Saturday, May 7, 2016

"All that I am, or ever hope to be...

...I owe to my angel mother." 

That's a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln, one I learned as a young girl studying for the Annual Presidential Trivia Quiz.  My small team of brainiac pre-teens won three years in a row, due, undoubtedly, to the bullish coaching of my bright-eyed, overly enthusiastic mother.  I don't think they called them "tiger" moms back then, and even though we're Latin, my mother was right at home with the equally driven and demanding sisterhood of Asian moms at my private elementary school.

But isn't that the point?  Just like honest Abe, all I am, and all I ever hope to be, I owe to my dear, sweet, mum.  Her constant pushing and prodding taught me to expect nothing less than excellence from myself.  What began as her value for high achievement, eventually became absorbed into my own mentality and work ethic.  Who I am, is, for all practical purposes due to my mother, who not only brought me into the world, but brought me to piano lessons at the ripe age of four, drilled spelling words into my head every week, and stayed up late nights helping me memorize multiplication tables (why were the 8's and 9's so dang hard to learn?).  Hers was the face behind countless flashcards; in fact, mom has been my study buddy for just about every major exam I've ever taken.  It's no wonder then, that with a 24-hour tutor, I was a straight-A student.  Every presentation, oral report, and speech I ever gave, she was my makeshift audience, my teleprompter, my critic, and my applause at the end of a job well done.  

But what really meant the most to me, was the way my mother always encouraged--and never discouraged--my creativity.

I remember at the age of three lying on the floor coloring in a Mickey Mouse activity book.  This book came complete with a cassette tape that gave auditory instructions for each page.  (No, I am not a Millennial, thank you very much.)  This particular page was for coloring, and the voice on the tape told me which crayons to use where.  The only problem was, I didn't agree with all of the color selections.  I preferred pink to red in one instance.  (Even then, I had an eye for color schemes.  Who knew I would grow up to become an interior designer?)  So when I finished my waxy Crayola masterpiece, I was anxious.  I didn't want mom to notice my divergent drawing and think her daughter was an idiot who missed an instruction or, worse, didn't know her colors.  There was nothing else for me to do but immediately come clean about my color conflict.

"Mom," my conscientious three-year-old self confessed, "the instructions said to color the bow red, but I think pink looks much better, so I colored it pink instead."  I waited for the inevitable chiding.  (I mean, the whole point of the activity book was to learn how to follow instructions--even as a preschooler I somehow knew that.)

But rather than be rebuffed for defying directions, my mom just smiled and said, "Good!  I'm glad to hear that.  It means you'll make your own decisions.  You know you never have to do what someone else tells you to, just because they say so, right?"

WHAT?  Really?  I had always been taught to obey my parents, but this new paradigm was rocking my three-year-old world.  I had a mind of my own, and I could make my own choices--AND my parents condoned it.  The world was this youngster's oyster!

Thirty years later, I still remember that conversation with my mom on the living room floor.  My mother surprised me that day, in a good way.  She taught me that it was not just okay to think for myself, it was preferable.  I learned that I never had to follow the crowd if I didn't want to.  I could march to my own drum.  I could think outside of the Crayola box.  I could color the world pink!  (Irony of ironies, as I write this blog post, I'm gazing at a wall in my bedroom I just happened to paint a very excessive shade of hot pink.)

So thank you, mom, for nurturing my creativity at the age of three.  Thank you for giving me the freedom to be me.  I'm still not good at doing what people (or society) tell me I must, just for the sake of doing it--and I'm okay with that.  I still color outside the lines, and I still like the color pink.  Oh, and one more thing, I still love my mother very, very much.

I love you, mom.  Happy Mother's Day!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

No Dogs Allowed

Sometimes I wear a hat, most of the time sunglasses.

I have many shields that I use to protect myself from the world. 

Sometimes it's a book, more often than not, my computer. And even more often than that, I use my dog. Sure, she's a certified ESA (emotional support animal), but sometimes she doubles as an emotional crutch. 

When I anticipate moments in life that may be especially emotionally intense, I bring my dog along for the ride. She's like a living, breathing security blanket. (Only this "blankie" barks, and poops and pees.)  

I guess it's because she reminds me that I am loved unconditionally, and that I am loving. AND that there is a being in this world who's life absolutely depends on me. As a single woman, this is largely significant. It means I matter to the world even though I don't have a family of my own--yet.  And that's just the thing, we are a family, albeit a small one.  We're a "pack." I think Cesar Milan would agree. And though I reassure my little dog frequently that someday soon we will add more members to our pack (definitely more humans and maybe even more dogs), as she looks at me completely unaffected, I discover what I'm really doing is reminding myself that someday will, in fact, be sooner than it seems. 

