Family

It’s strange, isn’t it? How time and circumstances and distance can change friendships you once thought would last forever? You still love these people, you still care about what happens to them, but when you’re together…you can’t seem to find a common ground.

I used to be so close to my dad’s family. We lived in Mexico until I was eight, within walking distance of cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Even after we moved, we didn’t go very far; we crossed the border, drove for half an hour, and chose a house in that little town. We returned to my grandparents’ house monthly for family lunches, sometimes to celebrate someone’s birthday, sometimes for mother’s or father’s day, sometimes just because. And I always looked forward to it. Nana made fresh rice, beans, and tortillas. My uncles made carne asada or pollo asado (like carne asada only with chicken). My aunts brought cakes, sodas, and macaroni salad. We congregated around the table and in the adjoining living room to eat and to talk over the soccer game that always seemed to be playing on the TV.

Then my three younger cousins and I would run outside to play. We invented games and went on adventures, dared each other to try new things. Occasionally, we went back inside to watch the guys playing their video games, or we’d go into one of the guest rooms and play cards. If it rained, we’d play in the mud. If it was hot, we put on our bathing suits and assaulted each other with the hose. If it was cold, we’d bundle up real tight and chase each other until we were warm. We climbed trees, scraped our knees, ran through my tata’s field, rolled down dirt hills, rode our bikes along the canal. As we got older, we spent more and more time inside, playing card games, giving each other make overs, talking about life and boys, watching movies, hanging out around the kitchen table and listening to our mother’s talk.

The three of them made trips to my house too, for slumber parties during the summer. (This was after my sister and I were given our separate rooms.) I would blast my Christian rock music and we would dance or jump on the bed or throw pillows at each other. We’d stay up talking through the night, all four of us squished together on my bed because we couldn’t bear the thought of sleeping separately. We’d spend hours on the Slip-n-Slide in the backyard, and then wash up and play with my Barbies. Sometimes my sister would play dress up with us. We’d use sheets, rubber bands, and clips to create unique, old fashioned dresses. We’d adorn ourselves with clip-on jewelry and pretend to be princesses.

And then I started high school. I hung out with my sister, my big brother, and my older cousins more and more. I started dating and then had my heart broken for the first time. I went through a phase of depression, where the only thing I really wanted was to be older and wiser. I talked less and spent more time daydreaming about my stories, my music, my plans for the future. They ran in different crowds than I did, had mutual friends they wanted to talk about that I’d never met. They had church events and other family events they attended together that I couldn’t. Slowly but surely, this gap began to form between me and my three younger cousins. Then I graduated and moved to Arizona. I still visited home from time to time. I returned to my grandparents’ house for New Years or Christmas, glad to be among my family again. But each year my Spanish was a bit more rusty, my anecdotes a bit more awkward, and our conversations a bit more forced. I wanted to be around them. I cared about their lives and the things they were going through. I wanted to connect.

Why was it so hard?

We had something to talk about when I was getting serious with my then-boyfriend now-husband. My cousins wanted to know how we met and what our plans were. When we were engaged and planning our wedding, I had details to share. They all came, of course. They had to drive six hours one way to be there, but they were there. In the whirlwind that was our wedding reception, I got to give quick hugs and kisses. Then it was off to start married life. I’ve brought my husband for New Years these past two years. He doesn’t speak Spanish so I have to stick with him and be his interpreter. My three younger cousins shy away from him. I can’t blame them; he’s handsome and foreign. That can be intimidating.

I keep tabs on my dad’s family through Facebook and Instagram. My three younger cousins especially. They post pictures and short anecdotes that I like or comment on. We always wish each other happy birthday, sending our love and blessings. The cousin closest to me in age is going to university. The second oldest is so social; she’s always posting pictures of her and her friends going to youth group or camps or conferences. The youngest graduated from high school this year. I want to tell them how proud I am of their accomplishments, how great it is to see them flourish. I want to tell them that I still remember our adventures with fondness. I loved being their leader, despite the fact that I was responsible when one of them got hurt playing one of my ridiculous games. They weren’t just family, they were friends. And I miss them.

Most of the time, it’s easy to get caught up in my life here. I’m working, I’m going to school, I’m learning new things about marriage and being a wife, I’m writing, I’m hanging out with friends, and growing. But every day I go onto Facebook or Instagram and there they are. I can’t help but wonder: Will we ever be as close as we once were? Do they think about me? Do they remember?

Only one way to find out, right?

Two kinds of people

People are frustrating.

They cut you off at the intersection. They slow down on the freeway to stare at the van that’s stranded on the side of the road, creating unnecessary traffic. They tell other people your secrets. They post rude and angry things on their social media sites. They argue about things that aren’t that important. They demean you and your beliefs. They ignore and sometimes brush away your advice, even though you care so deeply about them. They betray you and then come crawling back when they need help. They say hurtful things in a flippant and oblivious manner. They text constantly when they’re supposed to be hanging out with you. They interrupt every event by forcing all those involved to take a picture. They throw tantrums when they don’t get what they want, even though they’re adults and they’re supposed to be mature. They disrespect people of authority. They ignore their children and complain about their parents. They give into their child’s demands and do everything for them. They give you unwanted and sometimes awkward advice. They poke around your private matters and try to fix things for you…

But people are also really great.

They notice you’re having a rough day and cut you some slack when you snap or make a mistake. They reach out to you with a random, encouraging text even though it’s been ages since you’ve spoken. They force you to go out and have fun when you’re down in the dumps. They chat with you for hours about books and movies and characters who don’t exist. They stay up late to cry and pray with you when your world is falling apart. They hold you when you cry and cheer you on when you’re discouraged and work hard beside you and celebrate your successes with you. They give you flowers and cards and balloons when it’s your birthday, even though you were trying to keep it a secret. They acknowledge your hard work with a smile or a thank-you. They love you unconditionally and make you feel important when you don’t think too highly of yourself.

People are flawed, complicated, unfinished, searching, wielders of unimaginable power; the power to influence. Think before you act. Listen before you speak. What kind of person will you be? How will you influence the lives around you?

I’m not on a diet

I’m the only person I know who isn’t on a diet. (This doesn’t apply to women anymore. My brothers-in-law have been on special diets since the day I met them.) I’ve heard it said that people have always been like this, but I feel that it’s gotten worse in the last five years. I’ve overheard more conversations about Weight Watchers, calories, sugars, carbs, and work out routines now than I ever did in high school. I’m finding it increasingly harder not to care about these things, but I think it’s important that I continue to not care.

Let me explain.

