My Running Journey

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Yesenia and I, training for my halfsie

We are sitting in the living room, watching shows. Two glasses of red wine sit in front of us, half full. She is mine. I am hers. That’s what the glasses say, gifts we received at our wedding. Her heart is heavy from loss, just like mine. Not alone in our pain but each of us deep in our thoughts, I’m surprised when she breaks the comfortable silence.

“I am so proud of you.”

It’s a compliment. Of course, it is. Except my grief has veiled my eyes and I see it as pain. Why can’t I let her be proud of me? I respond that I walked most of it, would have quit. Almost quit. She doesn’t care that I want to tear myself down. She knows how hard it was for me. Physically, yes, but also mentally. Emotionally. She understands why I do that so she doesn’t allow it in a way that means more than I could tell her.

“You didn’t train. We had so much going on. I didn’t want you to do it and yet you had made a commitment. You are so stubborn with your goals and I just love that about you.”

She knows I need to hear it.

I nod in agreement. To everything. It’s such a problem of mine because I want to do all the things and I want to be there for all my tribe. When my younger sister asked me to run a half marathon with her a few months ago, yes came out so easy. I had four months which was plenty of time to train my body to get my mileage back up. I thought the running and our busy calendar would be great distractions for my soul, because grieving for my friend has been so exhausting and unpredictable. One minute I would be okay, head above water. Driving to work or to pick up my boys or to a meeting. The next, I would feel tears run silently down my cheeks or I would be uncontrollably sobbing and I couldn’t deal, drowning under waves of sorrow and raw again.

Loss isn’t new to me so don’t go thinking losing Yesenia hurt me more than others who have moved to the Land of the Remembered. What has changed is how I’m processing and feeling it. Kulia helped un-numb me, if you will. Gradually and with a tender care, she has helped my self feel again. For the longest time I was just making it through my days, hiding behind a smile and portraying that I was okay. Going through the motions of life and being in constant survival mode dulled all my senses. I could say meeting Ku woke that all up. I mean, she did, or rather, we did together. It’s just been such a process. Not overnight. Not immediate. Little by little over the past six years. And then one day they were there. Feelings I had forgotten about. A sister of mine, who remembers the tough-as-nails me asked if I thought these feelings would stick around and gosh, I hope so. She does, too. I would rather feel than be in that dull place again.

Ku said it was running. That somehow, that empowering runner’s high made me human again. Maybe she was right but not entirely. I think it was a lot of little things with her at the center. Either way, running was exhilarating. I felt so strong crossing finish lines, improving my mile times, hearing people’s surprise at my endurance. And it all began so innocently enough. Yesenia got me out and walking. For like a month we would walk this road by her house that down and back was exactly one mile. One day she casually started to jog. I followed suit because that is who I am as a person. And as intermittenly as my feelings were coming back we got ourselves to one mile of straight running.

That first mile was such a major milestone for us and we celebrated it enthusiastically. We did it together. When I decided to train for my first halfsie, Yesenia said she would train some with me. When she couldn’t, I would leash up Cali and off we would go. Running with Cali was perfect because I could just yell all the words of encouragement that I needed her way. And she would just prance by my side, happy for the attention and the outside company. We did it together. One of them was always by my side.

As I painfully ran a 15k in March this year, I thought about my gumption and commitments. I wanted to finish the run I had paid for but I kept thinking about how I would never run next to them again. Except, when I was asked about the halfsie, I said yes one more time. I thought maybe I could do it and things would change. But they didn’t because you can’t force yourself to get over anything, no matter how hard you try. And Cali was on her decline so her joining me was out of the picture. I realized, right after she peacefully crossed that dreaded Rainbow Bridge, that I just didn’t want to run anymore. I had registered and paid for this last one (well, Ku had on my behalf because she understands that about me) so I wasn’t going to back out of it but I knew I would say goodbye to each mile marker, water stop, treat break and photo op.

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TFlinn kept me going during my last run

Luckily a great friend was doing this halfsie also and promised to walk/jog with me so the first eight miles sucked in a better way. As runners would pass us I would comment about how they were crushing it and doing fantastic and she kept gently reminding me that so were we. Gawd, I needed that. Somewhere around mile nine she was ready to go and finish and I tried to keep up but just couldn’t. I was hitting a wall, not just physically, but emotionally. I missed my running buddies in a way she was but wasn’t. I have found you can be two things at once in this grief process. I have perpetually been happy but sad, whole with holes, surrounded by love but missing theirs. That was this run. Complete with running buddies but missing THE running buddies. The day we said goodbye to Rue I turned to Ku and said I couldn’t do any more runs. I meant it.

