Middle School (essay #2)



When the doctor said my son had bronchitis, my eyes opened wide and my jaw dropped a little. A bit melodramatic, but she laughed and said most people had that reaction but it wasn’t as bad as it seemed. She prescribed an inhaler because his breathing and coughing were so bad. I stumbled on my questions like how? And why? Mostly, I wanted to make sure it wasn’t something I could’ve prevented. A negligence on my part. “It’s just a virus. He breathed it in. It happens all the time,” she said.

Parents have so much power. Some of it false, with an illusion type quality. I never want to feel negligent.

When we lived in Harlem from the time he was 2 years 9 months until he was 7, he seemed to always have a cough. For most of that time, in our two bedroom apartment a block away from the 6 train, it was just the two of us. In retrospect, I realize it was probably the mold in the walls that made him cough like that. There were always all sorts of leaks in our building, but I felt lucky to be able to live there.

Walking into that apartment, there was a room to your left that was too small to be a bedroom but large enough to be used as storage or a walk-in closet. I often think of the moments that occurred at the entrance of our apartment. The bathroom was to your right by the front door. I’m sure people thought I beat my child because when I’d bathe him, he would scream and cry as if I were hurting him. (He hated washing his hair. Still does actually.) I have pictures of him with paint up to his elbows from a time he was finger painting and things got out of hand. But the moments I don’t have pictures of are the funniest. One morning, standing in that closet in a thong, looking for something to wear, my son on the way to the bathroom saw me. “Don’t worry mommy, that happens to me all of the time,” he said, and kept about his business. My little kid totally thought I had the most vicious wedgy. I had to hide I was laughing so hard.

In the mornings, he liked to eat toast with peanut butter for breakfast. We were always in a hurry to get him to school, but there was one morning that I discovered two clumps of peanut butter in his hair as we were walking out the door. When I asked him how it happened, he said he had no idea. I had no time to wash his long hair so I did the best I could to get it out quickly. But my favorite memory is probably from the morning of my wedding. When I stood in the bathroom, brushing my teeth, and heard him running to me. He opened the door in a hurry, looked at me with two thumbs up and sang, “Mommy, WED-DING DAAAY!” like he was the fucking Fonz from Happy Days.   

Naturally, for every good, funny memory, there are also bad ones. Last year, as he was entering middle school, he was also going through changes in his relationship with his biological father. It’s not like it happened over night. It really started years earlier but things were getting worse and coincided with that shift that happens in a kid when entering middle school and the beginnings of puberty. Before I knew it, during a time I thought I would have more time for myself, I was dedicating almost as much time to him as when he was much younger. I don’t go into details of his experience here because I have felt that much of it is up to him to tell one day, if he chooses to. Though we talk about what he’s okay with me including in my writing, there’s a line and I try to keep things from my perspective. But he has told me a range of stories, some infuriating, some that simply have made me shake my head and say, “Honey, you’ll have plenty to write about when you’re older. Good Lord.” We laugh when I say this. I try to encourage him to write, but his thing is art and music. He loves stand up comedy though and I feed into this defense mechanism of laughter. Dark humor rules our household.




A week before Christmas, a boy that was just a year older than my son, took his own life. They went to the same school. “We weren’t friends or anything but it’s still sad,” he said. We talked about it. A lot. They took the same bus to school and went to the same after school club once a week. I realized that my son had just talked about this kid a few weeks prior. I, in turn, obsessed for weeks. Thinking, searching, scanning my mind to moments from last year. When my son broke down, fell apart. What his anxiety still looks like. It’s inevitable to think of all the people (usually family) that think you’re exaggerating when you’re concerned or all the people that don’t think you’re doing enough. No one ever wants to believe the signs. Sometimes there are none.

For days, my son was unusually quiet. And for days, I asked him if he was okay. “Something just feels off,” he’d respond. When I told a friend of mine, she said, “We have a hard time when a celebrity we like dies. Of course he feels off.”




I wore grape purple sweatpants when my parents rushed me to the hospital at 15. A Freshman in high school, a few days after my birthday, I took a bunch of pills and then immediately regretted it. I called my older brother. Before taking me to the hospital, my mother cried, my father told me I was going to kill her, and my older sister said, “What’s wrong with you? You have everything.” None of the above was very helpful to the situation. Or my life in general.

When they pump your stomach, you essentially shit black tar. It’s like a newborn’s shit. I don’t think this tidbit of information would prevent anyone from not ingesting something that could kill them but for some reason, these are the facts that stick out. Things like, the doctor helping me was cute. I was embarrassed. I was on 24 hour watch. I couldn’t shower alone; there was someone right outside the shower making sure I didn’t hurt myself. Doctors asked me if I heard voices and I was coached by family on how to answer to make sure they didn’t send me “away”. I don’t know why it bothered me that my mother picked me up alone when I was discharged. Though it seems obvious. I didn’t want everyone mad at me. I needed support. I know it was a weekday. Everyone was probably at school or working. She didn’t bring me a change of clothes and I wondered if it was to teach me a lesson or because she didn’t think it mattered. Knowing my mother, though, it might have been a mix of both. I had to wear those hideous sweatpants out of Lenox Hill Hospital and wear them home. The same hospital my son would be born at eight years later.

I imagine the lack of support my mother had. The hows and the whys. At some point, she told me this story: while riding the Third Avenue bus to the hospital, a woman observed and approached her. My mother says she wasn’t crying but this woman obviously noticed the distress on her face. She told her everything would be fine and my mom felt like it was angel sending her a message. Probably because that’s what she needed in that moment. To believe everything would be fine. I imagine she pictured all of the innocent things I did as a kid, like making cards for my aunts and uncles, talking to my imaginary friends, or opening an umbrella every time I pooped. (Yeah, we still don’t know what the hell that was about. I was weird.)

I spent most mornings of eighth grade trying to breathe, sometimes with my head between my knees, sometimes into a bag. Consistent and constant panic attacks. This was also the year I would begin to binge and purge. By graduation, I was also looking to consistently and constantly drink. At 17, two friends stayed up with me all night to make sure I didn’t choke on my vomit. They called my mother and asked her if they should take me to the hospital. I’m pretty confident in saying my mom took a gamble when she told them no. She also told them they were responsible for me for the night and to call her if anything else happened. Good night. I’m also pretty sure she thought, “here we go again.”

It is inevitable that a parent ask why or how. I know my parents have never fully understood any of my choices. They have never wanted to talk about my past. There was plenty that followed that suicide attempt but they have never wanted to examine all the shit that happened in between. And I get it. I don’t blame them. They come to their own conclusions, tell themselves a story that either makes them feel better or worse but might feel better than the truth. I know at the core of avoiding that conversation is that they’re afraid. They have always been afraid that their children’s failures and our misery have been a reflection of some sort of deficiency, a reflection of where they went wrong.

In my own way, and given the opportunity, I have tried to tell them that this isn’t the case. Parents influence, but they do not define. Depending on your perspective, expectation, and experience, that thought can either be scary or a relief. Either way, life is much more complicated than that.


In 2016, NPR published two pieces about middle school suicides reaching an all time high.


Soar/Sore (essay 1)

caterpillar butterfly change

You have a friend you can turn to each time something horrible happens. Especially as you navigate motherhood, problems with your abusive ex-husband, your family, your partner, or your son. This friend gives you unbiased opinions and information. Has saved you more than once from yourself. Gives you invaluable advice on how to survive and consistently was the only person to tell you your experiences were real; you didn’t make it all up in your head. And yes, it really is/was just as bad as you felt it is/was. And sometimes, just when you needed to hear it, they would remind you that you’re a good mom, a good person, you didn’t create this mess. Now imagine this friend, someone who you have been seeing once a week or at least once a month for over eleven years, was suddenly moving away. Across the country.

My therapist became someone I looked forward to shooting the shit with. The boundary was always there. It’s not like I got him gifts for the holidays or even remember when his birthday is. But he was someone who, I felt, took me in when I had nowhere else to go (and he didn’t need another patient or my level of need). I had no money. He charged me on a sliding scale. He charged me on this scale when he was a therapist on the Upper East Side in an expensive neighborhood, in an expensive office. When I had no one to leave my son with in those early days, when Lucas was maybe (barely) a year old, I had a session with my baby in his stroller. I remember feeling this odd embarrassment. I don’t want to bother searching for a reason why. There were a lot of reasons why. And when I started working a better job, had health insurance, and he moved to a new location in the Flatiron district, I would run during my lunch hour, take the 6 train down three stops, run a few blocks in the middle of my day to help me get through my week. As luck would have it, at some point he moved to an office just a block away from my office by Grand Central. He has seen me through weird breakups, suicidal ideation, cutting incidents, depression, divorce, anxiety, remarriage, and officially my late 20s and early 30s.    

