Tag Archives: family

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.

For Dad, On Mother’s Day

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Dad has officially kicked Stupid Cancer in the ass and I wanted to share my ecstatic relief with the world in more than just a Facebook status. I hope this blog helps you understand why losing him to Stupid Cancer was not an option. I love you Dad!

My dad taught me that if you put salt on your drink napkin at restaurants, then your glass won’t stick.

He’s a pretty handy guy like that. He can fix anything, even if it’s not broken. You know that movie quote about a guy who’s lost in the woods only needing a pocket knife and a toothpick to be able to build a shopping mall? Yeah, that’s my dad. He probably wouldn’t even need the toothpick.

He used to be really good at carrying heavy things, but his back is now just as bad as mine and his strong arms that have moved me in and out of shitty apartments have been replaced by whoever is trying to date me (or vice versa) at the moment.

He’s taught me how to fish. More importantly, he taught me how to get away with reading a magazine in the boat while he fishes.

He’s taught me a lot of “reals”. Like what a real gentleman should be—and do and say and not do and not say. What a REAL handshake and hug should feel like.

He taught me how to appreciate good food. Notably—freshly caught fish v. frozen, medium steak v. well done, and homemade barbeque sauce and honey mustard v. packaged. He taught me how to recognize the taste of venison when it’s snuck into food, looking and acting like beef. He taught me how to cut meat properly.

My dad taught me that it can always be worse—you could be shot at or bitten by a rattlesnake or have to frantically jump off a hotel balcony half-naked. He taught me to “get a helmet” and “poop in one hand, wish in the other and see which one fills up faster”. He taught me sarcasm.

He taught me what kind of boys to bring home and what kind of boys to avoid. By watching the way he treats my mom, he’s taught me what kind of husband I want. By experiencing the way he treats me, he’s taught me what kind of father I want for my children.

He has TRIED to teach me about politics, cars, the military, and history. I have retained about 1% of that information. Sorry Dad.

He taught me not to put up with anybody’s shit.

He taught me that anyone can be a father, but it takes someone really special to be a dad.

He’s taught me so much over the years and I know that he’ll continue to teach me for many, many more years.

Thanks for being so strong Daddy. You couldn’t have given Mom a better Mother’s Day gift this year!

The C Word

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Cancer is that thing you hear about- on TV, movies, or from friends about friends of friends. You never think it’ll be you or YOUR parents. And if it is, you imagine it’ll just be a scare or a simple, no-brainer, caught it early type deal.

My dad is my stepdad, as most people know. Although once, at a wedding, a man said, “This your daughter? I can tell, you have the same smile.” Me and dad looked at each other and grinned. If he meant we both had lips and teeth, well sure. But dad is a 60-something Santa look-alike with baby blue eyes and a Texan tattoo.

Anyway, I obviously love the guy with all my heart and up until now, I kind of thought he was invincible. My parents, lovely tight-lipped haoles, thought it’d be best to wait until I was home for Christmas to tell me that Dad has prostate cancer.

Big mistake. 1. I’d just spent 12 hours on a plane. 2. Of course I’m going to be pissed that the whole damn family knows except me. 3. Dad made me think he was giving me a present.

Let me explain #3. Mom’s usually the one who buys me gifts, unless it has to do with technology or cars in any way. This is rare, since those things are usually expensive, and this is when Dad takes over. Whenever this happens, he’s like a small child. He cannot wait to give me the gift and he pesters Mom until she says, “Ok, fine!” This is exactly how he was acting all day. I was like, hell yeah, I’m about to get a new laptop or a kindle! What an extreme opposite to a gift.

At that point, I was bawling, yelling, and getting away with cussing all at the same time. Total psychotic episode. That is the only time in my life that my parents haven’t severely scolded me for saying “fuck.”

I was pissed that they hadn’t told me, but I was even more pissed that Dad hadn’t taken action yet. He has some great points and explanations about “his plan,” but I don’t really care. I’d rather the doctors chop off the entire lower half of his body if it meant he’d be alive longer. I don’t care that it’s his body and I don’t care about the nasty side effects. However, I apparently don’t get an opinion on my dad’s genitals. Go figure.

I realized that for them to sit me down and tell me this—and for Mom to be crying while they did so—this was obviously a lot more serious than Dad was letting on. They’ve both had cancer scares before. Dad even had to have a kidney removed. But those times either a) really weren’t that big of a deal, b) they were much better liars back then, or c) I was a naïve idiot. I’m going to go with a mix of all three.

Dad will probably not like that I wrote all this but… the way I see it, I need to cover all bases. I don’t pray. But I admit that I very well could be wrong about this God character. I’m probably not, but just in case, I need as many people out there who DO pray to pray.

