I have just realized that, whereas I created an entire Flickr set for my 34th birthday, there are no pictures from my 35th. For one panicked moment this morning, I flailed around in my memory, grasping for the faintest recollection of what I had done. Thankfully, it was awesome enough that there are distinct memories of that night: a wonderful BBQ party at Chez Amarylis & Gabriel. Thank you guys!
This year around, I don’t know what to expect. So many things have changed, so many unknowns have entered the picture, so many wonderful and new elements (people, places, dynamics, energies.)
This also has meant that all those things I’ve loved from my previous birthdays won’t be nearby . And I will miss them, no doubt about that.
I will miss Bianca’s delicious beer burgers, and our trip to the supermarket, with no idea about how much ground beef to buy, and then realizing we bought too much! …and the ensuing excess burgers, which were more than welcome! I will miss Gabe’s exceptional red velvet cake, his passionate dedication to getting it right, all of it, all his baking, his projects, his enterprises. I will miss both of them sorely. They were my sanity, my stability, my lifeline to my own self, to realizing my life was as awesome as could be, and that I didn’t need anyone else to be a magnificent person.
I will miss Gabriel and Amarylis, their unending hospitality, their unconditional friendship. I will miss how cozy and loved I felt around them. Thank you, guys, for being such lovely human beings!
I will miss Bob and his penchant for drama, be it for little or for bigger things equally. I will miss having him pacing around my living room, cigarette flying from hand to mouth, telling me about his latest personal crisis or the funniest teacher anecdotes.
I will miss Vero, even if she wasn’t able to attend my last birthday. She always strived for my birthdays to be unforgettable shindigs. I still remember the one where I got to wear a princess tiara and I got a Kit Kat bar instead of cake. For things such as that, Vero, I will always consider you my wife <3
I will miss my sister–hell! I already do!–and her ability to get along with just about anyone, how easy it is for her to make me laugh… I will miss our “public theater pieces”, meaning basically how we loved over-performing for whoever was watching us. I miss having those Thursday afternoon coffees with her, our trips to Subway to pick up dinner and then heading home to binge on Doctor Who. I miss all of this to the point of tears. I also do miss Saturday mornings with Mom. Her impromptu invitations to lunch, coffee or simply a shopping spree. I miss making her laugh without even trying. Sometimes it was the stupidest things…
I will miss the crowd that attended last year’s birthday: Alfredo, Pepe, Zuleyka, Cheo, Alejandra S., Nina, Nadya … all of you! We made good vibes that night.
And last but not least, I’ll miss Eze’s selfless gesture of leaving his skepticism and birthday-hate aside to make my 35th a very enlightening and emotional exercise for the group to express how we felt about each other. Between the beers and the wine and the food and general hedonism, I feel that there was a true essence of mutual love and admiration among the guests. That little exercise you made up was key to making it so. THANK YOU!
I know this year will be awesome as well. Different, of course. The friendships, places, dynamics are new, but I suspect no less true and honest. I bow in love and respect to my friends and family. And I welcome this new world that will see me turn from 35 to 36.
Question to just about everyone out there, but particularly women: what do you respond when someone compliments you for your appearance, intelligence or merits? Do you say “thank you” and leave it at that? Or is that “thank you” followed by “but it’s just…”: just shooting down the compliment and yourself in the process?
At what point did we learn to become so critical of ourselves that we do it automatically, without giving it a second thought?
I’m pretty sure it’s not in the womb. When babies are born, they’re almost invariable considered “the cutest thing in the world”, and any criticism towards the child will only be met with horror.
Later on, as toddlers, we become aware of ourselves in the mirror early in our lives, but we don’t really stop to think about appearances in the beginning. It’s later. As we hone our powers of observation, we copy and mimic. It’s animal nature: adults are our models, and our survival instincts dictate that we follow suit in everything they do and say to ensure our own development. Girls learn from their mothers and other female role models in the family. Aunts, grandmothers, big sisters, cousins… And what we observe invariably leads to this: a female adult looking in the mirror and tearing herself down bit by bit. Hair, face, nose, eyes, chin, neck, breasts, arms, thighs, stomach … no parts are exonerated from this process of self-annihilation. We observe this. We copy this.