As I went through high school, I suffered from low self-esteem and body image issues. (Big deal, some of you are thinking, Name a girl that hasn’t. Exactly my point! I’ll get to it in a bit). Mine is the kind of body type that doesn’t change. I’ve gone up 10 pounds and lost 10 pounds over and over again since I was thirteen years old. I tried my best in PE, I tried doing 30 minute workouts on my own, I cut my portion sizes (not by much but still, I made an effort), and I never seemed to weigh more or less than 10 pounds from my last recorded weight. It was very frustrating. Here was my older sister, all 130 pounds, 5 feet 9 inches of her, fitting into the cute pants and blouses without even trying. She could even pull off tight clothing without getting reprimanded by my parents because she had little to no curves. Man, I was jealous!

My parents would take one good look at me in the morning, point to my bedroom door, and say, “Change,” eight times out of ten. I didn’t dress provocatively or in an attention-seeking way. Half of the time, my clothes weren’t as tight as my sister’s. But because I had curves, I had to dress differently than she did. Now I don’t blame my parents. I know now that they were just trying to protect me, keep my body a mystery to everyone and teach me to dress conservatively. But it was hard enough finding something that I felt good while wearing, and to have them force me to change all those times, just made things worse.

It wasn’t until I was nineteen that I had an epiphany and realized that there was nothing wrong with me. My hair was curly and never seemed to fall straight. That was okay. I knew enough girls with straight hair by then to realize that most of them wished they had my hair. I had curves. That was okay, too. I learned that my sister was jealous of my body type and sometimes wished she could fill a pair of jeans the way I did! Slowly but surely, I put all the pieces together and came to the conclusion that God had intentionally made me this way. If I had turned out differently, I wouldn’t be me. (I’m pretty sure God also made me the way that He did so that I would be attractive to my husband. Just saying.) Finally, it seemed, I was starting to like myself.

So you can probably understand now why thinking about diets, work out routines, and scales is a negative thing for me. It’s just too easy to go back to that dark place, to looking at the things I don’t like about my body and feeling ugly. I don’t ever want to go back to that.

That’s not to say that I don’t care about being healthy, because I do. My husband and I are running together twice a week. I don’t drink coffee or soda very often and I never have energy drinks. Water is my favorite. I still try to watch my portion sizes, and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. My husband and I eat mostly chicken and lean beef, with shrimp and salmon dishes scattered in between. So I am trying; I’m just not working toward the goal of looking a particular way. My body looks like it belongs in a Renaissance painting instead of on the cover of Vogue, and that’s okay. I’m healthy. I’m happy. My husband thinks I’m hot. And I think that’s all that really matters. I’m not claiming that this attitude is easy. There are still times I glance at myself in the mirror and do a double take, eyes narrowing at that little bit of belly fat clinging to my hips and abdomen. But I can’t stay there. I know that now.

I wish there was some way I could spread this feeling, this certainty and confidence, to people all around the world. It’s not just single men and women or slightly larger men and women who suffer from this self-deprecating mentality. I know several married people, whose spouses love their bodies and tell them so, who still hate the way they look. There are smaller, thinner women I know who wish they could fill out their clothes a little more and just can’t gain weight. And I’m sure the taller, thinner men out there would love thick muscles and abs. Why? Where does this wishing-to-look-like-someone-else come from? What causes us to latch onto the lie that we’re ugly or not as attractive as so-and-so? When did looking-this-way become more important than being healthy? Who gave beautiful a definition, a body type? It’s 2017, the year of acceptance. Why is it still so hard to accept our own bodies?

It starts within us. No matter how many times my parents and family members told me I was beautiful, I just couldn’t believe it. (They loved me. They had to tell me that.) It took time and God’s gentle prodding to make me see myself the way He did; priceless, gorgeous, made on purpose. Stop looking at yourself in the mirror and obsessing about all the things you don’t like. Look for things you do like, accept the compliments people give you, try to see yourself through their eyes. Write notes to yourself, find inspirational quotes, encourage other people who are in the same boat you’re in. Continue eating the right foods and exercising, but be intentional about changing this negative mentality. It’s not good for you. Nothing can be gained by it, nothing except more internal criticism, dissatisfaction, and depression.

Remember…”You’re beautiful! You’re beautiful, it’s true!”

Another stab at poetry

She sits in the corner, quietly, meekly

Listening, seldom contributing to the

Conversations, crashing, roaring like the sea

She speaks and all listen now

Patiently, reverently, as she plods

Through an analogy or brings their attention to

Another point of view.

Sweet, kind great grandmother, white-faced

And weathered by time, docile as a doe

But stronger than bullet-proof vests used

By soldiers, and brave as any of their

Commanding officers. We played in her yard,

Drew on her sidewalk, ate ice cream under the

Porch, walked down the street to the waves

And stretch of beach there. She followed along with

A smile and a cheerful heart, despite being weary

With age. She crawled over the floor on knobby knees,

Joining our dolls in adventures, enticing us to come

And play together, despite disagreements. Back

Oh, I’d go back if I could, fleeing from

This world without great grandmother’s

Driveway, a path through rose bushes tall as hills

Leading to sanctuary, leading to a place of

Laughter, food, and fun. Now she lives high

Up in the sky, away from the water,

The people, the places she loved.

She’s at peace, although, we all

Live with our grief, large

Ever-present clouds looming above.

Still, day by day I find

Those clouds dissipating.

Steadily they make their reluctant retreat,

Lightning seething across a sky after a storm.

And the memories, precious, heartbreaking,

Lovely, remain.

Malcolm in the Middle

We all grew up with those shows that our mothers disapproved of, especially those of us who grew up in conservative, Christian homes. For a lot of my friends, it was SpongeBob. Their mothers thought the show was stupid, that it would make their kids stupid, and anyone who watched it was stupid. My mother watched a few episodes of the show and came to the conclusion that it was harmless. The topics and themes being discussed in each episode were innocent and silly enough that she was confident they wouldn’t mentally handicap us in the future. (Now, I have some friends who point out all the sexual innuendo that was underlying each episode and I’m horrified. Still, I stubbornly believe that if you watch SpongeBob with the innocence of a child, it’s a decent show about friendship and adorable sea creatures. At least, the first few seasons are. I stopped watching after season 6, I think…) What SpongeBob was for most mothers, Malcolm in the Middle was for mine.

Francis, Reese, Malcolm, and Dewey were always getting themselves into trouble, hurting each other, hurting the people around them, or financially crippling their parents in one way, shape, or form. They were disrespectful to pretty much everyone; they couldn’t seem to behave even in front of complete strangers. My mother was convinced their terrible behavior would somehow rub off on us kids. It also bothered my mother how much Hal and Lois had sex on the show. She admitted that it was important for a married couple to continue being intimate throughout their married years, especially after they had children. She just didn’t like the fact that they showed us the passionate make outs and the half naked clips.

