Saturday, February 28, 2009

Silver and Gardenias Part 3: Connections

I started planning my trip home without really telling anyone anything. I told colleagues that I was taking a vacation. I only told my brother on the east coast and my niece that I was going home. I asked them not to tell the others that I was coming home. I didn't think I could keep my cool if I saw my siblings greeting me at the airport. There was too much bad history between us, a lot of mistrust and anger that I've kept locked away for years. I've learned a harsh lesson from them. Sometimes, the people who are supposed to love you and protect you turn out to be the ones who hurt you the most. Besides, I wasn't coming home to see them; I was coming home to see my mother. But it was an exercise in futility. My niece immediately called her mother, my sister. That sister called my other elder sister. Sigh.

Not that I blame my niece or anything. I mean, the contention is between me and her mother, not her and her mother. I wouldn't make her choose anyway between me and her mother. That wouldn't be fair. And as close as my niece and I are to each other, her relationship with her mother is important, and that's the way it should be. I could've just kept my travel plans to myself and not tell my niece at all. But I was making a stop in her town before the last flight home. Besides, I knew she had stuff she would want me to take home for her. She liked to send stuff back to her siblings and cousins.

I didn't really tell my friends either about what was going on in my life. But try as I might to appear calm, a few of my friends sensed my inner turmoil. I denied it, of course, because I didn't want to be a burden nor cause them any worry. But it was a conversation with one of my best friends that allowed me to reveal what was happening. My friend made the point that if I couldn't be honest with a good friend about what was bothering me, then I wasn't a true friend. I agreed, and I told her about what had happened. And as I feared, she was worried, as were my other friends who I let in on my situation. I didn't like causing them concern and worry. But I also admit that they did help give me perspective and the encouragement I needed to make the long journey home.

I planned to take a cab straight to the hospital to see my mother soon after I arrived. I'd go home to my mother's place the next day. A friend told me that she was coming to meet me at the airport where I was making my last connecting flight. She lived near the same town as my niece. I told her not to waste her time, but she was adamant that we meet. I told her the time my flight would arrive.

An odd thing started to happen a few days before my departure. I would find myself thinking about my mother at strange times and in odd places. All of a sudden, I'd find myself starting to tear up while driving or while in a restaurant. Out of nowhere, a long buried memory of my mother would spring into my mind. And it was a memory that made me feel like a small child again, helpless, wishing that I could do something more. When my father died, life changed completely for my family. By then, it was just us three young boys at home; my older siblings were grown up and living on their own after help from my parents. Life was hard after my father died, though my mother tried her best to keep us afloat. But I could see her struggle. My father's passing had made me grow up fast and become much more aware of what was going on around me.

On the drive back from the grocery store, I suddenly thought about one particular dinner so many years ago when I was a young child. It was the day before my mother would get her paycheck. We were eating the last of the rice and we had one can of food left. I remember my mother opening that can and dividing it's contents among the three of us boys, her youngest children. We ate and laughed and talked about our school day with Mom, but I noticed that she didn't eat anything at all. I asked her if she wanted something to eat, but she said she wasn't hungry. But I suspected that she wanted to make sure we got fed first, that she'd rather skip dinner so we could have enough.

I stopped eating, and offered her the rest of my plate, but she refused. I told her that I was full, but really, I just couldn't stand the thought of her starving for our sakes. She insisted that I eat, but I refused, telling her that I wasn't hungry anymore. It was the truth. Any hunger I had was pushed aside by my concern for my mother. She took my plate and divided it up amongst my two brothers, who gladly ate it all. I looked at my brothers, they were blissfully unaware of what was happening. My mother worked hard to keep us happy, and I wasn't going to spoil her hard work by telling my brothers my suspicions. So I sat there, laughed and talked when appropriate, but was feeling very conflicted on the inside.

That night, while everyone else was asleep, I started to cry as quietly as I could. I didn't want to wake and alarm my brothers or my mother. I felt so sad and angry. I was sad because I realized that my mother was making sacrifices for us. Times were tougher than she let on, and I was sad that she was so alone without my father or anyone else to help her. I was angry at God for taking away my father and leaving us in such a harsh situation. It felt as though we had been abandoned, and every day since my dad died was just painful and awful. I hated being a child, being so helpless, unable to help my mother in any real way.

