As I was brewing my morning coffee, my son was getting ready to head off to work. “If you go out today,” he says, “can you mail the Nirvana disk back to Netflix for me?”
“I’m going to the library to see about reserving a computer. I can drop it off on my way,” I tell him. My own computer is out of commission. I think it needs more ram. It’s old.
“Why don’t you use my computer?” he says, “Don’t you want to?”
“Sure, that’d be great. Thanks. I didn’t want to ask,” I said. I didn’t want to impose. I really didn’t want to use a library computer, a public computer, but why assume I can just use my son’s? I’m grateful he offered. I think we’re having better interaction lately. He seems less insensitive; and I less sensitive. He has a hard sense of humor, and sometimes I can’t take it. Sometimes I say, “Don’t say that. I’m very sensitive about that issue. Don’t even joke about it.” He quietly backs down, finds some other way to jab, and I can’t help but laugh.
I didn’t want to ask if I could borrow my son’s computer because I don’t want to be like my mother: “Oh, poor pitiful me, I can’t; I don’t have; I’m helpless; do it for me; give me…” I want to take care of my own self, not be taken care of. I struggle, for sure. I struggle. Geezus, I do struggle.
I’m reading It Calls You Back by Luis J. Rodriguez. Some twenty years ago, I was looking through the shelves at Cody’s Bookstore on Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley. (It closed it’s doors a few years ago. I got a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes when I read about it. I think it relocated, actually. Nevertheless, Cody’s on Telegraph was an era. My experience wasn’t as hippie/activist/socialist. I’m not a hippie. I’m not an activist per se. I’m not a socialist. I came to Cody’s late. Call me Jane. Jane-come-late. My experience was totally personal, a sad, late-thirties bitch dreaming of becoming a poet, a writer. Hell, of becoming, just becoming.) As I’m looking around the book store, I see a book of poems called Concrete River. I pick it up. The bio says this poet was born in 1954 in El Paso, Texas. Because I was born in El Paso in 1950, I was curious about this writer. (We moved to New Mexico when I was two.) I look at Rodriguez’s poems. I like what I read. I purchase the book. I’d never heard of Rodriguez before this. Coincidentally, about a month later, I read in Poetry Flash that he’s scheduled to read at Cody’s. I attended so many readings there. It was one of my favorite places. Rodriquez had just written Always Running: mi vida loca. His first memoir.
At the reading, Rodriguez said how he admired Piri Thomas’s Down These Mean Streets. I’d never heard of it or Piri Thomas. After this reading, I looked for Down These Mean Streets. I loved it. I became a fan of Piri Thomas. Unfortunately, Piri didn’t dig my shit. At all. In the mid-nineties, just a few years later, we were both invited to read at a video production by a group of young SFSU Raza MFA students. I couldn’t believe Piri Thomas was going to be there. I was very excited about this. “Wow, Piri Thomas? I’m actually making it,” I think to myself. “My life as poet, as writer, is beginning. It’s happening! My dream!” (Fuck. I got stuck at beginning. I ain’t made it yet. I don’t know if I will. But, fuck it, I can blog. And indeed, I’m going to self-publish. Losing my computer has made it more challenging. Shit never ends. But neither do my dreams, hopes, or attempts.) The video production was a mock coffee-house reading. The performers and readers sat at tables, as in a cafe. I sat at a table with Jaime Cortez. Piri sat at a table with his wife. I don’t remember, but maybe he read first. He was the highlight, the headliner. After Piri read, he sat and enjoyed the other readers/performers. He especially enjoyed Los Delicados, a spoken-word troupe made up of Norman Zelaya, Darren de Leon, and Paul Flores. Piri obviously loved it; he had a huge grin on his face. When Norman did his part, Piri said, “Aiiii, andale negrito!” He was saying something like, “Yeah, go ahead on, little dark one.” The late Piri Thomas was Puerto Rican; Norman is Nicaraguen. “Negrito” is a term of endearment. My grandma used to lovingly call me “mi negrita”, i.e. “my little dark one”. I’m Mexican-American (and Apache). I don’t know if this term translates well. I don’t think there is an equivalent among white folks.
Soon it’s my turn to read. I start with a poem called Love Song. Piri seems unsure, uneasy as he hears my words, as if he’s thinking, “What the fuck is this?” The poem starts with, “I can’t melt the marrow/in your bones”. A couple lines later, when I say, “My nipples are red roses/bleeding holy odors,” Piri gasps, frowns, jumps up, grabs his wife’s arm and high-tails it out the door. Hahahahahaha. That just makes me laugh. I got a big grin on my face 😀 as I write this. Heeheeheehee, it just cracks me up; it pleases me, to tell you the truth. I mean no disrespect. May he rest in peace. I’ll bet he hated punk too, or any other type of rock and roll that appeals to me, that I love. Just two different types of folks, that’s all. Shit, I mean no disrespect, yet it’s what I got from him. Fuck him.
Well, I digress. Getting back to Luis Rodriguez, he read here at Modern Times bookstore, end of last October. I didn’t attend. I just knew the sort of crowd that would be there; and I knew there would be mentors taking their “at risk youth”. I can’t explain it to you, but I just didn’t want to be among that crowd. I feel their interest in Rodriguez is different from mine. In my opinion, their interest is his life, his person, less than his writing, per se. I’m interested in the writerly aspect. Does that make sense?
