#TheNewLastYear

So I was able to visit my mom’s grave and it was wonderful … you know what I mean.

I was surprised to see some artificial flowers at her grave. There were yellow and pink chrysanthemums that my dad and I left when he came to visit. There was also a small bouquet slipped inside the headstone’s metal vase. I don’t know who left them there. As a matter of fact, there have been a few times when I’ve gone to visit and there were flowers at her grave that I didn’t place,

Thank you to the soul who has visited my mom.

I also noticed that the grave site had some of the errant grass trimmed away. No doubt it was the secret visitor’s handiwork. I took out the small broom to sweep away old leaves and grass. From my canvas bag I pulled out some scissors to cut away more wisps of grass that had regrown. As I clipped the dry grass around her grave marker, it reminded me of the times I’d help mom pull weeds from the various gardens from various houses where we lived. I hated doing it because we’d spend all day working in the fields only to come home and work in the garden.

“Look,” I remember saying to her, “pickles.”

“No, those are cucumbers.”

“They look like baby pickles.”

“They are,” she said. “Cucumbers are pickles.”

What? Huh? Cucumbers? I thought about the big pickles from the movie theater that cost fifty cents. I thought about the pickles on the hamburgers that were cut all wavy. I thought of the little pickles my Tia Noche would cut into the tuna.

“See, look, I’ll show you.” she said pinching a few small cucumbers free from their vines. “We’ll take these inside and make pickles.”

After we finished weeding and watering the garden, mom took the almost empty jar of dill pickles out  of the refrigerator. We washed the cucumbers and she slicked them into small circles. She placed them back in the refrigerator and said we would have to wait for them to turn into pickles.

Everyday when we came home from the fields, I’d check the jar. No pickles. Just sliced cucumbers floating in pickle juice. After a while I forgot about the jar until mom called me from whatever I was doing — probably laying on my bed staring at the popcorn ceiling playing a mental game of connect the dots. I did that a lot.

When I got to the kitchen, she held the pickle jar in her hands. The cucumber slices weren’t floating anymore and they weren’t white with dark green borders. They were … pickle colored. I took the jar and opened it. I slid my hand inside grabbing the first slice I could reach. It looked strange. Not floppy like a pickle but not firm like the cucumber slices we’d place in the jar. It smelled like a pickle. I bit into it. It crunched. A vinegary taste spread in my mouth. It was a crunchy pickle. I mean it still kinda had the cucumber taste and look but it was definitely some sort of pickle.

Wow. A food had just turned into another food. How many other foods had I eaten that were other things first?

I took a kitchen sponge from the canvas bag and poured some bottled water over it. I gently began wiping dirt from between the raised lettering on mom’s headstone. I poured some water on the marker and felt a rush of emotion. It’s probably the first time anyone has cleaned her marker. There was also something about cleaning it that made me feel like I was cleaning her when she had mobility problems getting in and out of the bath. I was wiping her face and arms. I was rinsing her feet. I was cleaning her neck and back.

Up until this point I hadn’t said a word aloud or otherwise. Cleaning her marker made me want to talk. I told her about my year. I told her about the blog and how it was good and bad. I told her about how this year I felt both depressed and confident. I told her about my illnesses and down time. I reminded her of the promise I made last year of not wanting to come back to her grave and cry out of desperation and longing.

I removed the plastic flowers placing them in my canvas bag. I filled the vase with fresh red roses. I took all my supplies and put them back in the car which was only a few feet away. I came back to her grave with two dozen roses that I bought for her wedding anniversary in March. I arranged them in a bouquet and let them dry. One by one I gently pulled off the dried rosebud letting the petals float down to her grave. A cold wind was moving in and gently carried the petals in whimsical patterns before letting them settle.

“I should take a picture,” I thought but decided to just let the wind encircle me with petals, let them dance.

It was beautiful to be there in the moment, not recalling the pain of losing her, not anticipating future pain of her absence, and not feeling alone. I don’t know if my mom ever had that sort of moment when it came to her mother. Grandma died young of an aneurysm.

I started to think of how when the end was coming, mom wanted to live. She’d stopped treatment for her cancer because it was painful and, probably because of her pharmacist, it was killing her.

I though about how she wanted to do so much but her body failed her. I thought about the garden. I thought about all the beautiful food she cooked. I thought about how she used food to show us love. I though about how she used food to manage other emotions. I thought about how she taught us the same. There were times we didn’t have any food and it was up to my sisters to make sure we were fed because mom was in such a depression that she couldn’t handle the responsibility and dad … well, he wasn’t around.

I thought about how I want to make the coming year a good one. For that to happen, I need to be able to get around and maneuver comfortably in my skin. I need to be able to wear my clothes instead of pulling on them and fighting them. I need to be more active and less sedentary. I mean, I’m a fat guy and I will probably always be a fat guy. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be healthy. The last year, I haven’t been healthy.

The last year I haven’t been healthy.

#TheLastYear. Healthy.

Standing at my mom’s grave, this blog came back to me.

I started this blog because I was turning 46 and my mom died when she was 47. I wanted to try to experience some of her life in her final year. A year had passed so it was done, right? Well, maybe not.

Maybe the garden, the food, her illness, my desire to move forward maybe mom was trying to tell me that this is the last year to be unhealthy.

