Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Chihuahua In Me



I'm afraid I'm going to start sounding like a broken record soon because how many more times can I write about what an angry, bitter, and resentful 20-something year-old I was? How my rage came out in unexpected places and my victims were innocent McDonald’s cashiers or Bank of America tellers? But that is who I was back then, so I suggest you get used to hearing some crazy stories. I also choose to see the humor in the insane antics of my youth and reflect on them as something to laugh about now rather than beat myself up for them. I would also like to add that I have 100% proof that there is a God, because if there wasn’t, my now-husband would have left my ass a long, long time ago.

I am not a tall girl. I am only 5’2” and in my early 20’s I weighed 105lbs. My attitude at the time though made me feel 6’5” and 275lbs. In my mind, I was the Incredible Hulk. In reality, I was a yappy, little Chihuahua.

Shortly after DJ and I became a couple, he had the privilege of witnessing my rage firsthand. As I mentioned in the last two posts (here and here), just before we started dating, he had been going out with a “troubled” girl. What I meant by “troubled” was that she lived in a group home for girls, literally just down the street from his house. He broke up with her to be with me.

Well, these girls would pass by DJ’s house in their group home van and yell obscenities at him on his ex-girlfriend’s behalf. One time, I happened to be outside with DJ when the van drove by. They started cursing at me and calling me names. Naturally, I yelled and cursed back. DJ was mortified at my behavior. (Especially because I did it in front of his parents who were outside with us too.) The van came to a halt and popped into reverse. I thought “Oh shit.” I had flashbacks of my grade school days and the bullies who tormented me and that one wannabe gang-banger in particular, La Sparkles, who had made 6th grade unbearable.

The van stopped in front of the house and I continued my yelling rampage while DJ and his mom and dad tried to shut me up and had to physically hold me back from approaching the van. If it hadn’t been for the three of them, the headline would have read: “Van-load of Angry Latina Girls Beat Up A Fellow Angry Latina Girl”. I have to ask DJ what he remembers of the incident, but I believe one of the girls (not the ex-girlfriend) got out of the van to threaten me while I shouted “&%$#  YOU!!!!” at the top of my lungs.


Needless to say, DJ was NOT happy with me. I’m sure he wondered what the hell kind of monster he was dating. I was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In the two years of knowing each other, as well as our summer-long close friendship, he had never seen my Mr. Hyde side. I was unapologetic though. I felt completely entitled to have the reaction I had had. “How dare those hookers start shit with me!? They don’t know who they’re messing with! I will tear them up!” DJ and I argued as I cried and defended myself and swore I had done nothing wrong. He disagreed.

When I wasn’t livin’ la vida loca, DJ and I were having fun. We were inseparable. We saw each other every single day. And that is not an exaggeration. We were attached at the hip. I needed him and he needed me. DJ has always said that I am the only person he doesn’t get sick of. He has always been an independent, lone-ranger type, but he claims I was the first person he ever met that he actually wanted to have around and didn’t look forward to getting rid of after a few hours.

Of course all this togetherness business didn’t sit well with the grown-ups in our lives. My aunt and uncle were “concerned” that I was spending what they saw as an unhealthy amount of time with my new boyfriend. They started imposing new rules on me. I went from not having a strict curfew to having a 10:00pm weekday curfew and a 1:00AM weekend curfew. I also suddenly could no longer talk on the phone after 9:00pm. Eventually, DJ was also limited on how often he could visit and he was given “visiting hours” (I don’t remember what they were, but it was something like “not before 12:00pm” and “can only stay for two hours” and “has to leave by 9:00pm”)

I was not happy with these new rules and limitations. I had finally found the love of my life and someone who I felt truly accepted me for me. I had always been able to be my 100% authentic self with DJ and that was something so special to me. I never had to pretend to be anything I wasn’t. And although our love was fresh and new, I believed that this was the real deal and I knew I had found my soulmate and the man I would someday marry. So, to be told that I couldn’t spend every waking moment with him, made me miserable and of course, (all together now) angry!

Despite my dismay, I knew I couldn’t ruffle too many feathers because after all, I was a guest in my aunt and uncle’s home. I did my best to abide by the new rules, but I admit that it was very challenging. On Thanksgiving, two months after DJ and I started dating, my uncle told me that I was not allowed to leave to go visit DJ after dinner. Mind you, the year before, after Thanksgiving dinner was over, my cousin and I had gone dancing at one of our favorite clubs, Carnivale’s in Fullerton. I found it preposterous that my uncle was controlling what I could do after I had already fulfilled my family obligations on Thanksgiving. I took it as a personal attack on DJ and me.

On Christmas Eve (the most important holiday in the Hispanic culture), I briefly visited DJ during the day because we both knew that neither of us would be allowed to leave our families that evening. We decided to privately exchange Christmas gifts in his truck. I gave him a gold bracelet (go ahead, laugh) that cost me $40. I was very broke that Christmas as I was no longer working multiple jobs. As a result, my gifts to my family were on the cheap side. So spending $40 on one gift was astronomical for me. But DJ was worth it and I really wanted to give him something special to show him what he meant to me. (Looking back I now see that I also managed to unintentionally make him look like a Guido.)

Shortly after Christmas, DJ came over to visit and my aunt noticed his bracelet. She immediately questioned where he had gotten it. DJ innocently told her I had given it to him. I knew she wouldn’t be pleased that I had given him such a “lavish” gift when everyone else in my family had gotten inexpensive costume jewelry and knick knacks from me. I panicked and blurted out that I had only paid $30 for it (I lied by $10). I knew she didn’t believe me when she told DJ to be careful to not let it turn his arm green if it was in fact such a cheap bracelet.

