Saturday, December 27, 2014

Just Remember...

On the morning of Christmas Eve, the phone rang as I was putting away dishes. It was my cousin Charlie calling from Buenos Aires. Charlie is about 20 years older than me. I met him when I was about five-years –old when he came to visit the USA for the first time. I remember I developed a huge crush on my then-25-year-old cousin. He was charming, funny, sweet, loving, and playful with me. He made me feel like I mattered and I knew he loved me.

Each time we visited Argentina, we stayed at my aunt and uncle’s place, where Charlie lived. When I met his girlfriend, Cindy, who later became his wife, I fell in love with her too. She was kind, beautiful, and always treated me like a princess. Over the years, I became very close to Charlie and Cindy. They were there for me when I lost my mom. They supported me when I was dating Robbie. They were just amazing people that I felt so blessed to have in my life, even if only long-distance. Going back home to California was always difficult for me, even before I had Robbie, because I was always sad to leave Charlie and Cindy behind. They’d cry, I’d cry, and our hearts would break with every good-bye at the airport. While we were away, Cindy and I would write often. They were really like another set of siblings for me.

Then life happened…My mom died. I broke up with Robbie, and I stopped traveling to Buenos Aires. I went from visiting Argentina practically every year for eight years when I was a kid to spending seven years without going. In those seven years, I didn’t forget about my cousins, but I didn’t do a good job of keeping in touch either. When I returned in 1995 for the first time in seven years, I discovered that the closeness I felt with Charlie and Cindy remained intact. It was pretty amazing and pleasantly surprising at the same time. We were able to pick up where we left off and spend quality time together catching up on life.

Five years later, in 2000, after DJ and I suffered the loss of Gabriel, our first baby, we traveled to Buenos Aires at the suggestion of my dad, who was living there at the time. It was DJ’s first time going to Argentina. He fell in love with all of it…the sights, the culture, the food, the people, just as I had as a little girl. He was especially taken though by the sincere warmth and kindness expressed to him by Charlie and Cindy. He finally understood what I had been telling him about them all those years. That was the last time I saw my dear cousins…over 14 years ago. But the beauty of it all is that despite the time it’s been since we last hugged, I know that if we saw each other tomorrow, it would be as though no time has passed. I know that no matter how long we are apart, we will always have our love.

Since Christmas Eve, I’ve been thinking that sometimes we forget how many people actually really love us. Sometimes we overlook the love around us from people other than our partner, children, and parents. Sometimes we don’t believe that we are as lovable as we really are. Sometimes we have genuine love right in front of us and we don’t recognize it. And sometimes we are deeply loved by people long-distance. I was so thankful on Christmas Eve to be reminded that I have someone like that.

The year was 1991. I had been out of High School and at the local community college three years. I had originally started college as a full-time student working part-time. But in the course of those three years, my priorities changed and I became a part-time student with a part-time job (and for a short time, I had multiple part-time jobs totaling 38 hours/week).

While I lived with my dad and Felicia, I worked part-time at my dad’s sandwich shop. (I had actually started working with him while I was still living with my aunt and uncle.) He had retired from his days as a locksmith and had invested in a sandwich shop – something completely different than he had ever done before. I hated working there, but it was easy money and most of all, I felt like it was my duty to help out my dad. 
After living under Felicia’s roof for six months, she announced to me that I would now be required to pay $100/month in rent. Gulp. I was only making $400/month at my dad’s deli. I was already paying for all of my bills – tuition, school books, gas, car insurance, phone, car repairs, and all of my essentials (clothing, toiletries, etc.). How was I going to spare $100/month? Aside from being angry that I was expected to pay rent, I was hurt that my dad didn’t come to my defense and tell Felicia to take a hike. Not only was I living in a home I hated, with a woman I detested, and in a room that disgusted and depressed me, but now I had to PAY to live there??!!

I daydreamed daily of living on my own, free from Felicia, free from anyone telling me what to do, free from anyone complaining about me, free from an ugly, gloomy bedroom. But I knew that dream required a lot more money than I was making. I also knew that dream meant giving up on school and finding a full-time job. And I wasn’t sure I wanted to fully give up on college just yet. I was just nine units shy of completing my general education requirements. But I occasionally looked in the paper and Penny Saver for want ads. “Receptionist For Hire” “Office Clerk Wanted” “Office Assistant Needed”. I called a few. I filled out a couple of applications. I waited for the phone to ring for interviews…but nothing. I took it as a sign that it wasn’t meant to be.

That Christmas of 1991 was my fourth month paying rent and Felicia shocked me with a random act of kindness when she returned the $100 check that I had given her just a day before. I was moved by her thoughtfulness and wondered if maybe she wasn’t as bad as I thought after all.

During the second week of January 1992, I became committed to finding a full-time job. My dad had sold his sandwich shop and I was out of a job. I had also come to the realization that it was time to put school on hold and move out once and for all. I was fighting a lot with my dad and it was just a tense and unpleasant home environment. I also knew it was going to be impossible for me to ever afford an apartment in Orange County all on my own. Sadly though, I didn’t know a single soul at the time who needed a roommate. How was I going to make it on my own if I couldn’t afford rent? I spent a lot of time pressuring DJ to move out with me, but he wasn’t interested. Life at home was pretty easy for him and he was also going to school and working part-time. Honestly, I also think he was probably afraid to move out with me. Don’t forget, I was psycho back then, so why would he want to live full-time with a lunatic? Smart guy.

