When Gender Roles Don’t Make A Difference

If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I’ve been in relationships. Whether I write non-fictionally about them here– well, that’s a different story. But this story is more about gender roles than anything else.

In recent times, gender has been an increasingly important topic of conversation– not because it should be, but because this whole bathroom conversation brings up the issue. We’ve also seen the way women are treated as a result of the patriarchal society we live in that serves men in every way, allowing them to obtain certain rights and privileges just because they have a penis. This goes from the rich rulers of the world to the working-class; men are seen as the go-getting, intelligent, ambitious bread-winners and what adds to it is that they think that way, too.

Women are women. Men are men. You have a part to play, so play it. At least, that’s the underlying message. Women serve men, are nothing without men, whose sole purpose is to find a man, right?

I grew up enveloped in the concept of gender roles. I heard it all. “You act like a boy,” “You were raised like a boy,” to “That sport isn’t for girls,” and “You don’t know how to be a girlfriend.” Because it never made any sense to me (I asked my parents if they would treat me differently if I were a boy. When they said yes, I started to defy them.) and rationale was weak, I began to run in the opposite direction of what was expected of me. I wasn’t going to fall into any expectation, if I could help it.

I wanted to be equal to all the boys. I saw the difference in how they were treated versus how I was being treated. I wanted to be treated the same, with the same privileges. I always believed that I could take care of myself but I don’t have a clue where that came from.

As a girl growing up, I was told that as I got older I was going to have big boobs and a big butt. I gain and lose the butt, but my boobs aren’t as huge as I had been left to believe they would be. Suddenly, I felt less than because every other girl grew into C and D cups, while I was stuck on a B.

Subtleties, however both affected my identity and gender. I was too strong. I wasn’t like the other girls. I didn’t have what I was “supposed to.”

When the first boyfriend I had in four years decided to cheat on me repeatedly, I stayed because I thought, “He said he loved me. He must. Is this the best I’m going to get?” I actually thought it was going to be that way. Then when I realized that I was worth too much more than that, I left. But it made an impact. If this guy said he loved me, but did the complete opposite, would they all be like that? Did I have to play that game, too? When I talked to other guys, he made me feel terrible as if I was the one cheating. He put all the blame on me. Because he was the man, he could do what he wanted and all he had to do was apologize and I’d take him back. But I felt less than. I wasn’t good enough to keep him.

As an adult, I’ve had men stop calling me because I voiced my opinion or start a fight with me because I talked to my guy friends without him around. “A taken woman doesn’t do that,” he said. And there I went, feeling less than again.

Then, I was gas-lighted. The guy I was with didn’t at all act like he cared about me, when in fact he was in love with me but wouldn’t admit it to himself or me and he couldn’t show me his true feelings, let alone tell them to me. He did the minimal to show he cared until it seemed he didn’t care at all, and I left. And there I went, feeling less than again.

But men don’t talk about their feelings unless they’re intoxicated. Men do whatever they want because if a woman was desperate enough she’d wait. Not me. I never had a problem leaving.

Lastly, I was made to believe that if I couldn’t conform, I wouldn’t get married. Plain and simple, I was too bro-ish, too man-ish, too aggressive and “twice the man I can ever be.” Why couldn’t I just be a really strong woman? Stronger than a man?

I can also get into the way I’ve been talked to professionally. “With a smile like yours…” “You should get on that getting married tip,” “She was really pretty, just like you,” “Oh, are you his assistant?” Would any of that be said to a man? What does anything have to do with the way I work or the way I do business?

I was taught that if I have to meet with men, to take a man with me. I couldn’t get into a room and close anything all by myself. When I say that to certain people, they ask me, “Why do you think that?” It’s easy to say, “because I’ve lived it.” I’ve gotten to the point, though, where it doesn’t bother me.

I always believed that the people you love are not defined by their body, but their souls. The connection isn’t just touching, but looking at each other’s eyes, laughing and being happy. It is the happiness in your heart when your best friend calls or the feeling of loving energy radiating from your father’s chest as he hugs you. Without that soul, the body is lifeless, it is nothing. I’ve truly loved people in non-romantic ways and have felt that I’ve connected to their soul.

Hence my dislike for gender roles and the idea that you are your sex.

