The Ice Queen

Bilder von der Polarstern-Expidition ARK XXVII-3 in die zentrale ArktisA couple weeks ago, mom fell and fractured her rib. I was out of town when this happened, so you can imagine my surprise when I came home and saw her walking very rigidly and slowly down the stairs. She finally told me what happened and I wave of guilt came over me. Of course I couldn’t prevent this fall, of course it wasn’t my fault that she didn’t say anything, but I still couldn’t help but feel that way. The minute she told me, I did everything I could to minimize her movement. I reheated her food for her, helped her put her heating pads on, did chores around the house, just anything and everything to make her feel more comfortable.

The next day, I worked from home and my brother, Jr, also came by with my sister in law and their dog to see how she was doing. In all honesty, we really didn’t do much for her. She was able to get around pretty well and the pain meds were starting to kick in. I think the very act of her children being around her, surrounding her with love and support, was enough to give her another kind of healing.

Seeing mom in so fragile a state, it humanized her in a way that I hadn’t seen in a long time. In the last few months, she’s been very vocal about how she doesn’t like how I maintain my relationship with David. She’s under the impression that I spend so much time with him that I’ve lost sight of my priorities. Those exchanges bring out something very ugly in her, and the things that come out of her mouth can be very scathing. But in mom’s current condition of frailty, it’s somehow softened her. She saw how concerned I was, and how I was willing to drop everything for her. She saw and was reminded that no matter what, family will always be first in my eyes.

This past Sunday at church, both she and I were called into spontaneous service. They pulled me from the crowd because they needed another singer, and before Mass, mom was asked to administer the wine for Eucharist because they were short of people. She and I both came to church thinking we would sit together, but we ended up serving instead. I usually never take wine because I honestly think it’s gross, but, it was my mom administering it, so I wanted to support her. (I hope I don’t contract herpes.)

In any case, this whole thing made me smile. Mom and I are so different, but in a lot of ways, I will always be my mother’s daughter. We both seek to serve God by our gifts and help in any way we can. I know they say that you can’t change people, but I have hope for my mom. I know she’s a good person and just needs to learn to communicate better. Last week when I told her I was going up to San Francisco for the weekend to be with David, I was bracing myself for her judgment. Instead she said, “Drive carefully, it’s raining.”

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The Power to Choose

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A Native American Legend

An old man took his grandson to the top of a mountain to look at the valley down below. In a clearing they saw two wolves fighting viciously. The old man pointed to the wolves and told his grandson, “This is what life is like. We constantly have two wolves battling one another. One wolf represents anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, ego and all the negative emotions that brings us down. The other wolf represents love, compassion, hope, joy, peace, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, faith and all the emotions that serve us.

The little boy looked at the wolves fighting and turned to his grandfather, “Which is the wolf that wins?”

The old man smiled and said, “The one that you feed.”

I’m such an emotional person. I feel I’m sometimes at the mercy of my feelings. When I’m upset,  I let the bad wolf win; the whole world turns upside down and I feel completely helpless. I let the negative emotions destroy me, instead of letting the positive ones strengthen and uplift me.

I don’t think I can ever completely stop feeling this way. This is how I’m made, who I am, and I have to embrace that. But today the two wolves in the legend fill me with hope. No matter what life throws at me, I have is control over how I react in those vulnerable moments. No matter what, I’ll always have the power to choose.

How to Say Goodbye

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This weekend, we said goodbye to Grandma and conclude a 2-week ordeal of watching her slowly pass away.  I’ve never had to watch someone die.

About two weeks ago I went to visit her at hospice care. Something was so ominous about that visit. It was the last time I saw her alive. When I came into her room Uncle Tony was also there. She was between asleep and awake. Her food tray lay untouched. Uncle said that she hadn’t eaten all day. There were some days she’d want to eat, and others when she would. And I use the word ‘eat’ very loosely. If she wanted to, she’d eat some puree stuff or yogurt. Uncle and I tried to feed her but she took in very little of the vanilla puree. She’d keep her mouth shut and shake her head no.

On this day we had the opportunity for the two of us to sit, just grandmother and granddaughter. I was saying to her that it was ok for her to let go. I also told her I was sorry that I never got to write her story. I had always imagined that my great novel would revolve around her life. Many times I’ve thought to bring a voice recorder to visit her and ask her questions about her life, about what it was like to live life under Japanese invasion, life as a single mother and starting life again as an immigrant. I think I did it once but I remember it was very difficult because at that point she had trouble hearing me. I felt the guilt that all writers know- the guilt of the unwritten story. But this time my guilt felt doubly weary and heavy, thinking that I owed this story to grandma. I wept at her bedside, believing I had somehow failed her.

