reunited, summer 2016

-I can’t believe you’re actually coming

– Ugh, I know, right? What a drag.

Catching on to my sarcasm, you text back:

-Lol. Yeah, can we just get this over with?

 “I’m driving to Mark’s place,” I giggle to myself in the middle of L.A. morning rush hour.

-I’m here

I get to your place somewhere in Inglewood.

-Ok give me a second

You open your door and slowly walk down the long concrete driveway, smiling and never breaking eye contact with me.

“Eeeeyyyy” You laugh.

For the most part I’m convinced it’s you. I will always remember these first moments as you open your gate and we walk up your driveway, several feet apart from each other, looking up and down at each other, remembering each other.

We get to your door and I feel stupid when I hear you say,  “Relax, why you in a rush? Let’s chill outside for a bit.”

We sit outside and you show me your skateboard and explain to me that you recently found this garage apartment. I tell you I’m happy for you.

Inside your place it’s dark. With your bed occupying most of the space, we barely fit but we make it work. You sit on your bed and I sit on your chair next to your bed. We talk a lot of small talk.

When you ask me if I want to watch a movie I say sure. When the movie gets boring you turn to me, blushing. “I just can’t believe you’re here,” you jump out of your bed and onto my lap. Naturally, I pull back. I’ve never had a grown man sit on my lap before. But on second thought, it’s not weird. It’s you.

“Ok, come here you big baby!” I laugh and completely give into your affection.

“You just don’t know what you mean to me,” you stand up.  “I was going through some old stuff the other day and found your papa bear note,” you tell me as you search your wallet.

But you don’t have to show me, I know exactly what you’re talking about— the blue note I gave you with a picture of the Bernstein Bears family. With your big cheeks and your wild, grizzly hair you used to remind me of the poppa bear in that cartoon. But now you’re thin, and completely bald, and you seem older than you actually are.

I start to comprehend the lens in which you view me when I see you’ve attempted to laminate my poppa bear note using clear masking tape. Memories of our teenage days whirl inside me: the day we met walking up that hill in the Palisades, the first few times we hung out when you were so shy you could barely look me in the eyes, our first kiss in the darkness of the beach.

And now you drop bombs about your life: getting kicked out of your parents’ place, living through a less than ideal childhood, your loved ones shutting you out. The times you’ve slept on the streets…

I try to absorb the shock of it all. How did I not know any of this?

“During those times I look at your poppa bear note” you confess. “I remember back in the day, I would just melt every time I’d see you. You have no idea. I was all about you. I even had your birthday as my pin number on my debit card.” 

I stay locked in my seat— fixed on you and your words, hearing your thoughts and your feelings for me for the first time.  And you don’t stop. You continue striking every rusty chord inside of me.

 “Whenever I think of you…” you look off into the distance, then slowly and deliberately choose your next words, “I think ‘Damn, I’m not…I know I’m not right for that girl. But if I were, that’d be awesome…’ ”

Suddenly there’s no air.

“Aww, why you cryin’? You’re genuinely surprised and you try to comfort me but every word you speak only makes it worse.  Concerned, you lean towards me, “Karen, what’s wrong?”

I hide my face inside my palms and curl into my own lap. I don’t want you to see (a soul grieving for something, or someone, an era, a lost possibility).

You give me a few moments and repeat your question. I finally look up and see your bloodshot eyes. (I know you’re somewhere else.) “Nothing,” I manage to whisper.

I tell you I feel bad for not being there for you. I should have been there for you during those hard times. I wonder if your life would have been different had I stayed. You contemplate that thought, as if things could have actually been different for you. I quiver, I break, and I fully accept the guilt of leaving your life.

When you go into the bathroom I notice things. Candles with the picture of the Virgin Mary, a letter from a hospital, empty beer bottles.

I push myself to ask you a prying question. “Have you been drinking this morning?”

“Just a few beers. Don’t tell me you don’t like to drink a beer every once in a while.”

You tell me of your latest discovery: you just saw yourself in the bathroom mirror and realize you’ve aged quite a bit. You ask me if I think you should shave. You talk about plates flying across your room the other night, that’s why you had to buy Virgin Mary candles. When you start talking about things that don’t make sense I know it’s time to go.

