Tag Archives: family

Pre and Post Funeral Thoughts

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Pre-Funeral Thoughts

My father died and I’ve only told three people. I didn’t take off work. I didn’t even cry, although I’ve cried over plenty of other things recently (e.g. This Is Us, my ex-boyfriend, a coworker) and I’m sure this incident found a way to sneak in a tear or two while it had the chance.

It’s so strange losing someone who was an equally imperative and meaningless part of your life—I, at first, doubted that it was possible to mourn someone I hadn’t seen in over 20 years. I have a dad and he’s alive and well, probably working in his woodshop right now. This man who died is basically responsible for creating me, but not raising me, not loving me, not knowing me in any way. How insane is that? To create someone but never know them? I can’t even abandon a book, old shoes, or ancient Tupperware.

My mom said, “I’ll always have love for him because he gave me the greatest gift of my life—you.” And it’s funny because that’s how I’ve always felt about him. I’m only grateful that he gave me her. That’s all he’s ever been for me; he made it possible for me to live, and for me to be her daughter.

I wrote a poem back in October, when I first learned he was sick. Back when I asked my grandfather to keep me updated, but instead, I got a text in January that just read: “Robert Mendez memorial service” with a date, time, and place.

You kissed a pretty blonde cheerleader other side of the tracks type once
and probably thought nothing of it
thought nothing of the few years from then wedding,
the one her dad almost didn’t go to because of your last name
the same last name you’d give to a little baby girl
first name some Tejano singer from the station where you spent all your time
drinking and snorting away the reality that you were a husband and a father
not anything special
but you could’ve been special in the way the best people are
//
You probably couldn’t see all of this, right?
Back when you were in love and making a room laugh and playing piano
I guess you couldn’t see how your brother may have chosen to end his life
but so did you
long, drawn out, choosing to disappear
until you were dying in a hospital room
//
You want me to give some bedside eulogy while your body turns against you
but you died so long ago
I’m so confused
My funeral speech accolades about you were embedded in my
high school, bachelors, and masters diplomas, my book, my passport stamps—
everywhere that last name is inked
Everything good I’ve ever done is tainted by the tiniest truth
that I’m always proving what I can accomplish
without you
despite you
//
Even worse, everything bad that’s ever happened—
every terrible relationship choice
every panic attack
every depression
every over-analytical-anxiety-filled  am I good enough?
Everything can be sourly linked to you
//
So you see?
You’ve been here all along
in every achievement
every mishap
I wrote this all on your tombstone
sang these lyrics at your grave
I’ve said goodbye
and don’t know if I want to say it again

 

 

Post-Funeral Thoughts

PSA to every parent that could potentially be reading this: when you die, what do you want to be said at your funeral? I listened to an hour full of Bible verses and rosary repetition at my father’s funeral. There was nothing said about his life because I guess there was nothing to say.

You don’t have to be the richest or the smartest, you don’t have to climb Everest or invent a Shark Tank phenomenon, you don’t have to be the founder of a company, you don’t have to cure a disease…life is so meaningless unless you spread kindness, unless you love and are loved, unless you are remembered…

Hardly any people came to my father’s funeral. Most people who did show up were there to support my grandparents, one who doesn’t remember who I am and one who disowned me when I asked my dad to adopt me a couple years ago. Uncomfortable doesn’t really quite explain how I felt, sitting in the back of a near-empty funeral home room, seeing framed photos of a man who I vaguely resemble. Depressed, angry, annoyed, disgusted—there’s not one adjective that I could pin down and actually FEEL. I’ve never wanted to be in a room less, and that made me feel sad for him. And for my grandparents. It must be heartbreaking to outlive your children. Even more heartbreaking I suppose for there to be nothing to say at their funeral.

I guess that’s what I felt: sad. What most people feel at funerals, but a completely different kind of sadness really. I’m not sad that he’s gone—I’m sad that he’s always been gone. I’m not really sad for my loss—I’m sad for his.

