Sunday, August 17, 2008

time can take its toll on the best of us

I think this first occurred to me when I was listening to my best friend cry on the phone. And then when my little sister was telling me about the girl who had beaten her up. She was also crying. It really hit me when I was crying on the phone, trying not to let someone else hear how much I was hurting.

How can you love someone so much that the sound of their voice on the phone makes your heart break? Every single time.

Because there is someone, a thousand miles away, who is listening to you as well. Who at that moment you would do anything to be next to. Who makes you wish that you were able to teleport. Who makes you want to be more than just your normal self, and be everything and everywhere. Just for them.

It makes you wonder what people did before phones. Not exactly what they did, because you know they wrote letters, but what they did with those feelings of extraordinary longing.

They are absolutely enveloping.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

used to be one of the rotten ones

I've realized that it doesn't matter how long I'm awake or how long I'm asleep. It doesn't matter when I finally close my eyes or when I open them, because really, I inevitably come to think of just one thing.

Just one.

A gentle brushing of finger tips, lightly touching my lips. More intimate than a kiss, it's a memory that presses against my mouth. It stays there, settles. Dies. Is reborn. Continues.

I'm quite sick of this and I'd like for it to stop.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

when it was just me

January 1st

December 31, 1996
She’d somehow gotten it into her head that she had to eat all twelve grapes at once. Although it would be a difficult task, with five grapes making her look like a chipmunk who had swallowed more than it could chew, she knew it was important. It’s a tradition, he had said, and she felt the words heavy with responsibility and expectation.

At midnight she had to make a wish on every grape she swallowed. It was hard not to get distracted by the images of Time Square on the television, but she kept her eyes for the most part on the clock. She didn’t want to miss it, she didn’t want to be late. She would be nine in six days and starting the year off right was crucial. Wish hard enough and they’ll come true, he had said. She believed him.

Her dad had asked her to gather twelve grapes for her, her mother, her little sister, and him. She’d been careful and deliberate in her choices, and only the smoothest, darkest ones were chosen. Her mother thought it was superstitious and unnecessary, and her little sister was three and would have put anything in her mouth. It was really only important to her father, and by extension, her.

She felt tremendously silly when he told her to swallow one grape at a time, instead of trying to make one humongous wish with twelve grapes in her mouth. But it wasn’t that she had just decided to eat them all at the same on a whim; she had a reason. One grape seemed too insignificant to make this wish on. It seemed that the only way it could possibly come true was if she swallowed all of them at the same time. The swollen-looking cheeks would be worth it if this wish came true.

Her mother was tired and didn’t care about staying up to watch the countdown, but it seemed appropriate to after having waited all night for her father to come home. He’d been at work, but her own impatience, matched only by her mother’s, had caused her to call her father’s office more than twelve times to reach him. He hadn’t been available, and so she’d prepared the grapes herself and waited for him to arrive.

Her little sister was the most notably excited of the family. She’d had a huge grin the entire night that had begun to droop just a little due to exhaustion. She’d passed the terrible twos and was on to the treacherous threes that made her prone to temper tantrums. But not on this night. On this night upon sensing her mother’s visible tension and her older sister’s concerned countenance, she’d acted in a manner beyond her years. She accepted the grapes and waited patiently for whatever was going to happen.

With ten minutes left in the year, movement in the apartment began to center around the television. Her mother came back from her self-imposed seclusion, her father stopped pacing, and her little sister reached out for someone to hold her up to eye level.

And so it came to be that they all had their respective glass of grapes, with the exception of her little sister who had a cup, and they counted down the minutes towards the New Year. As the final minutes approached they each quietly began to take grapes and to make silent wishes for the New Year. They would never know each other’s wishes, and they could never be told to another soul. She didn’t know what her mother would wish, though it probably involved being able to reach her husband at work. She didn’t know what her little sister would wish, though since the concept was completely new to her, it probably involved being paid more attention to. She would never guess what her father would wish, though she knew it had to involve some sort of promise to visit his home country again, to improve his new business, and to spend more weekends feeding ducks at the local park with his two daughters. She wished him luck with all the imaginary wishes, but had her own that encompassed the entirety of the grapes.

