Disconnected

 

She looked away from the monitor to hang up on the incoming call. After setting her phone on silent, she lost herself with faceless friends.

***

 

This post was written in response to the Red Writing Hood  weekly writing meme on Write On Edge. This week, writers were asked to write a short story using Twitter as our Muse and 140 characters as our character limit.

What I Don't Know...

 

It's the day before my father will die. He's in a hospital bed in the intensive care unit, hooked up to machines monitoring his vitals, with a light so bright hanging directly over him that I must force myself to think of things other than tunnels and what lies at the end of them.

My mother-in-law is sitting behind me on the bed. She watches with me as my father blinks, opens his eyes, and focuses them above us both. His eyes meet mine and he opens his mouth to speak a single word. But his mouth is dry and he cannot vocalize, leaving me to guess what he is trying to tell me. I offer him water, ask him if he's cold, are the lights too bright? He closes his eyes in frustration and weakly shakes his head no. Then he raises his right arm as high as he can and points to the light above the very bed we will all stand around as a family tomorrow night when he leaves us much sooner than any of us had ever anticipated.

"So the light is too bright, isn't it?" I ask again. He shakes his head no and points again, silently speaking the same word over and over, his mouth forming around the tubes going down his throat. My mother-in-law suggests I ask the night nurse for a pen and a notebook, so I leave and return, pen and paper in hand, only to discover he is too weak to write.

"We should go," says my mother-in-law.

I kiss him. I tell him I love him. I tell him that I will see him tomorrow. I don't realize that he won't know we are there beside him. I don't know that my father is pointing to the spirit of my grandmother floating above him. I don't understand that he is trying to tell me she is waiting for him; that it's time. And I should. He's the only one who believed me when I told him she smiled at me when I kissed her cold cheek that day I thought she was sleeping when I was only six. She watches over us both, he has told me more than once. Her only son and her first grandchild. So many late night conversations about the spirit that bound us together, always grateful that he believed me when I told him she smiled at me that day. And yet, I leave, unaware that I should have stayed with him.

I don't know that my mother-in-law suspected what he was trying to say. Or  that she sent me out of the room on purpose. And I don't know that he nodded his head that yes, someone we couldn't see was waiting for him or that this good-bye will be the last.

So we leave. I climb into bed with my six-month-old daughter and my husband. And I sleep a dreamless sleep.

This post was written in response to a writing prompt on Write On Edge. This week, writers were asked to write about their worst memory. Mine is not knowing what tomorrow would bring.

 

Pomp, Circumstance, and Tooth Fairies

My sister in law called the other day to sob (a little) about her 18-year-old son and his high school graduation. This kid was five when I started dating his uncle, so while I might not be facing the reality of a full grown adult and wondering when my baby turned into this capable person ready to take on the world, I totally understood the Where the Hell Has the Time Gone sentiment. Because really? That thing about the, growing up too fast is only a cliche when you are talking about someone else's kid.

It might not be a fair comparison, but I immediately looked at my own growing baby. Buttercup will soon be four years old. She's a far cry from the six-pound newborn I brought home from the hospital. Gone is the little cherub baby face and the awkwardly adorable toddler gait and the gummy smile. It's all been replaced with the face of a little girl who walks and runs like a little girl and that memory of the gummy smile she once had is playing tricks with my mind as she sits with her fingers in her mouth trying to gently wiggle loose the tooth that seems to be hanging on by a thread.

I asked her if she wanted me to tug it out for her. It's almost there, anyway, and when she pushes it out far enough with her tongue, I can see into her gum cavity where the shiny white newness of her first adult tooth is still waiting to be born. She told me no. She's not ready to be a big girl yet and can we please just let it fall out on it's own? When it's ready?

I sometimes ask her to please stop growing. If only for a moment. Usually she takes me literally and laughs, telling she she can't not grow. It's what kids do, for goodness sake. But this time, I didn't have to ask. My little baby has given me a reprieve, however slight, allowing us both a little more time to process the reality of the coming tomorrow.

This post was written in response to a writing prompt on The Red Dress Club. This week, writers were asked to take graduation as inspiration.

The Long Vowel

I could talk about the graduating from college with honors. Or my bylines in newspapers and magazines. I could even point to my daughter and tell you I am most proud of the fact that pushed her out my hoo-ha without any pain medication even though I had been induced, which (and trust me on this) is probably the reason she is still an only child. Well, that, and the hellacious pregnancy, multiple hospitalizations before and after having her, and the missing pregnancy amnesia everyone promised me I would eventually experience.

