Illusion

 

He tells me I’m cute,

makes cat calls

when my hips rumble by,

but I don’t believe him.

 

I want to be told I’m beautiful

because he notices the way my

curls drape over my shoulders,

because my smile makes him smile,

because in my eyes he sees the

woman that’s awakening inside.

 

I don’t believe him when

he holds me, I feel like a

load in his arms, as if

he is doing me a favor.

 

I don’t believe him when

he kisses me.

The yearning for the gentleness

of a playful kiss lingers

longer than the shadow of his lips.

 

I want to be kissed,

hard, with intention,

the way a hummingbird

approaches honeysuckle.

 

I don’t believe his hands as they

travel through the cambers of

my body so obtrusively, I won’t

dare to slow them down,

invite them to explore and play.

 

When he touches me, I want him

to take his time, the way the fog

caresses the mountains and sacred

valleys of Peru. Imprint every curve

and ridge of my topography

in his mind.

 

I don’t believe in his silence.

When my heart speaks its truth,

my words are met by the timber

of his preoccupation.

 

I want his presence

the way the tree shelters the birds

in its arms,

the way the sun

validates the moon,

the way

the conch holds the sound of

the ocean.

 

I don’t believe him when he

says he loves me.

He doesn’t look long enough

into my eyes for me to catch

the movement of his lips.

 

It’s a phrase spoken from habit,

fills up space and time.

Not enough to forget that a

second ago, I wondered why

we stay together.

Why I Want to Stay Married to You

My husband and I celebrated our 11th anniversary this past June.  Like all marriages, we’ve had turmoil, periods of deep pain followed by seasons of personal growth, and times of great joy.  What’s kept us together has been our commitment and love for each other.  In my post “First I had to ask for forgiveness” I account the great challenges we faced in our marriage and how through our personal healing and growth, we  were able to learn how to love each other in a more honest and profound way.

This last anniversary we had a misunderstanding, and at first we both reverted to old thought patterns of fear of rejection and abandonment.  I quickly recognized what was happening.  He was shutting down and withdrawing, and in the past I would have reverted to passive-aggressive behaviors that would ultimately result in explosive confrontations which would push him to withdraw even more.  However this time, I was able to step outside of fear, and use love to see what was happening, and instead approached the situation in a way that would help us both come out of it with greater insight.

One of the challenges David has had in our marriage has been to confront situations that need to be confronted and speak to me directly.  My aggression had played an active role in his withdrawal patterns.  This is an area we both have needed immense courage to transform in.  For a while I took on the role of facilitating the conversations, because I knew he was still wary of my potential explosive reactions.  There was a time when his apologies or any sort of explanation was never good enough, and my role had turned into the aggressor, the one who protected myself at all cost, even if it meant destroying him.  Because of this, I knew how difficult it was for David to approach me, so even when I felt he should facilitate the conversation, I took on the role.

It’s been approximately three years since David and I have had an explosive encounter. We have gradually learned to trust each other, and I have become vulnerable enough to share my fears with him without resorting to the “aggressor role.”  By the way, vulnerability is something you just have to jump into.  There is no becoming it without trying it.  It means having the courage to open up to your most honest and raw emotions.  It may mean you open up a little at first, and you gradually gain more courage to open up more. Sometimes your vulnerability doesn’t yield the results you may have been wishing for, but I have learned that being vulnerable is not just about breaking down barriers with the other person, more importantly, it is about finding my own strength and courage to embrace life whole-heartedly.

