How The Weather Affects Lastima. (Surprise, this is about animals again.)

It’s hot out. Sweltering. I skip to the mailbox because the gravel flames under my bare feet. There is no reprieve from the blazing trap, no way to take off enough skin.

I drink cool water. I am inside. I am protected and I am never thirsty. Then there is the sun, furious and unforgiving, and the world is burning and the day drags and everything is an inferno.

I know it may not be normal, I know it may not be healthy, but all I can think about are the animals who are in it. Under it. Unable to shake it. The ones with cherry-red, raw paw pads. The ones panting, wanting, chewing on grass or rocks as they search for liquid. The ones looking in, looking at you, looking to rest in the solace of your shade. The ones stuck in cages, in factories, in mills, in cars, in fear, in shock. They whimper for the white light to take them for good. The end will be their great lover.

I don’t know where, but I know they’re there. I can’t see them as I sip iced tea from my blue cup, but I can feel them, I feel every one of them, as if the heat is a threat screaming, “See me.”

Or it’s raining. Pouring out. There is lighting and a flood warning and I stare out the window at diagonal wet lines. Jagged cuts across smooth glass.

I am cozy and dry. I am inside. I am playing board games. Then there is thunder and it starts coming down in slow motion and it’s relentlessness and everything is gray.

I know I may be naive, I know I may be obsessed, but all I can think about are the animals who are in it. Under it. Unable to shake it. The ones without shelter. The ones who are tied up, chained up, absolutely forgotten. The ones left behind in a muddy yard. The ones clumped together, wet and shivering, pressed against each other while they wait for the storm to pass. They wait for life to pass. The ones running fast on the soggy streets, in a hurry to nowhere. Nobody acts like they exist.

I don’t know where, but I know they’re there. I can’t see them as I towel off in my house, but I can feel them, I feel every one of them, as if each raindrop is a message whispering, “Help me.”

Or it’s winter. Snowing. I sit by a fire and thaw out my bones and tie a scarf around my neck and hold a mug of hot tea. The temperature drops and I breathe out angels.

I am surrounded by softness and soup. I am inside. I am safe. Then there is the wind, bloodthirsty and biting, and the three little pigs say my house might blow down and my face is whipped and everything is dead under the frost.

I know I may be helpless, I know I may be small, but all I can think of are the animals who are in it. Under it. Unable to shake it. The ones who can’t open their eyes because the cold seals things shut. The ones sinking in the slush and surrendering to it because what’s the point in fighting back. The ones crying next to a snowman. The ones frozen solid, buried alive, concealed and congealed. Maybe the blizzard swallows them and they become the tundra.

I don’t know where but I know they’re there. I can’t see them as I weep under my blankets, but I can feel them, I feel every one of them, as if the ice is a tribute begging, “Don’t forget me.”

p.s. Apparently there isn’t a single season that doesn’t give me lastima. Maybe I should try living on Jupiter. 

p.p.s. We’re the ones who can say, “Please come in.”

(thanks to wheninspirationstrikesme.wordpress.com for this picture)

The Bad Dancer In Front Of Me.

James Brown tribute concert. Hollywood Bowl. Classic LA summer evening: bring a picnic, there’s too many people, pollution in the sky from all those cars. It’s hot. My husband and I are running late to meet our dear friends because we dared travel eleven miles. We sweat through our shirts as we hoof it up a hill with our Whole Foods bags.

We can barely tell which olives are which because the bleacher seats are so tight. Four people around us smoke pot and it’s skunky. We accidentally brought only one bottle of wine. I think about how bored my dogs must be at home and worry that I only checked the burners nine times and I really should have written more yesterday. It’s hard to put life down and pick up a good time. It’s hard to Be Here because Back Then and Coming Soon are such heavy loads.

Suddenly the badass Angélique Kidjo takes the stage and we jump to our feet. Her voice is a threat and a blessing. It rips through the night and grabs 17,376 people by the neck. She makes us all stand up and say it loud: "I’m Black and I’m Proud.“ The guy in front of me is especially feeling it. He waves his arms over his head but his body does not cooperate with the movement. It juts out the other way. He is wiggling, he is writhing, he is a rhythm murderer. He throws his head every which way. His shoulders pop up and down aggressively. He is near hurting his neighbors. There is nowhere else to look. He’s right in front of me.

The band starts jamming. The drumbeat thumps away my annoyance at city life and at life in general. All that’s left underneath is lastima for this man who moves like a broken slinky. Now I can’t take my eyes off him and now I am in tears and now I am really HERE. I take my husband’s hand and it’s lovely out. There’s a spotlight in the sky. There are stars. There’s a breeze. I am with friends. I am with thousands of people who feel black and proud no matter what color we are or how much shame we carry. And we’re dancing.

p.s. FYI, eating a tub of olives is not the best coping mechanism for lastima.