Feeling the grief of losing two amazing souls this year has changed me. As I learn to navigate the journey of having feelings that are not mutually exclusive of each other, I find that I recede a bit into my mind. When people ask me how I’m doing, which we are so inclined to do even if we don’t care about the answer, I am honest. When I am feeling grief I share that, which has taken many by surprise. I don’t mean to. I just can’t fake anything in my life, anymore, least of all my sadness. Where running used to help me focus more at work, grief has stolen that from me and I find myself chasing ways to stay in the now, in the here, rather than regress to past days, where we chatted about nonsense and the intricacies of life, Yesenia and I. Or how Kulia and I would come home and happy dance with Cali and call her dumb names in baby talk because her wagging her tail was such a happy picture.

A friend shared that grief was like standing on the edge of the ocean, with waves of sadness hitting you sometimes. I think mine has a different form. It’s much more hurricane-esque with gail force winds trying to knock me over unexpectedly.

So, with all of that, I remind myself that I have 754 miles under my belt and while I may pick it back up one day, I am thankful for saying farewell to running in my own way and on my terms.

And know that as I work through these storms of sadness, I am loving my friends and family harder. I’m just doing it in walking form now.

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Our Sad Farewell

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A boy and his dog

3.9 years ago, our household made the major, life-changing decision to find a dog to complete us. It was one we didn’t make lightly, because Kulia and I know that animals are a responsibility that would mainly fall on us. Dogs especially, can be fun and ever-loving, but holy Moses do they need attention, care, and patience. Aside from all that, the connection you build with your dog is unparalleled to most you have with humans. Dogs are pretty much four-legged angels.

Kulia and I are almost always walking hand-in-hand in our relationship, both facing the same direction. It isn’t often we are standing across from each other, on opposite sides of the river, as I like to call it. Yet, with dogs, we tend to. Unable to find a bridge to cross and meet half-ways because even in love, we are headstrong and stubborn. I, the ever strict authoritarian, full of rules and boundaries. I believe that a dog needs structure, rules, shouldn’t kiss my face (I cannot with drool and saliva), and can be safe in a kennel. Kulia wants all the smooches from the pooches, she wants them on the bed, she does baby talk to them, finds them all cute, hates kennels, and she is incapable of scolding one, least of all Cali. We are yin and yang in it’s greatest form.

When we saw Cali I sincerely believe she chose us. She seemed to take to us almost immediately, leaning all her muscle-y weight against us, receiving the butt scratches with joy. We got her for a week-long trial to see how she would do in our home with our boys and the first full day she was with us, she joined me to drop Moose and Abraham off at school. She watched them walk away from the car window, whimpering for them to come back. I knew right then she was really ours.

But Cali came to us with some baggage, much as we came to her with ours. She didn’t trust other dogs, hated being locked up in small rooms, only had about four teeth, and needed a lot of attention. The first year with her was a lot of adjusting, trial and error (mostly error) and frustrations. All of them on my behalf. Kulia had this uncanny ability to just accept her in a way I struggled with. I wanted to love her unconditionally but shitballs, it was so hard. She was potty-trained but pooped in the house a few times. She was a total sweetheart but scared the crap out of anyone delivering a package or knocking on our door. She listened when she wanted to and ignored when she could. Cali and I were on rocky terrain for a good, long time.

One day, that first summer, I got a call from a neighbor because of course she had dug herself out of the yard again. I worked less than a mile away and had a lot of flexibility so for the umpteenth time in the last month, I drove to try to find her. After some searching, I did and put her in the car. I was so fed up. I was over it. We had spent so much time and sacrificing to buy our home and Cali had no regard for any of it. I yelled at her the entire two-minute drive back to our place, telling her we might need to find her a new home with someone who could put up with her. And she just looked away, unable to meet my eye, because she knew I was angry. I decided to stay home and made myself a drink and we both went out and sat on the pallet couch we had made that she just loved. The boys were at their Dad’s house, which was hard for me because I wasn’t used to not having them with me. I was mad at the custody plan making me share and I was mad at the dog for being such an a-hole and I was mad that I couldn’t get over any of it. So, we sat on that couch and got tipsy (well, I did) and she just soaked up the sun and my quietness. And then I turned to her and apologized. I told her we couldn’t get rid of her; I didn’t really mean it. She was freaking family, even if she drove me nuts. And I think she forgave me for scolding her, because all she ever wanted was our company.