But Dolce wasn't my first security blanket. And she probably won't be my last.  

As a little girl, I spent countless hours at the piano, but not always in an effort to perfect my craft. I sat down at those black and white ivories to make sense of the world within.  I would sit for long stretches of time, fingers moving, but brain working even harder as I sorted through my thoughts, and more often, my feelings, most of which I was unable to express in words but could somehow externalize with the stroke of a key. It was to this unglamorous upholstered bench that I gravitated in times of trouble:  when the butterflies in my stomach started to flutter, when I did something wrong and felt horribly guilty, when I was unsure about a decision I needed to make, when my parents cross-examined a high school date. 

Sometimes I would just curl up on the bench in a fetal position (on a really bad day or when I just needed to take a nap). Other times I would lie supine on the bench and gaze at the ceiling. But either way, the piano was my secret quiet place (ironically enough). The outward banging of keys merely a smoke screen for the silent but meaningful happenings within. It's no wonder, then, I never became a concert pianist, but despite my lack of prodigy, when I sat down at those keys I was invincible, my inner world invisible. No one could touch me on that humble piano bench.

* * *

And that's sort of how I feel about my dog. Being with her takes the edge off (of being alone or being in an emotionally vulnerable situation). She's an easy conversation starter and an easy excuse to leave when things get awkward or uncomfortable. And as a result of our countless strolls about town, I've become known as "the girl with the little white dog." But is it enough for me to be me without a preposition?  

I'm not the girl in the hat...  

Or the girl with the book...  

Or the girl behind the sunglasses...  

Is it enough, and is it okay, for me just to simply be me?  

WAIT--Let me rephrase that.  It is enough for me to simply be me--no props, no accessories, no distractions--and I'm about to put my theory to the test.  

Here I go, about to have a difficult, heart-to-heart conversation, and I'm all on my own. No computer. No books. No crazy outfits. No pretense. No Lassie to save the day.  

Just me, my heart, and I.  Wish me luck!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

THE BREAKUP - PART III: Breaking Things is Hard to Do

Seeing that I was leaving, my (now former) boyfriend scrambled to his feet.  He was seated closer to the exit so he somehow managed to reach the front door and the valet line ahead of me.  Now standing in front of me, he handed his ticket to the attendant.  It was awkward standing next to him, so I made a point to stand a few feet away.

“I’m coming to get my things,” I said firmly.  It was a statement, not a request.  I was entitled to my belongings, and I didn’t want a reason to ever have to see him again.

After paying the attendant, my (ex)boyfriend stepped aside, allowing me my turn at the valet.  I was so disgusted by him, however, that after forking over my ticket I turned my back to him, crossing my arms snugly, each of my palms clutching its opposite arm.  I felt goosebumps form on my body as I stood there, cold and alone in the night air.  

Something about this moment felt peculiar.

Then in dawned on me.  I never stood alone at the valet.  He always held me in his arms—ever since our first date when he shielded me from the brisk evening breeze as we waited outside the restaurant for his vehicle—and he hadn’t stopped since.  That is…not until tonight. 

So this is what it feels like to be alone.  I shuddered at the thought of a future of interminable cold nights and solo rides home.  

I swiveled back around to face the valet, and when I did, my eyes met his.  Apparently his vehicle had arrived and was in the drive.  He had been watching me from the driver’s seat.  The second our eyes locked I spun my head the other direction.  He hit the gas, and I heard his engine rev as I watched him speed away.

* * *

He arrived to his place before I did, and when I got there the front door was open.  His roommate’s dog, Pilot, barked at me aggressively.  My ex. heard what was happening downstairs and called to the dog commanding him to stop harassing me.  As I gathered up my belongings scattered across the house, he just sat there, gaze downcast, watching me in his peripheral vision and rubbing the back of his neck in duress. 

In that moment, I saw something in his eyes that unnerved me.  I searched his face and racked my brain for any prior recollection of this expression, but my mind came up blank.  I had never seen that look in his eyes before.  He looked to be in physical pain. 

Then it dawned on me.  I had never seen him sad before.