An Open Letter to My Grandparents

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Dear abuelitos,
     I can’t believe you’re not speaking to me. I’ve called you multiple times and left voicemails, texted you, and I mailed you a letter. No response. The last time I called, you ended the call after it rang a couple times. I didn’t think you could “break up” with your granddaughter, but I guess that IS a thing. I thought “ghosting” was only something in the online dating world, but apparently, it’s not reserved to 20-somethings who don’t know how to be honest or have real conversations.
     I’ve been ghosted by my grandparents. It’s actually kind of funny. Or it would be, if the reason wasn’t so absurd, mind-blowing, and hurtful.
     I asked my dad to adopt me last month. He’s been my dad for 22 years–almost my entire life. It was such a happy moment and we all cried tears of joy, knowing that this was only making paper-official what has been heart-official for over two decades. We went to court, stood before a judge, and threw a small party to celebrate. Everyone was over the moon, sending us their well wishes and congratulations. Everyone except you, I guess. You decided to cut me out of your life instead.
     What confuses me the most is that we’ve talked about your son, my biological father, on many occasions. You’ve apologized to me for his actions and his absence. We’ve talked about his drug use, we’ve talked about his violence toward my mother, and we’ve talked about how he hasn’t made any attempt to reenter my life or get to know me in any way. If he was half a man, he’d thank my dad for doing his job for him.
     Despite my resentment toward him, I contacted him, to try to find out why you were ignoring me. He didn’t respond. I guess social media is the only way to reach you–that seems to be the way you found out about the adoption. You definitely didn’t talk to me about it. I can’t get ahold of you at all, so I’m hoping this letter makes its way to you.
     My dad has done so much for me in 22 years–do you even realize what he’s done? Your son never paid a cent of child support (which you said you’d do for him, but then never did). My dad is the reason I’m not in extreme debt–he helped me through college, he helped me buy a car, not to mention feeding me, clothing me, putting a roof over my head…you know, the usual Dad duties.
     More importantly, my dad has been my shoulder to cry on. He’s held my hand, hugged me tight, and bandaged my injuries more times than I could possibly count. He was there through both of my surgeries. He knows all my friends. He knew my boyfriends. He answers his phone every time I call.
      I am grateful for your son, for giving me life. I am grateful for his creativity, which I’m told he had much of–some people say that creativity is passed on, some say I’ve acquired it through my life experiences. I’m not sure, but if the former is true, then I am grateful. I am grateful to keep my last name, which connects me to my Mexican heritage. And I was grateful for my relationship with you–my grandparents–even though we didn’t have a relationship for years and I felt like you’d abandoned me just like your son did. But for the past few years especially, I’ve loved the relationship we’d formed. And now you’re gone again, like you never existed at all.
      How odd it is to only have half a family. It’s something I’ve struggled with all my life. Most of the time, I feel OK, I feel whole. Aunt Gigi helped with that–she, as you know, has always been an important person in my life. She stuck by our side after Mom decided to get a divorce. She’s never been absent from my life. And now you’ve taken her away from me too. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse–you blocked my number at her house. I used to talk to her on the phone almost every day.
     I didn’t know you could be so heartless. It astounds me that your blood is my blood; I came from you. We are the same yet so, so different.
     I will probably never hear from you again, and that’s fine. Well, it’s not fine, but if that’s your choice, then I will live with it. All I can do is hope that one day, you’ll realize the senseless pain you’ve caused. Or maybe, since you claim to be good Catholics, it will be God who helps you to realize this when you meet him at the gates one day. I have never wanted more for Him to be real.
     Sincerely,
your granddaughter

Grandma’s Hairspray

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I don’t really use hairspray anymore, and it’s not because I don’t like it or need it. I choose to curl my hair and have it fall flat, frizzing pitifully in the Texas humidity.

The reason? I don’t want to throw away my hairspray–my grandma’s hairspray.

After her funeral two years ago, my family was handing out random items from cabinets–“Which teapot do you want? Which porcelain figurine?” I know they had good intentions–they wanted us all to have a memory or two to take home. But I just felt so weird about it all. I wanted to go home, away from my family and away from all the teapots. My mom gently said something like, “Alysha, there must be something you want to remember Grandma. C’mon, just pick something.”

I asked if I could have her hairspray. We were standing by the restroom, I looked and saw it, remembered mine had run out recently. It seemed like a great idea at the time. Mom laughed and handed it to me.