Hotel Carpeting.

I like to be home. With my husband and my dogs and my garden, I like to be home making soup and writing. You may think I’m an extrovert, and maybe the shell of me is, maybe my skin, but inside my heart is a quiet, still homebody. 

So I am scheduled to go on a work trip. I am set to travel, and not with friends or family, but with a tiny tube of toothpaste and the black pumps I hardly ever wear. I’m not excited because we are headed to Florida in the middle of summer and humidity is a known enemy. I tell myself it will go by quickly; I bring books and trail mix to distract me through the nights.

I arrive at the conference and my smile is shiny, my palms are sticky with sweat. I talk and laugh and work the room. I’m disconnected and far away so I feel nothing until I look down to find the most atrocious hotel carpeting looking back up at me. Thick woven fabric, bold colors and heinous swirls, I think, “Who walks here? How many people are not home?”

Suddenly I am squatting. I am touching the floor. My hand is rubbing the coarseness. I feel lastima for the sea of suits and the echo of chatter and the eagerness to sell. I feel lastima for the business and for the hustle, for the speed with which we live and for the need to run. Most of all I feel lastima for the person with extraordinarily terrible taste, the one who chose this carpet.

A new person approaches my booth. It’s much harder to work when you’re crying so I get myself together. I’m centered now, I’m open. I don’t dare glance at the ground again, but the whole time we chat it feels real.

p.s. Hotel carpeting in Florida is especially bad.

Food On A Mustache.

There’s something lastima-inducing about a mustache to begin with. It’s a colony of hairs grouped together. In a line. On your face. Decorating the entrance to your mouth.

Curly tips, neat, or bushy, it softens a heart to see one. To see one bouncing up and down as you talk. To see one curving higher with a smile. To see one turning gray. I believe the only exception to my mustache-equals-lastima rule is maybe Hitler’s.

Eating with people is hard for me. If they get food on their shirts or teeth, I have to spend all my energy fighting back tears and have very little left for digesting. Once a friend of my mom’s had hummus on her ear during a lunch, and I cried about it afterwards for three days. But if you get food on your mustache, all bets are off. I simply won’t be able to fake it or to let it go or to go on. I will have to clean the stache. I will protect you from the horror of tasting old omelet on your lip-hairs an hour later, and from being the guy with egg on your face. I will imagine when you shave the damn thing off out of frustration and then you’ll look like a little naked worm, and it will make me want to hold your mustache in my arms and cherish it forever. 

Keep it, we’ve grown accustomed to you with it. Just find a good friend with lastima who will wipe your mouth as needed. Or call me and I’ll be there. I may not be able to make it through the meal, but I’ll be there.

p.s. Even Hitler got food on his face once in a while! :(

Sleeping With One Leg Sticking Out From A Blanket.

You’ve seen it. You know the position of which I speak. Maybe you share a bed with someone who does it. Hell, maybe YOU do it, burrowing yourself under the blanket, cuddling up, snuggling, only to stick a foot out from its corner. Designing a personal area for ventilation, demanding a perfect mixture of both warmth and coolness, because why do you have to pick just one?

I dare you to think of somebody you dislike - a shitty friend, an ex lover, Michael Vick. I challenge you to picture that someone whom you resent with all your guts now fast asleep, maybe their dumb mouth hanging open, perhaps snoring like the giant, rude turd that they are. But then envision their leg protruding out from the covers, their helpless toes dangling in the chill of an early morning bedroom. Imagine their positively stupid toes.

I defy you to hate them through the lastima you will feel, but I don’t think you’ll be able to. I think you will glance down at your own feet and allow their equally silly nature to become a bridge, connecting their awfulness to yours. I think you will kick an escape route into your own tucked-in sheets and let the exposure make you feel good. I think you will soften to the humanness of our preferences, how our bodies instinctively make choices even when our brains are turned to Dream Mode, still working for us even when we are imperfect.

Maybe you’ll even forgive this person for being as they are, and for being uncovered. 

p.s. By the way, if the whole leg is sticking out, and I mean up to the knee, prepare yourself for an emotional breakdown. How foolish are knees?!

Horses.

I am walking near Central Park and I see her. A beautiful white mare pulling a carriage. Inside are two fat tourists in ugly shorts, eating corn dogs and pointing. This is their idea of romance. The horse is reluctant because the taxi cabs next to her are honking and she wants to stop. Her driver whips her back. I shout at the top of my lungs, over the traffic, over the pollution, “Shame on you!” The driver gives me the finger. I watch with helpless rage as her old, white, thick legs disappear around the city street, pulling and pulling. 