I have learned that the misunderstandings and disagreements between my husband and I have nothing to do with his love for me, nor my self-worth.  This past anniversarial mishap brought us yet to a new stage of growth.   David must now trust that I will be open to his point-of-view and/or his apologies,  and  I will be vulnerable enough to walk through the process with him.  So we spent part of our anniversary and the next few days in what would mostly be referred to as cordial conversation and silence.  He, working on the courage to initiate conversation, and I giving him the space to be courageous.  Though I was disappointed at not interacting with him on that day, I immediately recognized the lesson that was taking place, and that I needed love and patience to allow both he and I to experience the lesson. This doesn’t mean there weren’t times during this process that anger didn’t try to seep in or that I maintained my peace the whole time.  What it does mean is that I am living through a level of consciousness that allows me to experience and process emotions with a much deeper awareness. Needless to say, by the fourth day, he gathered the courage to talk to me.  And what he came to realize was, he could trust me and most importantly, himself.  He also learned that in his willingness to be vulnerable, he walked away stronger.  What I learned is vulnerability leads to a great sense of love and compassion.  That the same energies that allow a beautiful flower to bloom, are the same energies that are allowing our relationship to transform.

The next weekend we went to the Rose Garden in Balboa Park, where we got married.  We walked around and smelled the various flowers, then sat down in the exact spot we got married, and each wrote eleven reasons why we choose to stay with each other.  Eleven reasons for the eleven years we’ve been married, though we have been with each other for eighteen.  Everyday we are grateful for what we bring to each other’s lives.

My List

1.  You make me laugh every day

2. I can be myself around you

3. You accept me and love me just the way I am

4. You stuck with me when I was at my worst

5. You allow me to fly without ever questioning my freedom

6. You buy me flowers just because

7. You pay attention to me, so much so that you know my mannerisms and idiosyncrasies

8. You always do whatever it takes so I can go see Carmen or she can come see us, because you don’t mind going out of your way to do things that bring me joy

9.  I lover you booty, your hair, and most of all your eyes

10. You love to dance, and you’re not afraid to try new dances like salsa, merengue, and bachata

11.  You are not afraid to have a strong woman by your side because you are a confident man

David’s List

1. Laughs with me

2. Laughs at me

3. Loves to travel

4. No inhibitions with me

5. I can be my “goofy” self around you

6. Loves trying different cultural foods

7. Patient with me

8. Great family woman

9. Intelligent

10. Big Booty (Of course my husband would include this sole physical feature! LOL!)

11. You are humble and simple and you keep me grounded

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In her, I saw the liberation we had all been waiting for

DSC_4517Two months she spent with her jaw wired shut.  Not only had my grandfather imprisoned my grandmother physically, he took her voice away.  He shut her up so that he could no longer be intimidated by her spirit. The police said there was nothing they could do. He was too powerful, too feared.  She pleaded for him to stop, but he unleashed all his pain and his insecurities onto her the way the ocean shatters the delicate shells on its shore.  “What did she do to make him so angry,” they asked.

Her friend, La Forty-Nine, threatened to go kill “the bastard.”  She had a colt-49 she sometimes strapped to the waistband of her skirts or dresses.  But my grandmother, too afraid of stirring the monster her husband carried within, instead drank those drinks that agitate the inside of you converting the fear into a self-destructive courage.  Only then could she meet her enemy eye-to-eye.

“He was a good man, a good father when he didn’t drink.” she told me.   But when he drank she saw the green in his eyes;  A madman devoured by hallucinations and the most depraved yearnings.  One night she drank herself to a stupor with La Forty-Nine in a neighborhood cantina.  He was like a raging wolf prowling the night for her scent.  He wouldn’t dare confront my grandmother with La Forty-Nine by her side, so in the morning he sent  Tio Ernesto to get her to come home.  Walking by the cantina, Tio Ernesto heard my grandmother’s voice, as she screamed, “Quitate Cabron!”, to some military drunkard that was trying to push himself on her.  Tio Ernesto entered abruptly and shoved the intruder off my grandmother.  A brawl ensued, the soldier pulled out a pocket knife, and stabbed my uncle through the left pocket of his white guayabera.  The red stained his shirt as the shame stained my grandmother’s existence.

In his pocket, my uncle carried a small laminated prayer card with the image of La Virgen de Guadalupe.  As my grandmother leaned next to my uncle and discovered that his blood came from a small slit in his chest, she felt the card and pulled it out.  That day, the image of the bloodied Virgen de Guadalupe became a seed for the courage she would need to escape.