Through my tears I could see the stars in the window. The half moon was shining it's silver light on the garden. I may have given up on God for forsaking my family, but I was still a child who believed in magic. I wished on those stars. I wished that I had the power to give Mom money or put food on the table so she wouldn't toil long hours doing hard work. I also wished that my dad would come back and that it had all been a terrible dream, so I could wake up and everything would be all right.

After making my wish, I stopped crying. I became practical. I decided that I would stop asking for presents, to stop asking for new clothes or games, and I would do whatever I could to make things easier for my Mom. When Christmas would come around, my Mom would take us to the store and let us pick out one present that we wanted. I refused at first, but she would insist I pick one. So I always chose the one that was fun but very inexpensive. Those toys I cherished, because I thought they cost money. I took real good care of those toys. Some lasted til long after I became an adult and started living on my own. Those toys my Mom eventually passed on to my nieces and nephews, who eventually wore them out. But that's okay. Toys were meant to be played with by children. And I know that my nieces and nephews got great joy playing with those toys my mother bought me all those years ago.

I've always been uncomfortable celebrating my birthday. I liked cake and presents, but I just didn't like the attention. After crying and wishing on stars that night, I hated celebrating my birthday even more. Because I knew how hard my mother had to work and how much money it was costing her to get a cake and presents. I started telling Mom how I didn't want a birthday party or cake or presents. I told her I had enough toys and I didn't like celebrating my birthday anyway. After a few years, she listened to me and stopped having birthday parties or buying expensive presents. Still, she insisted we have cake and she always gave me a little birthday money. I saved that money. And when it was Mother's Day or her birthday or Christmas, I would use it to get her a present, and I signed it with my brothers names and mine.

The first time she got such a present was her birthday. She cried, because she was surprised that anyone would remember. My older siblings certainly didn't. But that's the main issue I have with them. It always seems as though they never think about my Mom, unless they want or need something. I remember how moved my mother was when she got that present--really it was just a can of soda. All I had that first time was 50 cents. But the look of joy on her face gave me a great feeling, and I wanted to keep doing things that would make her happy. There weren't a lot of happy times then, so when they happened, we cherished them. Those were the moments that gave us hope, made us stronger, and helped us through our most agonizing, tormenting times.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Silver and Gardenias Part 2: Omens

It started over two weeks ago with a message from my niece. She said her mother wanted to talk to me about grandma, my Mom. I haven't spoken to my older sister in a few years. We sort of had a falling out. Come to think of it, she isn't the only sibling I've ceased all contact with. I'm not too good with confrontation when it comes to my family.

Actually, that's not really true. I have no problem confronting my family, except I have this temper. Well, we all kind of have it, a family trait, I suppose. But I learned a long time ago that yelling and breaking things don't make things better; they only make things worse and hurt so much more. Some words spoken in anger are the words you can't take back, ever. So, rather than engaging in a bitter war of words and destruction, I opted to just walk away and never speak to them again. It's better for my peace of mind, and I have no problems isolating myself from those who bring out the worst in me. In some ways, the silence hurts them a lot more than anything else. And I admit I feel a tiny bit smug and a little petty knowing that.

A lone stray cat was crying out my window while I was dialing my Mom's place. Odd, I thought. Usually, there were a bunch of cats that hung out on my porch, waiting for the Old Bird next door to feed them. I didn't remember seeing the lone cat either while I was opening the door. Still, I could hear it crying while I was waiting for my mother to pick up the phone. Except, it wasn't my mother who answered. Rather, it was my youngest brother. I asked him where Mom was, and he said that she was sleeping; she had been ill, and she hadn't really eaten anything in the past few days. I was worried, and asked if she had been to the hospital. My brother said that my sister was getting ready to take her there.

I decided to call my sister; I hadn't spoken to her in a long time. But when she answered, I recognized the worry in her voice. Whatever problems we had between us were put aside for the sake of our mother. She said that she was going to take Mom to the hospital and see if they could get her well. She seemed to have a plan and I didn't want to get in her way. So I said that I would call again the next day to see what the doctors said. Then I called my brother on the east coast to relay what I had learned. It was still very early in the morning when I talked to my east coast brother. I thought that by the next day, I would have a better idea of what was going on with my mother.

So imagine my surprise when later that afternoon, I got a call from my east coast brother. He's voice was choked with emotions and I couldn't understand what he was saying. But I could feel this pervasive sense of anger and despair in his garbled, sobbing voice. I felt my heart grow heavy with dread. In the first few minutes that I struggled to calm him down and strained to understand his words, I thought of the worst: My mother had died.

