At age four I used to run around the front yard wetting my brothers with the water hose. We would walk to Barrio Station and I’d look forward to making something new in ceramics class or playing “beauty shop” with new friends. I always looked forward to the smell of the warm flour tortillas from Porkyland, and secretly hoped that they would be giving free samples on the day I passed by.
At age five, I asked the man who worked at the liquor store, who exchanged my mom’s food stamps for cash so she could afford to pay the rent, if I could work there in exchange for a gallon of milk and a carton of eggs.
At age seven, I used to clean up my grandmother’s alcohol-stenched vomit as I wondered if she would be able to wake up early enough to send us off to school. Wondering if the days and nights had swallowed my mom into a world that was more magical than the one I existed in. Wondering if this time she would come back.
At age eight, I used to sleep with a knife under my pillow. My grandmother did it all the time, especially after someone broke into our house in the middle of the night, twice. Once my mother had to fight the intruder with her crutches.
At age nine, I cried for my grandmother while my mother slept in her room. And when I couldn’t cry anymore, I scrubbed the stains of the kitchen floor, washed the hardened residue of food on the plates that waited anxiously for attention, and wiped down the grime from the countertops so that I could catch a small reflection of light.
At age ten, I had to pack and unpack what little things we owned – we moved too many times that year. I helped clean in exchange for a small space we were pitied in someone’s garage.
At age twelve, my grandmother and I would take a three-hour trek on public transportation to where my brothers and my mother lived and spent the day washing clothes, separating the whites from the colors, washing two sometimes three-day old dishes hidden under bed covers or in closets, and preparing meals for the week, so my brothers would not have to go hungry.
At age thirteen my mother, brothers, and I walked most of the night searching for a place to sleep when my mother decided she would no longer live with her boyfriend. That year we moved to Tijuana where I had to learn to silently protect my brothers’ from my uncle’s abuse.
At age fourteen, I started taking care of my grandmother as her life had begun to wear on her. I translated at her doctor appointments, helped her navigate medical decisions, and knew all the prescriptions she was taking. This was also the year she got her first hip operation. This would be one of four hip operations I would ultimately nurse her through.
At age sixteen, I helped my grandmother care for my brothers after they were placed in the foster care system and she was designated the foster parent. Enrolling them in school, monitoring their grades, grocery shopping, and doctor check-ups were just some of the tasks that would prepare me for the role I would be responsible for when I got pregnant at seventeen.
At age eighteen I had my daughter Carmen.
From age eighteen to age twenty-four, I worked full-time, studied full-time, and continued to take care of my daughter and my grandmother.
At twenty-five, I started to teach, develop and oversee programs, model good teaching practices, and believe that I could create a better education system for our children.
At age twenty-eight I got married, went on to receive a master’s degree and continued to do what I believed the world needed of me.
I am now 38.
Two years ago, I witnessed my grandmother wrestle with cancer, and watched her body wither away as it conceded to the demands of the cancer. After 36 years I had to learn to live without her. That same year, I also had to learn to let go of my daughter who was embarking on her own journey as she began her first year of college.
During this time of my life, I had taken a leave-of-absence from teaching to work at a youth development program for Rady Children’s Hospital, which I later resigned from, and took an extended leave-of-absence from teaching to heal and try to figure out where I was going next. This seemed to be a pattern in my life. I was always looking for a new cause, a new challenge, a new opportunity to explore and discover – to grow. I was never satisfied because there was an intense yearning that existed inside of me that was parched for coming alive.
The spiritual, physical, and emotional signs are always there guiding us – it is when we refuse to listen or aren’t still/quiet long enough to listen that we get into trouble. I’ve been reflecfting a lot on the following meditation – “Creat the world you want to see.” And the world that I want to see is one that moves at the pace of the rhythms of nature, one that allows for human beings to listen to the whisper of the breeze, and one that enables each human being to come alive every sunrise. I was missing all of this and nothing that I was doing felt authentic anymore.
The process of letting go began a couple years ago when the universe forced me to let go of things I had absolutely no control over. I didn’t quite listen as I was supposed to, because as I was letting go, I was also bringing in new things into my life that weren’t serving what my spirit wanted to welcome into my life. I find those yearnings to be screaming louder than the bluster of fear and uncertainty – unavoidable and confronting. Now the things I have to let go of are in my control, and the decisions are often much more difficult. A student recently asked, “There are just so many things to let go, but they keep lingering, coming back. Does it always seem this difficult?”
My response: Yes, it can be this difficult at first because the fear sometimes lets those things back in or convinces us they aren’t so bad after all. This is how, in the recent months, I ended up hospitalized a few days for diverticulitis and have been rendered 80% immobile from sciatic nerve pain for the past three weeks, but more on that in my next blog. I have to stay committed and be diligent at listening to my heart and paying attention to what makes me feel free and liberated vs. what makes me feel burdened and trapped. The soul loves the truth. And only when I honor what’s authentic and real to my soul, can I truly be liberated.
“You can apologize for your words and your actions, but you don’t need to apologize for what you feel. This is what’s authentic and real. Honor your truth.”