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Last year, I was honored to see The Vagina Monologues at American University, co-directed by my daughter, Carmen Elida Mason.  She said she was doing it for all the women who had made a significant impact in her life and for all the women she would never meet; for the women who might be considered strangers, but were connected to her in a way the world still couldn’t understand; for the 1 in 3 women who would be assaulted, raped, or abused in their lifetime; for the women who stand in the shadows, whose stories will never be told or heard.  I was in awe of this young woman standing in front of me speaking with so much passion and conviction.  She has surpassed any expectation I ever had of the kind of daughter I wanted to raise.  As I watched her speak and stand in her truth, I was overwhelmed.  She was everything, everything, my Tita Angelita, my  Tita Chocolate, my Tita Carmen, my mom and I would have ever dreamed to be.  She was all we had never dared to become, all we had never dared to do.  In her, I saw the liberation we had all been waiting for.  I knew my Titas were there; I saw their spirit in her.

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One by one these amazing women in the cast spoke the collective truth of all the women that have come before them and all those who will continue to lead.  In their beautiful spirits, I felt the strength of my grandmother when she decided to escape the brutal abuse of her first and second husband; my great-grandmother as she rode the train with her two small children in her lap after finding out the love of her life was marrying another woman; my aunt who dedicated 35 years of her life loving a married man; and my aunt who spent her whole life tiptoeing around her husband’s raging outbursts.  These amazing young women inspired me to write this vignette for my grandmother, so someone will finally tell her story, and someone will finally hear it.

Carmen's hand holding one of the Gardenia flowers that were surrendered to the ocean along with my Tita Carmen's ashes.

Carmen’s hand holding one of the Gardenia flowers that were surrendered to the ocean along with my Tita Carmen’s ashes.

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Carmen and her dad, who is not afraid of strong women.

REMEMBERING ON V-Day. I know deep down in that place where my feminine intuition is rooted, the liberation of all beings depends greatly on the liberation of women. Today and everyday I fight for my spiritual, emotional, and psychological liberation in the name of my daughter, my grandmother, my mother, and all the women, those I know and those I’ll never know, who sacrificed so that I could be here. And for the beautiful women yet to come!

1,000,000,000

The Sensuous Experience of Washing Dishes

The soap suds are purifying

An immaculate act

My brusque manicured hands

sensually stroke

the tainted surface of each dish

 

It’s feminine, yet

anti-feminist

 

The pink nail-polish softly

displays its hue through the

soap bubbles  like  bursts of bubble gum

 

Through the glass lid, I see

the reflection of my curls

draping over my shoulders –

shoulders that are a pair of maracas

kissed by the sun

 

The curls tickle me, like the

playful tip of a fuchsia feather.

 

Water flows

Like translucent silk

delicately grazing my skin

It’s weightlessness is liberating

 

A stream of new beginnings

 

I glance over my shoulder

And notice David’s playful grin

as he watches the gentle wiggle of my hips

 

Peering through the window, I

secretly hope for more dirty dishes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Peace of Your Night

The lingering sweet of

rain on a tree bark

is the scent when

I’m entwined in the peace of

your night

 

Ancient drums call

your heart into rhythmic

palpitations that

soothe and heal,

invite me into the peace of

your night.

 

The easiness of your breath

draws me closer

as I merge into an

extension of you.

 

Our angles complement

each other

blurring the crescents

where your skin begins and mine ends

into hills of honey

 

We love each other through

the conscious

realm of our existence – the part of us

that doesn’t require effort or

commitment

 

The Divine part of us that

just is

 

A Centripetal force created

by the peace of your night

 

For my husband whose gentle and kind spirit has been essential to my healing and to our love.

