The Mother Of All Lastima

I am writing. It’s been a while, my daily practice something foreign. This will be too wordy. It will read slow. It will underwhelm you. It feels raw and clunky, painful and delightful, new skin underneath a scab. The present moment moves in. When I’m not writing, when I exist in the world, being present is a pulling of weight, an exhausting dance. I struggle to find the strength and the rhythm, too used to living in the future of what terrible thing might be, or in the past of what stupid thing I’ve done. I stay there, in that sweet spot between fear and regret. Once in a while the NOW hits me in the face and it feels beautiful - a connection, a suspension, I can touch it. But unless I’m writing it feels too selfish and careless to be a regular thing.

I am standing in front of the mirror in fishnet underwear – not the red, sexy kind but the white, hospital kind you get out of a plastic bag. My belly is swollen and tender from not having healed yet after the birth of our second daughter. I throw on some leggings and a baggy shirt – it’s all that will fit me – and add a blazer. This is as close to a pantsuit as I can get today. I step out into the sunlight and go vote for the 45th President of our country, wrapping my daughter up to wear her, grateful for my rights and her rights and the cloth to hold her so I can use my hands. I sway a little in the voting booth and hum. I am happy. I am floating. I am recreated. She is tucked onto my chest like a curly frog, as are millions of babies across the globe worn by mothers who work or walk or are lucky enough to vote. I feel these women everywhere and sink into our collective superiority. We carry life. We give life. We nurture life. We are life. All the hope I’d ever felt, all the hope I’d collected along the way of my years, even the hope I’ve had to sink to the bottom of the ocean to find amongst pearl-less oysters with just one breath left in me, all of that hope culminates in meaning today. I punch the number by Hillary Rodham Clinton’s name and whisper into my daughter’s newborn ear: “My girl. You will grow up under a woman president. Everything is about to change.”

I’ve barely whispered into her ear since November 9th because what can I say? “We are not equal yet?” “I am sorry?” “Hope is sometimes a lie?” “Everything is backwards?” “Surprise?” I stay silent because I’ve just been told to shut up by every man I’ve ever known except my partner who is gentle and soft. I cry for men I love, affectionate, brilliant men who unintentionally launch tiny shards of patriarchy every time they defend Donald J. Trump. Men who chose to “take a chance” over fighting for their daughters and granddaughters, who wanted "no more of the same" more than they wanted to protect their wives and friends. I feel more less-than now than ever before. New lines of injustice – not the gerrymandering which ruined our democracy, but the lines Trump has drawn in the sand. I see men clutching desperately to their privilege or laying it down. I see white people acting angry or ashamed. Sides are being picked, and it shocks me, who goes where.

I am nursing nonstop during cluster feeding, fussy hours. I chug water and eat every granola bar that dares cross my path. I am ravenous, monstrous, impatient and grateful and terrified. I must find a way to stay calm. For the good of my daughters and the sake of my marriage, I stay calm. With impossible demands to be everything to everybody, feelings of inadequacy and frustration become the norm. I’ve always tried to be a good girl. Worked harder. Pointed my resentment inwards so the rage would only slice me. Shrank when I was expected to or afraid not to or uncomfortable by my own noise. I think of HRC for the thousandth time today and her loss is my loss and what is she doing RIGHT NOW? I want to talk to her for ten hours. I want to thank her in person for such resilience and strength and place my head against her shoulder and make her hold me. Instead I shout, “Help! Help!” in the middle of the kitchen with my bare feet on the linoleum floor and the red nail polish on my toes vibrates and my husband comes running panicked and scattered. Nothing is wrong. Everything is wrong. Our country is not my country. He expected to find a split open head yet he only finds a split open me. His panic makes me laugh. I laugh so hard I pull a neck muscle. He is furious, but I am exonerated. I yelled out. It felt good.

The thing with putting oneself last all the time is that one gets very good at it. It becomes a practice, a muscle to exercise. Since becoming a mom, I’ve done it more and more, and then I’m livid because making homemade baby food or folding hand towels or taking out the dogs is more important than I am. And then it’s easy to never write or meditate or do anything my heart calls for because loving others is now a way to punish myself. My clothes don’t fit me. My closet belongs to a stranger. Going to the Gap used to be fun, but now it’s a chore I can’t bring myself to act on because there are always more toddler sensory games to research or smoothies with vegetables to make for my non-vegetable eating husband or news to shake my fists at or politics to scorn or ten-minute power naps to fall under. Back to back pregnancies have left me with a weak bladder and calcium deficiency so extreme the gums on my teeth are receding. And yet these are champagne problems, even if I lose my mouth, and I am not a martyr for being a mother. I’m just losing myself the way sometimes women do. The way society excuses us to do, encourages us to do, especially if we have children. And now we have men in power expecting us to have children, even when we don’t want to, expecting us to shrink, and wouldn’t they damn love it if we all lost our mouths. I am watching my own vanishing. Somehow it feels good and comfortable and right, and it’s the thing that worries me the most. My disappearing feels almost deserved. Hillary losing only made it truer. Where is she now? Would her winning have kept me here?

I am. Us women. Mothers. We are shelters and protectors and cheerleaders and holders and radiators and goal posts. We are the last line of defense and the first ones at the starting line, stretching our hammies so we can keep going until everybody gets what they need. We inhale lastima, we dispense lastima, we are lastima. And because of this lastima, the last word on the lips of every being when Death draws near is, “Tell my mother I loved her.” 

HER.

SHE.

And I can’t help but wonder: Will today’s inauguration make our girls run slower because the boys are too angry when they’re being beat? Because it’s been that way for such a long time now and it hasn’t changed, not yet, not like we thought it had? Because the discomfort is so comfortable? Because men need to put our powerful bodies into their oppressive, thick hands in order to feel like enough? And I wonder: How much more will we fade away? We’re already so gone that a woman ran for president insisting on equal pay and reproductive rights and many of us didn’t vote for her. HUH? What’s next? Evaporating?

But unbelievably, I saw Hillary today. She isn’t gone. She was there in white, reminding me of her ferocity and of her sprint, cutting deep into the forest, zigzagging on old roads and new roads and yeah, maybe cheating because every runner cheats (boy, have the men cheated!) And then yeah, not cheating because she’s been running for decades now so this isn’t a game to her, it's service. When one runs they’re not supposed to do it perfectly, they’re supposed to fly free. HRC took the lead before she was dragged down by a hundred different hands. Kicked off the stump. Shot with the pistol that set the entire race in motion. And women everywhere did not prevent her fall; instead they dug a hole to bury her in. HRC lost because women don’t support other women. Fuck Comey and Putin – we needed our women. Hillary who is a mother but more than a mother, a girl but more than a girl, and she makes me believe I can be more. I want to be more. Hillary probably stood in mesh white underwear after birthing Chelsea and found her own eyes in the mirror and decided not to go anywhere, not to disappear. But our country kept telling her, “vanish now, stop running now,” because she was supposed to be everything for everybody, except president of the United States. Except being everything for herself.

I am in the shower thinking about Aleppo and chance and how I have no control and there is no reason to the why of anything. I am weeping and I can’t tell what is water and what is me. I feel the pain of the whole world underneath my showerhead. My showerhead is an asshole. Why am I lucky? That question haunts me. And even more, how do I hold onto that luck and keep the bad at bay? This feels like my job. It’s a big job. I am so tired of this job. I have anxiety, that depersonalized feeling like I’m out of my body or time is zooming in and out. Like what is life and realizing it’s not a movie about me. Maybe this feeling isn’t anxiety at all. Maybe it’s the recognition of my smallness, and of my tendency to deny that smallness. So here I am with suds on my hands accepting the feelings I mostly numb out because I have not figured out how to keep going and own them at the same time. Crashing into me, invading me, is the overwhelm of my new life. I have to take care of two children and it is the best but also the worst. It is awesome but horrible. Obligation, fear, powerlessness, more fear, incredible joy, and paralyzing concern about the world we are leaving behind for them. And I have no idea how to parent two children well. I dissociate because I can’t bear it, I can’t look at the dice while they roll. Over the monitor, my older daughter coughs deep and low, a seal-like sound, and my instincts ring an alarm and I grab a towel and I know this is real. I am a mom and the world is unpredictable and don’t you dare take them away from me, Universe. DON’T YOU DARE. The mothers of Aleppo must be whispering that, too. The hospital says my daughter has croup and gives us medication and I am thankful it’s not war-torn Syria I’m dealing with. But aren’t we all dealing with Syria? Shouldn’t we all be dealing with Syria?

