On The Other Side

When I first wrote this a few months ago, I was a mess. I wrote this in a flash and closed the window, unable to look at it again because it was too raw.

Today, I looked in the mirror, looked at my life, and did not feel like a mess.

So, I went back to edit it, and I was finally ready to actually read it. It feels good to feel like myself and be writing (and re-writing) again.


I didn’t realize how truly turned around I was until you started acting exactly like I would have a year ago.

“I get in my head,” you told me.

I know the feeling.

So, when I told you I’d been out on a date right after you left (me! The one who writes love stories for boys the minute I meet them. How strange to unabashedly risk everything and not care about your reaction), you exhibited the exact kind of false, cool, calm that is trying to mask a brain fast at work. The emergency lights blare and the alarm is “woo woo woo-ing” all over the place. I hear it in your voice as it insists that this is fine.

You say that, but I know you because I think you are like me and I know myself. Behind your assurances, I can hear the crackling of fire as my honesty burns down the paper pedestal you put me on far sooner than you should have.

See, the problem with me is that I’m a mess right now.

I know this because, right now, you don’t seem like a mess. You seem like you might be seeking stability.

I know all the tell-tale signs. You slip in pet names when we talk, seeing how I react. You ask me what I want from you. You sit there when I ask you the tough questions and then, instead of running, you make me bulleted lists with answer. You spend your time checking in on me and opening up to me and telling me you want to be better this time.

And the thing is, I’ve lived that life. I’ve made of living of it, in some ways. I have spent a lifetime opening hearts up, breaking walls down, providing the vulnerable foundation on which men can come to a better understanding of themselves and what they want.

And, to be honest, I’m tired.

Something broke in me and all my ability to open up, be the one who moves forward, be the one who gives anyone stability, feels like it’s gone. I have spent a lifetime cleaning up other people’s messes only to become the mess myself. I tailspin into impulsive decisions fueled by the one-too-many-beers I had two beers ago. I tell myself that this is fine with the same false, cool, calm you exhibit, but mine is a brain fast at work too.

The difference, though, is that you’re masking your terror so as not to scare me away. I don’t know who I am hiding my terror from except myself, and when I see so much of my old self in you it holds up the mirror that makes me ask where I lost myself before I met you.

It started with a lie.

Not your lie though. Or mine. Someone else’s lie. Someone else’s lies and someone else’s baggage and someone else’s pain running the show because isn’t that always the fucking case with a woman.

Eventually the lies felt bigger than my ability to love and everything was broken and the only way my mind could triage was to shut down the whole fucking system. Total reset. I refused to notice the emergency lights blaring or the woo-woo-wooing of the alarm and threw up my arms. The only thing was to move forward, to try and find a way to feel good again, to slowly make my way through and cling onto anything that felt vaguely like hope.

And maybe that strategy worked. I don’t know. I’ve made it to the place now where at least I can look in the mirror and finally start seeing the truth of things.

I am a mess right now. You are not a mess.

But, as the system slowly reboots, I guess things are becoming clearer.

And as I try and wade my way out of the mess— pushing the debris to the side, holding onto what I can of myself as I make it out of the muck— I am slowly learning to listen to the signs. The emergency lights blare, and I stop, shake my head, and turn in another direction. I hear the “woo” of alarm sirens approaching in the distance, and I close my eyes, take a breath, and change course.

Maybe, just maybe, I can find my way out of the mess.

When I do, I will brush myself off, and look in the mirror. I have no idea who I will see on the other side.

But I think I have to get there on my own.

Cages and Cogs: Considering Education and Colonialism

Reprinted from Education Week Teacher


I am sitting in my car, and I’m weeping.

While one could argue that, as a naturally emotional person, this is not an uncommon occurrence, tonight I am crying hard. Nothing has happened, except I just saw a play with a girlfriend that has hit me in the gut and made me ask the terrifying question that every educator asks themselves at some point: Am I actually helping my students?

It’s always a difficult question to ask yourself. Sometimes, it stems from a rough day in the classroom where your students were running around and you question if your lesson made a difference. Sometimes, it’s after getting some difficult feedback or assessment scores, where you wonder where the work you thought you did as a class went.