When she saw my tears, she frowned gravely and with great difficulty tried to pull her arms up and over the covers. At first I thought she was motioning that she wanted something. Grandma hadn’t been able to talk in awhile. I looked around to see what she could want and she instead grabbed my hand. I wept even more. I was there to comfort her, but little did I know that she was there to comfort me. I held her hand tight and it was still so warm. Her body was wasting away and she was refusing food, but there was still this fire of life in her. This little old lady wanted to be there in that moment to comfort her granddaughter who was weeping over her. I had to laugh out loud at the terrific irony. So I said, ok grandma I’m stopping, I’m stopping, as I wiped my tears away and managed a smiled. She smiled back. I remember thinking that I don’t remember the last time I held her hand.

I feel weary. Chin died not even 2 months ago and now grandma. My heart has felt so heavy. I find it hard to believe that the same God who bestows blessings, is the same one who takes away. One night, I remember asking David why I had to feel such sadness like this. He said, “You have family and friends…” And I wouldn’t have it any other way. To be blessed with family and friends means experiencing laughter, affection, and love. It also means knowing that one day you’ll have to let go and say goodbye. This year, God has taken two of my loved ones, but He also gave me David and He continues to shower His blessings on me. God’s also given me pen and paper to write.

One of the last things I told Grandma was that I would need her help in writing my story. I told her I wasn’t any good and I would need her to send whatever heavenly help she could.

In Grandma’s last moments I’m sure she was thinking about everything she hadn’t done and was maybe filled with a bit of regret. She’s not here now and I hope she’s made her peace with whatever was holding her down. She’s run out of time, but I haven’t. I have a story to write.

Top 10 Reasons I’m Happy to be Thirty-One

at-peaceToday is my 31st birthday. If it were any other point in my life, I’d probably lament this fact. But no, I am rejoicing in my ‘seasoned’ age. My journey this past year was difficult, but God has been kind. To that end, I’ve made the following list of the Top 10 Reasons I’m Happy to be Thirty-One.

1) I’m not 21 anymore. I don’t make stupid mistakes with alcohol, my money or with men.

2) I have the means to enjoy life. I can pay for a vacation getaway or I can treat myself to a nice dinner without asking for help.

3) I have a kickass job. It took a long time to get here.. from odd job to odd job, to working for free, working in shitty retail and working in corporate enslavement. I’ve paid my dues and am reaping the benefit of my craft.

4) I know who my friends are. Not the ones on Facebook- the ones who pick you up while you lie in your own vomit and answer your phone call when you’re weeping incoherently.

5) I won’t take crap from anyone. I recognize the disingenuous, the selfish and the unkind and I will not tolerate any of that in my life.

6) I know when to ask for help. I’m not Super Woman. I can be fragile and vulnerable. I recognize those moments and know how to get through it. This is where strength and courage are born.

7) I know God is real. I don’t wonder about the direction of my life or what my purpose is. I do the things that make me happy because I know that’s what God wants for me.

8) I know love. I’ve been through the grind enough times to see a good and genuine man when I see one.

9) I value my health. I know I’m not going to live forever. I take care of myself to ensure that I can be here for as long as God lets me.

10) I know what I want. No more quarter life crises and existential quandaries to wade through. I want to be happy. I want a life fulfilled by art and creativity. I want a man who will love me and climb over my walls of self-doubt to relentlessly remind me of how strong and amazing I am and how far I’ve come. I want to serve God by my craft and contribute to this world by being the best human being I can possibly be.

I’m happy about my birthday. It will be the launching point to bigger and better.

One Day, One Year

one_dayAnd just like clockwork, Cristern stayed true to his promise: He texted me on the eve of the 1 year anniversary of when we broke up. He was texting to ask if we could meet. Some context: Around this time last year, I had become obsessed with the book and film, One Day. The novel tells the story of two main characters who fall in and out of love throughout the years; through marriage, divorce, children, the two remain friends and stay in touch. And no matter where they were in their respective lives, married, single, on the other side of the world, or right across town, they made a pact that once a year on July 15th, they would somehow get together and meet. September 27th was me and Cristern’s One Day.

The night of my breakup, Cristern made me the very first promise he ever made in our 3.5+ year relationship. He promised that in one year, he would contact me. I believe my reaction to this proposition was, “You’ve gotta be fuckin’ kiddin me. You get romantic on me NOW?’ I asked him what was supposed to happen on this supposed One Day and he said we’d meet and ya know… see how things would go. Bullshit. I wasn’t going to plan my life around a desperation move. This was a ploy so that he could always keep me as an option. Well I certainly refuse to be anyone’s option.

When I received the text, I looked at it for a moment to let it soak in. I was baffled but also not surprised. Baffled, because he still had the audacity to contact me after all the shit he pulled, but also not surprised because he’s been playing the part of a bleeding martyr. To his credit, the text was very nonchalant (or at least trying to be):

“I don’t know if you remember but we wanted to meet up after a year. Well that day is tomorrow. Still wanna meet?”

