Silver Lake Mariposa

It’s been an interesting year. After sitting on my ass for almost three months and then trying to get my professional feet back under me earlier this year, I moved out of an area I knew like the back of my hand, into an area I had a passing acquaintance with.10710820_10203012044967730_110907721797349010_n

Hudson County was my home for 38 years. I knew where to buy gas. I knew where to eat the best food. I knew where to buy my groceries. My doctor was only seven minutes away. My kids were ten minutes away. But I always knew that I wouldn’t be able to stay in Hudson County.

Gentrification started in Hoboken and downtown Jersey City. Once those places became too expensive for even the NYC transplants, gentrification started climbing the Palisades, slithered across the plateau, and infiltrated my Western Slope neighborhood. The neighborhood is known as the Western Slope because it’s actually on the western slope of the palisades that characterize northern Hudson County.

It’s an area full of one and two family homes all of which have a front seat view to the most awesome sunsets created by God. And I enjoyed every single one of them.

I traded all of that for lower rent, off street parking, and a laundry room. No longer will I have to leave a family gathering or a party early in order to park my car. No longer do I have to check the weather report before planning a laundry day. And guess what? Despite being further away from NYC, it’s actually easier to get into the city via public transportation from where I am now. Hot damn! No more three block hill to get to the bus to NYC.

The left side of my car carries the scars of the hit and runs she experienced on the mean streets of Jersey City. Yes, I still put the club on her when I get home (I ain’t stupid) but nobody will be hitting her anytime soon. And we all know that a thirteen year old car will need replacing so the lower rent will make this a reality.

It took a hot minute to make a “place” into a “home” but that’s exactly what I’ve done. Was there ever a doubt? After purging junk and furniture I knew wouldn’t fit into my new apartment, I found the perfect movers (seriously perfect).

I’ve now learned why 973 residents use the Garden State Parkway. It’s closer, although I still like the NJ Turnpike better. I don’t have to listen to the traffic reports before going to work anymore. I’m only 3.7 miles from my job, although it takes me just as long to get there. The nine miles from Jersey City to Newark were all highway, although the Pulaski Skyway is a crap shoot sometimes. My commute to work takes me through Branch Brook Park, some of the most beautiful miles in Essex County. There’s no way you could exceed the speed limit (yes, I’ve tried) on the winding roads through the park.

I’m now looking forward to Cherry Blossom season, because while I’ve seen pictures of it, I’ve never experienced it for myself. I now live in the capitol of Cherry Blossom trees. While Washington DC brings in tourists when the trees are blooming, it’s actually Branch Brook Park that has more trees than anywhere in the U.S.

So here I am, living in the Silver Lake district of Belleville, NJ. Two blocks one way and you’re in Newark. Two blocks the other way and you’re in Bloomfield. Gentrification has passed over this area, in favor of nearby Montclair, so I may be safe from exorbitant rent increases. I’ve already found supermarkets that sell what I need, an awesome carwash, and a place to buy my wine. What else do I need?

 

Leaving the cocoon behind

Do I miss being married? Yes. I miss the companionship, I miss the second income, I miss the regular sex, I miss the shared history. Do I miss my husband? Nope. Just, nope.

I come from a line of long-married people. My parents recently celebrated their 56th anniversary. My grandparents and great-grandparents were married until death did them part. When I got married in May of 1979, it was for better or worse, rich or poor, fat or skinny, blah, blah, blah. Sigh. I was also seven months pregnant, I lived with my parents, and I had college finals coming up. I was twenty years old. What the hell did I know?!

My father, in his infinite mercy, told me that I didn’t have to get married. He gave me an out and I didn’t take it. I had brought enough shame on the Rivera name. Rev. and Mrs. Rivera had already lived through my previous breakup, a week before the wedding, and I thought it was time to let them off the hook. I knew the church gossip circle could be vicious and I had been a favorite topic for too long now.

