Tag Archives: Chief Writing Wolf

The Day My Mother Told Me I Almost Wasn’t Born

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“I almost lost you before you were born – twice.” How do you respond to something like that from your own mother?  Especially when you’re only 9 or 10 years old?  I don’t recall what started the conversation.  My parents never held back when it came to subjects like babies and sex. I don’t know what brought us into that discussion, but my parents were incredibly forthright about such things. They figured I should find out from them, rather than from kids at school, television, or anywhere else. I certainly wouldn’t learn the truth about babies and sex from the Catholic parochial school I attended in the 1970s. Deep down inside the Catholic hierarchy knows that sex is pretty much how humans have reproduced for millennia, but openly hates it.

Once, when I was about 10 or 11, I asked my parents what happened in X-rated movies, and they told me “people run around naked” and use dirty words.  Which, if you think about it, pretty much sums up an X-rated film.  At some point, I’d asked my dad what an orgasm meant, and he flat out told me.  He’d even told me – before my teens – what a condom was and how to put on one.

So it only made sense that my mother would point out bluntly that she’d come close to losing me in utero. The first episode occurred in August of 1963, when she was about seven months pregnant and was at the funeral of her beloved maternal grandmother. My mother had become faint as she stood at the grave site, beneath the scorching Texas sun. At the time my parents lived in a two-bedroom, one-bath apartment above the garage behind the house owned my father’s oldest sister, Amparo, and her husband – a place where we’d stay until my parents bought a house in suburban Dallas in 1972. Amparo had told my father that my mother didn’t look good and decided to accompany them to the funeral. Already expecting her own child, my aunt sat waiting in the limousine with a jar of cold water. After returning home, my mother began bleeding profusely. My father rushed her to the hospital where they saved her – saved both of us.

The second episode happened just two months later. One fall afternoon, my mother developed a fever, and inexplicably wondered outside into a rainstorm. Amparo was startled to see her and ordered her husband to retrieve my mother from their driveway. He brought her inside, and my aunt put her into a bed and watched over her until my father returned home from work.

Perhaps it’s because what my mother told – describing every excruciating moment of her pregnancy and my birth – that I understood, from a very young age, how fragile life is.  Aside from my seemingly inborn shyness, it may explain why I wasn’t aggressive like my parents; why I never liked to fight; why I always tried to negotiate and compromise instead.  It’s why I appreciate the smaller things in life – like the sound of rain or my dog’s breathing when he’s sleeping.

In the mid-1990s, when I worked at a major bank in downtown Dallas, one of my female colleagues, Felicia*, often lamented how her two younger sons seemed to take her for granted. Her older son was the model child: married with children and an active duty member of the U.S. Navy. But, her other sons, both teens at the time, were always doing something stupid. One day, at lunch, Felicia* mentioned that she’d almost miscarried her second son in a women’s room of that very building some seventeen years earlier. She’d become light-headed, she recalled, as I and a few others sat with rapt attention. Another woman escorted her to the ladies’ room where Felicia dropped onto a toilet and was certain she was about to lose that pregnancy; she was only about six or seven weeks along. The other woman ran out to tell their male supervisor about the dilemma. He called paramedics who rushed Felicia to a nearby hospital. Somehow, she and her unborn child – that second son who would later metamorphose into a conceited teenage brat – survived.

I asked Felicia if she’d ever told him about that. She said no; that she didn’t want to upset him with something so traumatic. I scoffed at the notion. “You need to tell him about that,” I implored. Describe how she’d collapsed in pain and managed to stagger into the women’s room; tell him that he almost ended up in the toilet of a downtown Dallas building. That, I assured her, would put his life into perspective.

A few weeks later, she pulled me aside to say she’d done just that recently; she told her son everything that happened that one afternoon; that she’d almost lost him in a women’s room of the bank – lost him before she even knew his gender, or had given him a name.  She reveled in the sight of the light bulbs going off in his eyes.

And, that’s when life comes into perspective. That’s when you understand how delicate everything is.

*Name changed.

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Screams in the Sky

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I heard it first as a shrill, piercing sound in the back of my head; like an eagle flying far overhead.  Then, it grew louder, and I looked up from the mass of crabs in the basket.  I glanced briefly at everyone around me.  They all remained unperturbed.  In fact, it seems they didn’t hear anything.  Had they all suddenly gone deaf?

My dog, Amoxtli (“protection” in my native Náhuatl), was the only other one to notice.  He was trembling; his yellow-gold eyes spiraling in fear.

I turned again to the sky again.  Something came roaring from the east; from beyond the mountains and over the buildings of the town.  It streaked overhead – a whitish glow that left a deep orange ribbon against the pre-dawn blueness.

