Sweet Home Chicago: “Part IV – Family Reunion”

Love Love Love
Love Love Love (Photo credit: Gregory Jordan)

I have never thought of myself as hopeless romantic. I don’t think that I fit that billing.  I may have some romantic tendencies or leanings, but I would not claim that I was the kind of fool that believes in love above all manner of reason. Perhaps I’m a bit too jaded to think that way. Damaged goods, such as myself, are too bruised up to achieve that level of romanticism. To be a hopeless romantic I think its necessary to have a level of naivete that can only come from the comforts of a relatively sheltered life. It requires a certain amount of suspension of disbelief. To trust in the inherent good nature of your fellow man. And you have to genuinely believe that when you meet that someone that makes your little cynical heart skip a beat, that they will forgo their own sense of self preservation, and dedicate their entire existence to you; just because they see something in you that goes beyond anything you ever saw in yourself. I’ve met many wonderful souls in my life. People that are good natured, hard working, loving, and compassionate folks. The proverbial salt of the earth. Yet in the 35 years that I’ve been flying on Spaceship Earth, I’ve only known one person that have ever looked me straight in the eye and made me feel like they had forgone their own sense of self preservation because they thought I was worth it.

When the future wifey and I started talking on the phone over a decade ago it felt like the entire world had come to a complete stop. Nothing else mattered. I didn’t care about current events. There was no war on terror. There was nothing going on in the realm of pop culture that was remotely more interesting than what the wifey had to say. Hundreds of hours were spent on the phone just yapping away. My brother would sometimes leave for work early in the afternoon and would come back several hours later only to find me in the same position still talking with her. We would call each other every night, right before we would go to sleep, just because we wanted to make sure that the last thing we heard that night would be each others voice. Jess would often fall asleep while on the phone, and I would whisper to her good night. She would then wake up and plead that she was still awake and not to hang up. We spoke 9 hours in a row once. We shared so many great laughs. We shared so many painful memories. It was if we had been ignored by the world all of our lives and now all of a sudden we had found someone in each other that wanted to hear what we had to say. And now we couldn’t shut up.

I couldn’t get enough of Jess. Every conversation made me yearn  for her all the more. And knowing that she was 805 miles away ( I know this because I had Mapquested it) just amplified the feeling all the more. Naturally the more we spoke the more comfortable I felt opening up about my family and its rough past. I remeber sharing with the wifey some of the painful experiences I had gone through with my father. About the drug addiction, the arguments, the ugly confrontations, plus the occasional humiliations. It was not at all out of character to hear Jess sniffeling and blowing her nose after recounting some of my personal horror stories. She never quite knew what to say. That’s never been her forte. But she would always say in the saddest voice that she could muster, with what I often pictured being tears streaming down from her beautiful face, how sorry she was that I had to go through that. I would laugh it off and say that it was no big woop. Just something that happened. That I was a big boy and that it no longer phased me. Off course I was lying.

But I didn’t share just sad stories. I would also tell her about some of my fondest memories about my father and mother and the rest of my siblings. Pleasant memories that ebduced big fat smiles on my face. Memories that I had not bothered to think about for years because I had grown so comfortable focusing on the bad ones. Jess enjoyed my happy tales. Especially the ones that dealt about my misadventures as a kid. Like the time when I was 12 years old, and I punched my dad so hard in the groin, after one of our wrestling matches, that my dad had to get one of his doctor friends to do a house call and check on his badly bruised family jewels. He wasn’t able to go to work let alone walk straight for about a week.

She laughed at my ridiculous stories. I think that was when Jess started to hear something in my voice, something that I either had not realized was there or that I had chosen to ignore. She heard the affection that I still had for my dad. I recall the wifey asking me, “You still love him don’t you?” I guess I did.

Don’t you think it’s time you forgave him?” she once asked. I forgave him a long time ago I told her. I just rather not deal with him, that’s all. “I don’t know Tom. I think enough time has passed for you two to make nice.” I would tell her, “look luv I get why you would say that. And I appreciate what you are trying to do here. But you don’t know my dad. He will find a way to fuck things up. And I honestly rather not have to deal with it. It’s not worth it. Some people can’t be helped. My dad will just find someway to screw me over. I rather not have to deal with another let down”. That was really my reason. It is madness to go through the same song and dance number time and time again and to somehow expect different results.