She swallowed each of them slowly. She thought carefully, again and again, of her wish. This was important, it was a tradition, it meant something and if she wished hard enough it would come true. With every grape, another part of the wish became a certainty in the future.

When the clock struck midnight, her father hugged her and wished her a Happy New Year. She wrapped her arms around her mother and the tension they’d carried on their shoulders was lessened and then gone. Her mother forgave her father’s lateness and they embraced and said Feliz Año Nuevo. Her dad picked up her little sister and kissed her cheek, and she let him without any complaints, though her yawn indicated that the night’s festivities were at a close for her. Her father handed her the little body, warm with sleep, and told her to put her to bed.

She carried her to the only room, and placed her on her bed. She wanted to give her a kiss goodnight, but thought it best not to disturb her in any way. Instead, she confided to that little soul. She was young, she wouldn’t understand, but she wanted someone to share her only wish with.

“Can we stay together forever?” she softly asked. A contented sigh was all she received as an answer, as her little sister fell into deeper sleep. She didn’t know what she was dreaming, but a little smile appeared on her lips, and she left her to join her parents.

December 31, 2006
She did not want to go to church. Her mom and sister were getting ready to go but she didn’t want to waste her New Year’s listening to how she had to repent her sins before Armageddon came and she was destroyed. It had been months, maybe years, since she’d last gone and she would never be going back she defiantly told her mother.

It had also been months since they’d argued about this particular issue. She’d been busy with school, busy with her friends, busy with the prospect of finally leaving for college, and her mother had finally given up. They’d had some earth-shattering arguments in which she’d said more than was necessary and been as rude and disrespectful as she could be without getting in huge trouble, but things had come to a standstill. Her mother didn’t have the patience, or the strength to argue with her anymore, so she only asked once if she’d join them at church. She would not be joining her mother and sister.

Her father had called as well and she’d answered on his third try because she didn’t know what kind of news he’d bring. He wouldn’t be able to pick her up and take her to her aunt’s house for dinner because he was too sick. Her dad had been bed-ridden for days and didn’t have the physical strength or the patience with his disease to go out to see anyone. He and his brother would spend the night at the apartment they’d rented, eating re-heated food and watching the countdown on TV.

He apologized to her several times but she understood. His health had been deteriorating for the past four years to the point that her uncle had come from his country to serve as a full-time nurse for him. They’d moved out, and it became harder and harder for her to see her father on a regular basis. She was busy, so he understood. She had a lot to look forward to, a lot to do before she left for college. She was seventeen, so close to eighteen and being an adult. Her family had taken a backseat to everything else, and though she lived with her mother and sister, she’d been home a lot less. Her dinner at her aunt’s house was a tradition that had replaced her New Year’s Eve at home, and yet with it gone she didn’t fall into despair.

“Remember to eat the grapes at midnight,” he reminded her urgently, as she tried to get off the phone. She would, she replied. Just then she realized she had another call, said a quick goodbye, and hung up. It hurt for a second and then she focused on what would happen next.

It was the boy she’d been seeing and he brought the promise of an empty house and pizza, if she wanted to join him on New Year’s. She agreed without hesitation, and got dressed quickly, but attentively. She chose a pair of jeans, but enhanced them with heels because she didn’t know what they’d be doing. She told her mother she was going to a friend’s house and ended up getting in his car before she’d even left for church.

They arrived at his house and he ate pizza while she nervously tapped her foot and rubbed her hands against her jeans. To get her mind off things, she flipped through the channels looking for a countdown. She paused for a moment on the Spanish news channel, which was showing the countdown she was used to watching. It wouldn’t work though, he didn’t speak Spanish. She’d have to find a channel they could both watch, and settle for the fact that the most grape-like item in his house were olives and wishes didn’t come true on olives. There would be no countdown in Spanish this year. There would be no grapes.

