Sunday, September 14, 2014

On a Saturday Night. . .

We're in September, and the Major League Baseball Playoffs are right around the corner.  The Mariners are poised to take the wild card slot and compete in the playoffs for the first time since 2001. They've never been to a World Series, but this year devout fans believe that they might.

On a Saturday night Eden was curled up on the floor after a long day of outings.  She rolled over for me for the first time - She'd done it for her daddy more than a week ago and we've been waiting for a repeat since.  It was close to 9:00, past her usual bedtime, but she was content, staring at the TV and sucking her thumb.  The Mariners were playing the A's for a shot at usurping them as the #1 wildcard contender, with a 2-2 score going into the 9th inning, and for the first time, I was "watching" a game with my baby girl. We watched Fernando Riley throw a daring change-up pitch with a 3-2 count.  We watched the A's try to steal second base, only to get thrown out by the catcher in a play that was first called safe.  Lying next to her I muttered, "Don't make me become a supporter of instant replay."  Sure enough, thanks to instant replay, the runner was called out, ending the 9th inning and sending the game into extra innings.

On a Saturday night I laid next to my baby girl and enjoyed a moment that I have waited for.  In that moment, I felt the bitter, and I felt the sweet.  In that moment, I never missed my son more.

With every milestone, every laugh, every back-to-belly roll, my heart floods at once with thankfulness for my baby girl and longing for my 3 year-old baby boy. I lost my son, and that is a hurt that will never go away.  Never.

On a Saturday night I laid beside my baby girl, feeling the missing presence of Gabriel deep within me, but also feeling hope.  With Eden, the impossible feels possible.  Living without my son, which once felt impossible, now feels bearable.  With Eden, despite the Mariners' ultimate loss last night, the playoffs, the World Series even, still feels within reach.  With Eden, though California is suffering in the parched summer of what is allegedly the worst drought we've ever seen, it still feels possible that this winter Bakersfield may still see snow for the first time since 1999.  With Eden, falling in love again with her, with Marcos, doesn't feel like a risk.  It feels safe.  It feels inevitable.  It feels like anything is possible.

Monday, September 8, 2014


It was the Sunday night before Labor Day, and I had unexpectedly been asked to work the closing shift at the bar. With the three day weekend I could sleep in the following day, so I agreed.  The night started out slow.  Jerry sat at one end of the bar and a few stragglers wandered in and out, but until about 8 o'clock business was only steady.

Around that time, my friends started to trickle in.  First Angie, then T.J., Troy, Lindsey, Blake, Shane and Chris.

"What are you smiling about?"  someone asked.

"I'm just so happy to have my friends here."

One day, you might wake up and find that everything has changed.  Your son is dead, and you're divorced, and you're re-building your life after it was blown apart shattered.  The friends who stood at your side on your wedding day are more like acquaintances now, not because of any sort of falling out, but simply because you're different people who live different lives - And because they aren't sure how to interact with you now that you've seen hell.

But there are a handful of friends who have walked with you through it all.  A couple of them, like Angie and T.J., were there when you did the unthinkable and buried your child.  A couple of them, like Troy and Shane, met you out for a drink when you just needed to escape.  They're the friends who knew they couldn't say anything to fix all that was wrong, but they stood there, holding you up when you wanted to fall.

And then there are the friends who chose to become your friends, even when you were at your worst.  Elise, who I'd known for years, but suddenly became one of the first people to whom I spilled the news of Gabriel's diagnosis.  Our friendship started when I thought the world was ending.  Or Lindsey, the friend who listens when I need her, but with whom I can sit in comfortable silence.  She's the friend that just shows up with an orchid on Gabriel's first birthday and makes blueberry lemon cupcakes on his second birthday and meets me for a drink and then comes out to a charity run at 7 on a Saturday on his third birthday.  Or Blake, who used to work with Ben; who had a front row seat as my marriage fell apart; who I got to keep in the divorce.

My life as I knew it disintegrated, but I was built back up again by people who make me better by showing me the kind of person I want to be.  They recognize my strengths.  They teach me how to improve where I am weak.  They do it all just by being there.  It feels weird at the age of almost-33 to say that I've got "new" best friends.  Best friends seem like something for kids.  They've become known to me simply as "the homies," and they're the best friends I've ever had.

They screened Marcos when he and I started dating.  He had to pass the homie test, and now he's been incorporated.  And when we announced that we were expecting our baby, we were greeted with sincere joy.

