L&E

The Thought Process of Losing

“You’re not a family. You’re a Tribe.” –Fr. Jack Hurley

Last week was rough on the family. Things were strangely coming together, however for some it was falling apart. The impact that losing a loved one, older than any living person I know, can be a devastation and for my family, it was something that (how can I put this without it sounding horrible) we were used to.

He was a 94-year-old World War II Veteran with two daughters, a handful of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, two sons-in-law who adored him and friends that he’s had longer than I’ve been alive. About 22 years ago, he lost his wife to cancer. Last week, he lost his life to it.

“But he was 94!” We all keep telling ourselves. But little do we ever think of the negative to that positive. Think about it: That’s 94 years of memories. Thank God he still had his mind fully intact. That was 94 years of history, experience, life-threatening situations, violence, travel. Ninety-four years of creating habits and breaking them; of making people laugh and crying tears of sadness; of hugs and kisses for and from everyone he loved; years of missing his loving wife and partner; years of losing those he loved and being ready for when God called his lucky number. Those years hold much more than we know, previously filled by an incredible man, 10 times as big as the void he left!

Those 94 years held a lot. LEe We saw it in my uncle’s memories of him; he is living proof that his father-in-law had a strong impact on individuals. We saw it in the pictures all over the funeral parlor. We heard it in my cousin Donna’s loving words at the funeral mass. We heard it in the sobs of people who were related only by association and experiences with him, as the Marines played Taps while they folded up the American flag that covered his casket. We remember how much those 94 years held, by remembering him; his raspy voice telling us his stories.

His name was Lee. His full name was Leonard Wojnarowski. Clearly Polish. Lee was a quiet man who I remember looking exactly the same since I was a kid. He always had a cigarette in his hand, his white hair combed back, wearing sweater vests, khakis, white shoes, collars– showing off his unique sense of style. “Hey, how you doing, babe?” he would say as we went up to give him a kiss hello. The way he spoke carried the old neighborhood accent. You know, that Chicago “dem, dees and does” Bridgeport accent. He was a straight-up Chicago guy… with a twist!

I can hear him talking to my dad, too. “How ya doin’, Chucho?” Slow, pronounced. “Good, Lee. How are you?” my dad would respond. The two quiet men could sit next to each other in comfort and not speak the rest of the evening. It made me laugh.

I’ll never forget the time I got to sit down and talk to Lee by myself about his experience in WWII. He fought in the South Pacific, engaged in hand-to-hand combat and survived it all to tell me about it. The stories were intense. Out of the millions of the people who died during that war to end all wars, he made it. Fighting the Japanese soldiers, being in a ditch as they surrounded them, the close calls and the scares he endured were all stories that made it into a report I wrote for school: “My conversation with a WWII Veteran.” It got an A+. Well, sure it did. It wasn’t about me. It was about Lee. I told his story– documented it, in a way– and that story deserves an A+++. I guess it was an introduction into journalism for me.

Obviously, there’s a secret part of Lee and a private side that the larger family didn’t get to experience. But it left an impact on my cousins. He was always there for them and for my uncle, especially since we lost my grandfather back in ’72. I mean, like they said at the wake, he watched as my aunts and uncles grew up.

Our Tribe is vast, but we stick together. As in-laws started marrying into the family, not having as large of a family as we did (my mom was one of eight), their parents and siblings have always been invited to join us. We would literally swallow up families and expand because of it. But each little family within our Tribe has their quiet alone time; sacred and separate from the rest of the group. And I can only imagine the stories there.

Driving back to the city from the cemetery, I cried thinking about the other family members we’ve lost. But along with that, I thought about my own morality and that’s where it gets you. The lump in your throat forms and you feel pressure in your eyes. What’s it going to be like when I pass? I don’t know but it’s not my time yet.

Over the few days between his death and funeral, I realized that I would rather celebrate the life of an old person than mourn the loss of a young one. LIke I said, my grandfather passed at 45, my cousin at 12 and my uncle at 35 and those were rough. Really, really rough. It was sad to see them go so early, with years of experiences they’d never get to enjoy before them. The reason you cry at young persons’ funerals is because they didn’t get to live as long as they could have.

This one, wasn’t bad. This wasn’t a losing game. This one was a “It’s time to come home now, you’ve done it all.” That, in and of itself, made it all OK.

