People

How death broke my family and Whatsapp put it back together


Death broke my family once.

It all started when my grandfather had a stroke. He was the pillar holding up my dad’s side of the family. My dad has three brothers and four sisters. One of his sisters has five children. We’re a big family and it was only suitable that grandma and grandpa’s house was our home base. None of us ever called them grandma or grandpa–they were essentially second parents to us. We called my grandmother Mama Alma and my grandfather Papa Luis. We’d shorten the names to Mama and Papa, which translate to mother and father in English. That’s how critical they were–and are–to the fabric of the family.

Orange trees

Orange trees

Every major holiday, birthday, or celebration was held at their house. They had a huge, two-story, red brick house with a balcony where we would sleep on cots under the stars. In the back yard, there was an avocado tree and an orange tree. There were huge turtles we would feed corn tortillas and white rabbits we would feed lettuce.  The house was also haunted, but what special house isn’t?

One of my aunts and one of my uncles had houses behind my grandparents’ house. Another of my uncles had a wife whose family lived down the street. And for symmetry’s sake, another of my aunts had a husband whose family lived down the other side of the street. I could walk into the corner store and say I was so-and-so’s daughter and everyone knew who I was. It felt like everything had been strategically arranged before I was born.

The best breakfast in town

The best breakfast in town

Every morning my grandmother made a big breakfast. Huge bowls were filled with every combination of eggs you could imagine. Beans and fresh tortillas were brought in from the small tortilla factory a few blocks away. Everything was within walking distance and after breakfast my grandfather would sometimes take us to his rancho, where orange trees covered the fields. We would ride in the back of the truck and pick oranges as he strategically passed just under the branches of the trees. We’d arrive back at the main house on the rancho sticky, covered in juice, and smelling like dirt and citrus.

Life was glorious and as far as I was concerned I had the best family in the world. There were tons of kids to play with, aunts and uncles to tell me how special I was, a grandmother to spoil me, and a grandfather who knew everything about everything.

Then he died.

I remember being in my dorm room pressing the snooze button for the third time when my phone rang. It was my mother and it wasn’t a normal time for her to call. I knew before I answered that there would be tears. My mother knows how to keep it together when she needs to and she did that for me during that phone call. I’m an only child, but I’m the oldest of the first generation of cousins living in the United States. It was always understood that I was responsible for telling my younger cousins bad news and sharing my easter egg hunt candy with them.

One by one, I called my cousins to let them know. It was like a procession and I felt like the grim reaper.

I couldn’t go to the funeral and I felt incredibly isolated from my family. I was alone and my family was mourning and there was no one to hug. This is the first time I felt detached from them.

After that, there were slowly fewer holidays, birthdays, and special occasions held at my grandparents’ house. My grandmother eventually moved out, creating an identity crisis for many of us.  It was as if a part of us had been taken away. There was no home base anymore. We still made it work, though. We saw each other and we loved each other. But it wasn’t quite the same.

I was much older now, and while I missed the innocent, fairy tale illusion of my childhood, I could now appreciate the wisdom and company of my older cousins. While I have many cousins, only six are women. (The aunt I mentioned with the five kids?  All five are men.)

I was very close to my cousins and I spent months living in Mexico with the cousin closest to my age, Lety. She was unlike anyone else in our family and she gave us life through her laugh. She taught me about makeup and how to push on the hose with my thumb so the water would shoot out. She taught me about love and, most of all, about loving myself. She inhaled life and was a magnet to everyone around her. She could make you feel special in a room full of people.

When she was 24, she died of cancer.

When someone dies when they’re old, there is sadness. When someone dies at a young age, there is anger and hate. I never want to know what it’s like to lose a child, but I’m certain it changes who you are. A piece of every single one of us died that day. For some of us, it changed who we were a little bit; some for the better and some not. We couldn’t be in the same room without bursting into tears randomly. Everyone was reminded of her just by being around someone else in the family. We were walking reminders that one of us was no longer there. And that slowly started to break us.

We talked less. We visited less. We needed time. We needed space. We had lost our home base and on top of that there was a broken home now. Mexico itself was in a state of disarray. My grandmother was living with my aunt in the United States. We were like ants when you throw water on them: flailing, running around trying to get back to the line.

For a while, it was like this. Everyone would reach out to the person nearest them because that’s as far as our emotions could go. We would still see each other but it was once a year and it started to feel like we couldn’t pick up where we left off as we once could.

Then there was Whatsapp.

When this app came out it was really popular in Mexico. Communicating between countries had always been a problem so we all jumped on board when we realized we could text each other. A family group was made and slowly every aunt, uncle, and cousin was added. We would say good morning and good night. We would post memes about it being Monday. We would post pictures of ourselves, our children, and our pets. This may not sound like a lot but for us it was like a reunion on our phones every day.

There was finally a place to share our happiness and our lives with the people we still cared about but hadn’t known how to reach out to after we healed from the past.

The other day my aunt had a small surgery. Her son notified the group and we all sent her our goodwill and wishes. He sent a picture of her right before the surgery to reassure us she was fine and in good spirits. Most of my family is Catholic and one of my cousins suggested a prayer chain. Half an hour later we had an updated picture of my semi-sedated aunt out of surgery and ready for dinner.

The support and community felt through this seemingly simple group text brought me back to my grandparents’ house. It was like we were sitting at the kitchen table surrounded by bowls of food, avocados from the tree in the backyard, children running around, and the family together. It was like we had found our home base again.

Advertisements
Standard
emo

I hate writing about love.