Sometime in the spring this year, after we said goodbye to Yesenia, Cali started to get sick. We speculate that she had a brain tumor that we initially thought was doggy vertigo. Whatever it was has been a process of rapid declination. Since April she hasn’t been herself. Little by little but all at once. I struggled to deal with any of it, just like I have a hard time with so many other things, because I am still grieving the loss of my friend, she was a constant drool bucket all of a sudden (I cannot with drool and saliva), and I couldn’t add losing her to my plate. Except you can’t put off the inevitable. Before long, we realized our baby girl, Cali Rue, was not like she used to be. She had lost her zest for life, as Ku put it. So we made the hard decision to say goodbye.

Before the vet even pulled up to our house, I was an ugly-crying mess. Cali was just laying in her spot on the couch, hardly moving and the vet reassured us that she was most definitely not feeling well. It validated to us that we had made the right choice. She calmly explained to us how the process would go, mixed her up a dose of something to calm her and take away her pain. It was all beautiful and exactly how it should be. Once she got the first shot she hopped off the couch and wagged her tail for us one last time before she laid down and fell asleep, finally at peace. I’m so grateful we could give her that since she gave us the last four years of her life.

I’m going to miss the who’s there game, knocking on the wall to rile her up, cheering extra loud during football games to wake her, snuggling on the couch, watching her hang her face out the car window with joy, and being annoyed at how loud she chewed her food. But really, I’m going to miss her sweet face hoping we would drop some food for her and her obnoxious tail that was practically a weapon. I’m going to miss her sleeping in Sam’s room and the boys giving her hugs and goodnight kisses every evening. I’m going to miss Ku being angry with me at telling her to go lay down and her finally obliging, and how she would wait outside our door if it was closed because she just wanted to come in and make sure we were still there.  And I’ll miss dressing her up whenever we wanted and her putting up with it because it made us happy. I’m going to miss her so much.

Goodbye, Cali.

Forever would not have been enough; it never could be. I imagine you with Yesenia now, maybe on a run. Thank you for loving your boys. And us. You were loyalty at its greatest.

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Cali girl on her last adventure wearing her flower collar, made by our dear friend, Natalie

To my oldest, with all my heart

Sixteen years and one week ago, I was ridiculously round with angst and excitement, thinking I was about to push you out into this world. Even though you were a few weeks from your due date I was sure it was time. Except, you weren’t as ready as I thought I was so you held fast and stayed cozy.

FOR A WHOLE ‘NOTHER WEEK.

And this is what our relationship has grown into, love. Us waiting eternally for you because you’ve literally marched to the beat of your own trombone or baritone or whatever instrument you correct me on. A beat that we call Sam Sloth Speed.

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I look at you with awe in the way I imagine most mothers do. Unbelieving that I once housed your heart in my body, that we shared thoughts and nutrients and laughs. I remember telling myself I would never forget the feeling of you kicking, or what it was like to hold you for the first time or kiss your cheek, but the thing is that I can’t believe I have. I sometimes stare at you and wish I had had you in improved circumstances or later on in life, you know, when I could have done it right and when I was ready. But life doesn’t work that way, does it? Here you are and who would you be if things had been different?

I know it hasn’t always been easy for you and can feel like I am unfair. I like to say that I am a cliche, having made all my mistakes with you. Except one-week-shy-of-sixteen continues to be the longest I’ve been a mother. Every day I parent you is the highest number of days I have been one so the mistakes keep coming. Thank you, Sam, for always having infinite patience in my motherhood journey. It hasn’t been lost on me that you’ve had to see my growing pains and yet you love me anyway. No matter where life has taken us, it continues to be us, you and me, making our way through it.

There were a lot of ugly days that we worked through. I know it was hard for you going into kindergarten only speaking Spanish and I wish I could take that back. All those days and nights that I tried to get you up to par in English so you could understand the six hours of class you were sitting in, trying to teach you how to rhyme words, and then breaking down and ugly crying, which probably scared you, when it finally clicked, so many months later. And then when I called Aunty Amber and we cried about it together because every day was work and every day was a challenge for more reasons than language.

And I know you want to drive. I remember that draw to be even more independent and grown-up when I was your age. I know I’m being tough about it but the thing is, I don’t know how not to be and we are working through that so bear with me and do your part and things might fall into place like you want them to. Or maybe they won’t because sometimes I’m ridiculous, in which case you are a pro at handling. I’m trying, love.

We spent the better part of a morning, recently, googling and discussing your future. Somehow you will be graduating in two years and neither one of us is ready. That’s the truth. I could tell you were overwhelmed and I get it but I also think you are so capable. Just remember that, Sam. After all, you are at least half of me and you’ve seen me do some seemingly impossible things. I know it can seem that you have to have your mind made up about what you want to be and where you want to go but you don’t. You can figure it out as you go and it’s okay.