But Jess would not be so easily swayed. She felt deep down in her heart that if I made peace with my dad that it would all somehow work out. Perhaps she sensed that I secretly wanted to make amends with the old man after 3 years of silence. Or perhaps she just felt that if she managed to get my dad and I back together it would make her feel really good about herself. Whatever her reasons where she made sure to insist that I reconsider my stance.

If anyone had suggested something as hopeless as me and my dad making peace, I would have laughed right in front of their face. I knew the man. I knew his nature. I knew I couldn’t trust him. Not because he was evil man beyond redemption. But because he was sick. And sick people can’t help themselves sometimes. But I ignored my own sense of self preservation. I allowed myself to suspend disbelief. I threw out 23 years of personal experience. And allowed myself to trust in the inherent goodness of my fellow man. All because of her. I wanted to believe what she believed. I wanted to make her happy. And by making her happy I would be making myself happy. And who knew. Maybe this time things would actually work out for the best. Maybe it was time for me and my dad to bury the hatchet. Maybe we could let go of the past and start a new. Yeah, maybe, just maybe this might be good for me.

On a warm sunny day in July of 2002 I saw my dad coming up the block with my sister. He was dropping my sister off after a weekend visit. I went downstairs and met them at the door. My dad was somewhat surprised to see me standing there. I smiled and asked him if he wanted to come upstairs for a bit. He hesitated. I think he was wondering if I was going to ambush him in someway. I smiled some more. I assured him that it was ok. That I wanted to speak with him. My dad nodded and followed my sister and I up the stairs. It had been 3 years since I had last uttered a word to the man. You would think that we would have had a books worth of material to talk about. But oddly enough we were both not quite sure what to say next. After a few minutes worth of awkward small talk I grew the cojones to tell my dad why I had invited him up. I told him I was ready to let go of the past. That I was sorry for the way I had treated him the last time we had been in the same room. That I was ashamed that I got so out of control and that I had pushed him. I also told him that I forgave him for everything that happened. That I knew he wasn’t a bad man. That things sometimes we allow life to get messed up. And that I was willing to let it all go and make a brand new start if he was willing to do the same. My dad smiled. He told me there are things that I will not understand until I am a father, but that he would love me and always be there for me for as long as he lived. We hugged that day. We tried to do our best to let go off all the baggage that we both carried. It wasn’t so easy. There were times when I could hear hints of anger in both our voices when we we talked about specific events. But we were able to keep our cool. Anytime one of us got a little heated we were able to defuse the situation by either changing the subject or taking a nice deep breath.

It felt good talking with my dad again. For a split second I imagined that maybe, just maybe things would be different. I remember thinking how wonderful life was. I had this great girl in my life that was crazy about me. And my dad was back in my life. Everything was falling into place. I was allowing myself to breath again. For the first time in years I was feeling optimistic about the future. And I had the wifey to thank for it all. I called her up that night and told her what I had done. That I had spoken to my dad just like she had suggested. And that surprisingly it all turned out pretty well. I even told her that my dad and I had agreed to go see a movie together. There was a new Tom Hanks. It was called Road to Perdition. It was a gangster flick. It looked cool. He had seen the commercial and wanted to see it too. So we were going to catch it the following weekend. Jess was so happy for me. She couldn’t help herself and kept saying  “I told ou so. I knew it would work out.” I smiled. Yeah maybe it would.

To be Continued: Sweet Home Chicago: Part V – On the Road to Perdition

Did I do Thaaaat?

English: This "Burning Paper" was cr...
English: This “Burning Paper” was created in Photoshop CS5. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I have mentioned previously folks with ADHD are often an impulsive bunch. We buy stuff on a whim without thinking if it fits within our budget. We commit ourselves to task without taking a moment to reflect on how much time and effort it will require of us to see the commitment through. We also have a tendency of blurting out things that most people would consider inappropriate. Like the telling of a rather crude joke at a respectable dinner party or making an insensitive comment without stopping to think how the recipient of said comment might feel about it. So as you can see we aren’t the best decision makers. This lack of a personal firewall also make it easier for folks like me to share these very personal stories with the rest of you without really giving it a second thought. It is only once we have opened our big fat mouths do we kick ourselves in the ass for doing so in the first place. But by then the damage is done and we are left wishing that a black hole would suddenly develop over our heads and suck us through it’s singularity. Maybe if we are lucky the black hole will transport us into alternate dimension where almost everyone has ADHD and the ones that aren’t making a complete ass of themselves on a regular basis are the ones considered to have a mental disorder.