Friendships made as an adult require a lot more concentrated effort.  We're busy, and our lives are filled with major changes, and we don't see each other every day the way we might have as schoolchildren.  We're establishing careers, romantic relationships, families, homeownership - Grown up stuff. Sometimes, friendship means meeting at Eureka Burger on a Thursday night, and bringing your baby, and knowing you've only got a small window before you've got to get back home, but knowing the friends you will see are worth it.  With Marcos at my side, Eden in my lap, Elise, Lindsey, and later Tori sitting across from me, I knew my night would be stretched thin.  But I also know that no matter how busy life gets or how tired I am I never regret the time I spend just rollin' with my homies.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Why Should I Worry?

It was the summer of 1997 when the Hernandez Family, then a party of 5, traveled to the Rosedale area to answer an ad in the Bakersfield Californian for a free terrier dog.  We had recently lost our beloved German Shepherd Crystal, and had only just adopted Twink, a hodgepodge of working dog breeds.  We piled into the family car, a blue Subaru station wagon, to pick up Emily, whose family owned ranch property and horses but had to give Emily away because of her tendency to run between the horses' legs, nearly tripping them.  

Later that summer the station wagon was traded in for a new van when we learned that our family of 5, in addition to growing with the addition of Twink and Emily, would shortly be growing once again with the anticipated arrival of Victoria.  

And so we grew, and we watched Emily and Twink grow right alongside Victoria.  Emily became famous among us for two things: First, her tendency to shoot through a door or gate at any opportunity and run through the neighborhood without slowing down.  She usually had to be chased in a car and it took all available hands on deck to retrieve her.  Next, she was known for her wild fur.  No matter how often she was bathed, brushed or trimmed, she always had this orphaned look about her.  Her appearance reminded us of the character Rosco from Disney's Oliver and Company and when she looked especially scruffy to us, we'd affectionately sing to her "Why should I worry?  Why should I care?"  

Emily was far from an orphan, though.  She was always loved, especially by Monica.  While I took to Twink that summer, Emily quickly became Monica's pet.  The relationship between Twink and Emily was also undeniable and the mix-matched pair of "sisters" brought joy and laughter to the family.  Years later when Twink was diagnosed with diabetes and the illness blinded her and began to effect her temperament, we were stunned to see Twink start to turn on Emily, especially with the introduction of Lola, our family German Shepherd who moved in in October 2007.  Eventually, Twink's illness shut down her internal organs and we had to put her to sleep nearly 5 years ago.  We hoped that with Twink's sad passing, Emily and Lola could live in harmony again.  After a very close-call, Emily, who had always been an outdoor dog, moved indoors. 

We weren't sure, at her advanced age and her propensity for bolting, how Emily would transition, but it was just a matter of time before Emily was very apparently enjoying the life of an only-indoor dog.  She laid where she wanted to, ate when she wanted to, and generally lived a life of luxury.  

Emily and Monica soon became a staple sight around the neighborhood.  Monica took Emily on three walks a day to make sure she had an opportunity to use the bathroom.  She came home on her lunch hour to walk Emily or let her outside.  Once a month she would travel to Fresno to visit with a cloister of nuns whose order she was discerning, but she would call or text reminders to take Emily outside.  Each of those weekends, Emily would wait by the front door, hoping that the next time it opened, Monica would walk through.  

They were to ladies, set in their ways, a stoic pair whose consistency you could always depend on.  When I moved in three doors down from my parents and Monica, I could see her walk by my front yard every evening.  Even when I wondered if my ex-husband would ever come home, I could be certain that Monica and Emily would traverse by at some point before and after the sun went down.  

Emily's walks started getting shorter and shorter.  She struggled to make it around the block, and so they would take a short-cut through the alley.  Then, she could only make it to the end of the block and back.  In recent weeks, Monica and Emily have only paced the yard.  Last night, Emily couldn't even do that much. Through it all she did not whimper, did not cry, did not howl.   

This morning at 7:40 I walked three houses over to say my good-byes to Emily before Monica wrapped her in a towel and carried her to the vet's office where Monica would say her own good-byes.  

I figure, if Emily was a year old when we got her in the summer of 1997, as her former family told us she was, she was about 18 years old when she went to her final rest this morning.  Not a bad run, for a scrappy little dog who tripped horses and battled German Shepherds.  No matter what she was going through, no matter how she looked, no matter her limitations, she just kept moving along as best she could.  And I like to believe that no matter how much she struggled her last few years and especially months and days on earth, today she's running free, her fur a tangled mess, her "sister" Twink alongside her restored to perfect health, singing "Why should I worry?  Why should I care?" 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Nano, Nano

"He's gone.  He's been down a few days."

My face crumpled and my body convulsed as I absorbed the information, only confirmation of what I already knew.

"Do you want me to call someone?"  I stared at him.  "Do you have a religious affiliation?"

I nodded.

"What is your religious affiliation?"

"Catholic." More emergency vehicles rolled by, their sirens silenced by this point.  A car marked "Kern County Coroner" passed.