First I Had To Ask For Forgiveness

I hate you, you fuckin’ asshole!  I can’t stand you anymore!  You don’t do shit for me and my daughter – I might as well be on my own!  I do everything around here.  You don’t do shit, what the fuck do I need you for!  I don’t know why I married you!

I can’t remember when things got so violent in our marriage, but my anger became the soot that suffocated the love and admiration we had once had for each other.  It (the violence) crept in like the autumn Santa Ana winds; the anger had always been there like desert sand waiting for the current.

I first met my husband, David Malo, in 1993 while attending community college.  I can still picture him in his raver-like baggy jeans, with his hair draped down his back like raven feathers and the Hawaii University hat that inconspicuously hid his eyes.  I was 19 years old at the time, raising a one-year-old baby and very focused on transferring to San Diego State University (SDSU).  We quickly became close friends.  One of the qualities that most attracted me to him was his gentle and vulnerable spirit.  He was kind with his words and listened to me without judgment.  He brought calmness into a time of my life that was full of chaos and stress.

He was someone who I felt safe around, because he respected me as a woman and a mother.  Because I was working, attending school full-time, and nursing my daughter, the circle of friends I had once had, was practically non-existent.  He became someone I could count on unconditionally, and even if I didn’t make contact with him for weeks, I could call him in the spur of the moment, and we would pick up right where we had left off.  We continued to be friends and he brought a peaceful quiet into my life that my spirit had been yearning for.

There is something fundamentally beautiful in the spiritual essence of a human being.  One can only discover this beauty through a deep interconnectedness with all that surrounds us.  This beauty is only discovered when we transform within – it is the type of beauty we presence in the untainted innocence of a flower or a hummingbird, or the vulnerability of water.  It was that innocence and vulnerability in my husband’s spirit that lead me to him.  In him I saw the beauty that was possible in me; a reflection of what I had been before fear and disappointment had cemented my spirit in anger.

We began dating the summer of 1995 and both transferred to SDSU in August of that same year.  He never asked for more than I could give.  I never felt pressured or any sense of obligation, because he understood how dedicated I was to my daughter and my studies.  He just patiently waited for me to have time for him.  It wasn’t surprising that my grandmother, whom I lived with, and my daughter quickly grew an affinity toward him.  Often spending time with me also meant he had to spend time with my daughter and grandmother – he never complained.  There were several times when spending time with me meant he had to go on a date with my daughter, my grandmother, and even my great-grandmother!  His energy was always gentle and serene.

But I began to attack.  I didn’t know the transformation I was looking for had to be within, so I became angry toward him, and I began to attack his spirit.  Anger’s sole purpose is to destroy, and I was out to destroy him.  I began to see his contentment as lack of initiative and his quietness as the quality of a pushover.  In my life experiences I had learned to be loud and demanding if I was to preserve what little amount of dignity I had accumulated up to that point. So the qualities I most yearned for, were the same qualities I feared.

Early on in our relationship, David and I got into a confrontation in the car – I was driving.  I hated that he didn’t respond to my anger.  I kept yelling and insulting.  I wanted him at the brink.  Finally, at a stop sign, he got out of the car and slammed the door. A sense of satisfaction overcame me.  I needed anger to feed my anger. Though these episodes of anger were far in between, they would ultimately become the epicenter of a turbulent marriage.

Carmen was ten years old and David and I had dated for seven years.  I had decided it was time for marriage.  David and I had both graduated from college; I wanted Carmen to have a chance to spend part of her life in a “normal” household and to experience the presence of a father figure; and if we were going to have a baby it needed to happen soon because I didn’t want too much of an age gap between Carmen and the baby.  I had it all under control – my life, my emotions, the outcome.  I loved David.  I loved spending time with him, the way he made me laugh, his easiness, and his thoughtfulness.  But I didn’t comprehend then that marriage was much more than a checklist of goals and accomplishments.  On June 29, 2002 we married and vowed a life of love, partnership, and commitment to each other.  We had a beautiful wedding at the Rose Garden in Balboa Park – our friends read poetry that I had selected, David wrote vows for Carmen, and we included ceremonial traditions from various cultures.