Amoxtli started moaning.  He was genuinely scared – and he didn’t frighten easily.

What was that?  A star?  It couldn’t have been a bird.  The orange ribbon started to deepen in color, and I thought it would fade.  But then, it began turning red.  Blood red.

I swallowed hard, and my heart was pounding.

Amoxtli was reaching towards me with a paw.  ‘Please hold me,’ he seemed to be saying.  He was terrified.  And, so was I.

“Cuetlachtli,” I heard someone say.

I didn’t pay attention. I was concerned about that sound – and the red mark in the sky.

“Cuetlachtli!”  It was my father.  “What’s wrong with you?!”  He rarely shouted at anyone.  His voice was strong and deep enough to command respect.  When he did shout, someone was in serious trouble.

I grasped one of Amoxtli’s paws and caressed his tawny face.  What did he know?

My eyes swept onto my father.  “The crabs are crawling out of the basket,” he said, pointing downward.

I looked at them.  Yes, they were starting to crawl back out.  In fact, they seemed to running for their lives.  But, I didn’t care.  “Did you hear that?” I finally asked.

“Hear what?” my father replied.

“That sound!”  I pointed upwards.  “Look at the sky!”

The bloody streak was fading.

Everyone nearby had ceased gathering crabs and turned to me.  They looked angry.  I had disrupted the work.  But, I didn’t care.  I knew that screaming light meant something.  I looked eastward, once more over the mountains.

The sun hadn’t fully risen.  The sounds of the waves had replaced the clack-clack of the crabs and the light conversation.  All else seemed silent.  Everyone’s eyes burnished into me.

But, when I looked again over the distant mountains, something else startled me.  Peering into the cream-orange horizon, I saw an object.  Something was moving against the sky.  I realized, after a moment, it was a large beast; a strange-looking creature with pointed ears and eyes on either side of its face.  I’d never seen anything quite like it.

Then, I realized there was something else with it, or behind it.  I studied it more closely.  It was sitting on the animal; it was a man.  He was an equally strange-looking man with an odd, dome-shaped contraption on his head.  He held a large narrow object in one hand.

As I stared at him, he lifted up the object and pointed it forward – pointed it at me.

I squinted.  What is that?  Who is he?  Why is he so large – hovering above the mountains?

Then, another thundering sound, another screaming light flew out from that object in his hands – towards me.  The sound of it hurt my ears.  And, the bright flash almost blinded me.

“What’s wrong with you?!” my father yelled.

I wish I could tell him.  I really wish I could tell him.

8618shoreline

Náhuatl

© 2014

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Two

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Today marks the second anniversary of this blog.  I don’t get into numerology, but the number 2 is supposed to represent personal development and cooperation.  I developed very early in my life as a writer and I’ve always considered myself the cooperative type.  Writing has always been my primary source of inspiration and therapy and it will always be that way.  I express my true self in no other way.  I finally learned to cooperate with others only to an extent – in other words, stop being so damn nice!  But, I learned to respect and trust myself even more.  When I was a teenager, an aunt told me I’m my own best friend.

Thanks to all of you who’ve kept up with me these past couple of years.  But, you’re still trapped in the depths of my mental chaos.  So don’t think you’ll get out anytime soon!

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Through a Tiny Window

On November 22, 1963, I was just less than 3 weeks old.  At the time, my parents and I lived in an apartment above a garage owned by father’s oldest sister and her husband on the northern edge of downtown Dallas.  Through the small bathroom window, my mother caught a glimpse of President Kennedy’s motorcade, as it raced towards Parkland Hospital.  She had no idea at that moment what tragedy had just unfolded.

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That siren; that God-awful siren!  It came from down the hall, and I had no idea why.  I had just turned on the TV to watch my show, “As the World Turns.”  My older sister got me hooked on it while I was on “maternity leave.”  Actually, in those days, there was no such thing.  Women just had to quit work and hope they had a job later, if they wanted it.  That’s fine, I’d told myself.  At that moment, with my new baby boy, I didn’t care about going back to a desk to argue insurance claims.

I’d almost died having him.  I wasn’t supposed to have him.  The doctors told me I just couldn’t have a baby.  But, my husband and I didn’t listen.  We turned our hopes to a higher authority.  I was almost 31, when he was born; so old to be a new mother back then.  I cuddled him close, as he quietly nursed; a diaper over his head.

It had been so hot – since summer!  Advice to future mothers: don’t get pregnant until summer passes.  Just a thought.  I had to sleep sitting up; otherwise, I’d choke to death.  We had a floor fan blowing all night to keep me cool.  My husband wore pajamas to bed that summer; the fan would make the room so cold for him.

