“The little things I can obey. But the big things – how we think what we value – those you must choose yourself. You can’t let anyone – or any society – determine those for you.”
Tag Archives: life
Over the past couple of years male friends of mine have openly and shamelessly lamented the various travails suddenly burdening their aging lives. Some have actually announced they’re experiencing hot flashes! Seriously?! Hot flashes?! In the olden days (c. 1970s and 80s) I often heard my mother and other women bemoaning the onset of this dreaded mid-life scourge. Since I only heard women complaining, I thought we men were safe and had to deal with other traumas; such as our eyebrows growing together and more spontaneous urination incidents instead of spontaneous erections.
Alas, it seems the much-loathed hot flash has zoonotically migrated into the Y-chromosome crowd. I knew women shouldn’t have been allowed to vote and wear slacks!
While I’ve attributed recent cranial temperature spikes to allergies and Texas’ perennial schizophrenic weather (which might explain some Texans to the rest of the civilized world), I don’t feel I’m experiencing hot flashes. I prefer to call them “hormonal readjustments”. They’re similar to gray hairs; they’re not gray hairs, people! They’re stress highlights!
Shortly after I turned 40 in 2003 – in the days more commonly known as BH (Before HDTV) or BF (Before Facebook) – I came down with the flu for the first time in my entire life to date.
“What’s this shit about life beginning at 40?” I joked with my then-supervisor at work.
A round of Tamiflu, coupled with orange juice, rum and refraining from frequent masturbation helped over that uncomfortable, microbial slump. But I still had the gnawing sensation my body had finally decided to divorce itself from my soul and try to lead a life of its own. I think a number of people experience that same feeling as their odometer reaches the number 40. We never ask for that kind of life change; the shit just slaps us upside the head!
Now, however, at age 56, I’m starting to experience more unexpected physiological changes in my body, as well as cerebral alterations that occur upon realizing life moves more easily when sound and sober. Unexpected, yes, but even more pleasurable. It’s not the same kind of pleasure one might have seeing their best friend and one-time spouse or life partner drive off the cliff in their new vehicle. I mean, what a way to get a new car! Full-coverage insurance be damned!
For me, it’s my body finally getting adjusted to NOT holding in all the rage and angst I have when people piss me off – the madness otherwise known as “Life”.
Remember, we don’t develop gray hairs! Now, my own indigo locks haven’t sported many – yet! But metaphorically, I’m covered! Still – no gray hairs, dear readers! They’re stress highlights! Thus, it’s good to let out as much stress as you can. Just watch out for flu varmints and two-timing best friends!
“My life is based on pain, passion, and purpose.”
– Elijah E.Cummings, U.S. Congressman from Maryland who died unexpectedly on October 17
Among my father’s favorite memories were the times he played baseball as a kid in his East Dallas neighborhood. Growing up in those environs more than six decades, with scores of other Hispanic families, ago gave him a sense of community and freedom. He had plenty of others, he once told me: holding me for the first time; buying this suburban Dallas home; working in the yard; and playing with our dogs.
“I keep reliving those moments over and over,” he said, following another late night talk. “If I could go through them again, I would.”
Most of my own best memories occurred in the 1990s – the best decade of my life so far. And one of the greatest was my 1991 trip to Ixtapa, México – a small hamlet on the nation’s Pacific Coast, northwest of Acapulco and far from the touristy ruckus of Cancun and Cozumel. That was the furthest away I’d ever been from home at the time and only the third time I’d been outside of the U.S. My first two international trips also were to México; college spring break jaunts that were hazy and less relaxing.
Ixtapa was incredibly soothing and quiet. It was the first time I’d ever seen the Pacific Ocean, or any ocean for that matter. The closest I’d come to an ocean was the Gulf of México. On my first night, the pounding of the waves along the shoreline echoed deep into my mind and lulled me to sleep. While I savored the beach and the warm weather, my parents feared for my life; that I’d be kidnapped by local hoodlums. That had crossed my mind, too, but I was enjoying the simple sights too much to worry.
The Ixtapa excursion allowed me to live out a few of my dreams: lounging along the waterline for hours; roaming through a quiet Mexican town, wallowing in the community without boisterous intruders or Americanized visages; stuffing myself with as much food in the all-you-can-eat buffets; and, of course, consuming plenty of alcohol.
