Monday, September 29, 2014

What Loss Left Behind

In my last post, I said that good things result from our bad experiences. If we pay attention, we will recognize that in every bad situation we are faced with, something good happens because of it. I have had a lot of bad experiences in my lifetime, but I also feel that I’ve gained a lot from all of them. For me, the best thing that has come from all of the difficulties in my life has been personal growth.

Two of my favorite qualities that resulted from the challenges I’ve endured are empathy and compassion.  I haven’t educated myself on these two qualities, but I’m assuming they are learned/can be taught. Maybe some of us are more inclined to be empathetic and compassionate, but I think we all possess the ability to become them. I think it is greatly due to empathy and compassion that I have connected on so many levels with so many different people in my life.

It is in my nature to try to put myself in other people’s shoes. I try to imagine what it must feel like to be them. Doing so, also helps me to minimize judgment because when you try to picture what it would feel like to be in someone else’s situation, it makes it harder to judge them for their choices because we actually, really don’t know what we would do until we go through the experience ourselves. So many times I have said “Oh, if that happened to me, I would do XYZ and I definitely wouldn’t do ABC! And so many times, it turns out that when I’m confronted with the exact scenario I imagined, I end up doing 123 and ABC and saying “$#@% I was so wrong!!”

My friend Sara recently sent me a video on empathy. It’s voiced by none other than my hero, BrenĂ© Brown. It’s only two+ minutes long but perfectly captures the definition of empathy. Please watch it. My hope is that next time a friend comes to you with an issue, you will remember this. RSA Shorts - The Power of Empathy

And in case you're wondering, here are the definitions of empathy and compassion from the online Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Empathy: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.

Compassion: sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it.

Sometime in early October 1988 (before the Halloween party where I met my future husband), I had the rare chance to talk to Robbie on the phone. (Back then, not everyone in Buenos Aires had the luxury of having a phone and if they did, the cost to make a long distance call was astronomical. Robbie didn’t have a phone line at home. I think I used to call him at his Grandmother’s house and sometimes at my aunt’s house who was his next door neighbor.) Anyway, I believe this phone call was our second reconciliation attempt in the six months we had been broken up. Robbie admitted that he still loved me and wanted to start over again with me. At first I was ecstatic, but the more he said, the more turned off I became. He told me that I needed to win him over again; he wanted me to butter him up with extra letters, pictures, and cards in order to make him fall back in love with me. (That comment upset me so much back then and now I realize why. It made me feel like I had to prove that I was worthy of love.) He also told me that he couldn’t guarantee how he would react once I was right there in front of him because of knowing that I had dated other guys since we had broken up. (He didn’t know who or how many but he imagined a line of guys at my door. In truth, I had only dated one guy...David the Dickhead.) I tried to be understanding and I agreed to his request of extra letters, etc. During that phone call, we eventually became all lovey-dovey and I regained hope for our future. I was the happiest girl in the world hearing him say that as much as he had tried to forget me, he just couldn’t because his love for me was stronger than his ability to let me go. <SIGH>

For almost two months I wrote letter after letter; sent extra cards and pictures just as he had asked me to do. I waited and waited and waited some more but I never got anything in return. By the end of those two months, I gave up. I decided to leave everything alone for a while.

In the meantime, I continued with my studies at Cypress College; continued having fun, going dancing, partying with my new group of friends; went on dates here and there with guys from school or boys I met at work. I was leading a pretty typical 18-year-old’s life – minus a mom.

In February 1989 my heart shattered into a million little pieces as I walked into a big Catholic church to wait for my dad and Felicia’s wedding ceremony to begin. I know people normally cry at weddings, but my tears were for a whole different reason. It was surreal to see my dad standing at the altar waiting for his bride to come down the aisle. What. The. Fuck. I mean, seriously, what the hell was happening??? I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was like a big horror movie come to life for me. At this point my mom had been gone two and half years but it seemed like eons had passed since I had last hugged her or heard her voice. At the time, I still hadn’t honed my compassion and empathy qualities. All I was thinking was “How can he do this to me?” And I was definitely judging him left and right. The wedding is a blur. I don’t remember any of it really. The reception was blah. I don’t remember that either. The only thing I remember is what I was wearing and that’s only because of a picture I have.
I still have those earrings. I loved them because they
reminded me of the ones Whitney Houston wore
in the video for The Greatest Love Of All

At this point it had also been a year since I had been working at the cute Flower and Card Shop. I loved my job, my co-workers, and my boss. It was so nice to work somewhere I actually enjoyed. I made friends with many of my co-workers and we would hang out outside of work. Looking back, I really think that my social life is what kept me afloat during such tumultuous times. Being with people who could make me laugh, dance with me, keep me company, connect with me…it all gave me a sense of normalcy and played a huge part in maintaining my sanity. Because truth be told, between life at home with the wicked, wretched witch and my cranky dad, my grief for my mom, and my broken heart for Robbie, life kinda-sorta stunk.

