Category Archives: Cuentos

Week two blurbs

A few days ago I attended a research talk for work. I was looking forward to meeting the speaker since I know he mentors a lot of our advanced students and he was born and education in Mexico. After our director introduced our guest, El Profe added a note on his bio.

“I was educated in Mexico, Canada, and now the United States. Since I came here in 1992, I like to say I’m of the pioneers of NAFTA.”

I think it was supposed to be a joke, but the audience of college freshmen and sophomores didn’t even chuckle. I was amused. Then I wondered, do they even know what NAFTA is? They weren’t alive when it was approved and some were just infants when it went in to effect on January 1, 1994.

Tierra y libertad!

They certainly don’t remember watching footage of the Zapatista uprising. Ski masks are probably just ski masks to them.

One of my favorite photos ever

I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more removed and from a different generation than I feel from this class. The freshmen are the same age as my cousin Valerie. I remember cradling her as a newborn during my quinceañera. It’s also been 20 years since my freshman year of high school. It still feels weird to be able to begin a sentence that way and discuss an event I remember vividly.

***

My work credit card was flagged for fraudulent activity. I was a bit baffled because the card is almost always locked away in my office. I’ve only used it a couple times too. When I called the bank’s fraud office, I found out it had been used to purchase $300 worth of merchandise at Motherhood Maternity. I grumbled about buying maternity clothes, but at least I did it legitimately. I feel bad for hoping that the thief gets bad heartburn or swollen feet.

***

My neighbor

I get a lot of emails that go something like this: I’m really interested in the X Program. Can you send me info on how to apply?

I have a general form email I send with links to our website. There they can find step-by-step directions on applying. However, I’d really like to reply with a link to Let Me Google That For You. I don’t because snark at work is probably not good and I’m sure I asked similar questions as a college student too. At least I wasn’t applying to a research program.

Memories from a box: Away from home alone

Autobiography box

Years ago my good friend Isabel gave me The Autobiography Box: A Step-by-Step Kit for Examining the Life Worth Living by Brian Bouldrey. I love the gift, but beginning to write an autobiography or memoir, even as a writing exercise, felt odd when I was barely in my mid 20s. (If only Girls was around back then…) Still, I liked the prompts and opened the box once in a while when I organized my desk. Each time, I’d think I should tackle some of the topics. Anyway, I’d like to write more and perhaps this box can help.

First up, chosen sort of at random:
Write about the first time you went away from home alone. Was it a vacation? Was it for work? Were you looking for something? Were you running away? Do you see that excursion as a “hero’s journey,” or did you go kicking and screaming? How did it change you?

***

I’m not sure I’ve truly ever been away from home alone. Totally alone. Sure, I’ve traveled on my own, but even then there was always something familiar there. I stayed with friends or visited family.

Still, I do know the first time I went somewhere without my parents or siblings: Girl Scout camp.

Setting up camp

El Potrero Girl Scout campground is only a couple hours away by bus, but it felt far. Before going to camp, I’d never even heard of Lake Elsinore.

I don’t remember much about the bus trip aside from the scorched terrain along the mountainside. The trees were bare and dirt was black. I don’t remember if there were brush fires or the fire department had preemptively burned off the dry brush.

I wasn’t alone on this trip. There were a couple other girls from my troop attending the space-themed camp that summer. I also remember being excited to find a couple of notes from my mom packed with my things.

I really liked being away at camp. I remember feeling like a kid from the movies. We stayed in tents, did arts and crafts and ate trail mix. It was the first time I heard the term GORP (good old raisins and peanuts). We took hikes and slept under the stars at night. We had campfires, sang “Kumbaya” and freaked out over creepy things — a toilet flushing on it’s own.

There were things I didn’t like. Some of the girls were a bit catty and mean. I also got stung three times by wasps on the nose, arm and thumb. Everyone got stung by a wasp at least one, but I think I was the only one unlucky enough to get stung on the nose and develop a huge red welt.

Gee mom I want to go
But they won’t let me go
Gee mom I want to go home
From Girl Scout camp

I didn’t stay in Girl Scouts much longer after going away to camp. I don’t know if it happened that summer or the next summer, but there was a bus accident involving Girl Scouts going to camp.

Listening to my (un)consciousness

Yesterday morning, I fainted… again. This happens once every few years. The symptoms/causes are usually similar. Last time, I was waiting in line at the school pharmacy. When I came to, there were several nurses and doctors from the student health center hovering over me. I remember one complimenting my purple flats, but mainly I was just embarrassed and my butt hurt from the fall.

