Why I’m Calling This Child Hope.

My dog’s a kid magnet. So, one neighbor girl has been hanging around uninvited since the day I moved into my sister’s place four years ago.

This three-year-old little girl and her ten-year-old brother came over to pet my Black Lab Phoenix, who was six, and almost as rambunctious as the kids.

They threw tennis balls for her with the Chuck-it while I fantasized about their parents coming to find them. (They never did. Like never.)

Long after the boy grew too cool for anything but basketball, his little sister still came around, mostly during the day when my sister was at work and I was busy writing the next Eat, Pray, Love.

Now, I’m going to call this child Hope. Her real name, sadly, sounds like another word for rejection. Like she got labelled even before she was able to knock on neighbors’ doors looking for friends. She had to work harder at that than the other girls.

Hope carried the look of different. She certainly hadn’t become accustomed to positive attention. She could only receive it in small bits, although she could hang in my home for over an hour on any given afternoon.

It’s funny how a kid can seduce you with, “Can I play with your dog?” if you did the same thing when you were a girl.

Like little Hope, I had to be taught some basic manners.

“You don’t just walk into people’s homes, honey,” I said, “You have to knock.”

I doubt anyone had to tell me this, as I did her: “Okay, so when you knock or ring the bell, if I don’t answer, you stop knocking and go away.”

“But,” Hope said, “I knew you were in there because I saw your car.”

“Yes, Hope, but sometimes people are home and they don’t answer the door because they’re busy doing something else, like taking a shower.”

“I know. That’s why I kept knocking—so you’d hear me.”

One neighbor said, “You just have to be stern and send her away. She knocks on everybody’s door trying to get someone to play with her.” As if it was a crime.

All the gossip couldn’t come up with a good reason why her parents’ parental practices didn’t line up with the norms of my cul-de-sac neighborhood.

The thing is, I was once that girl and nobody called me Hope.

So, in the early visits I gritted my teeth and tolerated the kid so many resisted.

As the weeks, months, and years passed, I couldn’t reason why no one had embraced her before.

Hope grew more confident and less irritating. She stopped following me when I took Phoenix for walks, insisting she was joining us.

The day she was locked out of her house because her brother was at basketball, her dad was at work, and she couldn’t find her mom, this frightened five-year-old found her way to my door. Her vulnerable voice shook as tears ran down her face.

I was as relieved to be home as she was to see me. She wrapped herself around me in a helpless child hug. In that moment, I was her adult.

Later that evening, she came back and apologized for bothering me. “You’re not a bother, Hope. You can come to me any time you need.”

I saw the shame release from her face.

Hope’s presence became a norm in my life—without any formal introduction to her parents (I tried) or real relationship other than designated neighbor.

After a while, Hope was assigned a sister from Big Brothers, Big Sisters. She eagerly awaited those visits.

One afternoon, Hope told me she met a “real author” at school and how cool she thought that was. I did, too. Then, she said his name: Jack Hanna.

She also told me about her friends at school and the kids she tended to get into arguments with.

She mentioned how on special mother-daughter days she got to go to the movies with her mom while her brother and dad did father-son activities.

Sometimes, Hope and I colored together. She couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t give her my dragonfly coloring book after I’d said yes to so many other things.

Hey, the girl needed some boundaries, and these were my dragonflies.

So, I made copies of some pages for her. She said, “That’s okay” and left them.

She spent countless afternoons at our kitchen table and on our deck chairs doing homework like the good, smart kid she is.

One day, Hope said, “Can I come in and talk to you?” She was seven, so grown-up compared to the tag-along three-year-old sister I met on day one.

“My mom and my brother and I are moving to an apartment and my dad, he’s moving to New Jersey. That’s where he spends a lot of time because that’s where he’s from, and also, it’s where his girlfriend lives. So, that’s it. My parents are getting divorced. There’s a lot of stuff to pack.”

“Okay,” I said. “How’s your mom doing?”