Despite her reservations, Malcolm in the Middle always seemed to air before SpongeBob did, right after we came home from school. So when we turned on the TV to watch SpongeBob, we usually caught the last few minutes of an episode of Malcolm. I ended up seeing enough of the show to realize that it had its moments of hilarity but was, essentially, ridiculous. I’d never known a family that was as disruptive as theirs. I didn’t think it possible in the real world. Plus, if we caught a scene with the parents making out, we could always change the channel and check back later to see if SpongeBob had started. In reality, it was not as big a deal as my mother made it out to be. But she is our mother. She is always going to try to protect her kids from the big bad world, and I’m thankful for that even if it does make me roll my eyes or think her a little silly at the time.

Now, as an adult, I’m watching Malcolm in the Middle with my husband.

It all started after we finished the latest season of Dr. Who. It was rumored that a tenth season would be coming out, but there wasn’t anything posted on our favorite streaming site. We were caught up with Hawaii 5O, had already finished Sherlock, weren’t really in the mood for Supernatural or Burn Notice, so we started brainstorming. What shows were readily available? What shows were we curious about? What were we in the mood for? Somehow Malcolm came up. I think it was thrown out there as a joke but, after thinking about it for a bit, we thought: “Why not? We’re adults now. We can watch whatever we want.” (Always a surprising realization for me.) “Plus, if we don’t like it, we can always stop watching,” we reasoned. So we started the show.

It turns out, we really like it. (Sorry, Mom.)

My husband grew up in a house full of boys. They weren’t nearly as devious as Malcolm and his brothers, but my husband can relate to and appreciate a lot of the shenanigans the boys get into in the show. I mostly laugh and shake my head, and murmur, “We’re not going to do that when we have kids” or “We’re not going to let our kids get away with that” or “If my son does anything like that…” or “I hope we have girls.” It’s both nostalgic and educational…now that we’re adults.

I don’t think I could really appreciate this show as a kid. I couldn’t relate to the boys because my siblings and I were “good kids.” I couldn’t relate to Hal and Lois because I had no idea what it was like to be a parent. (I don’t have kids so, technically, I still don’t know what it’s like to be a parent but after many a late night conversation with my mother, mother-in-law, and other relatives with young children, I’m starting to get a better picture of what parenting is going to be like.) The things the parents go through on the show (being bullied by a car salesman, freaking out because they misplaced their paycheck, wanting to get away and do something nice for themselves only to have the event ruined for one reason or another) are things I can relate to now because of my life experiences. Now, I can watch these kids get into trouble and wonder how my parents would have handled a similar situation with me. Now, I can watch these kids plot against their mother and wonder how I can avoid having that kind of relationship with my future kids. Now, I can wonder at the things little boys think about and look forward to the random thoughts or actions or ideas of my future sons. Now, the things happening on this show are relevant to me.

Isn’t that funny? This show is supposed to be for kids and preteens, but here we are, enjoying it as adults. It’s still pretty ridiculous how much trouble Malcolm and his brothers get into, and I sometimes wish we had less information about the parents’ sex lives. But I can handle it now because I’m an adult. It’s kind of cool how a show that’s been over for almost ten years is still teaching and making people laugh today.

Adulting

The baby shower was going to start in twenty minutes and I didn’t have anything to wrap my present with. I had some tape, a bow, a lot of colored tissue paper, and a plethora of “Merry Christmas” gift bags, and that was pretty much it. I’d just been to the grocery store that morning and had remembered to snatch a card, but somehow I’d forgotten to get a gift bag. Fortunately, my sister-in-law (who was driving us both to this event) graciously offered to stop by the 99 cent store on the corner. I hopped out of the car, ran in, snatched the biggest baby gift bag I could find, and zipped into the check out line. Once outside, I stood at the curb and waited for my sister-in-law to come around the parking lot. I hurried up to her car when she was near enough, tucking a stray curl behind my ear.

That’s when I caught my reflection in the passenger’s side window.

I don’t see myself as an adult. I may be twenty-two years old but, physically, I’ve looked exactly the same since I was fifteen. I’ve had my own car, my own apartment, my own bills, and my own job ever since I was nineteen. I’ll be celebrating two years of marriage this May. I live in a four bedroom, two bathroom rental house with a husband, a very old, very fat tabby cat, and a hyperactive miniature Australian shepherd who can’t produce tears. (We still don’t know why. She was very sick with an unknown illness for the first six months of her life and we’re thinking all the different medications we had to give her might have damaged her tear-ducts somehow, but we can’t prove that. We should really get her to a dog eye specialist but we don’t have that kind of money, so we have to resort to giving her eye drops three to four times a day. Yes, we love this dog.) I plan meals and manage finances while balancing 30 hours a week at the office and 9 credit hours per semester.

I have goals for the future which involve finishing school, becoming a published, well-known author, and helping my husband the police officer raise our four kids. It all sounds very adultly, right? And yet, I still see myself as that fifteen-year-old girl who thought Twilight was the greatest love story ever told and didn’t know anything about the real world.

So when I looked into that car window and saw a young lady, all dolled up and ready to attend a baby shower, I blinked in surprise. Because, for a second there, I actually looked like an adult.

My husband believes we never really grow up. We might physically change and become more responsible as life demands, but that little kid lives on inside of us. Sometimes its voice is loud and its influence is strong, while at other times we can suppress it more successfully. With all the “adulting” memes out there, I think he might be right. I find that I feel the youngest when I’m geeking out about Star Wars or when I’m daydreaming about The Magical World of Harry Potter theme park or when I’m listening to the kind of emo music I used to listen to as a teenager or when I visit my old haunts in Mexico. That little kid inside me sure loves to throw a fit when the alarm goes off at 7 a.m. But then there’s the voice of reason, the voice of the Adult, reminding me of all the things I have to get done and how much work will pile up if I listen to the Kid and simply pull the covers over my head.

If I take a good look at the choices I’ve made throughout my life, I can honestly say that I’ve listened to the Adult more often than I’ve listened to the Kid. My husband often has to tell me when it’s time to relax or take a break or set the schedule aside and just hang out. Indulge the Kid. So why don’t I feel like an Adult more often?

Good question…

I think it’s because of the conviction that I don’t know anything. All right, that’s not entirely true. I’ve been in college for three years and have worked for three different establishments, and have read more books than I can count. After all that, I should know something, but every day I encounter new things. Every day it seems I come across an article, a person, a conversation heard in passing, or an event that reminds me of just how much I still have to learn about life, love, politics, insurance, government, taxes, credit, education, literature, creative writing, finance, morality, the Bible, my family members and friends, even my husband. There are still topics I don’t understand. There’s still stuff in this world that I haven’t discovered yet. It leaves me feeling like a child who’s still figuring it all out.