This time, I was sitting. Yeah, it’s possible to faint while sitting.

When I hit the floor of the bathroom (I was on the toilet), Sean heard the noise and came in to help me.

“Cindy!” It sounded like he was yelling, I’m sure he wasn’t. His eyes were big and worried. I knew I had fainted, but I was confused why he was there. I had broken in to a cold sweat and my shirt felt damp. My head and knee hurt a bit from the fall.

It was a lucky coincidence that Sean was home. He’d left five minutes earlier to go the gym. Halfway down the block, he realized he’d forgotten his phone and returned. He came in, grabbed his phone and was almost out the door when he heard a loud thud in the bathroom.

When I was ready to go out of the bathroom, Sean helped me get back in to bed. I was still sweaty and dizzy. I immediately fell asleep.

I woke up a few hours later. My head hurt, but it wasn’t horrible. My neck felt worse. I couldn’t tilt it nor turn much to the right. The dizziness and other symptoms went away after my nap, but I still felt very tired. I rested throughout the day, drank a lot of water and Gatorade, and took a short walk to get some fresh air.

I didn’t go to the doctor until this morning. She checked me out for a concussion and gave me a muscle relaxer for my neck. I was cleared on the concussion. We talked about why I fainted (stress, dehydration, cramps, gastrointestinal issues). I mentioned running a half marathon on Sunday. She didn’t think it was a good idea, and I didn’t argue.

My neck feels better today than yesterday, but I still don’t have full range of motion. I’m a little bummed about backing out of my first race, but only because of the race fee. I knew I was far from doing my best on Sunday, but would’ve still ran the race out of stubbornness. Now, my body is saying it needs more rest. I’ll listen.

Your middle name is always

Whenever we’re asked how we met, Sean and I both respond, “Ummmm.”

The truth?

We really don’t know how we met, but we figured we had to get the story down before we got married.

The easy answers would be “through mutual friends” or “at a barbecue,” but that’s not completely accurate.

Here’s what we know:

We met in Los Angeles in May 2002. Ten years is a long time and all I remember is being introduced to Sean and his friends from New York. I don’t even remember what we talked about, or if we talked about anything.

Seven months later, I saw him again when I took a trip to New York with a bunch of mutual friends. During that trip, I hung out with Sean and friends once or twice again. I think we watched a movie (Gangs of New York, maybe) and ate at a Chinese restaurant near Times Square.

Neither of us remember more than being in each other’s presence with several other friends.

The reception was held in an art gallery

Although we were both part of the same online network, I didn’t ever really interact with Sean. In May 2006, he came to LA for a wedding. We sat at the same table. A few years later I told Sean, “I didn’t even remember that you were at Andrea and Jasaun’s wedding until I went through the pictures.”

“We sat at the same table! How could you forget?” I blame our friends’ adorable baby girls sitting at the table with us.

I do know that Sean and I started interacting more through our blogs in early 2007.

Sean’s first comment — according to WordPress — on a post about the Coachella Arts & Music Festival: “Rumor has it The Police might be reuniting there as well.”

We soon realized we had very similar taste in music and television. We both adored Rilo Kiley and lamented the fact that our local friends didn’t love the group as much. We chatted almost daily on G-Chat about Lost theories, new music and dating misadventures.

First submission for the job of concert buddy

Our relationship continued like this for a few more years. Sean was the first person to apply for the position of concert buddy by sending in a mix CD. I loved the songs he chose and soon developed a mini crush I kept to myself… and the blog.

Sean, the New Yorker who told me I needed to be nicer

When I visited New York for an education conference in 2008, we hung out, watched Lost played video games (I won, of course) and drank beer while talking about the similarities in our upbringings as first generation kids. The next year when he came to LA, I took him out for Mexican food and watched Lost.

We were friends for a long time and got to know each other quite well before either of us ever let on that we — gulp — had non-platonic feelings. Despite this, there was still a lot I’d come to learn about Sean while falling in love with him.

Sean’s now my concert buddy for life. No plane ticket required. Mix tapes still accepted.

Wrote this for the wedding website. I was inspired to revisit it when I read Melissa Nibbles’ post on the book Love Is A Mix Tape and thought about how sharing music helped my relationship with Sean develop from platonic friendship to long distance relationship and then some.