That was two years ago…and the silver bottle is still sitting next to my sink. I use it sometimes, but never too much, and I always get anxiety afterwards that I used too much, that I’m going to run out soon.

Because I mean…what will I do? Throw it out?! I’ll feel like I’m throwing out my grandma! A freakin’ hairspray bottle has become a weird version of an urn.

The truth is, every time I see it, smell it, feel it in my hair–I remember her wispy white curls and salmon dress pants and funny little British laugh. I miss her cooking and I miss her calling me “my dear” and I miss sitting in her kitchen on those awful wooden chairs telling her about my day.

I can’t throw away the hairspray, because it’ll be like Uncle Chuck’s salsa all over again. I kept the most giant jar of Uncle Chuck’s homemade salsa in my fridge for SO long after he passed away. I couldn’t even open it–the seal seemed to be intensely fused on. I finally made myself throw it away and have regretted it ever since. I miss seeing it every time I open my fridge.

It makes you wonder what weird items people would take from your place if they had the chance–to remember you by. Does anyone care at all about my favorite yellow cup? My wacky paintings, dusty books, giant seashell? Will anyone want my grandma’s teapot that’s on my stove or her porcelain figurine that’s on my writing desk?

Norm of the North movie review

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Originally written for and posted on Texas Lifestyle Magazine.

Christmas may be over, but there will still be one wintery family film showing this month—Norm of the North, a tale of a polar bear traveling to New York City to save his home, the Arctic, from an evil condo developer.

This past Saturday, the Slaughter Alamo Drafthouse opened early for a pre-screening of the Lionsgate’s movie. Drafthouse went all out in the best of ways, as they often do. Kids could not only make their own glittery snow globes, but they could also jump around in a giant, bouncy blow-up snow globe!

The event was completed by photos with this polar bear—Norma, “Norm’s cousin.” Norma also chose two kids from the audience to compete in a game before the film—they hopped on fake ice chunks to avoid falling in the water and won prizes to take home.

I wish I could say that the movie itself was as fun-filled and adorable as Drafthouse’s pre-show activities. Unfortunately, the film didn’t have the hilarity, amazing graphics, catchy music, or heartfelt emotion that most great kids’ flicks have.

Since Norm of the North stars the voices of Rob Schneider and Ken Jeong, I was expecting the clever wit of animated big-screen hits that also revolve around comedians becoming talking furry creatures, like Monsters Inc. or Shrek. Then I realized that Pixar, Disney, and Dreamworks are simply the ruling gods of animation—no one can do it quite like they can!

The concept is great—a polar bear who’s growing up and finding his way in life decides to go an epic adventure with his three lemming friends. They’re determined to maintain the Arctic’s serene beauty, and therefore, also determined to figure out how to bring down the maniacal, money-hungry developer. If they fail, the Arctic will soon be filled with snazzy, modern condos and tourists.

Drafthouse was packed with kids of all ages, so you’d expect the laughter to get pretty loud during the movie, right? Well, it was oddly quiet for the entire film’s length. Maybe they were too busy eating French fries and cheese sticks, but unfortunately, I think it was just a tell-tale sign that the movie…wasn’t very good. I didn’t laugh once, and I usually love cartoons of all kinds!

Although I wouldn’t recommend the movie for you or your children over the age of eight, Norm of the North is definitely great for your youngest kids—in your really early years, you can’t go wrong with fart jokes and dancing animals.

About the author: Alysha Kaye is a high school English teacher in Kyle, TX and recent author—her debut novel The Waiting Room is available on Amazon and at BookPeople. When she’s not wrangling 9th graders, she’s blogging, reading, or exploring Austin.

For more, follow her on Twitter @alyshakaye7 or check out her website: http://www.alyshakaye.com

 

Misguided Ambition

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photo cred rebloggy.com

My dad drove us to San Antonio a couple days ago and we talked about…life. That’s kind of how me and my dad are—we either talk about ridiculous, trivial things like, I don’t know, “Decent Honey Mustard and Where To Buy It” OR super deep topics that stick with me forever like, “The Time A Man Died In My Arms.” We don’t have much of an in-between. Fart jokes or how mistakes can shape your future. The importance of washing your vehicle or the importance of family, friendship, and love.