I am watching Game of Thrones, curled up in my husband’s lap. Someone’s head got cut off. Someone’s hand got cut off. Someone’s dick got cut off. I want to lose myself in Peter Dinklage’s eyes but I am screaming because the horses are screaming, their lips pulled back, their eyes wide, their fear reaching out from the TV screen and grabbing me. My husband whispers, “Shh, it’s okay. They are just pretending.” But I’ve never heard of Horse Acting School. How will I know for sure that they are loved once the cameras stop rolling? They do not know that the battle is fake.

I am reading about President Obama. How he blocked the resumption of horse slaughter in the U.S., and how I want to kiss him for it, and how many people have been fighting to bring it back. Even though domestic slaughter ended in 2007 for good reasons. Even though horses are still being sent across our borders into Canada and Mexico for consumption, and it’s brought them disgrace. Even though the meat itself has been proven unsafe, and the methods of murder abhorrent. We are becoming increasingly skilled at destroying life. 

I think of BJ, the first horse I ever road on an unpaved road in Burnet, Texas. I was ten years old. He was sensitive and social and intelligent, less skittish than the other horses. As my fellow campers and I sang songs about Life Savers candy and baked under the hot, dry sun, I felt lastima for BJ. For him having to haul my ass around. For his use and function, how it measured his worth. For the kindness in his eyes. I wanted to look into his eyes, not sit up high behind them, not make him do things, but to stare until I understood his secrets. I wanted to hold him, to place my little arms around his proud neck, and to be his friend. 

Not his driver or his director or his butcher, but his friend.

p.s. If you really get and communicate with horses, then you are an earth angel. 

The Sample Bar At Trader Joe's.

No, don’t look at me like that, Mother of Three, as you try the quinoa-pasta with arrabiata sauce and a noodle falls out of your mouth and onto your white shirt. Your kids make fun of you, pointing and singing, “Nanny nanny boo boo!”

Never look me in the eyes, Sweet Old Lady, as you park yourself by the coffee station and basically sip eighteen mini-cups of Ethiopian blend instead of forking over $2 at a Starbucks. You are blocking the container of soy creamer, and people are rolling their eyes behind your back.

Absolutely not, Cute Guy With Dreads, I won’t witness you shoving gorgonzola flavored crackers into your mouth as the crumbs fall on your beard, as you simultaneously chop and shop, as you accidentally push a cart full of greens into another man’s calf. The Cruciferous Crunch is out of stock thanks to you.

What is it about a sample bar that makes us go insane? free food! Free Food! FREE FOOD! I once had an ex-boyfriend who would drive twelve miles to Costco for lunch, just so that he could fill up on little tastes at no charge.  What is it about us and snacks?

Tiny bites of lastima. Dixie cups and mini spoons. Glimpses into mouths I never wanted to see. A peek at strangers chewing and digesting - we all do it the same way. The pitiful line we rush into, eager and hungry and committed to a good deal, especially when it’s extra tasty and then a huddle forms around the grill.

Enjoy the morsels, fellow humans, let it break up the monotony of buying food. But please don’t try to meet my gaze. I’ll be too busy hiding near the peanut butter, crying about the way your jaw moves or how silly it is to swallow, to take a bite with you.

p.s. Unless it’s wine. If they have wine samples, I’m in.

The Dry Lime.

My husband likes a Gin & Tonic. He likes it with 2 limes. What he does not like is to have to deal with my lastima creeping in and ruining his intention, which when it comes to G & T’s is solely to kick up his feet on a lawn chair during a cool, crisp evening and relax and be content.

So he’s doing his thing in the kitchen - Hendricks in hand, tonic, crushed ice. He’s getting ready to sit outside in our backyard and watch the sun go down and feel good. It’s been a long day. It’s been a long week. I have 100 things weighing heavy on my heart but I’m being super cheery, I’m really trying, I’m telling myself, “Only think positive thoughts, let him have this!”

I do not tell him that I have lastima for the mailman because he still has an 80s-rocker hair style. I do not tell him I have lastima when people talk excitedly and their foreheads crinkle a lot. I do not tell him I have lastima for Mexico or Rwanda or the entire Middle East or everywhere. I simply smile and give him a high five.

That’s when he picks up lime #1. It’s soft and plump. You might think it won an Olympic gold medal for being the Best Piece Of Fruit In The World. But he cuts into it, takes half, squeezes, and not a drop comes out. He presses harder - zilch. And I’m trying to have a dance party, trying to tickle him, telling jokes, but he’s caught up in this dry lime and in how it has nothing left to give and how it looked so full yet it’s empty.

This gets to him. My husband has lastima for a little lime. And that wave of emotion can be cleansing. It can loosen the mind. It can make you feel connected, and that will hold you while you rest. I sit with him at dusk and let him unwind.

p.s. I did not tell him that I have lastima for cocktail garnish.