So, off I went into the world of marital bliss. Bliss. Believing the Lies Instead of Spying on the Sucker. Yea, we won’t use that word the same way, ever again.

We leave Eileen to have her child, graduate from college, get a job, start graduate school, have a second child, drop out of graduate school, raise her children, educate her children; we allow twenty four years and six months to pass by. Years full of joy, struggle, achievement, and sorrow. And now the story gets interesting, because on her birthday, in 2003, she moved out. She moved on. She was paroled. And she cried.

My husband and I started couples counseling in the summer of 2002. We had a few great sessions, I especially felt very comfortable with the therapist. I was just beginning to open up about my feelings and the grudge I held against him for past actions. At our last joint session, he sat there and pulled out a
figurative double-barreled shotgun and blasted my faults, my weaknesses, my lack of affection; he labeled me a good mother, but a poor wife. He said that he wouldn’t be returning to our sessions because HE wasn’t the one who no longer wanted to be married. I was the one with the problem. As love lay bleeding in my hands, my self-esteem having taken a direct hit, our time was up and we drove home in absolute silence. I cried as I showered, knowing that this marriage had gone as far as it could. It was time to give up the ghost. He wrapped himself around me when I got into bed, apologizing for his nastiness. I told him it was just another episode in a long line of episodes and tried hard to keep myself from using the word ‘always’. Our therapist warned us against using that word and I just wasn’t up for anything further from him. And then we had sex, because that was how he expressed himself.

The next day I received a call from our therapist, while I was at work. She told me that she was concerned about me and wanted to make sure that he hadn’t become violent the previous night. She also told me that it was apparent that he wouldn’t get anything out of our sessions and she would be referring him to another therapist.

He never returned to therapy. I, on the other hand, continued my weekly sessions. Week after week of sneers, ridicule, when I got home; anxiety attacks, and crying while sitting under the shower so no one would hear me cry. And then week after week of silence, indifference, and finding somewhere else to go while I was at my sessions, because being home alone wasn’t working for him. All the while, I knew where this was going but I knew I couldn’t get there alone. I needed my therapy sessions the same way menopausal women needed to take calcium. I was strengthening from the inside out. Learning to use words like, “When you do that, I feel __” or “When you say that, I feel __” and I never said, “You always __”.

Only two people were surprised by my Declaration of independence. My husband and my younger daughter.

My older daughter pointed her fork at me, and said, “You should’ve left ten years ago”. I asked her if she wanted to come along. She sat up, from where she was laying on the floor and told me that she had her own escape plans in mind. She informed me that she would be taking her sister with her, so there was no need to find a large apartment since they would be moving out on their own within the next year. Pride in her strength fought with grief in the knowledge that I would no longer be living with my greatest treasures, my children. Mr. Man had already informed me that if I wanted out of this marriage I would be the one leaving. And once I left, there would be no returning. As if.

My older daughter was already out in the workforce, and living at home had allowed her to have a comfortable financial cushion. My sorrow was for my younger daughter, who was still a year away from college graduation. She would never have the opportunity to amass a comfortable cushion. She was a Daddy’s girl, the apple of his eye, and yet she and I had a great relationship. She came to me with everything, good and bad. There was no judgement, no advice. I served as the voice of reason. The person who laid things out in a manner where she could make a decision for herself. My wild child, my last baby, had already shown that she had steel in her spine. She would be fine.

As I continued shopping for appliances, electronics, and various home goods, my comadre kept nagging me, “When are you going to tell your parents?” More than anything, I feared their reaction. They knew I was in therapy, and living downstairs from us, they probably knew that all was not well in the upstairs apartment. My new residence was almost ready for me and I needed to get all my clothing there, so I needed to have the discussion now because there was no way they wouldn’t notice me going up and down the stairs with armloads of clothing. So, arming myself with a cup of coffee, I went downstairs, treating each step as if it was a chasm I would fall into if I wasn’t careful. It was probably the slowest I had ever taken those stairs in my fifteen years living in that house.