At the time of this writing, it has been almost two months since my last session with him.

“Before we start, I have something to tell you. My wife and I are moving to A.” (I rather not say where he moved to or his name in order to protect his privacy.)

He proceeded to tell me the hows and the whys. Again, I won’t go into specifics but it wasn’t something they were actively seeking, but the change was something they had hoped for. And that’s the thing about this story: knowledge met opportunity and a change they had hoped for happened. I love that.

I told a friend about this and he asked me if I cried.

“No,” I said. It hadn’t even occurred to me.

“But this is someone you’ve been seeing for so long. Over a decade. Aren’t you sad?”

I suppose. But, I find hope in the funniest places.  

I was excited for them.

Isn’t that what we want? Opportunities to present themselves when we don’t know how we’re going to get to where we want to be? To hear and tell anecdotes, “I heard this happened to a friend.” Does that not inspire hope, possibility, that it can happen to you too? Hope can be a difficult thing. It can be painful. But I realize I feel that way when I have no reference point, no example of possibility. “Am I hoping for the impossible?” No, look, these are all the people that succeeded. Watching people succeed in ways I aspire to fills me because they are the embodiment of my desires, wishes, and dreams.

We have to put in the work. I believe in right timing. We have to be prepared for the opportunity. And sometimes, we have to create it for ourselves. But there will always be people ready to spew hate, or people who get uncomfortable with your change. Humans like predictable patterns. I find few who are pleasantly surprised by some else’s transformation.


We are supposed to surround ourselves with people that make us feel good. Really, the people that bring out the best in you, that drive you to live at a higher frequency. Because ultimately if people are only making you feel “good”, you have to ask yourself how and at what cost. Some risk feeding their own ego because of insecurities, feelings of inadequacy, not being around those “more accomplished” in ways they might wish they were.

I’ve always tried to figure out why some people are in some way jealous or want something I have. Because no matter how hard I work for something, no matter how much I explain struggle, doubt, or insecurity, some people will only see what they choose to see about me. I shouldn’t have to explain to everyone what I am up to, shouldn’t have to explain every detail of obstacles I’ve overcome in order for people to think/know I worked hard for what I have. I have found it much easier to wish people well. To hope that the people that don’t know who to be unless they’re miserable, that secretly celebrate my failures and seeth at my success find what it is that hurt them and work on that. That they forget about me and think of themselves.  

We don’t all have the same qualities that make us successful. It is the combination of things, the variables, that enrich us. Many of my accomplishments have been done quietly. You may or may not be able to see them. Either way, that doesn’t mean I’m not proud of myself. I am quite proud, I just feel I have a long way to go to where and who I want to be. And that’s the crux of it: being a little selfish in order to work on myself means I focus on my well being and the well being of those that I’m responsible for. I spend more time worrying about how I’m going to get to where I want to be instead of looking at where other people are. We’re not all the same and we’re not all on the same path. I know that the universe does not deem me more or less important than anyone else, but as important as I see myself. And that requires investment.

This is not to say that I’m always uplifted. There are moments I cry, and wonder what I’m doing wrong. My depression and anxiety get to me, constantly. It just helps me, even if it’s brief, to remember that sometimes, things we want aren’t meant for us. Sometimes, it isn’t the right time. All we can do is keep on working.


I think I will forever refer to this man as “my therapist”, forever speak of him in the present tense. He offered to continue to “see” me via teleconference. I don’t do well with phone calls or video conference. But I know I can reach him if I need him and for that, I am grateful.

I can no longer depend on some people that I have been turning to for years. It’s not that they’re abandoning me, it’s that they have their own changes happening. Changes that I’m excited about for them. Still, it forces me to face what I’ve been trying to build up on my own, facing things on my own. And maybe, exciting changes are coming for me too.
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When your cramps are so bad they wake you up in the middle of the night, you dream of not clots but balls of blood in a bowl, when the pain is so bad it radiates down your legs to your toes, when the pain travels through your lower back to your hips, is so intense it makes you lightheaded and nauseous, sometimes making it difficult to speak, you think about the doctor who saw you at 19, told you you probably had endometriosis. It’s not the only diagnosis because it’s already confirmed you also have PCOS. Which was supposed to explain the excess body hair and you knew, you were convinced, it had to be related to the hyperhydrosis as well, the profuse sweating that soaks everything you touch, wear, leaving stains and ripping test paper, even if it’s only the naturopathic doctors that believe this. You think of that time, when you were barely 10 or 11 and your mother thought you may have appendicitis, and the sweet, gentle doctor she took you to wrote a note for you excusing you from all gym activities at school, and told you to be gentle with yourself and jump around too hard and take a warm bath and rest. How you were too young for an invasive procedure but this was not appendicitis, this was what every month for the rest of your menstruating life would look like. How it felt to have to be a child and lie to your friends and say you had a knee problem because how were you as a 5th grader, explain this to your friends. You bleed too much. And was it the summer before or after that you bled so much while in Ecuador, you became anemic and hated the food and everyone worried? Birth control as a teenager made it slightly better. But no doctor has been able to help (and you get tired of going to the doctor and taking time off from work) so you search for special diets and try special herbs and sometimes it’s not so bad so you feel like you dodged a bullet that month but still, you’re 35 going on 36 and have to take prescription pain medicine in order to function. You wonder if you truly eliminated all sugar, all dairy, all wheat products, 100%, if it would 100% cure you but then you remember that though you indulge sometimes, your diet has plenty of restrictions already because of your lifelong sensitive stomach and gastritis and diverticulitis and hiatal hernia and people don’t understand how careful you already are and how grateful you feel that you can sometimes work from home. One time, sweating from the pain, gripping the corners of the slippery white desk at work, wondering if this is what death feels like, wondering if you can control your bowels because that is another problem provoked sometimes, a coworker walked in and asked if you were okay because you were pale and didn’t look so good. You wonder why giving birth to your son was easier, even with the tears rolling down your face, you didn’t take the epidural because one time, at 14, you had a spinal tap done that went wrong and no way were you going to let a needle that large enter your body again. Not unless your life, or his, depended on it. And even though you had a stitch or two, and even though the blood splattered on the wall and the shoulders hurt the most, you rather do that again than go through this monthly torture with nothing in the end but more laundry. No result. You think of all the doctors and feel disappointment at how some of the women have been the worst, the least understanding. The ones that have dismissed you and felt that it was your fault and that maybe you should toughen up. How the breaking of bones in your hips and breaking of sweat on your lip you know would have someone else crying for something much stronger than what you take. How doing activities like yoga are almost impossible, how this all breaks any routine you manage to build up, and physical exertion might leave you publicly leaving blood on a seat like you did that one time during an office meeting, soaking right through your pants to the ivory colored cushion. Because you’ve learned how many layers to wear in order to prevent this, in order to feel more comfortable, you think you have a hold on this and you do, but it happens again and all you can think about is what good is this continuous cycle if nothing is coming out of it.   

My Body Response

(Essay 9 of the #52essays2017)

When my ex-husband contacts me, my son’s father, I have an adrenaline spike. Fight or Flight. I try to resist. I’ve tried to change my physiological response. I try to distract myself, to not think about it. Or I do think about, do understand it, in hopes that it will pass quickly. In hopes that it won’t cloud my mind. He has a friendly face and a way of speaking that makes me want to pop my eardrums so for some time now, I only communicate through text. This is to be clear about what is said; he can twists your words too easily in person. You could find yourself apologizing to him and you wouldn’t even know why.

I should note here that he is incredibly successful in his line of work. Not surprising. Very charming.

When my phone buzzes, I have a kneejerk reaction to tell myself it’s okay to check it. It’s okay. You’ll be okay. If I see it’s my ex who wants to “talk”, the feeling starts with a punch in the gut. I have a hiatal hernia (along with gastritis), which means a part of my upper stomach pushes up into my diaphragm. I swear I can feel something pulsing in that region when I’m scared, when I’m upset. Sometimes, and it’s only with him, I feel an electrical current go from the top of my head to the tip of my toes. When this happens, my legs go numb, I can’t move. I have no choice but to be still. Breathe. My head feels heavy, my throat closes, my shoulders tense, hands and feet sweat profusely despite the fact that all of my extremities get cold.

