Monday, July 4, 2011

"Zumba Changed My Wife"

     On Saturday we were packed in like sticky sweaty little puppies, waiting for Zumba to start. The doors were open, Transformer-like floor fans roared, but still it was stifling.
     "We're already dripping sweat and we haven't even started yet," we whined.
     Finally the room filled with music and Ana our Zumba Guru started to move. We stopped our complaining and forgot that we didn't even have an arm's length apart from each other to move.
     The typical whoops, whistles and cheers that have become our soundtrack drowned out the droning fan.
     Belly-dancing music came on and Ana led us through the slow, silky introduction before the melody burst into a wild tangle of sound. We mimicked the piercing primal chant of the song.
     Suddenly, this woman bolted from her spot a row in front of mine, and started to dance next to Ana. Her moves were of a woman possessed.  She was powerfully large and her thick, dark braid, veined with gray, pulsated as she moved.
     Her beaded forehead glistened under the lights.
     Her raw chants silenced ours.
     Her flesh became the vibration of the music.
     She shimmied. She shook.
     Her cupped hands sliced through the air.
     I stopped dancing to watch her. My hands flew up to cover my mouth in awe. I tried to figure out her story. What if she was a famous belly-dancer when she was young and in her prime? Or...maybe she's been an oppressed housewife her whole life, complacent and obedient, and this was the first time she'd ever done anything so daring.
     I looked around. Most people had stopped dancing to watch.
     The room had erupted in celebratory laughter and cat calls. We clapped along to the beat.
     We cheered for her because whatever her story was, this 50-something year-old-woman had gotten her sexy back.
     We cheered because whatever our story was, we could get our sexy back too!

     Unfortunately, Ana our guru did not seem to share in our excitement. She just kept following her own routine, throwing confused, nervous glances over at the woman.
     She would not give her center stage!...this woman whose native music had filled her veins with life.
     Finally, the woman stopped dancing and bowed a little to Ana, smiling sheepishly. She came back to her spot in front of me. I just had to give her a hug. Others came up to hug her. For the rest of the hour people hugged her. Thanked her for giving us this gift.
     Ana, come on now! I can't believe you missed it.
     You inspired her! You inspired us.
     You helped us believe it isn't over yet...
     even if we don't turn heads on the street as much...
     even if stretching before and after Zumba has become a necessity and not just a formality...
     A few weeks ago you were selling Zumba bumper stickers. One said,
     "Zumba Changed My Wife"
     and ain't that the truth.
     In the year I've been doing your Zumba class, I've watched middle-aged women start coming to your class religiously and become inspired to change their lives.
     I've watched them widdle their bodies into sculpted sculptures...probably the best they've ever looked in their lives.
     What more could a guru hope for?

     The woman honored you in the only way she knew how.


Thursday, June 30, 2011

Random Night

Managed to slip out front to watch the sunset
while Eli watched TV
and Savvy, Paul played the Disney Princess memory game
she manages to kick our asses at, every single time.

It felt so good to get fresh air,
all by myself.
I thought about what a miracle
it was:
the day had come
when I could slip out
like that, undetected.

I flipped through the library books
I hadn't had the chance to look at,
but I also looked up.
From where I sat,
the sunset orange lit up the house
on the tippy-top of the 
highest hill
Whittier's own Hollywood Sign.

The branches of the tall tall tree behind our rooftop
formed a heart (corny but true).
Another intricate crochet of twigs and leaves
and branches made me think
that words are just like that.
Every twig seems meaningless
on its own but all together
they are a majestic, timeless tree.
A life.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Haircut