Both of my parents were in the living room when I entered their apartment. My father watching his Saturday morning news programs while my mother was cleaning out her purse. After having put the discussion off for so long, I just dove off the diving board, head first, no fancy swan dive for me. “I’m leaving him and next Saturday is my last night here.”

Mom took off almost running. My eyes flicked from her back to my father’s face, while internally I said, “Ohshitohshitohshit”. He looked me right in the eye and said, “I’m glad you finally made a decision. It’s been a long time coming”. I told him where I would be living and that I would be taking my personal belongings out little by little. My mother walked back into the room with a few shopping bags and some boxes. She said, “I bought all these things for your grandfather, but I think you could use them more”. A lamp, flat wear, a small coffee pot, and a few other household goods emerged from the bags. Relief poured out of me in a huge, gusty laugh as I walked over to hug them both. Those who loved me, and wanted only the best for me knew it was coming and patiently waited for me to say the words.

Sunday, November 16, 2003 finally rolled around. There is little that I remember about that day, but I remember that night as if it happened yesterday.

While my husband stayed home drinking and watching football, the rest of us went to my favorite restaurant to celebrate my 45th birthday. My gifts were already in my new home. A bed-in-a-bag set from my daughters already dressed up my new bed. The hammers and screwdrivers, from my sister, helped me hang new curtains. A new rice cooker from my comadre, sat in the new kitchen waiting to feed me. We talked and laughed throughout dinner as if nothing out of the ordinary was going on. We decided that I would be hosting Thanksgiving dinner in my new, roomy dining room. Having never done so, I was very excited about hosting family gatherings.

With dinner done, we piled into the car and drove back home. My daughters retreated to their bedrooms to prepare for bed. I went from room to room gathering up my toiletries and the clothing I still had there. And finally it was time to say goodbye.

Mr. Man took me by the hand and led me to sit beside him on the bed. Our bed. A bed that would never again look as neatly as I preferred. He told me how much he loved me and how I was the love of his life. How he wished this had never happened. And then he became himself again. “What kind of mother leaves her children behind?” I allowed him to speak, never letting on that the question had been on my mind for a month and that this had already been a topic of conversation with my daughters. On and on he droned about how his daughters would get married and have children and how I would continue to be an integral part of their lives while shutting him out. Questioning what he would do if he got sick and I cut off his health insurance. The more he spoke the better I felt about my decision. And the less I wanted to leave my children in his home. I looked him in the eye, told him that I wouldn’t be taking him off the insurance, kissed him on the lips and told him to take care of himself.

I walked to the living room, tenderly kissing my daughters while reminding them that I was as much at fault in the breakup as he was. I received nods that they understood what I was attempting to do, as the tears streaming down their cheeks let me know that they couldn’t get any words out of their throats. And then I left the house like my ass was on fire.

The three mile drive south was done carefully, slowly. The road wavered before my car as my eyes welled up with tears, repeatedly. As soon as I could catch my breath it would hitch, and my eyes would fill again. Never questioning my decision, still seeing my daughters’ tear-stained faces before me, the car continued moving to a new street in another city. A home where I would sleep alone for the first time in my life. I had made my bed and now it was time to lay in it.

Fearful that sleep would not make an appearance after an emotionally draining evening, the alarm clock was moved from the nightstand to a bureau on the other side of the bedroom. Emotions warred within me. Sadness that my daughters were no longer within arm’s reach, yet excited that I would be able to show them a new strength that hadn’t always been apparent. Strength that had been hiding under the a cloak of too much compromise. Hiding under a barrage of words that should never have been uttered and tears that should never have been shed.

Brand new pajamas, a brand new bed with brand new linens. There were no memories in this bed and yet my body lay in the same spot it had occupied for so many years. Here silence reigned. Eyes closed, I slept straight through until morning for the first time in months. Months.