It was true.  Sean was dead.

Nearly 10 years later the memories are still fresh enough to come flooding back when the news of a celebrity suicide captures the headlines.

Robin Williams, 64 years old, was a beloved actor.  We felt like we knew him.  We knew his voice.  We knew the twinkle in his eyes.  But we didn't know the depth of his internal struggle.

I was closer to Sean than anyone in the world on the day that he died.  I knew things were bad. I've spent years putting away the guilt I felt for not stopping him from putting that gun to his mouth.  Some people say I should feel angry at him for leaving like he did.  They would say that I should be angry at him for being selfish.  But they didn't know his heart.

What I feel much more powerfully than any other emotion when I think of Sean is a simple sadness that he is dead.

I am sorry I ever had to call his dad and say, "Sean is gone."  I am sorry that his mother will never dance with her son at his wedding.  I am sorry that I have found my soulmate, and somewhere out there Sean's is looking for hers but he's not here to be found.  I am sorry that we never got to have a real break-up, a real good-bye.  I am sorry that his 36th birthday just passed, but the world will never know a 36 year old Sean.

I am sorry that his life was cut short at 26 years old. I am sorry that at 22 I had to find his dead body, call the police, answer investigative questions about his last days, go to his funeral, be the battering ram for his mother whose grief far surpassed mine and whom I was the obvious target.  I'm sorry for the way that he's haunted my past relationships, and now that the guilt has been shelved and my memories of the event are bearable I am sorry that I ever had to come to terms with the death of my young boyfriend and best friend.

As I mourn the death of Robin Williams with the rest of the world, I can't help but mourn Sean.  He was the Mork to my Mindy, my best friend, forever young, and out of this world.

Be Good to Your Daughters.

The day the nurses placed Eden on my chest following the grand announcement that she was a girl, I thought two things:  First, I touched her perfect, round, whole head and marveled that she was real and healthy and here.

Then it hit me - I had no idea what I was going to do with a daughter.

There were the obvious concerns.  I hardly know what to do with my own hair, let alone the hair of a little girl.  I have pitiful fashion sense and I'm pretty shitty at applying make-up.

But my broader fears, the fears that kept me hoping for a brood of boys, have been creeping up on me.  How do I teach her to be selfless, without giving herself away?  How do I teach her to love others, but not at the expense of not loving herself?  How do I teach her to have a heart open to love and romance, but not to be a fool?  Or let her know that she is beautiful, but that beauty isn't everything?  Or impress upon her that she can be anything, an engineer, a doctor, or even a hairdresser?  How do I give her everything I can while letting her know that everything means nothing without love, family, and God?  How do I strike the balance in guiding her to do what's right while loving her no matter what she does wrong?

Her daddy looks at her with an easy love, while I look at her with fear.  How do I keep from screwing her up?  How do I teach her to be stronger than me?

Most importantly, how do I let her know how much she has brightened my world, without condemning her to live in Gabriel's shadow?  How do I let her know that although I still think Gabriel hung the stars for me, she is my sunshine?  Eden is my Heaven on earth.

I find myself afraid, running from how much I love her.  Over the last three years longing for Gabriel has become the status quo.  It's not surprise to me anymore.  But sometimes I am sitting at my desk at work while Eden is at daycare, and I feel this surge through my body accompanied by an intense desire to hold her in my arms and I know that I am missing her. And I know that feeling is nothing less than unconditional love.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Bases Loaded

Tuesday night I leaned on the bar, glued to the TV.  In Arlington, TX the bases were loaded in the bottom of the 9th inning, Yankees 12, Rangers 11.  The Mariners had already secured a win against Cleveland.  With a genuine shot at the playoffs this year while the Yankees scrape at their heels, every Mariners win matters, and so does every New York loss.  Besides, every time the Yankees lose, somewhere on the East Coast, Bar Crush cries.  Adrian Beltre was up to bat with a full count and a reckless, nervous swing.  It all came down to one pitch.

Beltre swung, sending a fly ball to left field, easily fielded for a Yankees win at the last possible moment.

My favorite part of baseball are those moments between that pitch that could make all the difference, and the hit that could make all the difference.  That face-off between the batter and the pitcher where all the tension lies is long and silent, and frequently what causes people to describe the American passtime as "boring," when I think it's about as exciting as life gets.

These days, my bases are loaded.  I returned to work this week.  Yesterday I woke up, gave Eden her bottle, got dressed for work, got her dressed for daycare, brushed against Marcos in our hurried passing, ate my breakfast pre-made on Sunday night, knocked back a cup of coffee, dropped Eden off at Grandpa's, went to the office for a second day of catch-up.  I spent the day trying to prioritize files that I hadn't touched for three months.  Somehow I found the time to e-mail the mock trial teacher coach that I work with; our season will be starting soon with a boot camp for hopeful new students.  Throughout the day I found myself longing for my daughter, and throughout every day I long for my son.