Sitting in the sand, wearing a skimpy Speedo, and letting sea water roll around me remains one of the best therapies I’ve ever had. I thought, if some giant tsunami accosted the beach and sucked me into the Pacific depths, I probably wouldn’t mind. Another fantasy didn’t develop until the moment I stepped onto the beach, beneath a cloudy sky. I didn’t get to experience it, which is probably a good thing. It might have killed me.
A tall islet laden with tropical vegetation languished innocuously offshore – perhaps a mile at the most. I thought it beckoned me, and after a couple of days, I dared to attempt a brief excursion to its narrow shores. I tried swimming out to it, but quickly realized the allure was strictly my own cogitation. And I wisely returned to shore.
I returned home looking like I’d been attacked by some animal rights activists, which startled family, friends and coworkers. I couldn’t praise Ixtapa highly enough. I loved it then and I love it now. I hope I can visit again. If not now, then maybe in another life – if there is such a thing.
I’m not thinking of reincarnation, but rather, a life beyond this one. The post-Earth kind of life. Out there. Wherever it is.
I’ve never been so arrogant as to say I know exactly what will happen to me after I die. I’m certainly not a self-righteous evangelical Christian or “72 virgins at the end of the hallway” maniac. But, for the bulk of my life, I’ve wondered what happens to us when we cross over to that “Other Side.” What do people do? How do they navigate time and space? Why do they not visit us back here more often, especially when we call out their names in prayer?
I don’t know. But I’ve begun to ponder a simple possibility – why would they come back here? For any reason. As much as they love us. Why return to Earth? They’ve served their time in this life. So, what awaits them – all of us – on that “Other Side”?
All of those happy moments they experienced. The people who have gone before us are, perhaps, reliving the best times of their lives. They’re once again experiencing those events that gave them the most pleasure and made them feel the happiest. I don’t suppose this would include the times they might have hurt other people for pleasure – whether it was accidental or deliberate. Certainly not deliberate! I imagine others who shared those grand moments slide in and out of the reoccurrences. A sort of crossing time and space.
Therefore, my father is reliving the days he played baseball in his youth; when he first met my mother; holding me shortly after I’d been born; caressing my dog, Wolfgang, just a few years ago. He absolutely loved that little four-legged monster! Petting him was one of the simplest – yet best – pleasures my father had.
All of those things made him feel good. Why in the hell would he come back here to help me with Earthly troubles? Why would anyone want to give up reliving those special times to deal with plumbing problems and credit card debt? They’ve already dealt with that shit!
I can’t imagine my father trading in the joy of having his own lawn for a day of listening to me moan about lower back pain! Who in their right mind would want to make that kind of trade off?!
That’s why we don’t see our dearly departed that much. And it’s why tampering with séances and Ouija boards is dangerous. Disturbing the dead may be the subject of many bad jokes. But I think it’s wrong. It’s also kind of pointless. Imagine you’re undergoing a full body massage and a relative interrupts to tell you they got into a road rage incident. Wouldn’t you be pissed and want to startle the crap out of them, as they got ready for bed?
What’s it really like on that “Other Side”? How is it living out there? Again, I don’t know. And I’m really not eager to find out anytime soon! I have more stories I want to publish. I want to adopt another dog. So, I’ll continue paying my Earth-bound dues. And one day I hope to lounge in that Ixtapa surf for hours – not concerned with anything.
On December 31, 1985, I gathered with one of my best friends, his then-girlfriend and her older sister at the girls’ house to ring in the New Year. In my 22 years of life at the time, I had never been so glad to see a single year fade away as 1985. Just about everything had gone wrong for me. I was placed on academic probation in college because of my dismal grades for the fall 1984 semester; then got suspended for the fall 1985 term because I still couldn’t get it right. That prevented me from becoming a full member of a fraternity I so desperately wanted to join. In April my parents and I had to put our German shepherd, Joshua, to sleep. That fall I had my first sexual experience, which proved embarrassing and depressing. In October I fell into a police trap and was arrested for drunk driving. (My blood alcohol level ultimately proved I wasn’t legally intoxicated.) By Christmas, I was an emotional and psychological wreck. I’d come as close to committing suicide as I ever had that year. But, as New Year’s rolled around, I’d settled down my troubled mind and realized my life could continue.