I remember there was this one time when I was about 7 years old. My mom, younger brother, and I were staying with my Aunt and her family at her house in Puerto Rico. About 100 feet from where we were staying was the little shack that my mother and her 3 older siblings grew up in with my grandmother. My tio (uncle) Cano was actually staying in the shack at the time. So I would go and walk on over from my aunts house to the shack to pay my uncle regular visits. Tio Cano was a pretty cool laid back fella. Often times I would walk over only to find him laying down on a hammock inside the shack picking the strings on his favorite Spanish guitar. I would often ask him to play a song and he would humor me with a few tunes that sounded ancient to my young ears. I also liked going over to pay Tio Cano regular visits because he would actually rough house with me just like my dad would when I was living in Brooklyn. I guessed I missed getting roughed up a bit. My mom and aunt would get a bit upset when they saw me wrestling with my uncle that way. They felt I was being disrespectful to my uncle for fighting back. Plus I’m sure there was the added fear of me falling down and breaking something. But I was a young boy and playing rough is what I loved to do.

Then one day I go and pay my uncle a visit. I found him laying on the hammock where he always seemed to be. Only that this time he was sound asleep. Now every time we roughed house he got the better of me. After all I was only 7 and he was a good 40 years older than me. But seeing that he was off in dreamland made me realize that for once I had the upper hand on him.  I made up my mind that I was gonna get him back for always wiping the floor with me all those other times. So I quietly made my way into the shack and walk over to the makeshift kitchen area. I spotted a long piece of paper towel, grabbed it, took it to the stove, and lit it on fire. I then rushed over to my unsuspecting uncle and placed the lit up piece of paper right on his chest.

Now I don’t know if he awoke due to the pain of having a nice size flame burning through his t-shirt or if it was my hysterical giggling that did the job but either way i’m sure that the last thing he expected to see when he woke that day was his chest to be on fire. Naturally the man was so startled by the flames that he tried to leap out of the hammock but the sudden move caused the hammock to flip over; tossing my poor uncle on the ground with a large heavy thud. It was safe to say that I just about saw all I needed to see and took off like a tubby Usain Bolt straight to the relative safety of my Aunts abode.

I come through the door and ran past my mom at full sprint. I immediately barricaded myself in the bedroom we were staying at. My mom didn’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out that I had just finished running away from something I shouldn’t have done. So she immediately starts to yell out “Tomasito get your ass back here? What did you do?” I did what every kid does when he finds himself in a tight spot; I feigned complete ignorance. I shouted through the door “Nothing ma! I swear.” Of course as soon as I said that I could hear my uncle cursing my name every which way he knew how as he made his way from the shack over to my aunts house. I was scared. I knew I was about to get the ass whooping of my short life. Remember this is the mid 80’s. It was still socially acceptable to beat your kid within an inch of his or her life if they did anything that brought embarrassment upon the parents. I felt so stupid for doing it. What the hell was I thinking. I mean yes I was rather young but most kids at that age still know that it is not a good idea to lite their uncles on fire. What exactly happened to me after that I can’t quite recall. I know my mom gave me a good whooping once she got her hands on me. I also recall my uncle feeling bad for me and telling my mom that I had suffered enough. But after that it all becomes rather hazy. My best guess is that I just passed out from major blood loss suffered at the hands of my mother. That last part was a joke America.