Two years

Cindy and I

At our first date, a Bird and the Bee concert, I asked Sean to be my fucking boyfriend. I was quoting a song by the band, but I meant it. He said yes.

We were official. That was two years ago.

A few days later, he returned to New York and we began 9 months of a long distance relationship. Now, we’re in the same city and planning a wedding. I like the changes.

Anniversary

On milestone anniversaries it’s almost impossible for me not to think about what I was doing or where I was at that same point just X years earlier. I wrote the following on September 11, 2002. The GM I refer to was a good friend and leader of the Muslim Student Association at UCLA at the time.

***

I cried this morning as I drove to work just as I did one year ago as I drove home in the morning from campus after working on a paper all night long. Except this time, I think I finally let myself grieve. I did it as I passed the cemetery where Grandma and Grandpa are buried. I felt so much pain and anger. I didn’t grieve only for those who lost their lives on September 11.

I grieved like GM did when he wrote this article last year in response to another in the Daily Bruin (October 10, 2001):

I end this submission with a response to Jones’s statement that I should join Jones in “howling for blood” in order prove my “Americanness.”

I condemn these attacks on innocent lives as I condemn all innocent lives being taken. I grieve for the daughters whose father was working on the 101st floor of the fallen building; my heart aches when I think how those passengers aboard those ill-fated flights must have felt before the horrendous impact; and my eyes lower in grief whenever I see a view of the New York skyline.

Yet this pain is not new for me or for many others around the world who have seen the same horror of innocent life being stolen away countless times around the world, whether it be in Sudan, East Timor, Chiapas, Bosnia, Nicaragua, Chechnya, the Phillippines, or in my homeland Iraq.

Excuse me, Jones, if I don’t “howl for blood” along with you, for I have already seen more innocent bloodshed than my eyes can bear to stand.

Last year, I bought the September issue of Latina magazine. I think I was really feeling down that day and just picked it up at the drug store.

Months later as I flipped through it, I found the calendar it had for the month of September, 2001. In the box for Tuesday the 11th was the following: a dove with an olive branch, and the words “International Day of Peace: Make peace with your suegra (mother in law)” [or something like that].

Que ironía.

Peace to all those who lost loved ones, peace to those in war ravaged countries, and peace to those who continue to suffer the brute force of US military intervention.

Paz. I’m off to listen to Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” because it’s as fitting now as it was 30 years ago.

***

I remember staying with my friend Jonathan late in to the night. I was writing the final paper for my summer school class, research methods in sociology. Jonathan was writing a funding proposal so he could have a job. He didn’t stay until about 7 am like I did. I left at that point because parking in the school lot was no longer free. When I left the underground parking structure I could hear the radio without static. I was waiting at Sunset Blvd to head out to the freeway while the news came in. I was very confused, but by the time I was on the 405 south, I knew something was wrong. The freeway was eerily empty and I momentarily freaked. What if New York wasn’t the only city to be attacked? What if something happened in LA or elsewhere? When I got home, I turned on the TV. My roommates were just waking up and I told them what happened. We watched in horror as the planes crashed in to the two towers of the World Trade Center and then they collapsed.

I returned to work and class later. The bus was empty, so was campus. I chatted with my friend, Chris, while at work and he thought it would be safer if I stayed home. I told him I didn’t have a choice. In the afternoon, I went to class. My professor didn’t mention the attacks, but he said it was okay if we just turned in our papers and left. I don’t remember what I did.

The day like smiled on me

The summer I turned 16 I crushed hard on a skinny Spanish boy with messy light brown hair and hazel eyes. Sergio was one of several students in a 4-week English language program. He stayed with a family from church like the other students.

My family hosted Iván, a 6-foot tall 16-year-old from Asturias in the north. Through the month of July we tried to help him work on his English skills. Sometimes it didn’t work and we’d end up making fun of the way he commanded us to quit teasing. “Eh-stop!” That just made us laugh more. When Iván returned to Asturias, he told us “te voy a hechar de menos” (I’ll miss you). I didn’t know what the phrase meant at the time, but now like it more than the more simple verb extrañar.

In the mornings, Iván, Sergio and their peers took English classes. In the afternoon they were free to hang out with their host families, go on beach trips, go to the mall or simply hang out in someone’s pool.

One afternoon after summer school, Danny borrowed my mom’s Durango and we drove Sergio and Iván to the Guitar Center in West Covina. Sergio wanted to buy a guitar. I jumped at the chance to go as I’d already decided that I sorta liked Sergio.