I realized 1985 was the worst single year of my brief existence and hoped I’d never see another one like it. For more than three decades that pretty much held true. For the longest time almost anything related to 1985 made me tremble with anxiety. Nineteen ninety-five turned out to be almost as bad; instilling a phobia in me about years ending in the number 5. Ironically, though, 2005 was a pretty good one for me, and last year was okay.
Then came 2016.
People all around me are waiting for this year to die, like a pack of hyenas loitering near a dying zebra. Aside from a raucous political campaign – with a finale that seems to have set back more than two centuries worth of progress – we’re wondering why this year has taken so many great public figures and left us with clowns like the Kardashians. I could care less. This year has also taken my father and my dog and is slowly taking my mother.
Over these last six months, I’ve experienced emotional pain unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. I’ve never endured this kind of agony. It’s dropped me into an endless abyss of despair. Early in November, strange red spots began appearing all over my body. It brought with it chronic itching sensations. I wondered if small pox had been reintroduced into society and I was one of its unwitting earliest victims. The rashes and the itching would come and go, like million-dollar windfalls to an oil company executive.
It all shoved me back to the spring of 1985 and the odd little sores that sprung up on either side of my midsection. They were painful pustules of fluid that I tried to eliminate with calamine lotion, ice cubes and prayer. They finally vanished, and only afterwards did someone tell me what they were: shingles. I had to look up that one in a medical reference. For us cretins aged 40 and over, WebMD was a fool’s dream. But I knew that’s what I had, and its cause was just as apparent – personal stress. My poor academic performance, Joshua’s death, thinking my failure to join that stupid fraternity was a reflection of my failure as a human being – all of it had piled onto me.
In November of 1995 – about a week after my birthday – I woke up early one Saturday morning, stepped into the front room of my apartment and repeatedly banged my fists against the sliding glass door. I was aware of it, but I felt I was compelled to do it. As I lay back onto my bed, my hands already aching from pounding on the glass, I asked why I had done something so bizarre at that hour of the morning. Then, almost as quickly, I answered myself. I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I was experiencing serious financial problems at the time and I was having even more problems at work. My father had just experienced a major health scare. One of my best friends was sick with HIV and had been hospitalize with a severe case of bronchitis, and I’d just had a heated telephonic argument with another guy I thought was a close friend over…some stupid shit I can’t recall after all these years. So, after weeks of dealing with that soap-opera-esque drama, my mind cracked. Stress of any kind wreaks havoc on one’s mind and body. It’s several steps up from a bad day at the office. This is why U.S. presidents always look light-years older when they leave office.
So, as I smothered my body with cocoa butter lotion and anti-itch cream, I harkened back to 1985 and thought, ‘Goddamn! History repeats itself too conveniently.’ The death of another dog and more subconscious trauma. This time, though, events have been more critical than not being able to join a fucking fraternity or falling into a drunk driving trap.
But something else has changed. While my body reacted in such a volatile manner, my soul has been able to handle it better. I’m older and wiser now, and with that, comes the understanding that life is filled with such awful and unpredictable events. Yes, I’ve fallen into fits of depression. But I’m not suicidal. I don’t want to harm myself in any way. In fact, I want to heal and keep going. I didn’t kill myself in 1985 or in 1995 or in any other stressful period since then. I really just want to keep going.
I keep a list of story ideas; a Word document amidst my electronic collection of cerebral curiosities. When I peruse that list, I realize I may not be able to bring all of those ideas to life. But, if I didn’t try, why should I even bother with it? Why bother even with getting up every morning?
Something has kept me alive all these years. Something has kept me going. Earlier this month I noticed a cluster of irises had bloomed unexpectedly in the back yard. My father had planted them a while back. With Texas weather being so schizophrenic, warmer-than-usual temperatures must have confused the flowers, and they jutted their blossoms upward into the swirling air. I had to gather a few before temperatures cooled, which they did. They languished on the kitchen counter for the next couple of weeks, longer than usual. And I realized their presence is coyly symbolic. My father was telling me that, despite the heartache of this past year, life continues, and things will get better.