If you don’t know my dad very well and you’d like to make your prayer more personable, here are some solid facts you’re welcome to use:

  1. Dad’s middle name is LeRoy. He despises it and using it to his face WILL get you a death glare.
  2. Dad loves Obama, vegetarian foods, marijuana, and Diet Coke. He wants to outlaw guns and move somewhere more his style, like L.A. He wishes he could spend more time at the beach, shopping, or volunteering in Africa with Hilary Clinton.
  3. He is the utter opposite of #2.
  4. Dad likes to seem tough, and he definitely can be. But at heart, he’s a complete teddy bear who cried when I wrote him a really cheesy poem once.
  5. Fishing, poker, and television crime shows. Obsessed.
  6. He has never treated me like a “stepdaughter”—I don’t really know what that even means really. All I know is that I can’t tell the difference between our relationship and the relationship all my friends have with their “blood fathers.” He definitely stepped up to the plate and filled a void in my life and I love him so much more for that.

All jokes aside, I’m scared shitless. I tried to make this blog lighthearted so that it wouldn’t be a completely depressing read. I love hiding my emotions behind humor! But I’ve never lost anyone in my life. I was too young to even remember when my great-grandparents died, or my Uncle Rick. I am definitely not ready to lose my dad.

SO BACK OFF, CANCER, YOU STUPID BITCH!

I’m sure he’ll be fine, as the doctor has apparently assured. Prostate cancer has a very high survival rate and Dad is more badass than most men. He’s been shot, he’s jumped out of helicopters to save lives, etc. etc. But I’d still appreciate the prayer thing. Or, ya’ know, whatever you think will help. Voodoo doll personifying cancer, spells, curses, meditation, light a candle… I don’t know very much about religions, this is clear. Or you can just give him a hug next time you see him! Or a Facebook hug, those are nice too.

Love you Milton LEROY Thompson Junior AKA Dad!:)

Pieces

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It’s funny how there are pieces of people that stay with you forever, even if the actual people don’t. You can go years without seeing someone, or even talking to them, but all it takes is a smell or a taste or a song—and they’re figuratively next to you, live, in color, in the flesh, dimples flashing.

Even more bizarre is how the current people who occupy your time, your present, can literally be next to you and yet not affect you at all. How can there be some people who don’t leave behind any pieces whatsoever? Were they not supposed to be in your life at all? Or is everyone meant to have these meaningless, vanilla time-fillers? And in that case, is everyone also meant to be someone else’s meaningless, vanilla time-filler? I guess it’s acceptable for the acquaintances that you see every so often, the friends of friends, the distant relatives, the people you ask the same questions to and vice versa every single time: “How are you? How’s teaching? How’s the love life, eh?”

But I hope to God that I never leave someone—someone of more importance than an acquaintance—mark-less, 100% unscathed by my presence in any way, good or bad. How tragic and boring, to never be thought of at all, ever, even if it’s just once in 20 years, when an old friend makes a disaster of mashed potatoes, walks by a person wearing a certain perfume, or sees someone with that same awful haircut that you had that one year…

I guess it’s more depressing to think of this happening with someone you’ve dated. And I can definitely think of people who I’ve dated and “dated” who won’t ever be crossing my mind, unless I’m writing about people who never cross my mind. Sucks to be you. But is it their fault, or mine? I of course want to say that it’s theirs—they should have been more interesting, funny, smart, gentlemanly, etc. They should have stuck around longer. They should have been more memorable, right? Or maybe I just didn’t give them a chance to be those things. Or maybe they were those things, and I didn’t notice or want to notice or care to notice.

We see what we want to see, right? I mean, if you want to hate someone, you connect them in your mind with petty or horrible shit. Bad memories, fighting, yelling, crying, lying. I had plenty of that with a certain ex, but instead, I think of him every single time I eat a cupcake, pick out a Halloween costume, go bowling, see a pair of incredibly blue eyes, or drink Dr. Pepper.

I think of my best friend Johanna every single time I hear any Ben Folds or Jack’s Mannequin, any time someone references Aggies, debate, Nicaragua, or little brothers, and any time I see someone with a huge, happy smile.

I think of my mom every time I eat spaghetti, every time people talk about role models or single-parent-stronger-than-steel-support-systems, and every time I see blue eyeshadow.

I think of my dad every time I see a magic trick, a gun, or a Santa, every time people talk about Texans, every time I eat a steak, and every time I really need a hug.