So when careers and ambition came up, it started off as Dad casually listing every job he’s ever had (before, during, and after his 31 years in the Coast Guard). It was like a game—because the things he’s done are absurd. They sound like pure fiction. Movie-stuff.

Mowed lawns|Ranch laborer|Roofer|Tugboat oiler|Rode rodeo|Convenient store night manager|Seaman|Wrestler…yes, wrestler. I’ve seen the photos. Don’t tell him I wrote this, it’s supposed to be a family secret hahaha|EMT|Boat coxswain|Aviation structural mechanic|Search and rescue air crewman|Special agent|Chief warrant officer|Bailiff

Yeah, now you get it. Like, I’m sorry, what? How have you been all of those things? How have I never heard the word “coxswain” before? And how many people out there have had this many titles in one lifetime?

What I really started realizing though was—wow…Dad has done SO much in his life, traveled to SO many places, saved lives, earned awards—but his true happiness came from marrying my mom. Kind of crazy, right? To think that all those sappy cards, cheesy movies, and romance novels are *gasp* RIGHT about LOVE being the true purpose of life?! Ahhhhhh my life is a lie!

Except, oh yeah, that’s right, I’ve been a hopeless, disgusting romantic since maybe…second grade? I’ve always wanted the meet-cute, the traveling the world hand-in-hand, the poppin’ out babies…you know, that whole gross thing. When asked my CAREER AMBITIONS and LIFE GOALS I say things like, “I want to publish another novel and travel to a new country every year. Maybe get my PhD. Maybe teach college one day instead of high school.” And then in my head, I add, “Meet a lovely man and have a giant family and a really noisy house.”

My ambition has been a little misguided over the years. I think it’s a generational thing. Our parents had no problem stating their goals of settling down. They are content with “average lives” because that means love, family, friends—bliss. They have no qualms with “ordinary” or “mediocre.” This means happiness. Whereas my generation sees a conventional life as a failure—you’re not rich, you’re not famous, history books won’t talk about you, you’re not a household name, you didn’t shake the world? Oh, well then you’re a disappointment.

Everyone my age wants to be EVERYONE’s everything, instead of “settling” for being someone’s everything. It’s kind of sad. And it’s weird because we admit it, freely. I would LOVE for my novel to take off one day, landing me a publishing deal that I could skate on for a lifetime, sipping coffee by the beach and typing a few pages a day.

But do we really believe THAT’S what will lead to fulfillment? I think it’s far too easy to get caught up in that line of thinking—solely focusing on how to make your life more meaningful, exciting, memoir-worthy—constantly comparing yourself to “the average Joe.”

Having ambition is amazing—it shows confidence, it proves work-ethic, it displays creativity—it’s sexy. But if you let career ambition define you…and nothing else…what will you have when you’re wrinkly, sick…dying?

If all I ever have “to show for my life” (ugh, even that expression is a terrible tactic used to make people feel bad about…what exactly?) is a few students who thank me or a guy who digs my quirks and flaws or a kid who calls me Grandma and likes to read my old poetry notebooks, I’ll be pretty damn happy. That kid might be the last person to ever even remember my existence, but that’s OK, as long as I’ll be able to say that I did what I loved (I wrote, I taught, I traveled) and I loved who I wanted to love and they loved me back.

People Don’t Change: Except on Halloween

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Mystique

 

Yes, I was Mystique last night. Not a smurf, not an Avatar, not Genie, and DEFINITELY not Beetlejuice (to the bro who guessed that at Container Bar on Rainey: You. Are. An. Idiot.)

I had an amazing time with my friends (a goddess, an 80’s chick, a pirate, and Rainbow Brite), drank that PERFECT amount that only causes a slight morning headache, and somehow managed to convince multiple people (friends AND one handsome stranger…or WAS he handsome…?) to help reapply that cheap blue paint when it started to crust off.

It was win complete with food truck tacos, our friend’s band performance at Gypsy Lounge, and next-day Kerbey Lane brunch.