Oh, there is no difference between me and the woman in Aleppo. Or the woman kidnapped in that movie Room, which I refuse to see. Or Hillary. Or Ivanka. Or you. Anything can happen. Life changes in an instant, in a keyboard stroke, in a bite. This chills me. I want to believe I’m not susceptible, that I’m different, that I’m untouchable, that I have some say. But everybody gets caught. So parenthood is holding my breath and trying to absorb my children’s pain and praying like a lunatic every night for their safety until I close my eyes and finally exhale. Being a mother is being brave. Being Awake and Aware and loving anyway is being brave. Then every day I literally stand in front of the sun so my kids can have shade, so they have the perfect temperature while my back is on fire. And I think again over my second cup of coffee, the one I promised myself I wouldn’t have, about how Hillary is a mom who could have mothered our country, willing to give all of herself to us, to block out the sun when it got too hot, only she’ll never get to. And the last word on our lips as our democracy dies might be her name.

p.s. My baby is crying. I take her out of the swing, leaving it empty, rocking a ghost. She is in my arms and this is it, this is everything. My toddler coughs. Adoration is too weak a word, I want to marry her. THEM. What will this Presidency, this House, this Senate do for them? There is no time to edit what I wrote here because of them. And that is ok even though my grammar is awful and it’s too long and and and and….there are too many ands. There is no time to fix my uncooked words because there is no time to be me. There is only the realization that on the page, I am found. And that I should get to the dentist soon because there is much left for us women to say. So MARCH ON, tomorrow and the next day and the next.

When Lastima Turns Into Depression

I am crying again today. This time for Munich. 

I’m crying because I keep thinking about what I would be feeling, how many hairs I would be pulling, if somebody I loved was inside that mall. Images of my friends and I eating giant pickles at the Mall Del Norte in Laredo flash through my mind. The joy we had in our independence. The carefree way we flirted with teenage boys and bought Flaming Hot Cheetos, licking the orange from our glittery-painted nails. I usually had about ten dollars to spend, and dropped it unwisely at Claire’s boutique. Another cheap pair of sterling silver earrings. Another medal of maturity. Are those days gone? 

Will our kids get to grow up?

The first thought I have when I wake up in the middle of the night to pee is: What if something bad is about to happen. This minute. This night. This next day. This year. My mind swirls around a list of fears, like a terrifying carousel that’s always turned on. Lights shine bright – news clips, videos, bleeding black men with shaky white police officers standing beside them, nasty sound bites, people falling apart. Once I am back in bed and exhausted by my worries, just as I’m finally about to return to sleep, the big bang comes: How will I keep my loved ones safe? Boom. Eyes open. Lower back tenses. 

No rest for the weary. Every seat on the ride is taken by a new horror, and I have no choice but to spin and spin until I almost throw up. I think I’m becoming most afraid of peeing in the middle of the night. 

I want to blame the twenty-four hour news channels for sensationalizing everything and forcing miserable images down our throats, especially when I keep reading articles about crime being down and how much safer we are. I want to blame those articles for lying their shit lies, or for trying to make me see the truth when my anxiety insists otherwise. I want to blame the news for pandering and pushing and filling time. I want to blame my addiction to investigative reporting because I’ve fallen into a station’s mathematical formula like some expert variable. They’ve got me. I’m scared. I’m a lamb.

I want to blame the government because everybody is bought and sold and there is no room for the middle anymore. You’re either this or that. If you’re this, you hate that. If you’re that, you hate this. Who stops and asks, Is it true? Do I hate? What if I am different? No. We just pick a side and stand there with our finger in our nose. Then a rare and shiny thinker comes along and creates a movement, but not a presidency, and a delusional bully forces his way into the ring and people applaud. And I feel further away from understanding the other side, and sometimes even my own. I feel further away from believing in anybody. Numbness in my limbs.

I want to blame God because where is He or She? Because praying feels like making up songs, like I’m coming up with a diddy to distract myself before a root canal. Life is not supposed to be one big root canal. Prayer is not supposed to feel silly. I search and get quiet and meditate and turn it over and sit in nature and go to synagogue, and all I can tell you is that it’s getting harder and harder to scratch at God because I am Awake and Aware. Can you be both - faithful and real? I want to be both. I need to be Awake and Aware because how Munich feels today, and how you feel today, matters. But I also need a Higher Power, more than ever.

I want to blame the people who make tortellini recipes at home or celebrate their new sunglasses or post pictures of themselves at the beach. Where are you? Surely on some other planet far, far away from this one because your smile looks eerily genuine. I am impressed by your ability to pretend. I’m in awe of your ability to enjoy life anyway. But I can’t relate. You make me feel crazy, like I’m the only one who spends my days drowning in lastima until it makes me so tired and I have to force myself to eat or go for a walk. If not, the sleepiness turns into A Great Big Sadness, then everything is dark. 

Darkness looks like only lastima, nonstop. Lastima for Hillary who is being vilified for the same reasons she would be praised if she were a man. Lastima is for the girls of Malawi who are forced to have sex when they hit puberty to “cleanse them” as a standard of culture. There’s lastima while listening to the birds chirping outside, knowing for certain that somebody with a gun will shoot at them for fun. Smelling BBQ being grilled somewhere in my neighborhood = lastima for the rotting, petrified soul that somebody slayed to justify a craving. I’ve eaten that before, I realize with regret, then lastima for my organs. Even sun on my skin becomes a burning empathy for this planet, the one we are ruining and laughing about and profiting from and thinking so self-righteously about undoing the damage later on. There is no later on.

We’re on our way down. We’re sinking. I feel myself being dragged under. 

Sometimes I wish I didn’t have lastima because the air gets too thin and it gets hard to breathe. But that’s like wishing I didn’t have kids or parents or sisters or a husband or dogs or passion or a heartbeat. And would I give any of those things up just so I can sleep a little better? Never. Besides, the other side of lastima and tears is fear and hate. Fear and hate which Donald Trump is building a world around. Fear and hate which will only lead to more killings and more suffering, until one day a very normal question will be: How many mass shootings have you live through? This isn’t a political rant. I’m not that educated. And yes, you have rights. You have a vote. You have an opinion and the freedom to express it. But where do your rights end and mine begin? What about my vote? What about wanting my kids to be able to go to the mall? What about expressing my opinion and feeling heard? Who is listening? 

Depression leads down curious roads. I looked up the Sandy Hook shooter the other day and wondered if I was losing it. Because I had lastima for him. Forget the kids – for the kids I weep day in and day out, and as I type now I am weeping again. For their parents and families. For their lost futures. For the lack of anything substantial happening after a most horrifically tragic event. But also, I wept for this maniac, the murder, who must have felt so disgusting about himself, so lonely, he didn’t think the fire within him could ever be put out. He thought the only solution was blowing others up with him. What would have happened if somebody had said, “Hey, let’s go grab a coffee?” Did anybody invite him to hang out? Would it have changed anything? I believe so. I believe that’s how you change the world. If not, how else? Even if lastima makes me naive, I think he needed some. He didn’t get it. So he gave the world his pain.

Most of all, I want to blame myself. I am so tired of feeling unsafe and helpless. I’m so tired of feeling overwhelmed by the responsibility of taking care of those I love. I don’t know how to do it anymore. Every wall we build is being taken down or crumbling on its own or I realize it was never there to begin with. Just the illusion of protection now gone. We don’t need more walls. We need honesty and connection and community. 

There is a homeless man in my area named Mike, and he has a dog named Kitt. I’ve spoken to him before, helped him a few times, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t look for him. He brushes Kitt every night in some hidden dirty tent in the middle of nowhere. She is 13 years old and he calls her “his heart.” Once in a while, I’ll spot them limping along an exit ramp and I’ll consider crashing just to talk to him. Then I scream at myself because why isn’t there more I can do for them? Why is my lastima limited to this heaviness stuck inside me and the occasional peanut butter sandwich? How can I turn what I feel into action? Why isn’t this the kind of world where I can invite them into my home without worrying about the millions of reasons I shouldn’t? Why is there new dread everyday? Why why why?

These are the questions that have no answers. These are the calls we have to make. Do we talk to the werido who could be a shooter? Do we pull over for the homeless guy and his dog? Do we care about Munich and wonder if our mall is next? Our parade? Our airport? Our gay club? Acceptance eludes me. This reality is unfair and wrong and not mine, dammit. It’s not mine. This is not how I want things to be. 

Today I found an old pair of Claire’s earrings and that alone was enough to keep me limping along. Tonight I will lie inside my own dirty tent, more embellished than Mike and Kitt’s, and with a working sewage system because I’m lucky. But otherwise, we’re the same. I will spend the weekend not watching the news, and try to listen to the birds and appreciate their flying feathers, and try to find somebody to smile at. Maybe ask them to join me for a cup of coffee. Maybe rediscover my hope again.

Maybe stop crying. 