Every time I try, I just end up hating myself and shoving the doc away deep in my drive. But too much has happened to ignore it any longer.

When you start to feel love whether it’s for a significant other or a friend, you’ve basically just signed up for cancer.

It feels so good at the time, like you can’t fully breathe without it. When you’re not giving it or receiving it, you feel like you do right after you get off of a roller coaster–nauseated and bored.

Some people describe love as an addiction. A drug. And just like with any drug or addiction, your mind is melting right now but you’re in for an ungodly pain later. It’s just a matter of time.

So why do we keep doing it to ourselves? Are those of us who keep engaging in love just as bad as people who pay in nickels for the cheapest cigarettes they can find at the only open gas station at 1 a.m.? maybe.

Maybe we’re all just masochists for our desires. Maybe we’re just not meant to be alone?

But we all know, that no matter how much you love the person standing in front of you whether it’s your boyfriend, girlfriend, child, mother, uncle, distant cousin you still keep in touch with, the best possible outcome is that you die together at the exact same time. Literally. Simuldeath is the best scenario here! Because you don’t want to suffer without them and you don’t want them to suffer without you. We can all predict that death will occur, eventually. And yet here we are, driving friends to the airport, letting them cry on your shoulder, falling in love and kissing in the rain.

It sounds so stupid sometimes.

Recently, I lost a friend and a couple of my best friends lost a parent.

The pain seemed neverending at times. Facing it was incredibly difficult. Everyone tells you it just takes time. That time will heal and make it easier. Well that’s fine. And it’s true. But everyone forgot to mention the gut-wrenching feeling of meeting a new person who wants to be in your life.

At this point you’ve thrown up your hands. You’re calling it. F this. Never again. Never again will I go down this road and throw my emotions callously into a vacuum that I imagined would last forever. Oh no. Time to gather my things, and live in the forest. Alone. That’s the only way to protect the heart.

Except, unlike cigarettes and booze, love has a way of feeding you. It’s less of a leach and more of a symbiotic relationship. Sure you can try to say no to love. Shun it, and call it names while you laugh and do some more crossword puzzles alone with your cube wine.

But unless you’re Richard Proenneke, you can’t escape other people. As a matter of fact it’s the only thing that gives your life meaning when you really think about it.

That triathlon medal can make you feel good but it can’t kiss you on the forehead. That fancy Ikea lamp can make the light in your Instagram selfies look esoteric but it can’t hold your hand when you’re nervous. Those new shoes can make your legs look longer but they can’t know you better than you know yourself.

We don’t think about what we’re doing when we start to love someone. We generally don’t think about them dying, or us dying and how sad everyone will be. We see adventures, unforgettable memories, laughing until someone almost pees, blurry nights, new first times, and more embarrassing stories you hope no one remembers.

And that’s why we do it. Time and time again.

Is it worth the ups and downs? Is it worth the deprivation, the destruction, the absolute wreckage of your being when the love is gone?

Go hug someone you care about for a full minute. That’s how you know.

Standard
People, Travel

I met a woman on a plane


She fumbled with her seat belt. Nervously mashing one piece of the buckle into the other, shaking so vigorously it could have been mistaken for a poor joke.

She finally clicked the metallic pieces in. Airline belts are like the dodo bird, unusual in nature and generally useless. Still shaking, she shifted in her tiny, long seat. Turning her head to look out the window but never really seeing. There was too much on her mind. Flustered she would appear to the man who hesitantly sat next to her.

Every few seconds she would clear her throat. Not too loudly but just enough for him to consider sly ways to change seats.

As she sat there feeling nothing, staring at nothing, she overheard women behind her talking about a teaching program.

“My son does that.

“Sorry to butt into your conversation, it’s just a select few who are chosen. You ladies have a nice flight.”

“No, please. Join us!”

“No really. You see, my father died today. At 11 am. He lived a great 91 years.

“But anyway, I’m not very cheerful right now.

“Thank you.”

She actually said this all incredibly cheerfully. Ironically even. But she didn’t notice. All she wanted to do was sleep. Sleep it all away.

Maybe some cold OJ would help. Not peanuts, no.

It’s disorienting when your mind is completely bare but your heart is heavy with pressure.

Is it still beating? Or is that pounding in my head?

The OJ didn’t help with her shaking.

He shut the air vent.

Is it cold? I can’t remember the feeling.

She touches her neck absentmindedly, surprising herself with the feeling of skin on skin. His hadn’t felt like any skin she had touched before. But it reminded her what cold was. Now she needed to hold herself from shaking too hard again.

She had frizzy, curly, dark, short hair. She wore glasses with a titanium rim. Round and wide like her. Jewelry that matched. Gold earrings, three rings, a gold bracelet, and a gold, half moon shaped necklace with diamonds in it. She was married but alone.

Big belly, boney knees, big ears, normal sized hands. She was wearing khaki shorts and a sky blue shirt with a white, patchy, brush print.

The experience of sitting by a window on a plane is completely dependent on the time of day and how close you are to the wing. When it’s utterly pitch black, sitting by a window can feel like being in space or having your eyes closed.

She remembered when she was a young girl she loved sitting in her closet in complete darkness and opening her eyes as wide as possible. And then closing them tightly. Reaching, straining to make the shapes she knew were there appear.

Whiffs of white, brushes of pink, lightning blue.

Thinking back it occurs to her that those colors and lights never existed. They were made up by her mind because she wanted to see something in the darkness so badly.

Now as she stares out the airplane window that yearning returns. She closes her eyes tightly, and clenches her fists, wanting to see something in the darkness. Wanting to feel something else in her heart.

woman

Standard