I cried tears of joy when I heard that my cousin’s little boy Emilio had a dream about him. They come back in dreams and bring you messages and let you know things. I’ve been there. It is comforting and consoling, and because Emilio experienced that, he’s going to remember his great-grandfather happy along with all the good times. When remembering this time, Emilio won’t remember being sad.

To this day, I still have dreams about my loved ones. And each time they come to me in a dream, I remember that they’re doing much better than us and that they’re happy.

When we talked about people who have passed at the wake and funeral, we mentioned the in-laws and the family members who’ve gone along before us. Remember how I said we’re a Tribe? Well because of that, we all knew that the receiving line after entering the gates of Heaven for Lee would be lined with nothing but family. Blood related, or not, but definitely part of the Tribe.

Wild Imaginations

My imagination runs wild. It’s normal of writers like me. Especially as a writer who doesn’t write for a living. My mind is preoccupied with other things, so much that as I let it go, I start developing stories in my head, creating my perfect world of the ways people talk to me, of lovers who never want to let me go and of a world where it is easy to make people happy.

It’s when you think like this, that you start to see the daily imperfections of the world and what’s going on around us all the time. And only in the imagination can you change what you see and make it into what you want to see. When you have a wild imagination, nothing is really real. There are only certain things that you know for certain– you are alive and breathing and you need to eat and use the bathroom. Everything else comes and goes at your disposal. Every element of life is what creates your perfect world.

You are the writer. You choose the characters. Whenever you are tired of a character or no longer want a character around, you can erase them, pretend they never existed and carry on, building a new plot and re-writing your happy ending. It’s a power that must be developed as a person with a wild imagination and if it comes out right it makes you partly delusional.

No one can mess with my world, especially when it’s down on digital paper. Stories are told and everyone is a part of it. If you know me, have some interaction with me, your pieces of life get poured into my mini-world.

This is why writers are crazy. Look at all the movies, books, biographies about writers. They have issues. Or do they? Maybe they were just really good at developing their own world and believed it that it made them so good yet so troubled. Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Ernest Hemingway, Hunter S. Thompson and the list goes on. All so good yet, had troubles of their own; pained experiences that allowed them to write and write, creating a world that was impenetrable yet brilliant for others to partake in.

I don’t write books, however. I write stories. Stills from my every day life that make such an impact on me that I don’t know what to do with them all. Exaggerated stills that I could only dream to turn out the way I wished and then the imaginated stills. That’s right– Imaginated. Those stills of my life that I wish existed. Those human feelings, human emotions that I wish I could express without getting sweaty, nervous, stuttering or feeling inferior than for being vulnerable. In my writing, I’m nothing but vulnerability.

I give pieces of myself for readers to identify with; for friends to explore a bit more; for lovers to know the impact they made. Because sometimes, it just doesn’t come out smoothly from my mouth, but via my imagination it does– again and again. I say the most powerful, impacting, vulnerable words that make people feel connected to the human spirit– whether it’s mine or their own.

In my wild imagination, my words are witty and smart. I’m smooth and considerate. Everything I say is the right thing at the right time in a way you understand because I’m THAT good. It’s rational and reasonable. It’s lovable and kind. It’s everything that I ever wanted to be in real life. I’ve always wanted to release everything in my head, but in writing and through my wild imagination, I have time to think about it and make sure it’s perfect.

In my wild imagination, my world slows down so that I can grasp all the pieces and make sense of it all. In my wild imagination, people think the best of me, I love everything that I do and those whom I love, love me right back. In my wild imagination, all my pieces come together, the world makes sense and I’m a child having fun. In my wild imagination, I’m always in a beautiful place and sometimes I get to see those who have gone before me, having conversations I would never be able to have here.

Sometimes I wonder if what I’m living is the actual dream, while what I’m creating is actually my life.

On the Rainy Days

The rain fell outside, buckets of water being thrown against the building. The thunder rolled, making her believe that the world was being cracked in half like an egg in a frying pan. The trees swayed, long and green, allowing for the shadows to dance more feverishly on the white walls of the apartment.

Between the first and second storm, he walked over to visit for a while. Over a bottle of red wine, candles lit and music playing, they talked and caught up as old friends should. They laughed, talked about music, talked about their families and the past as well as the future, individually; together. Plans were made, laughs were exchanged.