“I have to go.”

“Ok, let me walk you out.”

We step into the morning daylight and you kneel on the ground, “Get on my shoulders, I’ll carry you.”

I get on your shoulders and for a moment you’re 16 and I’m 18 and we

say goodbye.

vamos a trabajar, fall 1994

-¿Mami ya es hora de trabajar? I ask my mom in the middle of the night.

-No Karen, todavia falta. Duermete.

But I’m too awake and too eager to start our day. ¡Vamos a trabajar!

When it’s time to get up, I’m so excited that I almost forget the order in which we do things: first get dressed, then pack our things, and lastly brush our teeth. We’re going to Malibu, I jump on the bed, reaching for the ceiling. We’re going to Malibu!

The bus-ride is grey and gloomy. We must’ve changed busses somewhere because we’re now on PCH riding along the misty ocean. When we step off the bus we’re in a different world. The roads are wide, quiet, and clean.  Slowly, we start our silent ascend. There are no cars in sight and when we hear one my mom says

-Stick out your thumb

I turn around and stick out my right thumb to the passing truck. We’ve already walked a lot because I see the ocean and bus stop are far below us.

When I turn back around I notice that neither my mom nor the truck have stopped and I run to catch up.

Inside Robert and Amanda’s house I touch and explore everything. My biggest amazement is how the kitchen connects to the hallway, the hallway connects to the living room, and the living room connects back to the kitchen. I run in circles through these rooms, over and over again, passing my mom at the kitchen sink with each lap.

But the real fun starts when Robert and Amanda wake up. Robert is the one who eats his boogers and Amanda is the leader in our group. I run back and forth between the siblings and my mom, asking my mom to translate their phrases. At some point I give up on the translations and simply do as they do. We try petting the fishes in the fish tank. When that doesn’t work, we pretend the dogs are horses and attempt to ride them.  When the dogs run away, we run all around the house, making a mess, and making sure to give my mom plenty of work.

We get to Robert’s room and Amanda puts a white cloth over my head. She starts singing. Something, something…

-Holy matrimony! Now kiss!

We laugh hysterically.

We watch sing-alongs, we play with Robert’s toys, we watch Robert put his boogers into his soup, and meanwhile, my mom watches us (and her watch).

It’s been a long day and we’re all tired.

-¿Ya terminamos mami?

-Sí

I jump on her back and she walks down toward the ocean.

first adult cry, winter 2002

It was Sunday afternoon. I know this for a fact because she was in the kitchen cooking for the entire week, and Sunday was the only day she had time to cook. For the next week, we would eat my favorite soup—Pozole. I was at my little black desk writing, when I decided to go into the kitchen.

“Ma, can I have my own room for my thirteenth birthday?”

She was at the sink washing radishes; she stopped for a moment and turned to her left.

“Pleeeease” I hugged her as I looked up into her glasses.

“I’m sorry baby, I can’t give that to you right now. But maybe I can get you your own bed. Do you want your own bed?”

No. I want my own room. I want to bring my friends over and hang out like a normal kid.

“Whatever.”

I knew there was nothing she could do. She’d already told me she couldn’t afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment. Even buying a second bed would be too much of an expense for a housekeeper trying to make ends-meet. I don’t know why I even bothered asking.

I sat back down at my desk and turned my spinning chair toward our living room, analyzing our shoebox apartment. Everything blurred. My face burned and I began to taste the saltiness on my lips.

But this was not the cry of a child—the one a kid cries during a fit because he knows that with that cry, he will get whatever he wants—that loud, hysterical, annoying cry. No. This was different.

This was a silent cry— the type of crying you try holding in because there’s no point. No one can help you. No one can take away your pain. It was my first adult cry.

I stared at the queen-sized bed we had shared since I was born and then to our brown wardrobe, patched with all our family photos. I’m not staying here forever. I slowly shook my head and angrily wiped the tears off my face. I’m fucking not.

telling abuela about my backpacking plan, fall 2015

—No vas a ir a ningún lado. ¿Entiendes?

I sat silently at the edge of my grandmother’s bed listening to her scold me one gloomy afternoon. She stood in front of me distracted by her mirror and her curling iron.

-¿Porque quieres ir tan lejos? She asked, looking at herself in the mirror.

