New Year’s Eve 2016

I was lying in a twin bed just now, thinking about all the things I’d like to write about. A sleeping Momo was kicking me with her warm little foot. I’m in my childhood home and I hear small booms outside—could be fireworks or could be bullets, this being La Puente. I have lots to say, but it’s late, and I’m a little worried about a cold that’s causing extreme phlegm production for Momo.

I thought 2014 was the worst year of my life, and then 2015 came along and taught me that I didn’t know pain at all. Perhaps I still don’t.

But it wasn’t all bad. I like my work, which is no small thing, and I like my work friends. I have a special relationship with Momo, who gave me a reason to continue living this year. I started seeing a psychoanalyst who is introducing me to myself. I went to Mexico City for three weeks, and somehow watching Lucha Libre at the Arena Mexico unlocked that part of myself that finds beauty in life. I confessed to being in love with someone who didn’t reciprocate, and I survived.

My pain is still raw. It glows with Technicolor vivacity. But I have found a way to live with people who don’t yet understand that kind of pain. I miss my brother and I’m sorry I never really got to make up for being such a shitty sister when we were young.

I remember watching my father when he was in the hospital and thinking about how insignificant my work was compared to the life-saving work that a nurse or doctor does. But after he died, I turned to art for salvation—books, poetry, music plucked me from the solitude of my mourning and gave me a connection with humankind that I was desperate for.

In 2016 I want to practice writing and music again. I want to be generous and live lavishly. I want to find what is most interesting about every new person I meet. I want to make L.A. feel like home or move on. Who knows what the future holds? 2016 could be worse, or it could be better. I’m not going to hold my breath. I’m just going to try to stay honest and make it count.

 

 

Heart monitor

The technician who put my heart monitor on was a tall, beefy Filipino man with kind, smiling eyes and a smooth, shiny bald pate. He could have been 40 or 65. “Suthivarakom,” he called, with unusual confidence. He was a practitioner of Muay Thai, he explained, and was therefore unfazed by multisyllabic surnames. We went into the small room and I sat on the patient’s table, unbuttoned my shirt and pulled the collar down. The first, soft swab smelled of alcohol. The second swab felt like a piece of sandpaper,  and he scrubbed it hard over a wide swath of skin. “Does that hurt?” he asked. I winced but said nothing. 

The technician asked why I was getting a monitor. It can be a comfort to talk coldly about death with people who are accustomed to it, corporeal scientists who don’t automatically resort to empty words of solace when it comes up. I explained that my father had had heart disease with congestive heart failure and had died the year before; also my brother had died suddenly this year, also likely of cardiovascular disease.  The medical terms from the death certificates had become comfort tics to me. 

“Was he younger?”

Yes, I replied.

“How many years apart were you?”

Suddenly, I began to cry, which I hadn’t done in a while.

Three and a half years, I said. 

“Oh, I made you cry. I’m sorry.” Remorseful, he stopped what he was doing and turned to find me some tissue.

I would always calculate my brother’s age by subtracting either three or four from my own, depending on the time of year. And now I couldn’t do that. He would always be 33. And, with luck, I suppose, I would keep getting older. Without him. The thought salt-stung a hidden cut.

The technician took the Zio patch out of the box, removed the paper backing, and stuck the little hunk of plastic onto my chest. It was about the size of an eyeshadow compact with two sticker arms that the technician affixed with white medical tape. I was to wear it for ten days, avoiding contact with water, covering it with plastic wrap if I had to take a shower. The little box was much less obtrusive than the Holter monitor I had previously worn for 24 hours, an octopus of wires attached to a bulky black plastic pack I had to shove into my pocket. 

He pressed the sticky ends down on my chest and pushed the reset button. The light held a steady orange, which meant it hadn’t been turned on properly. He kneaded the stickers in place and tried again. The light remained orange. I wondered if it had been applied wrong, or if my heart’s signal was too faint to pick up. I was worried he would have to start over again as we steeped in the double embarrassment of the weeping he had induced and the patch that refused to turn on. 

He asked me to press down on the patch stickers myself as he gave it one last go, and then it turned green. It was live. He gave me instructions on what to do if it fell off and how to send it in for analysis once the ten days were over. 