Then I met my current boyfriend. There never was a sense of roles we were defined by. He told me he never wanted me to change, I told him the same. In six months, we’ve cried to each other, fought with each other and talked through everything together. Never has there been a doubt in our minds to sleep on it or leave it unresolved for too long. We talk everything out, are honest and feel even more confident in this relationship we’ve shared together.

How we “act,” doesn’t matter. For weeks, when I went from job to job and worked at home, too, he would cook for me, clean the house and do the laundry. And he worked the night shift. He didn’t sleep very much. When he moved in, he wasn’t working at all, but I told him I’d be OK supporting him while he found something. He in turn, took on the responsibilities at home because someone had to. I was extremely tired from working so much and only really cleaned on the weekend, much anything else.

He already knew he wanted to take care of me and I him, in every way. How we acted, the roles we played didn’t exist. There were no roles because we were being ourselves in the truest sense– authentic about who we were, how we acted and why.

Over the years, I’ve learned to get rid of those people who thought I had a role to play and instead found those who didn’t care about what I looked like or that I was a woman, but looked deeper to find my heart, my brain and my soul. I’ve found male counterparts that I can converse with, hang out with and work with who have made me even better and stronger and more self-confident and self-reliant. I’ve tried to pass that along to other women as well, calling them “Chingonas” and “hustlers,” because what you DO and GET DONE is not at all defined by your gender. And women should always support women.

When you find that person or persons who let you be yourself, don’t look down on you for being a man or a woman and who don’t expect anything because you are, keep them. Keep them in your lives for the longest time. As long as you can. Forever.



Jose Luis Pérez AKA Uncle Joey

I could write a book about Uncle Joey. He was a character.  A fun-loving, truth-telling, dancer of a character. Everybody loved him. I know plenty of people who say that about people who’ve passed, right? But I’m actually serious. Everyone he came across saw the light that we were so blessed to have in our family.

Uncle Joey was a dancer. He was a ballroom dancer, something that started when he was in high school. The job took him places we had never been like Hawaii, South Carolina and Alexandria, Virginia. He was the reason most of our family traveled outside of the Midwest on vacation.

wpid-wp-1446493281573.jpegBefore the era of the internet, we used to record and send VHS tapes to each other, giving updates, saying hello. The last one we found was from Mother’s Day and my birthday. I don’t know if he would edit them or would have someone else do it, but since he was in competitions we couldn’t get to, he’d have them recorded and then placed within the video he’d send us. I can still hear his voice telling us when and where the competition took place.

My grandmother used to call him Luís and man, what a momma’s boy he was. I got confused when I was a kid. I didn’t understand why he had multiple names until I was older. Uncle Joey was also my godfather. He was a great one, too, always giving us gifts and telling us stories.

I think our favorite was the story of Ms. Fuchi. That’s right, ladies and gents, he created the story of Ms. Fuchi, a little ballerina girl that he taught to dance. She didn’t wear shoes and always had mocos coming out of her nose. The real reason he made up the story was because we had these spinning ballerina dolls that flew up into the air. He saw it and created the story for us on the spot.

wpid-wp-1446489511522.jpegDon’t get me wrong though. Uncle Joey was also mean. I don’t mean malicious, he was like me. It’s weird to say, but after he passed in 1995 my family would look at me and say, “Oh, my God. You look just like Joey.” Or “That’s totally something Joey would say,” or “That’s exactly the kind of face Joey would make.” I was basically him incarnate and then I realized how much more I was like him. He was the honest truth-teller. He also called people out.

Let me give you an example. I used to like to chew big wads of gum. Why? I have no idea. I was a dumb kid. I shoved a whole 5-stick pack of gum in my mouth, you know, those Extra bubble gum flavored ones. Before I could get the stupid wad out of my mouth, Uncle Joey looked at me and said, “How many did you stick in your mouth? All of them?” “No!” I said, clearly embarrassed to which I proceeded to spit out the gum in the trash.  You didn’t want him to think you were stupid.

Another time, he had a briefcase with him. I’m pretty sure he came to my house right after flying in– something he’d do a lot. He always had gifts for us, like I said before. He told me to sit down in front of him and he pulled out a little something for me. I don’t even remember what it was, but I tried to peek into the case, to which he grabbed it and turned it so I couldn’t see inside. “Hey! What else are you looking for?” he said to me. I was a spoiled brat.