This, however, came from a much deeper place though. Tonight, I was faced with the troubling reminder that education, as a system, has historically been a tool of oppression and colonialism. The ramifications of that history live on in today’s system and, as an educator, I am in some ways a cog in that machine.

And there’s no easy way to say it: that sucks.

It is the exact dilemma that the play, Wild Birds by Eric Anderson, performed phenomenally at the amazing Kumu Kahua theater, forces every audience member to consider about education. It’s a play that I don’t just think every teacher on O’ahu should see, but something I wish every teacher in the U.S. could watch.

23157462_1665352876842930_3159420205500685252_o.jpgThe play is a historical drama based on real-life missionaries Amos and Juliette Cooke, who end up teaching not the local children as they planned, but the children of Ali’i, or Royal Chiefs. As the play progresses, the students push back on the Cooke’s rigid, Christian education by reminding them that they have their own ways and rules. Eventually, though, colonialistic education would strip them of their language, culture, and history, caging them in a society they did not ask for.  While Amos doubles down on his strict ways, Juliette asks him the question all teachers should ask themselves from time to time: have we taught our students anything at all? The question after that is, if we have, did we teach them the right things?

It’s a difficult question, especially given the complex, colonial history of Hawai’i. Personally, as someone who now teaches at one of the best private schools in the nation, it’s particularly hard to wonder if the work I am doing is actually serving the good of my students or simply furthering the reach of the colonial mindsets that created these systems in the first place. Are the structures and supports I give students so they can “succeed” in American society actually just bars I am adding to their cage?

The thing is, while Hawai’i’s history easily shows us the marks of colonialism on a people, we cannot forget that education has been used this way in our nation for centuries. It would be easy to try and say Hawai’i’s history is different and “other,” but what happened here mirrors, in many ways, the way education has been used not just against Native peoples, but communities of color as a means to strip them of language, dialects, culture, beliefs, and values.

I don’t have any answers. Like I said, before writing this entry, I sat in my car for about five minutes sobbing, wondering whether I was fulfilling any meaningful purpose as a teacher (then I bought ice cream).

Beyond these difficult questions, there’s something else I am trying to take away. At the end of the play, the two missionaries, Amos and Juliette Cooke, are at odds with one another. While Amos doubles down, Juliette pushes him to find compassion and question himself. She is, in many ways, changed by the children, telling him that she dreams of them, that even if they are not their flesh and blood, they are theirs now. In the moving final scene, Mrs. Cooke exchanges hā with her students and sings with them in ‘Ōlelo Hawai’i (Hawaiian). Their voices eventually die out– some, in tragedy, without question– and she continues to sing on, clearly changed by her experience with them.

The scene is nuanced and, as my friend pointed out, is not there to make us feel good. The students, and the history of Hawai’i itself, were inevitably affected by their time at the school and while they may have gained some things, they lost other aspects of their culture.

Still, she is at least willing to learn from them and carry their stories instead of imposing her own. That was and is not enough. Mrs. Cooke’s voice should not be the one carrying on their legacy or their stories. Ultimately, we should be asking what had to happen so that we may dismantle the cage and the birds can fly free to sing for themselves. It means making space and providing the tools for students to carry those stories, not us.

The desire to love, listen to, find compassion and advocate for our students, though, is perhaps a good place to start.

Image via Kumu Kahua Theater

 

The Home I Built Myself

Let’s be real: I’ve been all over the place these past few months.

Don’t worry, you won’t hurt my feelings by agreeing. I know.

I’ve been living this crazy-12-hour-day life where I go from teaching to coaching to CrossFit to Jiu-Jitsu. I’ve rarely found time to be by myself, much less write (hence the quiet on this blog). I’m working too many jobs. I won’t even begin to tell you about the emotional turmoil I’ve put myself in recently (I am fine. I’m just going to have a lot of fun stories one day).

So, I’m sitting here on my couch, trying to write, and I look down at my sore body.

Honestly, I am covered in bruises right now.