But, why were those sirens so loud?  So many of them.  I scooted towards the bathroom window and looked to my right.  Through the trees in the back yard and the neighbors’ back yards I saw a flash of red lights and black cars.  Just a blur; a long streak of red and black.  For a second, I thought I also saw a flash of pink.  But, I think now it was just my imagination.

I knew President and Mrs. Kennedy were in town.  It would have been nice to go downtown to see them, but I couldn’t with the baby.  And, my husband had to go to work.

I went back into the front room, and the show had already started.  “Nancy” (Helen Wagner) was speaking to her father.  I don’t remember what they were talking about.  Then, without warning – in one of those moments that sears into your mind – Walter Cronkite interrupted the show.

And, said President Kennedy had been shot.

But, he was just here!

In Dallas.

The motorcade – that flash of red and black.  That’s what it was.

But, it was just there!

I’d just seen it.

I rushed back to the bathroom window.  I could see more traffic on Harry Hines.  I went back into the front room.

Walter Cronkite looked as if he was about to cry.  How do you announced something like that to millions of people and not break down?

I suddenly became terrified.  I had to call my husband.  Still cradling the baby, I dialed the phone from the bedroom.

The assistant manager – the owner’s brother-in-law – answered.

“I just saw on the news,” I told him.  “President Kennedy’s been shot!”

He was silent for a second.  “Is this a joke?”

“No!”  Why would he even ask that?  We didn’t joke about those things back then.

“Cathy, turn on the radio!” he said.

I looked at my baby, still nursing, oblivious to the world around him.  Is this the world he would inherit?  Where the president of the United States gets shot in broad daylight?

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My husband came home early.  His boss had closed down the shop.  He was happy to see me and the baby.  But, he was as shocked as me – and angry.  “What’s wrong?”

“Some dumb son-of-a-bitch at work said he was glad Kennedy had been shot!”

Who would be happy about that?

That whole weekend – that entire, awful weekend – all we saw on TV was about Kennedy.  None of us could believe it.  My husband’s family gathered at his parents’ home to watch the funeral.  The black horse that wouldn’t cooperate; the long procession; the masses of people.  When John-John saluted his father, we all just about lost it.  This wasn’t really happening, was it?  I couldn’t say it out loud.  This couldn’t be happening – right?

Then, amidst the sadness and completely out of nowhere, one of my husband’s sisters-in-law asked, “Why are the flags only halfway up the poles?”

We all thought for a second or so and then, just looked at her.  Here she was, a hair dresser at an upscale salon, earning thousands of dollars every month when most people in those days only got by on a couple of hundred dollars, and she asks that.

My husband, sitting next to me, said, “Because they ran out of string.”

And, if I say we all felt guilty when we laughed, I’m not lying.  We literally burst out laughing.  Only my husband could say something like that and get away with it.  He then picked up a box of tissue and began offering some to everybody.

If I think about it now, it really hurts.  How could that happen?  Here!  Why did that happen?  That baby I held is now a half-century old, and the world is a much more violent place.

I close my eyes and think for a moment.

And can hear those sirens.

And see that flash of red and black.

And Nancy’s face.

And Walter Cronkite’s twisted mouth.

All from that tiny window.

My mother and I on December 1, 1963.

My mother and I on December 1, 1963.

© 2013

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The Chief Turns 50!

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Well, I’ve finally reached that critical milestone: the half century mark.  I honestly can’t believe it.  And, I’ll be damned if I still don’t look a day over 47!

I probably have about as many years ahead of me as behind me.  But, despite a lifetime of worrying about the small details, I wouldn’t trade it in for anything.  I could easily reflect on what I haven’t achieved by now: I never got married; never had kids; didn’t join the U.S. Navy like I’d wanted 25 or so years ago; still haven’t gotten my novel published; haven’t visited Yosemite; didn’t invest in that turbo penis pump.

But, I’d rather reflect on what I have achieved: I did finish that novel; I earned my college degree; I’ve become closer to my family; I got hold of my alcohol problems; I learned not to let stupid crap bother me all the time; I didn’t waste money on that turbo penis pump.

I consider the alternative to turning 50 – never getting there!  In September, I wrote about the 20th anniversary of the death of one of my best friends.  He was just a month shy of his 32nd birthday.  I look at the casualty lists of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and almost cry at the ages of the young victims.  I don’t want to get sentimental on you folks, but it makes me thankful for this birthday and every birthday.  Thanks to all of you for your visits and comments!