My routine never changing, only the location of things changed. Coffee and breakfast were made; the dishes were washed and I left for work in the knowledge that my home would still be clean when I returned home in the afternoon.

Taking pictures of what I had taken to calling ‘my sanctuary’, I proudly showed them to my therapist at our next session. There would be new fears and insecurities to tackle and I would use her as a sounding board for the next two years.

Plot twists are thrown into your life to let you know that what you think is good for you, really isn’t. It takes distance and clarity of spirit to see that, acknowledge it, and revel in it. Once I became bored with my solitary existence and I found myself looking forward to going to work because there I wouldn’t be alone anymore, I realized that I had traded one cocoon for another. It was time to start wriggling out of it and find out what my butterfly wings would look like.

Taking baby steps, I began attending events and performances whenever I could. Making new friends along the way. Finding new art forms I hadn’t been exposed to in the past. Taking the plunge into social media, shortly after my fiftieth birthday, allowed me to find an outlet for the writing bug that would raise its head occasionally. Starting a personal blog was another step in my emotional freedom. And nothing would do but to call it Mariposa Social.

Finally free of emotional cocoons, the butterfly’s wings were finally out. And they were gorgeous.

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From the 201 to the 973

The woman who moved into Jersey City is not the same woman who will move out. She has lived in Hudson County for the last 38 years. She started college, got married, had a kid, and finished college. She started grad school, had a second kid, and gave up on school. She started a job, quit after three years, had another job, went back to her previous employer after ten months, and stayed there until the present day. What the hell! Sounds boring, but it’s not.unnamed

The woman who moved to Jersey City was already seeking help from a therapist. If it wasn’t for that therapist she might still be taking shit. The relationship with her therapist lasted three and a half years. The woman who moved to Jersey City had been married for close to 25 years. Some good, some bad, as with any marriage.

This apartment protected her from stalkers, although she caught him stalking her twice. It protected her from harm, although her car was struck by cars three times and a tree branch once. This apartment became a home where her family felt comfortable and was the place for dinners, parties, and all around shenanigans. It was the place where she got a full night’s sleep after a few years of turmoil. It became a place for healing, for growth, and maturing.

The woman who moved to Jersey City had a small world. The woman who will move out has the world at her fingertips. She enjoys Yankee games, Broadway shows, spoken word events, and the world of social media. She has lost loved ones in this home and has gained loved ones through friendships and marriages. Deaths and births complete the circle of life.

unnamed-1The woman who moved to Jersey City didn’t purge prior to moving in. She just threw things into boxes and found a place for everything. The woman who is moving out, is inspecting everything, down to the minutiae. There are Broadway and off-Broadway show stubs, Yankee tickets, movie stubs and Playbills to sort through. There are notebooks with hidden treasures and notes that indicate earlier pains that have never been shared. Pains that will never be shared.

The woman who is moving out of Jersey City is stronger. She has accepted herself, although she hasn’t yet forgiven herself. She is older, more mature, and yet still has the spirit of her younger self. The younger self that should have been. This apartment saw the birth of La Mariposa Social and all that this entails from working with Being Latino and United People for Latinos in Film, Tv, and Theater, to her personal blog, Mariposa Social. It saw her stretch her wings by attending social media events, film screenings, writing workshops, and monthly brunches with like minded women. This apartment saw her alone, but not lonely.

This morning, she saw a caterpillar in her kitchen. Never has she seen a caterpillar indoors. The woman who is moving out of Jersey City took this as an omen that everything’s going to be alright. Her home in Jersey City will be celebrated and who knows what riches her new home will bring.

I am that woman. I am La Mariposa Social.10352828_10202251117865028_3040609138849334410_n

 

To Debbie on her fiftieth birthday

Instead of celebrating your milestone birthday and welcoming you into our chapter of the AARP club, we your loving family, are left with memories of great times spent together. Pictures documenting our childhoods and those of our children. I can’t help but smile. Although I’m really sad that I can’t teach you the super secret AARP handshake or laugh when you get your card in the mail.