I have to laugh when I read it. It kinda gives off that hey ya, I’m a cool guy and I totally got this. When in reality, it actually reads more like a coward coming back with his tail between his legs. I felt sorry for him. Clearly, nothing had changed. But I have to give him kudos – how was a text like that supposed to read without sounding too desperate? I don’t even know how I would begin to write something like that. Oh wait, I would NEVER do that because I don’t believe in tethering someone to such a stupid and selfish promise.

When we initially broke up, and then when I got together with David, there was always a part of me that said I would meet up with him. Mostly, just to be kind and get my books back. But then I took a step back and thought long and hard about the real function of that day. That day was for him- not me.  It was a status check to evaluate whether or not I was dateable in his eyes. It was to see if I had changed and had gotten better.

Sorry buddy, I’m still the same- and I kinda like it that way.

I am of course human and do feel bad about not replying. But really, who would I be helping if I did that? He needs to move on and no one can help him on that journey. He has to own it and want it.

I believe in prayer and believe that any good thought is like energy and it can travel anywhere and reach the person you’re praying for. That night before I went to bed, I prayed to him and for him: “I hope you forgive me, like I forgive you.”

There is nothing left to say after that. Maybe one day he’ll understand.

A Life Celebrated: Michelline Salgado-Prieto

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My name is Virginette Acacio and I’m here on behalf of a group of very old friends to the Salgado family called the Dirty Dozen. The Dirty Dozen originally started as a group of parents who loved to dance and play mahjong, while us their kids would run around, play and try to keep from getting in trouble. Apart from hanging out nearly every single weekend, we also did everything together: from camping trips, road trips to Canada and Mexico and grand vacations to the Caribbean. And though none of us are blood-related, I think we can all say with resounding pride that yes – we ARE family. And Ate Chin was the heart of that family.

Ate Chin was older than us kids of the group, so we didn’t consider her as one of us. She was our collective older sister. And like a good older sister, she watched over us and took care of us. When none of us could drive, she would pack us all in her car and take us on outings to San Francisco or to the mall and movies. And whenever we were in public with her, we’d do our best to embarrass her by acting immature by screaming and calling her “Mommy,” at the top of our lungs.

And as older sisters are, she was the classic snitch. She was the one who would report to the parents if one of the girls was dating someone new, or if one of the boys was hurting one of the other boys. When we were in high school, we got in trouble for drinking at a house party and not surprisingly, it got back to her. She ran to our parents in tears, crying and we all got in a lot of trouble for it. I remember being angry at her for doing that and thought, why would she cry about getting us in trouble? Thinking on it now, I realize she was heartbroken, she didn’t want to see her little brothers and sisters doing things like that at such a young age.

I used to think she was just always out to get us- but what she was really trying to do was to keep us in check. She wanted to do right by us. Like a mother hen, she wanted to always protect us and make sure we grew up right. I look around to the DD kids who are in this room now and they are still my very best friends – and some of the most kindhearted, compassionate and good people I know. I know that we were shaped by her and we are so much better for it. Chin, you did good. And all of us are eternally grateful.

About a week before she died, I finished reading a book called, “The Fault in Our Stars.” It’s a story about two young kids with cancer who fall in love. One of the things it talks about it is that when we think of someone who’s died, there’s a sense of finality – an end. And because that person is no longer here, we talk about him or her in the past tense. She WAS a good person or he WAS a good father. When I think of those phrases, I can’t think of a worse way to remember someone. For me, Chin doesn’t live in the past. She lives here now, in the present, in our collective memory and in our hearts, affecting every single moment, how we live and how we love.

She wasn’t Auntie Grace and Uncle Ed’s daughter. She IS Auntie Grace and Uncle Ed’s daughter. She IS Jay-R’s big sis. She IS Wesley’s love. And most importantly, she IS and always will be Yna and KaeKae’s beautiful and ageless mother.

She IS our friend, our cousin, our niece, our aunt, and for me my big sister. Ate Chin, goodbye for now. Thank you for watching over us as we grew up. I know that you will continue to watch over us from where you are. We love you – present tense.

The Art of Letting Go

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In the midst of the silence of every breakup, one person will always find a reason to break that silence. Mine came in the form of a letter. A few days after I had stealthily dropped off Cris’ things in a box in front of his house, I received a letter in the mail. Somehow when I got it, I wasn’t surprised. Putting together that box was hard for me, I could only imagine what it was like for him. I took a moment and a deep breath before opening it.