Pedicure Man

Dear Gentle Vietnamese Man Who Gave Me A Pedicure:

I realize that this may come across as bold, or conceited even, me writing to you as if you need a message. I’m aware that you don’t. I’m aware that you’re doing just fine. I’m aware that it’s me with the problem.

I was in a state that day, quite a state. The brink of depression? Buried anger? Indulging in regret? Who knows the root of darkness. But in the massage chair with its terrible kneading, my feet pruning in the whirl of warm, bubbly water you drew for me, I remained tucked inside myself until you sat before me. 

And I saw you. Your underbite, the giant mole on your cheek, your insecurity, your relationship to somebody at the salon who must have given you this job. We both nodded toward the tangerine nail polish as if we’d been best friends forever, and this agreement meant something to me. See, I’d been standing before the row of tiny bottles unable to pick a shade for seemingly days, as if the decision truly mattered, as if the paralysis of my rumination or of my toe color was somehow equal to your plight as an immigrant. 

You couldn’t speak English and you were tickling my arches during the rub down, but I didn’t laugh because I didn’t want you to think I was laughing at you; I would never. You had my back when it came time to choosing a hue, and I wouldn’t forget that. But I wondered to myself how many women sit here with their swollen ankles and don’t notice you, your hopeful eyes, your small frame but strong hands, your investment in their pampering. I almost neglected to note your smile, having been chained so entirely within myself and I would’ve missed the moment to connect and to feel lastima swoop down like a ravenous vulture who eats away at self-obsession. 

I imagined how hard you fought to be here, filing my nails in the Land of Opportunity. My parents were fighters, too. And I didn’t want to judge you for fleeing your country for mine, and I didn’t want to pity you for your lot - I wanted to acknowledge your moxie. Because for the first time that day, hell that week, I thought of how lucky I was. And the antidote for gloom is always gratitude. What’s enough money to tip you for reminding me of that?

p.s. Since we’re here, please allow me to apologize for my heels. I run.

Wile E. Coyote.

Listen, bud, I know what it’s like to chase the same thing over and over again. I know what it’s like to run off a cliff. I know what it’s like not to let something go. Wile, have you tried Zoloft? There are pills for this kind of thing, take it from someone who’s refolded her own t-shirts seventeen times and who keeps bumping into the same questions, the same walls, the same no’s. 

I got lastima for you, sweet coyote, for how often you fall a thousand feet or get smushed between rocks or race through a desert with your tongue hanging out, because you think you’re getting close. You’re not getting close, in fact. You’re not going to catch him. You’re supposed to be the bad guy, I think, but I appreciate your perseverance and determination too much not to root for you. 

I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll have a little talking to with Road Runner. Maybe ask Double R to tap into a bit of lastima himself, to animate his heart, and to just stop. To stop being such a dick. To stop showing off his lean legs and marathon stamina and how clever he is in that head full of feathers and ideas. I’ll threaten him, that’s what I’ll do. To make him let you win one time. I’ll scream, “Just once, RR! Give him ONE!” And I’ll get up in his beak when I say it. When I’m done with that bird, he’s gonna throw you a bone.

Because we’ve all got a touch of the OCD when it comes to a dream, and sometimes I want to give up. Yes. We’re not all so brave as to play with dynamite and ignore a giant ACME sign, which some might call stupid, but I call courage. Wile, you choose getting burned over quitting. And that inspires me to want to stand up again. So look behind you, pal, you’ve got a friend on the trail. And we can’t do it alone. I just know one day we’ll be clinking our Prozacs and laughing, as we celebrate our triumph.

p.s. Is Road Runner STICKING HIS TONGUE OUT at him in this picture? So help me…

A Circle Of Women.

I am part of a circle of women. Underground women. We are known but nobody sees us. Eyes half-closed and swollen, we stand in a web, a stringy cotton, a thick haze of despair. We are strong. Stronger than we imagined. We have to be. We have to lift cars for fun. Every fiber being tested, each cell being called, as we beg over and over again, “Will it come?” Will it come?

I am a part of a circle of women. Shoulder to shoulder, sometimes only looking up or looking down or looking within, so we forget that there are others nearby. I am right here. And you are there. And thank God for that. It doesn’t matter if we’re friends or where we came from or what stories we carry, in this circle we sway because we’re the same. It’s the quiet, the silent sting, the swelling up, the mourning someone we never touched, only felt, the shadow of a future. In that, we hold hands. In that, lastima overtakes me until it feels like I’ll be swallowed by our collective loss. I wish I could chase down your wish and mine.

I am part of a circle of women. Humbled by the elusive, made vulnerable by the wanting. How do you make a miracle happen? You wait. Wait longer. Give. Give more. Relax but drive. Let it go but go after it. Believe. Surrender. Regret and push and count and accept and get angry. What is the way to peace here? We’re not making a scene now. We’re hushed now. Don’t cry now. Move on now. How can we?