I have one on my bicep from jiu-jitsu; my thighs are perpetually purple from working on cleans and snatches at CrossFit. I have some weird internal bruising on my knees from the 12-miler I did yesterday. I am sore everywhere.

And, to be honest, I don’t think I’ve been this happy in a really long time.

Let me explain: I’m not saying people should hurt themselves for the sake of self-discovery. What I’ve said above is true, but I’m not some crazy masochist beating myself into the ground. I’m recovering, taking supplements, icing when I need to, and taking days off when my body tells me it’s necessary.

That’s what ended up happening Sunday morning.

I went out for what I wanted to be a nice, mellow long run. I just got an Apple Watch a few weeks ago, which has finally allowed me to start tracking my runs again. Perfect timing, since the Honolulu/Hawai‘i Conservation back-to-back marathon extravaganza I have planned is just about six weeks away. I figured I’d do some easy double digits and get back in time to go to mass then play disc golf with some friends.

My body, though, had other ideas.

I went out Sunday morning, new compression socks on and everything, and my body completely fell apart. My calves started aching and seizing within the first half-mile. My shins were splinting (correct? do I care?). My hips were sore.

Admittedly, I had a little bit of a freakout moment. Oh my God, I worried to myself, am I losing it? Am I no longer a runner? I’ve been pretty lax in my running once Cross Country ended. Yes, I’ve likely been running more, but I don’t know that I break into anything but a casual jog while doing so. Instead, I’ve been focusing my efforts on other sports. Had I gone too far?

I tried to breathe through the pain but ultimately decided to stop and avoid injury. I reminded myself that while I hadn’t run the previous day, I had done some intense BJJ and gone to a two-hour intensive Yoga class. I decided to listen to my body, walk home, and try again the next day.

So, at 4:30AM on Monday morning, I went out for my first twelve-miler in months.

And it was lovely.

No, it wasn’t as fast as I was running last year (I was booking it at a steady sub-8:30 pace in Nov 2016. Recently, I’m right around 8:45. This particular run was a slow build to 9:19). And, yes, it was much harder to run without music than it was in the past. My running had certainly changed.

The thing was had changed too.

My feet pounded the pavement down Date street toward Diamond Head, and I felt my hips sink down towards the ground just like old times. I began thinking through just how crazy these past few months had been. I had torn down an entire section of my world, and the skyline of my life had a hole in it.

Years ago, the hole would’ve terrified me. The negative space in the busy outlook of my life would’ve made me feel incomplete and I would’ve hastily built the first structure that stuck to fill in the gap.

I turned the corner to go up Diamond Head’s long incline, ducked my head, and leaned into the hill. Half-way up, I turned and, through a hole in the trees, saw the stars and a beautiful nearly-full moon over the ocean.

I stopped.

I took a deep breath and looked up at the stars. I smiled wide and realized that sometimes when your life cracks, it lets moonlight in and you see a whole new part of the night sky you had been missing before.

I said a silent prayer of gratitude for the abundance of beautiful things in my life right now: meaningful work, an amazing family (blood and chosen), passions that pushed me to feel strong and empowered. I thanked God for the run and the night sky and the moment I was given to appreciate it all.

And then I turned and began to creep my way over Diamond Head and down long Kahala streets. It was dark and empty– only a handful of us crazies were up running or biking this early. Instead, there was nothing but the road, the rhythm of my feet, and the run.

And it hit me, then, that running helped me build my first home: the body I lived in each day.

Ultimately running is nothing but me, my body, and the road. As I work through miles, I find a comfort in the very existence of my own being, as bruised and broken and slow as it is. This home, this body is so far from perfect, yet so perfect in its present state because it is really, truly mine now.

See, the thing is this is the first time in a very long time I am doing things solely for my own joy. I am running because I love it. I’m doing CrossFit because want to. I worked to continue my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training because I knew it was where I wanted to be. I’ve spent years building my world around other people– which I think can be healthy– but now, at 30, I’ve taken the reigns and am doing the things I want to do solely because I want to do them.

And that’s really exciting.

And I would have never gotten here without the chaos my life had survived.