Things at my aunt and uncle’s house got progressively worse for me. They outright didn’t approve of DJ and me. My aunt tried to talk sense into me and make me see what she perceived as all his “flaws”. The so-called “flaws” were nothing that I would consider a reason to dump a boyfriend, even to this day. The list of complaints that I remember were the following: “He’s too quiet and shy. He doesn’t participate in conversations with the family. He isn’t outgoing like the rest of the family. He doesn’t fit in. He wants to spend way too much time with you. He works for his dad…” On the outside, I would defend DJ to my aunt and cousins. In my opinion, he was a great guy with a huge heart who treated me like a princess. On the inside, I was so disappointed that DJ wasn’t living up to my family’s expectations. I desperately wanted them to love him and accept him and see what I saw. My solution was simple: Change DJ!

The DJ I fell in love with and the DJ I wanted my family to fall in love with were two different people. In fact, the second DJ didn’t exist. But oh how I tried to create him. “DJ, you’re too quiet around my family! You need to speak up.” “DJ, you need to find a different job.” “DJ, you need to have a bigger personality when you’re around my family.” And when he would let me know that my requests were outrageous, I would get angry. I thought I was doing him huge favors in trying to change him and make him more like what my family wanted for me in a boyfriend. He saw it as me not accepting him for who he was and putting my family’s opinions first; trying to please them. He was right.

Sometime in early February 1991 I started complaining to my dad about how bad things had gotten for me at my aunt and uncle’s house. At this point, it had been 15 months that I had been living away from home. I missed my dad, my old house, my privacy, and having my own room. My dad suggested I could move back in with him. I was ecstatic at the possibility of getting away from the stress that I was living under with my aunt and uncle over their disapproval of my relationship with DJ. I came home and mentioned to my aunt the conversation I had had with my dad. She thought it sounded like a good idea and that I should go for it. We decided that in three weeks (at the end of February) I would move out.

The next day, I came home after class to find my aunt alone at home waiting for me. She told me we needed to talk. She had heard through a family member that I had told my dad how miserable I was living there and so she thought it was best that I leave as soon as possible so as to no longer have any of them (aunt, uncle, cousins) impose on my happiness. I was utterly shocked. Flabbergasted. Heartbroken. Overwhelmed with emotional pain.

My head started spinning as I tried to figure out who to blame; whose eyes to gouge out. I denied that I was as unhappy as she had heard. “I never said that!” “I didn’t mean it like that!” “That’s not what I said!” I lied through my teeth to try to save myself and salvage the little bits of the relationships that I had left with my aunt, uncle, and cousins. But it was pointless because in my family (as I’ve mentioned before), you cross me = you’re dead to me (e.g.  I’m not speaking to you until I run into you at a funeral.)

I called DJ at some point to tell him what was going on and to ask him to help me move out. DJ was just as stunned as I was. He and his brother came over and waited in the truck as they watched me make trip after trip, back and forth to my car, loading it up with stacks of clothes and trashbags filled with shoes, books, make-up, bills, schoolwork, as well as boxes of all of my precious, sentimental belongings such as birthday cards from my mom and dad, family photo albums, high school notes and yearbooks, childhood dolls and baby clothes, Duran Duran scrapbooks, and my 1st Communion dress.

As the sun was setting, I loaded the last of my things into the back of DJ’s truck. No one in the house acknowledged my departure. No one said good-bye as I walked out the door and drove away. They treated me like I had committed an unforgiveable crime for voicing my discontentment to my father – the man whose house I had left to come live at theirs. I can only assume that they felt hurt and betrayed by me. We have never spoken about any of it, still to this day.

DJ and his brother followed me back to Santa Ana to my childhood home and helped me unload my car and bring all my things back into my old room. The room was just as I had left it. Unfortunately, the other thing that was also just as I had left it was my step-mother, Felicia.

*****

My uncle passed away in September 2012. He was my dad’s youngest brother and his last living sibling. When I heard of my uncle’s poor prognosis (He had about a month to live), I wrote him a letter thanking him for the sacrifice he and his family had made in giving me a place to stay when I needed one. I explained to him that as an adult with a family and a home of my own I could now truly understand and appreciate the depth of his generosity and nobility 20 years ago. I explained that I knew it was a long, overdue thank you but one I could no longer ignore.  Deep down, I also knew it was the peace I needed to make before he left this earth. Shortly after sending him the letter, I went to visit him. I made nervous small talk and I was grateful to have my daughter with me as an added distraction and conversation topic. As I was saying good-bye to my uncle, I hugged him hard and wept, knowing in my heart that this would be our last time together. I wondered if I should ask if he had received my letter. As if he had read my mind, he quietly whispered “Thank you for the letter.” We smiled at one another and I left.

As I try to find what the lessons in all these incidents were, I see them as lessons in acceptance; lessons in accepting people as they are; letting them be who they are; accepting that if someone is going to change, it will be on their own terms, not because you put a gun to their head; lessons in accepting that life is unpredictable and out of our control and things don’t always turn out as we planned; lessons in accepting that we can’t please everyone all the time and sometimes the most important person to please is ourselves; lessons in accepting that sometimes our words can come back to bite us in the ass; lessons in accepting my truth and speaking my truth, even when it means my life might unravel.  

The Chihuahua in me has been dying a slow death over the last 15+ years. She’s still there and she still likes to bark and yap and make a lot of noise from time to time, but I’ve got her pretty well-trained now and she settles down quickly. The good news is that she no longer chases after Group Home vans.

The fine-looking bracelet I bought for DJ

DJ gave me a promise ring that Christmas.

It no longer fits my chubby finger.

Apparently after we exchanged gifts in the truck, we went shopping.
I think DJ paid for this outfit for me.

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