I am part of a circle of women who wake up each day empty. Such stillness it could cause a war. We hold our breaths. We sleep with eyes open because a gift might come in the middle of the night and we can’t afford to miss it. We walk through each day with one hand wiping back tears, and the other clubbing a way through the jungle. With a machete. With our fingernails. With our ferocity. With our fear. Is it working? Is anybody listening? Could there be nothing more?

Maybe today there is nothing more. Maybe I have to be okay with that. Maybe it’s just the daring courage to hope and my place in this circle that keeps me going on. 

Gummy Mouth.

The area above a dog’s mouth, just south of the nose, can only be described as a mysterious shadowland. It’s not just hair or fur. It’s not a feature really. It’s an outline. It’s a silhouette of a mustache, something French and fancy. I am in love with this precise part of a canine face.

Follow it right, follow it left, and trace with your fingertips a fine mouth that seems to be made out of gummy bears. The skin-meets-latex-stuff on a pup’s snout, it stretches into a panting smile when they’re happy, it hangs loose when they sleep. And my lastima starts to thicken when I wiggle it because it feels like the felt on a puppet. Because it feels fake. Because I think about how they all have this make-believe, cartoonish, black rubber on their faces, and it is very cute. And it is very real.

Today I walked through the hallways of an animal shelter. I stopped at every kennel to say “Hello.” To say “I am looking at you." To say, "You count." It’s one thing to stand among such needful barking and weighted whimpers, to inhale a world of hurt and exhale all of your hope. It’s one thing to see what we’ve done.

But it’s quite another to touch every set of gummies through the bars and let it be funny. To let it make you laugh despite wanting to cry. To let them bring you joy, and to let them be proud of it. To let them know that they are loved for their stretchy lips, if for nothing else. Even if just for a single moment before they go, to somebody in this world, they were not imagined or invisible, they were very much here and it was a delight. And it mattered to feel their breath on my hand. 

image

p.s. I like to pretend my dog is a mustached, French waiter and try to order food from her. 

A Grandma's Purse.

I’m in a baaad mood. I’m a grump. I’m a stranger in a strange land, one of mochaccinos and tweets and Ugg boots and pep and everybody’s moving like a guppy through life. I don’t want to connect today. I don’t want to make it easier and be among you. I don’t like that your hair smells so clean and I don’t care that it’s 80 degrees and I’m not won over by The Lego Movie poster. I simply want to pout as I walk through this outdoor mall, and you should know I plan on dragging my heels. Nothing will pull me up from the bottom of the well.

And then I see her sitting on the edge of a fountain, in the middle of a hundred faces. She is holding her purse and looking at it with such tenderness, a tiny crack happens inside me. An opening. It’s enough for lastima to seep in. And I can hear her too, I can hear her humming a tune, something from long ago, or maybe I’m just imagining it, but even still, the annoyingly cheerful chatter fades away, and I’m softened by her lullaby.

I walk closer. I move in. On her purse is a picture of her family, her grandchildren, perhaps all that she has left in this world. Everybody’s in tank tops here, but she’s wearing a coat. Everybody’s sporting the new trendy sling purse here, but she’s got an old handbag and that handbag is all she needs. Everybody’s engrossed with their iPhones here, but she is sitting by a fountain and being still and looking at her pocketbook with tears in her eyes.

She makes me want to frolic and jump, right then and there. She makes me want to be the kind of person a grandmother stares at on her purse. And suddenly everybody around me is somebody’s grandchild. I am lifted up by their energy and by the sunshine, but most of all by her.

p.s. Cheesy almost always gives way to lastima, but it’s a small price to pay for getting in a good mood.

Animal Rescue Dance Party.

I know, I know, you’ve had a bad experience with an animal rescuer. I’ve heard it before, and although I will keep trying to make you see it another way, I get that it turned you off. I hear that you think we’re all crazy.

But do me a favor, click here. I believe that at the core of almost all animal saviors, this is the song playing in their minds and these are the moves happening within their heart-walls. They just might not know how to express it. But when you walk away from the kennels and it’s quiet again, I hear ABBA humming in their bloodstream and I ride the waves of their wishes. And oh, the lastima it gives me, how much they care about homeless pets. How they stay up late at night bottle feeding unweened kittens, cleaning poop, swiping their own credit cards for an old dog’s needs, fielding calls, writing pleas, and then cleaning poop again. How adoption fees go right towards opening another cage at a high-kill shelter, leading four paws out a front door and onto fresh grass. 

Existence with dedication. Living off licks and nuzzles. Desperate for others to help carry the load because it is so heavy and their shoulders are so tired. Because they’ve been burned and it’s not the animals’ fault. Because they chew on frustration every day that things are the way they are even though they don’t have to be. And so. Sometimes they are in a bad mood, perhaps make it harder than necessary. But can I say in their defense how very expended, overextended, and upended their lives are? You may think, “Why bother?!” But I hope you will watch the video and find a real-life answer to the question and that you will notice how good it feels to be part of such rewarding joy and that you will realize it’s pretty great to become a hero. Let’s cut them a break for doing the heavy lifting.