All of this coincides with an overused, but relevant expression: People don’t change. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately–the catalyst being the same catalyst for so much in my life…doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results (insanity as old Alby calls it).

I’m usually so good at recognizing it and steering away, self-solving. When I applied for Teach for America Hawaii. When I forced myself to finish my novel and self-publish. When I decided to start teaching high school instead of middle school. When I promised myself at least one new country per year. But I guess those are so internally-based, 100% me, myself, and I…it’s so much harder when you’re only 50% of a relationship. Your expectations of another person- a friend, a family member, a boyfriend, an i-wish-you-were-my-boyfriend, etc…are probably insane. That’s how I’ve been feeling lately at least.

Here’s what I mean: if people don’t change (I mean the true, real, nitty-gritty of a person), then why do we keep expecting them to? Human nature I guess. WELL I QUIT GODDAMMIT.

I shall expect nothing. Except, ya’ know, normal things that I’ve always expected and that are totally normal to expect because they derive from that person’s true self. Like…I will always expect my mother to use the word “Behave” via text/phone call on Halloween night, regardless of the fact that I am nearing 30 years old.

But other than that sort of stuff- nada. People rarely change. I like that better. Because, ya’ know, there are those fall-through-the-crack exceptions to the rule who truly, truly change. But if a guy has been treating you fairly shit-tastically for quite some time…chances are, that’s not changin’ any time soon, darlin’. Yes, I’m talking to myself here, people, just allow it. Stop insanely expecting some life-altering 360-degree turn-around. That’s just the Disney princess inside of you.

On October 31st, you’ll see tiaras, cat-eye contacts, wigs, fake tats, masks, and tutus. It’s really fun and you’ll be like, “OHMERGERD YOUR JON SNOW HAIR IS LIKE, SPOT ON.” But people don’t change their entire personality/outlook/morals/ethics/attitude.

People get haircuts and people have good days where they’ll say something particularly nice to you. But if, on all those other, normal days…they don’t say anything nice…ever…why keep ’em around? Choose who you surround yourself with. Choose to surround yourself with people who you can expect to be there for you- people who make you feel completely safe having that expectation of them. NOT people who constantly let you down and leave you expecting “maybe a different outcome next time…or the next time…or the next time.”

Happy Halloween, fellow bloggers 🙂 I hope the night was everything you expected it to be and I hope your company was everything you expected them to be. Mine sure were!

This Is Where I Leave You: Not even close to a review

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Have you seen the trailer for This Is Where I Leave You? It looks phenomenal; I can’t wait to see it. I also just found out that it’s a BOOK. So now I of course want to read it first. I think the reason I can’t stop watching the trailer is because of the symmetry I feel it has to my life right now. A monarch of the family passes away and brings the family together. They are a crazy family to say the least. Spending that much time together is like torture. Yup. And then of course there’s the line that we can all relate to: “Is it the whole world or is it just this family?”

I hope it’s the whole world.

I’ve lost two people this year—my amazing Uncle Chuck and my lovely grandmother. It’s strange to me that there are so many different reactions to death. Funerals seem to bring out the best and worst in some people. And I guess that makes sense when you think about it.

I find myself NEEDING to write about it—not to vent, not to talk shit, not to complain or whine or bitch or moan or whatever—but this is MY way. This is what I do. I think that’s clear to my friends and family by now, that I write (about everything). If they haven’t figured that out, I’m not sure what more I can do…I’ve already published a freakin’ novel.

In This Is Where I Leave You, in true movie fashion, the family comes together even though they’re insanely different and maybe-kinda-sorta hate each other at times. Tina Fey’s character puts it perfectly when she says, “You guys are idiots, but you’re MY idiots.”

I wish I always felt like all the people in my life (friends, family, coworkers, students, ex-students…) were MY idiots. But ya’ know what? It’s OK to just think they’re just idiots sometimes (or most of the time…or all of the time).

When a student decides to say, “Chinga tu madre!” to another student riiiight in front of you, it’s OK. When your cousin chooses to go to a sorority function instead of Grandma’s memorial, it’s OK. When people freak out about what’s was left for them in the will even though everyone knows there was barely anything more than a teacup collection…it’s OK. When a student decides it’s acceptable to bite your arm…it’s definitely fucking OK.