But stop lastima-ing? No way. No matter how tough it is to carry, no way. 

p.s. This post is longer and ramblier than usual. If you’ve read this far, thank you. I have a little lastima for you, too.

p.p.s. Nobody is perfect. But these are some of the things she has DONE. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/allida-black/blazing-a-trail-hillary-clinton_b_5610884.html and http://www.usnews.com/opinion/leslie-marshall/2014/02/19/hillary-clintons-accomplishments-speak-for-themselves 

Live Wire.

Today I’m at a coffee shop because the mantra of my morning yoga YouTube video was BE OPEN AND EXPERIMENT. Pulling out an uncomfortable wooden chair, I sit at a table made of stained glass and tell myself, It will be great. I’ll get a stellar cup of coffee. I’ll be like everybody else. But I’m having a hard time being normal, being a girl with a computer and a wedding ring and a latte. Rationing each piece of my awareness to death, allocating just enough time for each task, I open a Word Doc, pull up work emails, and place a library book beside me. Yes, I’ll corral abnormality into efficiency. Focus on the blueprint of my life. The one drafted on a TO-DO list.

My brain is ready! My brain is a power drill, a headlamp, a shot from the gun at the start line. My brain is typing, chewing, and grabbing. But my heart. My effing heart. My heart is an entire box of Valentine’s Day chocolates, a wrong turn, a fox breaking free from the fur trap and leaping through forest trees. My heart is zigzagging through agility poles, dancing in the wind, and napping.

Lastima begins to spread itself from said heart, zooms down through my fingers, into my toes, and it shoots back up to my head again. It puts a paper bag over my mind. The lights go out up there. And now I am only a feeling. I am a ball of feeling. Energy sensing other energies, a prisoner to happysadangryguiltyafraidlonelyanxious. Yes, the world’s emotional landscape seeps into me, and it grows loud and fast, and it tastes bitter and sweet, and it smells like something is burning.

Suddenly the song from my one-woman show comes on over the speaker, and I know it’s a sign. It’s a sign that I am powerless over these feelings, just as I am powerless over wishes and disappointments, mine and yours, or when creativity comes easy or when it is hard. I start crying at a coffee shop because of nothing and because of everything. Naturally, this is the moment the waiter decides to deliver my salad and French fries. He wears a tight line for a mouth, like a zipper closed and stuck, like the only way to fix it would be to rip it open. I want to rip it open. I want to see him smile. I want to connect.

I offer a grin, which he looks past. A rhyme: “Greens and fries. The ultimate compromise for thighs.” Nada. I almost bolt up and take him in my arms – he, a stranger who may not need holding, a stranger who I’m certain needs holding – until the table beside me barks for more mustard.

Turning my head to avoid his scurrying-for-mustard movements, I glance out the window. And there is a guy walking in black pants so short, I see his thick, white socks. Why is he passing me now? Am I not lucky enough to see a man in normal-length pants? In his hand is a burrito wrapped in foil, which he devours angrily, a trail of beans bellyflopping from his half-open mouth onto the pavement and leaving a trail. When the cops come on the scene to investigate the Eagle Rock Bean Killer, I’ll tell them I witnessed the whole thing. The sketch artist will draw a man with high-water pants, and I will try to beg for his pardon. “Forgive him,” I whisper as Bean Killer crosses the street. Sure, I am being crazy. Sure, he is pretty gross. But in my craziness and in his grossness I see you and me and everydamnbody. 

Now the door bings and demands my attention. A tiny mom has arrived with her giant baby – a thick, fat tyrant of a child who wants to take over the world, beginning with her mother. They clink glasses, they wear matching braids, and I stare at them from the corner of my eye. These two are having a mommy-daughter date and eating eggs. Impatience descends and takes me by the throat, demanding my baby grow up quicker because I want dates with eggs, and I want twinsie hairdos, and I want it now! Until NO. Mama whips out her cell phone. And this kid, this kid who cannot be more than three years old, I watch her cheeks fall. I watch her earnestness, the option of a tantrum flickering across her face, until she crushes and crumbles, the kind of crush and crumble that echoes, “Am I important?” Mom fixates on her screen, and the last things I see before running to the bathroom are the little diamond studs in her child’s ears and chubby hands clutching Minnie Mouse.

In the mirror I find myself – a naked, stripped, live wire. If I wash my hands I’ll electrocute myself. I close my eyes and picture the fancy cup of joe waiting for me at the table. I haven’t even sniffed its mochaness or added brown sugar. Beside it is my computer, sitting like a desperate lover, its cursor clicking blankly on an empty page. But I can’t with the cursor and the blank page and the work and the foam shaped into a heart in my coffee mug. I can’t because I’m not here anymore. I’m with the woman in a leather jacket smacking the Cholula hot sauce bottle onto hash browns and talking with her mouth full to somebody not listening. I’m with the old man eating alone, reading The New Yorker, his toenails uneven. I’m with the Shepherd mix outside eyeing his owner’s plate with such intensity, with such hunger, I almost throw my salad at his paws. I’m with the fire station on the corner where heroes gather to walk through flames. I am the revolution of beings surrounding me, needing and hoping and regretting and laughing. Beings making it through one more day. I feel them all.

This is why I don’t get out much, why I usually write from home, with the doors closed, with my dogs to talk to if I need stimulating conversation. But I came here, and these lives are now a part of mine, we are woven into one story. So I tip the waiter huge. I put away my things. I keep my eyes and ears open, my heart on the line, and I breathe deep. I do nothing but breathe deep. A layer of padding begins to embraces me then,  a centering that grows from the inside. Just enough to comfort me, to calm my electricity. It does not protect me or stifle me or make me look away. That would be too easy. The opposite of lastima isn’t turning off. The opposite of lastima isn’t forgetting or avoiding or building an artificial divide. It’s leaning in.

I lean in until I fall in, and zap away into the day.

p.s. Live wires get stronger by connecting with other live wires. Be mine.

Passwords.

I want to go back in time. I want to rewind. I want to do away with machines.

I still write checks. I still use stamps, on an envelope, stuffed with a handwritten card. I still scribble on a planner, old school style, and scratch out my math on the back of old receipts instead of reaching for the calculator. Resisting technology isn’t a stance I’m taking. It’s not a fad or a joke. It’s my attempt to ward off passwords.

Passwords might as well be combination locks on the trunk of my lastima. Your choice of letters, where you put your numbers, if you settle on an asterisk over an exclamation mark, if you capitalize your pet’s name - these details are whiplashes to the heart. Because you think you’re sneaky. Because you think you’re clever. Because you think no hacker could ever guess, or if by some miracle they did, it would come after days of exhausted, mind-bending trials at the Rubik’s cube you’ve created. Because the majority of us have lame, little passwords, boring insights into our psyches, our preferences, our perspectives. The ether of our lives is too obvious, the shield too flimsy. Passwords render us dumb.

And yet we live in a world walled by security questions. Access is granted, access is private. Which do we want more? How can we protect ourselves? We can’t. Having everything means we can lose everything. Worse yet is the forgetting. What is it about passwords that gives me not only lastima, but also amnesia? I don’t remember my first grade teacher’s last name. Which favorite movie did I choose? Asked again by my husband for the iTunes login, I shrug and reset for the nine thousandth time, trying to include PASSWORDSSUCKASS somewhere in the mix. I can sooner remember all the lyrics to We Built This City (thanks, Starship) or Lord Byron’s “When We Two Parted,” stanza by stanza. Because the reality of my unoriginality set off by a paltry symbol is too much for this sad-soacked brain to hold. 

Our alarm has a setting which allows us to enter a secret code to trigger the police. If a madman were to break into our home in the middle of the night and the alarm sounded, I’d be able to turn it off by entering those digits, and ping for help at the same time. My husband does weekly drills where he pretends to hold a gun to my head (with his fingers, people,) and still I can’t recall. I can’t remember how to save our lives! He “invented” the password, probably something to do with chocolate, which makes it inherently depressing, which makes my mind repel the information. My father’s passwords spouted with a Cuban accent leave me nauseous, and I like food to much to skip another meal. My best friend’s password is in Spanish, producing tears because it’s trying to be exotic. 

So if I’m at your house, I will pay for internet usage and burn through my minutes. I will disregard my phone. I will lie and tell you the battery is dead. But I will NOT ask for your WiFi because I couldn’t bear to hear mydogBennyisAlove-67 and go on with the day. 

I would have already suspected it, you beautiful idiot. I’d gladly draft out my thoughts on a scroll instead, with a quill pen if possible, then ride away on horseback to deliver the message. Face to face, now that’s safe. 

p.s. How about Lastima4ever? Would that be cyber savvy enough?

A Chin And Two Eyebrows.