You are so resilient and kind, Sam. Even when I’m upset with you I think of how lucky we are that you were born first. You shared your words about domestic violence which couldn’t have been easy, you sit and talk to us about things that are important to you, even if we disagree, you ask our opinions and listen intently. You walked me down the aisle, you took the job so seriously, intent on not making me fall even though you were nervous. Just as disappointed as I was with your grandfather but still trying to understand him and give him love, regardless. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stared at you and wondered how I have gotten so much of it right. I know I can be a hard-ass and I know you think better. You might be right but only time will tell. Thank you for being my first-born, one of the bigger chunks of my heart, and for reminding me to slow down like only you can. I would say it’s an honor to be your Mother but the reality is that it’s so much bigger than that.

Sam

Photo credit: Shannon Sasaki Photography

You will always be my favorite meanager.

 

The Mountain I’m Scaling

Arriba!

Everybody loves a chubby little but that love goes away at some point

I couldn’t sleep last night so my mind started writing. I’ve gotten into this habit where I can just begin, like I’m at my computer typing and it’s fantastic. There’s zero writer’s block and things are flowing and I try to repeat key sentences to myself so I can re-type them in the morning because they are that good. And then I’ll wake up in the morning, refreshed and bright-eyed but with no recollection. It’s okay. I’ll find them again, I’m sure.

Except, this morning I woke up and they were still there. So, here you are.

I have been scaling this mountain for as long as I can remember. Bright and bubbly and round-with-baby-fat seven year old me, at least. Seven year Vee was a mega-fan of rice and beans. I would greet the customers because it’s nice to be nice and they would smile at my chubby face. Most people are really well versed in saying the things that cut you to your core in a sweet voice with a smile that drips honey because they only ever would mean well, right? I figured this out early on.

Ten year old Vee is in the gym for recess and tries to play foursquare with some “friends.” Well, I wanted to be a friend of the Regina and Gretchen of my school who bounced the ball really aggressively at me in a way I could never catch because I wasn’t a runner then, and yelled “fat girls stink,” at me. Some of them weren’t trying to catch flies all that hard.

Thirteen and I was back from living in Mexico for a couple years. They are more forthcoming with their insults down south. Like Regina and Gretchen. It was hot there so I dropped some ellbees but either way I was plump still. I decided I would try Slimfast because don’t all teenage girls resort to a powder drink at some point? Start early so you are ahead of the game, I guess. We see our moms and our aunts and all other female influences around us focusing on their bodies or we see the complete opposite and you think, “Not me. I’m turning this around.” No matter how you slice this, we aren’t winning this battle.

Someone really instrumental to my upbringing and childhood and life in general told fifteen year old Vee in a very spiteful tone one day, which meant extra passion if you ask me, “nobody wants to love a fat girl.” And I believed it because it made sense to. And up until recently I had only picked crummy people to be with because they said they loved me. Because I’m fat. For so long the word fat has had a power over me and if I’m not careful, that would be the boggart coming out of the cupboard, hurling itself to demolish everything that is inside my thick soul.

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Sixteen year old Vee wearing a pair of jeans, size 16.

You see, my mountain has yet to show it’s peak to me. I’ve been continuing up this incline for at least twenty-eight years and it has minimal plateaus or flat parts. I have somehow become Sisyphus pushing a mound of fat up a rocky terrain and it hasn’t mattered what size I was or how many rolls I could count. There hasn’t been a number on the scale that has made me feel like I’ve conquered my mountain. And if I never do, will I be able to accept that? If I’m always a size 16 will I feel alright with that?

I’m encouraged by recent articles and hashtag movements of women sticking their middle fingers up at so-called “beauty standards.” In a technological age where even nine year old kiddos have a world of information at their fingertips, I am optimistic that they will see these lady warriors and listen to their messages so that they can choose partners who really love them even if they jiggle. Or that will be their biggest cheerleaders yelling positive things at them from the sidelines when they decide they want to work to jiggle less, because that is okay, too. Because, for me, that’s the thing. It has to be okay to want to work towards something and not feel bad about it or like you’re letting females down globally, just like it’ll be okay if you are okay with thick thighs and a midsection. You can be strong and thick and you can be skinny and sick. And I firmly believe that some people weren’t meant to be thin.

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Even at my most active, still a size 16

What I’m saying, friends, is that if you are working out and want to post about it all over your social media, I will be a fan. And if you want to wear a romper or a bikini and feel saucy AF in it, I’ll send love your way. I’m a firm believer that daughters (and sons) are always listening, because I always was. And I’m even more convinced that we can be beautiful regardless of size. <– that is what I’m going to keep repeating to myself, as I scale my mountain from here to eternity.

