Monday, November 12, 2007

The Space Between

"There is so much distance between who you are and where your skin begins." -kpg

Kev said that (or something similar to it) to me last night. I wish I'd written it down, gotten it exactly right. It's good. And it's true. The distance, the difference between who I am, who I think I am and who people perceive me to be is vast. I don't know if that's good or bad.

True story: I didn't realize I wasn't white until I was three or four (possibly five) years old. I looked in the mirror one day and saw a brown face staring back. It didn't freak me out. I didn't think much of it, other than, "hmm, interesting" or something like that. My parents are brown, my siblings are brown. My mother always referred to us as being "paper bag brown." Why didn't I think I was? I guess I didn't think about it at all. Some people might say I still don't realize it. We're not friends with those people.

Being Cuban means being everything from dark-eyed and deep chocolate brown to being blue-eyed and honey-skinned or lighter. When you grow up in a community that is 85% Latino (heavy on the Cubans), you don't think about it. You all eat the same food, dance to the same music, belong to the same club, look out for each other's kids. It doesn't matter. And then, one day, it does.

I was sitting in English class. There was discussion going on, but I can't remember what it was about. And then I heard it. The boy I had a crush on said, "My parents would never let me date someone who wasn't white." What? Wait a minute. He's not white. He's Cuban, like me. But he's not brown. There it was. Someone had said it out loud. And other people in the room, the people that looked like him, agreed. Their parents would never let them go out with someone who wasn't white. Someone who looked like me.

The thing that's tricky is that my appearance is as much part of who I am as my penchant for the films of Merchant Ivory or my deep abiding love for rocky road ice cream served over Entenmann's pound cake. But
looking a certain way makes people think certain things, treat you a certain way for better or worse. There are people who will never want to get to know me, men who will never want to date me. And there are people who will think they know me before they even speak to me. I also need to say that it works both ways. I'm not proud of it, just being real. I realize this is not a major breakthrough in the study of human behavior. To be honest, this is the most comfortable I've ever been in my skin, but I still struggle with my identity. Who am I anyway? Who do people think I am? Does it matter? Should I care?

"You're Cuban? You don't look Cuban." What the hell does Cuban look like? Gloria Estefan or Celia Cruz? Eva Mendes or Cameron Diaz ? All of the above. And me.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Long Time, No See

I attended a seminar at the National Writers Workshop last spring entitled Writing Life Stories. The speaker, Bill Roorbach, gave us an assignment, a prompt if you will. He suggested we write a letter to someone we haven't seen in a very long time and explain ourselves. Simple enough. And yet I'm looking at the screen thinking, "Can I really do this?" Here goes.

Dear You,

It's been ten years since you left. Ten years since we last spoke. And yet here you are in my thoughts, in my blog. Blogs didn't even exist when you left. Why am I writing about you here? Shouldn't this be private, just between us? Maybe not.

What have I been up to? Well, since you asked...I stayed here. Right where you left me. Well, not right where you left me, on the other side of town. Way on the other side. I have a different job, a different home, some new friends, but a lot of the old ones are still around too. I've grown up a lot. I am a very responsible person, except when I am completely irresponsible and do foolish things. Sometimes alcohol is involved, but sometimes not. Sometimes it's just me going with my gut, and my gut being horribly wrong.

My dad died. It's been four years. I still can't believe he's gone. I can't tell you how much I miss picking up the phone and hearing his voice. Today for example, it was cooler than it's been and I thought, "If I called today, he would tell me to stay warm, the weather's changing." I'd give anything to hear him tell me to bundle up, because "You always come down with something when the weather changes." Isn't that crazy? I wanted to call my Dad and have him tell me to bundle up. Of all the things I would want to hear him say, that's all I can come up with now? But that's what he would say, that was one of the ways he would tell me that he loved me.

He was sick for a long time and we were all with him when he passed. I'm blessed to have had him in my life and to have been there when he left his.