It was her first New Year’s away from her family. Everything had changed so much since her dad had gotten sick that it had been a relief to find someone she could be with that wouldn’t remind her of how much was gone. When he asked her to dance with him at ten minutes ‘til midnight, she accepted. He looked through his music collection, trying to find something appropriate that they could slow dance to in order to welcome the New Year.

“Memories like the corners of my mind… misty water-colored memories of the way we were” rang out from his speakers. He asked for her hand and she handed it to him, aware of how she couldn’t control her heartbeat. She opened her mouth to say something, anything, that would express even a small part of how she felt. There was so much to say, there was so much darkness threatening to pour out from her eyes, that she choked on her words. With a minute left in a flash she realized how much she missed the grapes. Missed having something to do with her hands, and so she took one to wipe her eyes. He looked down at her and took her hand, clumsily, and held it in his. Her eyes burned, and when they met his the look of tender, young concern caught her off guard.

He kissed her at midnight and she knew she was in love. There were no grapes this year, but there was a kiss that stopped the tears in her eyes and that absorbed the words that had been causing her to lose her breath. With her body pressed against his she felt a certain warmth that although familiar seemed completely new. This wasn’t what she’d wanted, this wasn’t what she’d expected for the New Year, but it was something. It was something when she was silently but frantically looking for anything.

“Memories may be beautiful and yet what's too painful to remember we simply choose to forget,” she heard in the distance.

December 31, 2007
She stood alone on a street corner. Her new house was the only one on the block, so it stood alone as well. The wind was blowing everywhere, furiously. It wasn’t welcoming her, and it definitely was not greeting the New Year.

They’d moved in three days ago, and she didn’t know anyone around for miles. She’d also been sick, further keeping her from venturing out and meeting people. It was an entirely different state, and an entirely different city where she only knew her sister and her mom. It was the three of them, in a lonely house where they still hadn’t gotten used to the fact that they each had their own rooms instead of sharing one.

There was no telephone service yet. The cable man was also not going to be available until next week so there would be no television. They hadn’t gone grocery shopping yet, so there was also little variety in what they could eat. They didn’t have grapes. Hell, they didn’t have milk or wine or much anything else.

It was a quarter to midnight and her mom was getting ready for bed, and she told her to do the same. She’d mainly been in charge of unpacking since she’d been sick so she understood why she’d be tired. Also, along with unpacking she’d been her nurse and she deserved to rest.

However, she remembered that her dad always said to start the year off the way you wanted to end it. It couldn’t find her in the same bed she’d been in for the past three days, and it wouldn’t find her asleep. She said a brief goodnight to her mother, kissed her cheek and set off to get ready.

She got dressed. She chose a gold-colored dress that made her feel like celebrating, but put on boots instead of heels. The boots that had been everyday wear in her college that was thousands of miles away, hidden in snow. Although she’d never been a fan of shoes more complicated than sneakers, the boots made her feel like she could walk through whatever storm she would encounter outside.

She shivered as she pulled her green coat tighter around her. It was windy and cold, but there were fireworks. In every direction that she looked from her solitary house, there were fireworks. And better than that, there were stars. She walked slowly to the corner, savoring the feeling of fresh air, occasionally pausing to look at the house that was farther and farther away.

There was a petite figure looking down at her from her bedroom window. It was her little sister and when she blinked the lights went off and she was gone. She hesitated for a second and wondered whether she should invite her to come outside and watch the fireworks. But it was cold, and she continued on.

She checked her phone and saw that there were two minutes left. She looked around for any other person, any one else standing outside waiting for the New Year to come. There was no one though. She considered calling someone to count down the last minute with, but couldn’t think of anyone who wouldn’t be with family or friends.