A hand reaches out and cups my chin. Her fingers are no more than two inches long, with dimples as placeholders for where knuckles will go. I could live in one of those dimples, set up camp, remain lost in the littlest fold of her delicate skin. Every night at last bottle, because she decided breastfeeding was totally out two months ago, she holds my chin. She barely touches her fingertips to it, resting there, finding comfort there, making every thought in my head vanish in a puff of smoke. No thought holds up against this moment, where I can imagine that I am an ocean and she is a stream, the purest stream, and I pour whatever goodness I’ve got into her. Then I wish her the goodnesses I cannot provide, and picture positive ions literally spilling into her, blessing her. I chant to myself, “Anything for you, everything for you.” Every night I almost weep – okay, every night I do weep – because a love like this is obliterating.

My fingers, which used to seem so petite, are gigantic next to hers. My face and any other adult face looks like a robot’s or a monster’s, full of pointy chins and jutting out noses and huge slabs of forehead, making me wonder why we have such big faces, making me wonder if we are ogres and babies are the true humans. Because hers is the new perfect, the new sun, the new screensaver in my brain, so small, cheeks round, dollop nose, Betty Boop lips, and that hair, that pixie-cut-I-wake-up-cool crop she was born with. I stroke her eyebrows – tiny, strawberry-blonde caterpillars – and as I caress them, trailing my fingers to the land between her nose, her eyes close in gratitude, in surrender, and she is off in baby dreams. What could possibly be better than baby dreams, I ask you? She only knows mockingbirds dancing in the sky from the viewpoint of her stroller, and cuddles in bed after her first nap, and pumped-at-3am breast milk delivered to her esophageal doorstep, and being held in arms that want her.

As I rise from the glider into a squat, thighs burning, I slowly lower her down in her crib. My footsteps play connect the dots on the floor, careful not to step on a square foot of wood that might creak as I ninja out of the room. And…she is down! I glance at her again before shutting the door, and a part of me is so happy, so happy I am lifted into the scary flight of contentment, of satisfaction, of accomplishment, of yes. But another part of me shakes in terror, in dread, in denial, in anger, in lastima because one day her dreams will be about so much more – the real, the wrong, the truth, the no. One day she won’t be a baby.

How do I keep her hand on my chin forever? How do I stroke her eyebrows into eternity, keep her in a vault, convert her joy into a guarantee? Defeat crashes against me as I realize I am not powerful enough to ensure any of that, and I almost fall apart, until I move on to the next minute like we all must do a thousand times a day.

Back in my own bedroom, I enjoy the freedom by staring at pictures of her on my phone. Resisting the urge to wake her up and make her blow raspberries at me or crinkle her nose at me or burrow her head into me, I fold her laundry and clean her toys. I know there will be days down the line when she doesn’t want me in her drawers, kicks me out of her room, slams her door, rolls her eyes. I know her knuckles will come in soon and that she may use them, may bruise them, may break them fighting. But for now, for right now, there is her perfect cherub face on the monitor, her breath even and easy, and the invisible but very real line where only love flows back and forth between our hands, a chin, and two eyebrows. I don’t need to do a thing to deserve it, and she couldn’t do a thing to make it go away. It’s just there, the apocalyptic reality of parenthood, which only my husband feels in the same color and shape and size as I do. The big secret we share, the feeling of being her mom and dad.

“We did this,” I sing to him when he walks through the front door, as I do when I stare at his beautiful but now-giant features, when he touches my stretch marks and tells me I’m gorgeous, when he falls asleep with her beside him, holding his finger.

Before this man, I didn’t believe letting go could mean receiving more. Before our child, I didn’t believe lastima could be a superpower instead of a super price. It hurts to love. It’s the point to love.

We did this. 

And the new world is more than I ever dreamed it could be.

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p.s. Hands strategically placed so you won’t notice how badly I need a mani. 

Time With My Neighbor.

I knock on my neighbor’s door to give her a bottle of sparkling cider. She is in her late 80′s, lives alone, and what does it cost me to bring her a little holiday cheer? It costs me $8.99, and I can swing that. My plan was to run the few doors over, pop by, and make the whole transaction last 90 seconds. I am wearing a T-shirt even though it is 65 degrees out, because that’s how little time I have - not enough to turn back and grab a cardigan.

She opens the door in a turtleneck and sweater, gold beanie hat on, tissue in hand. “It’s so windy and cold,” she tells me, hugging her thin frame. Hesitation is my initial reaction when she invites me in. I have too many things going on right now. I have to work. I have to write. I have to pump. I have to call my sister back. I have to make sangria. I have to let the dogs out. I have to DO. Babycare is only for another 3 hours and I’m used to moving like a blur for every good minute of it. And yet her puffy, red eyes must communicate a secret message to my brain because before I know it, I am entering her door.

I shake my leg, bopping it up and down, when we take a seat at her table. On it are envelopes and stamps, fancy pens, legit stationary. There is also a book on elementary Italian, as well as a gigantic dictionary of Spanish verbs. This is how somebody keeps their mind sharp - they write and they learn. My neighbor pulls her glasses down and rubs the bridge of her nose with her crooked fingers. I glance at my watch.

“My brother passed away yesterday,” she whispers. “But I’m not gonna cry about it anymore.” And she doesn’t. Instead she smiles, telling me about his demeanor and his travels, and about what a huge, empty hole he will leave behind. About what a bright guy he was, about how they mended the fight they had once in Mexico City, about sitting with him as he withered away, when he told her, “I’m not afraid of dying. I’m afraid of living.” She pauses after saying that, she who is no stranger to death, her husband having gone a few years ago. She who is still alive, tasked to make each slow day count, selected to watch the world change from a window.

In the silence that follows I look around her home: wooden beams on the ceiling, tan carpet on the floor, a few creepy, mandatory old-person-dolls on the mantel, but otherwise it is cozy in here. It is nice. It smells like tuna salad. There are opera CDs on the shelf. Sunlight peeks in through the blinds. A feeling of routine and familiarity hangs in the air. 

“Don’t you have to go?” she asks.

It’s funny how many thoughts can race through your mind in a single second. Loud thoughts combatting for attention like, “HELL YEAH I GOT SHIT TO DO!” and “Uh-oh, I’m stuck here” and “I need to pee” and “I can’t waste my precious minutes” and “Did the recipe call for apples or pears?” Underneath the clamor, I detect a quiet one, a still one, a thought that says, “No. I will sit here.”

This is the thought I choose. 

My leg stops shaking. "Tell me more about him,” I say.

I walked into my neighbor’s house having lastima for her late morning idleness and her beanie hat and her loneliness. But in paying attention to her, in taking in her stories, in being a receiver for half an hour, my lastima morphs into gratitude. It is a gift not to think about myself for 30 blessed minutes. As I listen to what her life used to be like, I accept that, yes, older people are wiser, and that, yes, we are ignoring some of our greatest teachers, and that, yes, it must be damn hard to fade into irrelevance one day at a time when really they’re as vibrant as they’ve always been. It’s just that hardly anybody notices. Maybe I never noticed before now. The disgrace makes me shiver.

I keep myself busy to avoid the discomfort of being alone. But when you’re gray and wrinkled, the only way to stay sane might be to lean into this very feeling. My neighbor has spent years leaning. Today, though, she needed somebody to talk to. More than that, today I needed to be that somebody. 

My to-do list tugs harshly then, bending me to its tyranny. A wave of sadness follows as reality invades intimacy, and I stand up to say goodbye. At that moment, she starts to cry, but not the grief kind, more like relief. Tears fall from my eyes to join hers, tears I didn’t even know were waiting. We hug on my way out. 

“He sounds like he was a good man,” I tell her. She nods. 

My neighbor thanks me as I walk away. I know it isn’t for the cider.

p.s. I’m no hero in this story. It was half a friggin hour. But in that time, doing became being, and 2 became 1, however brief. I owe her the thank you.

Fear vs. Lastima.

I am scared of pretty much everything these days. Watching the news, my teeth chatter because of mass shootings and because of Donald Trump and because people give a shit about Kanye and Kim’s baby’s name. Watching The Big Short, my knees shake because the country was robbed and because it’s so obvious and because the robbers are still coking/whoring/laughing as they invent new ways to steal from the poor. Watching my neighbor’s skinny, old dog, my stomach knots because he hobbles in the yard alone and because he gets fed only once a day and because his owner means well but won’t listen. 