As I packed up my things, I spotted the Valentine’s Day card I had given him which he had tacked to a bulletin board (that I had also given him).  In fact, his entire room was a result of my handiwork.  I had spent countless hours over a period of several weeks transforming his chaotic quarters into a peaceful retreat.  We painted the whole room together.  I even stayed in a couple of weekend nights, while he was out with the boys, finding and framing his favorite photos of friends and family.

Upon seeing the Valentine’s card, I immediately pulled it off the board and ripped it into pieces.  All that was left on the bulletin board now was a strip of photo-booth pictures we had taken at a friend’s wedding, which I had painstakingly copied, cut, and pinned to the board at just the right angle.  Removing the photo strip, I ripped it straight down the middle (conveniently, right through my boyfriend’s face).  I threw both the shredded card and photos into the trash. 

I was on a roll.  

I searched the room for any other depiction of us as a happy couple and spotted the pictures I had framed.  First, the formal one of just the two of us, him looking dapper in a suit and tie, and me, with a fancy updo, dressed for yet another wedding.  I removed the back of the frame, tore up the picture and tossed both the frame and photo scraps onto the bed. 

Then I spotted the picture of the four of us:  me, him, his brother, and his brother’s girlfriend when they had come to California to visit.  So what if it’s a picture with family?  We were in that picture too, all hugs and smiles, and frankly, that happy couple no longer exists.  I wasn’t about to let my (now former) boyfriend have the satisfaction of removing photos of me from his room—especially not after he had just removed me from his life.  I tore up the group photo too and tossed the empty picture frame onto the bed.  Only this time, to keep the second frame from landing on the first, I tossed a little farther, and somehow (I still have no idea how it happened), the glass inside the frame shattered the instant it hit the bed.   

There were now jagged pieces of glass strewn across his bedspread.  A small, inaudible gasp escaped as I did a double-take.  Did the glass really shatter?  How did that happen?  I certainly hadn’t meant for that to happen.  I paused for a split second, contemplating what I should do.  My first instinct was to grab a magazine or paper plate and try to sweep it up.  Then it occurred to me…this guy just broke up with me. 

It’s not my bed.  It’s not my frame.  It’s not my problem—anymore.  I left the glass on the bed and spun around voraciously looking for something else, anything else—anything that could keep me in his room (and life) just a little bit longer.  What’s more, breaking something felt good!  It was a metaphor for what had just happened to my heart.  Scanning his room, I spotted a few more picture frames (ones I had filled with photos of him and his best buds).  Something deep inside me wanted to grab those too and smash them to pieces on the corner of his dresser...but I thought better of it.  

I had done enough damage for one night.

* * * TO BE CONTINUED * * *

Saturday, September 12, 2015



His words came out slow and measured.  Like he had practiced.  Apparently I wasn’t the only one who had rehearsed a speech for that night.   
“So I guess we should talk about your text message.”

I nodded but didn’t say a word.  My eyes were wide. 
“I’ve been thinking a lot lately, especially since I got your text message…” 

I can sense the serious, somber tone in his voice.  He’s about to say something difficult.  I fear where this is headed, so I reach for his hand across the table.  This is the first time we’ve really touched all night.  (Normally I hold his hand through the whole meal.)  I think if I can make a physical connection with him, maybe I can activate an emotional one too.

He reaches back quickly for my hand and holding it in his, goes on:  “I just don’t think I have the time to give you what you need, what you deserve—”

I interject (interrupt, really) because I can see the pain in his eyes.  I can hear the steady resolve in his voice and I can’t let him continue.  “I know that,” I say urgently.  “And I’m willing to wait, to be patient, as long as I know there’s a future.”  I look at him earnestly, then glance down. 

“That’s the thing.”

I look up, shocked.  I release my hand from his.

“Ever since we got back from New Orleans, I’ve been thinking.  And I just don’t know.  You are a wonderful girlfriend.  And I love you and care about you.  You do everything right.  And I’m a terrible boyfriend.  I know I don’t have enough time to give you, and it’s not fair to you.  [Pause.]  And when I think about the future, I don’t know.  And I should know by now.” 

I’m silent, so he goes on. 

“When we reached the one-year mark, I really started thinking, and I just don’t know about the future.  And it’s not fair for me to keep you if I don’t know.”

There it was.  He had just dropped a nuclear bomb on my heart, one that would have far-reaching and devastating effects for years to come.  I didn’t say a word.  Not one.  I refused to speak, because I knew he had made up his mind. 

