A Little Heartbreak Soup for the Soul: A story about a young man’s love affair with comic books

“Today, comics is one of the very few forms of mass communication in which individual voices still have a chance to be heard.”

Scott McCloud

I’m pretty sure I was about 13 years old, the day I stopped at a newsstand to purposely buy a comic book for the first time. I had read a comic or two before that, but they had always been just handed over to me. I would read them, think that the pictures were kinda cool, and then toss them in the garbage without giving it a second thought. Before that day, comic books just didn’t seem as interesting as the cartoons I watched, or the video games I played. And those things took up enough of my time as it was. Comic books were nothing more than a cool looking curiosity. Then one day I’m making my way towards the Q66 bus stop in Flushing Queens, when I saw a newsstand that had spinning rack full of brightly colored comic books. I don’t know what compelled me to stop and check out those comics. Perhaps it was the vibrantly kinetic illustrations that were plastered on the covers that lured me in like a kitten being drawn to a laser light. Whatever it was, it pulled me in and before I knew it I was turning the rack, and pulling out a handful of comics that caught my eye. I walked over to the attendant, handed to him 5 comics and a $10 bill. He placed the comics in a brown paper bag, handed the bag back to me, along with my change, and I set a course for home. Not yet realizing that I had just discovered what would be one of my great loves.

English: Young woman reading a comic book at A...
English: Young woman reading a comic book at Alternative Press Expo 2010, organized at the Concourse Exhibition Center in San Francisco, California, by Comic-Con International on Oct. 16-17, 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I didn’t get a chance to read the comic books on the bus as I had intended. The Q66 was jam-packed with students from Flushing High School, and it was standing room only. It wasn’t until I got back to our apartment, and I got to throw my gear in my room, that I got a chance to look through the comics that I had purchased. I had picked up Uncanny X-Men #292, Classic X-Men # 77, Spawn # 4, and two other comic books that apparently left no lasting impression on me. I laid there on my bed and read through them all in a matter of a few short minutes. I had no idea what was going on. I had no discernible clue who these characters were, or what was their story, and why they all looked so angry the entire way through the book. But something about it called my attention. At that age, being on the cusp of manhood, but still attracted to childish things, I was drawn to it. The characters were larger than life, god like being. They lived in an angry, dark world, similar to the one I lived in. But unlike my world, these characters had powers that allowed them to fight the injustices that they witnessed. They suffered, and went through great loss, but they persevered and fought for noble causes. It didn’t seem childish to me. Even with all the spandex, and brightly colored costumes that look absolutely ridiculous in real life. Those costumes, for some strange reason that I quite couldn’t fathom, added to the mystic of it all. I wanted more.

I would pick up more comics in the coming months. The X-Men cartoon debuted shortly there after. And I found myself spending more and more of my time revisiting the world these characters lived in. Eventually it got to the point when every Tuesday I would spend every single cent I could get my grubby little hands on at the comic book shop on Main St., and walk out with a nice big stack of comics. It had become my favorite form of escape. As the world I lived in became more chaotic and irrational. I found great comfort immersing myself in a world that seem to have a very basic set of rules. There was evil in the world. There was also good. The evil would try to engulf it all. But good would stand its ground, and at some point, when everything seem to be at it’s darkest, good would find a way to prevail. Then the song and dance would begin anew. I could get that. I liked that. It was simple, and neat, and much more comprehensible that the shades of gray world that I lived in. Where there didn’t seem to be good or evil, just these meandering malaise of indifference. Those comic books kept me sane, as things at home got darker and and more uncertain.

But you can only keep darkness out of you heart for so long. Especially when you are being shrouded by it. As my teenage years wore on, and the scars started mounting, the simplistic, good vs evil, morality plays no longer could hold my interest. At the time I felt I understood the underlying truth to everything. That the darkness, always wins out. By the time I had reached my late teens I had all but stopped reading comic book. Part of it was that now they just seemed bloated and corny. Characters sacrificed themselves, only to return a few months down the line. Slightly altered, perhaps darker. It no longer spoke to me.