And if your mountain doesn’t have a peak either, I’m walking with you.loveyourbody

What is happening?

You might wonder why I took a hiatus from writing. No, that’s not quite true. See, I don’t think much about what exactly I’m going to write and rather I let the words come to me. Many a posts were written lately, all in my head, where most of them begin. They just never made it on my blog, because they were either too much of one thing or another. I wanted to write about love on Valentine’s Day but then there was a school shooting and I was heartbroken, unable to find words that would do any of the seventeen lost souls justice, except there were many, all strung together in my head in a jumble of sadness and anger. I read so many calls to action, so beautifully written yet I felt paralyzed because I don’t know what to do or how.

And then there were the conversations about the shooting, with friends and family and our boys. How could I share some of the most raw, irritating, frustrating conversations with all of you, who are out there having your own? And then when fun things happened, how do you share that, when our nation (well, most of us) is mourning all the children who didn’t come home after school because of other children who took a weapon into their own hands and made a safe place a nightmare?

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The #meanager, who we remind daily that he has much to learn

Alex, a trombonist, who could have been my Sam. Sam, who didn’t participate in any of the walkouts for reasons I can’t understand. Sam, who spouted second amendment words to me that made me want to scream. He has been so mature of late and then we disagree on this, on the issue of gun control and I wonder if we picked the right town to live in. Except, whose town is really safe? Are any?

I read this book years back by Ishmael Beah, A Long Way Gone, which is a memoir of this poor boy’s time as a child soldier in Sierra Leone. Little babes stolen from their families and told horrible things to make them angry, given drugs and forced to shoot their friends to see who is toughest. They are handed rifles and in my mind they are AK-15s because that makes sense to me. He doesn’t want to kill. He knows it’s wrong. Yet his is a story of survival in a country going through civil war, where adults are using every resource they have, which is an abundance of children.

I read an interview by Suzanne Collins on where her inspiration came from for The Hunger Games and she spoke of not being able to sleep one night and flipping through the channels and landing on a documentary  about child soldiers. I imagined she was learning of Ishmael and the horrors he went through. The effects of war on children is where THG began. Young boys and girls, forced to do unspeakable things. Forced.

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Moose, who we remind daily to be kind and show love to people

My mind flashes back to a regular morning with Moose. I’m driving him to school and it’s the morning after the Parkland shooting. I ask him what he does if there’s an active shooter at his school and he answers me so casually. It was as if I’m asking him if he enjoys math over science.

“I would hide. We learned to hide,” my son replies in all his nine years of age. “Where would you hide?” I have to ask this. I have to make sure it makes sense. He spouts out different places, mostly supply closets. That doesn’t feel safe enough to me, but you know what? Neither does school, in general, now. I question him about where he would hide if he’s on the playground, expecting him to have to think about it for a minute or two. He doesn’t, though. They’ve gone over this, too. I don’t find that comforting, friends. Except, I do in a way. A guilty way.

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Abraham, who is so brave and learning to do him, regardless

A heartfelt conversation with Abraham, the 11 year old, wise beyond his years. He is a lover, more emotional than we knew how to handle for a while there, who participated in the sit-downs (they weren’t allowed to walkout in middle school, but were allowed to go to the gym). “What made you want to join in?” we asked him, because we didn’t expect it. “I want to be safe in school and I feel bad for the students who went through that. I don’t want to be bullied or afraid.” Me, too, boo. I don’t want any of those things for you, either. We applauded him. Gave him some high-fives. I’m not saying I was more proud of him than Sam, because they are equal but not the same. Abraham identifies with some of these concepts, as he has been bullied and made fun of. He beats his drum to a different beat, regardless, but it hasn’t always been easy for him. Sam is challenging us and forcing us to think harder and longer about our words and our expectations.

What are we expecting of our children? What are we teaching them with our words and our actions? How are we raising our boys, who see violence glorified in so many ways, with so many avenues? The #meanager mentioned he didn’t feel the need to walkout and demand gun control because it didn’t apply to him. “That won’t happen in Ferndale,” he has the gall to tell me. Except, a few short weeks later an email from his school district was sent to the parents to explain that a student had been arrested two days prior (which has me all kinds of fired up in a totally different way), because that student had brought a firearm to school and waived it around at another student as school was being released. That won’t happen here, MY ASS. I would be naïve, we all would be, to think any of us are safe.

DVSAS had it’s annual Victory Over Violence luncheon last month, where an informative, engaging conversation was had about gender norms, roles, and expectations. Many times, without meaning to, any one of us is perpetuating it. Ever since that lunch I have been thinking about my words and how I speak to my boys, because talking about it and being aware is how change happens. And you know what I think the most? That no one has to agree with me. But we can all listen, regardless. Just in case we learn something.