Danny drove down the streets playing KROQ just loud enough for us to hear the music but now drown out the conversation. I sat in the back seat and stared out the window at car dealerships, banks and fast food restaurants. One song ended and the next began. Without thinking, I sang along to Red Hot Chili Pepper’s “Soul to Squeeze”.

I noticed Sergio singing too.

Where I go I just don’t know
I might end up somewhere in Mexico
When I find my peace of mind
I’m gonna keep you ’til the end of time

He caught our simultaneous sing along and smiled at me. I blushed like the smitten almost-16 year old I was.

When I got home, I called my friend Janine (she was hosting a Spanish student too) and told her all about how I was sure Sergio smiled at me and our mutual like of a hit single by one of the most popular bands of the day meant something. My crush intensified.

I spent the next few weeks making up excuses to go to Janine’s house (she lived near Sergio’s host family) or Sergio’s host family. It soon became clear Sergio wasn’t interested in me. He just wanted to play his guitar. Plus, he smoked.

My crush was over faster than a monarch’s lifespan.

At the end of July, Sergio, Iván and the rest of the exchange students returned to Spain. I continued my ho-hum summer of band practice, summer school and babysitting.

Fifteen years after the moment with Sergio, “Soul to Squeeze” was the first song that came to mind when I thought of summer music memories.

Robbie’s story: Tattoos and tots

I met Robbie through Adrian. For years, I called him “my brother’s friend” even though I considered him my friend as well. I like Robbie and get along with him well. The whole family (even extended) is cool with Robbie. He was the only non-cousin invited on the camping trip, excluding the plus-one significant others. Sadly, he backed out shortly before the trip and we wondered aloud how it would have been different with his presence. I felt really bad when I realized that I had never personally told Robbie I was engaged; he had to find out through Facebook. My tío Pancho is one of his biggest fans and regularly tells his daughters to invite Robbie to their parties. He brings the party.

I saw Robbie recently at Cain’s house for a little get together. There was beer, food, beer pong and wading in little Becka’s pool. And a story from Robbie.

As you can see, Robbie has a tattoo or two. They’re pretty neat and easy to notice. His toddler cousin saw Robbie’s tattoos and wanted one of his own. He asked his mom.

“Mom, can I get a tattoo?”

“Yes, but only after you get older and graduate from college. When you graduate from college, I’ll take you to get any tattoo you want.”

The toddler was satisfied with his mother’s answer.

Later, at a family gathering in East LA he noticed a heavily tattooed veterano (older, retired cholo).

The precocious toddler walked up to the man and asked innocently, “What college did you go to?”

We couldn’t stop laughing.

Thanks to Robbie for letting me post this.

Offensive interference

Bryan Stow’s beating at the Dodgers’ home opener left me with a lot of angst and sadness. The whole thing kept me up one night and I started thinking of survey questions. I know my experience isn’t generalizable. After all, I call Dodger Stadium one of my happy places. Was I just wearing Dodger blue-colored glasses? Would others’ experiences be radically different?

I’m still unsure. I’m waiting for more response to the survey before I close it and begin analyzing.

In thinking about the atmosphere, I reflected on my own experiences. Dodger Stadium is one of my happy places, but I’m not always happy there. That’s inevitable as I’m going to see my team lose. However, my worst experience had nothing to do with the actual game. In fact, I needed Baseball Almanac to refresh my memory about the game details (SF v. LA, Giants won 1-0).

Rene, Chepe and adrian

In September ’08, I attended the last home game of the season with my brothers, Papá Chepe and six cousins. The cousin/grandpa outing was my cousin Ernie’s idea. He asked Chepe about the last game he attended and found out that it had been years, maybe decades, since he’d been to Chavez Ravine. We bought a dozen tickets in right field on field level. We chose those seats because they were close to the handicap parking and Chepe wouldn’t have to walk much or climb up/down too many stairs. We arranged ourselves in one row with Chepe in middle of his nietos.

The game was slow and scoreless until the 11th inning, but I still witnessed the kind of drama that gets my heart beating fast and makes my palms sweaty.

In the 4th inning a middle-aged Latino, I’ll call him el Veterano, in front of Rene turned around. Being a metiche (busybody) I leaned over across Adrian so I could hear what el Veterano was saying.

“For the past 45 minutes I’ve been sitting here listening to you talk shit in front of my wife and kids. I’m tired of it.”