***********************

A few years passed. I met a girl. Moved to Chicago. Got my education on. I wasn’t feeling as hopeless as I had once felt. I started feeling a little nostalgic for the comic books I had read during my teen years. I was getting curious as to what fate had befallen on some of my favorite characters. So I would look them up from time to time. It seemed something horrible had happened to so many of the characters I admired. They were all battered and scarred, just like myself. I didn’t feel the need to look into the mirror every time I read a comic book, so I never would never get myself to pick them up permanently. Just once in a blue.  To satisfy my lingering curiosity. But the love for the medium was still there.

Maus
Maus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I wanted to read comics, but my taste had matured, and the comic of my youth wouldn’t cut it. I needed something a bit more real. Something more sophisticated. It was then that I started discovering books like Art Spiegelman’s Maus, Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, and Alan Moore’s The Watchmen. These comics weren’t a simple morality play. These comics were making social commentary about the world that I lived in. These comics were set in a different universe, but somehow they were grounded in such a manner that they mirrored our world in ways that I hadn’t ever thought possible. The men who wrote these great books had something to say and they used the comic book medium to say it. It was a revelation.

Cover of "Blankets"
Cover of Blankets

I wanted to find more comic like these. So I found other books that had previously escaped my notice. Stuff like Will Eisner’s A Contract with God. Or Craig Thompson’s Blankets. These books spoke to me. It was around this time that I discovered the works of two brothers. Men who are pioneers of sorts. Two men that wrote and illustrated, some of the greatest works ever in the genera. Jaime and Gilberto Hernandez. Los Bros Hernandez.

The comic book industry has a very big elephant in the room, that is pointed out time and time again, but nobody ever really bothers to really address it in a serious way. That is the lack of female and minority representation in the medium. I’ve read thousands of comic books in my day, and yet there has been only a handful of times that I ever read about a character, or saw one, that looked like me. That it was someone of color. I can only name you one Puerto Rican character that I ever remember reading about. Her name was Dr. Cecilia Reyes. She was an X-men. A very reluctant one. And one that I only saw in maybe a handful of issues. I don’t recall ever reading about a Mexican character; and the few black characters that I saw had their origins in the blaxploitation period of the 1970’s. And females, well, females, where nothing more then half naked, roided freaks, who went into battle posing like coked out models on a Paris runway. As much as I loved comics, the industry itself it seemed didn’t really care much for me. Or anyone who wasn’t Caucasian and male. But Jaime’s and Gilberto’s works changed all that for me.

Love and Rockets #16 by Gilbert and Jaime Hern...
Love and Rockets #16 by Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, 1985, Fantagraphics Books. Cover illustration by Gilbert Hernández depicting two of his major Palomar characters, Heraclio and Carmen. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Their comic book, Love and Rockets opened my eyes. Set in post punk L.A during the early 80’s, Love and Rockets featured Margarita Luisa “Maggie” Chascarrillo and Esperanza “Hopey” Leticia Glass. Two bad ass Chicanas, that worked on cars, played in punk bands, and who most of all tried to make sense of the brutal, and yet vibrant world that they lived in. A world very much like my own. There were black characters, brown characters, white characters, lesbian, straight, mentally ill, gang-bangers, rockers, lovers, haters, mad-men, and saints. Love and Rockets had all these diverse characters mingling, arguing, and living side by side, not in peaceful harmony, but with passion and tension, like people do in any urban sprawl. I knew this world. I lived in it. I thought it couldn’t get better than this. Thankfully I was wrong. Because it was then that I picked up Gilberto’s masterful collection of Palomar.

Set in a small, undisclosed Latin country, the town of Palomar, was a place that was neither here nor there. It existed almost in the ether. It was a town that somehow lived in both modern times yet was stuck in a much older one. The town of Palomar was populated by some of the most colorful and moving being that I have ever read about. And they all gravitated around the towns Matriarch, a big breasted, bow legged woman, that walked around with a hammer, by the name of Luba. Palomar was a place that would have been easily recognized by my parents, or my grandparents, or anyone that had ever spent time in a Latin American country, during simpler, less wired times. It was a place where the veil between the world of the living and the dead was at it’s thinnest. A land where death was permanent, but the ghost of the past visited frequently. It was both absurd and poignant. It was above all, a town where the broken hearted could find comfort. They even had a special soup for those that suffered from sickness of a broken heart. It was called “La Sopa de Gran Pena”, or Heartbreak Soup. The stories from Palomar were not simple comic stories. They were the greatest example of comic books unrealized potential. It was pure illustrated literature. And it is one of the finest examples of magical realism’s that you will ever encounter.