Two years into our marriage, I became the alpha female, and he the guy who avoided the confrontations. I nagged, he became more distant. The partnership we had vowed to each other became tainted by my demands and my constant accusations.   He reverted to his video games and golfing, while I shopped and meticulously cleaned every corner of the house.   Two consecutive summers of lay-offs, a year of working night shifts, and a wife that often belittled and humiliated him threw him into a labyrinth of depression – years later he would confess that there had been times he contemplated the idea of suicide.

His transformation was subtle, and my anger was taking its toll on him.  His peace had become agitated and his vulnerability was now perceived as weakness; now I had an excuse to keep attacking.  I created reasons for my anger – he wasn’t a good enough husband, he didn’t know how to be a good father, he didn’t have a father to teach him how to be a man – all illusions to justify my relentless anger.   I just wanted to hurt him the way I had been hurt.  Even when he tried living up to my expectations, I’d set him up to fail, so I could justify my disrespect toward him.  Carmen had become an innocent bystander of the anger and violence I had tried to protect her from most of her childhood.  But now it was unraveling like the finely woven threads of the piña fabric.

The verbal abuse toward David gradually escalated until one day our love for each other came to a crossroads. On this particular day, I had been aggravating him all day with my usual reproaches and snide remarks.  He knew it was escalating, so he exited through the back door of the house into the converted garage.  Before slamming the door behind him, he sternly said, “You know what, I’m not going to put up with your shit anymore.”  I sat on the couch for approximately thirty minutes thinking about how to WIN.  Then suddenly like the bitter squirt of a lime, I got up from the sofa and grabbed the hammer that rested in the kitchen drawer.  With commitment and determination, I made my way through the back door toward David.  My daughter came after me – at the time she thought I was going to hurt [kill] him.  I was so enraged, when she grabbed my arm, I shook her off and shoved her against the concrete patio, her body pressed against the coarse surface.  In reaction to the commotion, my husband came outside, and as he was helping Carmen up, I yelled, “Do you want to see crazy! I’ll show you crazy!”  I took the hammer and smashed it against the windowpane on the door.   Hearing the crashing noise of the glass, and feeling its jagged splinters on my feet awakened me from the state of rage I was in.  Carmen and David stood there looking at me with pity.  What had I become?  Desmond Tutu speaks of Ubuntu – a philosophy, a belief in the Nguni group of languages, which speaks of the essence of being human.  It is to say, “My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours.”  So as I was dehumanizing and humiliating David, I was doing so to myself.

I went to bed that night so ashamed.  I was destroying the beautiful family that God had given me, and I was destroying my heart.  I prayed so that I could find a way out of the darkness, so that I could liberate myself from the anger, so that I could find peace.  Then one day as I was checking my e-mails, I came across a fellowship opportunity at the Ahimsa Center: Nonviolence in thought and action.  When I clicked on the link, the following quote by Mahatma Gandhi appeared:

We are constantly being astonished at the amazing discoveries in the field of violence. But I maintain that far more undreamt-of and seemingly impossible discoveries will be made in the field of nonviolence.

I applied and was granted the fellowship.  That summer my heart began to bloom.  This became the foundation of an incredible journey of healing, reconnecting with my spirit, and allowing God’s light into my heart.  When I returned home from the fellowship, I noticed a difference in my intention for living.  I wanted my breath to capture the sweet orange honeysuckle in my back yard, my eyes to frame the hummingbird’s flight, and my ears to listen to the whispers of the moon.  And though I knew I was headed toward the right direction, my anger and toxic thoughts would seep in at times.  It was around this time that my husband and I decide to go to therapy.  A friend of ours recommended a therapist that was incredibly kind and compassionate who helped David and I get to know each other again.