See all the things he made me realize without really even saying it?

When Uncle Joey came in from out of town, it was a huge event. One Christmas, my parents “went to the store.” I’m kinda really close to my parents so when they didn’t come back quick enough for me, I kept asking where they were. The whole family was gathered at my grandmother’s house waiting for everyone to get there. This was also when we could all FIT in my grandmother’s house. All of a sudden, we heard the bell of the door downstairs jingle. The door opened and up walked my mom, dad and right behind them Uncle Joey telling us kids to shush. As he walked into the dining room, we heard a scream from my tía Rosa. The kids laughed and then ran over, waiting patiently to hug Uncle Joey– after he said hello to grandma and his brothers and sisters first.

Once we surprised him at his gate (pre 9/11) during a layover. He walked out and we were all sitting there patiently waiting for him. I forget who, but someone stepped up to him as he walked out of the gate. He was so surprised and then those of us who were sitting in the seats turned around. He was thrilled to see us all there waiting for him.

The last time we went out to D.C. to visit him, it was during Shark Week and I just so happened to be into sharks. We camped out in his living room (basically hung out on the sofa bed) and watched hours and hours of shark action. He couldn’t believe he had done that either, but it was fun. I also remember that that’s when I got to see his tattoo for the first time.

Those were fun and almost magical times.

I saw the worrisome and pained Uncle Joey, too. Not that I really like to talk about it much, but I’m starting to understand it as I near his age. He would call our house late at night to talk to my mom or my tía Carmen if she was around, but I always got to talk to him before it got to them. If the phone rang after 11p.m. it was usually him and I would race to the phone saying, “I got it! It’s probably Uncle Joey!”

There are times I’ll never forget, especially when I saw the pure child that lived inside him. Once he grabbed a photo of my grandfather and kept asking, “I look like dad, don’t I? Don’t I look like daddy?” The desire to be tied to someone that everyone lost early on was apparent, just like me today.

Tía Marina and Uncle Joey at a wedding

Uncle Joey died on the first day of winter. He was born the first day of summer. When we realized this, it almost made sense to us. I learned so much from Uncle Joey. Too much to recount here. He made life fun and loved to laugh. Whether or not he knew what was coming, he never seemed to be worried about it. In his final days, he had admitted that he wasn’t afraid to die anymore– something that gives me solace as I think about it. He knew he was going to be with his father, with my first Wendy, and that things would be OK.

Keeping him alive in our memory is easy, especially at weddings when the song “Last Dance” by Donna Summer is played. The song reminds the family (and those who were alive to witness it) of the time that Uncle Joey and my tía Marina danced to the song in high school for a dance competition.  I played it today as I left the cemetery, the only time in the history of visiting the cemetery that I ever played music. I thought it was appropriate and that Uncle Joey would appreciate it.

My First Wendy

I’ve known a lot of Wendys in my lifetime. I have friends that tell me they’ve never met a Wendy before and I answer them with “I know at least five.”

But there is no one like the first Wendy. The one I met a few days after I was born. She was nine and my big cousin. She lived upstairs from us in my grandmother’s building with her brother and sister and her mom, my tía Rosa. She might as well have been my big sister, along with the other two siblings.

She would hang out with me, take me outside for walks and eat pickles on forks. Her favorite movie was The Little Princess and she would always carry me around on her hip. If you take a look at her, she wasn’t very big and a little skinny, but she could still lug me around.

She was a happy little girl. As much as I remember, there’s a lot I don’t being so little. My favorite is watching my dad’s home movies of all of us in the basement–where we lived for a little while. The last one we saw that I can remember was from Halloween. Wendy was a bunny and her shrill little voice is almost shocking because it hasn’t changed. It never will.

Three years after I met her, Wendy was taken away from all of us. A mishap, an accident, whatever you want to call it, the result was her no longer being there. And what a tragedy it was. She was gone 10 days before her 12th birthday– a bit unfair to say the least.

I was so close to her, they say I felt her death so deeply– as I see it, the energy was being ripped away from me. They didn’t let me go to the wake, so I didn’t get to see her sleeping. I also got really sick during those days of her being gone and her burial — high fevers, weird dreams, hallucinations. As we were driving somewhere, I apparently said I saw her running alongside the car, but that she didn’t have glasses on. They buried her without her glasses.

wpid-wp-1446489503018.jpegMy mom and my tía Carmen both say that it was one dream that liberated me from being sick and sometimes I claim that I still remember it because it was so real. She came for me. She came for me and we went flying in the clouds. She had her glasses on, her gown was white and she took me by the hand. We laughed together and floated from cloud to cloud. It was amazing. After that, my fever broke and that was it.