[See how I sandwiched that? Teachers: you can always use funny student stories to buffer real-talk.]

I wish I hadn’t started bawling for no apparent reason last night at Aunt Gigi’s as we were celebrating her birthday. But I was looking around that house and suddenly, all I could see was the absence of my uncle, flipping tortillas and laughing. I wish no one was that interested in money. I wish everyone cared about celebrating peoples’ lives more than they care about celebrating their possessions.

I wish everyone could be calm and collected and poised and respectful about death, but that’s like saying I wish everyone was the same, which would be terrible. I guess, mainly, I just wish that love was visible—in everything, in everyone, even in the darkest, most selfish times. If it was only peeking out, barely noticeable, I don’t think I’d feel as rage-cage.

But just like it’s OK to feel like some people are idiots and not MY idiots, I guess it’s OK for love to hide. Maybe it’s one of those, “How would we really know what it was if it wasn’t gone sometimes?” things. Whatever.

All I know is funerals are the worst, people can also be the worst, everything is the worst sometimes. But love is drinking tea with your grandma and flipping tortillas with your uncle and when those people are gone, love is hugging your idiots who know exactly what you mean.

Selfless

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I guess it’s time I write about Uncle Chuck. I mean, I kind of already wrote about him here. But I mean write about his death, which is weird since I think I’m still in the denial phase…

I couldn’t decide what I wanted to write…all my other blogs (try to) have a common theme of sorts. There are just so many thoughts, so many emotions, so much roller coaster bullshit that I could write about this past week.

I want to write about my Aunt Gigi and how she’s dealing with this and how we now know how much Uncle Chuck actually took care of her. She didn’t even know where the keys to the house were. He did everything for her—drove her everywhere, paid all the bills, cooked every meal…

I want to write about how you don’t have to be blood related to be family. He was the closest thing I’ve ever had to a real grandfather—he’s actually the only man who’s been there for me every day since I was born. He was a father when I didn’t have one, a grandfather when I didn’t have one, always an uncle, always a friend, and always trying to fatten me up with carne guisada.

I want to write about my first real funeral experience. How I don’t want to put my family through a viewing, a rosary, a second viewing, a terribly long and mournful ceremony, and on and on… Catholics just can’t get enough of the whole drawn-out sadness, huh? No thank you. Give everyone a tiny bit of my ashes to toss on their next cool vacation and throw a BBQ where everyone has to wear yellow and share a hilarious story about me. Something like that. No priest who had never even heard of me and no hail Marys.

I want to write about seeing all the familiar faces of my childhood. All the Mendez’s whom I’ve grown up without, who kinda look like me, who are kinda crazy like me. I want to write about how strange it was for my dad to be there, the best shoulder to cry on, amongst all of his wife’s ex-husband’s familia. I want to write about how weird it was to realize that he was closer to Uncle Chuck than my real father was, who didn’t even show up. And how Mom, not even part of Aunt Gigi’s family any more at all, is like her daughter—the one Aunt Gigi asks for help going to the bathroom.

But mostly, I want to write about how amazing Uncle Chuck was. I’ve never met anyone more selfless. I don’t think I ever witnessed him doing something solely for himself. He always talked about wanting to play guitar and travel the world, but he never did it. He bought a guitar, but spent all his time putting in hours at the courthouse or tending to the yard or cooking Mexican food better than any gringo I’ve ever met.

When I was little, if I wanted French fries from McDonald’s, a bean and cheese from Taco Cabana, and a soda from the gas station, he would go to all three without question. If I wanted to stop and see the cows, he would pull over and “Moooooo!” with me for as long as I wanted. And best of all, he would let me do his hair!

He was that guy who was constantly offering and giving—do you want a beer? Do you need advice? Do you need gas money? Do you want to take these 10 pounds of leftover rice and beans so you don’t have to cook for weeks? No Uncle Chuck, no, no, no thank you!