“She’s sad, but I think she’s kind of relieved. They’ve been fighting a lot.”

Years before, this bright young girl who no one wanted to listen to said, regarding my sister whose husband had recently passed, “She just seems so sad.”

Hope knew what sadness looked like in another’s eyes. I winced seeing it in hers, especially after I’d gotten so used to the light.

I asked Hope how she was feeling about her parents getting a divorce and about moving. She said, “I guess I’m both sad and happy. I’m going to have my own room.”

I flashed back to the awkward, lonely girl I once was, my neighbor Mary Ashby who let me knock on her door and “play with her dog,” which led to playing cards and drinking sweet tea, and how my parents divorce hit me when I was just 10.

Sometimes we do kind acts by overriding our resistant egos and our constant need for comfort and convenience.

Hope was inconvenient. At first, I found her hard to take.

However, by the time she came to say a brave-faced goodbye and it was likely I’d never see her again, she’d tattooed herself on my heart and left me hopeful.

How a Political Refuge from Chilé gave me much to be Thankful for. #bloglikecrazy

How a Political Refuge from Chilé gave me much to be Thankful for. #bloglikecrazy

 

“I urge you to celebrate the extraordinary courage and contributions of refugees past and present.” ~ Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General

It was the day after Thanksgiving last year. My best friend Andrea was out of town. I called her father, Mr. Mena to see if I might stop by and visit.

I said, “Hola, it’s Alice.”

Papi said, “Oh, mi otro hija!” (my other daughter).

When I arrived, he wanted to cook for me. I didn’t let him, but I said yes to his Chilean wine and pride. We sat at the kitchen counter talking about life, family and politics.

Although I’ve known this man since high school and he once introduced himself to my mother as, “Hello. I’m Alice’s father,” it’s never been just the two of us. Usually, I was in his home visiting Andrea.

You know how sometimes you drop by just to say a polite hello, and somehow time opens up to make space for words never considered?

Mrs. Mena was in the back bedroom sleeping. She hasn’t been the same since her stroke 20 years ago.

Although I never considered this question before, I asked how they met—some 50 years ago. Papi told me when he was a teenager he was friends with Mrs. Mena’s sister. Then, he saw Andree with her long hair, but he said, “I wasn’t thinking anything. I was 16.”

Later, he got free tickets for a concert because he’d pounded a dent out of a bus and the owners gave him the tickets. He fell asleep on the bus ride to the concert and awoke to Andree kissing him on the cheek.

His eyes lit up as he recalled their young love. They used to go out dancing and he’d buy her Coca Colas.

Even back when he was a teenager, Mr. Mena worked on cars. He built a car that was in a three-country race: Chilé, Peru and Argentina. Then, he got hired by the university and earned a paycheck! Mr. Mena told me he never had trouble making money.

Later, Andree wanted to get married. He was 19. She was 17.

Both their fathers approved and went with them to get married. Both moms were opposed, especially his because he was the family breadwinner.

Then, Mr. Mena told me about the coup and Pinochet coming in as dictator of Chile. That’s when Mr. Mena became a part of the resistance.

Because now Pinochet was in charge of all the companies, Mr. Mena and his coworkers would do things like leaving the lights and water on all night to wreak havoc. In the shop where he worked, they made sharp objects to throw in the road to stop the military and secret police.

He also took people to the French Embassy to escape.

Papi described helping one mom and her three girls go out the back of their house and in the front and out the back of three houses to escape the military police, who, he claimed were “so mad!”

“Why were they after her?” I asked. “Because her husband was part of the resistance.”

Mr. Mena drove the woman and her girls to a farm. Those were just the things they did. Yes, it was dangerous.

In fact, the military police captured and tortured Mr. Mena, but he “never told them anything because then they’d have no use for me.”

Then, they’d kill him. Mr. Mena’s sister and many of his friends were killed.

While he was held and tortured, Mrs. Mena searched and did everything she could to find her husband. By this time, they had three small children.