Rescuers, volunteers, shelter staff, they all came together to make a video and show us on the outside what it feels like on their inside. I am crying from it. And I am sorry the lady at the adoption event was nasty to you and that the puppy didn’t get to go right to your home. But when I look into the eyes of an animal rescuer, I see reasons for their protection and terrible stories nobody should have to carry and harsh truths that make it difficult to smile at the sun again. And they need us in order to smile again. In order to keep going. In order to keep saving.

Please don’t give up on pet adoption just because somebody was impossible or mean or weird. Please don’t forget your lastima when you search to find a furry best friend. That is how rescue becomes fun, a celebration, a dance party. And all animals deserve to dance.

p.s. Admittedly Chance looks a little scared of partying. He’ll get the hang of it.

p.p.s. Thank you, Deanna Raphael, for sending this vid!

p.p.p.s. Adopt-a-Pet.com – talk about a good time!

Stuck In The Airport Escalator.

Airports are for people watching. Your wait time will be less annoying and more useful if you study others, invent their life stories, take mental snapshots of clothing DOs and DON'Ts. All the while you should be eating things you’d never eat like French toast sticks or an enormous bag of stale trail mix. This is what makes a terminal seating area worthwhile. This is what makes a flight delay fun. This is what makes waiting for your luggage bearable. Let the bustle of to-and-fro be like a play unfolding just for you. 

So we land and we’re tired and we go to baggage claim. That’s when the lastima takes off. I see huddles of people waiting for their loved ones, holding up signs, standing on tiptoes and asking, “Is that him?!” There’s a teenage girl with pink highlights and I imagine she’s picking up her father. She usually writes journal entries about how much she hates him, but today she’ll be his ride home. A bald man paces and talks on a cell, and I picture him as a robot inside, secretly a machine. Nobody knows except the scientist coming to town to reprogram him. Then there’s the guy with a service dog who I wish was greeting me. I’d hug his canine and whisper “thank you” into a furry ear. Behind them all, a smiling face is floating up on the escalator from the parking garage. She is glowing. She is perfect.

For sure her lover has just deplaned. I am certain of it. She’s wearing a long, sexy, flowing blue dress and her makeup is fresh and her hair is done up high. I take note of how beautiful a long neck can be. She’s already fluttering inside, anticipating his arrival, and is this a long distance relationship? A husband in the army? Is she having an affair that overpowers her better judgement?

In the midst of my staring, assuming my husband will keep eyes on the carousel, a loud buzz rings out. Her ascent has reached the top but she cannot unmount. She is stuck in the mouth of the escalator, her blue dress pulled deep into its gears. People behind her brush past, a repairman quickly appears and gets to work, and I begin to worry that the man she’s waiting for will show up. NO! He can’t see her like this, all done up and in a jam. NOT NOW! She starts to panic about it too, glancing at her watch, sweating, primping, tugging at the fabric. This is ruining her plan! This will kill a perfect moment! Her embarrassment hurts me, and I want to be her cover-up. I want to distract his eyes. I want to find scissors and set her free.

Too late, he’s here, I can tell from her face. I follow her gaze across the room to find a gorgeous man, and I understand her concern and her outfit. The lastima is turbulent until it turns into relief. He walks right to her, steps over the escalator-service-guy, and hugs her hard. Maybe it’s her imperfection that he loves most.

p.s. By the time they left, our bags had FINALLY arrived! Glad my husband was there to notice. 

Watching The Drain Unclog.

Yuck. Standing in soapy water up to my ankles, I glance at the drain and wonder what the hell is in there. Hair? Shampoo residue? Dirt? How gross are we, really?

My husband tries to fix it himself. He makes a list, goes to Lowes, comes home with some sort of machinery and gooey formula. He rolls up his jeans and reads the instructions. He even watches a YouTube video about how to unclog a drain, and I listen with sadness at the most boring content that’s ever lived online and at his full attention to it. This man of my life, he is always eager to solve things. He wants to figure it out, he wants to make it work, he wants to hold up a shiny remedy and say “There! I did it!” So I peek from a crack in the bathroom door, lastima already pooling at my heels, and I whisper silent prayers that the water will go down and that his sense of manliness, his sense of duty, will go up.  

But prayers aren’t always answered. The plumbers come that afternoon. They are from Nairobi and they are so nice, I contemplate inviting them to stay for dinner. My husband tells them we honeymooned in Kenya, and they thank us for traveling there as if we weren’t the lucky ones, as if we weren’t the ones honored with safari and scenery. They bring out their plumbing equipment and it’s for realys. My husband says, “Can I watch?” And I think, “Watch what, watch a pipe clear?” Yes, that is what he is asking. And with that, I’m filled with a mass of lastima the size of a continent, the size of Africa itself.