Sometimes I have to wonder: will I ever feel like an adult? Will I ever feel like I’ve got this life thing figured out? A part of me would like to have the answers to everything. It might make life simpler. But another part of me hopes that I won’t ever reach that point. Because what is someone supposed to do after they’ve discovered everything there is to know? Maybe that’s why it’s so important the keep that little kid around. After all, without it’s sense of wonder, humility, and discovery, how are we supposed to grow?

Stormy weather

Today’s the third day in a row that the skies have been overcast here in Phoenix, Arizona. It’s been raining on and off, and will continue to rain on and off throughout the weekend. Or so the weather forecast people say. I don’t know what it is about this weather but it makes it very hard to work. My desk is situated in a corner; there is a large window beside me and behind me. I have a clear picture of the cold, wet, gloomy world outside. It almost seems to muffle sounds, this invasion of storm clouds. The naked tree branches against the background of misty grey seem to make the sky bigger (if that’s possible). I find my mind wandering to my manuscripts, my works-in-progress, the stories floating around in my head that I haven’t written down yet. It’s almost as if a spell has been cast, a spell to heighten imagination and dim focus.

Don’t get me wrong. I love this weather. I’ll take cold and cloudy over clear skies and overpowering sun any day. But this isn’t working weather. It’s curl-up-on-the-couch-and-read-a-book weather, or have-a-movie-marathon-and-eat-ice-cream kind of weather, or write-while-listening-to-epic-movie-scores weather.

My dad grew up on a farm. His father woke him up before the sun rose to do work in the fields. On cloudy, rainy days, however, my dad was allowed to sleep in and have a lazy day indoors. That’s why he claims days like today make him feel lethargic. I don’t really have an excuse.

Still, I don’t think anyone can deny that there’s something special about rain.

I’ve had some pretty cool moments while it was raining. I used to play in the rain with my little brother. Many an adventure was had while lightning streaked across the sky. It rained for 12 hours while my family took a road trip to Sacramento. My brother and uncle took turns driving through the night and into the next day. I can still remember waking up in the back of the truck, shifting into a more comfortable position, seeing my big brother at the wheel with nothing but gray mist and water to be seen through the windshield. The cars speeding beside us made me nervous but I trusted my brother.

It was summer when I first moved to Phoenix. I was living with my grandparents until I could find my own place. I didn’t know it at the time, but Phoenix is known for their summer dust storms. The natives call them Haboobs. A strong wind will pick up a wall of dust that moves across the entire city, covering everything in a fine layer of dirt. Then some rain will come to turn the dirt into mud. My uncle, living in a rental house next door at the time, came over to take pictures of the dust storm. We sat in my grandparents’ garage, talking life and photography while we waited for lightning to illuminate the dreary sky. My future was still so uncertain but, for that hour and a half, it didn’t seem as scary.

During a thunderstorm, my landlord’s dog got loose and was going crazy outside. I snatched her and brought her into my little apartment to keep her safe until my landlord came home. She lay huddled beside me on the couch, trembling and whining every time the thunder rolled, while I watched a movie on my laptop. I was nineteen and experiencing my first big storm alone. That dog, although annoying, was a welcomed companion that night.

Another storm took out the power while I was working at Chipotle. Food safety protocol forced us to throw away all the food on the burrito line when it got cold. We waited for the power to come back on and then proceeded to cook more food. We were closed for almost three hours before the line was re-stocked again. I can still picture the unfortunate coworker, who had been assigned the job of turning people away, standing just outside the door in her windbreaker, kindly explaining over and over again why we were closed. In the months to come, one of us would look at the other after a particularly difficult shift and say something like, “Today was bad, but remember that one time when the power went out?”

While we were dating, my now husband parked his truck at a stop sign and tugged me outside to kiss me in the rain just because I mentioned I’d always wanted to be kissed in the rain. Also while we were dating, my now husband locked his keys in his truck for the first time during a storm. He spent almost an hour trying to break into his own car before he finally gave up. I let him stay at my apartment until the storm blew over and then drove him to his house for the spare key. We weren’t even talking about marriage yet but he gave me that spare key once the ordeal was over. As if he knew that it would be safe with me.

The first time my husband and I spent the night at the lake together, the weatherman said it would rain. We managed to get the tent up just before it started pouring. Then the wind picked up. It was kind of hard to be romantic newly weds when the cold, wet material of the tent was mere inches away from our faces. It rained so much that it soaked through our tent and our sleeping bags. We were forced to take everything down and drive back home at two in the morning. We were soaked, covered in mud, and exhausted by the time we got home.

It rained Christmas Eve of last year, the first holiday my husband and I hosted his family in our new house.

And it’s raining now.

I guess I feel the same way about rain as Lorelai Gilmore feels about snow. In one of the earlier seasons, it’s the middle of the night but Lorelai can’t sleep. She goes down stairs to throw the windows open and look out. When I was watching the episode, I was confused. Nothing’s happening, I thought. What is she waiting for? And then it started to snow. That look on her face…that look of hope and wonder and enchantment, must be the same one I’ve got on my face right now as I watch the rain fall through the window.

Maybe something wonderful will happen. Maybe something unfortunate will happen, something that I’ll be able to laugh and blog about later. Or maybe the rain will just fall and nothing will happen. Either way, I’ll be watching.

2016 Reflections

I know it’s a little late for a New Years letter, but that doesn’t mean I can’t blog about my 2016. I’m calling last year the Year of Change.

My husband and I moved out of our one room apartment in April. My grandparents own several houses that they rent out to growing families and college aged students. They offered one of those houses to us for a very generous rental price and we snatched it up. We had been blessed with our apartment; it was in a safe, clean, quiet environment, with great management and neighbors. But we had a dog that was in desperate need of a backyard and we were tired of not being able to host visiting family members. The school semester wasn’t over yet but we had very little time before our lease was up so it had to be done quickly. The two of us, with the help of a friend, moved everything out in an afternoon. It was a stressful and emotional time for me. I had things organized just the way I wanted at the apartment and it took time to re-organize everything into our new living space. Also it was the end of another chapter and I always get nostalgic about endings. I stood in the middle of our empty apartment after having scrubbed it clean from top to bottom, smiling a little and blinking back tears as I remembered the good times that were had there.