Yes, I am terrified. Maybe I have always been terrified. When I was 7, we moved into a new house. It was shaped like a U and the kitchen was near the front door. I could never get water in the middle of the night, even if I was thirsty, even if I was parched, because the cooler faced a street window. I would picture a murderer’s face looking in, waiting for me as I filled up my blue cup. When I was in college, I’d walk home late from my cocktail waitressing job with a wad of cash in my pockets. The dark side streets of New York City felt huge and fast, and I’d pull my coat tight. I’d pretend to be waving at somebody, anybody, so that the imaginary bad guy behind me wouldn’t think I was by myself, prey for the mugging. And now it’s corrupt government and ISIS and the hormones in our food. It’s sex trafficking and police brutality and the fact that water is disappearing and we can do something about it but only like six people care. Now it’s cancer and texting while driving and being ridiculed, being excluded. It’s 100 ways we use social media to disconnect or money to pretend we’re superior. Now it is EVERY SINGLE THING that keeps me awake. 

I have felt shame about my fear for a long time. I have hid it, I have controlled food to spite it, I have forbade joy (thanks for the term, Brene Brown) as a way to avoid the vulnerability of living. If you are unhappy, you can’t get the rug pulled out from under you. If you are unhappy, you cannot hope. And when you don’t feel safe in the world, this is an illusion of security you’ll take because it feels better than not knowing and getting no guarantees. It feels better than being confused about hate and hurt and injustice. Worry creates a beautiful, mythical shield around you, a layer of protection, and even though it’s a lie, it will whisper and rock you until you forget the whole point. Until you feel so removed and so sick, you have no choice but to come clean. 

I am coming clean. Maybe it’s in my blood. The Holocaust happened and I’m Jewish, and quite possibly my panic is DNA. I recently read Man’s Search For Meaning (the best book), and my heart broke for days. I asked my husband to promise me a holocaust would never happen again, to which he replied, “You’re putting a lot on me.” Maybe it’s inherited. Cuba became a communist country and my parents fled as tweens, and quite possibly my anxiety was modeled because their trauma was true. I think about immigrants today, not knowing the language, not belonging there or here, and I wonder how it must feel to float untethered. I asked my husband to promise me that our nation won’t cave to xenophobia, to which he replied, “You’re putting a lot on me.”

Does it matter why I put so much on him? Does it matter why I am terrified? I don’t think it matters. What matters is that I tell you now because I’m not so sure I’m an anomaly. Everybody seems petrified. Everybody has PTSD. Everybody is using something to put one foot in front of the other. This doesn’t comfort me, it doesn’t relax me to be in such good company; our collective fear only makes me more afraid. I wonder: What happened? Where will we go? When will it end? 

The only thing I can think of as an antidote for fear is lastima. Lastima is the place where you end and somebody else begins. It’s not a gap there, it’s an overlap. It means we’re the same, and it means we’re together. It means don’t resist or fight or scream, because instead you can lean on the person next to you and weep, and after you’re done weeping you will smile because you’re being held. And it feels good. It means putting your fucking screen down so that you can lend a hand to the pear-shaped woman pushing a cart around Trader Joe’s, while doing business on the phone, while managing her two-year-old, while furrowing her brow. She is the product of what we have all become, and you opening her door, carrying her bags, making a face at her kid or simply smiling, will cue her to breathe. It means saving all the money you’d spend at Starbucks for the year, and instead giving a homeless guy a motel room when winter comes, or even shaking his hand, or even praying for him when you’re tucked into your warm bed. It means no child should fear getting water at night because the reality of the world became clear. We need a new reality.

It’s easy to cry out for change, outraged and incredulous (my specialty.) We point fingers. We look for big fixes. We talk a good game. But the hard part is in the every day doing, always in the doing, and I believe you don’t have to do much other than slow down and be here now. Open yourself up to lastima. It feels naked and perhaps you’ll even be scared of it for a moment, God knows I still am. But then you will be free. Because lastima is the currency that will turn things around, it is the sweet hum below all this noise, it is waiting to gently unravel our terror until it dilutes all of the dread. What is left when you lift up the garbage? Peace. Isn’t that what we’re after?

We’re all just vulnerable little peas. It’s so easy to squash us, to puree us, to eat us in one bite. Nobody is a carrot, you guys. Face it - you too are a pea. When you’re driving, think on that. When you’re clicking your tongue and shaking your head, think on that. When you’re looking in the mirror and the bags under your eyes feel heavy because your heart feels heavy because you can’t see the light anymore because the world feels so dark, think on that. And then feel lastima for yourself, for your neighbor, for the dogs, for the bad guys, for every single being. Even for Kim and Kanye and Donald. Then know that you have done a very good thing, you have loved Fear. And even He can’t resist that. Even He will crumble in your arms.

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p.s. Postpartum depression? I don’t know. But I won’t be afraid of it.

p.p.s. You can’t tell, but that’s one of my sisters beside me in this picture. She is fearless. And oh, how I needed that then, and need it still. You fearless people out there…thank you.

Women Saying Sorry On A Plane.

I am a professional apologizer. I will sorry you under the table, and make you so sorry you ever tried to one-up me in the sorry game, that you will walk away feeling incredibly sorry for me. I once apologized to a car door for running into it. I’ve told my hairdresser how sorry I am for having this hair. I constantly tell my therapist how sorry I am for talking too much. I wrote a one-woman show called I’m Sorry! I’ve begged forgiveness for having thoughts and feelings and needs my entire life. Which is why I found it surprising that my lastima valve was leaking big time the other day while I was on a flight back to Texas.

I must point out that the sorry dispensers (tossing them left and right) were women. Not the majority. All of them. I didn’t want that to be true, but it was. I know this isn’t an original topic of discussion – others have spoken about it much more eloquently than I ever could (read here and here.) So instead of sounding smart, I will simply share with you my sorry count, recorded on a single, 2 hour and 22 minute flight.

1. One woman apologized for bumping into a guy with her bag. Okay, not a big offense, but I’ll give her that one.

2. Another woman seemed sorry for even having a bag.

3. One gal said sorry for wanting to put her bag in the overhead compartment where a dude’s coat was sprawled out like a clothy porn star, taking up precious wheely-bag room. She then walked all the way to the back of the plane to find room for her bag, even though her seat was up front, instead of asking him to move his stupid coat because she was THAT SORRY.

4. I heard, “Sorry, that’s actually my seat,” said quietly by a mom with a baby. Nooooo.

5. Two rows ahead someone coughed. A woman apologized for it. How dare she make noise!

6. Just witnessed, “Sorry I need to use the bathroom,” and then she awkwardly scooched by the knees of the man in the aisle who did not get up.

7. Oh God, she came back. “Sorry, I need to get back into my seat!”

8. Heard over that fuzzy airplane noise, a female voice saying, “Sorry your foot is on my foot (This one killed me. Why was she sorry? Shouldn’t the guy with the agro-foot be sorry? As if her foot is an idiot and placed itself underneath his.)

9. “Sorry do you want ice?” the female flight attendant just asked me.

10. A woman asked another woman if she could please stop popping her gum so loudly, but first she apologized for asking. The gum-popper responded with three sorry’s in a row, then roller her gum into a napkin.

11. Across from my seat, a businesswoman apologized for grazing elbows with the overweight guy next to her. Is she supposed to forgo elbow needs? Assume he gets first elbow dibs for being a man?

12. “Sorry, can I close the window?” Ugh. I want to tell this Southern-drawled woman that she is sitting in the window seat so it is HER CALL.

13. A sweet, pudgy woman wearing Tevas and socks (already, lastima) yawned and then apologized for it when I accidentally caught her eye.

14. A teenage girl turning on the overhead light said, “Sorry, is this okay?” She just wanted to read.

15. I caught a chick taking a pouty-lip selfie (I can’t even.) She turned crimson, then told me “sorry.” Really I think she was sorry I busted in on her moment of pride and confidence.

16. I accidentally kicked the girl I was sitting next to and we both said, IN UNISON, “sorry!”

17. Deplaning = a sorry orgy.

Note: I did not hear a man use one the word once. I saw men having encounters, yes, some of the very same kind, but always sans apology. Is this something we’re encouraging women to be – sorry for everything to the point that we’re sorry for who we are? Is there a female-driven Sorry Epidemic going on? Is this the foundation for shame?

Eventually I stopped counting because tears were pooling in my eyes (the selfie especially hurt my heart.) I dug my nose into the crook of my elbow to drown out the snot and the lastima, which was stronger than the cabin pressure threatening to burst my eardrums. I didn’t want anybody to know I was crying. I didn’t want to have to be sorry for it.

p.s. The next day I was late for my flight back home and went running through the airport, hair flying, bags waving like a madwoman. I apologized to every person I encountered because I didn’t “have control over my emotions.” I just wanted to go home. Is that something to apologize for?

Tracey McShane (AKA Jon Stewart’s Wife.)