     The other day, Paul walked over to me and tried to give me his dusty hair-clipper kit. We'd bought it when Eli was still little enough not to care what happened to his hair, and had only used it once. Paul was forbidden to ever go near Eli with it again after what he did to his poor hair.
     "I need you to shave my head," he said. I laughed at first. Yeah right he was gonna let me mess with his hair. But when I saw he was serious I shook my head no and then more adamantly from side to side.
     Nope. No. No way.
     Can you imagine? I rarely do his laundry because it's never the way he would do it. Why would I risk fucking up something he carries around with him 24/7? You can't just rewash a botched haircut.
     "I've been to Supercuts three times now! The wait is ridiculous! It's not worth the money for the few minutes it takes them to buzz my head!" ...and they take only a few minutes BECAUSE THEY KNOW WHAT THEY'RE DOING!!!!! I reminded him.
     And so ended up outside on the patio. He sat on one of the patio chairs, with only a dusty, cobwebbed window for reflection.
     "Could I in any way hurt you with these?" I asked over the chainsaw buzzing of the clippers. My shaky hand was almost to his skull. I took a deep breath and tried to force only happy thoughts into my head. Love. Peace.
     ...Because of what happened the last time Paul went surfing. It was the last day of our Spring Break and I was done. I'd kicked myself for saying: "Of course!" when, earlier that week, he'd asked if it was OK with me if he went surfing the last Sunday of our break.
     He was heading out the door, surf board tucked lovingly under his arm, a spring in his step I've only seen when he is going surfing.
     He tried to kiss me goodbye as I did the dishes.
     "OK then."
     "What's wrong?"
     "Nothing. Just go. Be careful. Don't drown..." I said.
     An hour later the doorbell rang. He'd had an accident on his surfboard and landed on his knee. He said the pain had been excruciating. It was a good thing he hadn't landed on his head .
     "You cursed me!" he said.
     We joked about my magic powers. But his knee got worse and he kept saying I'd cursed him and while I obviously don't have magic powers, I'd started to wonder if he really believed I'd wished him harm. Wasn't that just the same as an evil spell?
     I held the weap-- ahem--clippers in mid-air. My arm shook. I imagined accidentally carving out a piece of his skull, blood spurting. The peaceful thoughts would not come. Only fear of myself. Self-doubt.
     "Go ahead," he said, "start at my temples."
     Not the temples!  I saw a vein pulsating.  What if I...
     Finally, a connection. Blade to scalp. The hair came off smoothly, like clearing a cornfield. Straight little rows. No blood. My shoulders relaxed.  I could do this.
     "Done," I sighed. Relief.
     ...Only he ran up to the bathroom and said I wasn't. I'd left patches, he said. The hair at his nape was jagged and crooked.
     "You're gonna have to do it bare blade," he said, once again sitting down in front of the dusty window makeshift mirror, "It was too much hair. You didn't get close enough to the scalp." 
     For good reason...
     He handed me the clippers.
     I learned what "bare blade" means...stared at the gash of exposed white scalp right smack in the middle of his skull.
     I tried to fix it.
     I tried to fix it some more.
     "Now I'll have to shave more off..." I said.
     "NO! No! Just leave it." I followed him up to the bathroom and winced as I saw his reaction.
     He seemed to be holding his breath.
     He blinked a lot.
     "You made me..." I whined.
     He exhaled.
     "It's only hair. As soon as the sun hits it it won't be so obvious. It'll even out..."
     I exhaled.
     Was it a test?
     If so, we were both relieved.  All I had power over, really, was a bad haircut.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

The End of Things

     On our way to Eli's soccer game one (way too early) Saturday morning, we drove by Chuck and Sonny's house. They were having a yard sale and I yelled at Paul to stop! It had been way too long since I'd talked to them. I jumped out of the truck, Savvy in tow.
     Chuck saw me first and my heart melted when I saw the smile spread over his face. He came over and gave me one of his bear hugs...hugs like no other. He is a big cozy guy with hugs that I can only explain as home. You never want to have to leave.
     It was his birthday that week and he was turning 54. Sonny is also around that age. They showed off their garden, an impressive maze of color and aroma and many herbs and veggies I'd never even heard of.
     Then they told me that they'd both lost their jobs.
     "What now?" I asked.
     "Don't look so scared," Chuck laughed, "We're taking a month off and then we'll see."
     I just stared. Didn't say what I was thinking as I looked around the house they'd waited so long for. And I hoped that all those people they'd housed and fed and nurtured back to emotional health would step up. I hoped karma would serve Chuck and Sonny well.
     I bought a set of small pea green saucepans with flowers painted on them that I was sure they'd had since the '70's. I'd think of them every time I looked at the funky green treasures.
     And then it was time to say goodbye.
     "Do you ever miss the old times on Friends Ave.?" I asked Chuck.
     "We talk about them all the time," he sighed.
      In our apartment complex, Chuck and Sonny, (grand central),  lived in the front apartment. James and Jason lived above us. During our famous BBQ's, the place became one big commune. The doors of all the apartments would be unlocked and wide open, lights ablaze. We'd walk in and out of each other's pads.
     We'd have BBQ's once a month and the whole block was invited. The guys would somehow get the most reclusive of neighbors to come. There were bday BBQ's, holiday BBQ's, BBQ's because we'd all gotten paid, or because one of us needed a pick me up. Eventually, there was the pre-wedding BBQ for Paul and I :).
     When I moved in and became an official member of the family, they assured me I had nothing to worry about. I was safe with five guys living in the apartment complex.
     "The only reason I'd peep through your bathroom window is to tell you that your bra does not match with your panties, girl," Chuck said.
     Even then, we knew it was too good to last long.
     It was a wink in time. None of us had started our real life:
     ...the overwhelming responsibilities of mortgages and kids and getting old...