Life got exceptionally worse in October 1989 when my dad and I had our biggest argument to date and it resulted in me moving out right then and there. (Felicia told on me for not saying “hi” to her when I had come home and the argument with my dad spiraled out of control while she hid in the bathroom like a coward. Bitch.) Luckily, I already had a suitcase packed because I was leaving for Maui the very next morning, so that worked out nicely...pfft. That night, I drove like a hysterical lunatic (or however you describe the craziest of crazy persons crying while driving) to my aunt and uncle’s house. The next morning my cousin drove me to the airport to meet my sister and her husband in Maui. That vacation couldn’t have come at a better time. I obviously needed to relax and de-stress and temporarily forget what I had left behind. More importantly, that trip gave me life-long memories of fun with my sister.
I was still my goofy self in Maui. These photos
are a sharp contrast to the reality of my life at the time.
As I drove out of the rental place. Seconds later I was lying
on the side of the road after an unsuccessful attempt
at a U-Turn. Notice no helmet either.
I only wore it for goofy pictures.
Hey Felicia! How's this for fancy?

Returning from Maui was very hard because I knew life was going to change once again for me. I moved back in with my aunt and uncle and cousins because it was where I felt most comfortable. It was also more convenient to live there since my school and work were nearby. Unfortunately, my part-time job didn’t pay me enough to pay for rent anywhere and I didn’t know anyone who needed a roommate.  But even if I had, I don’t think I would have been brave enough to venture on my own. I needed the feeling of a somewhat normal home-life. I needed my aunt to play surrogate mom to me and I liked talking to her and hearing her advice.

I didn’t speak to my dad for a couple of months. I missed him greatly and despite the ugly way things had ended, I longed to see him and have him hug me. Just days before Christmas, I worked up the courage and called him. He acted like nothing had happened, which absolutely floored me and infuriated me too. We caught up and made small talk but then I couldn’t take it anymore and in my typical fashion, I pointed out the elephant in the room. He denied the elephant. He didn’t remember seeing it and so there was no point in talking about it. AAAGGGHHH!!! And if you know me, nothing makes me crazier than being made to feel crazy.

So I had to ask myself what was more important – a relationship with my dad or proving him wrong and me being right? I chose the relationship. So on Christmas, I visited my dad and from what I can remember we had a nice time. They say absence makes the heart fonder, and it proved to be true for me for sure. That day, one of the Christmas gifts I received was the news that Robbie had gotten married. MARRIED! Did you hear me? Robbie got married and it wasn’t to me! OMG! I ran to the bathroom and sobbed. That day I also resumed my grieving for the boy I had now permanently lost.

For months and months after hearing the news of Robbie’s marriage, I talked and thought about him non-stop. I couldn’t believe that my dream of walking off into the sunset with him one day was absolutely, without a doubt, never going to happen. I was stuck in that “denial” stage of grief. I just couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that I would never fly back to Buenos Aires to see him EVER AGAIN. Because in my fantasy-la-la land I saw myself one day having our fairytale love story come back to life. But this marriage thing had thrown a ginormous wrench in my fantasy! I thought, Quick, Jackie! Think of a new fantasy! Oh, I know! How about Robbie realizes that he’s made a horrible mistake, divorces his wife, and shows up in the U.S. for me? Nah. I don’t want that. Oh, how about my dad misunderstood my cousin and Robbie really didn’t marry the girl! He’s only engaged and he can still be mine! Nah, not the case.  What did turn out to be the case (I found this out a few months after Christmas) was that Robbie was going to be a father. <Insert tear-jerking violin music and knife in my heart here>

By May 1990, I was still licking my wounds but also eager to find new love. I accepted a date with a customer I met at work. He was a sweet guy who came in regularly to buy flowers for his grandma?? (I don’t remember. I’m just making that up.) Anyway, I went on the date not because I was into him but because it had been exactly a year since I had gone out with anyone and I just wanted to feel special and I liked having someone interested in me. That date didn’t turn into anything but it gave me the confidence I needed to put myself back out there and stop dwelling and obsessing so much on what I had lost with Robbie. I knew I had a lot of love to give. I just had to find someone to love and who would love me back.


Writing my story and recalling memories I had buried or forgotten so long ago, brings up some of the emotions that I felt at the time. But the good news is that although I can allow myself to feel the anger and disappointment I felt toward my dad; the rage I felt toward Felicia; the pain I felt toward Robbie; the loneliness and sadness I felt toward my mom, I am also able to also see how all of these experiences served me in becoming who I am today. I see that I was able to heal and move forward in life when I really didn’t think I could survive another day of grieving for all that I had lost – my mom, my relationship with my dad, my boyfriend, my home, and the happy life I had once had. Most of all, I can put myself in the shoes of someone who has suffered a loss because I, too, have lost so much. The losses didn’t take everything though. They left behind two very important gifts: Empathy and Compassion. And for that I am grateful.
My 20th Birthday at the Flower and Card Shop

August 1990 - Friday night fun at CVS with co-workers
Notice the giant can of Saline Solution. Remember those?

Despite the turmoil and chaos in my life at the time,
I still managed to have fun with my friends. They were
the distraction I needed and allowed me to escape reality
even if only temporarily.


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