I watch him watching them. He studies their handiness and their dudeness. You know, how guys get hair and oil buildup out of shower-holes? Soon enough it’s unblocked, the cloudy water evacuates, and we pay the men for their services. As they drive away, I tell my husband, “I don't know what I’d do without you. You’re my answer.” He beams. And I mean it.

p.s. We should have broken bread with them, they were the coolest guys in LA.

Cookie Monster.

As a kid, I had lastima for Cookie Monster. I thought he was more vulnerable then the other muppets because he was pear-shaped and blue and had a voracious appetite he couldn’t control. I’d picture him eating an oatmeal raisin in the middle of the night, in a dark corner of a kitchen so nobody would catch him. I imagined him stuffing Snickerdoodles into his mouth, chanting the usual “om nom nom nom,” but quickly because he didn’t want to count how many he’d consumed. I worried he was cheating on his Weight Watchers points or feeling badly about himself or numbing out, all the while filling his arteries with fatty oils and unhealthy cookie-juices. But eventually I accepted that Cookie Monster wasn’t real and I let him sing me songs and I moved on.

Cut to now and we’re at a holiday party. There are a million baked goods splayed out on a long table, sexy sweets a'glistening. It’s overwhelming catching up with a so many people, keeping names straight, squeezing a yearly update into 20 minutes, making sure to laugh around strangers and family. I want to deal with this by face-planting into the dessert table. Instead I pull back on my reigns.

I fill up with carrot sticks and seltzer even though it’s way less fun. And as I work the crowd, I come up with acronyms to remember who’s who and I scroll through the lean rolodex of what I’ve been up to and I reach for more melon-balls wishing they were chocolate. Finally I excuse myself, I need a break, I need to put restraint down for a minute. I follow my nose into the kitchen because pies are baking in an oven and no one will be in there. I see him right away, the man and his coffee cake. He’s hovering above it like it’s a baby bird, like the cake is in that picture from Back To The Future and it’s going to disappear so he better get at it fast. He’s eating with his bare hands, little squirrel-claws, grabbing at the crumbling bites as if it’s been too long since he’s been intimate with this lover. When he turns to see who has entered, who has broken the seal of his solitude, he meets my gaze and I know for certain that I’m not supposed to be here. His eyes bug out and bits of pastry squat on the corners of his mouth and shame has stained his clothes.

I want to tell him that it’s okay to be messy. I want to tell him that I understand, that sometimes lastima is decorated with powered sugar on top, that maybe during the holidays we indulge to survive. I want to hug him because Cookie Monster might be real after all. But I keep my lips sealed, only open them to shove a brownie in. Then another. We stay there, overeating, and we don’t ask questions and we don’t talk. We simply chew.

p.s. I don’t know if I was super stuffed from food or from feelings.  

Pins & Needles.

My first time at acupuncture and I am afraid. I’m sure it’s going to be agony. They’re going to poke an organ accidentally, pop something inside me like I’m made of bubblegum. But still I go in because everybody said I should and because it would be rude to run out of their office screaming. I lay back in a comfy chair and worry that it’ll feel like stabbing, that the calming track of running water will make me have to pee, that serenity will remain nowhere, forever. 

I hear a rustling of needles. Oh shit, here it comes. I hold my breath tight, I lock it up, I put a gun to Oxygen’s face. Then I look around the room and see them: a middle-aged woman with a shaved head, tears streaming down her face, searching for a cure, she is believing in miracles. A man in a suit, eyes open, hands folded on top of his heart, he is needing help, he is humbled, maybe for the first time. A young woman smiling, rubbing her pregnant belly, she is shedding old fears, she has found her answer, and everything is about to change. Now I want this to hurt. I want to take their hurt. I want to grab at the vat of pain because there can only be so much, and why should they carry it all? I want my lastima to have meaning, and pins and needles might be the way.

The acupuncturist’s voice by my ears whispers, “Let go.” It is so very shocking, it is so very soft, it is so very the antitheses of my mind’s usual chanting, that I simply obey. She puts a needle in my ear, murmurs the word “sedation,” and my muscles and tissues are soothed into submission. It’s like the molecules in the air have turned that gun around on me, and I have no choice but surrender.

I barely feel the pins going in. I only feel a stinging like she lit a spark under my skin, like a tenderness has formed, like the channels are changing direction. And I feel lastima moving most of all. First as a slow, sad sway - the dance of powerlessness. But then it turns into a jig, a leap, a hoedown - the celebration of acceptance. After that it finally comes - a little peace.

p.s. When they put one in your forehead though - still scary!