The Santos cousins

The Santos cousins

You were such a bratty kid, seriously did you have to be such a tattle tale?! We schemed how to do our dirt without you finding out. And then what happened, you grew up to be the bossiest of all of us. That’s saying a lot because we’re all a bit bossy, but you put on the mantle left by our grandparents and made it into an art form. And yet, you had the biggest heart (I guess it went with the big mouth). There wasn’t anything you wouldn’t do for us and we loved you right back.

So many memories swirl through my mind. As a kid you refused to give up your bobo. When someone would take one out of your mouth and hid it, you reached into your pocket and pulled out a backup. I remember laughing until I got smacked  for encouraging your behavior.

When you bought your first decent car, you came straight to my house, so we packed up my kids and drove out to Sesame Place. You were always up for a road trip. We ended the night at a Procol Harem concert when we returned home to learn that I’d won tickets. So there we stood, swaying and singing ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’.  I can’t hear that song without thinking of that night, or you.

Scan 91

Debbie’s 30th birthday

And then there was the night you had a run in with some unfriendly Jersey cops, while on your way home from my house. The late night phone call started with, “I’m ok, but I need you to come get me from the police station.” I’m not sure if you learned your lesson about paying your tickets when they impounded your car, but I remember driving you home to Queens. You made me walk you inside telling me that Kentucky wouldn’t yell too much if I was there. I’m sure you got the lecture once I left, but he was supportive and got your car back for you the next day.

I felt honored when you asked me to stand up for you when you married your Kentucky. I also remember the tongue lashing you gave me when I cut my hair short just a couple of months before the wedding. You really should’ve told me that you had a hairstyle you wanted us all to have for your special day. Yikes. I got through the scripture reading without tripping over the words and we all had a great time cruising the New York harbor. Seriously, how cool was that.

With her Kentucky

With her Kentucky

You put off having kids right away and would borrow mine for the weekend. You learned the hard way that the little one was a pain in the ass when she refused to take a bath because I forgot to pack Q-tips.

Once you became a mother you changed. We saw a patience that none of us knew you had in you. First your blonde mini-me, with highlights women pay hundreds of dollars to have. Then your little boy who gave us hours of laughter, as he channeled the spirit of a younger Tommy, with his commercial singing and story telling. I won’t get maudlin now, but they are great kids and your Kentucky has been doing a great job as father and mother to them. You would be proud of all three of them.

Naturally, life isn’t a rose garden and our family has seen its share of pain and loss over the years. We knew you were working the morgue at Ground Zero in the aftermath of 9/11. We thought nothing of it, you were doing your job. Your phone calls now included the things you saw while there once you gave me an update on your life and the kids.

And then you got sick.

We had so much hope that you would beat the odds. Hope that the cancer wouldn’t spread. Hope that the doctors at Sloan Kettering would save you.

And then I got the phone call on a Friday evening. I guess Tommy drew the short straw. “They’re transferring Debbie to Calvary on Monday.” I already knew what that meant, after all didn’t we spend time there in the recent past. “Aw Tommy, why are you telling me this,” was my response. I saved my tears to spare him from further distress.

When my sister called to check up on me, I knew I had to get out of my house. So, after alerting my vacationing kids in San Diego,  we went to see a comedy show at the Apollo Theater. Yup, we did. We ate chuletas at a soul food restaurant on the corner and then laughed, to hide our tears. Many years later, I met the writer/actress of the show and let her know that her show that night saved me from myself. You would’ve loved her, she is as funny and irreverent as you were. (Thanks again, Rhina) Afterwards I went home and drank until I fell asleep, similar to when Danny died. Not my proudest moment. My cowardice took over and I could find no dutch courage at the bottom of the bottle.

By Wednesday you were gone and those left behind had to deal with the loss.