I am grateful to whatever it was that pushed me to pick up that small stack of comic books at the newsstand that day. It inspired my love of art. My appreciation for writing. It filled my head with big ideas, and transported me to some of the more magical places that anyone could have dreamed off. There is more to the medium than just super heroes. I just wish the industry as a whole could understand that. I don’t know if I will ever fulfill my once vibrant dreams of writing my own graphic novels. There is so much uncertainty about the future, and I’m not entirely sure in which direction my life will be taking over the course of the next few years. But if I ever do manage to come up with something, I hope that it will be something that will bring comfort to the restless souls who yearn for something that they can recognize themselves in. Just like some of these works did for me.

Sweet Home Chicago: “Part VII – Only in Dreams”

This would be my last morning in Chicago for the foreseeable future. My cheeks had received the workout of a life from all the smiling, talking and laughing that I had done. For four days I did not bother to look at the clock. Or check out what day it was on the calendar. Time had no meaning. All there was and all I wanted to be in was the now. The only place I wanted to be was next to her. I had found after all these years the one thing that I had been missing all my life. The unadulterated love of someone that did not have to love me. I had never felt more alive than I did on that first trip to Chicago. And now it was over.

When I woke up that morning I couldn’t  motivate myself to get out of bed. I must have stared up at the ceiling in my darkened motel room for about an hour. Reality had been a good enough sport for allowing me to live uninterrupted in a fantasy world for 4 days. But apparently enough was enough, and it felt it was due time I snapped back out of it. In a few hours the Lake Shore Limited would be taking me back east. In less than a day’s time I would be staring at the ceiling above my own bed. Back to my old life. And every beautiful second that I had experienced during my time in Chicago would be relegated to memory. That was the single worst thought I could possibly muster at that moment. What exactly did I have to go back too? Granted my family was there. My mom, father, brother and sister who I loved with all my heart despite all the problems we had. Not to mention a small group of close knit friends that never allowed me to sink to seep into the abyss. But that wasn’t enough for me. I realized that. There was no future for me in NYC. As much as I loved that city, and the ten million characters that call it home, I knew I no longer belonged there. It wasn’t that I had fallen in love with the city of Chicago. It was a beautiful town. But compared to the city that never sleeps, Chicago was nothing more than a quaint, sleepy little town suffering from a big city complex. However Chicago had one thing going for it that New York did not. And that was her.

I knew Jess would be arriving shortly to pick me up at the motel. We had agreed that she would come over early so we could have breakfast and spend a few hours in the city before I left. After a lot of hesitating I was finally able to get myself out of bed. I hit the shower, put on my clothe, and crumpled all my belonging into my book bag and suitcase. I turned on the TV, sat on the edge of the bed and waited for the wifey to arrive.

I was scared. I’m not clairvoyant. But when you are a bit of an introvert, you spend a lot of time observing people. You live a little through them. You become pretty familiar with human behavior. And after a while you end up observing people so much that you can come up with some pretty good assumptions on how certain situations will play out. For months Jess and I had been talking on the phone and chatting online. For almost 5 months that had satisfied us. It was fun. It was something that we kind of did to fill the time. But after spending the last few days with each other, a new reality was born. Going back to chatting and talking on the phone would no longer suffice. We knew exactly what it felt like to be in each others arms. To be in each others presence experiencing life together. To try to go back to the status quo would be impossible. Perhaps we could make a long distance relationship work for a little while. I had no doubt we could make it work for a few weeks. Maybe, just maybe, if I was able to muster a few return visits every few months I might be able to make it last a year or two. But the cold reality was that our love would be to strained by the distance. Eventually Jess would tire of waiting for me, and some other guy would come along, someone that wouldn’t love her as much as I did, and would be willing to sacrifice as much as I was willing to sacrifice for her, but at least he was there, in the flesh. Or perhaps I would meet someone that was nowhere near as special to me as Jess had become. Someone that wouldn’t laugh at my jokes like she did. Someone that didn’t actually find me kind of cute like Jess did;  but who would allow me to play with her tits every now and then whenever she needed some attention. The writing was on the wall. It would only be a matter of time before the relationship that meant so much to me would be over. Unless I figured out something soon. It all felt hopeless.