The second storm came to pass and no one could hear the couple anymore in solitude between the walls. No one knew the exchanges being had, and those few hours played out like only 15 minutes together. She didn’t want to let him go and told him so repeatedly.

The wine unlocked the words from her heart; she spilled secrets that she would never have told him before. I’ve written about you, she said. You’re in my stories. He was surprised. She would never show him though. She couldn’t. I like you here, she said. He grinned a wide grin. She liked to make him smile. He was halfway through the doorway saying he should let her sleep. It was late. She pulled him back, hugged him some more. He stepped away and she pulled back again just to look at him. She liked looking at him. She made a memory of him in her library of faces and times and places. This would be one of them.

He walked down the stairs and she smiled at him. I’ll see you later, he said. And it was true, she would see him later. She knew that for a fact.

The next day, she could still smell him– on her hands, on her clothes, in her hair. And although their adoration for each other was sporadic, undefined and emotionally intense, it left a feeling of satisfaction, hope and love in a place where it didn’t exist all the time. For those moments, each other was all they needed. And it was good.

An Open Letter To The Man Who Let Me Get Away

To the Man who let me get away–

What can I say? I tried.

When it started, like the others that let me get away, you were attracted to my looks. I say this, not out of conceit, but I’m nice to look at. I’ve heard it repeatedly and other men have made the mistake of thinking that because of the way I look, my personality had to follow suit. You like the way I looked in pictures, you asked me to send them your way and I did. It was cute. Women never get tired of hearing they are lovely, especially from someone they think is lovely as well.

From day one, you were different. And because of that, I told myself that this relationship was going to be different. I wasn’t going to let things get the best of me like I had in the past. I wasn’t going to let jealousy overrun my mind and I was going to be understanding because if I wanted things to work out smoothly, I had to be. I wasn’t going to get angry; I was going to let things slide off my back and I was going to care. You weren’t going to get the baggage. You were going to get a clean slate.

I’m educated. I guess that’s the stereotype of the wo-MAN. I take pride in myself and what I do and I’m driven. I thought you wanted someone independent and driven. But little did you know that the woman inside me wanted to care for you immensely and did things so lovingly and out of desire to take care of you. I was there for whatever you needed.

As the fun of the first months began to fade, I decided I wanted to be a part of your life and started to care even more. I was proud to be with you. You were mine and I couldn’t have been happier to have someone like you in my life. But you saw that as needy. Like the other men who let me go, they too, saw that I was more than just a pretty face and they either said they weren’t enough for me, or decided to take matters into their own hands.

Did anyone ever give me a chance before they pushed me away? No. Instead, I was just the needy one that wanted too much from a man.

When you had bad days, I wanted to make it better and when you said you “couldn’t” I understood and let you be. When you didn’t understand, I wrote to you. When you let me, I spoke to you about what was on my mind. Every time you got angry, I put myself in your shoes and didn’t say a word. When you were too bothered to talk to me, I took into consideration what I knew and how I knew it and patiently waited for you to come around.

I grew to know you very well. I understood your method of communication. I knew what you meant when you said certain things and most, I understood your actions. I didn’t get angry, I didn’t get upset, all because I told myself I understood you. You talked to me. As much as you didn’t like to, you told me your secrets, you explained things to me and I valued that. It helped me understand you more.

I grew to love you. They say that love is patient and I learned that with you. For a very impatient, jealous person, I was able to harness that and put it aside– just for you. I was able to see myself with you for the long-haul and I told you that. If there was anyone I wanted next to me all the time, it was you.

However, as easy as I laid it out, it wasn’t enough to make good. It didn’t work and that’s OK. You’re not the first and you probably won’t be the last. After all of this though, I’ve grown stronger and more knowledgeable about what I want out of my next partner. I’m happy I tried. I’m happy you were in my life for the time period that you were. We had great times and I know I’ll live past this.

Regardless of all that, in the end, I say Thank You.

With all my heart,

Christina Elizabeth

Sometimes You Need to Get Away

And within that cycle there are neither winners nor losers; there are only stages that must be gone through. When the human heart understands this, it is free and able to accept difficult times without being deceived by moments of glory. -Paulo Coelho, Manuscript Found in Accra

So a couple of weeks ago, I decided to up and go. Just leave. Within two days, I had decided to unplug, head up north to a neighboring state and simmer for a weekend. I called in the personal retreat; the first step to collecting myself in order to make myself better for the next few stages of my life.