He began by saying how the sight of his things had greatly affected him, so much so that he wanted to begin communicating again through letters. He of course said that it was up to me whether or not I wanted that to happen. Cris always had a knack for writing letters. Through the course of our relationship, he’d write me these cute love letters, decorated with tickets stubs of movies we’d seen, fortune cookie messages, any little knick-knack that was part of our time together. As our relationship grew harder, the letters became less frequent. I had to beg him to write me more. I should’ve known that we were slowly dying and there was nothing he or I could do about it. And now through this letter, I could see what he was doing. He was trying and my heart ached. Where was this overflow of emotion when we were together?

He went on to describe how he’d imagine looking at my smile, or looking into my eyes, hear my laugh or even daydream about how I’d react to something. He even went so far as to compile a list of songs that were special to him and our relationship and think of a way to give it to me. This was too much. It was an awful thing to read and realize that he was in effect, torturing himself with the memory of me. He bore the tremendous guilt of breaking my heart and he had to live with that. The way he was dealing with it was not healthy and he was clearly not trying to move on at all.

He went on to describe our last night together in vivid detail. How much I cried, the prolonged goodbye, how I grabbed onto his shirt while we hugged as I desperately tried to hang onto his shirt and simultaneously try to let go. He marveled at how hard I was trying to be strong and admitted that whenever he thought of that night, it would always bring him to tears.

I can’t remember much else of the letter, other than the fact that I knew that there was no way I could re-establish contact. The person who wrote the letter was not a healthy individual. If anything, this was a selfish attempt at trying to bring me back into his life, regain control, and perhaps see if there was a chance at rebuilding our relationship.

As I read it, I realized that this was someone who didn’t care for me at all. He knew the letter would hurt me, but he did it anyway and for his own selfish gain.

I took a couple days to reply. The more I thought about it, the more I felt sorry for him. He may have broken up with me the same way John had, but that didn’t mean that I wasn’t a stranger to the guilt he was feeling. In the months leading up to our breakup, I knew that our relationship was failing and still I hung on, even though he’d expressed a handful of times that he wanted to let go. I felt the guilt of hanging onto him and shaming someone who clearly didn’t love me.

I searched my heart and although I was hurt, there would always be a part of me that would care for him. I knew that the best thing I could do for him was to free him of that guilt and misery. I replied back to his letter with this simple note:

“Cristern, please stop. It’s not time for us. Your friend, Virginette. P.s. I forgive you.”

A few days later, on April Fool’s Day, I woke up to a bunch of trash on my car. There were candy wrappers all over the hood of my car. The night before I had heard voices outside, but figured it was the neighbors talking. I examined the candy wrappers and realized they were Hi-Chews, his favorite candy.

I remember that day clearly and how angry I was. I knew what he was doing- he was inciting me to react. He was hoping my anger would be so great that I’d break my silence. I was seething with rage and came very close to actually doing that. But if I did that, I knew that he would win. He’d have the satisfaction that a child only knows when they’ve gotten what they’ve wanted after throwing a fit. Did I want a child or a man in my life?

Looking at the trash on my car, I realized that he would never grow up. He couldn’t see that I was trying to help him and he reacted so childishly. That act alone let me know that he wasn’t capable of maturing into the kind of person I’d always hoped he could be. In hindsight, that was always the problem, Cris was just always a child. He had aspirations of making it big but lacked drive to do the hard work. He was always playing.. with his toy trucks, his friends, and ultimately with his life. Was it any wonder why I was so frustrated with him and showed so much resentment? In everything he was doing it was clear that he didn’t want me in his life. Being with me would have to mean getting his act together, and he simply wasn’t ready or willing to do that.

I remember a few weeks before my breakup, I was so desperate to keep my relationship together that I went to visit a family friend who’s a priest. I sat alone in a beautiful church for a long time before I met with him and contemplated how I would keep from crying while I told my story. I told him that every day I had grown so desperate for help, that I would get down on my knees at night and in the morning to plead with God to make my relationship work. I could see pity in his eyes and he asked me to kneel at the pew and tell him what I saw. I told him that I saw the altar and the cross. Then he asked me to stand up and asked me again what I saw. Apart from the altar, I told him that I saw the tabernacle, the statues of the saints, candles, the lectern and flowers all around. He smiled and said that life was exactly like that.

Life’s sorrows can bring us to our knees, so much so that it obscures our view. If we take a moment to stand up, we’re able to see the opportunity and the wonderful gift that God is giving to us in that moment. He gently told me that he hoped things would work out with my boyfriend, but to remember to stand up to see what else God was giving to me. I look back on that time and I realize that God was giving me a chance to see what my life could be like.

Next month will make it a year since my breakup. I think about how far I’d come and all the amazing things that have happened to me since then: the jump in my career, the opportunity to be part of a writer’s conference, a growing and healthy love of self and finally, my new partner in crime- the wonderful man who’s privileged to be in my life now. I know that none of these things wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t have the courage to let go, let God, and open up to life’s possibilities.