I have hyperhidrosis, which is abnormally increased sweating. Recently, it seemed to go away for a few weeks. I wasn’t noticing it as much. Wasn’t leaving tiny puddles on the keyboard with the tips of my fingers. A friend once joked that this might be like a superpower. But in the X-Men movie, Senator Robert Kelly becomes a gelatinous mass and dies as he becomes a puddle of water. I always think about that. Not a great superpower. But I’ve noticed lately, for no real reason, that my hands did start to sweat profusely again. That the sweat was dripping down the steering wheel as I drove, not nervous, not hot, just leaking water. I started to wonder if it meant something. Is it related to my diet? Possibly. I have PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome). They say you should follow a special diet when you have PCOS to help reduce the symptoms and I do watch my diet because of it. One sign of it is excess body hair. When my gyn checked my hormone levels, he said I wasn’t a typical patient. “Usually there’s obesity and facial hair. Full beards.” I laughed, stunned. He assumed and didn’t know how much I had spent on electrolysis to remove the hair that grew dark and heavy all across my neck. Or that I remove the hair that grows along my chest, my décolleté, tiny black hair springing out like the beginning of a wing on Natalie Portman in Black Swan. And it all reminds me of the things he would say: I was beautiful but disgusting, I smelled, the sweat was gross, I was so smart, he liked my curly hair but preferred it straight because I didn’t “properly” care for my curly hair, I was lazy, to name a few.

There is a possible connection between PCOS and anxiety and hyperhidrosis. But then I wondered if maybe it’s just my body’s response to knowing what’s coming. Like a signal for a shit storm.

The physical abuse wasn’t much, though the threat of it felt constant. It was the verbal and emotional abuse that warped my mind. And it makes sense. Because like most of my illnesses, people can’t see them. Don’t know they’re there. You don’t know when I’m wearing a back brace for my three herniated discs in my lower back. Or that my left hip sometimes does this funny painful collapse because I have a misaligned pelvis. Or that the problem with my pelvis (more than my back) causes knee and foot pain. It is particularly difficult for me to buy the right shoes and can’t wear high heels anymore. I’ve suffered from migraines since I hit puberty. Once, the remnant of a migraine was so bad, I fell down the stairs. A large purple bruise formed on the outside of my right thigh. It hurt so much, I couldn’t turn over when I slept, the pain would wake me up. Another time, at the end of a work day, I thought I was having a stroke. I couldn’t write, couldn’t spell things out,  couldn’t walk a straight line, could barely speak and my vision started to go. Apparently, that’s a rare type of migraine called migraine with aura. I had to take a yellow cab right by Grand Central home with my son who was 5-6 years old and threw up in a plastic bag. I was in bed for days. My boyfriend at the time (now my husband), had to rush over to help me out. I don’t complain about these things. I’m lucky to have insurance and to be able to see doctors (though they seem to prefer quick fixes like injections) and I’ve done physical therapy. I do what I can with the time that I have.

My therapist had a theory that the verbal abuse left a deeper, impressionable invisible mark on me because I’m a writer. The power of language has so much weight. I don’t often talk about my physical or mental ailments because I’ve heard too many times that I look fine, that it must not be that bad, that so and so has it so much worse, and I seem so social and must not be that depressed or anxious. It’s hard for me to explain the gaslighting and love bombing. And it’s hard to hear, “Don’t let him do that to you.” I cannot completely control my physiological response to external stimuli, I can only control my action, the language I use, the road I take.  

Last year, during my obgyn annual checkup, I needed a referral to a general practitioner. Knowing my history, my doctor referred me to a female doctor just out of my town. I was surprised when I saw her background: physician in the US Air Force caring for both retired and active duty troops. At my first appointment, going through the usual checklist, I brought up my anxiety. I explained my symptoms. She paused, looked up, “Do you have PTSD?” My therapist didn’t seem to want to definitively give me that diagnosis. We worked on a lot of behavioral changes, changes in patterns of thinking. “I have all of the symptoms,” was my response. She nodded and prescribed me a small blue pill that I can take whenever I need to.  

Once, probably 7-8 years ago, meeting on a corner near 14th street, my son’s father walked up to meet me smelling of whiskey. I had to turn around immediately, shaking, crying; I didn’t want my son to see. It’s not that my ex was an alcoholic. He was just particularly unpredictable and violent when he was drunk. Doing things like jumping out of moving cars, attempting to beat someone up in the street for no reason, putting a large sharp knife to the throat of a sleeping relative because he was jealous.

I write this because he texted me last night. I write this because I was left feeling uneasy, waking up in the middle of the night for hours. He texted me while we were watching one of my son’s favorite shows, The Flash. I responded because I wanted to get it out of the way. On the CW’s The Flash, Barry Allen is up against one of the worst villains the show has had in four seasons. In the past, it’s been fun and games. Who’s the fastest man alive? How will Barry get out of the speed-force? Up against talking gorillas and King Shark. In the past, it’s been fun to watch my son’s excitement, it’s been fun to see comic books come to life. It was, and these shows are, most definitely a one hour break from reality.

But there was something about this villain, Thinker, this man of super intelligence, that made me actually uncomfortable. Because he looks like a regular man, can outsmart them, knows their every move, knows their weaknesses and how to attack, I knew this would bother me. The worst threats look like really nice, smart, innocent people. But Barry knew he couldn’t be trusted, even when no one else believed him.


(Essay 7 of the #52essays2017)

The point was to get out of my own way and just write. My goal was to be imperfect but honest and to post in order to reach those goals. I know myself. I know how easily I get distracted. I’ve been hoarding essays though. I’ve been hoarding weekly topics and hoarding rough drafts on my hard drive, telling myself I’ll get to it later. It’s true, I’m busy. That’s not the lie. The truth is, I started getting scared and didn’t want to face that. So I kept making excuses, abandoning the work.


My maternal grandfather died almost twenty years ago when I was fifteen and finishing up my freshman year of high school. He died on Father’s Day actually. He and my grandmother were supposed to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary that year. He was one of 16 children and dropped out of medical school to marry my grandmother. Depending on who you ask, you’ll hear he was a romantic or a fool. See, his father was a doctor and his grandfather was a doctor. But, he got married and proceeded to have seven children. I never fully understood his official occupation, and apparently neither did my mother, but I always knew his unofficial one was that of writer and poet. He had a little book of poems published in Ecuador; though I don’t quite understand the process, it seemed to be printed by a cultural center. So it’s only natural that I think of my grandfather often when I write.

I recently made an unconscious comment to my mother, exasperated by the mess that surrounded me and told her, “I’m getting like Abuelo Lizardo; there are papers and books all over the place, falling off shelves and tables.” As I said it, I realized it had never really crossed my mind, how much like my grandfather I’ve become in my obsession to collect stories. It doesn’t help that I prefer to read on paper than on a screen so I end up printing a lot of articles and then feel guilty for using paper and if I throw it out, it’s a waste; or what if I want to refer back to it later? No no, I have to save it! Hence, papers and folders and books all over the place in my small home.

I often wonder where my grandfather’s typewriter ended up. Someone probably thought it was garbage and threw it out; a vintage black lustrous machine that I played with as a child. I used to quickly run passed the foul smelling maroon colored bathroom to take my important seat at the typewriter. Stored in a poorly lit room full of shelves overflowing with dusty books, ripped magazines, and disintegrating newspapers, all of it on high wooden shelves, he had a book on every subject, every topic, every era. This had been someone’s bedroom once. One of my uncle’s and when we would visit, my brother slept in this room. There was a small bed with a vivid red throw and my grandmother’s treadle sewing machine next to the desk. I used to wonder if through osmosis, the words would find their way into my brain. Everything was in Spanish and I struggled to read and write the simplest of sentences well until high school.

I appreciated the dingy window without a view. He probably placed his desk there for inspiration or maybe I found inspiration in that window. Click click click I’d go with no one’s permission, enjoying the sound and watching the metal arms move quickly. My mother once told me not to waste the ribbon writing nonsense but my grandfather made sure I knew how to use it. A stern but kind-hearted man, for the most part bald and still using hair grease, I don’t know why I was so afraid of him. I was such a shy kid. But I have this bizarre, out of place memory of him talking to me about my fingers. Long, thin and delicate (my sister used to tease me and say they looked like E.T.’s), he explained that I could miss one of those round keys spread so far apart and hurt myself. Leaving me to my writing, he would calmly leave and shut the dark wooden door. The damn ding on a typewriter was my favorite sound and all I wanted to do was push the lever to go to the next line and start it all over again. I didn’t write much though. Some letters maybe. But I was impatient and just wanted to get to the end. Patience is a virtue I have always lacked.