Scan 97The FDNY opened up their purse strings to give you a proper sendoff. Paramedics and EMTs from everywhere came to pay their respects. There was even a group from Ireland, who were in town for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and asked if they could give you their salute. Bobby and Noreen worked on the services and the music while my Pop and Victor worked on their messages. The Damas from San Andres kept us fed and caffeinated.

I admit to dragging Val down the aisle of the church to stand before your coffin, basically because I was scared to do it alone. As long as someone was with me I could tamp down my grief. Keep it all under control. And what was the first thing out of my mouth? “Debbie would never wear that shade of lipstick.”

You’ve been gone eight years now and I still feel the loss. There is a void in my life that wasn’t there before. Your loss made us a stronger family. We make it a point to schedule family gatherings to ensure everyone could be there. We celebrate your life every year and maintain strong ties with the Rodriguez Family, almost as if you left your mother’s side of the family to us in your will. We tell each other “I love you” regularly and we mean it.

And then there were nine

And then there were nine

When it’s my turn to join you in paradise, remind me to teach you the super secret AARP handshake, after all you’re fifty now even if we can’t have a party, we will celebrate you always.

I miss your smile, Prima.

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My personal Guerrera

Anyone who was blessed to have a grandmother in their lives, knows the special love you only receive from your grandmother. I was super lucky because I had three grandmothers until I was an adult. With two grandmothers and a great-grandmother, keeping me in their daily prayers, I had a strong force field protecting me from life’s daily woes.That was then 056

Every kid eventually realizes that their elders have names other than Abuela, Mamá, Mami or Titi. Maria Santos answered to many names; Doña Maria, Mami, Titi, and her favorite, Mamá. As her first grandchild, it was my honor to present her with her first great-grandchild. Mamá was in Puerto Rico when my daughter was born. The day after she returned, I loaded up my newborn, and all of her equipment, and trekked out to the Bronx. There stood my grandmother, baby cradled in one arm, cooking with the other, all the while barking out orders like the general that she was. Someone in the room asked her to lower her voice because the baby was sleeping; you all know her response to that one, “Que se acostumbre”. And you know what? My daughter slept right through it.

The mother of seven, five of whom grew to adulthood, Doña Maria was the grandmother of ten and the great-grandmother of fourteen, all of whom she met before joining her husband in heaven.

That was then 003Mamá’s strength and resiliency was an example to all who met her. Before the end of her life, she had lost two sons to violence and her husband, after a stroke. When her oldest and youngest died, she was brought to the church, both times, from her hospital bed. Every loss took a piece of her heart, and yet her heart was so big that she lived on and showed us all how to hold our heads up although our hearts were breaking. She was the rock who fortified my sister, after the death of her infant son. I remember my sister describing her heartache and not understanding how Mamá didn’t fall into despair with her personal losses. The answer was faith and the grace of God.

Doña Maria was a little pillow of a woman. With a bosom that put babies to sleep within seconds and a home perfumed with the aromas of her cooking. With a bible in one hand and a wooden spoon in the other she ruled over her family just like the queen that she was.

A benevolent ruler, who was many things to many people, but most beloved by her descendants who strive daily to grow up to be her. Maria Maria Martinez de Santos best known as Mamá.That was then 361

 

Life on pause

They don’t call them broken bones anymore. Now they call them fractures, or in my case, a non-displaced fibula fracture. Whatever you choose to call it, it sucks. Big time.fibula

Today is day 53 since “The Fall”. My last blog post was about my aunt’s funeral. It was a cold, icy night in New York City and we were super careful about getting to the church. We were also super careful about leaving the church, BUT while scraping off the windshield I slipped, and I couldn’t get back up. I had always heard that if something was broken you would cry. I didn’t cry so I figured it was a sprain. My primary physician told me to keep it elevated and made arrangements for diagnostic testing.