It had been a while– a long while– since I considered what I wanted out of my life and particularly next steps. For some time, I had taken opportunities set before me and, although they were all fantastic opportunities that I didn’t snooze on, I had also come to realize that they weren’t feeding my passions. I was good at what I was doing and good and taking on those opportunities, however my “passion” or whatever might have been driving me, was dwindling.

I’m a creative person. Although I’m not a visual artists, an actor or a poet (anymore), I’m still a writer, musician and supporter of the arts and what it means to different people, especially people like me. We creatives like to hide out as 9-5ers; as people who try to fit in but realize that any type of limitations bring inhibitions and the next thing you know, we’re unhappy. Some of us, however, find a balance and we are able to keep the monotony of our “real” life in a place that allows our creative side to thrive.

For those of you who know me, you know I’ve collaboratively put together an artistic collective called the EXPO Collective, catering to the support and resourcefulness of artists. Thus far, we have had the opportunity to exhibit four times and have garnered some much needed attention from a variety of organizations. I realized that this was my passion when I was hiding out in Michigan that weekend. I realized that building something for communal goodness was what I wanted to do and have always wanted to do.

This put me at ease in a comfortable way. I realized I was doing something good and EXPO had started running itself with not so much as a shove from the rest of us. It was my opportunity to revive my passion and remember what it was like to do things that I loved. Not very many people had that. Others who I knew very well were stuck in the monotonous drone of their lives, with out so much as a spark of passion, ambition, life. It was sad. I didn’t want to turn into that, no matter how nice it was to pay the bills.

The fact that I had worked for myself a few years ago, helped me to see that I could make it. I could live on almost nothing and survive. With that test at a young age, I knew that it wasn’t beyond my realm of possibilities to do it once more in a smarter way to eventually make it work.

Being in that Michigan hotel room made me write. I wrote for some time about what was bothering me, what was on my mind and what it was I really wanted all of which culminated into the idea that I was powerful enough and strong enough to pick myself up and keep going forward no matter how messed up things could be. I was fighting a really deep bout of anxiety. It wasn’t exactly depression, but it was this horrible feeling at the pit of my stomach that wouldn’t let me settle or eat. It was awful. There was also a mixture of depressive traits of not wanting to do much, sleeping a lot and staying in the bed. The only thing I had to really do was to get out and get away.

I disconnected from everyone; had to reevaluate a relationship that I was in and I had to understand where I stood on a professional and personal level. While out there, I also realized that I really wanted to have a family. Yes, that’s right– children and everything. It took a long time for me to finally admit to myself that I wanted that. For the longest time, while in school, while deciding what I was going to do with my life, I had always felt that I could do things on my own and without the distraction of having kids. I was going to travel the world, do excellent work that not only helped me but a community of people and I was going to live richly based on the pure idea of giving of myself for the benefits of others.

But while I thought about it more and more, I knew that I wanted to find someone who shared the same ambitions as I as well as someone with whom I could build a family and a stable support system at home. My partner would not be upset nor intimidated by my drive, he would support and be on par with his own drive and we would have children to add to the story of our lives. I couldn’t ask for a more in-your-face bout of clarity that it hit my like a Pacific Ocean wave. I cried. I sat and I cried hard. I really wanted it, but I also wasn’t going to settle for it.

I walked by Lake Michigan– the other side– drove around the small town of St. Joseph and into South Haven, went to the beach and read a magazine. Yes, a whole magazine because I could. I also reread one of Paulo Coelho’s books and realized just how much I already knew about the divine and the universe and the way I should be living my life. It was a positive reinforcement and confidence booster, knowing that my life was still going in the right direction regardless of the hardships I had faced in recent situations.

Everything in life is meant to make you stronger. Things are there so that you learn from them and move on. Life only goes in one direction and that’s forward. Unfortunately, there’s no pause, stop, rewind or fast forward. We think that we may be the first to ever go through our situations but in fact that is a blatant lie. Plenty have dealt with the same issues that we go through now and plenty more will follow in our footsteps. We have to remember that we’re not alone, that life is short and we have to make the best of our situations.