Now, let me tell you some good things before you get to thinking that everything has been a mess for the last decade. I live in an adorable apartment, I have a good job, I have some of the greatest friends in the world, and a loving family to keep me grounded. Plus I'm writing again, which I think is a huge deal.

After you left, I wrote a lot. I kept a journal for years. Then I slowed down. When my dad's health got really bad, I stopped completely. I didn't write for a long time. I couldn't write. I wouldn't write. I know, I always write when I'm hurting. It usually helps. But this was different. How was I going to write about this pain without everything inside me going haywire? I thought I had nothing left to say, no words to say it with anymore. I was wrong. I had a lot to say and about a million words at my disposal. I write for work, I write on my blog, I write long letters to people I will probably never see again, I write short cards to people I see all the time. I think I've gotten better as a writer. I even went to a national workshop for writers. And there were some "real" writers there. I guess that makes me real too. Like the Velveteen Rabbit or something.

You've been on my mind a lot lately. That's not so surprising, considering that I've been looking at the stuff I wrote when you were here. I've been tweaking it, posting it, showing it to people. I've been wondering what to do with the book, my book, our book. Should I try to get it published? Is it enough that it exists? These questions are slightly rhetorical, since I think I already know what you think.

Thank you, by the way. For always encouraging me, for being a fan of mine, for everything. Really. I know back then things sometimes seemed a mess, but you know what? I think back to that time and smile. We were young, slightly crazy and slightly a lot of other things. We were supposed to be a mess. Maybe time has colored my memories, but I think, for the most part, we had fun. I relish the good times and I appreciate everything I learned from you. And, yes, I miss you. And...yes...I love you still. Because we grew up together and because you were the first person I felt that way about. And because when you weren't making me crazy, you were making me happy.

Someone asked me once what I would do if you walked back into my life today. Well, once I got over the shock of seeing you and released you from a giant hug, I guess I'd ask you what you've been up to for the last decade. We'd probably end up at Rudy's, because that's where we always ended up. They have real food there now. I know that sounds like crazy talk, but it's totally true.

There's a lot more I want tell you, but I think that's enough for now. In a nutshell, I'm thirty-five years old, living completely alone for the first time in my life and trying to make the most of things. I'm not at the top of my game, but I'm not, as you once put it, "in a foxhole with shells going off around me." I'm not a superman, or a decoy. I'm just a woman in transition. I know there's a bright side somewhere. And I know I'm going to get there soon. I figure as long as I get out the door every morning, anything is possible. I know, I'm still a closet optimist. But that's what you loved about me.

I hope this letter finds you well and happy. And someday, I hope this letter finds you.


Sunday, November 04, 2007

Happy Thoughts

Lord knows I love to make a list, so I thought I would make one of things that have made me smile in the last two weeks. And no, it's not a cop out entry, it's an affirmation of the good things in my life.

Art Weekend II....every freaking minute of it. More on that later.

Beating out One-Nut-Tattoo at Liffey's, AGAIN and feeling like a total robot from the stars.

Eating Indian food and watching ANTM with the PerKwans.

Drew's map and prescription for a happy life.

Getting thank you notes from my niece and nephew.

Poodle's email.

Feeling like a friendship I thought was broken beyond repair might still have a fighting chance.

116 Crown.

Sitting on the living room floor, listening to music and getting tipsy with friends.

Running into an old friend at the Farmers' Market.

Helping a friend find the perfect boots at the Nine West Outlet.

Seeing Lars & the Real Girl with Peter. Then talking about what a great movie it is over beers.

Sleeping "all the way in," then having breakfast on the couch.

Talking to ML while I waited for my laundry to be done.

Laughing out loud while reading Bill Bryson's book, The Life & Times of the Thunderbolt Kid.


Making myself a nice Sunday dinner.

Eating that nice Sunday dinner while watching VH1 Classic ALbums: The Joshua Tree.

Reading Wunderkammer: A Together Life and feeling connected to my friends.

That's a lot of good stuff for a little over ten days, huh? I'm a lucky girl. Hopefully, I'll remember that the next time I feel crappy.