We love our new-to-us house and so does the dog. We were able to host our friends for Pumpkin Carving and Scary Movie night in October, my family for Thanksgiving, and my husband’s family for Christmas thanks to the extra rooms and larger living room space. It’s been a blast. I for one finally feel like an adult. We’re so thankful.

Following the theme of change, both my husband and I switched career paths this year.

My husband had this dream of going to medical school on the island of Saint Kitts (in the Caribbean), finishing his degree in their sister school in Maine, and then doing his residency here in Phoenix. It sounded like a wild adventure when we were dating and, even though I had my concerns about leaving our families and friends and everything we’d ever known, I was willing to go with him. I was willing to be brave and travel to places I’d never been before so long as we were together. But we’ve both wanted to have a family since we were very young. My husband was confident that we could do medical school and raise a family at the same time. Somehow. I wasn’t so sure. Still, we talked about it and prayed about it, until my husband came to me one day and said that he had decided to give up on medical school.

“If we’re serious about starting a family in the next few years, I’m going to need a different career path,” he said, to which I heartily agreed. It was hard for him to think of another career at first. My husband is a man of many talents but he’d had his heart set on medical school for such a long time that he didn’t know what else he wanted to do or even where to start looking. He literally received a sign shortly after making this decision. He was at work, helping his coworkers hang a bill board sign about police agencies hiring in the city. (Smee: I’ve just had an apostrophe. Captain Hook: I think you mean an epiphany. Smee: No… lightning has just struck my brain. Captain Hook: Well, that must hurt.) It was so obvious. My husband is strong, smart, quick on his feet, and just. Of course, he should be a police officer! So began the application process. It’s been a fury of studying, taking tests, filling out paper work, and going on ride alongs but it has been a blast for him. The current challenge is the upcoming physical exam. My husband’s current occupation is physically taxing and makes it hard to train but so long as he keeps trying, I’m confident he’ll succeed.

Growing up, my father always told me, “It’s okay to dream but keep your feet on the ground. Circumstances might not allow you to be a writer and stay-at-home-mother as you’d like to be. Think of a subject or area of study you could major in that could help your husband provide for your family should you need extra income.” So that’s what I did. I chose language. I’m already bilingual thanks to my Hispanic father and his family. I’d heard somewhere that being bilingual made it easier to learn other languages, so I thought I’d be a translator. Despite my desire to start with French, circumstances led me to American Sign Language. I ended up really enjoying it. I took four classes and was about to start the Interpreter’s program when complications arose between my work schedule and the class scheduling. An advertisement about a creative writing program on the school’s website caught my eye.

I’ve read many articles about writing query letters, self and traditional publishing, and book marketing. I’ve sent over 100 query letters over the past two-three years and received nothing but polite rejections. Still, the beta readers who read my work insisted I had talent. My writing, which had always been a hobby and an unrealistic dream, was fast becoming frustrating. Did I have what it took to be a successful author or not? With my current career path being blocked at every corner, it was time to find out. I started with Intro to Creative Writing and Intro to Writing Fiction, both of which I loved and aced. I received good criticism from my classmates and some much needed validation from my teachers (adults who had studied this area and could spot the difference between good writing and mediocre writing). I still don’t know if I have what it takes to be successful in the writing world, but I know I’ve got something good going on here.

I’ve read that agents receive millions of queries daily. To stick out from the crowd, you need what anyone else needs for a resume: education, experience, and proof of talent. Once I complete this creative writing program, I’ll have an Academic Certificate in Creative Writing (basically an associates). With it, I can transfer to a university and begin a bachelors in English if I wanted. It’s more education than I had two-three years ago when I started querying. The easiest way to gain some publishing experience is to be published. I’ve submitted some of my short stories into literary magazine contests. No bites yet but I can’t give up. Proof of talent in the writing world is having a following. Agents help with some book marketing but I’ve read time and time again that 90% of an author’s book marketing is done by the author. Having a following/readership reassures the agent that a writer is willing to do most if not all of the heavy lifting. Through blogging, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram I hope to develop my following.

All the while I work on my manuscripts in the hopes that one day I’ll be ready to submit query letters again, this time with confidence. In my endeavors, I’ve learned a lot about writing, publishing, and book marketing. It’s become more and more apparent to me that the fulfillment of this crazy dream is going to take a lot of work, especially for an introvert who was determined not to have a social media presence not so long ago. But this feels right. Whether anything comes out of this or not, I’m going to see it through.

While all of this was happening, my husband was learning how to have long distance relationships with his family. One brother moved to Los Angeles to study film and work. Another brother moved to Hawaii to work in the student ministries department at a church in Maui. The third brother still lives in Phoenix but being a full time student keeps him very busy. My mother-in-law, who suddenly found herself with an empty house, decided it was time for an adventure and took a job in Wisconsin. For my husband, who has always been able to drive ten minutes to see his mother and brothers, this has been a huge adjustment. I went through similar stages of grief and homesickness when I moved out of my parents’ house in southern California to study and work in Phoenix. It’s been hard to go through this with him but it’s made his relationships with his family stronger. Because they’re so far away, his brothers make more of an effort to call and text. They’re learning and growing, and sharing their experiences with their older brother. That part has been fun.

2016, the Year of Change indeed.

It’s hard to think 2017 could possibly top it. But yet again it’s only January.

The vamp and the boring dud

Nina left the room after I announced my engagement.

Papa already knew because Wes had asked him first, but he smiled and congratulated us just the same. Momma let out a girlish shriek of excitement and ran into the kitchen for that bottle of cider she’d been saving for a special occasion. My brother, Phillip, rose from the sofa to help his very pregnant wife stand and give us hugs. He proceeded to shake Wesley’s hand and give him a crooked smile.

My sister-in-law squeezed my shoulders despite the baby bump between us. “Oh, Bea! That’s wonderful news! I’m so happy for you two!” She released me to take Wesley’s face in her hands and beam up at him. “I knew you were going to stick around! I just knew it!”

Wes smiled around the hands over his cheeks. “Thanks, Opal.”

I turned to smile at my sister, expecting to see her still standing by the floor lamp, waiting for her turn to congratulate me. But she was gone, the screen door closing behind her with a quiet click. I kept the smile on my face despite my disappointment and excused myself before slipping out into the night.

Nina leaned her elbows against the railing and lit the cigarette dangling from her lips. I used to think she looked so cool with a ciggy between her fingers, colored eyelids drooped, long lashes casting shadows across her prominent cheekbones, ruby red lips pouting ever so delicately. Nina was blessed with all the confidence and genes needed to be a choice bit of calico in this decade. The dress of a flapper couldn’t hide my curves and my bob could hardly be contained by a cloche hat. Plus, I’d always been too afraid of Papa’s disapproval to smoke.