I still miss my father and my dog, but I care for my mother as best I can, even as her memory keeps her thoughts muddled from one day to the next. And I continue writing because that’s who I am and what I love to do. I can’t change what happened years ago, but it brought me to where I am now. I couldn’t alter the events of this past year. But it’ll all carry me into the following years.
Happy New Year’s 2017 to all of you, my followers, and to all of my fellow bloggers!
I’ve learned a few things in the more than half-century I’ve spent on planet Earth. Actually, more than a few things. Much of it has been about myself. I’ve developed my own set of core beliefs. After years of listening to other people, working in corporate America, reading, writing, eating, drinking and masturbating, I’ve come to realize there are some things that are inherently true and others that are inherently false.
Therefore, I present this random list of things I’ve come to know are factual. I know plenty of folks – some I actually like – will dispute a few of them. Oh well… Other people’s rules don’t apply to me. Deal with it.
- Most animals are cool, but most people are assholes.
- Women are better at some things than men, such as negotiating and cooperation; and men are better at some things than women, such as planning ahead and taking action. Neither set of attributes is superior to the other; they’re complementary.
- Organized religion – especially Judaism, Christianity and Islam – serves no purpose.
- “Seinfeld” isn’t funny.
- Not everything wrong in the world is the fault of White males.
- Children should learn to read and write before they learn to shoot a gun.
- Politics is intrinsically evil.
- Lesbians aren’t always hot and sexy.
- Bill Clinton was the last great president the United States had.
- Dwight Eisenhower was the last great Republican president.
- Most Hispanic-Americans are concerned with more than just immigration.
- AIDS is not the only disease that matters.
- Fathers serve a purpose beyond financial support.
- It’s okay for men to be bisexual.
- Old people aren’t always angry, but they have a right to be pissed off.
- Jews aren’t the only people on Earth who’ve suffered, nor have they suffered more than anybody else.
- Real men wear condoms and don’t expect only women to provide birth control.
- People with British accents aren’t necessarily classy or smart.
- The biblical story of creationism is just that – a story. Anyone who believes it is an idiot.
- It’s alright if you drink alcohol and eat meat. Don’t get me wrong! I love vegetarians. I eat one almost every day.
- There’s life on other planets – and I don’t mean just single-celled stuff.
- Writers, painters and other artists are weird – but we serve a greater purpose than professional athletes.
- Women should register for Selective Service.
- Going to church every Sunday morning is a waste of a good Sunday morning.
- Going to a synagogue every Saturday morning is a waste of a good Saturday morning.
- Julia Roberts is a lousy actress.
- There are only two genders; female and male. Transgendered folks don’t comprise a third sex; they’re fucked up.
- Red hair is beautiful.
- Some of the most well-educated people I’ve ever met are also some of the stupidest people I’ve ever met.
- Male circumcision needs to be banned.
- It’s odd that almost everyone in the Black community has a mother and a pastor, but no one seems to have a father.
- It’s okay to have brown eyes.
- Some people are totally worthless pieces of shit and need to be executed.
- Women should be allowed to go topless in public, just like men.
- Sex is way overrated.
- If you wear socks with flip-flops or sandals, you have no idea how stupid you look.
- Income inequality and climate change ultimately will destroy any society.
- There’s only one race on Earth – the human race.
At one family Christmas gathering in the 1980s, someone had invited an older couple most everyone knew. They often provided musical entertainment at such gatherings; with the man playing a guitar, while he and his wife sang. During this particular evening, the woman brought out a set of maracas and began yodeling. I have to concede that – up to that point – I had never heard a Mexican yodeling. I always thought yodeling was a characteristic unique to people only of Nordic extraction. Even though I’m one-quarter German, I don’t possess such a talent. But, if you’ve ever heard a Mexican yodeling…well, imagine a Chihuahua having a Maalox moment from hell.