If that means getting away for a bit– go. I can tell you that the money and time I spent away from everyone and completely alone was probably one of the best investments that I could make for myself. Self-reflection and reevaluation of life’s positions is important not just when things are going bad, but when things are going really well, too. However, when you feel it, you feel it. It’s a journey; make the most of it.

 

Cinderella ruined everything…

But don’t get me wrong, it’s still my favorite Disney movie of all time. However, it really did ruin everything.

As little girls, we’re taught that we are princesses and that someday, indeed, our prince will come to save the day whether it’s having their servants put on your missing glass slipper, kiss you once to wake you up from a coma or fight off something evil from blocking your path to happiness. You expect that someone would be worth the wait and you would be worth the fight.

CinderellaNo one told you about all the frogs you’d have to kiss, step on and be licked by in order to get to that one, though. While as little girls we thought we would just wait for that guy that we magically fell in love with to reciprocate every feeling, sweep us off our feet and turn our lives into a “happily ever after” scenario.

You have to think, aside from not being able to sing like Ariel or Snow White or Cinderella, Disney painted this fairy tale story to be easy and wonderfully magical which was completely false. On top of that, all the men these girls fell for were of prince-like quality; charming, handsome, kind-hearted, valued women and understood what love really meant, right? What little girl wouldn’t want that?

All the beautiful, skillful woman had a man, too. You needed that man to give you freedom and dignity and a right to be a woman. Before he came along, you would be destined to be an old woman living on a farm. At least Belle had some standards. Or smarts. Whatever. Beauty and the Beast had the most real-life-like scenarios, besides falling in love with a beast, living in France and getting locked up for the rest of your days because you trespassed on to a price’s castle. There was a love triangle, fights, irrationality, a father-daughter relationship that made you wonder if you would do the same for yours.

However, in the end, because a human couldn’t marry a beast, Belle falls for the man that the Beast truly is, right? I mean, even a furry, ugly creature can be loved. Why is this so hard in real life?! The movies make it look so easy! They barely know each other and fall in love. In the real world, there’s a long, drawn-out, game-playing process that doesn’t end up the way you want it– almost ever. Unless you’re on Match.com. Apparently that site works miracles.

Mulan, another one of my favorite movies, was so focused on the fight and the war that there really wasn’t a love story focal point. Instead, her grandmother is pushing her toward marriage in the end– of which I can (and many other girls) relate. She was strong and independent and still got the man. The handsome captain with emotions and a heart that followed her back home and took such an interest that the nobleman stayed for dinner, which turned into forever (especially if you’ve seen Mulan II). So real.

Where is prince charming and why hasn’t he come get me yet? Isn’t that what everyone thinks at 18, 19, 20 years old?

Although I’m independent, practical, rational (I’m an Aries) with a I-don’t-need-no-man mentality, I’m still a romantic daydreamer who gets lost in her thoughts. I can’t help but go back to those movies and get those warm fuzzy feelings. Regardless of how real I can be, as a woman growing up with this fake idea of what a relationship really is, there is a piece of me that still wants that. Sad? Maybe. Impossible? Probably, but a girl can dream.

I know he won’t fight a dragon or be able to wake me up from a coma with a kiss (because that whole coma thing IS possible in my world). But knowing that someone is afraid of losing me, is willing to fight for me, isn’t afraid of my femininity and deals with my closeness without pushing me away– that’s security and almost equivalent to the love of seven dwarfs.

Compared to what we want, women ask for a few things of men that come into our lives and actually want to try something. You know, not just in it for the minute… or five… of trying to get into pants and under skirts. For those men that are ready to think about something serious (and I’ve come across plenty who have admitted that they weren’t– props to you!) there are a few things that you have to consider when dealing with a real woman (because there are FAKE ones too, who think they’re ready and clearly aren’t).

Above all things that they don’t show you in the movies, you have to be considerate, communicative and respectful. The characters in the movies barely know each other half the time. I guess in Aladdin, he and Jasmine were friends. He was also a hood rat, so that says a lot about how women see men that just give them attention. I digress.

The worst baggage is the one that comes with not finding Prince Charming right away and thinking that you’re not good enough for it. It always comes at the very beginning, especially if you’re part of the Disney Princess generation. Along with that, comes the lowering of standards, the mistakes and the dealing with issues that you weren’t expecting and don’t know how to deal with. The positive outcomes come later, at least it did for me, when I realized that I really was a princess and I didn’t need a man for self-worth. I had to go through a lot of things to realize just how valuable I was in order to then find someone who was worth my time and energy.