Image courtesy of Planet Minecraft.

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Update: The Chief Almost Kills Himself

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Not feeling sorry for myself, I nonetheless wanted to give everyone an update on my accident.  It’s been two months now since a simple trip to a refrigerator turned into a two-day hospital visit and nerve damage.  If I could somehow turn this into a reality TV show, I think I might secure my financial future.  I mean, as a bisexual / Spanish / Mexican Indian / German / recovering Catholic / former alcoholic writer, I certainly know how to create drama.

I visited a hand specialist last Tuesday, the 13th, and she laid it out for me as clearly and honestly as possible.  The bad news is that I’m in worse shape than I thought; the good news is that it’s not as bad as it could be.  Nerve damage is rated on a scale of 1 to 6, with 6 being the worst.  I’m a borderline 3.  Normally I hate just getting halfway to something, but on this, I’m thankful.  Also, nerves regenerate at roughly one inch per month.  But on average, an injury like mine will result in permanent damage in anywhere between twelve and eighteen months, if nothing is done sooner.  Thus, with the extent of the damage I have, I won’t heal fast enough over the next ten months to salvage my hand.  She says she can repair the damage and return me to 100% functionality – or close to it – but she has to do surgery.  She only mentioned that after she’d told me everything I needed to know about nerves and how they operate, so I already feel I can trust her.  If a doctor mentions surgery within ten minutes of a conversation, I think you should get up and flee.  Any legitimate physician will explain everything in detail first and then discuss surgery.

Since I don’t have health insurance, and prostituting myself is not a viable option, I’ll have to pay for the surgery up front.  I’d mentioned previously that I had surgery scheduled at Parkland Hospital in Dallas – where I was taken after the accident.  But, they won’t treat me in part because I’m not a Dallas County resident (I live in neighboring Denton County), but also because I have no health insurance.  Usually Parkland treats the uninsured, which is why it’s not the ideal place to get medical care.  But, it’s that damn county residence thing!  Instead, Parkland referred me to Denton County’s indigent health care program.  The latter mailed me an application, which I had to fill out and snail mail back to them with reams of documentation proving that, although I’m a really nice person who uses his turn signal and loves small animals, I’m flat-ass broke.  I never thought I’d be considered a starving artist, but here I am.  Then, they’ll supposedly call me to come in for a personal review.  I couldn’t do any of that online, so hopefully, they won’t be too shocked when I pull up in my 2006 model Dodge pickup truck and not a horse and buggy.  The Affordable Care Act is supposed to kick in at the beginning of 2014, but I can’t wait until then.

I have to get this done.  Handwriting, for one thing, is difficult.  I’ve kept a hand-written journal for nearly thirty years, but I’ve switched to a digital journal last month; that is, a Word document on my computer.  I have boxes of spiral-bound notebooks dating back to November 1983; all filled with a lifetime of joy, sadness, strange thoughts and sexual proclivities.  If I ever decide to run for public office, I’d have to burn them.  Other manual tasks are challenging.  I can do just about anything with my left hand, though, except write.  Well, I supposed I could write left-handed if I really wanted, but it’ll come out looking like a rambunctious third-grader who’s gone two days without Ritalin.

I still consider myself fortunate.  I have great parents and an incredible little dog, plus a collection of friends, all of whom have been very supportive.  I’ve suspended my gym membership indefinitely, but my creativity remains active.  I still think of the man I shared the room at Parkland with; the one who had to have his lower right leg amputated because of sciatic nerve damage gone awry.  It’s ironic that we were both in there because of nerve injuries.  But, at least I didn’t lose my right arm.  And, aside from my ability to work a keyboard, I can still make some hellacious mix drinks!  I mean, what would I be worth as a writer if I couldn’t stir up my own cocktails?!

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The Chief Almost Kills Himself

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Okay, I’m being a bit dramatic.  But, I had a serious accident the other day that resulted in significant blood loss and a 48-hour hospital stay.  You’ve heard of those freak accidents that get you either on “America’s Funniest Home Videos” or into a medical text book?  Well, that’s what happened to me.  I was carrying a gallon glass jug of iced tea to a refrigerator when I slipped on the linoleum floor, turned 180° and fell face down.  The jug shattered instantly, and a shard pierced the inner side of my upper right arm.  I thought it had impacted an artery, but it cut a vein.  I also thought I’d broken my right forearm, or wrist, but the glass nicked the ulnar nerve.  Blood flowed everywhere.  Mixing with the herbal blackberry tea, I’m sure even some ardent UFC participants would have panicked.  The jug had originally contained white wine.  I was pissed at the thought of losing all that tea.  But, if it had been wine, I would have never forgiven myself.  In this economy, you can’t afford to lose such pleasures.