I laid still during the MRI and once again for the x-ray. I was thanking the x-ray tech and turning the doorknob to leave the room when she told me to sit down because she detected a fracture. While she brought the Radiologist into the room, I sat on the stool and tried to figure out what this  meant. What were the consequences? I’ll throw out this very sexist statement and then deny I ever said it, I am the mother of daughters, the only broken bones I’d ever seen were on boys. I didn’t know what was next. It was too late in the day to take the next step so I didn’t meet my new best friend until the next morning. Enter Dr. Orthopedic.

While he was telling me that I would be sitting on my ass for the next six to eight weeks, he explained why my fracture was a best case scenario. First of all, it wasn’t the tibia, a weight bearing bone. A tibia fracture would have required surgery. Secondly, it wasn’t the ankle. An ankle fracture would’ve required surgery. I guess that for a woman my age, who loses bone density on an hourly basis, this was the best case scenario.

bootSo far, I’ve been able to avoid surgery and apparently been able to avoid a cast. In a very intricate manner, which has been duplicated every Tuesday and Friday since then, my foot and lower leg has been wrapped in cotton, ace bandages, gauze, and tape. It’s been covered in a cotton sock-like material and shoved (carefully) into a boot contraption that keeps everything immobile. The boot stays on, and elevated, until bedtime. No wonder I was seeking my bed early every night. Of course, those early bedtimes meant that I was waking up before five am.

So what have the last few weeks been like? Well, let me tell you. My emotions have been so out of control you would swear I still had leftover hormones. Every morning I woke up and swore I would be productive, before seven am I would give up and enter some mindless activity. I couldn’t sit at my desk because there was no way to keep my leg elevated. I sat in a recliner but couldn’t recline the chair because I couldn’t close it with one leg. The desk chair became my leg elevater-dinner tray-laptop desk. Adaption became my middle name. I almost drowned the two times I shampooed my hair while showering, so I learned to wash my hair in the kitchen sink and used the shower stall only for bathing, while keeping my leg outside the curtain. Awkward.

My car was stuck in ice for the first two weeks of my house arrest. Luckily my city didn’t institute alternate side parking until the four week mark. With the sweeper coming through four days a week I stressed over how to move my car so often. It was bad enough that my kids, my compai, and nephew had become my medical escorts and grocery carriers, I couldn’t possibly ask people to move my car so often. So probably quite illegally, I’ve learned to drive with my left foot. The only problem is that I actually have to look down to make sure my left foot is on the correct pedal. I’ve learned that it’s all about timing. Move the car as soon as the sweeper passes. There’s plenty of parking and no one on the streets to see you do something wrong.

Depression? Holy shit, yea! Unbelievable. There were days I couldn’t even look at Facebook because I didn’t want to see all the fun stuff people were doing. I had to totally put my job out of my mind because I didn’t want to think about what I would be returning to after two months away from my desk. I never take more than a week off at a time because it takes me four days to make up for being out five days. The last time I was off from work this long was in 1983 when I gave birth to my second daughter. The only difference is that back then I had people who stepped into my shoes without hesitation. This absence has been different and that’s all I’ll say on that.

I’ve missed live performances, book release parties, and spoken word events. I’ve only been to the movie theater once and for someone who used to hit the theater every Saturday, you know this hurts.mariposa tied down

Mariposa Social has been very anti-social for the last few weeks. She’s been pouting and everytime she tried to write something it turned very negative so she went back to watching tv. Now that the light is getting brighter at the end of the tunnel, I could finally put a little of my experience into words. The worst of it doesn’t need to be memorialized. Denial as a defense mechanism? Always.

Thanks go out to all of you who have helped me physically by taking me out to the doctor, grocery store, meals, and movie theater. Thanks go out to all of you who have called, sent texts, and facebooked me to let me know you were thinking of me. Mil Gracias.

This isn’t over yet. I’m still sitting on my butt and I still have my leg elevated. But it’s almost over.

