Feliz cumpleaños, chica

Growing up is hard, that’s for sure. I’m not talking about those magical years when you get to skip out on college and bum around Europe or work some crummy dead-end job. No, I mean the day when you realize that you are irrevocably on your own for better or worse.

When I was 29, my mom died suddenly, from complications of an arthritis drug. She wasn’t exactly healthy beforehand but her death came as a shock. I got the call at five in the morning and we piled in the car and drove east for 12 hours with the radio off. I remember grasping for thoughts, for anything to make sense of what had happened. I tried to imagine a world without my mom in it, and I couldn’t do it. I was 29, about to turn 30, and I knew without a doubt that I was an adult.

I remember walking into a rest stop, and out of nowhere I heard a voice. “I love you,” the big warm voice said. “It’s going to be okay.” I looked around. No one was talking to me, but I wasn’t scared. I just imagined this voice belonged to my new – Hispanic, I imagined – mom. My new Hispanic mamá didn’t have to talk much to let me know she was there. She could just give me a word or two here, a hum or two there to let me know that things were all right. She calmed me down and showed me how to trust myself.

I know it’s silly and more than a little crazy, but I still think of my Hispanic mamá pretty often. She always knows just the right thing to say when I’m feeling bad, and she is always there with a smile when things are going right.

Today is my favorite niece’s birthday. She’s turning 29. She isn’t looking forward to her birthday or to the year ahead. She actually said that she can’t remember the last birthday that turned out how she wanted it to. She can’t remember the last birthday that was fun.

I love my niece, and I’m worried about her. She is a truly beautiful person who can’t seem to see that. She’s dealing with the fallout of having a mom who never knew how to love her. She’s struggling with health problems, with anxiety, with a comically bad living situation. I wish that I could do more for her than I can. I’m far away and ill-equipped. But I do love her very much.

I’ve been thinking of what to send my niece for her birthday. Cash is on the list, and music. But that doesn’t seem like nearly enough for a girl who is on the brink of adulthood and needs a lifesaving infusion of love. How do you love a girl from afar enough to make a difference?

I’m packing up a box to send to my favorite niece. I’m putting lots of little things in it that I hope will make her laugh, but I have one more gift for her and it won’t fit inside the box. Sarah, I’m giving you my Hispanic mamá. She’s yours now. Do you feel her inside of you? She’s sweet and kind and a little tough.

“Te amo, chica.” Can you hear her? “Tu eres hermosa.” Listen to her, it’s true. One more thing: She gives the best hugs.



It’s my birthday

I’m 36 today. I will miss being 35, because even though this has been a hard year, it’s been a good one. I’ve learned a lot about myself this year. I’ve made new friends and reconnected with old ones. I’ve started writing again, in a way that truly excites me. I’ve learned to be honest with myself about what I want and what I need. I’ve learned that I can trust myself but that I should also trust those closest to me. Sometimes others can see you the most clearly. I’ve begun to ask for help when I need it, and to occasionally seek approval or criticism from others. I like how that gives me a three-dimensional view of myself and forces me to resolve disparity between what I am and what I think I am.

This has been a hard year. If you’ve stuck by me, and if you know me in reality then you most certainly have, thank you. You reading my words is the most meaningful birthday gift I could receive.