The Ofrenda

The pace of life seems to grinds to a halt this time year.  For those prone to freneticism, the slowing of time, the long days of darkness, is disorienting.  It feels like getting sucked in through the back of the fan and spit out all over the room.  I wander around picking up fragments of myself and trying to stitch them back together.    

The Christmas seasons brings with it a particular type of pain and desperation for poor communities.  It’s a type of pain that feels chaotic, and desperate—like the universe is giving us a final test of fate before the darkest day of the year.  For us “workers” (the families in Salinas always referred to us social worker type people as ‘trabajadoras,’ which literally translates to ‘workers,’ I always liked this phrase, so I am gonna roll with it), there is a mass of contradicting emotions to sort through this time of year.  For weeks, endless lines of people come to the family resource center and crack themselves open, one after another after another. 

Where can I get Christmas presents for my eight kids?  The lights got turned off and the bill is $534.  I don’t have enough gas to get my daughter to her court-mandated counseling appointment.  My son shot himself in the bathroom during this time last year.  I used to be addicted to meth, but now I just smoke and drink. I can control it.  An adorable boy with silver teeth shows up with a jacket and no shirt. 

The unraveling feels endless, yet many of the homeless people who live along Stockton blvd are wearing Santa hats or bright red polyester jackets over their dirty flannel pajamas.  As the cross walk blinks go, men in their Christmas costumes give a fist bump and say happy holidays, a soggy, limp cigarettes hanging from limps.  Their expressions convey something that looks like joy.  I drive to working thinking about how those cheap Santa suits all look so flammable. 

There is talk of massive lay offs and state-take over of our school district due to fiscal insolvency.  This means places like the family resource center are at risk of closing, because our services are not “state mandated.” 

On the last day of work before Christmas break, I felt myself fighting back tears all day, because I don’t want to stop.  I fear the slowing down.  I fear not being apart of this energy anymore.  When I tell people about my fears around the tenuous situation at our district, they say “great, now you can be a stay at home mom.”   This makes me want to scream and throw a temper tantrum. 

—-

Sugar and I are smashing down walls in the kitchen.  Muddy paw prints and sheet rock dust line the floors.  We can’t turn the heater on, because there is a hole in the ceiling.  If you punch holes in ceiling, you can hear the rain drops on the roof.  You will also have to wear a parka and wool hat while typing your end of year blog post.  Trade offs.

I started this post with the intention of writing chronology of the large and small internal transformations that have occurred this year. I scratched a timeline on an oversized yellow post-it note, grabbing a hold of the things that punctuate my memory and forcing them out in black, glittery ink.  Here’s a list in rough chronological order of the mostly painful shit that shook me up and imprinted on my DNA this year.

Miscarriages.

I realize I have a love/hate relationship with text messages as I scroll through a years worth of conversation fragments with Farmer Bob.  I’m trying to reconstruct a timeline of my miscarriages.  Trauma blurs the memory, throws you from your axis into a borderless blackness where things that happened a decade ago feel as present as the sound of Sugar hacking apart sheetrock in the kitchen.  I can’t remember when each moment of tenuous hope and crippling disappoint unfurled, but my I-phone knows that exact dates and times.  Looking back at these messages highlighted in tiny green boxes, I can remember exactly where I was, sitting in my dull gray cubicle with breath frozen in my chest.  February 5 at 2:46 pm is the first photos of a positive pregnancy test.  There is another on April 18th at 2:25pm and another on September 15 at 7:42am.

I remember crawling into bed after the first positive turned negative pregnancy test in February and sobbing into my pillow.  There was a crack in my sorrow, a space between my sobs where something broke through.  I am not the “woo woo” mystical, crystal wearing, “lets all burn sage and hold hands” type, but I heard a wiser voice speak to me in that moment of groundless sadness.  The voice said, “now you know what this feels like.”  And for a split second, the future me who was not so utterly wrecked believed that to be the truth I was supposed to learn. 