We never know the outcomes of the decisions we make, but I still believe that ultimately they lead us where we need to be. We often can’t control aspects of our lives, but we can choose to be bitter or we can choose to move through it with grace and find joy.

Later the next morning, my students sang Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” with a verse I hadn’t heard before. It included the line:

And even though it all went wrong/I stand before the Lord of Song/with nothing in my heart but Hallelujah.

So, as the run allowed me to process these past few months, it also gave me the opportunity to see joy and grace in this home I had built. Everything else around it had crumbled. My body was bruised and hurting.

Yet, I stood at the top of Diamond Head on the way home, just as the first rays of sunlight peaked over the horizon, and smiled. I chose to find the Hallelujah of my aching body as it ran the road to redemption all the way home.

The People Who Danced in Ashes: Some Thoughts on Costumes and Cultural Appropriation

Well, it’s that time of year. Halloween is upon us, and beyond whatever thoughts we have about which sexualized animal or Game of Thrones character we want to be this year, there’s the hot-button topic of cultural appropriation in costumes.

Listen, my culture is not a costume. I’m all for experiencing, learning about, and sharing culture, but as taking the look of a culture without appreciating the culture itself is hurtful and frustrating.

Let me give you an example.

Last year, a group of folks I knew were going to attend a “Día De Los Muertos” themed party. The party had margarita machines and a taco truck. I, predictably, rolled my eyes at the concept, and told my partner at the time that I didn’t want to go.

For me, the party they were throwing had nothing to do with the actual traditions behind “Día De Los Muertos,” a beautiful holiday where we celebrate loved ones who have passed on. We dance, sing, share their favorite food and stories of them.

“At the very least,” I commented, “they could have the party and like, have a small area where folks could leave a photo or write a little note about someone they loved who had passed on. That way it could honor the spirit of the actual holiday.”

“Well, I don’t think they’d do that,” he said, “because it would kind of bum everyone out.”

And isn’t that the problem?

The reason why Dia De Los Muertos is powerful is that Latinos found a way to dance in the ashes and find joy in death. We are a resilient people who, as I’ve written beforetook horror and tragedy and turned it into song, dance, food and, somehow, joy.

So, if you want to take our clothing and our face-paint to have a party because it looks cool, you should also acknowledge the beauty of the culture that created those things. You should respect and celebrate the community who was able to look death in the eye and laugh loudly, eat and be merry.

I hope people learn more about and want to partake in the beautiful traditions of my culture. I just want them to acknowledge the culture too, and not just the costume you can exploit it for.

 

 

Image Source

And The Walls Come Tumbling Down

I’m taking a sick day for the first time in forever, and I’ve spent much of it sleeping.

I wrote this a bit ago after another re-reading of Junot Diaz’s This is How You Lose Herwhich is evident in the style. This is a highly excerpted and edited version of a much longer piece that I’ll probably never publish (though, thanks to Doug, Colin, Leslie, and Lindsey, who gave me feedback on the full reads). But it felt good to get this out.

Oh, and for what it’s worth, story-truth is an interesting thing. Timelines are fuzzy, things get fictionalized, etc.

And I’m sleeping just fine now.


 

You always assumed your love triangle phase would happen in your twenties. Some youthful lark, you figured, some princesa shit you’d pull on some guys when being young and bitchy was acceptable and you could chalk it up to youth. You’d roll your eyes at this younger version of yourself someday, and you’d be able to blame the selfishness of it all on your twenties and be happy you moved on.

Now, though, you are thirty and the stakes feel higher for everything. You still wear your hair long, your shorts short, and cling to something you cannot yet name. You didn’t spend your twenties being bitchy and pretty like you hoped you would. Instead, you were chubby and awkward and terrified you’d die alone. You nurtured and loved and were so desperate to not miss on the opportunity for “the love of your life” that you ended up letting the brief period you thought could love yourself selfishly slip through your fingers.

So, after kicking the last heartbreak, you figured you finally had all your shit figured out. You knew what you wanted, you told your friends. You were gonna focus on you. You weren’t going to rush anything and you were gonna be patient and wait for the right guy. They nodded their heads hopefully, encouragingly, but silently laughing that you’d fuck up again and end up causing the same internal drama you always do.