     Ahhh...the end of things...
     the end of things hurts.
     My Trishie is retiring. She has been one of my best friends for almost 20 years. She saw me through long flippy hair, short dikey hair. She was one of the few who was excited when I decided to get dreadlocks.
     She has made me eat my words when I got married and had two kids. Once upon a time I was single and angry and adamant about keeping my freedom.
     My mantra was: "Wedding Rings. Golden Shackles."
     Monday mornings she'd anxiously await a story about a date I'd been on that weekend.
     She was the only one I wanted in the room the first time I tried breastfeeding at home. The baby screamed because it wasn't working and she just sat there, talking as if all was normal.
     When Eli's teacher told me he'd be "suspended" from pre-school if he doesn't potty train by the end of the month, Trish said, "I don't know any 18-year-olds who aren't potty trained."
     About every crisis she said, "I don't know any 18-year-olds who...[fill in the blank]"
     She baked a birthday cake for EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US, EVERY SINGLE YEAR.  I swear some of those people didn't even remember their own bdays until they saw their cake.
     I can't begin to imagine how many are on her bday list now.
     People humbly ask her to please be added to the list.
     She decorated the cakes with fresh flowers, picked from the school garden
     I would see her at that garden picking flowers, while I was caught up in some meaningless work-related drama. Suddenly my shoulders would relax. I had to smile.
     "New flowers won't grow if the old ones are still there," she'd explain, and off she'd walk back to her classroom, nose buried in sweetpeas.
     It had been a while since we'd left the yard sale at Chuck and Sonny's house and Savvy was worried.
     "Are we lost, mommy?" She didn't wait for me to answer. She knows me well enough. Of course we were lost. She started to cry because we'd missed Eli's game.
     Just then, we crossed the street and started walking on a block lined with shedding Jacaranda trees.
     "It's raining purple!" Savvy said, her face turned up, an offering to the sky. She spun around as a breeze kicked up and purple petals rained down on us.
     I looked up at the anemic looking trees and thought it sad that they'd have to lose such beautiful blooms.
     "New flowers won't grow if the old ones are still there," Trish would say.


Sunday, May 22, 2011


     I slip off my loop earrings and bracelets
     toss them in my purse.
     At a light, I fish around and find
     a semi-clean tissue and wipe off
     the red lipstick.
     High heels have long been exiled
     to the back seat
     and yet I pull into my driveway and know
     I have not stripped myself entirely of the work week.
     Half this and half that,
     I take a deep breath and walk through the door.
     Friday's here but we are all still there.
     The four of us will spend the night
     painfully becoming our Weekend Selves.
     We have, after all, spent the week as,
     and with,
     other people.
     We have lived
     in other places.

     The sun will set on the weekday
     and four ghosts will wander from room to room.
     There will be crying meltdowns or
     absent eyes sitting in front of a screen. 
     By Sunday we'll start to recognize each other.
     I start to feel like more than just
     She Who Nags about homework, dinner, baths.
     The house sighs.
     Often we decide
     to stay in our pajamas and lay around all day

      By Sunday
      Friday feels so far away...
     but so often now I learn something new
     about these people I live with:
     "When did you start saying/doing that?"
     "You didn't tell me that..."
      I stare at each of them, bewildered

     and try not to wonder
     How long before
     we remain Friday ghosts,
     strangers bumping around the house
     with no Sunday in sight?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