This is how I feel about where we are right now. Even if we don’t agree. Even if you have the strongest opinions about guns and your amendments, which ironically, includes the first. I mean, I’ll listen, too. And work on little things, like not telling your boys that dolls or the color pink are only for girls. Or gifting play kitchen-stuff to the little ladies in your life, because they are more than soon-to-be housewives. All I’m saying is think about your ideas of gender roles and consciously make an effort to disrupt that thinking and begin spreading that change. Show your mini-men love and kindness, show their boy pals the same, because we don’t know what happens behind any closed doors and you might be the catalyst for them to grow up better.

We can do this, friends. We owe it to our littles.

Jackets and Ten Steps

beginningsThe other day (I really mean it this time, because more often than not it could mean two days ago or twenty years ago, and that is just how I roll) I was hanging up some laundry and my eyes lingered on our coats/jackets/hoodies section. I mean, everyone has one of these in their closet, right? Outerwear to the outer-max, just busting at the seams. And that is what my heart was doing. It was muffin-topping out of my chest, as silly as that seems.

Six years ago, when I moved back to the mainland without my main squeeze (that would be Ku, don’t get confused there) I was in an in-between phase. No job to dive into, no money, and only two-thirds of my children. <– Yeah, you read that right. I was about to begin the divorce process and my couldn’t-be-ex-soon-enough had flown back with my baby-Moose three weeks before me. He was convinced I would get off the plane and into his grasp again, promising not to use my little as leverage, except I wasn’t born yesterday and I am not naïve.

Leaving Ku behind, as I boarded a plane with my two oldest, two suitcases and a carry-on heavy with anxiety, was hard. Not the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but definitely top ten. After almost two years on Oahu, we were coming back with less than what got us there. That’s practically zilch, friends. We went straight to my parents house and I tried to navigate how to file for divorce, how to draft a parenting plan, how to feel safe again, and how to keep the law on my side. I’m lucky in that I was Aria throughout so much of my decade-long marriage, going to sleep each night throughout those 3,650-ish days reciting the times he had hit me, remembering practically verbatim the times he made threats against my person, screenshotting as many texts as I could, especially in those last months. Not that I had to try hard because none of that is easy to forget. What I’m saying is I had no troubles establishing a case.

As I searched for a home for the five of us, this duplex in Lynden presented itself. I called and made an appointment to see it, being lucky in that the landlord had barely posted it on Craigslist five minutes before. I drove straight there with a gas tank full of hope. I told him the truth about starting over and not having much, that my deposit would come courtesy of my Mom, who also was the reason why Moose was back in my arms. I even pleaded with him. Said please over and over. I don’t know what made him say yes but all I know is Mercury was most definitely not in retrograde, all the planets were aligned and two plus two equaled four.

We got the place.

We moved in so fast, and I’m not trying to be funny here. I mean, how long does it take to pack up two suitcases and drive over to your new spot and then unload two suitcases? But it was ours and I was sitting there trying not to cry in front of my mini-men, because now I had a place I would never worry about moving out of again, unless I wanted to. I remember sitting on the floor that first day and just looking around. And then I recall the doorbell ringing and it was a furniture company with a surprise delivery of a set of bunk beds with mattresses and two couches, because my Mom is an angel and didn’t want us to sleep on the floor. I took the boys to Safeway and we got groceries for the new place, courtesy of food stamps (I’m never going to be ashamed of that, mmkay?) and I almost cried when Sam asked if we had enough to get cereal. I don’t care what anyone says, but when you talk about money for two months straight, it ends up giving your kids anxiety about food and that’s a sad place to be in, but we were and we worked through it. I’m 99% certain Sam doesn’t remember that moment like I do.

We loved in that home for almost three years. <–See, that is a feel good sentence, but it’s incomplete. We called that spot the “Ten Step” because it was T-I-N-Y. Anywhere you were in the house you could get anywhere else within ten steps. It was probably 700 square feet, which is INSANELY small for five bodies, three of which hadn’t figured out how to aim properly into the toilet. The one toilet. ONE.

Shortly after Ku moved in with us, and as we began rebuilding, together, she turned to me and said, “We need coats.” The closet in the living room, meant just for that, was so empty. We laughed about it and then promptly got to it, filling that closet to overflowing, and filling our home in general, but more importantly, filling our hearts. We stayed longer than we should have, mostly because it was never the right size for us, but also because we had plans and we aren’t above sacrificing. Now we have an abundance of jackets.