Dear Mrs. McShane,

You are a bad ass. I will start there. When I see pictures of you, life is suddenly a cartoon. Birds chirp louder outside and it doesn’t annoy me. There’s a soft classical underscore playing throughout my day, and I see particles dancing. Everywhere it smells like fresh churros.

But Tracey (may I call you Tracey?), I have lastima for you because the world still knows you as Jon Stewart’s wife. And let me tell you something, I am a big fan. I would vote for your husband for president tomorrow. But you are not just his wife or any person’s wife.

1. You are a mom. Having recently been welcomed into the Crazy Land Of Motherhood myself, I’ve learned how loaded and powerful that is. Two human beings trust you most, and when they have bad days, you are the balm for their souls. You’ve worn scrunchies and forgone your own sense of style, you’ve put your needs last, you’ve slept 3 hours a night for a long time. And all for them. You are a hero. 2. You are an animal advocate. You have found your calling and the world is a better place for it, not just for our kind but for all kinds. You purchased a farm in New Jersey to provide a home for farm animals rescued from cruelty. You’ve taken everybody’s dream (”Oh, I just want to live on a ranch with a bunch of animals one day!”) and turned it into reality, not even for your benefit but for theirs. 3. You are an author. As an aspiring one, I know this is no small feat. I know it means hours hunched over your computer with your eyes burning and your body shaped like a C and drinking from the same refilled, BPA-saturated water bottle for 12 hours straight because you’ve got something to say. And boy, do you have something to say. Your book, “Do Unto Animals: A Friendly Guide to How Animals Live and How We Can Make Their Lives Better.” is incredible. Your writing is personal and it makes me giggle and it makes me feel more for the animals then I did before, which I’d thought was impossible. Plus you donate the proceeds to Farm Sanctuary?! C’mon, sister. Your only flaw might be making the rest of us look like heartless robots.

Trace-arooni, I imagine you probably do so many more things and are so many more things that I could only appreciate if I knew you personally, but I’m not that lucky. However, this much is evident: You are the real deal. You are a star.  So why do we still live in a time and place where women are continually reduced to the title of Mr. So and So’s Wife? Not to take anything away from your TV-redefining-hilarious husband, but why doesn’t everybody know your name? You’ve rescued pigs!

I’m tired of women being if not in second class, then in the 1.5 class. An asterisk. An epilogue. Still fighting to be seen more than we need to. I’m tired of women being Oz behind the curtain, and even though your husband seems to be like, “Um, I’m great because she’s great,” too few listen or too many think, “Awww, okay, but stay shrouded back there.” I’m tired of women having to choose between going to that meeting or pumping breastmilk for their baby, between kicking ass and cleaning ass. We cannot do everything. We try. We constantly fall short. I am tired of women being pulled in 1,000 directions, never really being anywhere ever again, and yet an understudy because of it. Because we have to do more. But making less money than a man does. Feeling like our bodies are a political pawn in some out-dated, macho chess game. Objectified, rape still a thing, beauty the ultimate aim. And all this in the United States. This is where it’s BETTER. 

There are exceptions to the rules, yes, tons, thank God. (Shonda Rhimes, I love you.) But it should not take fame or money or a really big butt or a sex tape to make a woman known, and the fact that it often does and that I am writing this post lastimas me to infinity. Just being good - a selfless and brave firefighter; a patient kindergarten teacher who smiles through tantrums; an I-ate-popcorn-for-dinner-because-I-work-the-night-shift nurse who holds an old man’s hand; a mother who buys her son hormones because inside he feels like a girl. Heroes. Like you. 

I want this to be your time, Tdawg. I picture you and Mr. Tracey McShane’s Husband frolicking on the sanctuary with all those sweet sheep and tender-hearted cows and goofy chickens. People like me are gifted with hope and inspiration because of people like you. Yes, your husband has made me laugh. But you have given me hope. That is not an unimportant thing. It just might be the most important thing. Que lastima not everyone agrees. Que lastima not everyone looks at a goat and sees somebody silly and significant in there. Here’s to eyes opening for the animals. For women. And for you.

p.s. Maybe you can be Hillary’s VP? A girl can wish.

Ugly Shoes At Macy’s.

Look, I’m no fashionista. I don’t sit on my couch tabbing the pages of a Vogue magazine, collecting outfit ideas. I wish I did, honestly, I wish I knew how to drape a scarf or what a pencil skirt is for. But I don’t think I’ve ever even read a Vogue. 

And I’m not judging, really, I’m not trying to be snarky. I’m not one to point at your outfit and scoff, or compare it disdainfully to my own, especially when GAP clothes still make me feel fabulous. But every once in a while I stumble across shoes like these, shoes that call for an explanation, shoes that make me do a double take not out of mockery but out of lastima.

The Macy’s in our neighborhood is on its last leg, barely holding on for dear life for years now. Being a concerned citizen, being community-minded, I go in to give a little looky-loo, thinking I’m stepping up my game. (Note: there is a Target next door where I regularly shop for my clothes so this feels like a big, grownup, New-York-Fashion-Week kind of move.) I remember the days when Macy’s was the fancy place you visited to buy your mom a legit wallet or a rhinestone keychain, so I’m not prepared to enter the Saddest Department Store In The World. 

What hurts more, being a Has Been or never being An It at all? Oh Macy’s, you slay me. Your hay day is over, your glory days are gone. Your salesladies no longer have faith; they barely have the courage to wave hello. The smell of flowery desperation isn’t in my imagination, it’s the barren perfume aisle, touting fragrances that must be fake because who’s ever heard of Ambivalence For Men. And that’s not even musac I hear - it’s musac of musac, or musac squared, three times removed from real music and three times as pathetic. Pity starts to rise up in me and I want to run, I want to turn around and blast through your awful mall doors. But not yet. I can’t leave so soon. I won’t kick a saleslady when she’s down. I force myself to sift through the racks and consider sequined tops, and then ask questions about a neon green set of pots.

After a good fifteen, I feel like it’s okay to go. Slipping out won’t offend anybody because I’ve put in my time, feigned enough interest. I give one last “I’m here for you” smile and really believe I’ve made it, that I’ve gotten off with just a little bit of despair - enough to poke some holes in my heart but not sink. A good chai latte will help shake it off. But I should have known better. 

They assault me on the way out, these shoes. By the door, alone on a shelf as if the surrounding boots couldn’t bare to share their display case. Purple kisses punch me from the left, red kisses slap me from the right. Thin, sole-less, flat slabs of sorrow. Who will buy you, even on sale? Who will wear you? Who will love you and frolic in your light and point down with a triumphant, “Aren’t these all the rage?” Or worse, WHO WILL?

You know who? Me. Me, you heinous pair of wobbly fabric. I will take you on. I will dance in your Macy’sness and I will wear you with lastima and with pride. Because the truth is, in my closet, you’re an improvement. 

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p.s. Forgive me, INC brand. I am not making fun of you. I am making fun with you.

PJ Corner.

I am pumping. Again. I will not walk you through the lastima that is a breastpump because I’m not a monster. With a disgusting lactation cookie in one hand and a water bottle in the other, I resign myself to the dark blue chair in the corner of our bedroom and turn off my dignity and turn on the machine. Its hum chants, “Press on! Press on! Press on!”

What will I do with these 15 minutes? Will I scour Facebook? Read a heavy article about gun control? Try to write a letter? Numbly stare down at my nipples? Seethe because men don’t have to worry about this part of childcare? There is too much to do. There is really nothing to do. It’s pressure. It’s paralysis. I spend the 15 minutes thinking about how best to spend 15 minutes.

Before I disconnect my breasts from tubes, before I head back to the babe, it peeks out at me - my husband’s pajama corner. Flannel pants and long sleeve tee sloppily rolled into a tube of fabric, tucked into the nook between his bed and his nightstand, whispering, “See me! Don’t see me! Am I worth seeing?”

Bashful pjs. Banished pjs. Tortured-soul pjs hoping not to inconvenience anyone with their baseness. It’s their insecurity that gets me most. Old and frayed and possibly borderline suicidal. They inform me my husband is tired. That he is trying to make my life easier. That he shops for clothes with a lastima-filled heart and picks the ones who need him most. 

I mercifully pull the pajamas up from their dungeon, shake off the dog hair, and lay them flat on our bed. I invite them to take up space and to keep me company the next time I pump. Fluffing his pillow, I tell my husband, “Rest. Relax. Thank you.” 

Next 15 minutes I’ll spend online ordering him some new garb. The most unabashed jammies I can find.

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p.s. The shirt had like four loose threads and a hole. Kill me. 

The Audience At A Stand-Up Comedy Show.

Date night. Funny night. Show night. My husband and I are keeping it light and keeping ourselves current by going to see stand-up comedy. Laughter! Filth! Impressions! 