I live in a 140 year old farmhouse; anyone with arachnophobia couldn’t live here. I try to find the cobwebs I’ve missed, remembering somewhat that I know I saw one in some corner by some shelf. I look around and wonder, sometimes cry, because how can I write in this mess? Suddenly, each pet hair in each corner of the house needs to be cleaned up. It’s crossed my mind that I need to reorganize all of the books! By subject. And what about magazines? Where should I keep them? Sure I need to write an essay for class, along with a 5-7 page paper, I need to review over ten sources and need to edit an essay for something else and need to work on an application. But how can I get anything done, really, if my husband has gone fishing (leaving me alone so I can write and study in peace) if the baseboards need to be cleaned? The corners need to be uncluttered to allow for energy to flow. Here’s the thing though: I’m messy. I have always been messy and I will always be messy. As a matter of fact, I have clutter from cleaning out closets and decluttering other spaces and needing to donate old clothes, coats, and shoes. And then I wonder: am I procrastinating? Avoiding work? What am I hiding from?

I think of my grandfather’ poems. The ones for my aunt (his youngest of 7 children) and my sister (his first of 19 grandchildren), coincidentally my aunt and sister so much alike despite being born so many years apart. I think of how I know nothing else of my grandfather’s inspirations or process. I am somehow positive, however, that the organized chaos of the words and mess that surrounded him also inspired him. I asked three of my grandfather’s kids (one being my mom) about him dropping out of medical school. Each answer is a light shining through a different piece of stained glass, creating a picture I can’t quite put together yet. If you ask my mother, she’ll tell you he would have been a great doctor and should have found a way to finish his studies. Que bobo she says. But she does it wearily, with some doubt, knowing full well she never had any intentions of staying in the US when she came here but then met my father. And so, here she is and there they are over 40 years later. If you ask uncle O, he’ll also say my abuelo was a fool that fell in love. “Why not just wait?” he said. But if you ask my uncle G, the love and passion radiates out of his eyes and he speaks to me about how my grandfather was a lover of philosophy and the arts. How he was good at medicine but his heart wasn’t in it.

I try to do better amongst my mess. I always try to be a little neater though let’s be honest, when we procrastinate, there are always distractions and something like cooking will substitute cleaning. Sometimes, to refocus, I think of the word libélula. Libélula is dragonfly in Spanish. The first time I remember reading it was to my son from a children’s board book in Spanish. I thought it was such a fun word to say. And it’s no coincidence that when I needed a small desk lamp, I bought a stained glass lamp with a dragonfly on it, on sale at Overstock. This was after my pleasant and warm surprise at discovering a poem titled Libélulas in my grandfather’s poems. As I wrote this, I searched for the thin pale book, and found the poem. This is the last stanza (with a loose translation):

Pienso quieto y medito, en libelulas claras.

(I sit still and meditate, on clear dragonflies.)

Pienso y siento la dicha de su vuelo al pasar,

(I think and feel the joy of its flight as it passes)

y comprendo abismado en las dichas más caras,

(And understand baffled in the most expensive joys)

Cuando hay vuelo y soy libre, no hoy porque desertar.

(When there is flight and I’m free, there is no reason to abandon.)


(Essay 6 of the #52essays2017)

When I think about the first time my ex-husband told me he didn’t love me anymore, I imagine myself sitting at our dinner table, a rectangular blonde wood, one foot up on my chair, pajama shorts on, a Marlboro light in my hand, blowing smoke out the window by our kitchen. They could have been Parliaments, but I think of the gold from the box on the Marlboro. I think of April and Spring. We are in our first apartment in Woodside, Queens, a one bedroom that was the size of a studio apartment, just a few blocks from the 7 train. I remember almost every detail of that apartment. How the kitchen was crawling with roaches we could never get rid of. A problem we later found out was common for the building. Or was it the area? I loved the sheerness of the curtains in our bedroom with embroidered vines on them, a gift from someone. Maybe my aunt. We were excited about the bamboo curtains in our living room and loved the white Ikea medicine cabinet we installed in the bathroom because we needed more storage. It had a cerulean blue circle in the middle; blue is my favorite color. Memory is a funny thing. I remember being happy at some point. I remember installing the cabinet and feeling happy. I remember his smile and how his eyes would light up when he was OK. I know that when I think of sharing that space with my ex though, the apartment seems smaller. I can’t quite breathe. When I picture myself sitting on the couch alone, the space of the memory suddenly opens up. I know that this memory is flawed. This wasn’t the first time he told me he didn’t love me. This memory is really when we had attempted to write Christmas cards together and couldn’t. It had to have been January. I never sent the cards out. I don’t remember the first time he told me he thought he was in love with someone else. I just remember my reaction: I cried and I stayed.

The second time my ex-husband told me he wasn’t in love with me was when we lived in Astoria. We had moved into this 2 bedroom apartment because we needed more space. I was messy (and still am) and he had hoped a larger space would help me be more organized. Walking up to the second floor, I saw an eviction notice on the brown door. “Sorry the lights are off. We’ll have that fixed right away,” said the agent. A short, stocky man with thick brown hair that disappears from the sequence of events in my mind, he almost seems like a ghost. We walked around with flashlights. “I think I smell gas,” I said. I should have taken it as a bad omen that the previous tenants looked like they had left in a hurry. Who else would leave photo albums behind? There was a crib in the middle of the room with piles of things inside. “All of this will be gone before you move in,” he said. I sometimes question this memory. Am I making this up? Could the signs have been that obvious? We didn’t know yet that I was pregnant.

He’s lying on the same couch as the one from Woodside. A dark burnt brown, like clay, with lighter trim that would open up to a queen size bed for guests. The cushions were large sloped triangles, perfect to rest your head on while you watched TV. “I’m not sure if I ever loved you,” he said. Or something like that. He would look me in the eye and say these things but posture, posture denotes an attitude about whatever it is you’re saying. I was holding my newborn son in my hands. “You couldn’t tell me this sooner?” I said, squeezing my baby tighter, staring at the wall, searching for words. But he had told me sooner. I don’t know how at that moment I had chosen to forget that fact. I’m sitting at the dinner table, a large dark rectangular wooden table that he would eventually give away. My mind wants to force a window into this image but it can’t. From where I was sitting, I was leaning on a wall.

The first time I told my husband I was sure I wanted a divorce was the only time I had to say it. I can tell you it was August and I had just come back from burying my cousin in Miami. I can tell you that we should have been sitting in the living room or our bedroom but instead we were sitting in the nursery. I can tell you that we sat in front of each other and I looked him in the eye. I can tell you that it felt like the sun was shining into the bedroom but that doesn’t make much sense because not much natural sunlight came in through that particular window. See, while I was gone, he switched our bedroom with the nursery after I had asked him not to. “But you said to go ahead and do it,” he insisted. Once, he asked me to make a cake with chocolate frosting. When he got home, he was upset because he said that he wanted vanilla. It was always stupid little things like this that confused me, made me question my mind, memory, reality. Switching the bedrooms after having them the same way for so long confuses me when I try to look back. But I look back often and remember that the details don’t make it any less real.

My son was 9 months old.


(Essay 5 of the #52essays2017)

My body is as sore as my soul will be soon. Of that much I am sure. I have been in Arizona for a week to attend the second of three workshops for a writing fellowship. I am supposed to be writing a personal creative nonfiction narrative on my experience with harmonies between science and religion. When I first applied, I thought I’d have a year or two to work on this. It turns out, they wanted a completely finished draft within 7 months of the first workshop. It’s been four months since that first workshop in DC. A week ago, I still had no story. Drafts yes, but no story. Guesses and questions and research galore, yes. But no narrative to tie it all together. And then on the first day of this workshop, while sipping a coffee, eating a sandwich and listening to a talk about exposition, it hit me. It had crossed my mind before but the story I thought had no place in this narrative was the story I had to tell. And I wanted to cry. “No no no no no, that can’t be it,” I thought. It’s always the same fucking story.


Many of my ideas turn into movie scenes in my mind. This is how I have felt ever since: sober but drunk on nerves, imagining myself standing in the middle of whatever place I am inhabiting in that moment, everyone rushing by. The dizzying effect often seen in movies when they’re trying to show you someone drunk or high, fast motion, like something out of Trainspotting or Requiem for a Dream, I am still standing still living in my head. I’m not quite ready to go home.