My brain consistently fails to properly evaluate the potential consequences of my actions. I have spent $100 on a cheap samurai sword bought at an Asian shop at the North Riverside Mall just because I had the cash in my wallet. Or wasted $150 for a $75 electric guitar at Summerfest in Milwaukee, WI. I have intentionally shattered perfectly good working phones just because I didn’t have a legitimate excuse to buy a new one. I can safely say that I have tossed out thousands of my hard earned dollars purely on impulse buys. And even when I had some inclination that buying something wasn’t in my best interest I could not force myself to stop thinking about it until I finally caved in and bought it. Throwing fireballs at sleeping people and spending money isn’t the only way I have demonstrated poor judgment. My big fat mouth has gotten me in plenty of hot water before by either speaking out of turn or just saying something completely inappropriate. The thing is that I don’t ever mean to open my mouth I just sometimes blurt things out before I get a chance to process whether or not it is wise thing for me to do. Sometimes what I say leads to a good laugh amongst friends but every now I will say something that just ends in an uncomfortable silence; and it makes me wish that the earth would split open and swallow me whole. It’s not easy dealing with the impulsive aspects of my nature. And it has cost me more headaches and dollars than I care to remember at this time. But I am getting better at policing myself. Plus the wifey is around to make my life a living hell if I get out of line so that serves as a pretty big incentive to stay disciplined. I just wish I didn’t have to exert so much energy just to do the right thing.

In My Nightmares

In my nightmares\ I am hunted by visions of an ideal life never lived\ played in HD\ before my minds eye\ In my nightmares\ my mind isn’t dull\ or scattered like a million shards of thoughts\ Instead it’s sharp\ with a focus that burns with intent\ In my nightmares\ friends don’t scatter and hide\ like an army of roaches when the lights are turned on\ Instead they sit patiently before me\ flashing genuine warm smiles\followed up with a hug\and wrapped up with a whisper\ that i am not alone\ In my nightmares\ my bloated\ scarred body\ is shed like a worn out husk\ and I emerges reborn\ Dedicated to a life well lived\ and a sense of self worth\ In my nightmares\ my father’s ghost don’t hunt me\ and the family stand as a house united\ where the only tears that ever flow\ are ones of joy\ In my nightmares\ everything is possible\ including happy ending\ My nightmares come disguised as pleasant dreams\ for they only serve to remind me of the nightmare my waking life can sometimes be

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Motivated to do Nothing

I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some unashamedly enthusiastic individuals. Folks that are driven to wake up every morning and dedicate their waking life to pursuing the passions that move them. One or two aspired to guide the next generation of Latino leaders. Other’s get fired up about social and economic injustices. And do everything in the power to spread the word even though for the most part their message falls on deaf ears. Then there the many friends I have who have chosen education as their profession. I get tired just by thinking about the the amount of energy that they bring to a sometimes thankless job. There are those that dedicate every waking moment to their family. They sweat and toil at what mostly turns out to be dead end jobs with very little prospects  because they aspire to afford their children the opportunities that they themselves never had. Or how about some of my artist friends. They spend hour after hour working on their craft. Then they spend the rest of the time trying to get their art noticed so that they can make a meager living at it. And yet when they see those tiny returns, it is as if someone had handed them a convoy of trucks loaded with all of Fort Knox gold. Lastly, there are all the great blogs that I’ve come across since I started my own here. So many of you out there commit yourselves to the things that move you. Sometimes it only takes me a few minutes of browsing through WordPress or Blogger in order to feel both humbled and terribly inadequate. People place so much of themselves into these pages. I swear reading some of your stuff just makes me feel ashamed of myself because I know that I have never been one to work so tirelessly at anything ever.

Cover of "The Royal Tenenbaums (The Crite...
Cover via Amazon

I can’t bring up a single instance where I felt like I truly gave my all for something. As far back as I can remember I have always been that guy that does just enough to get me by. I’m not sure if it is a direct result of possibly having ADHD or if I’m just simply not cut out for hard work. Yes there have been plenty of things that I have dug and enjoyed greatly. Things that served as a means for some desperately needed escapism. I can enjoy a great show like Game of Thrones or genre defining films like the Dark Knight and The Royal Tenenbaums. I might even speak about them in excited tones and show an almost fan-boyish devotion. But in the end they are just someone else’s hard work that I happen to admire. Same thing with music. I listen to music every day, and spend maybe a couple of hours a week actively searching for new hidden gems. Yet music only moves me for those few minutes a track is playing. It doesn’t really linger in my head, haunting my thoughts. The same can be said for comic books, and concerts, and books, and video games, and anything else that captures my short attention span.