I was free to go, to my relief. But that salt-sting stays with me, freshening my pain whenever I think of it.

I’ve been thinking about writing again. I’ve been thinking that I was in the fire, and now I’m out. 

Part of me wishes I could have written more down while I was down there, but I couldn’t process what I felt, not even through writing.

My father’s death was like a minor car accident. I stepped out of the car, dazed but generally okay, when my brother’s death hit me like an oncoming train. The force of it took away my will to live. It also made me think about what a coward I was, why I wasn’t more willing to die.

Now I know that grief takes a different form every time, and it comes and goes at its own pace. It may be different for you. 

It helped to read about people whose circumstances were more difficult than mine. Usually those people acknowledge that the heart, once broken, may scar and be misshapen, but it heals partially, eventually and in its own time.

I say fuck the Pollyannas and the people who want you to buck up or think positively. Swim in the dark, be cold and hard, or tender and hot, or limp and wet. Just be where you are. 

I still think about my father and brother every day. I still wonder why others have lived while my young, eternally beautiful and mysterious brother died. I may never stop wondering.

But if you are in the abyss and know no way out, I just want to tell you that I felt that way, too. I am okay now. I’m not saying you’ll be okay or when, I only want to say that I was in my darkest place, and some way, somehow, I am no longer in that darkest place. That’s all.

Radio silence

I’m moving back to L.A. I guess? I’m not sure. But first I’m going to New York and then Mexico City.

My friend Judy, a native of D.F. and current Manhattan resident, says New York smells of money and Mexico City smells of blood. That sounds appealing to me right now.

On Saturday I will be giving my brother’s car to my uncle. I’ve driven Momo everywhere in that car. I’ve spent many hours glancing in its rear view mirror to check if Momo has fallen asleep. The little silver hatchback still has spare napkins and takeout menus stuffed into its side door pockets.It still has a plush beer can in the window, the thing I use to identify whether or not I’ve found the right car in large parking lots.

I keep thinking about the car radio. I haven’t changed his programmed radio stations. Even though I hate commercial radio, sometimes I tune in to his stations, sort of adult pop and 80s R&B stations on channels one and two. It was a small way to be with him, sitting in the seat he sat in, listening to his music with my hands on the same steering wheel he once had his thin, arthritic fingers on. I remember how he’d check the mirrors to change lanes but never looked over his shoulder.

I once bullied him successfully into getting his car washed because it would get so filthy you couldn’t see through the windows. I took a picture of him standing next to his super clean car last Christmas. He has a small, bemused smile. His teeth were perfect. Unlike me, he never needed braces.

Fuck.

 

 

Thinking of Danny tonight, how he begged to go see the fireworks show at Mt. SAC, the local community college, when we were kids. We never did.

I’ve always hated the sound of fireworks, the whistling rockets, the bursts of light and color blooming over somebody else’s piece of the sky. I’ve always lived in neighborhoods where gunshots were fired on the fourth of July, and standing outside meant risking getting hit as those bullets fell to the earth.

I listen for the multiple rumbles that signal the end of the big shows so that I can try and go to bed as the amateur pyros pop their purchases through the rest of the night.

 

100 days

My brother died.

It’s been 100 days since my brother died, suddenly and unexpectedly.

Danny died.

It’s been eleven months since our father died.

I am living in the apartment they both died in.

People ask me how I am, but they don’t want to know. That I’m angry, that I wish to torch other people’s happiness.

It’s been 100 days.

In 100 days, Momo learned to stand unassisted, then walk, then climb furniture. Now she insists on walking down the stairs while holding my hand. She no longer eats baby mush. She can say her own name. When she wants more snacks in the car, she touches the tips of her fingers together above her head to be sure I can see in the rearview mirror. She chants, “Moh! Moh! Moh!” She is the sun and the moon and the tide and the air that I breathe.

I have tried to find the words to write here, to start somewhere. I may not be able to write here anymore. I may not be able to do this anymore.

It’s been 100 days since Danny died.

I am a wound on coumarin that bleeds and bleeds.

What now?