******

After the wifey arrived, and I checked out of the motel, we followed the itinerary by going for some breakfast. I wasn’t hungry, but I was feeling devastated, which in turn made me want to eat. We drove toward the city and stopped at an IHOP along the way. We shared some more laughs while we ate our breakfast. I had gone with some type of omelet. I’m almost sure the wifey went with some fruity pancakes of some kind. We were both trying our best to hide the sadness that was slowly coming up from within. We reminisced and laughed out loud about the events from the past few days as if we were recalling an old memory from another life. It all felt bittersweet.

It was another beautiful day in the city. Jessie suggested that we should spend the last few hours by the lake. I thought that would be perfect and agreed wholeheartedly. We traveled down Lake Shore Drive that sunny morning. Music was blasting from the car stereo. Not much was being said. My mind couldn’t help but continue trying to predict the future. We pulled of on the Montross exist and found a parking spot right across the street from the entrance to Montrose Dog Beach.

We passed through the gate that is meant to keep the dogs from running away and walked down the concrete pathway that led onto the beach. Once there I was surprised to see dozens of dogs running around, playing and chasing each other as their adopted parents talked amongst themselves. I had never seen so many dogs just being free, with their goofy dog grins and wagging tales just having the time of their lives. The blue sky and equally blue waters of the lake just made for the perfect back-drop. We watched the dogs play for a little while. Laughed at some of the silly things some of them did. It made me wonder if their were any dog parks in NYC. I mean I was certain there had to be. I just didn’t know of any. There was so much about of my home town I had never bothered to see. Never went into the twin towers. I never visited Lady Liberty at Ellis Island. Never saw a Yankee game at the old Yankee Stadium. I never walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. I’m not even sure if I had even been in a car as it drove through it. The thought made me feel like NYC was even less of a home than it already was.

After a while Jess suggested we walk down the length of Montrose beach. I took turns between holding her hand or placing my arm around her as we slowly made our way towards a building that was built to look like a grounded ferry boat. It may sound funny to you, but the fact that I was holding her hands and hugging her as much as I did really shows how much I loved her. I’ve never been big on public displays of affection. Holding hands and hugging always made me feel a little anxious. I read somewhere that folks with ADHD don’t like doing those kinds of things because it make them feel a little trapped. It brings on some anxiety. Off course I didn’t know that at the time. All I knew was that I wanted to hold on to her for as long as I possibly could.

I knew we didn’t have much time left, but I didn’t want to go to Union Station yet. So I asked Jess if it was O.K. if we drove down to road and see if we could find one last spot to chill until it was time to go to the station. We hopped back in the car and made our way down Sheridan Road. We drove past Loyola University and hit the hipster part of Rogers Park. I’m not exactly sure how exactly we came across the secluded patch of beach known as the Rogers Park Ave Beach, which was was hidden behind a row of apartment buildings right off Sheridan Road, but we both deemed it a worthy spot to spend our last hour together.

There we so many feeling bubbling up from within. I could feel it coming. It started like a little a trickle of water coming through a crack in the soil. At first it seem small and insignificant. But ever time I took notice of what I was feeling the emotions became stronger. It was if years of frustration, and heartbreak where being unleashed. And I had no way of containing it. The trickle turned into a pool, while the increased pressure building up down below threatening to unhinge me on the spot. This would be 5 years before I suffered my first anxiety attack. 5 years before I would know what it was like to lose control of my senses. When my grandmothers, my grandfather, my dog, my homeboy Angle, all died I failed to shed a single tear. I sat there and watched the events of 9/11 unfold like so many millions of people that day on the television. I saw the dark grey smoke rising in the horizon as the towers collapse and the fire raged in ground zero. Yet my eyes did not allow a single tear to be dropped. I’ve had terrible fights with my father, had suffered a number of self inflicted humiliations, and up to that day I never once cried. I could show anger,and rage. I could yell with the best of them. I could hurt myself in all different manners. But I could never, ever make myself cry. Yet as we walked into the little secluded Rogers Park Ave Beach that sunny morning that was about all I could think of doing. I wanted to weep. It would be only a matter of time.

