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Monday, November 21, 2011


I was on the bus coming home, the 14 as crowded as ever. Crammed between a clique of teenage girls, I couldn't help but overhear their conversation. “How do you not know how to post a photo on facebook?” one of them was saying. “Seriously, you’re fucking retarded.”
The rest of the girls laughed, even the “retarded” one. I hear people throw that word around a lot, and it always burns me inside. What are people trying to say when they call someone or something retarded? That it is stupid? dumb? incompetent?
As the bus lagged along, I thought about my younger sister. Growing up, I always knew she was “different” somehow. Her almond slanted eyes didn’t quite match mine and my older sister’s rotund peeps. And my parents doted over her with a unique type of fuss, rarely punishing her for doing something wrong. (When she was six, she went through a phase of waking up every morning and dumping boxes of cereal onto the kitchen floor—and not once did she get put in a time-out.) There was other stuff that set her apart from us too: her words didn’t have the same lucidity as mine did, and that smaller yellow bus took her to a different school every morning.
I overheard conversations my parents had with other adults. Words like ‘Down Syndrome’ and ‘Junior Arthritis’ didn’t make much sense to me then. What did an “extra chromosome” have to do with the fact that she was always at the doctor’s, or in and out of hospitals for numerous operations? “She has special needs, her body works differently than yours,” my mother explained. I took it for what it was and all throughout my childhood we were inseparable, always playing together; sometimes school, where I’d teach her colors, or restaurant with PB&J sandwiches, or nursery with our Cabbage Patch Kids. We played like sisters, tattled and fought, loved like sisters, and stuck our tongue out at the other when our mom hugged one of us—the way squabbling sisters do.
Now that I’m older and have moved away, she plays the harmonica on my visits home, as soon as I walk through the door. And when we watch movies cuddled on the couch, she looks adoringly up at me and coos, “I love you, sis.” As I listened to the girls on the bus, I wondered if they would still call each other “retarded” if they would’ve seen the blurry look in my sister’s eyes when my date picked me up on prom night; or if they would’ve been there to sing happy birthday to my sister while she lie bed-rest in ICU, a 50/50 chance of surviving the pneumonia her tiny lungs were fighting…
The bus slammed on its brakes, finally at my stop. I freed myself from the pockets of people and bid the girls a silent adios. They were still laughing, passing around pictures on one of the girls’ phones. I could tell by their innocent happiness that they were not evil or mean-spirited girls in the least. They were just young and maybe not mature enough to realize how painfully ignorant their language was. They were girls who were special though, and loved by someone; they were someone’s daughter and they were someone’s friend. And maybe—and very likely—they were even someone’s sister. 
At a cousin's wedding, 2011
© All Rights Reserved, 2011

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Birthday Dress (& Heels!)

Every year I buy myself a birthday dress. This year, when I stepped out of the dressing room in a smoldering silver number, my ruca was speechless and the Ambiance attendant swore I looked like a curly-haired J.Loso of course I was sold. And because turquoise is my birthstone color, it was only natural that I sought out a pair of turquoise suede heels, right? Now many of you may think I’m going over the top, but considering I wear a boring black uniform to work and dress bundled in layers year-round, I don’t mind giving myself one day to work the hell out of a skin tight firme dress and be able to stop traffic on Mission Street.
Aside from buying my annual dress, I also make birthday/early New Year’s resolutions. This year is unique though, as my goal will not just be “getting my novel published,” nor will I beat myself up for not getting it published again…
In my late teens, I began writing a coming-of-age novel about three girls who lose their fourth best friend in a car accident. Between the lines of the 518 double-spaced pages is not only a beautiful story, but a decade of my soul’s evolution. Because I played “god” at creating these characters who came to life in my head, I sometimes still feel a weary sense of nostalgia for them that perhaps only a puppet-maker could explain.
While I’ve wallowed in self-pity many years over not getting the novel published, I haven’t given myself credit for the process of simply becoming a writer. Indeed, it has been a journey. I spent an entire year submitting my manuscript to publishing houses, only to find out by one of those how-to Dummy books that unsolicited submissions are about as likely to get read as a letter to Santa Claus. (Talk about feeling like a dummy.) Deciding I needed some experience beefing up my resume, I spent another year interning for a weekly city paper and a magazine. I learned lots of things that year: one, that I’m lousy at fact-checking and that mistakes in print really suck; two, that transcribing is not meant for day-dreamers with ADD; and three—and most importantly—I learned that I didn’t want to work for a magazine or newspaper. Sure, being a food critic forced to sample 20 different ice cream flavors for “research” was fun, but I am a fiction writer. I want to write short and long stories, not only about myself, but about the imaginary people in my head that I breathe life into. (Call me crazy; I call myself a writer.)
This past year, I’ve undergone a major growth spurt in my writing. Starting a blog where I can openly share my work has been monumental. I’ve begun talking with other writers, going to workshops and authors’ talks, and getting on twitter and facebook to advertise myself. I’ve been invited to a spoken word in Albuquerque next year by some down-ass Chicana writers—awesomeness—and even decided recently to go back to school. 
While it may have taken lots of time (and many birthday dresses) to realize what type of writer I want to be, I’m not focusing on what I didn’t become over the years or what I haven’t gotten published. Instead, come December 1st, I will be celebrating what I have become and the fact that I’m continuing on my path…. Having a super firme dress (and heels) to cross that rite of passage in will just be the icing on my birthday cake.  
Can I walk in these? Who cares!
©All Rights Reserved, 2011