Mrs. Mena pleaded with the French Embassy and told everyone she could that her husband had been captured. She made a lot of noise and with the help of the French Embassy, Mr. Mena was released and the family fled the country.

Mr. Mena showed me some old black and white pictures of one man who came to Santa Fe, NM to visit and thank Mr. Mena for saving his life. He showed me a letter the guy had written him. Of course, it was in Spanish.

Somehow, our conversation wound to God. Papi said he doesn’t believe in God. But he said, “How easy to find him in this,” as he picked up an apple, “or a flower or ants building things.”

He told me he gets mad, all those people dying. ”Why does God do this?”

His wife, Mrs. Mena was healthy, fine, until a doctor prescribed Premarin which caused a blood clot and then she had the stroke.

I listened as this strong, masculine man, my father figure, praised his wife for getting him out of Chile, encouraged him to buy the land the house we sat in was built on and to work hard. She always supported him, and the kids in all their sporting events.

Papi said he talks to his son Ish, now grown with his own kids, about what it means to be strong.

“I say to him, ‘You can’t go to Albertsons, give them money, and say you want to buy time.’”

Mr. Mena emphasized the importance of being strong, deciding what you want and going for it.

Then, he told me—the girl who used to enter road races under the name Alice Mena because I wanted to belong to his family—how proud he is of me, how strong I am, how he sees me as having done everything on my own. (Not quite true, but I ate up his compliments the way I used to devour Mrs. Mena’s langostino empanadas.)

Papi kept preaching about how proud he is of me for finishing school. (Oh, yeah, I completed my bachelor’s degree at age 37!)

He told me what a great example I’ve been and that his daughter, (my best friend) Andrea looks up to me. The feeling is mutual.

Mr. Mena and I continued our conversation, now onto marriage and divorce.

It makes him mad when people say how much they respect him for still being with and taking care of Mrs. Mena.

“Where else would I be? She’s my wife. She’s my life.”

Mr. Mena has always been a proud man. It felt different on this day.

More than in the past, I took in his kindness. How respectful and full of admiration he was for the woman who welcomed me into their home, cooked for me and often restaurants where she was dealt the blows of conflict between her Chilean Spanish heritage and the New Mexican Spanish culture I grew up around.

Mrs. Mena slept for most of my visit. Papi and I went into the back bedroom and woke her up. She looked at me with a mother’s adoration. Tears of joy leaked from her eyes.
I held her, hugged her, kissed her, looked into her soul and told her I wished I could take her pain away. She shook her head no.

Mami pointed to my diamond circle pendant necklace, diamond earrings and rings and her eyes lit up like I’d landed some rich man. I reminded her I worked in a jewelry store for many years. She always loved jewelry. She still loves it and shopping.

Mrs. Mena eyed for (since spoken language is no longer her friend) Mr. Mena to give me a big bag of Lindt chocolates.

Papi told me about the foot surgery she had to fix her foot that wasn’t quite right since the stroke. Now, it’s even worse. She can hardly walk. He drives her in a van and she has a scooter.

Mr. Mena’s doctor told him he better take care of himself or he’ll die before her. “I try, he said.” But, he has diabetes, is overweight and his health doesn’t look like it’s rooting for him.

He showed me a new Mercedes he’s working on making into a truck. He’d sold his old prized Mercedes sedan. “What do I need with a car I can only drive once or twice a month?” He also sold his apartment in Chile. “Andree can’t travel.” It seems not too many years ago he was insisting otherwise.

His priorities have shifted. His purpose is caring for his wife and watching his grandkids grow up.

Mr. Mena told me he spoke in Washington, DC at the UN years ago. His talk was called “The Ismael Menas of the World.”

I considered the multitudes of people like papi who came from harsh circumstances to build their American dream.

The Ismael Menas of the world: people to be thankful for.

How to Embrace Opportunity for Metamorphosis. #bloglikecrazy

“Birds sing after a storm; why shouldn’t people feel as free to delight in whatever remains to them?” ~ Rose Kennedy

My friend is lucky.
Her love lives.
She has a wife and a kid.