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Ten year old Sam, in the Ten Step kitchen

It is not lost upon me that Ten Steps sounds like a rehab program, but in a way, that little home was. For me, at least. I had to learn how to stop attending every argument my ex tried to invite me to, and how to stop self-sabotaging my love with Kulia. That’s all just honest truth. Sometimes it was too good for me and she saw right through (and still does) all the fights I tried to start with her for no reason. I had to learn to not expect certain things when we argued and that I could lean on her to support me in all things my life. It was the first time I had to handle the boys being away and me being at home without them. The ten step helped my heart grow back it’s feeling every day we were there.

Sometimes, when people talk about their circumstances, they look at my chapter 10 and compare it to their chapter three. “You have so much going for you, you wouldn’t understand.” Or, “Look at all you have! I need to get there before I can (insert whatever it is they are holding back from).” The thing is, I freaking get it. So hard. Change is hard and rewriting your shitty first draft is hard, but the thing is, you can’t change what you won’t change. And you most certainly can’t change anyone else. I can’t tell you how many times I held back from leaving him. I gave myself all the excuses, so don’t think there is judgement here from me. There most definitely is not one drop coming from me. I took a long time to get the courage up to leave and he said a lot of lies to me that I started to believe over time, but let me tell you this, and listen closely:

As long as there is air in your lungs and your heart pumps blood, you can do it. You can start over and have nothing but the clothes on your back and you can make it. Everything can be replaced. Everything, except for the air in your lungs and the blood pumping through your arteries.

I promise.

So if you are sitting there, single-momming it, wondering how you’ll all eat and not still feel hungry but also keep the lights on, or if you hate your job and don’t know how you’ll handle being back in school while working full-time, or if you are living in a hell-hole and have zero dollars to your name, LIFT YOUR CHIN UP. You can abhor your circumstances but you can also turn them around.

Mmmmkmay?

 

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Abraham, Sam and Moose reppin Hawaii in the Ten Step

What I’m learning from losing a friend

loveI’ve been thinking of late, mostly of my beautiful friend who left us recently, and little lessons I learned on our friendship journey, and the ones I learned as her soul found its way to the next spot. I love my friends. Each of them differently and yet wholly. It’s just, I’ve always been an all or nothing kind of person, and it doesn’t stop with matters of the heart.

I met Yesenia so long ago, when I was a young girl. I can count at least 25 years of friendship, if not more, with her. One day, as we were sitting with her at hospice, another friend of her’s came in and asked if I was family and her mom replied, “Practically.” My heart was so sore hearing that. I felt like I was losing a sister. She came to work for my parents at their restaurant  when she was 16 so we were co-workers, first. I was drawn to her easy-to-love spirit and we talked all the time, told each other jokes, and laughed together. Our friendship was so many of our days spent laughing together.

As I sat holding her hand just a few short weeks ago, we chatted about life. I told her I would make her a post with all my favorite words for her and she turned, with her big eyes just looking at me, as a tear slowly rolled down her cheek. She gave me permission to say what my heart wanted to. I kept writing this blog post in my mind, angrily crossing out words with an imaginary red pen, scribbling madly all the feelings I wanted to capture from our last moments, and then internally pressing delete all two seconds later, because I thought maybe I wouldn’t want to share any of them. Maybe they would be just for me to reminisce as the big day came and then moved on. You see, the days keep going on and I am stuck thinking of the one when she left, or the one before, when I last kissed her warm cheek, or the one where I sat, late at night and we had our last conversation that we didn’t know but kind of did that another wouldn’t come.

How do we say goodbye?

Even as I swim in sorrow, I promise I don’t want this to be a sad post. What I want is to share things that I picked up along the way of our time together, however short those almost 30 years feel now.

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Being there at the end is hard

I’m just going to get this one out of the way because there’s a giant sack of feels sitting on my tonsils right now and it’s hard to breathe. I try to be the type of friend who is there through thick-and-thin and let me tell you, it can really f*cking suck to sit there and watch those who own pieces of your heart begin to leave. I mean, essentially we are all in stages of death, but the end, if you’re lucky enough to see it, is the ultimate gut-punch. I am not one to cry but my heart has been ugly sobbing since she said cancer, since she said two years (which was not f*cking two years ago, which is really unfair), since she said hospice and since her last I love you. Since she wrote her own eulogy and left me a message and unexpectedly showed me love again. If you can, be there. More than once. Yes, it’s hard. But it’s harder to not be.