She says, "Close your eyes."
I do.
"Put out your hand."
I do.
"Nooo...not that way."
She puts in the palms of my outstretched hands
a foam picture frame she made for mother's day,
a crazy splatter of sequins and glitter and little hills of dried glue
In the picture she wears a floppy red hat cocked over one eye
a lace shawl around her shoulders
Which she holds with gloved hands.
"So that you remember that I love you
if you get sad.
You can take it to work if you want,"
she says
and skips off
to play school

Monday, May 9, 2011

Real Things

The couple at Rite-aid shopping together for adult diapers
In Zumba class, the 75-year-old woman in striped leg warmers and sparkly head band
     swaying to the music with her eyes closed

"Station for Rent" sign in the window of the fortune teller's store front
Cheap beer on Sunday morning. Mother's Day.
The wirey black hair
sticking out of the chin mole
that is love.

Friday, May 6, 2011

I find myself doing like back in the day
looking for answers
between pages of poetry books.

I grabbed as many from the library
as my arms could carry
and I'm approaching them slowly...
First because I haven't been there
for a while
Then because I'm not sure
what I'd do if I found
what I didn't even know
I was looking for.

If I find the answer
and the search is gone
what would be left?

My mama's voice echoes:
"Read the Bible, hija."
 Yeah, I know...
 but I've had better luck
 with poetry.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

R.I.P. Ms. Rose


     It was a typical morning. The kids and I burst in the office at Lad 'n Lassie, running late as usual. I finished signing Savvy in and looked up, right into the eyes of Ms. Rose...a picture of her, that is. It was attached to the donation box that had been sitting on the counter since she went through chemotherapy for the first time. It had been collecting dust lately, but now it was right smack in the middle. Good news, I thought. Maybe she's a candidate for another kind of treatment.
     I asked the the directors how she was doing, then glanced at the clock, instantly regretted starting the conversation when I was running so late.
     "Any day now," Doris said. 
     "...she'll be going into treatment?" I answered. But then I saw the look on her face and the numb poured over me. I felt cemented to the ground. The clock stopped ticking. Suddenly it wasn't that important if I was late to work.
     The horror of it framed my entire day.
     She is one year older than me.
      I thought of her 2-year old daughter and hoped someone had taken lots of pictures of them together...and that Ms. Rose had taken a lot of pictures before she'd gotten sick. Had I taken any pictures lately?
     From then on the donation box was a reminder to stop the madness. It made me ask myself: this a big deal? Is it worth yelling over?
     Any day now.

     It was Valentine's day but you wouldn't know it walking into Lad 'n Lassie. For the first time  I could remember, the place hadn't been transformed into a red heart and cupid wonderland.
     In the office, images of Ms. Rose covered a poster board. There were pictures of her with her signature curls pinned on top and tumbling over her shoulders. That glossy smile.
     A wedding picture
     Pictures with every one of the L 'n L teachers. 
     posing with kids she'd taught throughout the years.
     and then ones of her when she'd lost her hair and wore a page boy hat. Her glossy smile strained.
     Next to the poster was a flyer for her memorial. 
     I gasped but the tears came anyway. Lupe (one of the directors) and the mom she'd been talking to came over and hugged me.  Lupe had been with her when she passed away. 
     Lupe's eyes shone with tears, but her smile was serene and wide.
     "You should have seen her," she said, "she was beautiful. I pressed my cheek against hers and she asked me to help her pray. She said, 'I'll miss you but I'm ready to go home.'"
She died in her sleep not too long after.

     When I got home, a bouquet of flowers sat on the table for Valentine's day. They were all my favorite flowers in all my favorite colors. Paul had also gotten Savvy two white roses. I decided not to tell him about Ms. Rose until that night.