She’s unlucky.
As writers, we declared
Long ago: j-o-b-s distract.
She’s dedicated to a distraction.

Committed by way of marriage
And her ego’s need for independence
Managing the only 24 hours given each day.

I’m lucky, granted—by grace and my sister’s magic—
Freedom to pursue my passion daily.
The gift every writer dreams of: time
To work on our calling, the way others work
On their professions. Writing defines everything.
Writing rights us. We know no other way.
We’ll squeeze the whole world out to fit our
Writing in, but we don’t want to do it that way.

I don’t have to. I’m lucky.
Certainly luckier than most.
Of course, unluckier than many.
Losing everything, and my beloved dying.

I live my grandfather’s legacy:
I’ve had a lot of loss, but
I’ve had a lot of love.

Both unlucky and lucky,
Like my friend, all my
Friends, family and strangers.

Love, freedom, time and money.
Health, opportunities and obligations.
Coping, managing and manifesting.

Luck. We can’t hold it. It’s a
Hot potato. Good and bad luck.
We juggle them both, knowing:

For all the good, there’s a price.
I willingly pay.
And the bad?
Opportunity for metamorphosis.
I play my part.

I change. I grow.

We’re all lucky. And unlucky. Then, lucky again.

Sometimes life swings full
Circle and you realize
How lucky you are.
How lucky you are!

How I Pray for my Friend in the Meantime. #bloglikecrazy

“Being open to miracles is a discipline and an art.” ~ Marianne Williamson, The Law of Divine Compensation

Dear God,

This is a prayer for my friend. She’s lost her way and is starting to question.

Be her answer. Be her flashlight. Be her map.

Hold her hand through the dark.

Show her the way and reawaken her to what matters.

Let her know you didn’t forget her.

Unclench her clinging hands.

Free her from the burdens of her body and let her return to love—the love she had as a little girl, before she followed the rules and they broke her.

Take her heart to the time before she tried so hard and decided it was never enough, or she wasn’t worthy, before her subconscious kicked her to the curb and encouraged her to settle for less.

Give her a clean slate. Refresh her spirit. Present new opportunities she’s yet to imagine.

Whisper her soul’s song to her again.

Deliver the kind of connections which reflect back the picture of her you keep on your dresser.

Remind my friend what she calls mistakes merely prove her perfectly imperfect humanity and the arrangement she made with you so long ago.

Revive her passion with opportunities offering fulfillment and surprise and make her rise like she came here to do.

Let her feminine come out to dance and play. Brighten the light in her eyes.

Map out all that’s meant to be, and in the meantime, while she waits and hesitates, infuse her with patience.

One day she’ll arrive in that place on her path where she stands in awe and knows it was all worth it, but she’s not there yet.

Please, God and angels, meet her where she is.

Give her your omnipotent kiss.

Thank you.

Amen.

How Kansas City Johnny Rekindled my Soul. #bloglikecrazy

 

One cool thing about people dying is it invites you to cherish the living.

Johnny said, “Is this really happening? Are we really going to see each other?”

It’s surreal. He was my boyfriend after I left my first husband and fled to Tucson 27 years ago. Then, I left Johnny and broke his heart—because he was a bit broken at the time and patience wasn’t my forte. I was in a hurry to get to success.

So much has happened since then—for both of us.

On a recent road trip from Columbus, OH to Santa Fe, NM, I met Johnny in Kansas City in front of the Hilton Hotel, where I stayed with my Black Lab, Phoenix. The three of us walked around the back of the hotel and sat on a bench. Johnny and I drank beer as Phoenix played greeter to guests entering and exiting the doors.

I stared at Johnny—full beard and long dreadlocks, everything on him heavier with the years. I searched his eyes for the young man who decades ago ravished my body day after day as if we were trying out for the sex Olympics.

Before arriving in Kansas City, I worried I might leap into bed with him as I’d done the night I picked him up in a bar and took him back to my Tucson apartment.