Some of my male cousins and me tried to sustain our laughter and wondered how long this would continue. The gathering took place in the house of one my aunts, Teresa, and her husband, Chris. A massive abode with a wide, marble-laden foyer, a living room or seating area sat off to the left upon entering, and a formal dining room to the right, which allowed entry into the kitchen. Most everyone had gathered in the spacious den, with several others in the kitchen and another dining area. I stood in the den, with my cousins, our backs to the covered patio, with a clear view of the foyer and the front door.
As the woman yodeled, my father suddenly catapulted from the dining room into the living, straddling a broom like it was a toy horse. He sported a bright smile and waved to the crowd in the den. Those of us who saw him burst into hysterical laughter, while those closer to the kitchen, against the fireplace, or against the wall parallel to the entertainment duo jumped to their feet. They clustered en masse in the center of the den, just in time to see my dad gallop back across the foyer into the dining room. The woman singing saw him on the return jaunt and almost lost control of her voice.
It’s those moments that kept circulating through my mind these past several days, as my father, George De La Garza, began his transition into his next life. It began last Monday, June 6. After enduring an array of health problems over the past few years, capped by two weeks in the hospital just last month, he’d finally had enough. We had a brief memorial service Saturday morning, the 11th, at a local funeral home. Both my parents were wise to make funeral arrangements five years ago. They had initially bought cemetery plots, but decided afterwards to be cremated and sold the plots back to the funeral home. My father didn’t want an extended funeral; no real funeral at all, in fact, with a Catholic rosary, a lengthy mass, a parade of limousines and another service at the grave site. His philosophy was simple: “just throw me in a box, toss me into the ground, say your prayers and go on with your own lives.”
I had written of my father previously, but he didn’t like too much attention bestowed upon him. He was a unique character who liked to make people laugh and who often made himself the butt of his own jokes. As a teenager, he’d often play pranks on his mother, Francisca. Once she sent him to the store with a list of items to buy. He left the house briefly and sneaked back inside and went into his parents’ bedroom; where he called the home phone number. In those days, if you had more than one phone in the house, you could actually call your own number from within, and the other phone would ring. His mother picked up the phone in the kitchen. My father pretended to be at the store and confused by what she’d written on the list. He aggravated her, until finally he set down the bedroom phone and startled her by walking into the kitchen.
My paternal grandparents had eleven children, but four of them – two boys and two girls – died either as infants or toddlers. That was common in those days – couples would have several kids and some may die not long after birth. But my father often said his parents had so many kids because his mother was hard of hearing. As they got ready for bed, my grandfather would ask, “Well, do you want to go to sleep, or what?” And my grandmother would respond, “What?”
My mother certainly didn’t escape his humorous wraths. He told me that she and her younger sister, Angie, were so mean and bitter because they’d grown up in México picking avocadoes. When their father decided to move the family to the U.S. in 1943, my father said, he could only afford train fare for four people. So he went, along with his oldest daughter, his son and his mother-in-law. For my mother and Angie, according to my dad, my grandfather leased a donkey and told them just to ride north until you run into bunch of White people speaking only English.
Like most men, he was fiercely protective of his family. My mother told me years ago that, if my father knew how some of the men talked to her at the insurance companies where she worked her entire life, he’d probably be in prison; meaning, he’d most certainly kill more than a few. He always said he’d know I would be a boy. One particular picture he took of me as an infant, he said, was the mirror image of what he’d dreamed about while my mother was still pregnant. She almost lost me twice during what she said was a 10-month pregnancy and was in labor for several hours. While they languished at the hospital, the staff was trying to reach the pediatrician; this being a time before pagers and cell phones. When he finally showed up, my father asked where he’d been.
“What’s the big deal?” replied the doctor. “You have a date tonight?” I guess he was trying to be cute.
But my father – usually catching the humor in someone’s tone of voice – grabbed the man by the lapels of his jacket and slammed him up against a nearby wall. “Listen, you bastard! My wife is in pain, and I want to know what the hell you’re going to do about it!”
My dad could still find some way to turn a bad situation around. During the extended funeral of John F. Kennedy, my parents had gathered with other friends and relatives at the home of my father’s older brother, Jesse, and his wife, Helen. At one point, Helen asked why the “flags were halfway up the poles.”
“Because they ran out of string,” answered my father.