I will miss saying no to all those things, Charles Gordon. I will miss your wrinkly kisses on my cheek, the familiar sight of you in a plain white t-shirt (the only thing he ever wore), and your dirty jokes that were always unexpected and always hilarious. I will miss Aunt Gigi yelling your name and watching you ignore her in the most creative ways. I will miss your big, droopy ears and how easy you were to shop for (house slippers, every year). I will miss sometimes saying yes to the rice and beans and I will miss you, Uncle Chuck, so, so, so incredibly much.

Expanding Hearts

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I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on the not-so-feel-good topic of loss and how to deal with it. I guess a lot of it was sparked by the recent death of Joanna, a girl I met in Europe on a Contiki. We weren’t super close or anything—but seeing her picture splashed on news stories really got under my skin and I’ve been thinking of her pretty smile every day since they found her body.

It’s natural to think about death—it’s normal to feel anxious about your loved ones growing older, more fragile. I feel like losing someone you love is the one thing in life you can never prepare yourself for—but you wish you could or you might even feel like you already are prepared, ready, accepting of fate.

My best friend recently lost her grandmother, who was living with her. I walk by that empty room in her house now and my heart feels tight, uncomfortable. I think about them surrounding her with love, reading her poetry. Jo’s sobs still ring in my ears—I had never heard pain like that. Yet, I am envious of her. I told her this recently—that I feel like she’s stronger now, more prepared than I am, for the next inevitable passing. It’s stupid, I know. It’s not like one family death will make the next hurt any less.

Then I think about my aunts—they’ve both lost their husbands and they’ve both dealt with the loss in their own way.

My Uncle Rick was a racecar driver. I don’t remember him, but I’ve seen so many pictures and watched a couple home videos and I’ve heard about a million stories—that’s enough to know he lit up a room. He had that charm, that smile, that laugh—everyone adored him. Whenever I think about him, for some reason I get this ‘80s Tom Cruise image in my head—this cool cat who could make a rock fall in love with him. After a racing accident, he was in a coma for years before he passed away. My Aunt Debbie focused on her kids and then focused on their kids…I didn’t think she’d ever truly open back up to love. Her story made me fearful—I felt like she had this perfect marriage that ended too soon and once you have that kind of happiness, you just never get it again. I thought maybe people aren’t allowed to have that twice. But now she has John and I see this light in her eyes that I’ve never seen before. It reminds me of the pictures, the home videos, the stories—it reminds me of Uncle Rick. I don’t think she finally “filled a void,” as the saying goes, but I think she finally made room for that same kind of big love she once had.

Our hearts are bigger than we think. I feel like we’re constantly trying to cram love into a box—focusing on taking things out instead of expanding.

My Uncle Mac drove an 18-wheeler. He was in a terrible accident and became paralyzed—a quadriplegic. My Aunt Kathleen had been taking care of him for over 20 years before he passed away in 2010. I’ll never forget how positive he always was—if he was unhappy lying in that bed all day every day, he never let on, to us at least.

My Aunt Kathleen has similarly amazed me with her outlook on life. She is one of the craziest, most hilarious women I’ve ever met (she prefers the term “eccentric”). I asked her this past weekend if she’s dated at all. Her response was a big ol’ grin, a sip of her giant Long Island, and: “Not yet, there aren’t any men in Kountze! Unless I want a crazy old man who has a wife. My neighbor won’t stop calling—he wants phone sex! Can you believe that?! Anyway, I’m gonna move to Gruene and find me a man with at least a six-figure salary. That’s just the way that it is. That’s what I’m lookin’ for. I know what I want!”

Priceless. And the best part? The next day, she actually bought a piece of land in Gruene. She loved Uncle Mac deeply and always will, but she’s figured out that whole expanding-heart thing. It’s so great—and I know that both my uncles are smiling down, relieved that their loves are open to loving again.

I wish I could’ve taken a lesson from all of this sooner. People should view every hardship in this way. I always thought the key to getting over ex-boyfriends was filling the brokenness with someone new. But other people don’t fix you—you have to fix yourself. Your wounds might always be wounds, your holes may stay deep and barren—but your heart isn’t a box with a limit. There’s room for whatever, whoever, and however much. I’m still working on realizing this (isn’t it funny how you can realize something, but never really be done realizing it?). But I know that feeling worried and unprepared for loss is normal—all I can do is keep trying to expand my heart. Current effort: making room for each and every one of my new students. Even the one that guessed my age today: 49.