Because I was healing, my soul was opening up to a spiritual awakening that allowed me to feel a love that I had never experienced before.  This kind of love contained no wanting.  It wasn’t the kind of love that turned into enraged attacks, feelings of hostility, or emotional disconnectedness when my “wants” were not being met.  This was a love that arose from beyond the mind.  I was beginning to love myself, and by loving myself I could finally love David authentically without needing to judge or change him in any way.  I loved him, the him I saw through the gleam of his eye.

A year ago I had a dream in which a man whose face was undefined kissed me gently, deliberately.  I felt energy exponentially synergize inside of me – a profound intense love.  I was in love with this man, fully and vulnerably in love.  When I woke up the memory of this emotion was still vivid.  I glanced at David and wondered if I had ever felt this way for him.  Was he the one?  Had I settled in the hope that I could force this feeling into me?  I was disturbed, yet awakened by this emotion.  For weeks I kept exploring (meditating) the significance of the dream. Then in the middle of a conversation I was having with a friend, it came to me – the dream had not been about the “right” guy evoking a pure and liberating emotion in me.  My heart knew I was with the right guy, for David and I had grown to love life and its experiences together.  To complement each other the way the sun complemented the moon; the way fragrance complemented air.

What I was really searching for was a deeper spiritual connection with David; the same connection that had existed between Tita, Carmen, and I.  At that moment I realized that for as long as I had been with David, he had always been the outsider, not because he wasn’t included, but because he wasn’t needed the way Tita, Carmen, and I needed each other.  Tita had passed away and Carmen was defining her life, and my soul was yearning to have a spiritual need for David in my life.

First I had to ask for his forgiveness:

I’m sorry because I tried to break you, though your compassion and love were more powerful.  I am ashamed, and not only am I asking you for forgiveness, but I’m asking myself for forgiveness.   The process of healing has been long and arduous, and I take full responsibility for my anger, for the pain I have inflicted on you and others.  The transformation is happening within, and I’m experiencing a new kind of love.  I am finding the goodness within.  I am becoming whole, and in my wholeness, I am learning that there is no room for hate, no room for anger, no room for revenge, no room for competition, no room for resentment; just love.  Infinite and divine love.

We are still dealing with the residue of the violence that once existed in our relationship.  David and I were having a conversation about why it is sometimes difficult for him to apologize to me.  I explained to him that it was because he was still dealing with the remnants of my anger.  When he used to apologize to me, I would blame him more and transform his apology into and opportunity for shame.   This is why I approach David with compassion whenever he has wronged me in some way, and once I approach him about the situation, his guard disappears and he feels safe to apologize.  It is the work we must do to continue to heal.

The following is a passage from The Prophet by Kahlil  Gibran:

Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God. But let there be spaces in your togetherness,

And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Love one another, but make not a bond of love:

Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.

Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.

Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.

Sing and dance together and be joyous but let each one of you be alone,

Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but no into each other’s keeping.

For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.

And stand together yet not too near together:

For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow

Not in each other’s shadow.

A neighbor recently shared the book with David, and I opened the book to this passage and shared it out loud.  I asked David if he remembered this passage, and he did not recognize it.  I then told him it was one of the readings at our wedding.  At first I felt a heavy feeling in my heart, as if there had been a fraud committed against me.  Then I realized that the day David and I had married, neither one of us was whole.  And though we married because it was the next “natural” progression in our relationship, we had not awakened to the real love within.  Now as we read this passage, present with each other and in our love, we understand that the love that is generated from the light within is abundant and full of grace, and therefore its sole purpose is to generate more light.

Not only did he accept me into his life, but he also accepted my daughter and grandmother.  Though we have had challenging times in our relationship, his gentle and kind spirit has been the constant force that has helped us heal and overcome the painful experiences.  Before my grandmother died a year ago, she told me she could go in peace, because she knew David would take care of me and our daughter the way she, my grandmother, had taken care of us.