Instead, I now studied the man. I said, “Did you always walk like that?” I missed his youthful bravado. I wanted it to summon mine.

“No,” Johnny said. “I’m a man beaten down.” Disappointment found its way to the place where my white woman’s heart witnesses the emotional scars a black man carries by living. Of course, he didn’t say it was about that.

I remembered a day before either of us cracked 30, when Johnny sat on the edge of my bed crying. He said, “You don’t know.”

Back then, he was a clean-shaven, suit-wearing, bright-eyed young man. But, that day a woman crossed to the other side of the street when she saw him coming. Most days, trivialities like that stood undiscussed. That day, Johnny cried.

I held him. I loved his tears as much as his laughter and the jazz he introduced me to. He had deeper reasons for the sadness, but sometimes a stranger could hit his hot button and awaken me to my ignorance.

All these years later, we talked about what happened the time Johnny visited me in Louisville, KY in the early 90s.

I travelled for work and had gone with a co-worker to a bar that was several under one roof: country, rock, jazz, big, winding, crowded and loud.

As I led us through the people, Johnny said he wanted to leave, but I couldn’t hear him. He grabbed my arm, no more forceful than the moment warranted, but in the snap of a finger, five cowboys surrounded us, apparently prepared to fight for my protection.

Johnny turned and left. I followed, trying to grasp what had happened.

In the parking lot, he screamed, “Are you trying to get me killed?”

I said something like, “You can’t love me because I don’t consider race and be mad at me for it, too.”

I was new to the nuances that are a part of a black person’s normal. I was unaware because I walk in the world as a white woman. I didn’t know my privilege; I simply relished it.

On that same trip, I took Johnny on a dinner cruise I’d gone on earlier in the week with my (white) coworker. I wanted to share my cool experiences with Johnny.

Instead, I got a taste of his. We were seated in a corner right next to the kitchen, then ignored. I’d never been so brushed off by a wait staff. We did get food, finally.

Who knows if the less-than-stellar service had anything to do with the color of Johnny’s skin, or the contrast to mine? I only know how it felt.

I remember Johnny telling me I could escape racism just by breaking up with him, but he didn’t have that option.

I did break up with him—not because of his blackness. I was desperate to get somewhere and young enough to believe love like ours lived on every corner.

Now, Kansas City Johnny—the man beat down by life—seemed to revive as we reminisced about old times and how I got him addicted to raspberry coffee.

I heard his deep masculine voice, his undeniable pride for his children, and his refreshing laughter.

We talked late into the night, hugged, and said goodbye like we needed to part to process these precious moments.

I saw him again the next day. I played him a mixed cassette tape he once made me. I don’t know what’s more amazing—that I still have it or that I have a cassette player in my 2007 Nissan Murano.

That mixed tape used to play on my boom box while we got ready to go out on the town. Now, Toni Toni Toni takes us back to Tucson and our 20s, watching Johnny shave and dancing in my undies.

I glance at Johnny sitting in my passenger seat smiling the kind of smile that bubbles up from within and paints a man’s face with light. It was one of those moments where goodness wins.

Nothing else matters and I remember how much I love this man, still.

It wasn’t the sexual ecstasy I imagined before we saw each other or the unrequited feelings he might’ve feared. I didn’t have that power over him anymore.

Listening to the music seemed to remind Johnny that nothing has the power to take him down and encourage him to stand tall again.

I’m standing stronger myself. An enduring friendship, a long-awaited visit, cool conversation, and some old songs made my soul sing. My mind reawakened.

My path rolls out on the road before me. I’m grateful Johnny reconnected with me in the wake of my boyfriend Kevin’s passing in 2016, and all the 2 am phone calls he took where I told him I just didn’t give a f*ck because it hurt too damn much. He acknowledged my pain and said, “I know Alice, but you’re going to be ok.”

Now I am, mostly. As I continue on my trip, another lesson from my deceased boyfriend echoes: “I know good people and I make time for them.”