“It Is What It Is.” Blind Man and His Deaf Dog. Sahara Desert.

Robert never felt like he was at a disadvantage. No matter how people treated him or what they said, he shrugged it off. How was he supposed to know what he was missing if he never had the opportunity to see it? Being blind was something that affected about 39 million people in the world. If they could get by, so could he.

Growing up wasn’t so hard. He did almost the same things as other kids, besides of course being physically active in the sports field. His favorite activity though, was flying kites. It didn’t matter what it looked like or if it had a design. It could have been made for a girl and it would have meant nothing to him.

It was a spring day and at 10 years old, he was sitting outside reading and enjoying the breeze when his dad came out to ask if he wanted to fly a kite. Being limited to a lot of other things, Robert said yes to whatever was presented to him, especially if it was something he had never done before.

In the middle of the park, he could feel the open space, smell the fresh cut grass, feel the breeze through his hair, over his skin and in his hands he could feel the pulling of the kite. “What color is it, dad?” The kite was a bright orange, “so people all over the neighborhood can see it and know we’re here. Maybe they’ll come join us.”

It was those simple pleasures in life he enjoyed. He didn’t ask for much because of his ability to withstand being alone and revere in those moments. Sometimes, though, he wished he was Daredevil because even blind kids had superhero idols. He read the comic books in braille using his imagination for all of it. He was convinced that his version of the superhero was 10 times better than what the rest of the kids saw.

At 12, he got a seeing eye dog, Charlie. He loved Charlie with all he had. They did everything together, even flew the bright orange kite. With Charlie, he was able to be a little more independent– allowed to go to the park alone to fly the kite with a few friends. Charlie went everywhere with Robert and he talked to her all the time, as if she were a person.

When Charlie turned 12, she started to lose her hearing. Robert’s parents thought that he would be devastated. “It is what it is,” said Robert. “I’m not going to stop loving her or even talking to her. She knows me. She feels me. She’s my girl.”

Robert was now 23 and looking for a job. Charlie was now fully deaf, but still lead him where he needed to go. Instead of talking to her, he always placed his hands on her. He felt closer to her that way.

Recently, he had itched to travel. Maybe it was his procrastination from looking for an actual 9-5.

“Where are you going to go?” said his best friend Jaime. “What are you going to do? You know, you are blind, so it’s not like you can go see the Wonders of the World or anything.” Jaime chugged the coke he was drinking with his Jimmy John’s Gargantuan. He had a way with words.

“You’re funny,” said Robert, petting Charlie who was leaning between his legs. “I don’t know where I want to go, but it has to be some place I feel.”

Jaime laughed. “You can feel everything, anywhere. You have to go someplace that has good food! Like China or Tokyo.” Jaime also liked to eat.

“What if I went someplace like the Saharan Desert? I mean, if I wanted to visit even a piece of it, I could go to Egypt, Algeria, Libya. Those countries would be amazing to visit,” said Robert.

“Really? Egypt? Isn’t it like, falling apart?”

“Don’t be ignorant, Jaime. That was like 10 years ago.”

The thought of traveling seemed even more adventurous for obvious reasons, but the fact that he had never been out of the country irked him quite a bit. Nothing else had ever limited his ability to do things, not even his blindness and it wasn’t going to get in his way now.

Later in the week, Robert decided to do a little research on flights and countries. For some reason, the desert countries called out to him and he decided to scout those out first. Charlie was also getting old and taking her on a trip to a foreign country that didn’t chow down on pups was ideal for him.

That night, he called his mom. “I’m going on a trip overseas, mom. I’ve decided.”

“Oh yeah, Rob? Where are you going to go?” She never limited his abilities even in theory.

“Well, I’m looking that up right now and am checking out the best places I’d be able to take Charlie…”

The Watch Salesman

People like to talk to me. It doesn’t matter where I am or what I’m doing, sometimes I get ladies and gentleman opening up to me about the most personal things– and I listen. I catch and take in every piece of what they’re telling me because, if I don’t listen, who will?

Take for instance, the watch salesman I was effortlessly chatting with yesterday as I was deciding which watch to get my father for his birthday; leather strap or metallic? Black or brown? Rose face or gray? The options were endless and simple– no bells and whistles added.

“Why do you need all the bells and whistles?” asked the salesman. “I really like this one. What does your dad do? Because if he works hard, the metallic may work better for him.”

I have to say, he knew his watches. As I told him about my father and what he did for a living, I also said, “I know whichever watch I get him, it’ll probably sit there until he has something nice or fancy to go to. This won’t be his every day watch.”

“I know,” said the salesman. “My dad used to drive me crazy with things like that. The man had shirts to last him years, had a lot of clothes, but he always wore the same shirt.”

The salesman, a hearty man, not too tall but very friendly, grew animated as he talked about his dad. “One day, my mom ended up using his old t-shirt to clean, the same shirt he always wore,” he continued. “He walked into the house asking, ‘Where’s my shirt?!’ He ended up looking under the sink where my mom left it after cleaning with it.”

“Did he wear it again?” I asked, completely captivated.

“Oh yeah, he grabbed it and washed it and put it on again,” he said in full seriousness. “And, you know, he thought he knew how to use the washing machine.” He motions adding way too much laundry detergent to the load of laundry– or what I imagined to be only his shirt spinning ’round and ’round.

I laughed. He obviously took after his father– that’s where he got his ability to talk to people and where he got his crazy.

“Who do you take after, your mother or your father?” he asked me.

“I got a good mix of both,” I said. “I got the crazy from my mother, but the also the calm side from my dad.”

“That’s good,” he confirmed as he grabbed the watch I decided on; leather strap, black face with a diamond at the 12 mark.

From the way he talked about his father, I already knew he had passed. He ended up telling me about how he wanted to make his father happy in his last days.

“My father loved to be out in the sun,” he said matter-of-factly. “He had melanoma. The last thing he wanted to eat was a Krispy Kreme doughnut and it had to be hot.” The salesman rolled his eyes.

“You know where that Krispy Kreme used to be on Archer?” he asked me.

“Yup,” I confirmed, “next to the Portillo’s.”

“Yes! That one! You do know what I’m talking about. Well, it was the middle of July and this man wanted a hot doughnut. From picking it up and getting it back to where he was, that thing wasn’t going to stay hot. So I blasted the heat all the way there and drove with the windows down,” he explained as if it were yesterday. “I got it to him, but in the end he couldn’t eat it.”

I didn’t know what to say. Sometimes, I didn’t think it important to say anything. “Sometimes it’s just out of our control,” I told him. “At least you tried.”

As he checked me out, he entertained me as he helped me with the credit card screen. “It’s just a bunch of crap that comes up on here,” he said tapping and double tapping on the screen.

He handed me my receipt and information on the new credit card I opened (he got me!). “Don’t forget to buy something for yourself, now,” he said. “The discount works on makeup, even though I know you don’t wear any.”

Little do you know, I thought to myself.

As I grabbed the bag and thanked him for his help, I couldn’t help but notice a little line he said to me that had a little more emphasis than all the others:

“Remember to come back and visit now.”

And when I hear that, I’m more than compelled to stop by, but I rarely do. I usually just write about it.

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.