The refrigerator is in the atrium of parents’ home.  They had remodeled their kitchen seven years ago and had all new appliances installed.  But, they decided to keep that old refrigerator as a backup.  It’s a good thing, since the new refrigerator turned out to be a piece of crap.  I mean, the old refrigerator is now some 30 years old and still makes ice.  The icemaker on the new one just went out a couple of weeks ago.

I felt myself getting light-headed immediately; an obvious effect from the excruciating pain and sudden blood loss.  I ordered my mother to grab some old towels from the garage and told my father to call 911.  I know it’s not nice to yell at your aging parents, but the accident was already starting to piss me off.  I consider myself very coordinated; having done gymnastics and Tae Kwon Do in the past.  This wouldn’t look good, if I aspired to be, say, a UFC fighter.  I lost consciousness a few times between the house and the hospital.

The paramedics drove me to Parkland Hospital, just north of downtown Dallas.  It’s a designated Level 4 trauma center, which means it can handle the worst of the worst that humanity has to offer.  It’s also a county hospital, so the uninsured often make their way there for treatment.  It’s a great place if you’ve been in a major car wreck, or if you’re a dumb ass who doesn’t watch where he’s walking while carrying a large glass object.  But, for basic care, it’s actually the worst place to be.  Back in 1992, I drove a sick friend to Parkland on a Saturday morning – and waited the entire day.  They had one doctor for some 200 patients.  Parkland is the hospital where President John F. Kennedy was taken after being shot.  But, in the ensuing years, it developed a dubious reputation as a lackluster and mismanaged facility.  Not surprisingly, illegal immigrants in Dallas County make good use of Parkland’s generosity.  It got so bad that, in 2006, Parkland sent México a multi-million dollar bill for services rendered.  I don’t know if México ever paid; if they did, they’d probably have to get a loan from a drug cartel.

All of that rumbled through my mind as I was wheeled into the E.R.  There must have been about 50 people waiting for me; all of whom descended upon me like I was a virgin starring in a porn film.  I would prefer that much attention for the publication of my first novel, but damned if things turn out as planned.  When a doctor asked if I was allergic to anything, I said, “Stupid people.”  He and his colleagues laughed, but I was serious – and still am.  Pollen aggravates my nasal cavities, but stupid people send me into epileptic fits.

I had just finished eating about 10 minutes before the accident, so despite my blood loss and constant regurgitations, it was a while until I went into surgery.  They had to stitch up two places on my right arm.  My father had driven to the hospital and spent about 4 hours in the waiting room; nervously anticipating my recovery and putting his bilingual skills to good use by helping as many monolingual Mexicans read the information board as possible.  He wanted to stay with me overnight.  But, I wouldn’t have it.  I ordered him out of there by 7 P.M., since he can’t drive at night, and my mother was home with no one except my cantankerous canine.  I called the house around 9:30 that night to make certain he’d made it back safely.  Funny how parent / child roles sort of reverse as the years go by.  A close family friend – a lady who used to work with my mother and who also lives nearby – brought them down to visit me Wednesday afternoon.  In part, they had to bring me a change of clothes, but I also wanted them to see me in that chic turquoise hospital gown.

Parkland finally released me Thursday afternoon.  I have tentative exploratory surgery scheduled for next Wednesday.  They’re certain they can repair this nerve.  I have no feeling in the small finger, and about half of my right arm and hand are numb.  But, while I can’t write too well, eating, typing and other activities are still manageable.  Aside from my unwillingness to be kept in such a vulnerable state, I wanted to make it home by today because it’s my dog’s 11th birthday.  I composed a piece last year for his 10th birthday.  I guess that’s more important to me than to him, but only animal lovers will understand.

I have to concede I now have a different opinion of Parkland.  It’s obviously changed.  The staff was great, even if at first, people repeatedly asked me if I ‘Habla Inglés.’  (I almost told a nurse, ‘Would you please put a sign on the door that says the patient in bed 1 speaks English?’)  And, amazingly, the food was pretty good.  More importantly, I consider myself fortunate.  The man who shared the room with me faces a much greater challenge.  He had to have his lower right leg amputated last week; an emergency that could have been avoided if his regular doctor had realized that his sciatic nerve pain was causing his leg to die.  By the time he made it to Parkland, it was too late to save anything below his knee.  But, listening to him interact with his family and the staff, you’d think he was just there for a really bad paper cut.

I’m an incredibly impatient person at times, but I’ll just have to see how things go the next few weeks.

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