Alice Bag in her memoir, Violence Girl, wrote about her father’s beating her mother, and his denial about it at the end of his life when she wanted him to talk about it. Alice wanted to understand why he did this; she wanted some resolution. But he only said to her, “It didn’t happen.” Poor Alice. She realized this was one more thing in her life that would never be resolved. I was almost there, but after reading Alice’s memoir, I’m fully there; I fully accept that some things can never be resolved. Alice had two parents that obviously, and undeniably, loved her. I’m glad for her.
In It Calls You Back, Luis writes about learning that his Republican, conservative father was a pedophile. He molested little girls. He did not attend his father’s funeral, although, shortly before his father died, Luis tells him over the phone, “I love you, Dad.” I would be lying if I said that to my mother. I don’t wish her ill, but I do wish she stay away from me, out of my life. I have compassion for my father, even though I know he sexually assaulted one of my sisters. He made me feel uncomfortable, especially when he was drunk. That’s why I got married when I was sixteen. I was operating mostly at an unconscious level. It was like I wasn’t there, but watching from a distance, seeing my life happen, watching things unfold. Like watching a movie projected onto a screen. My life was proceeding in a way I did not want it to. I could not conceive of living under the same roof as my father. He was four when he cut out, twelve when he re-entered our lives. Four years later, he convinces my mother to remarry him. I booked. ASAP. The only way I knew how: get pregnant. Geezus, no wonder it felt like an immaculate conception. Fucking surreal. When my mother told me she and my dad were going to remarry, I went into shock. It took me years to finally realize this. Now, it all makes sense.
My family does not talk about my father assaulting my sister. My mother said my sister was a liar. My sister was put in juvenile detention after the assault. “For her protection,” the authorities said. That was in late 1972. My father was never arrested. He was drunk out of his mind. He was probably in a black out, therefore had no memory of it. But my mom damn sure knew it was true. Just like she knew about her second husband with the short eyes. After being released from juvenile hall, my sister went to live with her boyfriend and his family. A few months later, she returned home, pregnant. Who’s child was it? Her boyfriend’s, or my dad’s? I mentioned this to my mother. She vehemently insisted it was the boyfriend’s. I don’t know. I just don’t know. I think my parents were afraid it was my dad’s. After all, they kicked my sister out of the house with a one month old baby. I remember how they complained that my sister didn’t take care of the baby. She probably suffered from postpartum. How awful for my sister. My life has been hell, but hers has been worse. And she got beaten down. To the max. I still fight to be free, to heal, to become.
I don’t know how much my siblings dare to remember or believe. I am on my own with this. I don’t think my children know anything about any of this. I don’t know how they would react if they knew. They have fond memories of their grandpa. My dad was really cool, in a lot of ways. Smart, though not educated, charming, funny, resourceful, and even ambitious. He was a workaholic, when sober. He lost many jobs because of his drinking. He had many talents, tried various fields. He was a cook, from fry-cook to chef. He went to school and became a male nurse. He worked in small construction and yard work. Maybe no one would hire him anymore, and that’s why he bought himself a pick-up, some equipment, and got a business license. He had a garden maintenance and small construction business. He did very well, when he worked. But what a sad fuck-up. He could never have a chance to heal as long as he stayed with my mother, the self-preserving destroyer. It took me a long time, but I can finally forgive him. He died ten years ago. My mother turned 88 in December. I hope one day I can forgive her too. For now, all I can say is that I don’t wish her ill.
A therapist once told me that some families won’t allow others to leave the muck they are in. Another phrased it as, “Crabs in a bucket.” She said if you put crabs in a bucket, and one climbs up and looks like it will escape, the others will pull it back down. With a seriously dysfunctional family, sometimes you have to leave them behind. You can’t help them, and they can only bring you down. “Who do you think you are? You think you’re too good for us?” Hell, my first therapist told me this thirty years ago. I told her I didn’t think this was the case with my family. I didn’t see it. I just didn’t see it. They may not be conscious of it, but indeed, this is the case.
I am going to buy a new computer; a refurbished Dell. I recently bought a new printer. My old one was no longer functional. I got one of those multi-task machines: print/fax/photocopy/scanner. I was setting it up when my computer went kaput. It’s a sign of a new phase in my life. Surely. I recently recieved a refund that HUD had been trying to give me for many years. It’s from a house I owned for two years, that I sold ten years ago. I didn’t believe the letters I was getting. I thought it was a scam. Last May, I found out it was real. It took six months to receive after mailing in the required paper work. WHEEE! I got a few extra buckeroos! Just in the nick of time.
Here’s one of the poems that will be in my chapbook For The Hell Of It:
Leaving you was a good move.
It wasn’t easy. I loved you.
I loved you so, so much.
I don’t wish you ill.
You already are.
I wish you well, asshole,
even though you built courage
belittling me. Your jealousy
revealed your insecurity.
Your words were sticks and stones;
your threats, a nightmare;
your fist, a loaded gun.
The romance is over.
I feel great.
I no longer bleed.
The bumps and bruises
They too will disappear
like the illusion
that I needed you.