Dinner At Abuela Rosita's.

It’s senior year of college. My best friend, Christina, and I go to Miami for Spring Break so that we can tan until we peel and flirt with men in white loafers and gold chains. We’re near popping with excitement when we arrive at the hotel in South Beach. We eat Pastelitos de Guayaba and draw out a map of dance clubs for the night, only there’s one obligatory thing we must do first, one request which my mom has made: have dinner at Abuela’s.

Ugh, fine, we’ll have dinner at my grandma’s even though MTV will certainly not be there to cover it. Bratty and grimacing, I slide on jeans and pack my miniskirt in a purse for later.

We walk into her tiny apartment and it smells like too much oil. Abuela Rosita in her bright orange smock, full face of make-up, blue eye shadow included, she is swaying her hips to a staticky song on the radio. Dozens of bangles clank along. We bring her flowers and chocolates, and she acts like the Queen of England because of it, like she is royalty and we are in a castle and isn’t it beautiful? She doesn’t have two dimes to rub together, and yet she is rich. Abuela kisses my cheeks fifty times and tells me I feel like my mother. Now there is a lastima-casserole baking in the oven.

Abuela goes back to frying tostones in a pan, pours the other half of a Crisco bottle, smushes the plantains on a paper towel once they’re done. Her small hands push down on the counter but I feel the pressure in my heart. Do I call her enough, I wonder? When is the last time I wrote? She laughs with Christina, tells her she’d be a great First Lady, that she can see it in her future. Then she looks at me and says, “You can make it.” And for the first time, I believe I can. Abuela continues talking a mile a minute because who comes over anymore, who does she cook for? Only Buddha and Jesus and the Jewish star hanging together on her bedroom wall. She has taken what she wants from all religions because rules don’t apply here, these are her friends, and her faith is simply love.

A fire sets off on the stove. We wave rags at the detector and put out the flame and nobody panics. It becomes the greatest party the world has known, us dancing at the alarm, drinking wine, a cloud of smoke to hold this moment. Over her miniature table, hours pass way into the night and I want to throw away my miniskirt - who needs it? Greasy food goes down well with a side of stories and my best friend can’t stop smiling and Abuela lays her fingers on my wrist because she doesn’t want me to go.

For the rest of our trip, not a bar or nightclub would match the fun. And for the rest of my life, I would remember this time with Abuela, how I almost missed out on sharing one last night before she passed away. How I almost missed out on the brightest lastima that’s ever shone.

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p.s. We miss you and feel you every day.

The Old Man Who Taught Me Enough.

I’m boring. I’m outdated. I’m lonely. I complain about it to my husband and whine, “Life used to be more fun!” It’s true. There used to be bar hopping and 3am Denny’s pancakes and unpredictable evenings where new friends were made or old friends were lost. There used to be so many people around all the time and music always playing and exhilaration because energy was in motion. Now there’s a lot of static. Now the most surprising thing that happens is I make humus from scratch. 

We decide to have our own wild night, just he and I. We’ll sit on barstools and imagine what it would be like to work as adventure photographers and gorge on french fries and beer. Stand back, Healthy Dinner. Go away, In Bed By 10pm. Buzz off, Responsibilities, and while I’m at it, up yours, Incessant Yawn. Tonight my husband and I are hanging out at a bar until late, and even though everyone we know is sleeping, we’re going to live it up anyway.

But we’re fading by the time we arrive. We walk in and I see him first, the old man sitting alone. He looks up and smiles, and I silently pray that he’s waiting for somebody. Our table is located within viewing range, how convenient. Nobody comes to join him.

An hour goes by. My eyes are getting heavy. My heart is getting heavy. Both the fries and the beer taste meh. The elderly gentleman has been keeping busy with his cell phone, vodka tonics, a basket of onion rings, and he seems content. Yet my lastima wants to keep him company. Couples and groups pass by, and I wonder aloud again if it would be presumptuous, somehow rude even, to rush over to his table and throw my arms around him. Then he starts to laugh like he’s heard the funniest joke in the world. His wrinkles push back and his wise eyes shrink, and he’s having a party over there!

Maybe he’s just shy. Maybe he’s a widower. Maybe he wanted more than this. Or maybe he is okay. A cocktail and some comedy and the buzz of high spirits surrounding him, and he can look back on his life with fondness, and he can look ahead with a quiet calmness unfolding. Maybe he can just be, exactly where he is, and what would I give to feel that for one minute?

I clutch my husband’s hand. I acknowledge my memories. And then I think, “Enough.” We’ve grooved on plenty. We’re never really alone. Now it’s time go to home and that is good. I thank him as we leave. I believe he knew exactly what for.  

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p.s. How cute is his shirt? That he had style too…kill me. 

p.p.s. He stayed out later than us.