The heart of the family

We all acknowledge that the mother is the heart of every family. But what do you do when the heart of your family is getting smacked with everything life can throw at her? Well, you learn to persevere. You get in the cab of the bulldozer and you learn to drive that puppy over everything in your path.

Nereida’s story is not the one you can find in a book of fairy tales. While I don’t know what the early part of her life was like, I was anThat was then 031 eyewitness to her adult life.  A young wife, who was bullied into finishing high school by her sisters-in-law, she learned to bully back and they became sisters, without the in-law part. The conversion of Nereida Diaz into Nereida Santos had begun.

She went on to have three children with Guillo and a successful career at Prospect Hospital, the personal ER for the Santos grandchildren. She cracked the whip over all of our heads. When Titi Nereida said something, you did it. As kids we knew who to go to for nurturing, although it was a close call between Mama and Titi Ana. They became our protectors against whatever storm was brewing. We all knew that Titi Nereida and Titi Luisa (my mother) were the ones to hide from.

Guillo’s sudden death hit us all hard, none harder than Nereida who now had three children to raise by herself. Oops, did I say by herself? My mistake, you see this is the Santos Family and here you don’t have to do anything by yourself. You need help, there will be a Santos to the rescue. Wrinkled cape and all.

I’m not going to say the Santos Family is resilient in the face of tragedy, only because I don’t have to say it. I remember Mama telling Debbie to stop crying in the aftermath of Guillo’s death. This woman who had just lost another child was in the kitchen cooking. Yes, cooking. I remember Tommy headbutting my boyfriend because my lap was his, and only his. Gil, known as Kookie in those days, was concerned about the collateral damage. A true sign of the man he would become.

That was then 128I slept with Debbie in the days leading up to her Daddy’s funeral and let me tell you now, Nereida’s strength of character was etched into that kid from a young age. #Ballbuster

When my parents had to go out of town, I stayed at Titi Nereida’s apartment in the Santos compound. After all, we were the South Bronx’s version of the Kennedys (ok, maybe just Beck Street’s version). Just like Titi Flora, we spent part of the day hanging in the window looking out onto Beck Street to see what everyone was up to. During one of our window sessions, Titi asked me if I had my friend yet. Not getting her meaning, and thinking that she meant to ask if I had a boyfriend, I told her that I did in fact have a boyfriend (although he may not have known it). She laughed and asked me flat out if I had my period yet. Red in the face, I admitted that no, the momentous occasion had not yet happened.

Yes, Titi could be embarrassing even without witnesses.

Again, as an eyewitness, I must admit that there were two pivotal events in Nereida’s life. One was a return to the church. She was always a woman of faith, but not always a church-goer. Upon her return, she jumped in with two feet and never looked back. She wanted me to take my comadre, for whom she had much affection, to a healing service following her MS diagnosis. Her invitation brought tears to my comadre’s eyes.

The other event was becoming a grandmother. I’ve never seen a woman take to being a grandmother faster than Titi. All of a sudden the nurturing side of her was out and in full display, and those of us who lived under her whip, found ourselves just the slightest bit jealous.  Billy, as the first, was the recipient of a lot of coddling and spoiling. So much so, that we begged her to stop when he started using those eyebrows against us.

I thank God for Gil, Debbie, and Tommy. I thank God for Billy, Alexandra, Victoria, Saadia, Ariana, Elizabeth, Antonio, and Mark. I thank God for Mitzi, Joanne, Teresa, and David.

I thank God that when her illness hit hard, she was good with Him. I thank God that she was able to see and interact with all her grandchildren. I thank God that she was not cognizant of Debbie’s illness and death, because it may have broken her. I thank God for every minute of her life. The good and the bad. Her illness took her from us way before we were ready to lose her.

She is now in the arms of our heavenly Father and restored such that we will recognize her when we enter our heavenly reward, as God has promised.IMG_5886

Rest in Glory, Titi.