Roger Park Ave Beach reminded me a bit of some of the small parks that I would frequent back home. It had a few benches where old folks would sit on and spend a couple of hours loading the local wildlife with an obscene amount of carbs. Where back home there would have been a fenced in black top, basketball court or a couple of handball courts, Rogers Park had a tennis court, including nets. Off course that was where the similarities came to an end. Because I knew of no park in NYC that had a rocky beach with an unobstructed view of an inland ocean that went as far as the eye could see.

There was no one in the park that morning. It felt like the entire lake was ours. We watched the gulls fly about without a care in the world. Just allowing the winds to guide them to wherever it deemed fit. I envied those feathered bastards. They could go wherever they wanted. They could stay if they choose to. I wished I could stay. We sat on steps leading to what I imagine was an old pier that had rotted away at some point in the distant past. We sat there and talked. It was the first time that either of us dared to admit that my visit was coming to a close. I remember looking over to Jess and thinking that I might never see her again. I told her that I would miss her more that she could ever understand. It was at that moment, as I heard myself say those words out loud, that the small emotional spring that had been developing within me for possibly years, exploded into a full blown geiser. I couldn’t catch my breath. The more I looked at her the more it hurt. The first tears came rolling down my cheeks.

*******

I had been a bit of an emotional wreck as we made our way to Union Station. I was trying my best to compose myself. But it was all for not. Something had taken hold of me. Something deep and primal and far beyond the reach of logic and reason. Whatever this was it needed to come out, and it would not cease until it felt it was well and done. I had a complete breakdown when we parked the car outside of Union Station. The waves of emotion were so powerful that I had no hope reigning it in. I probably hadn’t cried that hard since I was a small child. Imagine a 6’1 450lbs man crying uncontrollably. Sobbing as if he was mourning for the passing of everything that he held true and dear in his heart. I remember looking into the wifey’s eyes and she was both startled and yet very moved by my pathetic display. She hugged me as hard as she possibly could. I told her how much I loved her. I told her how much she meant to me. I told her I didn’t want to leave her. That I needed her. We kissed as our tears streamed down our faces like rivers of sorrow.

Time was speeding up. We only had a few minutes left. We made our way toward the line of passengers that were waiting the board the Lake Shore Limited. I had gathered myself just enough to keep it together while I was out in public. However my eyes were beyond watery, puffy and red. I looked as if had spent the morning trying out different blends from Seth Rogen’s secret gonja stash. Thankfully I was wearing a beyond unflattering pair of prescription sunglasses. I didn’t look cool in them, but at least I could see the world around me without the world having to see the sorry state I was in.  We held hands until I got up to the line. They would be allowing us to board the train momentarily. We kissed one final time. It wasn’t like one of those kisses that you see star crossed lovers share in the romantic film. It wasn’t a passionate one. It was very short. Very sweet. The kind of kiss you reserve for someone that you love but know you must let go. It felt like the kiss you plant on a lovers lips right before they close the casket.

It was then I told Jess that maybe I would be back in a couple of months. Hopefully before Christmas. She smiled sadly. We both knew I was laying. I didn’t have the means to make it back in that short of a span of time. But I felt the need to say it anyway. Maybe it would give her the glimmer of hope she needed, and buy me the time I required to come up with a way of coming back to her. I told her I loved her. She said she loved me too. Then she walked away.

I looked on as Jess walked away from me. She was steady and her step had a certain level of determination. I watched her. I could see that she had brought a hand up to her face. My guess was to wipe away a tear. I waited for her to turn around one last time. I wanted to be granted one last glimpse of the face that had made me so fucking happy during my time in Chicago. But she never did. She walked straight on and eventually turned a corner. And just like that she was out of my life. I had never felt more alone than I did at that moment. I turned around and waiting patiently for the boarding call to be made.