Mentors, made up of established authors and editors, were assigned to a group of three; fifteen fellows divided into five groups. For this workshop, mentors were swapped so you would receive a different perspective. The person I would work with for just an hour was an editor and a woman, who asked the right question. “You have lots of interesting information here but no story. You’re not here as a character at all.” It’s not like I didn’t know this. It’s that she got me to talk. She asked the right question, the obvious one, when I said I was uncomfortable writing this. “But why was it uncomfortable?” I thought I was going to be writing about religion and childhood or something like that. I have said this so many times, the words have almost lost their meaning: I was raised Catholic, born and raised on the Upper East Side, told to lie by my parents about our Afro-Cuban religious practices.


I didn’t think I’d be writing about what lead me to get married at 20 to my second cousin who was abusive. That shit just didn’t seem to fit. I didn’t want it to fit. There was shame there. And both mentors I had to work with saw it. And I was embarrassed. But I persisted. “Michelle, I want you to consider research. I mean, if this becomes too difficult to write, you could just focus on research,” he said. He is the mentor I have been with for months. “No, it’s fine. I’m sure it’ll be fine,” I said. We were walking in the rain to the final day of the workshop on the campus of Arizona State University. Just the day before, he had given his group a small talk about the importance of language. He’s a poet. I had dreaded working with a poet because I don’t think I have the level of command on language that poets do. One of his pet peeves seems to be when the writing becomes obvious. “Don’t tell me you’re sad and it’s raining,” he said. Well, I was sad and afraid and we were having a serious conversation in the rain.


I have doubted myself since day 1. I have wanted to be told precisely what the project leads wanted from me and my story in order to produce it. Oh yes, explore, explore away in the writing, but pretend I’m an actress and you’re the director. Tell me to improvise but tell me the mood, the tone, the backstory. Here is something I was relieved about during the first workshop: everyone was really fucking nice. I was relieved because I felt like I didn’t belong. Here is something I realized during the second workshop: one person of color dropped out of the fellowship (I don’t know why) who I really wish didn’t because they were intelligent and witty and had a kick ass story to tell that needs to be told, and the few others left have been taught to assimilate in ways that I do not understand. One is very consciously fighting that assimilation but some don’t realize the consequences of their assimilation. “Maybe italicize the words in a different langue” was one suggestion. It was done in writing so I couldn’t explain in person why I won’t do that. But that’s the only example of where I have the response ready.  I have found myself insecure, the words stuck in my mouth like bad food I didn’t want to swallow but didn’t know where to spit out either, and unable to defend myself. It would make sense that this was not the story I wanted to tell now, in this setting. Because I was afraid and that fear paralyzed me in front of the page, trapping the story inside.


One science part of my story has to do with nature.


When I was a kid, my mother didn’t allow us to do much of anything that risked us getting hurt. “Ashley invited me to go skiing at Lake George. Please let me go,” I’d beg. I’d usually corner my mom in the kitchen while she was distracted cooking, as if that was going to help my plea. “No, that’s dangerous,” was always her response. She would use examples of people who had broken limbs or died. Of course, I had no idea where Lake George was or what the Adirondacks were. There was no camping or road trips but my parents took us to Miami and to Ecuador. While visiting my mom’s hometown in Ecuador, I was the gringa who didn’t know how to do shit outdoors. Actually, this only became a bigger issue when my ex-husband seemed irritated by my fears of getting hurt or not feeling I was athletic. But it’s not that I didn’t want to do those things.


I cannot and will not ski. I almost got a concussion the first time I tried and ended up hurting a nerve in my right wrist the second time. I am not the most graceful creature.


I have cried a lot this week. The first time was in a cafeteria at our lodge in the Grand Canyon. I asked my husband and son to meet me in Arizona during my son’s winter break. After ordering lunch, practical things like roast beef and cheddar and grilled chicken sandwiches, I could not hold them back any longer. “Mommy, why are you crying?” Lucas asked. “Are you crying because everything is so beautiful?” my husband asked. Because that is the type of person I married; the type of person that appreciates being alive long enough to witness new beautiful things. “It’s been a rough couple of days. It’s been building up,” I said.


I usually feel like I’m being ripped apart.


The Grand Canyon really is magnificent. My cell phone camera didn’t do it any justice. Even the clouds look amazing, the grays, blues, and whites in contrast to the browns, greens, orange and red of the canyon. Beauty didn’t make me cry. The fact that water did that, water ripped that earth apart; water shaped it and molded it. Everyday people gather to stare at it, walk through it and touch it. We are made of water. Over 50% water. Sometimes, we have to be ripped apart by the water inside.


Maybe my story is made of water. My tears are.


I walked through Lower Antelope Canyon which is owned by the Navajo. It’s a glorious canyon and the price you pay to spend 90 minutes in there is worth it. You walk down over 80 feet, mostly on very narrow stairs, and with a guide. “This canyon was made by flashfloods and rain,” our guide said; a young guy, who took the time to show us how to take better pictures with our camera phones, and told stories about how animals fall into the canyon and they have to get them out before people come to walk through. This guy was so relaxed, so used to the people and the crowds and everyone being awestruck, that you could tell his happiness was genuine when he saw the sun hit a certain spot of the canyon through a hole above ground. It was just before noon and he said that the fact that the sun was hitting there was a sign of Spring. “You can tell the seasons by when the sun reaches some spots down here. Just a week ago the sun wasn’t hitting here at this time,” he said. I looked around, touched the smooth brown sandstone, caressed it, said hello to it. Water did this. Rain. Rivers. I am water. And I kept repeating it. I am water. So why the fuck do I feel so inadequate?


I dream of water a lot. I know that some things are trying to reach me. I know that there are some entities, not just Yemaya, that speak to me through water. I know in my dream what it means when the water is dark and murky, when it’s rough or smooth. One night not long ago, I had a dream that I could see the ocean but couldn’t get to it. The sand was wet and I kept slipping in it. No matter how hard I tried, I slipped and fell. Another time, I had to drink her water. Another time, I was the water. Those are my favorite.


Eight months after I started dating my husband, we went away for a weekend in April 2011 in the Adirondacks. I had never been there and was excited when I saw the pictures of where we were staying. This might be one of the first times I took a real strenuous hike. Not a hike through a park on flat land but a hike to a climb; we climbed up to the top of Castle Rock. I think falling in love with my ability to be in nature played a part in me falling in love with my husband. At one point, I didn’t think I could keep going. This was the kind of climb I had never been allowed to do before. “You got this. You can do it.” My husband worked with kids for over a decade and there’s something to the tone of his voice that is safe and real. Something that says I believe in you but won’t think less of you if you give up. I remember putting my feet in crevices of rock and stone in a way that I thought would hurt or feeling like my heart might explode. And I did it. I got to the top and easily hiked back down. This became our thing and this became the thing that I would insist we always do – hike. But life happens and you get out of shape and hikes that we used to be able to do while barely breaking a sweat turned into hikes that had us not gasping but wheezing for air at the end.


We need sometimes need reminders of lessons learned. Or maybe we see the things that we are ready to see.


I insisted we go to Sedona while in Arizona. “So tell me a little about this place,” he said while driving. “Are you kidding me? Didn’t you read anything I sent you?” I answered. “And I’m tired of people asking me to explain things. Just in general. I need a break of explaining anything,” I said. I had read that Cathedral Rock had a couple of trails varying in difficulty. Cathedral Rock trail is the shortest and steepest of the 3 trails we had to choose from going from an elevation of 4,040’ to 4,770’. “Oh no, that’s too steep,” I said. As we walked to an intersection in the trail, I changed my mind. My 11 year old’s enthusiasm was contagious and my confidence a bit inflated. “That other trail seems boring,” he said. My husband checked two, three, four times with us, asking if we were sure as I looked up at the steep red rock formation. “We can get at least up to that plateau,” I said. I had no intention of hiking the entire trail. Here’s the thing about hiking popular places that have been around for ages: many people have gone before you. Inevitably, we shape parts of nature with our hands, our feet, we make little spots to put the front of our shoes, to grab onto. To climb. Many have gone before me and many will come after me. When you hike and climb, it’s a matter of seeing where to put your feet, maybe secure your hands. It’s strategy and patience. If you go the wrong way or change paths, you still end up in the same place. It’s controlling your breathing when you’re nervous so that you don’t have an actual heart attack between the strain, excitement and nerves. There are conflicting accounts of this hike. For some, it’s simple. For others, like myself, who were never allowed to take risks or learn to do much of anything outdoors, this is a monumental challenge. It’s one thing to hike up to a place, it’s another thing to not have much to grab onto and be afraid of heights. “I don’t know if I can keep going,” I said. Both my husband and son looked at me, all love, and said, “Sure you can. You got this.” My legs were already sore from hiking earlier. From hiking the day before. From being nonstop, trying to see as much as possible in such little time. My legs weren’t going to give out. That’s the only way I would have stopped. I see that now. My mother always used to say, “Lo unico que no tiene solucion es la muerte.”