On January 24, just a little more than a week after I had quietly started my job-search, Felicia said she needed to talk to me when I handed her my rent check. She announced “I think you should move out in about a month and half.” What I heard though was “You need to move, bitch.” I couldn’t believe my ears. She knew I was jobless. She knew I had been paying her rent. She knew I had hardly been making enough to save, but she wanted me out by the end of February – my one year anniversary of living there with her. 

I was literally speechless. I couldn’t open my mouth because of the giant knot in my throat holding back the screams and tears that I felt building up inside. Felicia went on to say that she and my dad needed their privacy and that she had given me a place to stay long enough but now it was time to go. She also said she believed that a month and a half was plenty of time to find a job and move out but that if I needed two months, she wouldn’t rush me. BUT two months was the longest I could stay. (Her generosity was inspiring! NOT!) The whole time she spoke, my lip quivered as I tried to keep myself from crying. All I could muster was a whisper as I repeated over and over “I understand.” Felicia told me that she didn’t want me to go around announcing “Felicia kicked me out.” She was simply asking me to leave. It was nothing against me. I would still be welcome to visit or house-sit when she and my dad were on vacation. It was just a matter of them needing their privacy.

I went to my room and called DJ to tell him to please come quickly to pick me up. He drove over as fast as he could not knowing what had happened. Once I got in his truck, I let it all out. I bawled my eyes out and cried that animalistic wail that comes from deep within. (I wrote in my journal that my sobbing reminded me of how I had been at my mom’s funeral.) I wondered how it was possible that this was my life? What was God doing to me? How was I being kicked out of yet another home?  Or, excuse me…being asked to leave. DJ was shocked and furious. He felt awful and helpless.

That evening  I went a little nuts. Okay, not a little. A lot. It’s really all a blur. I just remember my head spinning out of control, imagining what was going to become of me in six weeks. At some point, I told DJ to pull over so I could get out of his truck and walk. I needed to clear my head but it was an impossible task. I don’t know what defines a “nervous breakdown” but I think that night would qualify as me having had one. There was no reasoning with me; no consoling me; no comforting me. DJ tried as much as he could, but it was no use. The sadness, anger, pain, and rage in me were in full effect. I felt like I was going crazy.

My journal…”All I kept thinking was that I have nowhere to go, no job, no money, no furniture, NO NOTHING. I had never felt so much stress at once in my life. No matter how hard I tried to get it out of my head, I couldn’t. I was completely overwhelmed by everything she had said. When DJ brought me home, I couldn’t get to sleep. I was awake until 4:00AM.” 

I also silently wished Felicia dead. Truly. I am not proud to admit it, but it is the absolute truth. It was the only thing I could think of that would have been an immediate solution to my misery. I was scared out of my mind at what was going to happen; what would become of me. How was I going to find a job, find an apartment I could afford, come up with first and last month’s rent, buy furniture – or at least a bed, and not to mention the rest of what one needs to live – a refrigerator, housewares, etc., in SIX WEEKS? I know it may sound over-dramatic and hard to believe, but it was the most scared I have ever felt in my life. 

As Charlie and I prepared to hang up on Christmas Eve, he sarcastically said…”You know that I love you only a little bit, right?” I giggled and said “Yes, just a little bit. The same little bit that I love you.” When we hung up, I began to cry happy tears, thinking of all the beautiful, sweet things Charlie said to me throughout our conversation. I thought how wonderful it is to feel so loved. I thought about how love shows up in unexpected places and that often we forget how deeply we are truly loved by more people than we realize. We often spend so much time chasing after love and approval from those we believe are “supposed” to love us that we neglect to remember the love that is already there. Weeping in my kitchen, I remembered what Wyatt Webb said to Madonna Badger while she was grieving the loss of her parents and daughters…”find someone to love you.” This is what he was talking about. My cousin’s call on Christmas Eve was that love.

I forget that I’ve always had love in my life from all sorts of people. As my life was unraveling in 1992, I lost sight of that love. I didn’t believe I deserved to suffer but I felt that I was destined to have a difficult life. I didn’t want to be a burden to anyone and I think I was too proud to ask for help. Or maybe it was a fear of vulnerability and rejection that kept me from asking. All I know is that at the time, I felt alone and unloved but the truth is, I wasn’t either. I had my brother and sister who would have taken me in. I had good friends I could have crashed with. I am sure that DJ’s family would have stepped up as well. It’s not like I was actually going to end up living in my car or on the streets. But at the time, I had tunnel vision and all I could see was the hatred between Felicia and me. I couldn’t see the love in my life from others. 

The phone call from my cousin was a big flashing reminder to me: Don’t forget how deeply loved you are, Jackie. The revelation that came to me was that even when your life feels like it’s falling apart, you need to remember that you are loved. We all are. We just have to remember.

2/1/92 - Celebrating DJ's 21st Birthday
with his siblings and cousins at The Red Onion

The day after Felicia kicked me out
was DJ's 21st birthday. Despite my depression,
we went out dancing to a latin nightclub.
All I keep wondering is why the hell he ordered
a Strawberry Daquiri??? LOL!

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