I took a deep breath and stepped forward. “What’s eating you, Nina?”

She was too quick to smile. “Everything is Jake, Sweet Bea. I was just craving a smoke.”

I joined her by the railing. “Did I upset you with my announcement?”

Nina blew a raspberry and rolled her eyes. “Course not. It’s a surprise but not something to be upset about.”

I blinked. “Phillip bringing a woman of color home to meet our parents was a surprise. Wes and I have been going steady for over a year now. It’s only reasonable that the next step for us would be—”

“Julius and I have been seeing each other about the same amount of time and you don’t see me sporting a handcuff.”

I bit my lip and averted my gaze, sliding a hand over my engagement ring. I hated her a little for ruining this night for me. I wanted to say Julius was too much of a coward to get a divorce and would probably never be faithful to Nina even if he did. But I held my tongue.

Nina took a drag from her cigarette and sighed. “I’m sorry, Sweet Bea. I really am happy for you. Wesley is swell. You’re going to be a great wife.”

Now say it like you mean it, I thought. “Thanks…”

Nina scrunched up her face. “But level with me, sis. Are you sure you’re going to be happy having so little? Being a waitress can’t pay much and Wesley’s job at the railroad isn’t exactly a career.”

“I have everything I could possibly want; parents who support me, an honest and hardworking man who’s goofy about me, friends and siblings who care about me, and a steady job. What more is there?”

My sister chuckled and turned back to the Chicago skyline. “Oh, Bea, you’re adorable.”

“What more is there,” I said with a frown, “that matters?”

Nina’s smile grew sadder and slightly less condescending. “You’ve always been so easy to please.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.

Nina waved an impatient hand at the house behind us. “You’re content to be a clergyman’s daughter and follow his rules and sit in church every week. You’re happy waiting on customers and wearing our cousins’ hand-me-downs—”

I defensively wrapped my arms around my jumper.

“And being a good housewife and bearing children and serving the same man until you’re old. You’ve never thirsted for something more, something better, in your entire life. You’ve never been the least bit curious about new things or brave enough to voice your opinion.”

I remembered with bitter clarity the last time I had ‘tried something new’ with my sister.

 

Nina had persuaded Momma to let me spend the night at her place because she was long overdue for a girls’ night. I was under the impression that we’d get dolled up and go out to eat, maybe go to the movies before returning to her flat. The moment I stepped through Nina’s front door, she dragged me to her closet to ask for my opinion on what she should wear.

“Julie’s meeting us downtown and I have to look keen.”

To which I replied, “I thought we were having a girl’s night, Nina Bean.”

My sister huffed. “Don’t call me that! I’m hardly as thin as a string bean anymore. We’re still having a girl’s night. I just want you to meet Julius first.”

So I gave my opinion on Nina’s outfit and squeezed into one of her flapper dresses. I let her do my makeup and wrap a silk scarp around my head, and then we were off. Nina was acting like a schoolgirl, giggling and gushing about her new sheik, while we waited for him outside the speakeasy that masqueraded as a diner. This man, who was the coolest ‘egg’ Nina had ever met, pulled up in a shiny new breezer and honked his horn at us. Nina plastered herself to the side of the car to give the driver a kiss.

Once out on the sidewalk, Julius wrapped an arm around my tall, slender sister and walked over. His head barely reached her breast, but he spoke loudly enough to be noticed by all. His dark hair was sleeked back under his maroon homburg. He sported a gray pinstriped suit with a maroon vest to match his hat, and black and white lace up oxfords. He called Nina ‘smarty’ and complimented her dress before he even noticed me.

“Julie, this is my sister, Beatrice. Bea, this is my Julius,” Nina said.

Julius vigorously shook my hand. “Nice to meet you, doll.”

“Oh, you’re such a charmer!” Nina exclaimed before turning to me. “Isn’t he a charmer?”

“Sure,” I said, not that she heard me.

“Let’s go inside. I’m dying for a lap.” Nina led the way, arm-in-arm with Julius. She spared me a glance over her shoulder when she’d reached the door. “Don’t look so terrified, Sweet Bea. This juice joint is hip to the jive! It’ll be fun!”

With great trepidation, I followed them into the basement. Three drinks, four songs played entirely too loud and fast, and two dances later, I was being groped by a man I didn’t know and had no intention of knowing. The lovebirds I was tagging along with magically reappeared from wherever they had slipped off to. Julius slugged the stranger in the stomach while Nina dragged me outside and away from the ruckus. We reached the alley in time for me to throw up all over the pavement and Nina’s dress.

“Oh, Bea! I’m so sorry! Are you all right?” Nina tugged a handkerchief from her purse and dabbed at my face.

I let out a moan and sank back against the wall. “I want to go home.”

Nina sighed. “I can’t bring you to Momma like this. Let’s just go back to my place, all right?”

Julius emerged then, looking angrier than a swarm of bees. “That futz-face won’t be coming around this place again. How’s your sister?”

“She’s fine, Julie, but I really think I ought to put her in bed. Could you take us home?”

 

I crossed my arms now, mentally channeled this memory to my sister, and waited for her to remember.

Nina cast me a sideways glance. “The night you met Julius doesn’t count.”

“Why not? It was the first time I’d ever been to a sp…”

A burst of laughter from inside the house reminded me there was only a screen door and several footsteps between us and the rest of our family.

I lowered my voice. “It was the first time I’d ever done something illegal before. And what about my hair?”

Nina shrugged. “What about it?”

“You shamed me into getting it cut this way because you were so certain it would make me look fashionable! ‘All your life it’s been long,’ you said, ‘and wouldn’t it be nice to have it styled differently for a change?’ Maybe if I’d been ‘brave enough to voice my opinion’ and said no right away, I wouldn’t look like I have a crow’s nest on the top of my head!”

Nina coughed and sputtered out a laugh.

I self-consciously patted my curls and scowled at her. “I know Wesley hates it, but he’s too much of a gentleman to say anything. It’s a good thing we’re waiting until the spring to get married, otherwise I’d have to…”

Nina rolled her eyes. “It looks fine. You’re being ridiculous.”

“Speaking of ridiculous, just what is wrong with being a housewife and having children?” I demanded.

My sister blew out a stream of smoke and flicked the cigarette butt into the grass. “Nothing, of course. Why would you do anything different? It’s all women are good for.”

I gritted my teeth to keep from swearing. I took a deep breath and slowly let it out. “Just because I’m looking forward to spending the rest of my life with the man I love doesn’t mean I’m ignorant or stupid.”

Nina cast me an annoyed glance. “I never said you were.”