20 minutes later I sat alone in a partially filled train coach on the Lake Shore Limited. The seat next to me was not occupied so I was able to just plant my book back next to me, hoping that it would discourage anyone from sitting next to me. I wanted to be alone. Just me and my thoughts. I pulled out the discman. Popped on my ear phones and played a CD that Jess had made for me some month earlier. As much as it hurt me that day to think about her, I made sure I bathed myself in her memory. I wanted the hurt to course through me. I wanted to make sure that I never forgot that feeling. That pain would be my inspiration. It would become a spark. I would use that hurt that was tearing me and half and make it my own personal defibrillator. It would spark my fat ass back to life. I had something to work for. Something to strive. I had someone in my life that I didn’t not want to let down. I was going to be back with her. I didn’t have the slightest clue how I was fucking going to do it. Again, I had no job, no degree, no prospects. But I convinced myself I would figure it out. I would be seeing Jessie again. And when I did, there would be no goodbye’s.

To Be Concluded: Sweet Home Chicago: “Part VIII – On The Road Again”

Last day of my first trip. Rogers Park Ave. Beach. September 2002.
Last day of my first trip. Rogers Park Ave. Beach. September 2002.

Sweet Home Chicago: “Part II – Rock On!”

When we last left off, my friend had just finished convincing me to sign up on to the social networking site Migente.com. I didn’t join because I wanted to get in on the whole social network experiment. My reasonings where a bit shallower than that. I was just attracted by all the cute looking ladies that I saw while being introduced to the site. I’m sure you will forgive my male chauvinist reasoning’s. But what else would you expect from a 22 year old kid?

For the first couple of weeks, all I heard was crickets, when I would check-in to see if anyone had bothered to check out my page. I wasn’t surprised to learn I wasn’t exactly a hot commodity. After all, there was that little matter of me being well over 400 lbs. And with no Biggie Smalls, or Big Pun, around to make being big look fashionable, well lets just say it was a tough time to be a big fella’ in the city. It was only at that point that it dawned on me that the four year old picture that was serving as my profile pic was not going to attract anyone’s attention. Although this was before the time of selfies, duck faces, or narcissistic bathroom abs shots, it was still imperative to have one decent looking picture of yourself. Unfortunately for me, I really didn’t have one. Or at least not one that disguised my size. If I was going to make any type of positive impression with the ladies, I would have to put in some effort, and make my page stand out from all the other dudes that were on the site. Thankfully that wasn’t too hard to do. A good 95% of the male profiles usually went a little something like this:

Yo Ma what’s good? This is Tito Pena AKA Joey Wallnuts, cumming atcha from Da Boogie Down Bronx. You know how we do! Just trying to hook-up with some honnies and get things poppin’. So if you like what you see and you ain’t scurred ( yes you are reading that correctly. Scurred not scared. Remember we keep’n it real here) holla atcha’ boy. Ya feel me!

Terminal 5, NYC
Terminal 5, NYC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now I have known plenty of ladies in my day that would have been perfectly fine with that guy. But that wasn’t someone I could pretend to be. Plus that’s not the kind of girl I wanted to attract. I was trying to meet the sweet, girl next door. The kind of girl that didn’t mind putting some time in to read an extra wordy profile from a guy that was obviously trying way too hard. That wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen with a big fat guy. The kind of quirky, down to earth, funny, playful, full of life chick that you only see in movies being played by Zooey Deschanel. Who, as a side note, I have had a major problem with since seeing 500 Days of Summer. Why did she have to be such an asshole in that movie? She did Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character Tom so wrong. But that is neither here nor there.

Since being my boring self got me nowhere, I felt my best bet was to try and become someone else. Or at least use someone else’s words. I spent several hours looking for thought provoking quotes that would perhaps make me come off as a deep thinker with a sense of humor. Thankfully a few key search words on the ol’ trusty browser lead me to all the deep sounding quotes and funny musings that I would ever need. Looking back I can’t help but feel a little embarrassed for thinking that I could sound like the second coming of Mahatma Gandhi because I copy and pasted a few quotes. But at the time I didn’t care. They sounded good too me and I thought it made me seem sophisticated.

