Tell me about me

One thing I’ve never had in another country–a shitty cup of coffee. One thing I can’t seem to remember about my own country–ordering a drink from any coffee shop requires a considerable amount of risk. I go to The Attic, a quiet place just a neighborhood bike ride away from my house. It’s filled with used books and retirees (once a petite white man with a MAGA hat walked in, and I gathered my things and walked out). The staff are all white women who look and act like they’re saving for Library School. I order a cafe au lait. I sit by in silent horror as I watch the librarian wannabe begin to shoot hot water into my mug. I want to pull out my phone and google cafe au lait and force her to view the google image and memorize the first explanation that pops up. I wish I were a man. I wish I were tall. I wish I were anything that would make me feel entitled enough to call out this hack job for what it is: such a fucking embarrassment. I want to change my order. I want to stomp my feet. I want to cry. I roll my eyes and grin and bear it. My first sip is a mouthful of hot water and foam. Fuck.

I drink half and leave. $3 down the drain. What a nightmare.

Days later and I am in another coffee shop in downtown, The Daily Buzz. Sleek and modern with a teal-haired girl behind the counter. She’s wearing a Weezer T-shirt which meant a different thing when I was her age. On a whim, I order the Mexican mocha, hot. I like Mexicans and I like mocha. She brings me something iced and creamy. I remind her I ordered it hot, although yes, it is midday in August. The hot version comes out in a lidded paper cup. It tastes like sugary milk. Where’s the coffee? Where’s the mocha? No Mexicans were harmed in the making of this abomination.

Who is behind this industry of coffee whitewashing? Coffee brainwashing? Coffee sabotage. I don’t want a powdered sugar drink mixed with hot water masquerading as “spicy chai” or “mocha” or “latte” anything. I don’t want two inches, three inches, of decorative foam head on top. I want a cup of hot fucking coffee with maybe a little non dairy milk to take the edge off. I want my tongue to scald and my chest to swell and my belly to wince.

I want to wake up and feel something.

I want the world to be a different place. Is this so much to ask?

And where does this one go?

I drove up the backroads. Completely out of my way. Anything to avoid the traffic on 41. God, I hate traffic. I stopped randomly at a gas station when my bladder just couldn’t take it anymore. I walked in behind the post office person, who got to the bathroom before me. I said hello to the person of color clerk and decided I better buy a something, as I waited to use the bathroom. I bought a lemonade to treat myself and began chatting with the man behind the register. He thought I had been in before, but it was my first time. That often happens. Do I have one of those faces? People think they’ve seen me before. People I’ve never met before. I wanted to know what his life was like, working in the out of the way gas station. The second person of color I had seen all day. But I did not ask those questions. He told me to have a safe drive, and I ran for the bathroom as the post office person exited.

I drove out to the county park because the pictures online looked beautiful. I drove a backward way. I passed a sign that said, “Drive like YOUR kids live here.” And I had to laugh. Because your kids aren’t enough. I think about this often. All the parents and grandparents that speed through my residential neighborhood. People live here, why are you driving with your knees while your hands manipulate your cell phone? Is it worth it?

I took my father to the airport. Almost, no, definitely resigned. How many times have we said goodbye? How many times have I sucked up all the emotion into my neck and shoulders to keep my eyes dry and my face calm? I don’t want to count. But it is a familiar feeling, no doubt, hugging him goodbye and watching him go. We say the same things; we play the same roles. It is comforting as it is heartbreaking. All the years of goodbyes. All the years of separating. I want to forget. I catch myself disassociating, my short-term memory peace-ing out, looking away, distracting itself from this moment. But my long-term memory knows, whirs up, and all the times lend themselves to this time. To this same moment.

I hesitate to label my experience because I worry that will trap me in the moment. That a label will keep me from growing, changing, moving on. I know that’s not how labels have to work. I know that’s not how people work. But I resist simplifying my experience by giving it words. So many years of pain. That same ache in the center of my chest, impossible to dislodge.

I guess I’m glad to be in a space where I am comfortable turning and facing the pain. I have stopped ignoring it, shoving it down, without first feeling it. I let myself feel all the times and all the feelings that I pretended were unimportant. Yes, I should be glad that this place exists now for me, where all the feelings can be given a name and catalogued appropriately. Growth.