“Then stop insinuating that your way is best! Not all of us want to be vamps who drink until they vomit and dance with strangers. Some of us actually want to grow up.”

Nina’s jaw dropped. “Bea…”

“Tonight was supposed to be a celebration!” My voice cracked. “Why couldn’t you just be happy for me?” I spun on my heel and marched into the house, blinking away tears.

 

Wes climbed the tree by my bay window and tapped the glass with his knuckles. I rolled out of bed and threw on a robe before shuffling over.

“Were you sleeping?” he asked once I’d opened the window.

I sat on the cushioned bench and hugged my knees. “You know I can’t sleep after I’ve had a fight.”

Wes shifted on the branch, most likely to get into a more comfortable position. Leaves came loose with an audible shuffle before they flitted to the ground. Wes flinched and looked down at my parents’ window. He let out a sigh of relief when the light stayed off. Then he turned those soft green eyes on me. “What happened tonight, Bea?”

I swallowed the lump of anger and self-pity as best I could. “Oh, it was just Nina being Nina. I’m not dating a married man and twisting the night away like she is so, naturally, I’m a boring dud.”

Wes frowned. “She wasn’t happy for you?”

“Marriage apparently was designed to belittle and enslave women all around the world. Ugh! She drives me crazy!”

“Did she say those words exactly?” Wes asked.

“No,” I murmured, “but she was awfully upstage about the whole thing. I don’t understand how she came to hate marriage so much. My parents have a wonderful relationship. It’s not perfect, never has been, but they’ve found happiness in whatever situation they’ve encountered because they have each other and God between them. Opal practically saved Phillip after he came back from the war! True love and commitment are so medicinal to the soul. Why can’t Nina see that?”

Wes chewed on the inside of his cheek for a moment. “Could it be that she’s jealous?”

“Free-spirited, sophisticated Nina jealous of me?” I scoffed. “Unlikely.”

“Well,” Wes said carefully, “her younger sister is getting married before her. Despite what she thinks about marriage, the fact that she hasn’t been asked yet says something about her.”

I shook my head. “Even if she was asked, she’d just say no. The thought of depending on or being under anyone’s rule is too horrible. Why do you think she left home so soon after finishing high school? Momma and Papa were willing to go into debt to pay for higher education, but she wouldn’t have it. She worked herself to the bone paying for college and rent all so that she could be free.”

Wes reached out to take my hand. “You shouldn’t let this bother you so much, Bea. We’re still getting married.”

I half smiled when I noticed the leaf caught in his hair. I sat up and ran my fingers through his golden locks to remove it. He was right. Of course, he was right. I didn’t need Nina’s approval. It was only…

My smile faded. “I’ve always been able to talk to Nina about anything. I was looking forward to planning the wedding with her and Momma and Opal. I wanted to ask Nina to be my maid of honor. I don’t think any of that is going to happen now.” My eyes stung with the coming of new tears. “The more we grow, the less we have in common and I feel…Oh, Wes, I feel like I’m losing her.”

“That could never happen,” Wes said with confidence. “She’s your sister. She’ll come around to supporting our wedding when she realizes how much her involvement means to you. You’ll see.”

 

Nina never apologized for what happened that night.

I extended an invitation through Momma when I was going to try on wedding dresses several weeks later, and Nina brought her biggest smile. She gave her honest opinion on every dress I tried, and gushed about flowers and lace. She held her new nephew and complimented Opal on making such a beautiful boy. She didn’t even complain when the child spit up on her. My sister graciously agreed to be my maid of honor and be as involved as I needed her to be.

The months flew by. The day came. Nina stood behind me while I tied the knot with Wesley. She smiled for the pictures, she made a toast, and she joined the rest of the bridal party into tying cans to the back of Wes’s car. She threw the rice and waved goodbye. I saw very little of her after that. Married life proved to be more hectic than I expected, but even when I tried to reach out to her, there was always a good reason why we couldn’t get together. Then Christmas time came around and Momma told me Nina had promised to come home for dinner. As excited as I was to finally be in the same room with my big sister, I quickly realized nothing had changed.

Nina arrived with Julius, wearing a fur trimmed coat and suede slippers. She was cordial to Wes, but only spoke to him when she absolutely had to. She talked about her gossip column at the newspaper and the new friends she’d made at a publishing house. She was writing a book and, by golly, it was going to get published. Julius’ car sales business was booming. He and Nina had gotten a place together, bigger and more impressive than Nina’s old flat. But he was still married. His wife came to the house halfway through our gift exchange, forcing Julius to hurriedly retreat. I watched Nina strike up conversation with Phillip while her sheik and his wife argued outside. That plastic smile of hers did little to hide her unhappiness. I couldn’t take it anymore. I snagged her arm and led her upstairs to my old room.

“Bea, what in the world?” Nina said as I shut the door behind us.

“How can you possibly be happy with him?” I demanded. “You’ve been together for two years and he’s still with his wife!”

Nina rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. “Ours is a complicated relationship, one I hardly expect you to understand.”

“Hooey!” I said with barely controlled fury. “You’re giving him the freedom to switch from her bed to yours whenever he feels like it. And why? Because he buys you nice presents and pays for your new apartment?”

“Stop judging me!” Nina snapped. “Not all of us are happy to live in rags!”

I threw my hands in the air. “When have you ever lived in rags?”

Nina laughed harshly. “All throughout college, and a year or so after that while I was looking for a job.”

That was the first I’d ever heard of it. I sputtered in disbelief before I found my voice. “If you needed help, why didn’t you come home and let our parents take care of you?”

Nina waved my words away, lip curled in disgust. “Papa and Phillip both tried to talk me out of leaving, but I was sure I was ready to be on my own. I would rather starve than prove them right.”

I made a sound of pity and disbelief at the back of my throat. “You’re a dumbbell if you think either of them would ever say ‘I told you so.’”

Silence descended.

Nina ran a hand through her hair. “Am I such a terrible person for wanting some security, some luxury?”

“Of course not,” I said. “But you’re going about it all wrong.”

Nina smirked. “Says who? Momma and Papa?”

I frowned. “Says me. You and Julius are just using each other for your own means. You want to be pampered? You want to be provided for? Find a respectable man with a good career and an even better heart, fall in love with him, wait until he loves you enough to deny all other women, and say yes when he asks you to marry him.”

Nina chuckled. “Not all of us can have the same perfect, happy ending as you, Bea. Julius and I work for now. Why can’t you just be happy for me?”

“Because. It’s. Wrong. Why is this so hard for you to understand?”

Nina rolled her eyes yet again, marched over to the bay window, and wrenched it open. She dug around her new purse for a pack of cigarettes and a lighter.

