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.

I now know

I now know why people from the Northeast move to warmer areas of the country. It’s too fucking cold here. An army of plows and salters have hit the roads. Hundreds of flights have been canceled. I was ‘forced’ to take another vacation day. And as a nurse’s mother, I have to worry about my child getting to work safely tonight.

Welcome to winter in Northern New Jersey. Yesterday was Super Bowl Sunday. It was 55 degrees and I stood on my1794760_10201555068504229_334006497_n kids’ balcony, looking out at MetLife Stadium, in a Victor Cruz jersey. Today I stayed home from work because there were three inches of snow on the ground at six o’clock in the morning, and the promise of many more hours of snow (my neighborhood got eight inches). We have another 3 – 6 inches predicted for Wednesday and a ‘significant snow event’ for Sunday. When the fuck did snowstorms become snow events? Cut it out. Your political correctness (if there is such a word) is not helping me.

My parents, currently residing in Jacksonville, FL, might be wearing coats occasionally, but they’re not shoveling snow. My cousins, further south from there, are enjoying 80 degree weather. And don’t get me started on my Miami-area friends who were playing golf last week while I was wearing a level three coat (yes, I grade my coats according to the temperature).

I get it now and I sorely regret promising my daughters that I wouldn’t move to a warmer climate when I retire.

1618475_10201560073109341_967797841_nDon’t get me wrong. I’ve loved living in the NYC metropolitan area. I grew up with four seasons. I got to trick or treat on Halloween, something my NYC-based cousins experienced only when they came to my Rockland County home. I’ve experienced Lauren Bacall on Broadway and the joy of Latino voices In The Heights. I experienced a tray hanging on the car window at White Castle and the elegance of Victor’s Cafe. I learned to ice skate in Haverstraw and how not to fall on ice in Hudson County, NJ.

I am the totality of where I have lived, and at this point of my life, I am ready for warmer winters.

Living a life with perspective

I swear that the person who has been choosing the NaBloPoMo prompts has been in my head lately. This week has truly been all about perspective.traffic

Perspective, a noun, meaning a mental view or outlook. I’m going to add my two cents here and say that it’s also a manner in which we maintain sanity. Life moves fast and we cannot always keep up. Work, family, home, friends, the whirlwind is never ending. Glitches in transportation, a crying child or run in your pantyhose, anything could send you into a tizzy.

Yesterday was a shitty day, just shitty. I left home early because I was in the mood for a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich from the cafe at my office building. With a traffic jam already mentioned on the morning news report, I took an alternate route to work. My normal twenty-five minute commute turned into an hour because someone got into an accident.

The rest of the day was a blur of court orders and police complaints. The day ended with two back-to-back meetings where I had to report off the cuff because I didn’t have any time to prepare my remarks. The last meeting ended just in time for me to grab my jacket and purse and run like there was someone chasing me out of the building.

I frowned at every red light and every motorist who changed lanes without using their signal. Succumbing to the sin of emotional eating, I stopped at Popeye’s and picked up some food. Once home, I popped open a beer and sat down to devour my chicken while eyeing an apartment that looked as if a hurricane had come through.

A big sigh and a small burp later perspective kicked in. I have a job that I love, a car with which to get there. I have food in my belly and a home that needs tending. So I got off the sofa and started tending to my home. A couple of hours later, my home was back in its normal orderliness and showing signs of a little extra loving care. The candles were lit and wine was poured for a more relaxing night. In the back of mind was the thought that had perspective not kicked my ass, it would have been a shitty night to top a shitty day. I took that thought to bed with me last night.

When I arrived at the office this morning I learned that a colleague was involved in the accident which caused yesterday’s traffic jam. She is fine, but her car is not.

Perspective.

I’m smiling and calm even though today hasn’t been any better than yesterday.

And I had yogurt for lunch.