You can always listen

In hospice, there wasn’t much I could do for her. I mean, I had the intentions to do whatever she needed, but she didn’t really need anything. I wanted to bring her any and all of her favorite foods, but eating was kind of out of the picture. All I could do was sit there and listen. Mostly, she didn’t say much but one day I went later than usual and got there as her Mom was driving off. I walked in to find Yesenia crying (she said I could share any story I wanted to) and I held her hand and asked her why she was crying. We had a good long talk about all the things on her mind, because she was a total worry-wort. I let her say it all. I just held her hand and stroked her arm and kept eye contact. She stopped at one point and said, “You are being a really good listener right now and I love that about you.” If I can do anything for any of my friends, it is listen. I will come listen to anything you have to say. Ever.

You can disagree with friends

We were polar opposites in so much, Yesenia and I. She was an all believing Christian and I am not religious. She never held any grudges, and shit, I will remember wrongs long before I remember rights (as Ku points out to me often). She loved everyone regardless and I will cut people out of my life who show me I don’t matter to them. She just didn’t have that in her. She was always nice and sometimes my face beats me to it. She always showed me love even as she delivered harsh truths to me, sometimes, and I could never hold that against her. If we hurt each other’s feelings, we gave the other some time and then apologized. We just had that ability and it is hard to find in others. What I’m saying is that we can have people around us who don’t believe the same as us and it helps us learn. She taught me a lot. One of the last things she said to me was, “We are both so different and I love you for it.”

When people see you hurting, they want to help

The day she passed I wrote some words about her on my Facebook and many reached out to me to offer love, kind words, and to offer help in any way. My problem has continued to be that I don’t know what kind of help I need. My heart hurts and I just want to shut everyone out and curl up in my bed and cry. And then get up and go through the motions until I want to lie in bed and curl up again to cry. I keep hearing this will pass and I know it must. I just don’t want to talk about it even though I know it’ll help make it hurt a little less. I want to share stories but then I get selfish. I want to talk about how much I loved her but then it reminds me I won’t see her again. What I’m saying is thank you for your love and kind words. They are not falling on deaf ears. I’m just trying to keep it together for life to continue, ya know?

Memorials are for the living

As we drove out to her service, I turned to Ku and said I didn’t really want to go. You see, I had time with her during her last two months in hospice and we said a lot to each other. I didn’t necessarily feel like I needed that closure from whatever would be said in a room full of people who I might have to talk to. I just don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want people to ask me how I’m doing or how I feel. I want to be a hermit and being at her service made me mourn in public and I just don’t think that is the type of thing for me. Either way, I’m glad I didn’t miss it. The hardest things still have to happen, no matter how hard, I guess.

Loyalty has many faces

One day we were sitting there, probably like two years ago, and Yesenia spoke of someone who I am not a fan of. I looked at her incredulously (Ku calls it my Latina face) and she stopped short and said, “What is that face for?” I angrily spat back, “I cannot believe you are still talking to that beezy who was so friggin rude to me!” I mean, I was pissed! How dare she?! And she kind of sat there for a moment and thought about it. She grabbed my hand and said, “I love you but I’m not going to be mean to people for what they do to you, okay?”

We need honesty

Well, on that same note, I was b*tching to Yesenia about some other person who had done me wrong and she kept countering with nice things about them so I turned and said, “It’s really hard to sit here and complain to you when you keep finding reasons to show that they are good. THEY ARE NOT GOOD. I am really upset at them right now.” And so she was quiet for a bit because she was never as loud as me and then she said, “Virginia (because she almost never called me Vee), yeah, they did some crappy stuff. But let’s just not focus on that because it makes you scowl and scowling gives you wrinkles and you really do have a beautiful face. Let’s not make it wrinkle prematurely. And everyone has some good in them.” Just like that. Matter-of-fact. She understood that about us all.

Spouses aren’t the end all of friendships

Ugh, this was the biggest thing I learned from her soul. I didn’t like a lot of the guys she dated and she hated my ex-husband and we butted heads on dating choices, yet somehow, we made it work. That is a big-ass friggin lesson.

How to say goodbye

I continue to think, even right now, that death is not the worst thing we will endure. Yesenia was in a lot of pain, and I continue to remind myself, when I’m feeling my saddest, that she is no longer feeling that and so this is better. It’s harder for me but for her, this is better. We are going to make something at home, in her honor, because Moose asked if we could. There will be a sugar skull made for her for Dia de los Muertos and we will have a small shrine with some of my favorite photos. The thing is, I refuse to say goodbye. I’m going to keep on loving her and saying her name because she will be in the land of the remembered for as long as I breathe. I’m going to allow myself to be sad and laugh at memories we shared and look back lovingly. This is how we will deal. We will continue to make shenanigans on Halloween and take some silly Christmas pics.

For her.

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Yesenia Isabel Zavala Rios (11/04/1974-03/23/2018)