She breathed in slowly, holding one breath, holding it very tightly, waiting for the minute to end, waiting for something to happen, hoping she would cry, hoping she could laugh, holding, waiting, hoping. There were no grapes, there were no songs, there was no dancing, there was her. Just her. She let go of that breath and inhaled the New Year.

At that moment there was so much she wanted to do. It was January 1st, it was the first few minutes of the new year. They held too much promise for her to simply stand without doing anything significant. Lifting her arms into the sky she asked for something that she didn’t expect to receive an answer for.

Give it back, she thought and paused for an answer; any answer. She needed something at the moment to keep her legs from freezing to the ground. At that moment, anything from divine intervention to a shooting star would have been enough. The sky raged in the night with fireworks and that was enough.

She ran back to her warm house that was apart from the rest. There would be more built and her’s would not be the only one on the block for long. She walked through the door, up the stairs, past her mom’s room. She stopped for a second and heard her light snores. Her mom had never been a fan of staying up late and had only ever done so for the benefit of the family, and so now she was doing what she’d always wanted to do on New Year’s Eve. She walked away and to her own room. She turned on the lights and lying on her bed was her little sister. At twelve, she was just a few inches shorter than her, and she growing up so fast.

She wasn’t the same little girl with the soft smile as she lay down to sleep. She had tired eyes that looked worn out whether she had slept well or not. She lay down next to her little sister, that she’d whispered to more than a decade to, and took her hand. Her eyes glistened with tears and as they began to spill out she wiped them away.

“I still miss him,” she said.
“I know.”

Monday, February 25, 2008

when you thought there was nothing there, but there was so much

They watched the empty night sky for four months. For four months, they looked at this area in the sky because there didn't seem to be anything there. It makes you wonder why anyone would bother to look for something that they thought they wouldn’t find, or furthermore, that they didn’t expect to find.

But they found something; they saw through time. This speck of sky, this unimpressive part of the universe, contains 10,000 galaxies. Hubble Ultra Deep Field represents the oldest and farthest region of space ever observed through a telescope. It was chosen for observance due to its disparity to areas around it; in a sky illuminated by celestial bodies, we thought we'd found somewhere different: emptiness.

So we learn. That is the momentum that knowledge has taken in man's search for understanding: there is always more. Outside of what we know, outside of what we can know, outside of what we will ever know there will always be much, much more. We simply do not have the perspective to ever fully capture the transcendent size of the universe because we are entirely too limited to ever do so. We are born, we live in awe, and then we die like everyone before us has done.

I’m left with that brief feeling of terror whenever I look up at the night sky and realize that I mean less and less the farther away I let my eyes travel. It is what Edmund Burke would classify as a normal emotion in the presence of the sublime. When confronted with absolute, consuming, overwhelming space, I feel a powerful sense of motion downwards. I’m here, on Earth; I will never be there, I will never experience that.

In essence, we get lost in the infinity. It is very easy to succumb to the feeling that everything is so much bigger than us. I do. A lot. I forget the tiny snowflake landing on my lips and gently melting there like a kiss when I think about the galaxies out there, the exploding stars, the black holes. That’s the dilemma you’re left with when you try to reconcile your existence with that of an entity that was there before you were an idea, and will be there after you are nothing but a collection of lonely cells.

But then I remember that when I walk through a snowstorm, I’m really walking through so many snowflakes. They’re all different, all ephemeral, yet all so beautiful as they land on my eyelashes, melt, and become tears of awe. There is awe in this as well, they’re saying, as there is in those galaxies so far away. What I experience now is singular to myself, singular to all of time, and although it passes all too quickly, it happened. That moment. In a universe that is constantly expanding, or contracting (whatever you believe), your life happened when it didn’t have to. What’s more, you exist.

There’s something in that, isn’t there? In that I can stand under the night sky. I can see the stars, the galaxies, see back in time. And I can walk back to my room while snowflakes embrace the ground, and me.