Like with anything else in life, you see all sorts of people with all sorts of opinions along the way. Big and small, some with the stamina to shoot straight up the trail, some who admitted being afraid of heights, all who said it was worth it. We came across this family with three children who had climbed all the way up and were working their way down. Their daughter, a little strawberry blond child, warned us of where not to go so that we wouldn’t die. Her father shook his head and apologized and my laugh echoed. “They have been doing this to everyone along the way. I am so sorry. Kids, you are not going to die if you fall. This is a measured fall,” he said. A measured fall. They were obviously experienced and he was right. A measured fall because if you fell from where we were, at that point, meant you’d hurt yourself in several different kinds of ways. And there is always a risk and the question is: is the risk worth it?


In my hotel room in Phoenix, during the 3 days of workshop, the window curtain glided easily and smoothly on its tracks. On the last night, in a hurry to get to dinner with new friends, I took that ease for granted and didn’t hold the plastic rod correctly. What resulted was a horrible cut on the inside of my index finger; the skin taken clear off in such a way that it didn’t hurt until after the fact.


I climbed up and down Cathedral Rock in a couple of hours, at some points surrounded by cactus. Using my hands, sometimes doing a sort of crab crawl. I slid back down at other points on my butt. Not once did I cut myself.


It is usually the one thing we don’t count on that ends up hurting us.


When we reached the end of the trail, I sat on a rock as two ravens circled us. I thought of the raven that greeted me when we first walked into the Grand Canyon. A raven flew right into my path, then up into a tree and kept looking at me. I love crows and ravens but have a soft spot for the iridescence on the feathers of a raven. I looked out and admired the different colors of the mountains. How the colors change. I thought of the iridescence. It suddenly hit me that my son is green/red colorblind. “Lucas, what colors are you seeing? The mountains I mean.”

“Brownish greenish. It’s darker than the cacti,” he said. “But, then what color are the trees and plants down there?” I asked. “It’s hard to tell. They’re a bit of a bright green,” he answered. And as my heart started to break a little, realizing that he couldn’t see things the way I was seeing them, the vibrant oranges and red, he said, “The colors depend on the light. The clouds on the bottom and to the top of the mountain over there are pinkish.” He knows when he isn’t seeing a color correctly. But he also still enjoys all of the beauty. A su manera. And sometimes, seeing things a little differently might be better.


Ravens and crows are associated with the spirit world and with death, carrying messages. I sat there on that rock and watched them fly, play, turn, come back around. I watched as another joined them. It was like they were putting on a show and recorded their squawking. And my heart swelled because I knew, so much is about to change.

my form of protest: we matter

(Essay 4 of the #52essays2017)

Iterations of the same story

I’m trying to figure out why I’m embarrassed by the complexities of my life. I’m embarrassed in the way that it makes me stumble not just when I speak, but every day. I fall behind on a deadline. I haven’t been able to help my mother during her complications with chemo. Shit got complicated at home. I have to be a mother too. A stepmother, a person who loves from a distance with absolutely no authority or say over that child. I have to be a wife. I stand in the kitchen, look at the time on the oven, look at the time on the coffee maker and think, “Why am I standing here again? What am I supposed to do next?” I sometimes read while I wait for something to cook. But I go to wash a pile of dishes instead, my son, sitting at the dinner table, calling me, “Mom, you said you were gonna help me.” Oh right. But, everyone’s life is complicated.

I don’t like to complain. I don’t like to feel that I’m whining. I don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable or responsible for me when I explain my new issue. And then I remember my parents. My parents saw struggle as failure. Struggle is a reflection of poor decisions. They struggled as immigrants so that we wouldn’t have to as citizens. Struggle equated lack of money and money was supposed to solve shit. In my parent’s quest to avoid struggle, I don’t think they looked around to appreciate what they had accomplished. In my father’s quest to get rich quick, he allowed some people to come in and out of our lives that should never have been there.

I remember my brother and sister’s bunk beds. The bunk beds with blue drawers, metal circle handles I would play with, Star Wars and Pac-Man bed sheets; I hid, horribly, in a dark corner of the bottom bunk.

At 14, some problems at school lead to some problems at home. Digging through the dirt of memory with a therapist, an old memory blooms. I shared it with someone I knew who told me it made sense. They had a similar memory about the same person, but they were older, they remembered it clearly. Maybe I was too young to remember, but my body never forgot.

Memories, particularly those of the traumatic kind, can become distorted. There’s research that shows the memory can become distorted but contain a high degree of sensory detail, the memory becomes fragmented and disjointed. Something happens to the nervous system. It fails to process the experience as a whole. Everyone is different though.

Several months ago, as I was throwing out some rotten spinach, I suddenly smelled his breath, the grease in his hair. It is in the mindless, everyday tasks that the memories come back. Bits and pieces always come back. Something gray. Something dirty.

I actually thought he was dead. I recently found out I was wrong. I had only killed him in my mind.

When I was 14, my parents sent me away for two weeks to my mother’s homeland. They thought it would be good for me. Depression, an eating disorder, suicidal thoughts, they were confused as to what I had to be depressed about. In a small outdoor concert full of vacationers during carnival, I drowned for a moment in the crowd and had my small breasts squeezed violently. My body felt up in different ways. I gasped for air to get out of the crowd. I said nothing. I thought it must be my fault. The clothes I was wearing, the shorts too short, the shirt too revealing. I shouldn’t have been there in the first place. This was also when I would meet my future abuser.

My mind and body were never my own.

At 15, on a bed in the middle of the world, I fell asleep. I woke up to a cousin making out with my shoulder. Frozen, hoping he would stop, I said nothing and pretended to sleep. I didn’t want to make him feel bad. I drown in his spit. Just a couple of years later, I would see him again. Primo I would say and greet him with a hug. After all, boys do those things. I was told it couldn’t be helped. Sitting at a bar in the West Village, his older friend buying me a drink (lucky me because I didn’t have a fake ID), I bring up that night because I’m not sure if I made it up in my head. I used to never trust my memory. He tells me he had hoped I would wake up and kiss him back. I laugh and am a master of ambiguity, diffusing the tension with laughter and diversion. I never speak to him again.

I took an eight or twelve hour bus ride once with my mother’s aunt. A funny woman with small straight lips and very short curly hair she would often dye red, she took the opportunity to talk to me about boys. More importantly, the fact that you shouldn’t let a boy touch you “down there”. “No mijita,” she would say. It’s dangerous. I laughed at the awkwardness and laughed at antiquity of her approach.

At 15, some friends and I go to an older friend’s house. I have too much to drink and this guy in his 20s kisses me. I don’t mind the kiss, the taste of tequila and bad breath. I’m starving as I drunkenly sway, try to eat cold rice in his dark kitchen; he walks up behind me, I think he’s going to hug me. Wrapping his arms around my waist, he puts his hand down the front of my tight black jeans. So tight, I would later wonder how he managed to do that. I try to get his hand out as he tries to push his finger in. I push him away. I didn’t mind a kiss on the lips. I had been told that girls can’t do those things. A kiss is permission for something more. Good girls don’t drink. Good girls don’t hide in dark places.

I know I have a nice body because everyone says so. I’m also called weird and angry by plenty of friends and family; smart is something I’m supposed to know I am based on grades and teachers. I never used to believe anyone when they tell me I’m smart.

At 20, I marry a cousin. I wake up to small earthquakes sometimes. The bed shaking, him touching me. I ask him to stop. I tell him it bothers me. He tells me there must be something wrong with me.

My son was the Immaculate Conception.

I was taught that you couldn’t say no once you started. Because if something hurt, you were frigid or a prude. Because you have to be a porn star. Because my body was never my own. Because I didn’t learn to attach my mind to my soul to my sex until I was ripped open by a child that grew inside of me and needed me. Because in splitting in two, I became one with myself. Because I don’t want my son to grow up to be a brock turner. Because this shit needs to stop. Because my son should grow up learning to respect others while he learns to respect himself. People who respect themselves don’t use other people as objects. Because no means no and consent is beautiful and sexy and fun.