Sometime before 5 I left, grabbed a burger from a fast-food drive through, came home to feed my dogs and mix a batch of baby formula while I waited for Marcos to bring Eden home.  We had some quick cuddles, but she was already cranky, and I had to leave for my closing shift at the bar. There I relaxed into the routine of pouring and chatting and counting the weekly inventory, and watching a baseball game.  I was thankful to share those final moments of anticipation with T.J., a surprise visitor on my Tuesday night shift.

I'm overwhelmed.  Through a series of choices - good and bad - this is the life I've chosen for myself.

I'm up to bat, facing off with time.  My job, my friends, and my extracurricular commitments load the bases, and I love every step along the way.  I love my beautiful, tense, fruitful, stressful perfectly imperfect life. But at the end of the day, all I want to do is make it home.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Remembering Amanda Zubia

Once, just once, in my life I wondered whether I had it in me to be a criminal defense attorney.  I must say "it," because I'm not quite sure how to explain the qualities of a criminal defense attorney.  I know that in large part being a criminal defense attorney is an innate part of one's character, in their heart probably before one realizes that is their calling.  So, of course, the case that called into question my capacity to pursue that calling was one that tugged at my heart and reached that innate part of me that I still can't put my finger on.

Ten years ago Amanda Zubia was 17 years old, and the mother of a toddler boy, when she was summoned to a home in East Bakersfield.  There, four young women including Amanda's cousin, and a young man were waiting for her.  Over the course of two days believed to be July 12 and July 13, 2004, in a display of complete depravity, Amanda was tortured and beaten by this group of perpetrators, a fact established by snapshots taken with a disposable camera and found at the home.  She was struck, burned with cigarettes, bound and gagged and thrown on the floor to be kicked, had chunks of her hair ripped out, and was taunted.

Amanda was kicked in the face, causing major crushing to her facial bones.  Her perpetrators believed that blow to be fatal so they folded her body into a suitcase, where she suffocated and died. She was then stuffed into a 55-gallon oil drum, which was filled halfway with cement, and stored in a garage in a home near East Bakersfield High School.  On July 19, 2004 when neighbors complained of the smell coming from the garage, her body was discovered by the police.

For the rest of that summer I was haunted by Amanda's story and the horror that must have been her final hours.  She was somebody's little girl.  She was somebody's mother.  Stuff like that just doesn't happen in Bakersfield.  I was especially bothered by the fact that four women were involved in her death.  Women just don't do stuff like that.  Yet, it didm and they did.  And they would need lawyers.  What would I do if any one of those were assigned to me for representation?  I didn't know, then, if I could do it.

All of Amanda's perpetrators were caught.  The defense tactic was an obvious one:  Everyone alleged they had the lesser role.  That defense was bolstered when the young man involved, Robert Vallejo, was killed in jail.  How easy it became to allege that Vallejo was the ringleader and the greatest aggressor, once he was unavailable to deny it.

I think of Amanda often.  By now, some of her perpetrators may have been released.  Over the years information about the case has become less available and I've been unable to look up articles today to confirm their sentences, but I remember clearly thinking that this girl died a horrible death, and within ten years more than one of these aggressors would be set free.  I remember at the time thinking about how unjust the punishments seemed given the depraved nature of the crimes.

I wish I could say that the lawyer in me now believes the punishments were acceptable, but I can't.  All I can do is hope for a conversion of the hearts of those women who participated in Amanda's killing.  Whether I like it or not, some of them may be walking the streets already.  I am, if nothing else, a firm believer that when we set a convicted person free we accept that they have done their time for their crimes and they should be able to carry on with their lives.  I hope they can find gainful employment, re-establish meaningful relationships and live fruitful lives.  God knows, the odds are stacked against them and they should have someone in their corner.  I hope for the best for them, because the worst has already happened to Amanda and there's no undoing it.

Her little boy will be a teenager soon, if he's not already. I pray that he's managed to have a peaceful life.

I pray for Amanda's mother's peace.  During those days when she was held captive Amanda called her mother, Blanca, and asked to be picked up from the house.  Not knowing what was about to happen, Blanca refused to go get Amanda.  I am sure she's wrestled with guilt over the years.

Now a mother myself to a little boy whose suffering and death I witnessed, and to a little girl whom I would lay down my life to protect, I still can't imagine what Blanca's life has been like since Amanda's been gone. I suspect that I am not the only local who still remembers Amanda's case and I hope her mother's heart can be warmed by the knowledge that though Amanda is gone, she is still remembered.