That’s what makes your current predicament so fucking annoying. You end up with the same internal drama. Now, you find yourself in a weirdly shaped cage that you don’t know how to get out of.

You have not slept properly for nearly two months— you refuse to admit that the myriad of reasons your friends list (post-breakup trauma, current inner-turmoil, a new job) may matter. You insist to your parents that you are seeing a therapist and that you are fine and that you’ve simply never slept well. These things are all true, but even you quietly admit to yourself that three hours a night for a month doesn’t make for the most lucid version of yourself.

This is the version of yourself, though, that is riding high-octane fuel into each weekend, turning yourself into a woman with a variety of interests that you vaguely hope will not only make you happy, but pique the interest of a dating life that sometimes feels dead inside you. You teach all day, then run three-miles as a coach, then run to CrossFit, then run to Jiu-Jitsu for few hours. You are usually tired, but feel like if you stop, you will be turning your back on things you fought so hard to regain control of in your life. You often don’t come home for twelve hours, dripping with sweat and barely able to stand. You’ve never been in such good shape, and you keep silently praying that putting your body through this will mean that, finally, you will sleep.

But you don’t. Somehow, sleep still eludes you.

So, you have to fill the time.

We’re not talking about sex, though. It was never about sex for you. You just miss having a person. The one you talk to throughout the day and night. The one who listens to your dumbass jokes and sends you news articles throughout the day and gets your shit. You have friends who will be there, sure, but you’re consistently concerned that you are bothering them. Secretly, you’re worried that if you’re not repaying someone with love or money, they have no obligation nor desire to listen to your shit.

It’s the nothingness, though, that scares you. It feels foreign, unreal, unfathomable. That night, for the first time in a while, you cancel a second date. You have no desire to go out that night.

It wasn’t the date. It was you.

To be fair, you’ve had another three-hour nap for sleep, and this week you have realized that sometimes your eyes don’t focus properly for a few minutes. Still, you don’t know what is going on. You, who were always so passionate. You, who were always so ready to jump into the arms of the next great love story and open your heart. Where are all those feelings now? Where have they run off to?

You’re so tired and your eyes still won’t focus and you don’t know how to stop your mouth anymore. Instead of the date, you call a friend, rambling and lamenting to him that you’re scared you’ve lost the parts of yourself that wants to want someone else.

He listens. Then, he asks you: what if you’re not ready?

You sit with that for a second. You ask yourself— did you want to bail on the date because you wanted something else? Or did you bail because you wanted a friend and not the work of being someone’s thing-I-got-right?

You tell him he may have a point. He tells you to get off the phone and write.

That night, for the first time in months, and without the aide of liquor or medication, you sleep for six hours straight.

And the walls of the cage come tumbling down.

Today is my birthday.

I’ve been thirty for about an hour. I guess I could say I won’t officially be 30 until 6:18PM PST, but we’ll call it right now.

If you had asked me at 16, at 21, at 25, and even last year, what my life would look like right now, I would’ve given you a very different picture than what I am living. I would’ve mentioned marriage and maybe a kid. I would’ve painted this picture of myself– caring, accommodating, wrapped up in the life of someone else and completely entwined in giving everything to anybody but myself. If I’m honest, that’s what I wanted: I wanted to disappear into someone else’s world, content to play the role I thought I was supposed to.

And every day I thank my lucky stars I did not get that life.

Today, as I turned 30, I went to a job I love and taught my students. Then I coached kids while they ran. Then I lifted heavy shit above my head as best as I could.

I went on live TV and didn’t completely lose my cool. I called a friend I trusted when I needed to vent. I stood up for myself when I thought I had to, and then let laughter and love lead to forgiveness, acceptance, and moving forward.

I had a beer at my favorite neighborhood bar, Pint and Jigger. I had good, honest conversation that made me laugh till my stomach hurt. Now, I am sitting here typing this while a big bowl of my mom’s arroz con pollo cools and a can of one of my favorite beers– recommended by another friend– waits for me. Tonight, I will hopefully be sharing another beer with some of the people I love the most.