What is the problem

I am on vacation. Vacation. Can you believe this? I am getting paid not to work. I am getting paid to wake up and pretend like I don’t have a job. This is the most glorious thing. I don’t need a pay raise; give me all the vacation days instead. People always want more. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only person on the planet who is perfectly happy with less. Not all this; I don’t need all this. 

Maybe two people cannot live together without ruining each other. Maybe it is just human nature. Not that we want to ruin another, but that we are inherently ruined and thus ruin everything we come into contact with. Poisoned and contagious.

I’ve been getting absurdly angry with my housemate. I recognize this habit, and earlier bouts of it, as an ugly side effect of my depression. A channeling of my helpless feelings into something I could feel in control of–how I make another person feel. I also recognize this as a symptom of past abuse. A lifetime of being manipulated by my parents’ emotions. Me doing everything in my power to be better, to be easy, to be good– because that’s what my parents wanted. Only, I always felt like my best was never enough. Somehow, I still disappointed them, hurt them, let them down. Somehow I was still unworthy of their love. I don’t think my parents intended this lesson exactly–for me to feel like I was unworthy. But I think they did intend, I think they did know, I wanted to be good. They might not have known how much, how badly, to what extent I wanted to please them. They took it a little too far, let me take it to the extreme, and now I am forever scarred, in a sense. Charged by feelings of righteous anger; threatened by feelings of abandonment, of being unloved–as if you can stop loving someone on command, without effort.

I babysat for a friend the other night. That teenage dream of being left alone in an adult’s house, and it was almost boring. It was anti-climactic. I came over, right on time, and watched them eat dinner. The mom gave me the directions–bedtime, ritual, caveats. Sure, yep, got it. I’ve put children to bed hundreds of times. They left and I got no surge of excitement. You know, that feeling like, this is all mine for the next few hours. I played with the kid. We sat on the carpet in the living room surrounded by her blocks and her toys and I got this weird feeling of deja vu. I had this sudden moment of sympathy for my mother. A thought of, “This is fine, but I could be [fill in the blank].”

Not that I didn’t always have extreme sympathy for my mother: I think that was a failing in my child self but it has been an asset to my adult life. So many other things I could be doing, other than playing with a child to whom I have no real obligation–other than the temporary one of keeping her safe and alive. I did not feel much pride in the hours of responsibility I had. I didn’t feel much of anything about babysitting. Rather, I felt comforted knowing it was only temporary. This was not something I experienced as a teenage babysitter. What has changed?

Well, I was taught to glamorize motherhood, first of all. A certain kind of motherhood. One with authority and power. Mother is to power as babysitter is to boss. And the second thing? Well, I am an established independent person now, who owes no one nothing.

What do I mean by that? Who owes no one nothing? Well, the people who raised me, the people who were around while I was raising, seemed to think I owed them a lot. They treated me like I owed them my very existence, and well, I’m not reminded of that on a daily basis anymore. I’m reminded of that never. I don’t even know…The people who were around while I was raising wouldn’t recognize my existence, I don’t think. At least, I’m not sure my existence now really matches up with what they envisioned for me then. When I was small and under their thumb.

I grew up under a lot of thumbs–to summarize.

I put the kid to bed and wasn’t even bothered by her angry screaming. Her mother had warned me, “her bedtime is 8:15, she will try to convince you otherwise”; but it was more than this. I’ve listened to so many children cry at bedtime. I’ve been sitting in the living room while a kid cries at bedtime for years. This is nothing new. This is not the end of the world. I let her cry for 20 minutes until I decided the nice thing to do would be to go in and calm her down, help her reset. So, I did that. And then I returned to the living room and the kitchen and still felt like…I could be [fill in the blank]. Anywhere but here. I opened the fridge with a brief thought of, maybe I’ll find something exciting, but there was nothing. Nothing that wasn’t at home in my fridge.

And the parents came home and invited me to hang out, but I thought of the sleeping kid upstairs, and I thought of my quiet house a few minutes away, and didn’t see much point in staying. Nah.

It was just such a strange feeling, such a change. I guess this is growing up. 