None of this was fun.

You speak to people you admire and sometimes when they ask for your thoughts, the words get stuck in your throat. I doubt everything I say. You wake up after one of those moments and realize how the phrase “the personal is political” relates to you and inevitably begin to think about why you don’t think you’re good enough the way they do and how are you supposed to teach your kid that he’s good enough and not an idiot when you’re not so sure about yourself? And then you remind yourself of everything that you’re doing and how hard you work and none of it feels validated and it all feels mediocre because there is nothing, no section of your life, that you can possibly give 100% to because you still have to be a supportive wife and a mom that’s there and a student and a writer and you know that if you dedicate yourself to one thing and give up on yourself, as most women are conditioned by society to do, and continue with this fucking guilt, then you’ll resent everyone and be angry that you’re doing nothing instead of sad that you’re doing so much.

I’m reading Difficult Women by Roxane Gay and keep thinking of it as Dangerous Women. It’s inevitable that we look for pieces of ourselves when we read other women’s stories. Fictional or not. There’s a story with a rapist doing something for penance and absolution. Some people may say that my complications or complicated life is penance and absolution. I sometimes refer to it as purgatory. A rapist is looking for penance and absolution in one of those stories. So why the fuck am I the one living in purgatory?

I normally can’t think clearly. I don’t know what it is. My diet, maybe too high in sugar and carbs? My anxiety, messing with all the neurons, maybe they are misfiring? Some studies show that a woman’s brain changes after trauma. Not many people seem to care about that these days. We’re supposed to move on. We’re supposed to put our big girl panties on and stop our whining.

I am not my mistakes or my trauma. I know that. They do not define me. If they did, I probably wouldn’t be here. But acknowledge humanity. Acknowledge the emotional complexities of moments lived and the lasting effects on the psyche. Fucking read about people that are different from you and your experience.

One in three women experience sexual violence in their lives.

2016 was the most dangerous year for transgender Americans.

Sexual trauma enhances all-cause mortalities, including risks of cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes. (I recommend reading research conducted by Bessel van der Kolk, a Dutch psychiatrist based in Boston)

I am not quick on my feet. I remind myself that that isn’t an indication of my intelligence, it’s just the way I am. Maybe that’ll improve one day. I take at least a day to come up with adequate responses to questions and observations. Some close friends have told me I’m witty. I guess my sarcasm can be called wit. My husband once said I’m only like that when I allow people to get to know me. When I’m honest. It’s hard to be honest when you’re ashamed of who you are, when you don’t even understand what there is to be ashamed of, when you’re raised to be secretive and not trust people, and you have honest words ready to flow out of every space in your body. But I try. There’s a bottleneck somewhere, a space that is clogged with information that I was never allowed to explore or told it wasn’t worth exploring. At some point I absorbed my designated value.

This is an exercise in undoing shame.


(Essay 3 of the #52essays2017)

My house is for hobbits. Built in 1877, I sometimes wonder if I should throw a sort of party to commemorate its 140 year old existence. It’s an old farmhouse with low ceilings that make my 5’10” husband look like a giant. The three bedrooms are small, so small that the real estate agent even warned us and said she had plenty of other options to show us. But we didn’t care. The pine wide planked floors upstairs are probably the original; the black claw foot tub (that I now hate) added so much character, all so quaint and perfect. Sure, we say special prayers to the Gods of Winter so that we don’t have to replace the ancient boiler just yet, and it turns out that you should get a sewer line inspection when you move into old towns, and that wide plank floor needs replacing in some spots, and the basement needs resealing, and the half bath on the first floor has no insulation so you could quite literally freeze your ass off if and when you sit on the toilet but, it’s ours. And I’ve never owned anything or lived in a house. But inevitably, we had to bring some old things with us. One of those things was a desk chair.

For the most part, we did well decorating the house with what we had. Except for one of the most important rooms, our bedroom. After almost three years, I insisted we redecorate. Buying a king size captain bed with drawers (off of Craigslist), painting the bedroom light gray to get rid of the burnt orange, getting rid of the bulky dressers, I could finally have a desk in a nook by a window. Slanted ceilings meant a low desk. The only chair that would do for now was my old, foldable wooden desk chair.

We had gone through the house at some point and tried to do the whole Marie Kondo art of decluttering thing. Well, kind of. It was more the art of getting rid of things that reminded us of unhappy times and places. Of which we each had plenty. I kept the chair. It was just a chair. Chairs are kind of important to have. I don’t remember where I bought it, but I bought it with my ex-husband. That chair was with me in my first apartment in Woodside Queens on 65th Place by the 7 train. It wasn’t quite a 1 bedroom, not quite a studio, but it was at my tower computer desk, holding me as I wrote papers for school. It was there when my ex had too much to drink and threw up on his sneakers. The sneakers were by the chair. I had to clean everything up. It was there when we moved to a 2 bedroom in Astoria. When we set up the extra room as a “den” or TV room (I don’t actually know) and had a red lamp that we didn’t realize would make the room look like a brothel not knowing that I was pregnant and we would quickly have to change the brothel looking room into a nursery. It was in that chair that I sat when we started our own company. It was the chair I sat in at a desk, in my bedroom, to keep track of my contractions on the bottom of a desk calendar, alone while my then husband was in DC saying goodbye to his best friend who had been hit by a train. It was also in that chair that my ex sat in when he wrote me a story, Castillo de Arena, that I wish I still had, describing the way in which he lost me. I sat in that chair when I responded to his story. I took the chair with me to my parent’s 2 bedroom in Queens, ill equipped for their youngest daughter and their first grandchild, leaving behind so many things including my Catholic high school bible where I had taken so many notes, highlighted so many passages, but also included the doodles of my 15 year old self with his last name. And it was in that chair that I filmed my barely 2 year old son singing Israel Kamakawiwoʻole’s rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, at the desk in our little bedroom at my parent’s house. 6 years later, we would dance to that song at my wedding.

A couple of months before my son’s 3rd birthday, we moved to a rent-stabilized apartment in Spanish Harlem where we would live for 5 years. It was like finding a unicorn but we weren’t meant to stay there. That apartment turned on us and suddenly, I hated everything. Including that fucking chair. I became suddenly aware of how uncomfortable it was. I kept it at the rickety desk in what they called a “half bedroom” aka closet. I was grateful for the time there, but that apartment was like something out of Poltergeist. And yet, I didn’t throw out the chair when I moved in 2013.

On New Year’s Eve 2016, I had been sick for a week. I decided to sit at my desk (most likely to read or write) when the chair crumbled below me. I went down in slow motion, like when you see someone slip on some snow and they’re trying to steady themselves, with my left hand I was reaching out to grab onto something and my right arm going back to the floor. It was enough time for me to actually think, “Oh so this is happening.” That is how slowly the chair gave out but still not enough time for me to just stand up. Almost 3 weeks later, I still crack up when I remember what I must have looked like and almost wish someone had recorded it. The dead broken chair is resting on the floor in my sunroom. Three years ago, I had no idea what a sunroom was. I don’t know why when I look at it, I feel a little sad. I don’t know why I want to give it a hug goodbye. I want to burn it and give it a funeral. Objects carry so much with them. I don’t know why it broke on the last day of the year and maybe it got tired of holding me. And as I write this, I wonder what this 140 year old house has been witness to and what it has held. Though it feels as if it’s telling me to let it all go and that chair might be one of the last pieces here from that time in my past.

compounding vulnerability: why am I doing this to myself?

(Essay 2 of the #52essays2017)

“If we want to live and love with our whole hearts, and if we want to engage with the world from a place of worthiness, we have to talk about the things that get in the way-especially shame, fear and vulnerability.”
~ Brené Brown

(Quote found in Elephant Journal)

I often contemplate on the person I could’ve been. This isn’t a better or worse reflection, this isn’t contemplation on regret or woe, it is simply an acknowledgment that every decision we make takes us somewhere. Even if you’re the type to believe that you end up wherever you’re meant to be, the journey has millions of variables. What if I had let my ex-husband return to his homeland BEFORE getting married at 20? Instead of being an insipid needy girl with a bruised ego because he was willing to leave me. What if I had done that semester abroad I wanted to do instead of staying because I felt guilty leaving him behind? What if I hadn’t chosen him at all? Instead tactfully flinging myself at someone who, at the time, I was shocked showed an iota of interest in me. What if I had learned to be on my own, be a different kind of free, travel, before motherhood? I’m never quite sure of what success looks like in these dreams, but I’m sure they involve feeling powerful. My years of reckless spontaneity were spent learning how to survive being wife, then mother, then single mother. In every imagined scenario, I can’t erase my son. Not because it makes me feel bad, not because of guilt, but because who I became when I had him at 23 was precisely because of his existence, and I’m grateful for that. The question of paternity arises in these daydreams and I wonder only briefly if he would be who he is had he had a different father. Probably not. Not because he’s mine but, he’s a pretty cool kid and knowing my deficiencies as a human, I can’t imagine what it would be like to parent a kid who isn’t like him. And then earlier this week, while reading about the upcoming full moon, I came across this, “Surrender to happiness, even if it differs from the picture you had painted in your head at one point about what that would look like.” So am I happy?