Every TV show or movie I watch is connected to someone. Every band, every song, every meal I cook, every outfit I wear, every restaurant I go to… The mind is a crazy gadget. Every time I drink tea—Grandma. Every time I smell a pipe—Papa. Every time I eat hummus—my roommate Leslie. There’s not much that my brain doesn’t associate to someone I care about.

I guess the real question I have is: when you reach a certain number of things that remind you of a specific person, does that mean that they should still be in your life? I mean, once you get to a certain point, and you realize that the smallest, most random things remind you of this person from your past, are you supposed to just keep living without them? Are you supposed to wait for it to completely go away? What if it never does? How often is “too” often for someone to pass through your mind? And for that matter, when you find yourself never thinking of a person, is that reasonable cause to drop them entirely? If you only think of that person when you’re in their presence, is that acceptable?

Oops, that was more than one question.

Let me try to nutshell these thoughts. I know that it’s normal to have silly, sporadic moments where an image of someone plasters itself to every inch of you. It’s like someone is drawing from a hat of your past and present relationships (platonic and otherwise) and then flinging the chosen photo down on your day when you least expect it. But I feel like this can’t ALL be purely coincidence via memory—I feel like at some point, life must just be telling you that this person is stuck to your heart for a reason. Especially when those everyday things (banana split ice cream, that one scar, that one expression) that they’re, for some reason or another,  sprinkled on top of are happy, funny, loving, meaningful, or delicious.

Right?

Growing Old

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        I wrote the following when I was staying with my grandmother in San Antonio last year. She’s one of the best people I’ve ever met–full of stories–my favorite kind of person is one who is full of stories. But she’s also probably the loneliest person I’ve ever met. I’ve realized that I’m not afraid of aging. I’m afraid of the combination of old and lonely and divorced and depressed and stuck in a place I despise, full of stories. My grandma is a writer; I am a writer. She and I both love books and judging people and Luby’s (almost as much as we love books, to be honest). I guess that’s the way it is with family. There are so many things (whether you realize them or not) that you’re already emulating or you want or wish you could emulate…but then, in other ways, you strive to be that person’s utter opposite. It has sadly become one of my life goals, to be yellow where she is black. But I know she would approve.
         I am learning about growing old. My grandma teaches me about it every Monday and Wednesday, when I spend the night to save a little gas. She lives right by my office, in the same house she’s been in since she was young and working, having babies, married, and happy from what I hear. Now it’s the same house, but empty and stale, just her and two snoring dogs and one annoying, chirping bird. It used to be filled with laughter and cooking. Now it’s filled with stuff…stuff that she stares at and then says, “I wonder who will ever want this once I’m gone…” Stuff like her teapot collection, her spoon collection, her stamp collection, and her Princess Diana doll.
          I always say, “Grandma, you don’t even need to be thinking about that, it’s too early,” even though I know it’s not. And now the only cooking she does is toast with blackberry jam. She drinks her tea, eats from a tin of English cookies, and always has a full bowl of fruit on the table ready to be a centerpiece for the guests who never come. I am learning about growing old.
          “I like your sunglasses,” she says in such an innocent voice, begging me to love her, listen to her, be her friend, pay attention to her, notice her. She laughs at all my jokes and tells me about things she read in the newspaper or saw on TV. She is so much like her youngest granddaughter, although they are 80 years apart.
          On love life, she’s bitter and cold. She tells me about her only true love, buried in England, never really knowing how she felt. Her pale blue eyes are lost in 60+ year-old memories, forgetting I’m there. At that moment, I wish with all my might that she’s right in believing that Heaven exists, just so she’ll get to tell him, to be with him. She believes in God but not love. I believe in love, but not God. I’m worried that time will switch these beliefs.
          She tells me things I shouldn’t know about my Papa. I’d rather have the facade of some people. She tells me about being alone for over 40 years now. “Who would’ve wanted someone like me anyway? Too old, too poor, and four kids. It was too much.” She scares me, she’s created a fear inside of me–of pining after a grave of I-wonders and what-ifs. I am learning about growing old.
          She criticizes the world without hesitation. “People just used to be nicer, better,” she says over breakfast, as she scans headlines. “Things just used to be so much simpler,” she says when I explain my marketing job. “You know, you used to be able to go to the store and find all the good brands. Now the stores all have their own brand and that’s all you can find,” she says, shaking her head sadly at a box of blueberry muffins. “But your generation doesn’t care about that kind of stuff, do you?” I shrug my shoulders and grin.
          What am I supposed to say to that? I want to say, “No, we don’t. It’s cheaper and it tastes the exact same.” But I don’t want to shatter any protective walls. She’s built them up around her for decades. You can almost see the cloud of pessimism and depression around her. She hates this country, she hates this time period, and she hates store brands. I am learning about growing old.