To my happy surprise my superficial changes seemed to make a difference. I started getting a few more visits to my page. And a few girls actually signed my guest book which was a thing in those days. Then came the notes. I was receiving a few messages a week from a few of the girls that had checked out my page. They all mentioned the same thing. I love your page. Great quotes. So deep. And so on and so forth. I felt I was well on my way to Bootycallville. Now I just need to start corresponding with some of the ladies.

My first few attempts at striking up a conversation failed miserably. My so called game was way too rusty. I was trying desperately to come off being cool, swave, confident, and funny. Instead I just seemed awkward and probably a little desperate. Which always sent them fleeing; rightfully so. I needed to recalibrate my efforts.

I tried to take things a little slower, which is not exactly something I have always excelled at. But I did my best to make an effort. I took the time to get to know them. I planted the seeds of friendship. Which in turn led me to learn all about their wants, dislikes, dreams, and hopes. And just like that, it all started to fall into place. A couple of months in, I was talking with a few girls through notes, and over the the phone on a regular basis.

You would think that I would be happy with the way things were going. Yet that wasn’t the case at all. You see, I was suffering from– well let’s just call it stage fright. The problem was that every time I spoke with these girls I was putting on a front. I was pretending to be someone that I really wasn’t. I guess that we all do that when we are trying to hook up with someone that you are attracted too. You know, put your best foot forward. The thing was that it wasn’t even my foot. I mean I wasn’t using an alias or anything that dramatic. But I wasn’t being honest about who I was or what I really looked like. Eventually I would reach a point when the girl would suggest we meet up; and then I would have to go through a list of excuses that I had made up in order to try to delay the meeting. There was this particular instance when I was in high school that had stayed with me. I was going up a flight of stairs and several steps below me were a couple of girls that I thought were pretty cute. I overheard as one girl asked the other one “What do you think about him?” I knew that they were referring to me since there was nobody else in the stairwell. Her friend responded with  “He’s cute. But he’s SO big.” They were talking in hushed tones so that I wouldn’t hear them. So it wasn’t like they were going out of the way to hurt my feelings or anything. I just happen to be unlucky enough to catch what was being said. I gotta say that hearing those two say that about me hurt me plenty. You never really want to hear that you aren’t attractive to someone. It is a bit of a punch to the fat gut.  This was pretty much the only reason why I didn’t want to meet any of the girls I was talking too. I was afraid they would react in the same manner. Plus I didn’t need to deal with the added disappointment of having to explain to them that I did not actually possess a 14 inch penis. Eventually all the girls that I would talk with would all tire of my excuses and move on. And I would find myself back at square one.

Then on April 6th, 2002 I got a notification that someone had signed my guest book. I took a quick peek. The message read:

“Hey what’s up? Just wanted to leave my rocken’ mark on your spot! Well take care and ROCK ON! ROCKERS RULE!!!”

All these years later and that message still puts a smile on my face. You see in addition to all the silly quotes that I had plastered on my Migente page, I also had a small listing of the bands that I was really into at the time. Bands like Radiohead, Sublime, No Doubt, Weezer, and the Strokes. I never in a 100 years would have thought that anyone would have been drawn to my page because of the music I listened too. It was just something I had posted to fill some of the empty space. But as you can tell by reading the message above, it got the attention of a kindred spirit. Someone that also appreciated a good song with a heavy riff. Someone that was also a bit of a lost soul. That someone would turn out to be my future wife.

Little did I know that I was about to enter a miniature golden age. Fate was playing her little games with me; and once again, I found myself clueless about the significance of another pivotal event in my life. I was about to be swept out to sea by a tidal wave. I just didn’t know it yet.

To Be Continued: Sweet Home Chicago: Part III – Getting to Know You

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.