I’m feeling saucy, wearing the black halter I haven’t worn since forever and sparkly eyeliner, too. We’re out amongst adults and cigarette smoke, moving with the buzz of a city on a Saturday night. I don’t even curse at all the Hummers parked in the lot. 

We race into the club because we’re running late and the headliner is a guy we love. I scooch into the booth beside my man, my jeans briefly sticking to the vinyl, and that’s when it smacks me in the face: the audience. 

Immediately their attentiveness whips at me, their eagerness for something fun, their clinging to joy, their laying down of sorrows and hardships because they need this break so desperately. As my husband bursts into hysterics because of some bit about cell phones, I burst into tears. I watch these strangers before me cracking up, mouths open wide, teeth out, their faces stretched and grotesque. Long Island Iced Teas decorate the tables. An obvious and awkward first date is seated in the front row. A chubby guy giggles along as the comic makes fun of his clothes. An old woman cleans her glasses with the same napkin she uses to wipe fried shrimp from her fingers. There is a man with a mustache to my left trying to get the other man with a mustache to laugh with him. (He does not.) 

I thought nothing could be more lastima-proof than comedy. I thought I’d come here to laugh, not to sob. I thought the dim lights would protect me, or the jokes, or the alcohol, but it turns out lastima is what makes humor work. The comedian ends on a tirade about blow jobs, and I watch in horror as a woman winks to her lover, blushing and proud of her liberated self, raising her Cosmopolitan high. I pray for her to perform like a champion tonight.

We make it to the end of the show, and my husband wipes the sparkly eyeliner streams from my face. It tickles. It feels good. And I laugh.

p.s. Open mic night…now that is a petri dish for breeding lastima.

p.p.s. I used to do open mics. I may have been beyond lastima because I was not so good.

Lastima Is Born.

I sit at the kitchen table. It is 3:31 am. I eat a “panesito” - otherwise known in my household as half a bagel with a slice of melted cheese (my father taught me well.)  The cheese is stringy and stretchy, grease slipping onto my open, dirty robe. My hair is in a tired ponytail and I haven’t been outside in 48 hours. I continue the tug of war with the cheese, ignoring how pathetic I must look, determined to win because I’m refueling. My baby will need to feed again soon.

I am so tired my knees hurt. (Who knew being tired could hurt your knees?) Today I sobbed in the shower because life cracked me open. Lastima has taken over, and it’s coming from every angle, and I’m too vulnerable to ward off the attack. I realized I’ve unintentionally spent a lifetime protecting myself from this kind of ordinary love. Not “ordinary” as in plain or unspecial because motherhood is an avalanche of special. “Ordinary” as in millions of people do it all the time and I used to wonder what the big deal was. “Ordinary” as in now I have an answer. Now I am one of many. Now I too have tasted this love and don’t want to live a moment without it. Now I am changed. There is new darkness, new light. Every shift scary.

In a state of half-shock, I mourn my old desire to stand out, to be remarkable, to earn my right to be on this planet. None of that matters anymore. My story is no longer the most important one. With bagel in hand, I stop fighting against the responsibility, the terror, and the transcendental joy of being a mom. Yes, it is huge and all consuming and disorganized. How do I wrap my arms around it? Where does the lasso go? Yes, time is pulling me along, without mercy, dragging me by the ears, its grip fierce, and yes, I am overwhelmed. But I am also liberated. I drop to my knees and finally admit that I am connected to everybody and that I have no control. First my chest explodes, then it tingles, and then it releases.

I ask Nobody: “Who wants this hanging over their head? Who wants the stakes SO HIGH? Who wants to welcome this kind of uncertainty and intensity?” Once upon a time I thought I didn’t, but I’ve never been more wrong. And I’ve never been so glad to be wrong. Nobody laughs at me. I laugh with him.

I can still get 1.7 hours of sleep so I zombie-walk to bed, grateful to know myself in a different way. Realer. Truer. Maybe I didn’t know myself before. Because there is a thrill in getting to comfort my baby like only I know how to do. There is a pride in learning how to write while shhhhing and rocking a bassinet at the same time. There is allowing my husband to be my anchor, and the quiet acceptance of how much I need him. There is caring more now about everything I’ve ever loved and everyone I’ve ever loved, and wishing I could make amends for every mistake, and praying for anybody I can think of. There are new depths I feel ready to go to if I follow my child’s lead. Because the world is spinning RIGHT NOW and she is in it and I don’t want to miss out. I  just might need to find energy and courage sometimes in the last bites of a panesito.  

p.s. Crispy edges are essential, but keep it tender in the middle. Perfect food-life metaphor or am I just an exhausted new mama?!?

The Animals of Texas.

When it’s raining in my neighborhood, I lie awake and think about all the poor animals outside, wet and cold. When it’s raining in someone else’s neighborhood - or city - or state - I think about those animals, too. Furry strangers I do not know, but I can feel. I feel them. I wake my husband up and nuzzle into his arms and he tries to calm me down.

Weeks ago there were powerful storms in Texas. Dark skies. Flooding. And sure, I worried about the human beings, the homeless community, and my family and friends who also happen to live there. But mostly (sorry Mom and Dad) I worried about the dogs and cats trapped outside. The chain and tethered, the feral, the half lawn-ornaments, the wholly discarded. I thought about how they could possibly move when needed, when desperate, like people do, people who run and jump and flee. Because if you don’t take your dog with you, where does he go? Because if you don’t stop for that kitten drowning in a sewer hole, who does?

Then a friend sent me this picture. This is the line of people in Austin who answered the call for emergency foster homes immediately after the floods. This is the line of people who waved their hands high in the air and said, “Over here! Me! I’ll take her in.” This is the line of people who opened their hearts, opened their homes, and did not forget their pets or anybody else’s either. This is the line that makes me weep with lastima and joy and hope, and a renewed faith in humanity, and a wish that everywhere, in any place, at any time, there is such a line.

The rain is over now. The storms have passed. But there are animals still out there, still in need, still cast aside. Even when the weather is perfect. Please - get in line.

p.s. Being a foster is THE BEST. Get in touch with your local rescue groups or animal shelters to find out more. 

Droplets Of Pee.

I am dozing off. Of course I’m enjoying this week’s Better Call Saul, it’s just that my eyes are doing their own thing these days, and it involves closing a lot. My husband is totally into it so I don’t tell him to pause the show. Yet I don’t try to fight it either. I simply give into the Seduction of Sleep, turn to the left, put a pillow between my knees, and get ready to surrender to the Land of Dreams. I see a vague outline of Ryan Reynolds and I know it’s going to be a good night.

But then it happens: tiny droplets of pee knock on my bladder’s door. These drops surprise me, assuming they had been liberated during my final restroom break only moments ago, but no, here they are. Rebellious stragglers who start off little, like ants, more of a nuisance really, but quickly morph into feeling like entire gallons. They become raging oceans. And soon I can’t focus on anything other than their existence. 

The warm glow of nodding off begins to fade. My mind races. “Should I get up again?” “I can sleep through it, no big deal.” “Damn you, urine machine!” The next thought comes imbued with lastima, hard and fast and loud: “These drops deserve to be recognized.”

My eyes pop open. I know all about this, the quiet desire to be seen and heard. I know all about feeling small. So I push back the covers, come to full standing, and make my way to the bathroom. I say goodbye to Ryan’s face. I give these droplets their time to shine over a porcelain bowl, and when I come back to bed, my husband and I finish the episode. We watch two more because I’m wide awake now, and it’s getting late, but I feel relieved in more ways than one. When I finally drift off, I sleep like a baby. Mr. Reynold’s baby.

p.s. Being thirsty also gives me lastima. Drink more and I get more droplets. I am caught between a rock and a hard place.

Overhearing A Miscommunication.

I like to take walks. I like to wander aimlessly under the sun, letting the feral creatures of my mind loose, or shutting the whole brain off because the breathing and the moving lulls me. Come to think of it, I love my walks. Or at least I used to. 

Maybe it doesn’t happen as often anymore because most people don’t talk, they text or tweet instead. But my neighbors are older. I mean we’ve-brought-the-median-age-on-our-block-down-to-65 old, so I am subject to it at any time. People around here look each other in the eye and converse. They ring the doorbell and offer you grapefruits from their tree. They smile and want to chat about city council. And if you’re out walking, if you’re exposed, then you’re just a target for an encounter, and thus vulnerable to the lastima of miscommunication.  

For example, just the other day Neighbor #1 said, “Is that your dog?” Neighbor #2 responded, “Same to you, thanks!” #1 replied, “Is he a Wheaten mix?” #2 said, “I’ll tell him you said hello!" 