I’ve never felt impassioned about anything I’ve ever done. I never been dedicated to any of the jobs I have ever held. I mean I do the job I am supposed to be doing, but I never have been one to go that extra mile. To chase after that raise or promotion. And I wonder why is that? Why do some folks know exactly what they want to do with their lives from the get go. Almost as if they were born  just to serve that one purpose in life. While others just wander around trying everything but doing nothing.

My father was a great Respiratory Therapist. He may have been a rather questionable human being at times, but the man was an artist with a respirator. And I can only imagine how many life saving procedures my father was a part of.  His other passion was radio. He took a number of classes. He even recorded several audition tapes of his studio work and sent them around to a number of stations in the city. I remember accompanying my father to the broadcasting school’s studio a couple of times just to watched him work his magic. I’m not saying this because he was my father, but I honestly thought he was pretty damn good at it. He had a fantastic voice for radio. It was deep and booming, but yet smooth like Carvel ice cream.  If it hadn’t been for all the demons he was dealing with, plus the fact that he was seeking a radio announcing gig in the largest media market in the country, he might have had a future in the radio business.

My mother was also incredibly passionate about her job. Being a nurses aid for 20 years exposed her to all manners of horrors. She applied pressure on gaping wounds, washed the corpses of burnt children, she comforted deeply disturbed psychiatric patients, and she helped deliver probably hundreds of babies. And when I would sit down with my mother and ask how she could stand working in such a chaotic environment; her eyes would come alive and a smile would suddenly come across her face. Each time she would give me the same answer. She was never more alive than when she was working in the hospital making a difference in the lives of people who were probably too out of it to even notice.

Yet for some reason all that passion that my parents possessed seems to have eluded me. I can get myself motivated to do things for more few months if not less. Eventually the laws of diminishing returns kicks in and I just abandoned whatever it was that had captured my attention. Is passion something that you are born with? Or is it something that you discover within yourself as you grow as a person? If it’s the latter, then I guess I still have a whole lot more growing up to do. I just really hope I can get it together soon and figure out what I wish to do with the rest of my life. I think this whole drifting aimlessly has grown quite old if I do say so myself. Personally I hope my rediscovery for the joys of writing will be the passion I have been searching for my whole life. Guess only time will tell.

Live to Fight Another Day

Live to Fight Another Day

I find simultaneously funny and depressing, that my dogs have an easier time of getting their point across using nothing more than their body language and a handful of grunts than I do with the entire English and Spanish language at my disposal. Why is it that I find it so difficult to get folks to understand where I am coming from? How is it possible that I have found myself having major disagreements with almost every person that I have ever cared deeply about. I ask myself, what is it about my personality that seem to promote so many arguments?

There was a time when I fooled myself into believing that I was just surrounded by inconsiderate assholes. Then I theorized that my appreciation for a well placed curse word during casual conversations was now being construed as an act of aggression when the tone in my voice gave the slightest hint of agitation. But lately I have settled on a simpler and more plausible explanation. I am just clearly wrong all the time. I guess my brain just interpret innocuous actions as an overtly aggressive slight. And before you go, well now, now, perhaps you are being just a little tough on yourself. Allow me to point out that there is only one common denominator linking every single argument, over the course of all these years, with so many people different people. As you may have guessed that common thread is me.

I always seem to find myself at odds with someone that I love. And it’s not the normal once in a blue moon type deal. It is constant, sometimes weekly ordeals that drag on forever. I just don’t have the energy to continue down this path of perpetual conflict. After all this time, they are simply taking too much of a toll. I just wish wish I was self aware enough to spot the signs and avoid these arguments in the first place.

You would think that someone that has had so much experience fighting with people would have grown accustomed to them by now but I just never got used to it. Each argument puts me in such a bad state of mind. And while everyone can miraculously move on and be hunky-dory after a day or two; I remain sunk in a funk. If only I was made of sturdier stuff then perhaps I could stomach the constant sparing.

Sorry for being such a downer today. I think I’m in desperate need of sleep and a King size Snickers bar. One silver lining in all this is that I did find a new track by Beck titled I Won’t Be Long. I guess Monty Python put it best then they sang Always look On the Bright Side of Life.