So like last year, I knelt at her grave and made a promise. This is the last year I will be unhealthy. Certainly, I’ll get sick. I may even have a trip or two to the doctor in my future but I need to get this under control before it’s too late.

Who knows, if I can begin to manage this par of my life, maybe I can also bring order to the other parts of it.

The Last Day

Today I’m 47 years old.

I’m now as old as my mom when she died.

I’m conflicted about this day. This blog didn’t turn out the way I’d hope it would when started it a year ago. I let it falter. However, it did have an internal effect on me.

I thought a lot more about my mom than I have in previous years. You see, I’d sorta relegated her to holidays and birthdays. In the past, it’s proven dangerous for me to think of her on a daily basis. I slip too easily into a depression. So, I only allowed myself to think about her, on those days I went to visit her grave. Sometimes she’d find her way into my writing but that was different from thinking about her. When I write about her, I find new memories and somehow in the creative act, I can integrate those experience more easily than I could if I allowed myself to sit in the living room crying and staring at her pictures, trying to recall the sound of her voice.

When I came across the information about mom’s pharmacist possibly cutting her medication, it floored me. It still does. It opened a door to “what if.” I’d walked a maze of “what ifs” in the first ten years after she died. I held tight to my grief and to those “what ifs” as if they could somehow keep her alive enough for me to … to want to get up the next day … to want to take the next breath. I led myself out of that maze by focusing on social justice and honing my craft as a writer.

Don’t get me wrong, I still needed that grief. And there were times I’d still find myself missing school and work. Though the duration of those absences was shorter. I soon began to anticipate these episodes and could use saved vacation days or work ahead on school work. As I became more adept at managing my depression, I learned to stay away from triggers. I learned to hold in my grief for graveside visits on holidays and birthdays.

When I took on this project, I wanted to find a way to explore a way to recall those times without fear of finding myself in that claustrophobic maze. I wanted to be able to visit my mom’s grave without completely losing it. Truthfully that’s why my visits were starting to become fewer and fewer.

While I failed to use this blog to document my experiences, I did have some wonderful things happen that I wouldn’t have been open to if not for taking these steps.

I became a Macondista. I applied for and was accepted into the Macondo Writers Workshop. There I met supportive and nurturing Latino/a writers. Since so many of the Latinas at Macondo where mothers, that energy was comforting and filling. I submitted work for publication, some was published some wasn’t. I’ve started new writing projects and collaborations. I accepted a leadership position in two writing organizations: the Latino Writers Collective and the Fabulous Queer Writers. I’ve been honored to meet, and call friends, writers whose work I’ve admired for years. I’ve also been fortunate to know new and emerging writers.

I thought my year would be filled with experiences that paralleled my mom’s journey but when that didn’t happen, I was disappointed. However, looking back, I did have some of those. This  year I was terribly and annoyingly sick. Nothing serious like cancer but just a series of colds, flu strains, stomach viruses, aches and pains of the body, in addition to the still lingering foot issues I’ve had since I broke my foot in 2013 and had to use crutches for almost five months and a walking boot for eight months — well into 2014. For the first time in my life my body prohibited me from doing the things I wanted. I thought about mom and how she was always in pain and had to surrender to her failing body.

I slipped into depression because of this inability to control my physical body. I also gained weight which further added to my depression. I missed a lot of writing deadlines for some REALLY good projects. I thought about how mom loved to go visit churches and prayer groups and how she missed some really good fellowship opportunities.

I don’t mean to compare my aches and pains to that of a cancer patient in her final stages, I was just open to new information. In all my years of grieving for mom, I never really thought about her daily struggles. I never thought of how difficult it was for her to bathe until I couldn’t. I never thought about her pain and ability to self hear until I literally had to crawl up the stairs to bed and do the same.  I never thought about her loneliness until I cursed my walking boot and threw it across the room because one of its straps had broken. I wasn’t able to use it and therefore couldn’t go to a reading where I’d be with friends, which I desperately needed.

This year when good things happened it was terrific and brought ecstatic smiles and laughter. When bad stuff happened it was tragic and it brought me to tears. This year I was quick to anger and felt my soul shift to a negative default when I opened my mouth. Being nice, being happy, being civil was an effort. I’m certain my mom experienced a similar temperament shift but I didn’t see it. Maybe my sisters did because they were around a lot more in her final days.

Last year at her grave I cried and told her that I couldn’t keep coming there every year and having a meltdown. It was killing me. So I woke this morning knowing — really knowing — that it wouldn’t happen today.

Well, I was right. It didn’t  happen today because the cemetery was closed.

I wanted to be pissed off about it. I wanted to feel bad. I wanted to cry. I wanted to have some drama. I wanted to demonstrate somehow that I was in pain because that would mean I cared, right? But I didn’t do any of that. Sure, I was upset that the cemetery was closed — on a Sunday. That’s just weird.

Yes, today was significant but this unexpected change doesn’t diminish my love for her.

I’ll go tomorrow. I won’t just pull stray grass and brushing dirt off her marker with my fingers. I’ll pack grass clippers, a container of soapy water, and sponges into one of those canvas bags I get from all those writers conferences. I need her site to be clean, bright, and well maintained. Then I shall offer her fresh roses and read the poetry she inspired.