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.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Crying It Out

For several weeks now my counselor has been urging me to consider the use of antidepressants.  And it's no wonder.  Several weeks ago when Eden wouldn't stop crying in the lobby of the doctor's office, I could have walked out of that lobby and left her behind, believing I would never look back.  Postpartum depression, unsurprisingly, hit me like a truck.  With my history of depression and emotional trauma, anyone could have seen it coming, and the recommendations to medicate myself began even before Eden was born, and have continued.

"No.  I'm just going to tough this out.  I'm going to cry this out."  I feel no sense of shame associated with the use of antidepressants.  I'm a believer in their effectiveness.  I accept the medical facts which indicate that some people will only have a normal life with the assistance of psychotropic medications.  I'm just not convinced I am one of those people.

As the weeks went by, I did cry.  I always had the sense to step back from the situation and cry, but I did cry.  Sometimes that meant that Eden had to cry too.  Sometimes we cried together.  Sometimes I cried as she fed contentedly, her primal need having been met and all of her newborn demands satisfied.

I'm certainly not the first mother to feel as I do.  I'm certainly not the first mother to wonder if I'm doing anything right at all.  "They" say that's how you know you are in fact doing something right, when you're assessing your actions.

The trick then becomes to find a balance that works for you.  Every parent wishes that their child never had to cry, experience pain, feel hunger.  But that's part of life.  When Eden made it to Day 11, when she was born healthy with a long life ahead of her, she was also on track to experience every one of those things.

I recognize my calloused nature as Eden cried herself to sleep in her bassinet today.  I've grown weary of her dependence on the swing to fall asleep during naptime and decided today, she was going to cry it out.  After rocking her to a light sleep, I placed her in her bassinet for her scheduled nap.  Now used to her routine, she'd already shown the signs of being tired and ready for that nap.  Having become reliant on the swing to rock her through her naptime, she cried as soon as I set her down, which is when I decided to test the recent bit of information I've read that the average baby her age will cry for 5 to 35 minutes before settling down to sleep.  I guess 42 minutes is close enough.  I should take pride in her strong-will and determination, really.

"They" also say that a baby's cry is irritating to an adult as nature's way of pushing us to soothe that baby.  It makes us want to fix whatever's wrong.  Perhaps I lack that instinct, because as Eden cried I was primarily annoyed that I couldn't hear the television.

That is not to say that listening to Eden "cry it out" was easy.  I forced myself to stay in the room with her, though I was occupied with other things, knowing if I was going to do this, I must not distance myself too much from the situation. I wondered what kind of damage I might be doing to her infant psyche, how this crying session will manifest itself when she is 13 years old.  Maybe now she'll be a sociopath.  I questioned what kind of mother straightens her hair and watches "Devious Maids" while her 2-month old baby cries.  I almost caved.  I have caved in these situations before.  I see nothing wrong with caving, and being that mother who picks her child up and soothes her after a given amount of time, or even with the mother who holds her child for the duration of her nap.  I just don't want to be that mother.  I want to be the mother who loves her baby enough to let her cry, because sometimes she's just gonna have to cry.  That's life.

In less than three weeks I have to return to work, and I won't be there to hold her through her naps.  I don't want to go - I have to go.  I simply can't hold her for the rest of my life, as much as I might want to.

There will be times when I won't be able to soothe the hurt or fix the wrong.  There will be times when all I have to offer is an embrace, a fruitless remedy done only for comfort.  There will be times when I won't even be able to give her that much.  I would love to create a world where Eden never has to hurt.  I just can't.

When Eden woke for her scheduled feeding with a whimper I took my time to respond to her as I finished preparing her bottle in the next room.  When I leaned over her bassinet she appeared relieved to see me, and I was relieved by her relief.  I thought she might be mad at me.  She looked into my eyes as she drank her bottle, and continued looking at me even when I took the empty bottle away.  She sat on my lap and cuddled with me for the duration of the hour, observing her microworld in the living room from the security of my arms, leaning against me knowing that I was there, even if she couldn't see me.  That's what I want for her.  I want her to be able to lean on me, even as she grows more and more independent.  I want her to know I am always there, even when she can't see me.  I want her to know that the adage is true:  It hurts me more than it hurts her, even when I don't show it.  And I will rarely show it.  I want her to know that I am doing the best I can, that I've given her all that I can.  Sometimes my all means that we both just have to cry it out.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Blessed Broken Road