And I couldn’t be more content.

If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s to trust so deeply in the idea that the more loving a life I lead, the more love will come to me. I spent so much of my life– for reasons beyond my understanding– scared I would not find love. I clung to it, dug for it, tended it in the places that it clearly could not grow in any healthy manner.

In the months leading up to this birthday, however, I have been reminded time and time again, just how blessed I am with people that put up with my bullshit and support me. I don’t know what I did, if anything, to deserve it, but I am in awe of it each day.

So, today is my birthday. Today, I was reminded that my greatest power, my biggest strength is my ability to love big, wide, open, honest, and fiercely.

And I feel like that’s a pretty important lesson to have learned.

Asking the Moon to Cease and Desist

I was reminded that I wrote this 5 years ago. To date, it might be one of my favorite pieces of poetry I’ve ever written.

I’m turning 30 on Friday, and I know I should sit down and reflect, but I really don’t know if I’ll have time. If anything, I listen to this and smile at the girl I once was. I no longer talk to the subject of this poem, but it is such a nice time capsule of who I was. And I am joyful that while I’m wiser and more self-sufficient, I am still as unfettered and loving as I was then.


I would like to request a cease and desist
That you stop with these over-the-moon
tactics. Don’t shake your head and
act like this is news. You created the
moon-tide strategy. The one where I take
a big running leap off your surface
and you somehow wield gravity and
centrifugal force and I don’t get
very far— a wave grasping at the shore
trying to regain my own center. But it’s hard
because the weight of your hand
on my back is a powerful force, and the
gravity of it still leaves a print on the
moonlit beach between my shoulder blades.
and the centrifugal force that
made as you spun your fingers through
my curls over and over again
until I lolled my head against
your chest is too strong on warm
Hawaiian nights, even after a few longboards.

So I am requesting a cease and desist and
maybe even a breach of contract.
because when we set up this agreement
no where in the bylines did you disclose that
conversations with you would be this easy. That they
would reveal the same level of comfort my immigrant
mother once described she felt when she finally finds
someone that speaks her native tongue.

and when we entered into this binding measure there
was no fine print to warn me that
you could make me laugh so hard, or
get me so frustrated with how ridiculous you are.
Trust me, I’ve checked. Waiting for you text before
I go to bed has left me a lot of time to learn some things
about contract law.

And the contract was clearly signed under duress.
there was that moment where we could and maybe should
have walked away but instead you put
the barrel of possibility on my lips and
pulled the trigger. And no red-blooded woman
could’ve withstood firepower like that.

So this thing we are still creating each
time we talk, it must cease. it must desist instead
of continuing to wrap itself around my thumbs
every morning when I text you and around
my throat every afternoon when I wait for your
call and around my eyes every night
when I scan the bar for something that will
serve as your poor-man’s version
but everything I see is shaded with a tinge of
our poorly-lit what-shouldve-beens.

But that’s useless to me now because you are
6000 physical miles away and 12000 emotional ones
and when my head is hitting the pillow you’re already in the next day.

And all I want to do is call and ask you what our tomorrows look like and
if we every course-correct this sinking ship or we just keep
filling in the blanks with poor-quality facsimiles. I already
see it in the guy who almost smells like you but it’s tinged
with cigarettes a whiskey different from the one that
was on your breath when we met. And I see it in the girls on your
Facebook who have curls like mine but lack my… funny thumbs that
could press into your palm when we walked down Hollywood blvd together.

And we’re still walking now, the image of us goes around
and around in my head and beats on my heart like
the waves, pounding the shore for no other reason
than that the moon commands it because no one has
begged it to stop.

The Day I Learned to Swim

I have been running from the ocean since I knew I could swim.

It’s a strange paradox, I know. But at some point early on it
seemed like the ocean of my own heart was
too big to bear. The first time I tried to navigate it on my own,
I was hit with tidal waves of heartbreak and currents
of unnavigable passion that I had no idea how to control.
I was terrified of getting sucked underneath.