Monday, February 4, 2008


He was a very good cat and a very dear friend.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

When I Was

I cried when she told me. I hadn’t cried out of happiness in so long, it felt good. In the fluorescent lighting of the kitschy 24 hour diner, with some woman in the booth behind us cursing about being old and not being fucking married, she blushed and looked down as she described how they’d been lying in bed. Her roommate was in the room too, so I didn’t get any other ideas, but still, they lay down together. She confessed to him, shyly and simply, that she was very in love with him. And he told her how how he’d wanted to say the same thing for a very long time. He really loved her too.

It was beautiful. It was something that she didn’t make a big deal out of, but it was painted in her eyes. My two best friends are in love and it made me cry out of joy.

Last year was hard. I can still remember every second, I can still hear every word of that phone call, and one phrase plays constantly. “Tu papa ya no esta con nosotros,” my uncle said. But that’s not something I’m ready to start writing about. As someone said about writing about moments that change your life and define you, you don’t want to end up sounding melodramatic. And it’s also not what this is about.

It’s about my two friends who are in love. It’s about the way she told him she loved him. It’s about how he has loved her for a long time. It’s about how even though fucking awful things happen in life, things that knock you to your knees, things that make you think you couldn’t possibly ever be okay, that despite all those things there are still tears of joy. It’s about how I was reminded that there is still good. It’s about how there is always hope.

Friday, December 28, 2007

When there’s nothing left to burn, you must set yourself on fire...

As I flicked my cigarette and the wind blew my hair in my face for the thousandth time, I looked up. The same stars that I’m searching for in the ashtray LA sky, I could see clearly from Christmas-card perfect Amherst. I smile because it’s home.

I’m sitting at my favorite hookah bar, on my favorite busy, car-infested boulevard, listening to a conversation that I take and leave as my ears will allow. My thoughts are everywhere and nowhere at once, and when the waiter asks me if I’d like more tea I absentmindedly nod. He winks and coyly asks me if I have enough sugar.

I respond, I never do. For the tea.

There’s Middle Eastern music in the background and it reminds me of that boy that I once loved. We’d spent many nights there, on that hectic, garishly, almost obscenely busy boulevard that catered to late nights and breaking curfews. My eyes lost focus again, but I didn’t let myself get lost by the ashes that had collected on my cigarette and in my head.

I was moving to Texas at the end of this week. Though I should probably rephrase that and say that my mom and sister are moving to Texas and I was moving to limbo. Leave the college and come back home, leave the home and move to nowhere, is basically the summary of my nomadic wanderings for the winter. I wished for a second I had decided to hibernate in my dorm room until everything had settled, and then I repeated to myself what has become my life’s philosophy: Things happen and nothing is certain.

But death, I suppose.

I needed a moment to fix the medusa’s head that my hair has become, because a storm had descended on San Fernando Valley. My valley. It was saying goodbye in the way a scorned lover would, howling at my infidelity at having another valley to seek comfort in, and another home in which to toss and turn on restless nights.

I walk to the bathroom and in front of the mirror run my hands through my hair. I miss my long, untamed curls, but I decided to straighten my hair so it’s my own fault. My lips aren’t chapped for the first time in months, and I resist the urge to lick them because the wind will make me pay for that decision too. My eyes are dams, the only sign that there is something rushing forward, pressing outward, wanting release. I’ve changed.

I walk back to the carpet we’re sitting on, appreciating and loving the fact that its nearly 2 in the morning and there are people out. Just out. The waiter walks by, grins and asks me if he can change my coals. For a second I really want to quote Buddha’s Fire Sermon, for absolutely no reason. It’d be lost on this moment. Maybe later, maybe with someone else.

Instead I say, I’m leaving. I am. It’s time.

Sleep. Miles and miles of sleep, that’s all I’m thinking about. And the stars. I’m looking at them. Wherever I am, there they are, where I am, there are stars.

They’re where you are, too. It comforts me, and I grab my coat and walk back on to that boulevard.