I remember the first story I wrote that I was embarrassed to share. 1989-1990, I’m in the 2nd grade sitting at the dinner table, mortified that I had to write something I was going to read the next day in front of the class. I giggle, fidgeting, about the writing prompt (something to do with aliens) as my mother, standing at the stove making dinner, glances at me telling me not to worry. Seven or eight years old, already lacking confidence and being afraid of public speaking, I was in Ms. Cavilia’s class. Ms. Cavilia was, as one of my coworker’s would now say, a funny fish. To a second grader, she was a tall woman though she was probably just average height with burnt frizzy hair she kept coiffed in the same do, not quite mullet but raised high in the front, some strands in the back, and the color of dirty hay.

Her desk was in a diagonal position in the corner of the classroom leaving me nowhere to hide, everyone in her line of sight. When I thought it was my turn to read, I covered my ears, trying to imagine that no one was actually hearing me, telling this story to a void. It wasn’t long before I was interrupted by a tap on my shoulder, it wasn’t my turn yet. Ms. Cavilia smiled, I sunk in my chair, but what I was most terrified of never happened. I don’t think anyone made fun of me, and yet I was still mortified. It was this same year I grabbed a bunch of loose-leaf paper, stapled them together, wrote a title and told my mother I was writing a book. She was upset I was wasting so much paper. I wrote a sentence or three and never wrote anything else.

In the fifth or sixth grade, I had to write a poem. Once again, embarrassed, my mother asked my brother to help me. Five years older than me, I remember he tried to help so I don’t remember how what I ended up reading in front of the class was actually written by him. It was beautiful. My brother had a command of language that I did not. He had a gift that my mother would say he inherited from her father, a poet. I trembled as I read this poem I did not write. Or maybe my brother helped me to the point that I felt I didn’t write it. Maybe the point isn’t in the facts but on how I felt. My teacher, Mrs. Mirra, commended me on such beautiful writing. Empty praise.

Throughout the 90s, all sorts of music played in my house. My brother and sister making fun of me, saying there was no way I could understand the lyrics yet naturally made me paid attention to the lyrics. Trying to be able to sing them, figure out what they meant, they were right, I didn’t know. (You can imagine what I thought Push It by Salt-n-Pepa meant) They listened to everything from Skid Row to Boys II Men, U2 to Radiohead, A Tribe Called Quest to Marc Anthony (when he had the long hair and Harry Potter glasses). But I paid attention. When I was in the seventh grade and had to pick a book for a book report, I picked Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo. Metallica had released “One” in 1988 when I was 5 and I saw the music video, using scenes and dialogue from the 1971 movie “Johnny Got His Gun”; I had to read the book. It’s an anti-war book, gruesome in its description of human suffering after a soldier comes home from WWI. I was 12. I read Sweet Valley High and The Babysitters Club like everyone else, but much earlier I had secretly read my sister’s copy of Forever by Judy Blume and tried to read The Scarlett Letter. I read Catcher in the Rye at an age when I had no idea what I was reading but words on a page, taking me years to understand the value of reading comprehension and not just appearing to read. I watched movies I shouldn’t have watched yet, absorbing information like a sponge, taking my level of weird to new heights. I kind of miss being ignorant of my weirdness, even though for as long as I can remember, that’s what I was called.

In the eighth grade, I wrote an article about my father, adding moments in history that were happening, running parallel to his life. It kicked ass. It was in two columns and what I learned over twenty years ago are ideas that I still carry with me today. Then I had to write a short story, and back to my brother I went. “Can I read some of the stories you’ve written?” I asked. Sitting at his white computer desk, leaning into a drawer where he had filed his stories away, he said, “Don’t copy it Mich. I’ll let you read it for inspiration but don’t copy it.” He believed what he was saying. I changed some things around but let’s face it, I copied that shit.

I thought nothing of copying a story about a heroin addict. My teacher, Mrs. Geiss, called me up to her desk as she was grading the stories. I spent most mornings having panic attacks, bent over, trying to put my head between my knees, trying to find a way to breathe. She was probably the first and only teacher that noticed my frequent trips to the bathroom, my constant calls home saying that I was sick. She really was concerned and tried to figure me out. “Michelle, do you know someone going through this at home?” she asked. I laughed; I did not. Maybe if I did, things would have made more sense to her. That was the last time I copied anyone else’s writing. A habit I began that year was keeping a journal. And I have all of them from high school buried in a closet. I read through them not long ago and saw how cryptic I was being even to myself. Not all of the time, but who the fuck journals and keeps secrets from themselves? We usually lie when we’re ashamed or embarrassed by something. And I was taught to lie about a lot. Though I’ve somewhat concluded that my mother’s penchant for lying was rooted in survival and appearances, I had to unlearn that. When I applied to high schools, she told me to lie in essays. I had to lie about religious beliefs, something that is fundamentally a part of my identity. When she knew that I was shoplifting (an exorbitant amount), she told me to not get caught. When I did, she lied and said she never knew. She had two or three friends at my elementary school, never quite fitting in, asking us to correct her if she said something grammatically incorrect. Embarrassed by her accent, embarrassed by her inability to speak English perfectly, she sometimes scowled and without provocation would declare at dinner, “Ustedes si pueden. You are just as good as everyone else.”

I’ve taken on more than I care to admit, and I do not mean this as a humble brag. I am not slaying anything, not kicking anything’s ass; I am pushing. I didn’t get an A on my first graduate level class, I got a B+. I didn’t get into grad school the first time I applied a couple of years ago. I’m currently working on a Women’s and Gender Studies Graduate Certificate in order to later, maybe, apply to grad school. I start my second of four classes in a week. I received a writing fellowship back in August that I’m reminded isn’t a competition, only I feel incredibly inadequate and far behind. But I haven’t given up or dropped out. I keep pushing. My next draft is due in less than two weeks. I feel far behind on life. I have a full time job that I’ve had for over eight years and I’m about to enter a somewhat busy period of time between now and April. I’m a wife and mother and stepmother and daughter and sister and friend. I also have a little side project I’m working on because I imagined it years ago and felt an extra push, meeting the right people that I felt comfortable sharing the idea with, and so there’s that. And then there’s this essay a week. The first essay I posted left me cringing for days, coinciding with some feedback for my fellowship, while I was sick, while I had my period, while I was figuring out whether to continue with this graduate certificate because Lord knows I can’t afford it but I have to finish it dammit. The first time I heard of vulnerability hangover was from Vanessa Mártir when I took her Writing Our Lives workshop. What I was now experiencing was that hangover x 100, compounding vulnerability. I felt defeated, afraid, and exhausted, longing for the days of sitting on a couch watching mind-numbing television (good movies and television being my alcohol) helping me forget everything else I want to accomplish. After all, I supported and encouraged my husband to pursue a college education when he was 38. He graduated last May, is turning 45 this year, and is finally working in a field he loves. I am proud of him, but I believed in everyone else but myself for so long.

What is personal essay writing but an exercise in truth? Starting this challenge was about me confronting fears; maybe it’s through this challenge that I can get to where I want to be. Make sense of me in ways that I cannot answer simply when people say, “You’re doing a lot” but infer, “Why are you doing so much?” I cringe when I share parts of myself; I still picture the little girl sitting at her desk, covering her ears trying not to hear the jeers. I still feel stupid a lot of the time and my anxiety plays tricks on me. But I’m here, learning, letting go of shame and telling that little girl in 2nd grade, be honest, stay weird.

“Life is richer because of what we feel, whether it’s passion, love, joy, or sadness and fear. Life has gotten you this far. You haven’t stumbled or ruined anything—you just didn’t know that, all along, this was where you were being led. Trust in your destination as much as you have in your journey, knowing that there is a reason for everything. There is a season for everything.” ~Kate Rose