-No se, nada mas quiero pasear con los camellos en el desierto. I half joked.

She took the spray can into her right hand, adding the final touches to her masterpiece.

-Ay, Karen. En ves de buscar novio, andas buscando camellos. She sighed through the heavy chemicals.

She slowly unzipped her cosmetic bag and pulled out a half comb, the same sized comb she’s used since childhood, I presume. I’ve never asked her if she’s ever needed a full brush. But even the photographs in her bedroom show a young woman with a man’s haircut. When I ask her why she doesn’t let her hair grow, she says short hair is just easier to deal with. But I don’t think that’s the reason especially when she asks me to carry her ten pound duffle bag packed with different sized curlers, mousse cans, spray cans, and other miscellaneous hair goodies.

-No va pasar nada. I tried reassuring her.

-¿Como que nada mas vas a llevar una mochilla?

I stared at her as she found one last stubborn hair, which needed to be put in its place.

-¿Y como que quieres ir sola? Estas loca, van a pensar que estas buscando problemas.

-No van a pensar eso, abuela. I expressed to an ear, which had long ago made up its mind.

Frustrated, she slammed her comb on the dresser.

-No vas a ir sola. Eso te lo estoy diciendo. She said as she turned to me.

——-

-No vas a ir sola. I heard her repeat to herself, as she marched down the hallway.

abandoned

When visiting a new city I tend to seek out abandoned houses, dangerous neighborhoods, and written-on walls. I particularly enjoy abandoned houses; I find these intriguing and for many reasons, these places bring a certain calm. Recently, I was able to exchange words with someone who is equally as obsessed with abandoned places as I am. He is a rule follower and said that in his life he feels rigidly controlled and confined by the city he lives in, his job, and daily transactions. There is something alluring about the places where control breaks down. I definitely relate to him, and I think many people can also relate. So then, why aren’t most of us flocking to these traditionally repulsive places? There must be something more.

Visiting an abandoned structure is aesthetically stimulating. Normally an abandoned house will be covered by wild grass, ferns, and animals. It’s chaos. The contrast between a man made object and nature makes for some interesting photographs. If the house happens to be in a remote area, it’s even more exciting because it is guaranteed that no one else will be there. This is the true beauty of an abandoned place. It is also the exact reason most people are not urging to visit.  Being alone, in a desolate area, is not everyone’s idea of fun. I can see how some of these places can be scary or dangerous. Still, the only thing I feel is freedom, appreciation and calmness. That, and a tendency to imagine what was there before- the history of the place, the devastations, tragedies, and the why’s. Why was the place abandoned? Where did the people living there go? What happened to make them leave? And does the place still hold a space in someone’s memory?

raval

The first day I walked around my neighborhood in Barcelona I was pleasantly surprised. I had never been to Europe and was not sure what to expect. This post focuses on one aspect of Raval-its diversity.

If Barcelona were Los Angeles, El Raval would be all the ethnic communities in L. A. meshed into one.

El Raval is a small neighborhood in Barcelona known for its large immigrant population and so-called sketchy streets. During the day this neighborhood is alive and vibrant with colors, artists, and multicultural restaurants. Walking around, one immediately feels welcome—and at times inspired—in this inclusive community.

For those familiar with Los Angeles, imagine all the ethnically diverse neighborhoods blended into one (i.e. the Indian community in Hollywood, the Latino community in Downtown, the Asian communities in Chinatown and Koreatown, etc). This new, blended community would be the equivalent of Raval.

One drawback about Los Angeles is that the multicultural neighborhoods are physically far apart from each other. A car is needed to go from Hollywood to Downtown, for example. In Raval, all the ethnic communities exist within a   3 x 1 mile area. People from Pakistan, Philippines, China, Morocco and Latin America live side by side in this densely packed space. This makes for an interesting stroll along its streets and for an interesting place to eat.

Since Barcelona is paralyzed on Sundays, due to closed businesses, many people relax and spend time with friends and family. On Sunday evenings in Raval, parents are seen playing with their children on the streets. During these hours there is an air of both joy and melancholy as the children play freely and carelessly, not knowing they live in the poorest part of Barcelona—and not knowing of the struggles going on around them.