Have I mentioned I am still waiting on that?

But if I have to be honest, another moment shines brighter.

I was six. My sister four. And even though I can't remember why, I know I was mad at her. But instead of just telling her, I decided to use my new found spelling skills to write her a letter expressing my feelings.

Mature, right?

We were at my Tia and Tio's house for the weekend, a tradition started by my uncle when they started picking me up as a baby for a few days to give my parents a break. I remember curling myself up on the bed with a sheet of paper and a pen, pursing my lips in deep concentration as I tapped the pencil against my chin. This was my first letter, after all. I wanted it to be good.

Veronica had made me mad. I don't remember what she did, but I was the first-grade equivalent of livid. But didn't Mrs. Ganoff say that there were words that sounded different that meant the same thing? And other words that meant the same thing but more? Like pretty and bee-u-tee-ful? (Besides, I had no idea the word livid actually existed.)

I brightened at the thought. I could really get my point across if I used a "more better" word than mad. Because, really? "Dear Vica, I am mad at you," just wasn't enough. But what word could I use? And could I spell it?

Gripping the pencil tightly, I carefully printed out, "Dear Vica..."

After careful consideration, I added the words "I" and "am".

And that's where I got stuck again. At least until inspiration struck. Quickly, I erased the word "am" and started writing "h", "a" and "t".

Now what was that spelling rule Mrs. Ganoff had just explained in school? Oh! I remembered! If you add the letter "e" to the end of a word, it changed the short vowel sound to a long one! But I still needed to be sure. I didn't want to embarrass myself with a typo in my first ever letter, did I?

"Tia! How do you spell hate?"

Without thinking, she answered my question.

Success!

I climbed off the bed, walked over to Tia Elvia, and handed her my letter.

"Can you please read this to Vica? I'm not talking to her right now."

It probably goes without saying that I spent a little time in my room that afternoon. And while my aunt and uncle weren't exactly pleased with my request to read my innocent little four-year-old sister a letter telling her how I hated her, the muffled laughter as they made their way down the hall was all I need to hear to let myself fall back on the bed with a happy sigh.

Short and long vowels?

I? Just won.

This post was written in response to a prompt on The Red Dress Club. This week, writers were asked to share a moment of pride. For some reason, this is where my mind went.

When Actions Speak

There are certain pieces of my being that have been ingrained as absolute truth. Always show respect to your elders. You are considered a grown woman when you take your husband's last name (and therefore are allowed to drink alcohol in front of the aforementioned elders.) And family before self. Always.

But don't you dare light up a cigarette in front of The Family. Ever since tio quit 13 years ago, it's been understood that if you did smoke, it's a habit that needed to be talked around similar to the way no one ever questioned the frequency with which 10-pound premature babies are born to sons and daughters of friends and cousins not too long after weddings.

"Five months early, eh?" Knowing eyes. Secret smiles. Brand new baby clothes, price tags already removed. Nothing smaller than 3-6 month in the gift bag. "She's beautiful."

My father, who gave up his Miller Lite for Lent every year but never made it to church on Easter Sunday because he was nursing the hangover he got started on at midnight, once told me that even after being married and having five girls, smoking was still off limits in front of his father. It wasn't a habit Dad relied upon. More of a social thing in which he might or might not bum a smoke off a friend and be happy without another until the next cookout maybe a year later. But too many beers on too little food made Dad careless one day. Dad stepped out onto the porch with a friend only to be caught by my grandfather as he was getting ready to leave.

"He never said a word," Dad said. "He just looked at me. I threw the cigarette on the ground and went back inside."

My grandfather didn't talk to my father for a week. My father never picked up another cigarette again.

At least when my grandfather was around.

***

I am standing in front of the courthouse, tears heated with the anger of betrayal falling from unblinking eyes as I look into the storm. My four sisters, backs braced against the reality they are choosing not to acknowledge. They stand close, arms interlocked, lips tight. My cousin stands with them, her eyes focused on her mother across the divide. Occasionally, one of my sisters almost loses control when a corner of their mouth starts to twitch. Even with my eyes trained over their heads, even with my focus directed on blowing smoke into the faces of the women who helped raise us, I understand that my sisters are fighting a battle between tears for what we have lost and laughter in response to my actions.