So, I jumped on the first floating object I could find.
I sought hands that I was sure could lift me from
the riptides of my own stormy heart, I looked for lips
that would breathe air into lungs too salty with my own
sadness to have a voice. I was so terrified by the first chill
of the water that I desperately clung to the first source of
warmth that would wrap its arms around me and
name me as complete. I played keep-away from the ocean,
And when one lifeboat drifted away, I jumped on the next
insistent that if kept moving I wouldn’t ever get swallowed
by the waves of my own sadness.

After a while, though, as wonderful as the feeling of floating
is, I realized I was missing something.
I learned I can never really feel safe if I don’t believe
in the buoyancy of my own being.

This time, I am trying to be brave.

I stepped out of the ship I built and
decided I needed to learn how to swim.

I jumped into the ocean, felt the chill, and when
I felt like I was going to drown, I began to kick. Hard.
I flailed and churned my limbs. When the winds roared
in my eardrums, I roared right back. I screamed
The sadness out of my chest. I learned to listen to the slapping
of the waves and hear the rhythm of my blood pumping.
I notice the way the tide pulls and clinches at my heart and then lets it go.

And after a while, I realized I could use the currents to push me along.
I could rest in the quiet spaces in the sea, when my
ocean heart would slow the storm and allow me to float,
calmly, from one place to the next. I flipped onto my belly
and began to glide through the water, and embracing the chill.

That was the day I learned to swim.

 

A Happy Girl

Yesterday, during some downtime on set, I called my abuela. She has a surgery coming up, and I wanted to check in and say hello.

After a few rings, I heard her pick up. She has a cell phone now, and so I was greeted with an immediate, “Mamacita!” one of the many nicknames she has for me.

I can’t help but smile when I hear my grandmother’s voice. It’s ingrained in my system, I think. For years, as a small child, she was my world and my protector. Her voice meant extra hugs and kisses while being called, “consentida” (another nickname, which I would later learn didn’t mean “sweetie” like I assumed, but “spoiled,” which was… accurate). Hearing her voice meant I was coming home to egg salad sandwiches with extra egg salad on the side in my favorite little bear bowl and Reading Rainbow would be on the TV. It was the voice that rang after me as she took me on walks to the park so I could run around and play in the grass outside.

So, when I heard her yesterday, I smiled again. I asked how she was, she updated me on her surgery, I told her (in my best, broken Spanish) that I was doing well, waiting around at work, and that I was going to try and see her again in a few weeks for a friend’s wedding.

She paused for a second, then she said in English, “You sound good, mijita linda. You sound like a happy girl.”

I got teary for a second. I knew what she was telling me. She was telling me she had heard about my recent, tumultuous life. She had heard that I had (again) uprooted myself, that I had stepped back from the fire to save my own skin. When she picked up the phone, she had been scared she would hear the sounds of my own failures and regrets weaved into my voice (though, she’d assure me, they were self-perceived since everything is a lesson). She was scared she’d hear the same little girl who cried when she came home from school scared by bullies and boys.

But she didn’t hear that girl.

I confirmed for her that, yes, I was happy. “Todo en mi vida está muy bíen. Tengo mis amigos, mi trabajo está bien, mi familia es tan buena. Sí,” I assured her, saying my life was good, I had my friends, a good job, and a great family, “estoy feliz.”

And I meant it.

It would be easy, yes, to have let myself sink to the bottom of the river. Just as it would have been easy, I know, for my grandmother to have made my life less-joyful as a child. She had struggled to get her family to a stable, safe place in the U.S. We were by no means wealthy, and my grandmother was sacrificing to take care of my brother and me while my parents worked hard at jobs that kept that for long hours, all so that we could have better and more than they did.

She could have let the weight of that sit on her heart, eat at her, and passed it onto me.

Instead, she showered me with a deep, intense love, filled with joy and laughter and walking adventures to the park. Her voice rings through, nourishing and loving. It’s the reminder to enjoy the extra egg salad on the side and laugh at a kids TV show. It’s that love that filters through my childhood memories. It reminds me, that in the end, nunca estoy sola, I’m never alone, because I have a surfeit of love and light.

And I am a happy girl indeed.

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