But when he finally calmed down a little and made more sense, I realized that he was just angry. He told me that he called my mother's place about an hour ago, and they still haven't taken her to a hospital. He said he unleashed his rage and cursed at our sister for taking too long to take Mom to the hospital. I was upset. First, at my sister for taking so long to get Mom treated. Then I was also irritated with my brother for worrying me so. I attempted to alleviate his fears and anger. He was always the hothead and didn't think twice about getting physical when words failed. After getting him calm, or at least, in a lesser state of rage, I hung up and called Mom's. My younger brother picked up again. I asked him about Mom. He said that they had to call an ambulance because she would not wake up.

I had that growing sense of dread taking over my body. But I tried to remain calm and reasoned that the ambulance and hospital would see to my mother's care. I knew that my mother's condition was serious, but I couldn't panic over it unless I got more information. I thought about calling my east coast brother, but this news might just send him over the edge. I had to make a decision. I was in the middle of starting on a new venture. I would have to put that on hold and maybe make the long journey home. But after calling my sister, she assured me that though my mother's condition was serious, she was stable and that if anything changes, she would let me know. I still told her that I would follow up the next morning. She told me not to make any plans to come home just yet. Mom was strong, and she would likely get better.

That night, I had a dream. I was at a harbor, one that I recognized from growing up. It was the harbor that we went to board the ship to visit my mother's family, her original home. There was several people in the harbor, but I could not make out their faces, and I was only as tall as their knees. It was like I was a child again. I looked around for a familiar face, but the sun got in my eyes. So I looked towards the ship. There she was, my mother, getting on the ship. It was like when I was younger and we went to the harbor to see her off when she went to visit her sisters and brothers. Sometimes we got on the ship as a family; other times, my mother went on by herself. I started running towards her and called out to her, except I had no voice. But as fast as I ran, I was getting nowhere. That shipped seemed to keep its distance from me. But when my mother finally boarded the ship, she turned to me, smiled and waved, just like she did all those years ago while we bade her a good journey and safe return. Only, I had this gnawing uneasiness that she wouldn't come back this time.

And that's when I woke up. I knew what I had to do. I would go home and see my mother. It has been 9 long years since I last visited home. Circumstance and choice had kept me away. My last few years at home were painful experiences. And it wasn't that I didn't love mother or hated where I lived. We were blessed to have such a kind, caring, strong mother; my mother, however, was cursed with such burdensome, terrible children. I didn't like the situation I was in, and I had this wanderlust in me that I could not deny. I needed to get away, to see the world, to live...I needed to escape the turmoil and troubles that seemed to permeate the bonds of my family. I don't know why, but strife seems to blossom in my family, and I wanted to get away from that sense of oppression and suffocation that weighed heavily on me. I needed to get out on my own, and my mother knew this, and she encouraged me to go forth and never look back. Now, I had a compelling reason to return home. Whatever conflicting, agonizing emotions and angst I felt towards my family were overridden by my concern over my mother. She was always there to help me through some of my darkest hours, when life was a bitter, excruciating experience.

I haven't always been a good son; and I know that I've caused my mother pain over the years. But she has always been there for me, for all of us, always ready to forgive and come to our aid, always loving us, even with all our flaws. I've spent the majority of my adult life trying to be good son, trying to take care of her as best I could. But I know that I can never repay her for her kindness and love, no matter how hard or how long I try. The very least I could do right now is to be by her side, to be there for her as she has always been there for me.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Silver and Gardenias

A significant event in my life took place today, and I wasn't there. I had thought about whether or not I should reveal what's been going on with me lately. Truth be told, I was unsure about what I should tell and what I should keep to myself. But I had an enlightening conversation with one of my best friends. It made me realize that if I couldn't be honest with my friends about what was happening in my life, then I wasn't really a good friend.

I've always taken the time and made the effort to do as much as I can to help out a friend. I know what it's like to need help, to feel despair and anxiety, and then feel a great sense of relief and peace when someone finally comes to your aid. But as much as I try to be there for a friend in need, I have a very hard time asking for help. I tend to keep things to myself. I try to work through my own hardships by myself. I think it stems from the fact that I've gotten so used to doing things on my own. In the past, the people I've trusted and depended on turned out to be the ones who let me down and hurt me the most. It's a painful experience, one that I care not to repeat. So it's hard for me to ask anyone for anything. I've learned that you don't risk getting hurt by other people when you don't depend on them to do important things for you. Sometimes, it just seems easier to do things on your own. But recently, I've been reminded that sometimes, it's better to be true to your friends and let them help you when find yourself in difficult times.