And I was there, I had to watch this exchange from across the street, the confusion on their faces, even the dog’s. I felt their borderline shame. Everybody knew wires had crossed but nobody knew about what, and I had to will myself to keep going, ever so slowly, my mind weeping. Or that time I told a neighbor about the book I’m writing and she somehow heard me say I’d go to church with her. How could I dare clear this up, even if I am Jewish? 

To be fair, it’s not always due to age, sometimes it’s a leaf blower or 6am grogginess or what I assume is the general malaise of wanting to be left alone. But somehow I’m involved in and privy to a lot of these blunders, and every time I want to referee life, I want to bring hands together and say, "Write each other a note so you will understand.” I want to see a coming together, messages being received, and connections made. Because it hurts too much to witness the separation that threatens us all. 

Maybe tweets and texts aren’t so bad. They get the job done. For now I can always just stay inside, walk around my house, and work on not miscommunicating with myself. 

Parsley On A Plate.

You’re a garnish, at best. A condiment once in a while. Most of the time I don’t even notice you, except for when it’s Passover and I have to dip you into salt water to represent the tears felt by the Hebrew slaves in Egypt. That should’ve made you important enough in my world, but I’m afraid it hasn’t. Until now.

The other day I saw you, curly and crunchy, pushed off to the side of a man’s fish plate. And I’m not sure why the lastima came then, other than maybe because I was eating alone and if I think about how much eating alone gives me lastima, I would be hungry a lot. So I thought of you instead. Of how green and festive you appeared, attempting to entice. 

I tried not to stare. There were French fries next to you - those hot, plump, potato sticks being devoured one by one. I watched you be ignored. As my sadness grew, I began to be unable to eat my own lunch, so I tried distracting myself. I thought about the Oscars and baby goats and how it’s 75 degrees in Los Angeles in February. But I kept coming back to you, and in the end, I witnessed your defeat - untouched you lay there with nothing but oil and crumbs surrounding your wilted stem. You were scraped off a plate.

I looked you up when I got home, Parsley. I read about your Flavonoids and Antioxidants and how you're highly nutritious. I realized that you’re pretty much the leader singer of tabbouleh. And as I opened my eyes to your plight, I realized how well you portray those slaves after all. I didn’t quite eat you just for the hell of it - I’m sorry, you still taste like rotten air and your name reminds me of poop. But I cried, and that salt water was all for you.

p.s. Foodies out there, go easy on me. The tastebuds want what they want.

p.p.s. Thanks to http://www.bodyenlightenment.me/blog/2010/04/parsley-that-sprig-decorating-your-plate-may-save-your-life/ for the image. 

When Old People Call It Mary Jane.

You’re not ready for it. You’re not prepared for the auditory assault of lastima. You’re too busy reveling in the attention, sharing that story about your wild night, about your wild life, about what a wild child you were. You’re seated at the head of the table at a dinner or at your parent’s house or at a grandmother’s birthday party. You hold court.

Maybe it’s an old story, one from your college days, about how you used to get so high you’d eat entire boxes of Cocoa Pebbles. Maybe you live in California and you’re bragging about your favorite marijuana dispensary because their lollipops are easy to take on the road. Maybe you’ve never even smoked pot except for once, but you hold on tight to the memory because it’s proof of your youth. Maybe you’re talking about someone else, the burner from down the street.

Regardless - there’s an older person in your audience. Your father. Your boss. A Republican. Somebody who wants to lecture on the evils of weed. Except this somebody calls it “Mary Jane,” and they do it out loud. People murmur and eyes go wide and suddenly the contrast is too stark. The world’s general standard of coolness vs. their personal uncoolness, which is now painfully evident, which is now your burden, which now moves like a rain cloud over your sunny story. You can’t just keep talking because lastima makes your tongue thick. Because you want to roll yourself up like a roly poly bug.

You can imagine this person getting bullied back in the day. You can imagine the squareness of his life. Who calls it that? How will you protect Mr. Mary Jane from ridicule when he leaves to grab more mini quiches? Doesn’t he know all the reasons why legalization might not be such a bad idea? But you don’t get into it. Instead you do what you have to do. You wrap things up by saying you sparked a doobie. Smoked some grass. Toked the reefer. You let them laugh at you instead. And you join in on the laughter too, because you can handle being the dope.

p.s. This was written by someone who tried pot in high school a few times and literally became terrified of it forever. Suffice to say I am not a smoker and can empathize with those who don’t want it around. But for a list of reasons why making it legal is a good idea, click here.

p.p.s. How cool would it be if we could curl ourselves up like ropy polies? Now I sound high.

My Father Eating Soup.

He is known for his chubby cheeks, my father. Even when he slims down. Even when he was a little boy. Always, those cheeks. 

He is known for being expressive, my papi. Exclaiming, “AH-MAZING!” in his loud Cuban way over a New York slice of pizza or a Sprinkles vanilla cupcake. 

I like to break bread with my dad. I like the gusto he has for flavor, the appreciation, the desire to share. I like the way my mother forces him to eat his vegetables and how he gulps them down first so that he can savor the good stuff last. I like knowing that he will be excited about the chocolate chip cookie my husband found for him, or the new diner we discovered near our house. I like his enthusiasm for this great, big part of life and how such a small thing can make him so happy.

But there’s one thing I cannot take. There’s one thing I don’t enjoy at all: watching my father eat soup. Put Papi over a bowl of broth, and I’m crying, I’m drowning in hot, steaming lastima. His puffy cheeks wobble up and down. His mouth disappears, lost in all that skin, and becomes a tiny slurping O. His eyes widen and he makes a sharp “This is tremendous!” gesture with his calloused hands. 

My dad is the strong, tall tree we all sit under. Take shade from. Take fruit from. Lean back on. And yet the moment you give him a spoon and a cup of lentils, all of that fades away and he’s just a weed like the rest of us. He’s a boy again. Innocent and vulnerable, hungry and untroubled. It’s like he doesn’t know about the world for a minute, and how can I protect him? It’s like the wind might blow him away. It’s like I could go mad with love.

So I’ve trained myself to leave the table until appetizers are done, or to stare up at a restaurant ceiling and count lighting fixtures. Because it’s hard to see your parents as real. It’s too scary and beautiful and tender. It’s stripping away the roles. It’s getting closer. Does that feeling make me kinda sick? Yep. Does it sorta make me want to run away somewhere? Absolutely. But ask me any day who I want to sit with at a table, and I’ll say Papi every time, even if I have to weep into my bisque. 

At least I know come dessert, he’ll be jubilant again and sturdy, and praising sugar’s name. And if I still can’t feel better, I can always pinch those awesome cheeks.

                image

p.s. Winter is coming. That means more soup!#%$&* (And Game of Thrones!)

Central Park Juggler.

Dear Central Park Juggler,

I kinda don’t even know what to say to you. You look about 15 years old. You should know better. You should know about people’s dwindling attention spans and the ever-increasing need to shock and awe. You should know that you, standing there in a Hanes white T, tossing a few balls up in the air to Frank Sinatra, just won’t cut it. 

CPJ, there were guys down the way, a whole team of them, cut so buff they looked like Marvel superheroes, with live African drummers pounding a beat beside them. They picked audience members out from the enormous crowd and jumped over their heads. Literally they pulled six-foot men out of the audience and did backflips above them in the air! Then there were the skateboarders videoing their every move with a live action camera, and the Snapchat stories being made, and the Tinder dates meeting up for the first time behind the porta-potties at the meadow.

So suffice to say, some may have expected more from you. Nobody was around you, you at the end of a line of caricature artists, but I stood there for a minute. Did you see me? A fierce lastima overcame me, a feeling so cruel that my sunny day in Central Park grew cloudy. I was overcast with worry for you, with the purity of you, and suddenly, as if the heavens felt it too, as if I controlled the weather, out of nowhere it began to drizzle.

Nobody may have noticed you but I did. Only a few coins were in your bucket. Pity coins. And the thing is, you’re not wrong to do what you do. Because there was a simpler time before YouTube or Vine where honest tricks like handling six balls meant something. It meant you practiced and focused. It meant you aimed to please, not to be famous. But Juggle Boy, you’re a throwback. You’re out of touch. You’re invisible. I’m sad to say it’s not the world we live in anymore, even though you made me wish it was. You made me wish the internet (including this blog post) would disappear. I would go with you, back in time, to before all of this.

Instead I boarded a modern-day plane and used the WiFi on my way back to LA. I hope that the next time I come to the park, I’ll see a mass of bodies surrounding you. I’ll hear applause and lose count of all the dollars in your bin. But I hope most of all that you won’t change. That you’ll still be you, a reminder of back then packaged up in the now. Because maybe I had it wrong. Maybe it was supposed to rain that whole day, and it was you who made it sunny for a little while.

p.s. Snapchat makes me feel 100 years old.