I thought I was done learning the lesson after the first miscarriage.  I thought the voice I heard was the final voice.  I dusted myself off pretty quickly, and took some refuge in the idea that my body was capable of getting pregnant (though it fucking sucks when the random well-meaning person uses that line to distance themselves from your pain.)

But it would happen again and feel infinitely more painful the second time around (I laid that experience to bare in a previous post and don’t feel the need to rehash it here.)

Miscarriage is one of many sorrows that women bare alone.  A deep grief that is so common and yet we remain utterly silent about it’s existence.  Now that I am 19 weeks pregnant and unable to hide my protruding belly from the world, I make a point to talk about miscarriage to pretty much anyone who feels the need to comment on my pregnancy.  For me, the two storylines– of loss and life–are inextricable.  When the random co-worker naively squeals, “you are pregnant! How exciting!”  After experiencing multiple miscarriage, “excitement” is an emotion you access with great hesitation. So, I usually respond with, “well, it has been a long journey.  I had tow miscarriages.” 

Pregnancy after miscarriage

I am pretty sure the 4.5 month old baby inside of me moved for the first time this morning.  I felt a percussive thump that was distinct from a gas bubble moving through my abdomen as I lay in bed enshrouded in a billowy, white pregnancy pillow.   

Pregnancy after miscarriage is a tenuous state.  I didn’t want let myself think about childbirth until about 2 weeks ago when Sugar and I toured a maternity ward and interviewed a midwife.  A few weeks before that, I was talking to Farmer Bob, who is also pregnant, about birth options and said “you know I am just not interested in child birth,” which couldn’t be further from the truth.  What I meant to say was, “I am still scared I might not even give birth,” but saying that was too hard.

Planning a birth requires a certain kind of imagination I don’t quite have access to just yet.  I am working on this part of my brain though, the part that allows me invest some mental currency in a positive expectation—a vision of an idealized outcome that is wholly out of your control.    

The massive identity shift that is pregnancy (and of course motherhood) is landscape I am still learning how to navigate.  I imagine 2019 will be filled with all sorts of musing on this topic.      

We bought a house.

But we aren’t home owners.  That’s the myth.  The bank owns the house, but now we can bust open closets and mount tree branches to the walls with reckless abandon.  The truth is I don’t feel a greater sense of permanence or stability paying mortgage as opposed to paying a landlord.  Perhaps this is a byproduct of living through the housing crisis.  Yet, I can imagine my unborn child playing on the play structure with kids like Anitra and Damariah and feel like I might finally be building a space where I can stay for awhile.

A murder and a science experiment

A high school student creates a science project positing that whites and North Asians have a higher IQs than black, latinos and south Asians.  He uses this logic to justify the disproportionate representation in the honors program at his high school.  It’s both a rupture and media shitstorm.  Ann Coulter comments.  CNN picks up the beat.  A month later, on March 18th, Stephon Clark was murdered by police in his grandmother’s backyard—shot six times in the side and back.

I spent weeks shutting down freeways and stadiums.  Screaming and dancing in the street riding my bicycle from demonstration to demonstration.  The DA built a fence around her office to keep protesters out.  There was a barbecue on her front lawn everyday for months.  After the science experiment, I talked to 700 high school students about race relations on their campuses and in the community. 

By standing in the middle of these fires and learning how to listen, bear witness and make space.

Elders passed away

Elders passed away this year.  My grandmother, Mamique, my therapist of five years and Sister Claire, my AA co-sponsor, all passed away this year.  I was never close to my grandparents so the feeling of losing an elder is foreign to me—a pain I watched others experience but could never really grasp.  Sister Claire passing changed that.  I sit with her every morning and feel her smiling down on me from up there in the clouds.

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Some intentions for the new year:

2019 may bring the loss of jobs, the birth of a child and the reimagining of life and self in some fundamentally new ways.  The challenge for me is to let go, learn what it means to have hope and trust that there is a greater plan and meaning to all of this.

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