David was recently laid-off from his school counseling position, but continues to work with high school students as a substitute.  He is amazingly gentle and compassionate with the students, and that is evident in how the students approach him.  I am a high school English teacher that absolutely loves and cares for the students I serve.   I am lucky to have a husband that shares the same passion and joy for working with youth.  We have so many plans for our future, among which includes opening a school where students can weave their stories into the fabric of the school and use the space of education to heal and become agents of change.  We are excited about our future together and all the possible ways in which we can serve to make this world a better place.  I don’t know where our journey will lead, but I know that living an authentic life next to David is more than I can ever have dreamed of.

Tattoos and Marriage

Are suppose to be permanent.

              The first time I got a tattoo, I got it in a garage.  Homemade tattoo machine – the kind created by unobstructed boredom in prison – made from parts of an electric pencil sharpener.  Ink from a Bic ballpoint pen, and stainless steel wire disinfected with a lighter; wiped down with alcohol.  I took two shots of tequila before straddling the metal folding chair where this work of art was to take place.  I wanted a rose with a ribbon wrapped around its stem that read, “Rest in Peace Alex” in honor of my brother who had died a year before from a gunshot wound to his heart.  I sat there and felt the stabbing of rose thorns as my ass squirmed and made screeching sounds and the tattoo guy worked his magic with machine on one hand and cigarette on the other.   By now, your lips should have an incredulous gap between them.  By the time I got home, the rose stretched the length of the left side of my upper and mid back.  It was permanent, and like my brother’s death, there was no turning back.

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   The second time I got a tattoo, I tattooed Carmen’s sperm donor’s name near my crotch.  Did you just fall off your seat?!  I know this one really deserves a, “What the FUCK were you thinking?!?!?!?!”  Want to stay on the floor?  The same guy that tattooed my rose, tattooed my baby daddy’s name.  And yes, that time too, he was holding a cigarette on the other hand. Need to walk away and SYH (Shake Your Head) – completely understand, no hurt feelings here.

                 So what got me to tattoo a guy’s name next to my crotch, out of all places?  Stupidity.   The idea that a guy could complete me.  I had constructed in my mind a fairy tale of the romanced girl who is loved and venerated into a Disney-mirage of happiness.  I had never been a princess, and I saw the opportunity to be the sexy vampiress that kept my prince’s interest in me by arousing his wild, sexual desires. Even then I was confronted with the dichotomy of the polite and obedient marriageable princess and the edgier, sexually fierce vampiress – both necessary to keep my man [happy].  I thought he’d find the tattoo alluring, and me, sexually irresistible.  His name on my flesh was an affirmation that he was coming back (Navy, stationed in the East Coast) to rescue my daughter and me.  All those fucking Mexican novelas didn’t help to contrast these illusory roles I had bought into either.  Interestingly enough, no man had ever rescued the women in my family; they had used their own strength to live; however, I had seen many men come in and out of the lives of the women around me, and there was a part of me that wanted the “father” of my daughter to be the one.  The only thing permanent from that relationship is the tattoo.  In case you are wondering, I still have it.  I see it more as a scar.  When I ask my husband how he feels, he says it doesn’t bother him anymore, he’s beyond that.  But I think I’ll surprise him one of these days.

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             The only time my grandmother got a tattoo, my grandfather forced her onto the bed, held her down like a cow and branded her so as to identify the owner.  He and one of his friends held her against her will, while my grandfather vandalized her pearly skin amidst the stench of alcohol.  Luis, porfavor!  She screamed, but there was no prince in shining armor to come save her.   She was so ashamed of it.  Unlike me, she never had the chance, the choice to accept it on her body.  Ultimately, she mustered the courage to leave my grandfather, only to endure 20 more years of abuse at the side of another man who she thought would be the one.

              The next time I thought I’d fall in love, I took my time.  I wanted to find the one, not the perfect one, but the one.