Every question I ask is an answer I already know: Was being in charge the high of my teen years? Was it something about not knowing the kind of adult you would be, the kind of life you would have, and so being immersed in someone else’s life was the epitome of possibility? Am I so disconnected from parenthood and family life that I’ve forgotten how to be, how to act? Did I just stop subscribing to that magazine? Who says you have to be, have to act, have to know? My adult life is better than any stand-in. Better than any dream. Better than the examples I see around me.

It was just such a feeling, of nothing special, of a regular night in my regular life, of complete unmemorableness. Nothing to see here, folks.

And I got paid for that. I’ve got cash in my wallet. Money I can do things with. And that’s the incredible part. That someone paid me to hang out with their kid. How funny is that? Here is the most important person in your life, that you need to get away from, and so you pay me to sit with them, and so I do, even though I don’t feel strongly about this person in any way. And I substitute for you until you can be back, and then you come back, and then I get to leave. No strings attached. Because it’s the leaving that’s memorable to me. To leave without guilt–what a treat.  

That, my dudes, felt like freedom.

I’m not sure love is the healthiest thing. Maybe love is the poisoned and contagious bits of us.

Dream no more

Reading/listening to the news, always, everyday, even when I want to stop. It’s become my guilty pleasure, my high, my crash, my soap opera.

This brief interview with former CIA Director General Michael Hayden hit me hard. Hit me like…it got me. It cut me.

At one point, he says, “…we need to remember we are a creedal nation defined by what we believe – truth, inclusion, acceptance, free speech, free press and so on, not by blood, soil or even shared history.”

I’m tired of people telling us what we are as a nation. What we’re not as a nation. I’m tired of feeling like the government, or the media, or someone, anyone who is saying this shit is running an ad campaign for the U.S. like after a PR debacle (which it is) or after bad press (which it is) or after shitty customer service (which it is). I’m tired of feeling like my own country is trying to win me over, win be back. “Remember how good we had it!” “Remember how much you liked us!”

I don’t want your shitty service. I’ve moved on.

I keep going in this circle, stuck in a loop, like water going down the drain. I don’t believe in the country, but what a privilege to have ever believed in the country. What a notion to believe in–a creedal nation, the Statue of Liberty’s rising arm in in my mind’s eye. Yes, these things we believe in; these things we stand for –out there, beyond. But how often has we as a nation found our truth, allowed our truth, been inclusive, been accepting. I understand there’s an argument for why we should believe these things. I understand that part of our power, part of our reach is that we spout our creeds, that we stand for something, but isn’t it time we break? Aren’t we due for it, this fucking shitstorm, if we haven’t actually practiced what we believe in? Isn’t it time someone wrote us our bill after centuries of hypocrisy–saying one thing, selling one thing, but in fact delivering another? The ideals white men count off to themselves as they drift off to sleep.

Because Hayden even says, “Espionage is an edgy enterprise. We do things that if anyone else did them were illegal. It only gets its legitimacy if it’s done for a higher moral purpose. And if your core of folks don’t believe that they’re operating on behalf of a higher moral purpose or individuals who have higher moral purposes, the core of the vocation begins to evaporate.”

We can’t continue to get away with all we’ve been getting away with, and we shouldn’t. The core has only continued because we’ve nurtured it, we’ve allowed it to exist. We have fed the machine. We have provided the moral cushion, the reasoning. We have believed in the higher purpose, even as everything else told us otherwise. Begged to differ.

I’m sad to realize I no longer believe in our country. I’m angry to realize I didn’t recognize this privilege before, that I believed in our country. I’m slightly happy, optimistic, dare I say it, that there is hope beyond this shitstorm. That maybe in the midst of this, we are straightening ourselves out, realizing the crack in the foundation, destroying it all so it can be rebuilt. Focusing in on what’s rotten and preparing to purge.

Hipsters suck

I dunno. No one ever asks. Why would they? My story is your story is my story. Does my anger count too? Is my anger constructive, worth it, important?

You tell me we’re going to eat at KFC, and I’m not going to eat at KFC. I grew up white trash, lived as white trash long enough that I don’t find it funny or fun to ironically act like white trash. KFC was what we ate at my great grandparents’ parties. KFC was what we ate when we had the money, when mom didn’t want to cook, when she wanted to do something nice for us. My brother got his first job at KFC, and was promptly fired. The first of many. No one even took notice.