And these are challenging times for me. Today, my mother was buried. And I wasn't there. It was my choice. It may seem strange for a son not to be present at his mother's funeral. But I have my reasons. It's not that I don't care; in fact, I care too much. I loved my mother very much, and I will miss her dearly. I'm very sad, but I've yet to cry. I've come close, but as soon as my eyes start to water, I stop myself and get my emotions under control. Though, I'm pretty sure it's only a matter of time before I have a complete breakdown. I only hope it'll be in the privacy of my own home, away from prying eyes and I'm by myself.

When my father died, I was a very angry and lost soul. I hated the world and I was thought God had abandoned me. It would be many years before I accepted his death, though I could never get over the loss. My mother's passing is different. I knew that it was only a matter of time, and though there is a profound sense of loss and sorrow, I am also experiencing a deep sense of relief. She no longer suffers and I can only hope she finds peace.

To understand my situation, I have to talk about events that took place over two weeks ago. In the process of telling my tale, I risk revealing a little of the personal history that I guard so well. I am officially an orphan. I have no parents. It's such a hard thing to wrap around my mind; but it's true. I am no longer anyone's son. My mother is gone. And I am left to wander the world on my own.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Now arriving

I'm back! Sorry for the long wait. It is two in the morning in Houston and I still haven't made the long 4 hours drive towards home. Anyway, I've been on three planes and have been traveling since near midnight Sunday, not stopping til 11pm Monday night. I'm taking a break at a friend's place, getting ready for some sleep, and I will resume posting shortly.

Thank you for all the replies and well wishes and thoughts. I've missed y'all, too!

Thursday, February 5, 2009


I have to leave town for two weeks. I will not be able to post or reply til I return. I will not have internet access (and will be quite busy). So, I'm not ignoring you, I just have some things to take care of. When I come back, I'll try to catch up with everyone. Thank you.

And Happy Valentine's Day to all!

Here's a link to last year's Valentine's post to celebrate this lovely day, as I'll be away this year.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Dream Job

I was talking to a friend earlier on the phone today when the subject of jobs came up. She sounded wistful and commented that I was lucky to have a job that I enjoyed. She said she envied how I actually worked in a field that I studied in college. I was surprised at her comments. I told her, one, sometimes my job sucks; two, I didn't know what I wanted to study in college. I just sort of fell into my field after changing majors a few times. Three, I'm not even sure I'll be doing this for the rest of my life. Sure, I enjoy it now, but that doesn't mean I won't do something different in the future. I like being mobile, and as soon as a job gets to be troublesome and unfulfilling, I leave and do something else.

But I got to thinking about all the jobs I had in life and how I never really planned to do any of them. I mean, I had no long term planning when it came to those jobs. They're nothing like what I dreamed about when I was growing up. When I was a small child, I had three dream jobs.

First off all, I wanted to be a fireman. I mean, doesn't every kid want to be a fireman? I luved watching the firetrucks and the cool uniforms and helmets. I was lucky that my kindergarten class took a field trip to the firehouse just down the block! It was awesome getting to see the firehouse and getting on that firetruck! Even better, I knew one of the firemen! He was my neighbor, and he was so cool, which is really why I wanted to be a fireman in the first place. Now, when I say cool, I mean on his weekends off, the fireman would drink on his porch, but he was a nice, mellow drunk. Sometimes, he'd have his firemen buddies over for a cookout, where they'd drink and laugh. On those days, he would often send me or my brothers to the store to pick up some items for him. Then he'd give us change! Sometimes a whole dollar! That was a lot of money to a small child back then. We hated picking up the leaves around my house, but we didn't hesitate to pick up the leaves around my neighbors yard, because he paid us in small change.

I remember my mother asking me if I wanted to become a pastor. After all we were from a long line of missionaries and priests. But I told her, nope, I wanted to be a fireman. She asked, "So you want to save people from fires?"

I said, "I just want to get drunk and have a good time!" Hey, my neighbor looked like he was having fun, and I like having fun!

The second dream job was to be an astronaut. I wanted to fly out into outer space on a rocket ship and explore the heavens. I thought it'd be so cool to float in other space and walk on the moon. I still think it's cool! Also, I wanted to fire laser beams at the enemy and destroy their bases with my spaceship. Hey, I was kid, and I was still learning about what was real and fake, and there were a lot of spaceship movies back then.