So do my aunts. They attempt to concentrate their nervous glances on the sky and on imaginary pieces of lint on their jackets,  anywhere but where I am standing while our respective lawyers attempt to make peace before the storm of misplaced loyalties intensifies. We had lost our father. They, their only brother. There hadn't been time to prepare.

"Do you think he would be proud of what you are doing?" My cousin had asked her mother before court. "Do you honestly believe he would stand back and let you hurt them like this?"

She laughed in her daughter's face before walking away.

Family before self.

The lawyer told us not to say a word to them. They told us it was better this way.

And that's just fine. Because with each inhalation, I stand straighter. With each new cigarette lit off the still burning butt of the one currently being smashed out beneath my heel, I redefine the word family. With each unblinking exhalation aimed directly into the faces of strangers we once knew, they can hear it.

We all can.

Fuck. You.

This post was written in response to a The Red Dress Club prompt asking writers to describe an emotional fight. What I have written above is non-fiction.

Because...

Because I remember hiding in the pantry as a child to eat my feelings, I tell my daughter every day how much I love her. Because my father died when I was 29, I finally understood my mother's loss of both of her parents at the age of 19.

Because my family broke when we buried my father, I came to appreciate those connections that remain for the precious gifts they truly are.

Because I hated the girl/teenager/woman looking back at me from the other side of the mirror until recently, I tell my daughter she is healthy and strong before I tell her she is beautiful.

Because I grew up knowing I was the reason my parent's got married, I didn't have my first kiss until I was 15.

Because every time I thought He's The One I was wrong, I said "I do" to the right man.

Because I was ashamed of my kinky curls, I silence my first thoughts and simply respond with a "thank you, baby," every time my daughter tells me my hair is pretty.

Because I was left standing on my front porch waiting for my friends to pick me up for senior homecoming, I learned the importance of holding my head high.

Because I once wanted to die, I am grateful to live.

Because I still have dreams to make a reality, I wake up with a reason to try harder.

Because of yesterday, I have today.

This post was written in response to The Red Dress Club memoir prompt asking writers to share a a negative experience with positive results.

On The Beating of His Heart

When I was a kid, I used to think he had swallowed a clock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

With every beat, the sound signaled the opening and closing of his valves. I imagined it was probably what Captain Hook sounded like, if you stood close enough to him in a dream.

My father's heart.

As a child, he had suffered from rheumatic fever, leaving him with no choice but to check in for heart valve replacement surgery at the age of 23. While his broken heart was being fixed in one hospital, my mother was in another giving birth to my third sister.

The funny thing is, I remember life before Sonya was born. I was only four when she entered the world. But there is a distinct before and after in my young memory. A time when it was just me and Veronica. But I can't remember my father without the scar on his chest that ran from his collar bone to his belly button.

I've searched and searched my memory. Dissecting each one piece by piece. My grandmother's smile. Crying with arms outstretched because I couldn't move my feet in the shoes connected by the bar made to straighten out my turned in gait. The sweet smell of canela tea being made.

Cinnamon.

In all of them, I can see my father. And when I see him, I see the tip of the scar poking out of the top of his V-neck shirts. And what I can't see, I can hear.

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

My husband says he used to think my father just had a really loud watch. It wasn't until later that he learned of my father's surgery and the resulting sound effects. It wasn't something you picked up on unless you knew it was there, really. But my sisters and I did. And that's how we saved ourselves from getting yelled at while giggling in bed together after we were meant to be asleep. No matter how hard he tried to sneak up on us; even if he managed to avoid the one squeaky floorboard right outside of our bedroom; even with the television blaring in the background...we heard him.

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

And we stifled our giggles and feigned sleep, just long enough for him to ease back out and close the door behind him.

This post was written for The Red Dress Club as a memoir writing prompt. This week, writer's were asked to write about a memory involving the color red without saying the actual color.

Pieces of Me

Es una manguera. It's my first thought.

My second? Amazement that I remembered the word at all. Yesterday, I couldn't think of the Spanish word for "sink."

My first language was Spanglish. My father and his family were from northern Mexico. My mother, a first generation Mexican-American who had never been taught Spanish. My parents married right out of high school and I spent the first three years of my life living with them in my grandparents' home.

My grandmother spoke no English. My mother, no Spanish.

Until I was in kindergarten, she was really one of the few people I spoke English with at all. It was English at home and Spanish on the weekends we spent with my dad's side of the family. By the time I reached kindergarten, my grandmother had passed away, and with her one of the many reasons to think and speak in the language of my history.