            I first met my husband, David Malo, in 1993 while attending community college.  I can still picture him in his raver-like baggy jeans, with his ebony hair draped down his back and the NY Yankee hat that inconspicuously hid his eyes.  I was 19 years old at the time, raising a one-year-old baby and very focused on transferring to San Diego State University (SDSU).  We quickly became close friends.  One of the qualities that most attracted me to him was his gentle and vulnerable spirit.  He was kind with his words and listened to me without judgment.  He brought calmness into a time of my life that was full of chaos and stress.

             He was someone who I felt safe around, because he respected me as a woman, and a mother.  Because I was working, attending school full-time, and nursing my daughter, the circle of friends I once had was practically non-existent.  He became someone I could count on unconditionally, and even if I didn’t make contact with him for weeks, I could call him in the spur of the moment, and we would pick up right where we had left off.  We continued to be friends and he brought a peaceful silence into my life that my spirit had been yearning for.

             We began dating the summer of 1995 and both transferred to SDSU in August of that same year.  He never asked for more than I could give.  I never felt pressured or any sense of obligation, because he understood how dedicated I was to my daughter and my studies.  He just patiently waited for me to have time for him.  It wasn’t surprising that my grandmother, whom I lived with, and my daughter quickly grew an affinity toward him.

              On June 29, 2002 we married and vowed a life of love, partnership, and commitment to each other.   Not only did he accept me into his life, but he also accepted my daughter and grandmother.  Though we have had challenging times in our relationship, his gentle and kind spirit has been the constant force that has helped us heal and overcome the painful experiences.  Before my grandmother died a year ago, she told me she could go in peace, because she knew David would take care of Carmen and me the way she (my grandmother) had taken care of us.

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            The first time Carmen got a tattoo was on her 19th birthday.  We both tattooed a hummingbird, once sketched by Frida Kahlo, on the frontal part of our left shoulder, where our heart continues to extend through our arms.  We fell in love with the image when we first saw it in The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An intimate Self-Portrait.   This time I took my time and let the idea of this potentially new permanence sit in my heart for a while.  As for Carmen, I wanted her to understand the process of making important decisions in her life, like tattoos and marriage.  I figured starting with a tattoo was less risky than marriage (giggle inside). Disclaimer:  Falling in love and sharing your life with someone doesn’t require marriage.  But even the decision of whether to get married or not is one that has to come from deep inside one’s soul – one that we have to be able to live with.

               The hummingbird is (was) significant to us in so many ways.  It’s at the center of many traditions, and folklore of Mexico, and we grew up understanding the hummingbird through the lens of our Mexicansimo.  Frida Kahlo, whom we deeply admire for the profound, relentless questioning of her identity and exploration and liberation of her soul, inspired us to face our journey with authenticity and courage, and to fiercely question: who do I think I am; what am I looking for; what is my intention; what am I resisting; who or what am I blaming; who do I need to forgive; what really matters to me; what do I stand for?  She often sketched and painted hummingbirds to symbolize her suffering and endurance.  She is an example of strength, for like the hummingbird, despite her immense pain and handicaps, she was never mentally or spiritually confined. She explored her feminism, masculinity, sexuality, and Mexicanismo without regard to mainstream social norms.

                   Carmen and I inherited Tita’s alma de colibrí (soul of a hummingbird)She too, despite the abuse and suffering, never stopped flying, never stopped exploring, never stopped living.  The hummingbird is the only bird that can fly backwards, and emerges into flight from the sole power of its wings.  It exemplifies the bold, extraordinary spirit of our Tita.  A few months after Carmen left to college, Tita died of lung cancer.  I found myself alone, spiritually fractured; I didn’t know how to live without them.  I entered a stage of transformation.  I was either going to drown in the muddiness of my pain, or I was going to honor my grandmother’s spirit by emerging from self-pity to self-realization.  At the same time this was happening to me, Carmen was beginning to take flight.  We are (were) both exploring and discovering a new stage in our lives, one in which our spirit is teaching and guiding us to live fearlessly and fiercefully.  The hummingbird above our heart is a reminder of where we come from and where we are going.

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