My third dream job was to be a ninja! That's right! I wanted to be a ninja, using extraordinary fighting skills to beat the enemies. I wanted to use exotic weapons, like throwing stars and a sword and those metal balls that explode into smoke so you could disappear. I thought it'd be cool to sneak around at night and vanish in the darkness. We used to make our own ninja masks with our t shirts. Just pull the shirt over your head and adjust the head hole around your eyes; take the sleeves and tie them behind your head. Instant ninja mask! I'm not exactly sure how I planned on becoming a ninja. I just knew that I wanted to kick ass while wearing an awesome disguise, running up walls and through the treetops.

As I got older, of course, the dream jobs changed. In middle school, I wanted to join the circus. Yes, the big top circus. I imagined it to be an adventurous life, moving from place to place, seeing the world. I thought it'd be fun to entertain people. I wanted to be an acrobat and do some tumbling acts or walk the tight rope. I also wanted to do some trapeze acts swinging high and doing flips in the air. I was pretty good at the swinging on the jungle gym and climbing trees. But I refused to work with the big animals. I'm not taming any lions! I refuse to end up as a meal for them. And I sure as hell wasn't going to be cleaning up after elephant poop! That job belonged to the dung beetles.

I also wanted to be a spy! A secret agent! I enjoyed the James Bond films. Some Bonds I liked more than others; Roger Moore was the funniest. I wanted to work with cool gadgets and get it on with beautiful chicks with the sex pun names. I fantasized about driving an underwater car or using a special spy watch to escape from death traps set up by an evil, eccentric enemy that I was sent to destroy.

I still enjoy the spy genre. One of my fave series to watch is Burn Notice. It's about a top secret gov't agent who gets dropped from the agency, "burned", and he's trying to figure out who was responsible. Along with his allies, he has wild adventures in Miami while tracking down the people who got him fired and ostracized by his agency. It's a fun, exciting, and surprising show and two Cylons from Battlestar Galactica have made guest appearances!

There is one other dream job I fantasized about during my middle school years. I wanted to be a background dancer for Janet Jackson. Really, I just wanted to have her grab my head, work her loins in my face, and sing to me:

"If I was your girl
All the things I'd do to you.

I'd make you call out my name

I'd ask who it belongs to

And I'd answer, "It belongs to Ms Jackson," because I'd want it nasty!

Then in high school, I was older, so my dream jobs changed. I guess you could say they were a little more realistic than fantasy. My first dream job I wanted in high school was to work in politics. That's right. I wanted to work in gov't, particularly as a staffer for an elected official. I like the idea of creating public policy that helped people. I was interested in what was going on in the gov't and how it affected our lives. I thought about getting a job as an administrative intern or a page for the legislature. Of course, this was way before I became aware of the sexual predators that worked in gov't, preying on underage interns. But perverts aside, I still like knowing about politics and what's going on in gov't.

The second dream job I wanted was to be a journalist, specifically, a war correspondent/photo journalist. I admired those hardy reporters who braved the frontlines to bring back unfiltered, raw news. No propaganda, just facts. I was drawn to those gritty, hard edge photos of war's devastation and its dramatic impact on people's lives. Sometimes, the photo tells the story best.

The last dream job I wanted to work was in public relations and advertising. I wanted to make commercials! I luved art and I figured I could use my passion and talents to sell products (or persuade people). Perhaps some day, I could create a masterpiece, like "I can't believe it's not butter" or "Help! I've fallen and can't get up!" or "Whazzup?". It seemed like a lot of fun making ads and coming up with ideas.

There you have it; all the dream jobs I wanted when I was growing up. And I've not worked in any of them! It's not like I had any real definite plans on what I wanted to do when I grew up. But that's okay, because I've learned life has a way of taking the best laid plans and throwing them out the window. I find myself working in a field that I never thought of working in when I was younger. But that's true with most of the jobs I've had. I can say though, that whatever job I've done, I've done them willingly and some I really enjoyed. You always learn something new, and I learned quite a bit from those experiences. Like I said earlier, I'm not sure how long I'll be working my current field, but I know that I'm enjoying it for now. And I know that as soon as it makes me unhappy and unsatisfied, then I'll move on to something else. I may not have worked any of my dream jobs, but that's okay. Just imagining dream jobs is enough; more importantly, they represent hope, and wonderful possibilities, and enormous potential for doing great things.