There have been so many times I’ve crafted a letter to you in my head around this time of year- April- and then I never penned it to paper. I regret it because each time I was stirred by moments with you, memories that unexpectedly flood in and awareness about you that maybe I didn’t comprehend at the time but now I have a glimpse of understanding of where you were coming from.
Life keeps shaping me, molding me, changing me, questioning me, pushing me, challenging me and keeping me on my toes.
April 15th is forever cemented in my mind. It’s tax day in the States. It’s my step-dad’s birthday (which I don’t think you knew but on some higher level, you must have and played a little “I get the last say” game, you were good at that : ) .
You became a vivid presence while living my first year in Spain. I dreamt of you often and when I’d awake I’d still be in half dream state and awareness and think, Brilliant, “I can finally ask you all those questions I have” before realizing it was indeed a dream. Being immersed in a culture more like yours certainly had something to do with it. I’m no longer in Spain and hearing and speaking your language on the daily but the dreams still come. Every time the dream feels real; normal.
Today marks 4 years. Time is a wicked, crazy thing. It feels like yesterday and yet so long ago. I remember so many of the moments being by your side as you joked and laughed about your circumstances. Or how 3 months into your diagnosis you waltz across the living room floor while listening to jazz pianist Errol Garner that if there was a miracle and you recovered, you’d finally take yourself up on your own dreams and buy yourself that sail boat you always wanted.
At your core, you were always a dreamer and a storyteller.
I often wonder why you didn’t take yourself up on more of your dreams? Your dream of owning a sail boat, living a simpler life in Mexico or opening up your own cafe. I remember from childhood you talking about these things but I know things change, goals shift and I can only deduce why you didn’t. Acting on dreams isn’t easy. I know from experience. And I notice that with each year that passes, I think differently about what I want, what I believe is possible and what I’m capable of. Youth is an incredible thing.
You did a darn good job of instilling the dreamer in me. A dreamer who believes in the impossible. I can see how as life happens it’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind, the day-to-day, the here and now and put off tomorrow repeatedly until you find yourself confined with routine and some comforts where stepping away and playing a different game seems like an impossible and crazy task. You’ve inspired me to always keep my dreams by my side, to believe in them, even those that seem unattainable and impossible because if you can envision them, they can come true.
Fear. I get it. I know it manifest in all sorts of forms. It’s not easy to face them and half the time acknowledging fear itself is the hardest part It’s easy to talk ourselves out of things or make things up of why we can’t do them. Thank goodness I traveled to Africa when I was 24 because the trip today would be more than I’d be willing to put with yet it shaped me into who I am today.
I admire you for your tenacity and going against the current to leave your country at 25 years old, and essentially never look back. Being an expat in Spain was cozy and comfortable for me, in part because I knew I could get on a plane and fly home to beautiful California at a moment’s notice. If the going got too tough I could just put my tail between my legs and call it a bust and move on. I thought of you constantly. To pack up your life, leave family behind (who later would join you in California) and only have a friend with you as you carved your own path first in Mexico and then on a whim, decided to stay in California after crossing the border for the day to play the lottery. The headaches of being on alert when immigration was doing raids, the struggle for making up your skill sets to find work and the over confidence you had to show just so you could survive. You always taught me the “squeaky wheel is the one who gets the oil.”
I often think of the role “survival” plays in so many people’s lives. When it’s sink or swim, one quickly figures out how to navigate. I sometimes, wonder why I’m not more feisty or confident in certain situations and more so when I have to sell myself in interviews. I do well but sometimes I’m too humble. A good quality to possess except when job searching. I wonder how different it would be if I had to do things to survive or if I had a family dependent on me? Everyone tells me, you just figure it out and I believe them but it also scares me. A lot. Maybe it’s simply being exposed as a child to the stresses and worries and never wanting to be in that situation. I know it’s silly because we can’t control life. But those moments were intense and the feelings have stuck so much that I carry it deep within, a story shaped in it’s own way, has twisted and weaved a new version and I’m not even fully aware of how it plays a role in my life now but I do know I’m affected.
As I write, I realize how deep the layers go and dots have needed connecting but didn’t know they existed until now. I also realize I have a layer of guilt as I search for meaningful and fulfilling work that also allows me to live a financially sustainable life in the Bay Area. I know I’m privileged. I know so many people in the world don’t even get the choice about the work they do, they’re thankful to have a job and to feed and shelter their families. I’ve been blessed with being able to save money to immerse myself in other countries and see how others in the world live- for better, worse and different.
I wonder if I’m asking for too much?
Yet I know my having a job I don’t enjoy doesn’t mean someone else will be granted a job they love. We have to work towards our goals, hone into our deeper desires and find ways to make what we want work for us. I realize for me, it hits even closer to home because you struggled. You sacrificed a lot and as most immigrants, did your best to give your children a better life. I take on responsibility of showing my gratitude (that I didn’t realize I held until this writing) to show that your sacrifices weren’t in vain. That somehow as much as I want to go against the grain (and have) there’s a part of me that feels pulled to something that I’m not sure I want but almost feel the obligation. I’ve been dealing with a lot of internal conflict as I think about my future and creating a foundation for myself. It doesn’t make much sense yet but maybe I’ve just knocked on a door that I didn’t know existed. You fell into your job and it paid the bills. It allowed you to give us a good life in the States with a good education and opportunities. Overall, I know your job gave you freedom and a flexible schedule but finding your true passion was never talked about. Did you enjoy your work? I can only hope since we spend so much of our lives doing it. I know my generation is more focused on doing what we love, partly inspired by shifts in the economy and that having a job for life is no longer part of the deal. So much has changed yet the expectations we hold for ourselves, by others and how we are raised usually don’t shift as fast.
I’ll never forget when Hospice care came to the apartment to take you to Hospice house, a 24 hour care facility where they would take care of you until your last breath. As they wheeled you across the carpet, you cracked jokes to make light of the situation,”Weeee!” you cheered, always being the jokester, even in the hardest of moments-; what we both knew but neither of us said. You wouldn’t be returning to the apartment and it would be a mere 5 days before you’d feel comfortable enough to let go and greet the light.
I don’t even remember what you said that had me in stitches but I’d admired how you could laugh in such a painful moment. More often than not,
I see myself in you.
I laugh. I make fun of myself. I make fun of situations. I laugh at my expense and at others, though it always gets me in trouble but that’s nothing new. Laughing is my defense mechanism.
I appreciated our hearts to hearts while we allowed the inevitable to play out. I witnessed nature takes its course and see how cancer wreaks havoc on the body, and takes an emotional toll for everyone involved. You impressed me with your strength, not wanting to let go for fear of what will become of my brother and I. In those moments, you shared your deepest fears and regrets. I spent time comforting you because the failures you felt, weren’t ones I could see. They weren’t my definitions of failure but you taught me a valuable lesson; that we each must come to terms with our own decisions and feelings about our life. We each have our own dreams, ideals and perspectives and when the end is near, we must be the one who feels good about it. Never mind, what anyone else really thinks. It didn’t matter to me that you didn’t leave my brother and I a house to split between us. I never expected anything.
Despite our misunderstandings towards each other, I can see now it was all in good spirits and with the best intent. You wanted the best for me, as any father does. I couldn’t always appreciated it or understand it because it wasn’t what I wanted, or where I was at at the time. Now I’ve entered a wonderful new decade I can relate to where you were coming from despite generational and cultural differences.
Ah, if only I could have known that culture played such a significant role and had we known, we may have navigated our relationship differently. But I wasn’t suppose to live in Spain until after your passing. Apparently I was suppose to learn after, for whatever reason, I have no idea.