About fifteen or so years ago, my parents agreed to watch the pet goldfish belonging to the daughters of some neighbors; a younger couple who are about my age. One day my mother changed the water in the fish bowl. The next day the fish were dead. My parents hurried to a pet store to buy two more goldfish; hoping the neighbors wouldn’t notice. But those fish also died. My father told me what happened, adding, “Damn! I didn’t know I was married to a serial killer!”
I stare at pictures of my father scattered throughout the house and notice, in almost all of them, he’s smiling and / or laughing. He was that rare type who never met a stranger. Unlike me, he was an extrovert. I always admired that about him. He could never understand why it was so hard for me to make friends.
His health had begun to take a more dramatic turn for the worst at the end of 2014. Following a partial colectomy, he was hospitalized twice for kidney failure. He vowed he’d never allow himself to be taken to the hospital again. “I want to die here at home.”
But, one weekday morning a month ago, he had a change of mind. “I think I need to go the hospital. I want to live.”
So I called 911 and had him hospitalized. He again was suffering from kidney failure, but this time, his gall bladder had also become infected. They got him as stable as possible, and after two weeks, I convinced the doctors to let him go. Technically, from a medical standpoint, he wasn’t actually ready to be released. But I made it quite clear to all the attending physicians that he needed to be home.
I had asked him only once the previous week, if he wanted to go back to the hospital. He shook his head no. He knew this was it. The end for him was near. I knew it as well, but I was still trying to get him healthy. It’s so difficult to see a loved one in the grip of such physical agony. It was so tough to see a man who radiated vitality – even into his 70s – gasping for air and barely able to move. I had prayed for his suffering to end. And we all know the old saying, ‘Be careful for what you wish for; you might just get it.’ Short of a miraculous recovery, my father’s health just wasn’t going to improve.
He wanted to die at home. He wanted to pass away in the house he and my mother had worked so hard to buy and to keep. And I wanted to grant him that wish.
My dog, Wolfgang, who will turn 14 this week, initially wandered throughout the house looking for my father. Then, over the past few days, I noticed that something seemed to be catching his attention. He’d suddenly sit up or prick up his ears. And then relax. I believe animals possess a stronger sensory perception than we humans. It’s their one superior trait.
My grandmother Francisca died in February of 2001, almost three years to the day after the death of her eldest daughter, my Aunt Amparo. The next two deaths were my Aunt Teresa and my Uncle Jesse, both in 2004. Several months after Jesse’s death, my father had a strange dream that he couldn’t explain until after he told me about it. He was perched on a tractor lawn mower, plowing through a large expanse of grass, when he noticed a group people perched beneath a tree. As he got closer, he realized they were his parents and three older siblings. He could see his father completely, but he could only see the top halves of his mother and Amparo. Teresa was covered by a black veil, and Jesse was off to one side, shrouded in darkness.
My grandfather motioned for him to come closer and then asked him if he wished to join them. Was he – in effect – ready to give up on this life? My father said he turned to the field of grass and said no – he had too much work to do. And then he woke up.
I realized the grass was a metaphor for all of the things my father still wanted to do in his life. It was symbolic, too, because he loved gardening. I also realized that – as my father had described them – the family’s appearances represented their time on the other side. His father had died in 1969, so his spirit had time to metamorphose into what was a familiar figure. His mother and Amparo had only died a few years earlier. Teresa and Jesse and arrived on that side the year before, so their spirits hadn’t had enough time to take shape into people he’d recognize. He only knew it was them because they each spoke to him.
I don’t believe the human soul has any definite shape, color or mass. It’s not like what we see here. I’m also much more spiritual, even though I started off the memorial service with the Lord’s Prayer. I want to pray to my father to help me through the ensuing difficulties with my mother. He’s just begun his transition into that new life, however; so I don’t want to disturb him too much. Allow me to be greedy, though. I miss him terribly. My heart still aches, but I’m more at ease now than I have been in over this past week.
On Sunday night, June 5, my father kept pointing forward and uttering something. After a minute or so, I finally understood what he was saying, “Door.” There was a door in front of him; not the bedroom door. That other door. He was finally able to step through it. And that’s what needed to happen. At some point in time, we all step through that door. No one really dies. The body perishes, but the good souls remain alive.