“That’s it?  You’re not going to even say anything?”  He seemed annoyed, angry almost, as if he thought he deserved a response.  Was he goading me on for some reason?  Did he want to start a fight?

But even if I wanted to speak, I couldn’t.  I was stunned.  I just sat there:  heart pounding, eyes blinking, mouth slightly ajar.  I just kept thinking, Is this for real?  Somehow, in that moment I was hyperconscious of myself, my body, and how I looked.  Even if I was upset on the inside, I would remain composed and together on the outside.  Perhaps my beauty and my demeanor could win him back.  Maybe he’ll see that he was wrong.

“Have you talked to anyone else about this?  Have you told anyone else you were going to do this?”  I need to know if he had already deliberated with our mutual friends, and I, the casualty of tonight’s conversation, was simply the last to know.    

“No—just my mom.  We talked after New Orleans.  I told her how I was feeling.  And she said I should know.  After a year, I should know.  And if I don’t, then I need to tell you; I need to be honest with you.”  

I was silent again.

“That’s it?  Nothing?”  He prodded.

What?  Did he want me to beg him to take me back?!

I stood my ground.  “I deserve to be with someone who’s crazy about me.”  The words came out quietly, as a revelation.  I was saying them to myself, not to him.  In fact, I couldn’t even bring myself to look at him.   

“You’re right.  You do,” he fired back, invading my moment of introspection, “—and I’m not.”

Ouch.  The words stung.

“You don’t think it would help to have more time?”  I asked, responding reasonably rather than emotionally.

“I don’t know, but I don’t want to be in this position in a year—for your sake.  It’s been a year, and after a year if I still don’t know, well…I should know by now.”

“So you love me, but you don’t want to be with me?”

“I love you.  I do.  And you are the perfect girlfriend.  You are beautiful, inside and out.  A liiiittle jealous sometimes.”  He pinched his thumb and index finger together as he said it, in a humorous way, trying to make a joke. 

I kept a straight face.  (He should know by now I’m not the jealous type.  He brought that upon himself.)  But this was not a time to laugh or point fingers.  This was a serious conversation.  My heart was in the process of being broken. 

He realized his mistake and went on.  “I just don’t have time for a girlfriend right now.”

“And you really don’t think more time would help?”

“I just know that I should know by now and I don’t.   And the reason I know that is because I’ve felt it before.”

“With WHO?”  I demanded.  The words came out more forcefully than intended.


“NICOLE?”  My mind didn’t register that name.

“Billy’s sister.  Remember the one I told you about?”

“Yeah, and it didn’t work out,” I fired. 

“It didn’t work out, I know.  But I felt it with her.”

I was completely dumbfounded. 

Nicole was the girl that broke his heart.  The one he was head-over-heels for who turned out to be a crack addict.  She left him in the middle of the night without a single word—not even so much as a post-it note—and ran off with another guy.  That's what he's looking for?! 

I was silent once again.

Despite the fact we had been sitting next to an open fireplace all night, I suddenly became extremely hot and very anxious.  My body temperature felt like it had just shot up ten degrees.  I put the back of my hand to my forehead; it felt clammy. 

I don’t think it was the fire that was making me hot.  I think it was the stress.  For a moment I felt like I was going to throw up.  I needed air—now! 

Without excusing myself, I stood up from the table and walked straight to the bathroom.  I locked myself in the largest stall at the far end of the restroom and stood with my back against the cold ceramic tiles.  I had to lean against wall, otherwise, I was afraid I might faint.  There I regained my balance and composure.  I even felt my body cool as the heat from my skin transferred to the tile wall.  As my temperature went down, the nausea subsided.  I didn’t vomit—thank goodness.  It had been a close call.  

I allowed myself a moment to pull it together.  Slowly, carefully, I hobbled over to the small pedestal located in the large, wheelchair-accessible stall, placing my hands on either side of the sink to steady myself as I gazed into the mirror.  I hadn’t shed a single tear.  My makeup was still pristine, completely unsmudged.  My face and hair looked perfect. 

So why was he rejecting me??

I took another deep look into the reflection in the mirror, then, gathering all my courage and all my resolve, marched right out of that big bathroom stall, past a guy and gal canoodling at the unisex sink without so much as a glance in their direction.  My strides were long and steady, my chin lifted, my curls bouncing confidently with each step. 

Arriving back at the table, I calmly gathered my purse and my sweater without sitting down and without making eye contact.  My belongings in order, I headed for the exit without saying a single word. 

* * * TO BE CONTINUED * * *