Papa

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My Papa is one of the most interesting people I know. He’s one of those crazy examples of a person who grew up dirt poor, didn’t even finish high school, and yet runs a multi-million dollar company. Yeah, it’s insane.

As a person, he rocks. He always has enough booze to throw a last-minute party, he has a raspy, pipe-smoking voice that you never get tired of hearing, and he’s hilarious without trying too hard to make you laugh. But I wouldn’t exactly call him loving, although according to my mom he’s much more affectionate than he used to be. Until very recently, I wasn’t sure if he even knew very much about me. He has spelled my name incorrectly for years. I’m not sure why “Alyshe” ever made sense, but I’ve learned to accept it. He’s never been the touchy-feely type—I’ve never heard him open up about anything and I’ve never even seen him be overly warm or adoring with anyone really. His not-so-clean divorce with my grandma is somewhat of a shaky, hushed tale with a lot of holes that I think I’d rather leave as holes.

Papa is extremely meat and potatoes…and most of the time, just meat. If that makes sense. Every birthday and Christmas, I get an envelope with a check (no card) made out to Alyshe, whoever that bitch is.

What I’ve learned from him is that some people show love in small moments. Or rare moments. Or very small, very rare moments. It’s hard to get used to, for me especially. When I love someone, I’m a nut; an over-shower, a constant affection-giver, a broken record of “I love you”. But with Papa, you just have to bide your time, be patient, wait for that unexpected moment. For me, there are three moments I hold onto with Papa and two of them happened this summer.

The first one was all I had for so long. I was 14 years old and I was about to undergo a spinal fusion. Obviously, I was scared shitless. I was so scared that I couldn’t cry or speak or think. I remember lying there, waiting for the anesthesia to sink in, and my legs were just shaking uncontrollably. They had never done that and they haven’t done that since. I don’t remember who else was standing beside me, but I do remember Papa grabbing my shins with his hands and I just felt…protected. Even amidst everything that was happening, I remember realizing how concerned yet comforting his face looked and how without saying anything, his grip seemed to tell me that I was going to be OK.

I think about that moment a lot, especially when he seems distant, fading.

In May, I graduated from University of Hawaii with my Masters and I honestly didn’t think he’d be on the list of people that would care. I didn’t even care too much. I sat on the beach all day and drank beer instead of walking across the stage. But he shocked me by reaching out on several occasions, rambling about how I was the first in the family to get my Masters and how proud he was. It was bizarre and awesome. I guess I just always assumed he was more pleased by other family members—they have good jobs and boyfriends or husbands or babies and they go to church and vote Republican and ya’ know, everything he’s into. Whereas I’m this half Mexican liberal kid with no man, baby, or Bible who wants to be a writer.

Which brings me to the latest small moment (big moment for me). Papa has asked me to write a book for him. As in, listen to him tell his life story, help him by questioning, type it up, organize and edit, and boom. His company does publishing in house and he wants to print only enough for family and friends. But let’s back up. Papa is trusting me with this? I had no idea he even knew I was a writer. I don’t even think he knows that I majored in Creative Writing and interned at Simon & Schuster. This came completely out of left field. He asked me very casually, as if he hadn’t given it much thought at all. But the fact remains that he asked ME, Alyshe!

This kind of scares me because his health has not been good at all and I worry that he’s suddenly pushing this idea because he wants to leave something behind for us…

But mostly, I’m just ecstatic to have another memory to hold onto. He may be racist and he may have followed up the writing gig offer with a comment about how I’ve gained weight but he’s impossible to not love (in a big, loud, showy way). He’s one of those people. He can get away with anything—all I have to do is remember his face in the hospital that day and his fingers rubbing the top of the lucky ladybug socks Aunt Debbie had given me—and all is well and forgiven and I feel his love stronger than ever.

I can’t wait to start writing about this man, this rock of our family, this West Virginia backwoods boy turned corporation owner, my grandfather. Maybe I’ll learn why he is the way he is. And maybe he’ll learn how to spell my name.