“You shouldn’t do that,” I said, suddenly tired.

“What can they do?” Nina asked around her ciggy. “I don’t live under their roof anymore. I’m not a child.”

You could’ve fooled me…

I knew it was wrong the moment I thought it. Nina was never like this when we were girls. As a young lady, she was stubborn but brave. She knew what she wanted and went for it. She didn’t let anything get in the way of her dreams and she held onto her convictions no matter what. She always stood up for her shy, self-conscious, little sister. We used to whisper and giggle at all hours of the night until Momma would pound on the wall, remind us what time it was, and tell us to go to sleep or else. We used to be inseparable.

Nina took a drag and glanced at me out of the corner of those dark eyes. Exhaustion and sympathy tugged at her face. “Don’t cry, Sweet Bea. I don’t hate you. We’re just different, that’s all.”

I wiped my face.

Nina abandoned her place by the window and approached me. “We’ll always be sisters.”

I chuckled bitterly. “Sisters who only see each other on holidays? Sisters who argue because they don’t have anything in common?”

Nina brought the cigarette back to her lips, hand trembling. But she didn’t take another puff. Instead, she croaked, “I love you, Bea.”

I wrapped my arms around her and buried my face in her shoulder. She was so thin. So fragile. Suddenly, I wanted to take her someplace far away where she’d be safe from her world of smoke and gray areas and warped priorities. “I love you too, Nina Bean.”

She stroked my hair with her free hand. “I’m so proud of you. Have I ever told you that?”

I shook my head.

I could hear the smile in her voice when she said, “You have a sweet attitude and such simple needs. You’re so…happy with your lot in life. Sometimes I wish I could be more like you.”

I laughed into the beaded swirls of her dress. “Sometimes I wish you were more like you and less like the 20s.”

Nina pulled away. “It’s the world we live in, Sweet Bea. I’m just trying to survive in it.”

 

I didn’t see Nina for two years. I only heard little snippets of news from Momma. I often prayed for my sister and wished her well. I missed her all the time, but whenever I found the courage to write to her, the words escaped me. I’d sit at my desk and stare at the empty page, pen poised, head empty. I’d get so sad and so angry; I’d just end up crumpling up the page and tossing it across the room.

Then my daughter was born. She came early. Phillip and Opal were out of town visiting her folks, but Momma and Papa were on their way to the hospital. Wes was getting a bite to eat in the cafeteria. The door to my room opened and I looked up from my baby girl’s face to see my sister enter.

Her hair was still short, but she wore less makeup. Her dress still ended below the knee, but it was a wrap around with quarter sleeves and made of cotton. There was no fringe or beading. A short string of pearls hung from her neck and black pumps decorated her feet. She carried a small box wrapped in bright pink paper. She gave me a sheepish smile. “Hello, new Momma.”

I smiled back. “Hello, Aunt Nina.”

She slowly approached, like I was a skittish horse that might run away if she came too quickly. “What’s her name?”

I watched my girl’s sleepy little face for a moment. “I can’t decide between Eleanor or Elaine.”

Nina placed her parcel on the bed beside me and leaned in to take a peek at the babe in my arms. “She’s definitely an Eleanor. She’s beautiful, Bea. A perfect little doll.”

“Thanks.” I glanced at her out of the corner of my eye. “You look good.”

Nina placed a hand on my shoulder. “Considering you just gave birth to another human being, you’re not looking so bad yourself.”

I laughed and held the child out to her. “Would you like to hold her?”

Nina took Eleanor in her arms, brow wrinkled in uncertainty. But the more she held that baby, the more relaxed she became. I made room for her on the bed and patted the spot beside me.

I playfully nudged her once she had settled in. “So what have you been up to?”

We reconnected in that hospital room. We talked and laughed like we did when we were girls, as if the past few years had never happened. Nina was still Nina; fearless and stubborn. But she was an older and more weathered version of my sister, one created by years of wandering this city and figuring out this life on her own. Different though we still were, it was suddenly all right because these versions of ourselves, like the ones that came before, were temporary. Necessary phases. Parts of our history. Pieces of a puzzle not yet whole.

 

The charred stump

We visited my grandparents in Mexico for New Years.

My family has done this every year for as long as I can remember, and my husband supported the tradition even after we got married. New Years in Mexico is a time of eating tamales and sugar cookies, sipping hot chocolate by the bond fire, playing Mario Kart and Super Smash on the Wii, watching well-loved movies with Spanish subtitles, and waking up with a jolt when the firecrackers start sounding at midnight. (For those of you who can stay up until midnight, I envy you. I haven’t been able to stay up past 10:30 pm since I got married. I think it’s made me officially old.)

The first time I brought my husband to Mexico to meet my extended family, I took him on a walk around the village. I spent the whole time pointing at landmarks and telling him stories of my childhood, all of which he patiently listened to and chuckled at. The second time he crossed the border with me, we found ourselves taking another walk. This time there was more silence between us as we each breathed in the moist air and simply enjoyed the scenery. It became our own little tradition of sorts. This New Years was no different. Despite the fact that it had been raining on and off for the past three days and the dirt roads had turned into mud rivers, we headed out of my grandparents’ house to uphold tradition.

We tried to stay on the drier parts of the road, the parts that were made up of more sand than dirt. But after a while the mud began to stick to the bottoms of our shoes and accumulate. We slid several times, reaching out with desperate hands to grab a hold of each other and steady ourselves before we could end up on the ground. Slowly but surely, we made our way around the fields and to my old, old, tree. (See previous post). Instead of the welcoming sight of pine-like needles and wrinkly, old bark, I saw a partially demolished hill and a charred stump. I stood there for a minute, blinking at the sight and trying to understand. The hill literally looked as if a giant had taken a bite out of it. The black stump and withering branches sat off to the side and at an angle, as if they had been carelessly shoved aside.

I can’t explain the grief that suddenly struck me between the eyes. It was just a tree, just a shady spot I used to escape to whenever I needed a quiet moment to myself. But it was also the place where I did all my deep thinking and dreaming as a kid. It was the place I always retreated to when I came to visit as an adult. After greeting the aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents, and spending some time indoors…I came here. Now it was gone. My husband took me in his arms and said he was sorry. All I could think to say was, “Many of these trees were my friends, creatures I had known since nut and acorn. They had voices of their own…” (Lord of the Rings reference, for those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about.) Only a few tears escaped but the sorrow remained. This place, this village that was always supposed to stay the same, was changing. It had been for years but that change had been subtle. There was nothing subtle about this.

Where will this introvert go to think and reminisce the next time she visits Mexico? I guess she’ll just have to find another tree to sit under. But it will never be the same.