Oh God!: Part III – Paradise Lost

Oh God!: Part III – Paradise Lost

I know I had previously described God as suddenly not seeming to be around. Here one moment, and gone the next. But that isn’t exactly an accurate description. God’s departure from my life was not an abrupt event that caught me off-guard. No, instead God just gradually faded, in the same fashion that the colors of a beautifully adorned temple gradually fade away after being exposed to the elements for a millennia or two.

Faith, like willpower, is a finite resource. You can lean on it to keep you propped up when all you want to do is fall. You can draw strength from it to keep you marching forward, regardless of how treacherous the terrain. However there are limitations to how far faith can carry you. In my experience I have found that sooner or later most of us need a break in the action. We need a chance to catch our breath. To recharge our batteries. But if fate so chooses to be relentless in it’s assault, that faith that you so desperately relied on to keep you going gets depleted down to fumes. Once that occurs, it becomes difficult to get any real sense that God is around.

Please allow me for a moment to make this disclaimer. I know I keep saying we, us, our, as in plural. But what I am talking about here is really only about my own personal experience in the matter. I wouldn’t dare to sit here and proclaim that what I experience is what some of my atheist friends have experience, or other folks that have dealt with matters of faith. That my friends would be nothing more than a gross over generalization on my part.

I’ve meet people that stopped believing in God but never suffered a crisis of faith. I know others that just never believed in him in the first place. For these folks there never was a sense of ever being let down by God. There was never any animosity. God just became an antiquated idea that no longer served a practical propose in their world. Others just saw the complete lunacy that organized religion sometimes stands for. I have come to know folks that saw God much like the the Wizard of Oz; nothing more than an elaborate prop used to control and manipulate the poor, the uneducated, and women. They refuse to believe in something that does not promote the advancement of knowledge, or whose followers dare to proclaim their superiority over others just because they want to apply 1st Century writings into 21st Century logic.

Then there are those on the opposite end of the spectrum. I’ve meet people whose entire existence has been nothing more than one drawn out battle. They have had mounds, after mounds, after mounds, of shit just flung on them by life. Who have been kicked and spat on, repeatedly by a world that treats the weak and the voiceless with utter contempt. These admirable people carry their cross in quiet dignity and never once doubted God’s existence. They take pride in their love for God. And although they might find themselves questioning his methods, not once have they ever questioned his purpose.

I have nothing but admiration for both camps. They are resolute in their belief and for that I respect them. Because at least they believe in something. Unlike me. I want to believe in God very desperately, but I dont feel his presence anywhere. I want to believe that there is a greater plan. That all the pain and struggles that I have experienced, and that my family seems to have endured for well over a century isn’t just because of random dumb luck. But there more I look into the matter the more I see that everything that has happened to us is a simple matter of cause and effect; a sprinkle of bad decisions, laced with a lack of understanding, and drenched in a whole lot of poverty. So my belief stay stranded in limbo. They are neither here nor there.

I want my life to mean something. To do something that makes a difference. To somehow leave my mark. And it has nothing to do with being rich or famous, because in my eyes, those are completely meaningless aspiration when weighed against the grand scheme of things. My goals are much more modest. All I want is to feel, real, honest to god joy. To be a decent family man. The kind of man that the wifey can look up too with pride. I want to stop feeling afraid of failing. To trust in my ability to persevere. And most of all I want to someday soon be a good loving father that will do for his children what no man has done in my family for generations. And if I had a sense that God was still around, I might actually trust that these things are all yet possible for me.

So I pray up to God, and I ask him to give me the strength that I so desperately need. To infuse my spirit with confidence. To give me a sign that he is still there, and is listening to my prayers. That I am not alone in my journey. I call out to him from time to time, but I get no reply. I don’t feel his presence. All I feel is a big dark void. I feel nothing. And it causes me to ponder, if God ever was there in the first place. Was I just praying to myself all those years ago. Was there anyone ever really listening? Did I credit him for things that I purely did on my own? And if so, then how do I fool myself into believing again, so that I may get over these hurdles that are keeping me from reaching the mountain top? Maybe I should have been placing faith in myself all along. I don’t know. Just understand that I am no a blasphemer.  I’m just a dude looking to believe in the invisible man in the sky.