I wasn’t surprised he was complaining. Earlier in the game, I shushed Adrian and Rene because of their language. I expected someone to turn around and ask, “can you guys watch your language?” They talked a lot too and only quieted down to drink their beers, munch on snacks, and eat Mexican candy.

I knew the guys were at fault, but I was on their side as soon as el Veterano began speaking and said “shit.” I didn’t like his tone nor hypocrisy. I figured he should use FCC approved or “pre-school toy” friendly words if he was going to complain about cursing.

Rene responded with a half apologetic, half surprised look. Adrian remained quiet. I leaned in closer.

El Veterano went on, “And it’s even worse that you sound like a nigger.”

I was shocked. Really? He used that word? In public? To complain about strangers’ language? And next to his wife, teenage son and pre-teen daughter?

I couldn’t help it. I jumped in.

“You’re offended by his language and then you go and use a racial slur?! I can’t believe you’re complaining about our language and saying you’re offended. You’re offending me with that word!”

My face reddened, my hands shook and my blood pressure shot up.

El Veterano shifted in his seat. His wife and kids, who had previously been listening, didn’t dare turn back to look at us.

“I… I’m sorry,” he said. He turned back to face the game and never turned around again.

The guys looked at me, still in shock over what had just happened. Beside me, Chepe sat oblivious as to what had just happened. Danny and Nancy leaned over to be filled in on the chisme. Adrian said, “I knew as soon as he said that you were going to jump in. I’m glad you did.”

Later in the game, Adrian (also a metiche) told me he’d read El Veterano’s pre-teen daughter text message to a friend. It read, “what are you doing, bitch?”

Four and a quarter

Now We Can Stop Calling Each Other "Boyfriend" and "Girlfriend"

Last night, Sean asked me to marry him. And I said yes. I know we’re Facebook engaged, but now it’s official.

Sean asked me at my apartment after we had gone out to dinner at my favorite Mexican/Salvadorean place in Palms, Gloria’s. While waiting for our food, I brought up something we talked about last fall. Then he told me that his friend’s friend was planning to propose to his girlfriend as she ran the NY Marathon, her first. I thought it was a dumb idea. So did Sean. We’d talked about proposals before and I’d expressed distaste for public proposals, jumbo screen proposals at Dodger Stadium, and proposals in the middle of a big family event. That may be great for some women, but not for me.

I brought up the marathon proposal again last night. “You know, now that I’ve actually run a marathon, I think a proposal then is an even worse idea. I know how I am, and I know I’d cry. And then I’d get boogers and that would affect my breathing. I’d be mad.”

Sean nodded and re-agreed. We laughed and ate more chips.

When we got home, I took some pictures of some of my marathon stuff and had Sean crouch down to take a picture of my shoes on the floor. It still hurts to squat and sit down. While I had my back turned to him, I got a text message. It was a Twitter update (I get Sean’s tweets via text message).

Getting my attention

I turned around.

He was kneeling.

“The marathon is over… So I’m asking.”

I knew he was serious, but I still asked, “Are you kidding?”

He pulled a small black box out of the pocket of his hoodie. He opened it to show a ring.

He was silent. I started to cry.

“You have to ask me.” I wanted to hear the words.

He choked up a little as he softly uttered, “Will you marry me?”

“Yes.”

He got up, we hugged tightly like we used to at baggage claim after weeks without seeing each other. We call it airport hugs. I sniffed and said something about getting boogers on his hoodie. He didn’t seem to mind.

“You talked to my dad right?”

“Yes.”

We hugged more and then I whispered, “I love you so fucking much.” He kissed me.

Then he let go and got back to the ring, still nestled in its box.

“Oh, let’s try this ring on. Let’s see if four and a quarter fits. It looks small.”

It wouldn’t go past my knuckle. I freaked out momentarily and then realized it was my right hand.

“Wait, this is the wrong finger.”

We tried the left ring finger, it got tight around the knuckle, but it fit.

Surprised!

Of course, I had to make some calls. My mom had actually called during dinner to check up on how I was feeling. I found out soon that my parents knew Sean planned to propose, but didn’t know when. Last week, he enlisted Lori’s help to get my dad alone on Saturday at the party/fundraiser. They were surprised it was so soon. Sean was too. He didn’t know he’d be asking last night, but he had to. The ring was, “burning a hole in his pocket” and he just had to do it.

Read Sean’s side of the story, here.