I’m not going to fucking KFC, but no one asks why. My anger is too much, is enough. I’m verbally abusive? Yeah, well, I was raised by verbally abusive parents, so you know, this is the pattern. I grew up amongst Mexican Americans and this is the style. I grew up poor white trash and self-deprecating is about as good as it gets.

You can be ironic on your own time.

You don’t have to ask, but for fuck’s sake, try not to assume. Is that too much? Is this enough? Why am I even asking for your approval? Why are your feelings more important than mine?

Why is upper middle class white irony the stuff of everyone’s fucking dreams?

Independence Resistance

I used to love the 4th of July. It would mark the true north of summer, that somehow we were in it; yes, this is it, it’s happening, summer. We’ve been living it. We’ve had so many days up to now and we’ve got so many days after this, and isn’t it glorious, summer?

As a child (how old are you? when you picture yourself as a child?), July 4th meant my dad was off work, it meant we would all sleep in, it meant cousins and siblings, and aunts and uncles and pool time and grill time. It meant throwing poppers at each other across the cooling parking lot. It meant eventually climbing up or venturing out to see the fireworks. We would drive downtown to park near A-Mountain and would take bets on whether or not it would catch fire this year. We would sit on desert grass among all the other Arizonans and wait for the show. We would drive home in the dark and I would feel dry-sweaty and tired and content, full of steak and beans and chip’n dip and pepsi. That sweet arid smell in my nose, of burnt desert, of hot sand, of melted sugar on the concrete.

Almost twenty years, I had those glorious 4ths. Climbing up on the roof of my sister’s house, standing in the bed of my dad’s truck, staking out space and stretching up and staring intently at the firework show. But then I grew up, and it became a different day.

One year it was sitting alone in my car on a random Indiana side street. One year it was a muggy drive to Southern Illinois to sit in the park with my sister; one year it was a flight to Austin, Texas to get drunk on a boat in the middle of a lake; one year it was camping with the Smith family; one year it was a house party with dozens of strangers dressed thematically. Instagram photos with the flag. Small town parks and cotton candy and mixed drinks in solo cups.

But last year I cannot remember. It is a blank in my mind. Wiped clean from my memory banks. Was that the day I went for a walk to the East River? Did I come home and sit on the balcony and watch from my own roof? Did I watch a movie instead? Did I walk somewhere, anywhere, to feel a part of the crowd? Did I take off work? Nothing. No resonance. Something has altered greatly in me, in my belief in this country, in my ability to feel like this great experiment is working. That we are going somewhere, have done something, are making progress. It all feels so empty, so tainted, the stars and stripes. And it always has been, hasn’t it? All those years I was sitting in the shadow of A-Mountain, all those years I was lying poolside, it’s been tainted. I just now am bothering to take notice. It’s not what have we become? It’s what have we always been? What does it even stand for? This pride in those 3 primary colors. This showing, this outpouring. The closed streets and the party vibe and the loud, obnoxious, bright, triggering fireworks.

Will I remember this year’s celebration?

I went to the park for a birthday party. I took my work husband, my friend, a dude who’s gay and chicano and Not From Here. It was the party for a new girl, a one year old, and her mom and her aunts and her great grandma were there. People Not From Here. People who know other languages and other places. There were other party guests–People Not From Here. We were an eclectic mix in the park. The kids kept getting confused–the large group just next to us, are they part of us? Are we all here together? But that group was more uniform, less hodgepodge, more of the same.

Misfit academics we were, but no one really talked about what we don’t talk about. After the cake and the pinata, the two of us went to an empty bar that was open downtown. Not my favorite–pre-mixed margaritas and overly creative, white people tacos. Advertising “The Real American Taco” as their special. I couldn’t… A taco with an apple fritter on top, “fried apple pie”; I couldn’t tell if it was a bad joke or something else, “The Real American Taco.” Are all tacos American? Where is America? What is America? Who is America? I wanted to ask the brown-skinned bartender with the name I couldn’t pronounce. I wanted to ask the black couple who came in shortly after us. I want someone, anyone to tell me. Is this America? Are we America? Will we be America?

I was home by 6p and sat in front of the TV until I couldn’t justify it any longer. I went to bed and set my alarm and got ready to work the next day. Is this resistance?

 

Of one nation

Another story I forget to claim as mine.