Ten-plus years ago in San Diego, I lived with an ex-boyfriend named Luke.  Letting him move in with me was, to say the least, stupid.  He had a number of personal problems. I was bouncing back and forth between denying the rape, and feeling the burn of the memory while in a drunken stupor.  Unsurprisingly, we crashed and burned.  But I loved Luke, and I wondered about him for years.  I had a need to know that he was okay, and I had an abiding faith that God would place him in my path again when we were both happy and healthy.

About two years ago I looked him up on Facebook.  There he was.  I sent him a friend request.  He sent me a message.  "How are you?  I think of you often, and hope you are doing well."  He passed through town sometime that summer, and asked if he and his son could meet me for dinner, and I did.  I walked into that encounter with a hope, and I got what I'd hoped for:  Luke had a stable life, was working hard, had resolved many of his problems.  He thought of me over the years not because he thought we were meant to be or he wanted to get back together, but because we mattered to each other, and we mattered in the course of the other's life.  We took something from our experiences together, and that something informed who we had become.

Luke and I said good-bye with a friendly hug.  We remain friends on Facebook.  My last message from him was a kind congratulations on Eden's birth, sent on Mother's Day.

Despite my fervent wishes, Ben has never really had it in him to wish me a happy Mother's Day.  I've always wondered why, and think it cruel that he can't muster those three words, but I guess the real question is why I want to hear or read those words from him so badly.  I've put my finger on the answer:  I want to know that I mattered to him.  He mattered to me.  I want to know that our child was the product of mutual love and respect.  I want a reason to believe that our son was not broken because we were broken.  I want to know that I was special enough that ten-plus years down the road he'll still think of me and our son, and our brief moment in time.

Last night as I ran a knife through leaves of basil in a chiffonade, creating ribbons of green, I recalled my cooking lessons with Ben and learning classic knife cuts.  I thought of the words incorporated into my vocabulary and the songs in my library and the tools in my kitchen which are the result of my relationship with Ben. His influence and his memory peppers my life.

He is one of the dips in my broken road, ranking the most noteable because of the level of our commitment.  We stood before God and promised each other our lives, and now our vows have made a liar of me and I have become a promise-breaker.  My words don't seem to mean much anymore.

As I stand on the precipice of making that same commitment to Marcos, I wonder if I am to be believed.  I wonder if I can believe in him.  I wonder if I've finally come to the end of the broken road.

Over the duration of my maternity leave I have been watching the television series "How I Met Your Mother," the 9-season story of one man's quest for love.  Ted Mosby is perhaps the most relateable character I have ever encountered on TV.  A man after my own heart, he has searched high and low for love, allowing himself to fall deeply and sometimes carelessly.  Every time he was in love, it was genuine, even if it wasn't meant to be.  I am approaching the final two seasons, and as I do I know that they will result in Ted finding his future wife under a yellow umbrella.

How fitting that Ted, my television parallel, would find love under an umbrella, with rain pouring down around the two of them.  Won't there always be rain?  And wouldn't it be so much more bearable to have someone to face the rain with?

Marcos must be what waits for me under the umbrella, but I find myself more guarded with him than I have ever been in my own search for love.  He is probably the least-risky investment my heart has ever had to make.  The same is true of Eden.  But I am callused from having loved and lost and I am still scarred by the depth of those losses which have me questioning who I am, whether I am worthy of love, and whether I have it in me to return that love.

I think of our close encounter, the night we met at Charly's 8 years ago, and what has filled those interim years, and I wonder why that couldn't have been our beginning.  Why couldn't we start right then? It's not fair.  Life's not fair.

I am sometimes ashamed of the extent of my past, of the number of dysfunctional relationships and the number of times I have permitted my heart to be broken.  I feel that each of those events have stripped the woman that Marcos deserves.  Still, he seems to love me anyway.  He seems to be unafraid of my scars. He seems to be willing to stay.  It seems I matter to him now, and I will always matter to him, which leads me to believe that maybe God has indeed blessed the broken road that led me straight to Marcos Lopez.