Urbanism in LA

I’ve grown out of my tiny 230 sq. ft. apartment and I need to either buy a place or rent a new one.

Despite really being into L.A., I don’t quite have my living/working situation settled. There’s still some friction between the different kinds of lifestyles I want. One is urban, walkable, with a sense of community outside my door. The other is secluded, quiet, with an expansive view and privacy. I hate driving to work but I don’t love downtown. I love having a view from my window but I hate having to get in my car to do every single errand. I want people but I hate noise. I love NY life, I love LA life, but if I try to combine them, am I getting the worst or the best of both worlds?

I don’t know how to reconcile it yet. These warring desires are making my search for a new place to live impossible. Combine that with my inability to decide whether or not to rent or own and my personal obsessive nature and it basically means I’m driving myself completely, totally bonkers.

I think about real estate 24/7 now. I troll Redfin daily, and I spout of the characteristics and flaws of every house under 600K east of the 5. I keep clicking on houses hoping that I haven’t actually seen them before. Redfin has become like an advent calendar after December, where I’ve eaten all the chocolates but I keep sticking my finger into the spent compartments hoping I’ve somehow forgotten one. I’ve taken to asking my dad for guidance because I feel only otherworldly intervention will pull me out of this brain spiral.

Expressive writing

Did you read this?

“Writing forces people to reconstrue whatever is troubling them and find new meaning in it,” he said.

I like. And it reinforces that I should be putting my thoughts down here, trinkets in my own little cigar box to pick up, examine, and put down whenever I want to.

Low Self Esteem Chocolate Cake

I made the mistake of getting on the scale at my parents’ house the other day. So as it turns out, when you stop eating like a diabetic with congestive heart failure, you start gaining weight. I’ve gained back all the weight I lost while living with my parents to the tune of nearly 20 pounds. Ugh, depressing. And such a pedestrian, predictable complaint.

I went to my usual 6am spinning classes at the beginning of the month and the bikes were full of resolution makers, including one SoulCycle reject who felt the need to scream along with particularly energetic pushes. I got through two classes of this business and quit. (Okay, inertia is really why I stopped going, but the screamer did not help.)

I’ve been in a funk for the last few weeks as a result. No exercising makes me grumpy, which in turn makes me want to come home and bake this depression-era chocolate cake.

This is a dangerous recipe. I first tried it at the crab dinner party topped with unsweetened whipped cream and fresh raspberries. It’s the kind of thing I can eat day after day for a week straight, alone and on torn half-sheets of paper towel or directly over the sink. I’ve figured out that it can be measured and mixed, sloppily, in about two minutes. I don’t even bother greasing the pan.

I’m renaming it Low Self Esteem Chocolate Cake because it’s the kind of thing you make when you feel bad about yourself, or that you eat until you’ve sufficiently depleted your self worth. I like to shove a wedge of it in my mouth with one hand while rubbing my growing belly with the other.

At some point I’m going to pull myself out of this muck and get back to exercising. It’s 75 degrees in LA, for god’s sake. I can’t blame my January gloom on the weather. Now that I’ve finished the last piece of the second whole cake (oh god yes), perhaps this means I will turn a corner. I’m giving myself until February to wallow.

Pastry self-flagellation is fastest when you measure on the scale. If you do so, you only need to clean a bowl, a teaspoon, a fork for blending, and a Pyrex pie plate in the end. It’s vegan, and further proof that I can find a way to fatten up on any diet.

Low Self Esteem Chocolate Cake

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

BLEND:

182 grams flour (1 1/2 cups)

150 grams sugar (white, brown, whatever, doesn’t matter)

20 grams unsweetened cocoa powder (1/4 cup)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

ADD:

230 grams water (1 cup)

65 grams vegetable oil (1/3 cup)

1 teaspoon white vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Blend with a light hand. Pour into ungreased Pyrex pie plate. Bake for 30 minutes. Cool to as close to room temperature as your weak will allows. Serve with whipped cream and berries. Curl up into ball and watch English TV marathon: An Honourable Woman, Downton Abbey, The Hour recommended.

Keeps for one week in the fridge, but who are we kidding?