I was born in the Sonoran desert. For many people, this means nothing, this is not an anecdote, or a truth, or a fact, nor does it bear any ounce of significance. For me though, as I get older, and as I watch this country deteriorate, fester, mold, it has become something else, another chip on my shoulder, another weapon in my arsenal, another thing that I thought was on the periphery, that I thought of as an accident, but in fact, was another seed. Another thing that matters, when I’m surprised to find what matters. Why isn’t there someone in your ear, holding your head in those moments: pay attention to this, it will be important later.

That’s what I need. A light bulb, a sign, an alarm bell. This will be important later.

The Sonoran desert is beautiful year round, orange and tan and pink. In the summer, the saguaros reach tall and green, the ocotillos look thinner and browner. The mountains get sharp and distinctive in the blues of the sky. Monsoon comes and streaks the desert sand. Everything gets a little softer. The ground doesn’t relent, and the rain water puddles, floods, fills the spaces. In the winter, everything is in bloom. The birds hang out. The snow slides down the mountain. The desert is always quiet enough. It is a deadly, dangerous place though. Rattlesnakes, jumping chollas, wildcats, scorpions. Some days feel 130 degrees. The sun is relentless. The Grand Canyon state is actually the sunshine state. Even the rain, when it comes, rushes and pulls, obliterates, sweeps us away.

I grew up 45 minutes from the Mexico border. I grew up in the company of people who didn’t speak English, wouldn’t speak English. I grew up among people who knew borders better than me, traversed them weekly, daily. The complexity of migration. I grew up shopping in malls and eating in restaurants with people who drove up for the day, people with Mexican license plates. I got older and moved away and met people I thought were like me, who came from Mexico, but I would tell them, my family is from Mexico and they would say, “where?” “where did they cross?” “where did they come?” and I would wrinkle my face in confusion. We’ve been here all along. But somehow that made me less than, because my family didn’t cross. Because I bore the name, but not the language. Because we’ve been here. Because our home happens to fall within these borders. Because the desert that is mine did not require a pilgrimage or a fight or a flight. How I feel when I feel I’ve never been allowed to belong. How have the dynamics of power shaped your life? What are the various ways you’ve been told who you can and cannot be?

I remember being very young and asking dad, where do we come from? how did we get here? And his response never evolving, but not detailed enough to really teach me, “We’re from Tucson.” How could Mexicans be from the U.S.? I did not learn enough in history classes. I did not understand the lines on the map were subjective. My backyard, but I did not understand that to be home means you don’t go down the list recounting the homes of each grandparent to the final great. You are here, where it all began. My family is bi-national within the borders of one nation. How does this happen? What does this mean?

But I did understand the permeability of the border, the necessity of the flow of people. I did understand that so and so’s grandparents, parents, wife, children, lived across. I did understand how many people in the shopping mall drove over with their birth certificates. I did understand that just an hour away was a different country, but the same world, my same desert. I watched on the news as bodies were found. I watched on the news as people delivered water to cubbies under random seeming shrubs. I lived beside people who needed the border to remain permeable. I lived beside people who were born on the “right” side of the border, but still treated as if they came from that other side. I lived beside people who grew up in towns that were split by an imaginary line. I lived beside people whose daily activities were dictated by a nonsense idea. Country or country.

We drove up to the mountains and I saw the natives living there. Descendants of Apaches. Tohono O’odham people. I watch as the pecan trees disappear and the tents come down, and the white people continue to move in. Turning my desert into something it’s not, a place of glass and smooth clay buildings. A place with grass and swimming pools. A place of sunburns and golf courses. Six lane highways and passports. Order when before there was beautiful disorder. The chaos of the sand.

I’ve watched how claiming a place requires detachment, impermanence, flexibility. I’ve watched as people die not to claim a place, but to be in a place. I’ve watched as the land gets blamed for the people’s rules. Demonized. I’ve watched as the people-less landscape becomes a place. Gets a name. Has new rules. And my family watches, from the corners, as their home grows further and further away from them. As it’s changed by strangers. As it’s staked out and divvied up and renamed. I’ve watched as it becomes war-zone like. Defended and invaded. The death in my backyard.

How do I learn from this? What do I gain from this? What am I supposed to take away from this? Another story I didn’t know was mine.