     What got me was when a little girl wearing a purple Tshirt and leggings, (her diaper giving her the precious baby bubble butt) walked down the aisle towards the easled poster filled with pictures memorializing her mother. She ran past it and the flowers, to an Elmo helium balloon that was attached to one bouqet. Somebody untied it and gave it to her. She turned and walked back to her seat with a grin on her face to where daddy sat. People smiled and cooed at her as she passed them, then burst into tears as soon as she was gone. I hoped that for the rest of her life people would not look at her and see loss death. 
     It took every muscle in my body to keep from crying. I was amazed at the force of grief.
     I was rocked with guilt.
     I'd thought of visiting her in the hospice since it was so close to where I work. I'd wanted to thank her and tell her how exceptional she'd been in the lives of Eli and Savvy...and mine. But I could never conjure the nerve. No matter what I said to her, it would be a good bye. Wouldn't that be insulting to someone who was going to live?
     I tried to focus on the purple. Many people wore purple, obviously her favorite color. Sprays of it everywhere: Tshirts, flowers...her husband wore a purple tie. 
     She'd planned her own funeral. Every speaker and singer said she'd asked them to participate in her funeral. She'd choreographed the order of events and had even helped put the video of her own life together.  
     I needed air. I needed to write. At the lobby of the place, someone had put out index cards, pens and boxes for guests to write letters that her daughter could read much later, when she was older. I wrote:
     Dear Lilly,
         Your mommy was soooo special. She was my son and daughter's teacher. Her smile helped me through tough times, especially when my son was in her class. It was during the hardest times when her smile would soothe me. Nothing could be that bad if she could smile like that after dealing with my darling all day. 
          She did the best impression of my son I've ever seen...the way he pokes his tongue against his cheek and looks down at the floor when he's embarrassed or has gotten caught. I hadn't even noticed the tongue thing until she did the impression for me the first time. 
          But while she touched me so much when she was alive, I just want you to know how her being gone has helped me... just as much as when she was alive. Every time I am losing control or perspective as a mother, your mommy's face pops into my head. I remember how hard she fought to concieve you, and then stay in your life. How could I take this for granted?
          You will always be in my prayers.

     Eli and Savvy's mommy


     I'd decided not to write this. 
     But then I had to find a baby picture of Eli for a school project. I came across Ms. Rose again. She was in pictures with both my kids at the Halloween parades, Cinco de Mayo dances, class photos...there was the program of her memorial service a month ago. I'd put it way in the bottom of the red silk box of stray photos.
     Then there was the note scrawled quickly on a teddy bear memo pad.
     "Dear mom and dad," it said, "I just wanted to share with you something that Savvy said today. All day long, her response to anything I said was, 'praise be to God!' It was precious and I knew you'd love hearing about it. Love, Ms. Rose."
     It has been the first and last time a teacher has ever given me the gift of a glimpse inside allllll I miss when I am away from my children.
     I knew this would be hard
     but she's worth every tear.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Finally. Spring...

It's been a long, cold winter my friends.
Never quite recovered from Christmas. We went out to South Carolina and stayed with Paul's parents. While I was relieved that a KKK squadron did not meet us at the airport when our flight arrived, I was welcomed by worse when we finally made it to the house:
Zorro. The 100 lb. evil Ukrainian mop of a cat.
He fixed me with an amused look in his eyes the minute I stepped in the door.
I tried to look away but the power of his stare seemed to burn my throat. My eyes. My everything. Soon I learned the the heat was allergies...the worse I'd ever experienced. No longer will I roll my eyes when people whine about debilatating allergies. Now I know. Drugs were powerless to the strength of Zorro.
It didn't help that Zorro was out to get me. Once, I found him all cozied up inside my purse. He reacted to my screams with the same cool amused look in his eyes as the first time we met. He wouldn't budge and someone had to pick him up and out.

I was sequestered the majority of the time in the little room upstairs, with an air purifier on one side, a fan on the other. Every once in a while I peeked down to see what everyone was up to. As soon as I saw the furball, I'd slip back into my room, itchy tail between my legs.

When we finally got home (two days early), we had to take a shuttle home when our ride never materialized and the airport closed.
"See! I told you no one would pick us up!" Eli said. Over and over. and over.
I'll stop here because the mere memory is making my neck break out.
In all fairness, the kids had a blast hanging out with their many cousins. Savvy cried when she had to finally disengage from hug after hug after hug. And yeah, I felt like an ass. An itchy, miserable, drippy ass.

Savvy's 5th bday party kicked off Spring. Finally. Spring.
It was a Barbie themed party, and I got all creative and bought gold and silver beaded necklaces, and feather boas in varying shades of pink and purple to use instead of streamers. I think the result looked more like burlesque, strip joint (Oops...I-just-stripped-and-my-boa-landed-over-there-big-boy sort of thing) than Barbie. Nobody seemed to notice any of it any way.

...and so a toast! To Spring and the shedding of jackets and rainboots and nightmares of Zorro's eyes.