterned black fishnet stockings and heels.
I can’t stop staring, I think I might be in a bad movie.
My mom nudges me and without my asking she says, “That’s their uniforms, now put your bag here....”
I follow my mom through the metal-detector thing and am pulled to the side by an authoritative figure despite her rose-patterned-fishnet-stocking.
She runs the wand over me and tells me something about a “vuelta” which brings tears to my eyes as words race through my less-than-bilingual mind.
“Ida y Vuelta” means round-trip.
“Vuelta” means return.
She’s telling me to get back on my plane and leave for America.
Today I applied for my first passport so that I can go to Cuba with my Mom, just like I promised at the end of Marvin's Book. Its in writing, it is published. I absolutely have to do it.
In the past two years I have seen the invisible wall separating us from Cuba crumble, and the scholar and historian and storyteller in me should be drooling over the opportunity to take part in and write about this moment in history but I'm not entirely ready.
The idea of being So Far Away makes my stomach hurt.
Except for my two year exile in the Great Mountains of Far Far Away Colorado and maybe a few trips across the border to Georgia, I'm not much of a traveler. When I do travel, it to places where there are fireworks, ChikFilA, Princesses and Monorails.
I can't expect that in Cuba. I'm not sure if my blowdryer will work (if not, can I use my straightener? is there a Plan C for hair?) and I don't think my iPhone will be able to generate my soothing Pandora nighttime channel.
But I'm going to go to Cuba, anyway.
I have a story to tell for my Abuela (and for you) and although I already know most of what I want and need to say, there is something I need to see. There is a rock, a magic rock in Cuba and I know where it is.
I have to see it, it calls to me, laughingly.
So today after stalling hour hours by sinking into episodes of Pawn Stars and Storage Wars, I turned on my computer and applied for my passport online.
At least, I filled out the form online.
Now I have to print it out, and in order to do that I have to set up the still-in-the-box wireless printer that Psychic Santa sent me, along with a pack of white paper.
And in order of set up the new printer I need to clear a great space for it, and to do that I have to tackle cleaning this post-Christmas house, do a few loads of laundry, and while the laundry is rolling I should drag the kids to the grocery, then when I get home, cook and then clean some more.
But after all that, I'll set up the printer and print it out my passport application.
And then, I'll have to take a passport picture.
And actually go somewhere to hand this form in.
Maybe I haven't actually applied for my passport YET but I've taken the first step - I've started on my start to see the rock that waits patiently for me in Cuba.