My sisters and I grew up up with directives like, "Ninas, portanse bien." Our elders didn't fight it when we responded with "Yes, Tia. We will behave". We felt special at our elementary school in the white suburbs when we would say things like "Guelo" and "Tio" and then explain to our peers that we were couldn't play with them on Sunday because we had family dinner with our grandfather at our uncle's house.

No, next Sunday either. Every Sunday was for la familia.

As a small child, Spanish required no thought. I could toggle back and forth between languages with no conscious effort. But Thanksgiving dinners of enchiladas and empanadas only caused stress for those who had prepared the meal as the rest of us wondered out loud how we were going to explain to the kids at school next week why we didn't have turkey and stuffing like they did.

My aunt taught us to say all of our prayers in Spanish and would kiss us every night during out sleepovers, leaving the room with a, "Hasta manana."

"Si Diosito quiere." If God wants it that way. It was the response were were taught and one that even my youngest sisters, who never learned Spanish, can still say to this day with a native accent.

But years passed. Weekends at my tia and tio's house were replaced with jobs and responsibility. English soon took over my thoughts, making me question every word when tripping over my own tongue in an attempt to tell one of my relatives how school was going.

"Compre una nueva tapa," I remember telling my aunt once on the telephone. She gently corrected me. I had purchased a new top? Like a T-shirt, right?

"That's a camiseta, m'ija."

I didn't blame her for laughing. It just served as another reminder that my grasp on the language I had grown up with was slowly slipping away.  I thought about a Halloween photo of my half-black nephew as a baby. He was dressed as an Oreo cookie. I wondered, briefly, how many "a-HAH's" I would get if I dressed my kid as a coconut. It really wouldn't be worth it unless I got a few laughs.

My daughter looks over my shoulder as I type, sitting on the couch next to her as she colors.

"Mama," she says. "What's that? Is it a hose"

For a moment I consider telling her the Spanish word. Manguera. I think about the hot summer days and shrieks of bilingual joy as my cousins and I turned the hose on each other in the  backyard. I think of my father and his unexpected passing when she was just six months old and how she probably would have asked me that question in Spanish if he was still with us.

But he's not. And I can't pass on a language my own tongue and brain fight over every time I attempt to speak it. I can, however, teach her what I know, even if it's only pieces of the language I once thought in.

"Yes baby. It's a hose." I turn to look at her. "Can you say manguera?"

She repeats the word.

Pieces will be enough. And I will celebrate every single one.

This post was written for The Red Dress Club weekly memoir prompt. This week writer's were asked to explore memories triggered by the photo at the beginning of this post.

A Single Breath

Breathe in. Close my eyes.

Memories rush.

A camcorder's view in my mind's eye.

Guelo's house.

It was green.

Detroit.

Summer.

Engines backfiring and Mexican music blaring from the stereo.

A whole skinned goat in a garbage bag.

Shake its hoof.

Say hi to dinner.

Riding my tricycle.

It was red.

Laughter. Family. Love.

Security.

Friday nights and Chinese food.

Fighting for the last shrimp in lobster sauce like most kids fight over the last cherry in a mixed fruit cup.

Sabado Gigante on the TV.

Adjust the rabbit ears.

Guelo has a Buddha belly.

He calls me cabrona.

Always with a smile.

And takes me to Dunkin' Doughnuts.

I kiss the top of his head.

Plastic on the sofas.

Guela's portrait hanging on the wall.

So beautiful.

Rifling through drawers filled with memories that go even deeper.

My father.

The glue that holds our family together.

"I'm gonna die young, kid."

He always used to say that.

I never believed him.

His heart.

My mother's birthday.

He was only 50.

The glue is gone.

The family is broken.

The first winter's snow on the day of his burial.

Stay strong. Help mom.

I am the oldest. It's my job.

Money changes people.

We didn't believe them, either.

Now we do.

Pictures deleted. Memories stay.

Of family as it once was.

Innocence.

Laughter. Family. Love.

Guelo's house.

It was green.

Breathe out.

I open my eyes and blink under the harsh lights in the grocery store. I am holding the herbs in my hands, a bouquet of memories. A single breath and I am a child, standing on my grandfather's porch, smelling the sweet cilantro growing alongside the steps. My mind racing through time and space, bringing me back to the here and now.

I set the cilantro in my grocery cart, cross it off of my shopping list, and breathe in again.

This post was written for The Red Dress Club RemembeRED memoir prompt. This week, writers were asked to write about a sound or a smell that reminds us of our past.