I think about her all the time. She’s my guardian angel and I know it because I feel her. Sometimes I meditate and I go to her. I see her sitting outside in the back porch of the house she grew up in, eating candy and listening to me as I whine about my life. She looks up with me and says, “Christy, it’s all going to be OK.” I also know she’s around because a heavy bout of energy comes over me and I cry uncontrollably but it’s not out of sadness. I smile through the tears and I say, “I feel you. You’re here.”

I haven’t had any dreams about her lately, but the last one I did have was magical. I was in a field with a lot of women, including my mom, my tía Carmen and some friends of mine. In the middle of this field, there was what looked like a mailbox. They told me to go and open it, that I would receive a message. I walked up to the old, gray, wooden box and opened it to find a three-page, handwritten letter from Wendy. In it, she told me how proud she was of me, how she sees what I do and that she’s always with me. She signed it with a big W and that was all I needed. As I read it, my mom and tía kept asking me what it said and I cried. When I woke up, I felt a sense of peace.

It’s hard to think about her still and the fact that she would have been 39 this year. What would she have become? And what’s funny is that I feel like it’s because of her that I have the other Wendys in my life. She didn’t want me to ever forget her. I look at my friends and I see pieces of what her life would have been like: success, beauty, intelligence, marriage, motherhood, families. They all have beautiful lives and in a way, I see what she would have had.

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot from being around Wendy. She was kind, innocent, loving, smart. I thank God everyday for the chance to have met her. A piece of me also feels like she’s in me, like she is in my little cousin Wendy Christella and my sister Caroline Wendy.

She’s buried with my grandfather at Queen of Heaven Cemetery. They look after one another. I wish I could write about him too, but I can’t because he passed long before I was born, but I do think of him often and the kind of man he was.

They would both be extremely proud to see how far our family has come.

Macoris. Classic Lou. Vallenato.


“Ew, no. Too much cheese.”

“What?! That’s the best part. You’re not a real Chicagoan if you’ve never choked on Giordano’s deep dish cheese!”

“That’s not even right. You’re not a real Chicagoan if you’ve haven’t had Lou Malnati’s.”

“Now, that is gross. For that, you might as well say UNO’s is the best and we both know that lying is just, plain… WRONG!”

“Hey, hey, now. UNO’s isn’t bad. I do prefer Pequod’s over UNO’s though. No lie.”

“The pizza place on the corner is better than UNO’s…”

The classic Chicago debate would have continued had they not seen a band walking out and into a venue.

“Wonder what’s going on there tonight,” asked Sam, the Classic Lou fan. His taste in food was extremely picky. His taste in music worse.

“Let’s go check it out. I’d be down to see some music tonight if you are,” said Mac, the Giordano’s supporter. He was a foodie, loved to taste a bit of everything and had a pristine sense of musical taste. His choice in friends– questionable.

“Only if it’s some rock shit. I can’t take that indie pop that’s going on nowadays,” said Sam. “Or EDM. Who invented that?”

“Dude, I keep telling you,” began Mac, “you have to open up your musical horizons and interests. It makes you a more well-rounded person.”

“Blah, blah, blah. As true as that sounds, in the end, I know what I like.”

“Fine,” said Mac. He learned when to stop.

The duo walked into the bar where the musicians were setting up. Musical instruments native to Latin American countries could be seen all over the floor getting their mics added on and getting hooked up to the sound system. The musicians shook hands with others in the venue, smiled, laughed, chatted.

Mac felt like he was walking in at a personal moment. One of the artists with a hat on came up to him and shook his hand. The hat he wore was a traditional Colombian piece called a sombrero vueltiao that Mac recognized from his excursion to Ecuador, a bordering country to Colombia.

“Rey Márquez,” said the musician.

“Macorís Rojas,” said Mac.

¡O! ¿Dominicano?” asked Rey.

Mis padres, si. Yo nací aquí,” said Mac, who didn’t really speak Spanish most of the time but did only because the conversation started that way. Sam didn’t speak Spanish either, even though his family was Puerto Rican.