In the end, I’m happier for all the trials and tribulations that I’ve been through in my romantic life and it’s helped me determine just how good I have it now.

But I’m still convinced that Cinderella ruined everything.

 

And in the 28th year, God gave her insight…

Warning: This may seem like an egotistical post, but I’m happy for where I am in life and am celebrating it the way I know how.

I haven’t written on this blog in a while, but it’s about time that I do. Today is the last day before I turn 29. It is the last day of my 28th year of life and I have had an amazing time.

Here are some things that I learned about the people around me and myself in the last year. Although it hasn’t always been easy, everything that I’ve been through has been well worth it for the outcomes and precious moments I have garnered. My life has been a piece of work all adding up to the now, to the present, to this moment in time. I’ve worked hard, made moves and have dared myself to be as individualistic and powerful as I know I am, making waves in my life and helping others to do the same.

  • Surround yourself with people you want to be like. I didn’t realize how much I wasn’t doing this until this past summer when I surrounded myself with geniuses in their own right. I began my incredible friendship with Adrian, who gave me the opportunity to have a hand in his amazing project TheMillennial.Be. I made it a purposeful mission to be friends with Ricardo, a fantastic artist who is nothing but love, consideration and kindness that I needed. My relationship with Libby became stronger, and as an independent, intelligent, creative woman, I found that she was as encouraging and honest, two things that I wanted around me always. It doesn’t stop with these three, at all. There are plenty more of you out there.
  • Learn from the decisions you make. Whether they are good or bad, big or small, everything I did in my last year I learned from. I decided to quit my job and start Pícaro Media with my friends, a company that was geared to people like us. Not only did I learn what it took to start a business, but I also learned confidence in what I knew from a business perspective. I learned that my ideas were of greater value than I thought and that nothing was wrong with taking chances. The worst they could tell you is “no.” I learned what it was like to live without health insurance which only deepened my knowledge about what it’s like for people to deal with diabetes without a support system that I had had all my life. I learned how to work for myself and I didn’t mind. I still don’t.
  • I’m ridiculously creative. The artists that I’ve surrounded myself with this past year had a great deal to do with that. This was my artistic year. The genuine ability to create and dish out ideas, feel inspired and motivated by them and executing it all gives me a high like no other. Thank you to the visual artists, actors, writers and musicians who surround me. You make my life awesome.
  • I found my self worth. Not that it was hiding anywhere, but it became apparent to me starting about two years ago just how valuable I really am. I know what I can do and I am proud of my talents, successes and accomplishments. No one can take that away from me.
  • I can make anything in my mind become a reality. From Clique to self-assigned writing assignments to making ends meet when no income was coming through the door to the EXPO Collective, I’ve made many things happen and have gained a lot of experience from it that is only going to catapult me into dream land.
  • I have never been more motivated to give back and help others like I’ve been this past year. I’ve really learned to take care of myself and have been happier for it. My girl Celina has always been on top of me to take care of myself and look out for numero una. Now that I’ve come to know who I am and look out for myself, I’m strong enough to help others in whatever way I can. From speaking at GED classes, to being a mentor to younger individuals, answering questions, being a role model and helping people find their way is an amazing reward.
  • Relationships are everything. From finding a new job to having people reciprocate the love I have for them, relationships are the pieces to the puzzle that are most important. I’ve realized this more than ever and I know that I have to listen to people instead of assuming I know what’s going on inside. I wouldn’t be where I am or have the amazing life I have without the relationships that I’ve built throughout the years.
  • I will never again apologize for my happiness. Who I am is who I am. It took me 28 years to get where I am and I’m so grateful for everyone and everything I encountered. A certain special someone has reminded me repeatedly that though my cheery and hyper side can get annoying, I should never apologize for being happy.
  • God is the Universe and the Universe is God. That’s it.

Although I have been working on each of these things for a while, it all came to fruition this past year. I’ve grown a ton, met amazing people and have truly found my happiness. I thank you all for being in my life and for allowing me to be part of yours.

Let’s continue this ride together and making it happen, amigos!

Con mucho amor y cariño,

Kiki <3