Hola, Samuel Ramírez,” said Sam, in his butchered Spanish accent.

¿A que hora van a tocar y que tipo de música?” Mac asked what time and type of music they were going to play.

A las 9. Regresen para escuchar vallenato. Aquí estarémos,” said Rey. Vallenato, along with Cumbia, were the most popular and native types of music originating in Colombia– hence the hat.

OK. Luego volvemos,” said Mac, promising to come back.

Hasta pronto, entonces,” said Rey.

The friends walked out and decided to get some pizza from the local spot. It was better than they expected.

“Do we really have to go back?” asked Sam. “I don’t even know what valle… valleviejo is. Is it like tribal music?”

Vallenato. Vallenato. Vallenato,” said Mac. “And no, it’s very similar to Cumbia. I actually kinda like it. It’s chill.”

“More crap I can’t stand,” said Sam. ” You might be going back alone.”

It was 7:30 and they were venturing around the neighborhood, so calling other friends and letting this guy wallow in his Latin ignorance wouldn’t be a problem.

“That’s cool. I actually might just go back alone. It’s not too often that you get this type of music in a Mexican-identified city, you know?”

Sam ended up walking home and Mac texted one person– a girl he’s had a thing for for the past couple of years. They were friends but she never picked up on his good intentions. He wondered if she’d be interested in the show.

“Hey, Sara, what are you up to tonight?” He texted.

He started walking around the small neighborhood he lived in. The air was warm and the sun was setting– almost too romantic, he thought, that he’d might just say hi to Sara instead of actually asking her to come out. He didn’t want to scare her away.

His phone buzzed: “Hey Mac! Not too much. Just hanging out with my brother and sister. What’s going on?”

Should he ask? He was going to bite the bullet. The worst that could happen was getting a no and if there was anything Mac was used to, it was getting rejected– from girls, schools, jobs, sometimes life– but it was good for growth. At least, that’s what his mentor said.

“There’s a Vallenato show happening on 19th. We were walking by and met the band. Would you like to check it out with me?” He sent it.

His stomach turned a bit and he was already thinking of “cool” ways to accept the rejection text message. “Oh, no problem. Maybe next time.” Or how about, “Oh! That’s cool. No worries. We’ll chat later.”

Buzz. Buzz. It was her.

“Sure! What time? And where do you want to meet?” He smiled wide.

“I’ll swing by to get you,” he texted back.

By that time it was already 8:30. He took the walk to her place. By the time they’d get back to the bar, it would be around show time.

His arrival to the house was not a secret one. The giant pitbull next door started barking as soon as he turned the corner. With that, there was no need to knock on the door, since Sara came out before he could get to the stoop.

“Hey!” she said, giving him a hug. “How’s it going?”

“Not to bad,” said Mac. “Ready to get going?”

“Yeah, let’s go.”

As they walked they talked about Sam’s lack of culture, the pizza battle and music.

“Oh, I’m so down with a classic Lou Malnati’s pizza,” she said. “My uncle took us there for the first time. It’s like a Chicago staple. You have to have Lou’s. But we get the thin crust.”

“Hey! Me, too!” said Mac, a little too excitedly. “I love it and although there are a lot of places that give it a run for its money, it’s still my favorite.”

“Plus,” she added, “real Chicagoans don’t even eat deep dish all the time! Thin is the way to go.”

They arrived at the bar and upon walking in, Rey came up to greet them.

¡Hola! ¿La bonita es tu novia?” he said asking if Sara was Mac’s girlfriend.

No, no. Solamente una amiga,” Mac said nervously.

Pues, hombre. ¿Qué te pasa?” Rey asked what his problem was– basically egging him on.

Soy Rey Márquez, mucho gusto,” he said extending his hand to Sara.

Hablo un poquito de español,” Sara smiled shyly. “Soy Sara Pérez.”

They sat down and ordered mojitos waiting for the music to begin, carrying on a conversation about how they’d never been to that bar for as long as they’d lived in the neighborhood.

As the music started, the night crept up on them. The music was calm, the storytelling was impeccable and the essence took Mac back to his excursion to Ecuador.

“This is great,” said Sara. “Thanks for inviting me.”

“Anytime,” Mac said.

It was the perfect way to end the day.

“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.