In the best of cases, this lesson of self-hate runs counter to what our parents tell us (you’re beautiful, you’re smart, your worth does not depend on others…) This is usually not the case. When I turned 8, my body started storing what they call “baby fat” (why “baby”? this is an ailment that plagues us in our puberty, more than a few years too late to be described as “baby” anything … ). Soon enough, the females in my family started treating my weight and appearance as a problem. They started marching in with food scales and Weight Watchers programs, grapefruits and yogurt, measuring tape and modeling classes… The tearing down of me was a coming-of-age ritual filled with criticism and self-hate.
This was a ritual that never let up. ‘Til the day she lost her memory to Alzheimers, my grandmother had a one and only topic of discussion whenever we met: my weight. At some point it was too low, then too high… I was never asked about my studies, my career, my interests. As a matter of fact, I was never asked anything. Every family reunion was an opportunity to pass judgement on me. Well, in our family, it is always an opportunity to pass judgement on one another. My mother meets with her sister (whom she hasn’t seen in over a year)? First and foremost topic when telling me about it: her weight. Same goes for any poor lost soul who may pass her on the street. Weight, clothes, hair, demeanor… all are torn down systematically by my mother and her kin. My sister and I have lived through this. No wonder our way of rebellion has been to not give a fuck.
But ours is close enough to a worst case scenario. What about the rest? The euphemism for the destruction of the female psyche and self-image: humility. We’re taught to never praise ourselves, lest we be thought of as conceited. Compliments and commendations should be met with a gentle rebuttal for the same reason. It all stems from I don’t know which fucked up Rules Book from the 50s, and it reeks of patronizing bullshit. We have assimilated this conviction so well, that we even shoot each other and ourselves down whenever we have the audacity of thinking something kind about ourselves. Case in point?
Me. Ninth grade. After P.E., girls would swarm around the one full-length mirror to apply makeup, gossip and examine themselves destructively in front of each other. You know the drill: “my thighs are too fat,” “my hair is so bleh,” “my shins are so skinny”… etc, ad nauseum. And yes, guys, these comments are a fishing pole for compliments. That’s the only way we have learned to actually get a little bit of positive feedback on ourselves. Of course, the cycle goes like “oh, no, your thighs are fine, but look at my stomach! it’s sooo flabby!” We profer a compliment and pour some more shit on ourselves, expecting others to take it upon themselves to build us up a little while they tear themselves down. We never take it upon ourselves. And if we do … I dared take it upon myself one day, when one of the girls asked me why I didn’t wear any makeup. My response: “I don’t like it. I’d rather let my natural beauty shine through.” The general reaction was mockery and derision. My own effort of loving myself a little was shot down collectively by the pack. I was brought down to my level, in a sense.
So it follows that there is no place in society for people with a healthy self-image. If we so much as insinuate that we entirely approve of ourselves, someone somewhere will inevitably try to challenge that. So our way of coping: beating them to the punch. Even the healthiest of egos will put themselves down over one tiny detail or another. We all do. This is what society expects from us.
And I realized some of us DO notice the vicious cycle of self-hate taught upon us by our mothers, grandmothers and so on. “Never love yourself too much,” is the lesson. Akin to the shaming we go through regarding our own sexualities, masturbation, our yearning for more knowledge (if it is deemed sex- or age-inappropriate), etc. We are kept in line to fit in with society.
How about let’s not? How about we decide to fuck it all and start loving ourselves as we are? Fuck the media and their message that our bodies are not good enough, that thinking outside the box is undesirable, that deviating from the standards assigned to our sex is an aberration. Fuck that shit. And fuck them all: society, the media, the powers that be, our families, coworkers, friends… fuck EVERYONE for telling ME how much self-love is enough! How about we finally arrive to the conclusion that we’re worthy of ourselves more than anyone else will ever be? Be your own lover and admirer. Cherish yourself today.
Back in 2009, my life was entirely changed by this woman. Thats me, on the right. Not my best shot, I agree. Also, that would be my Hot-Topic-Employee attire, not a complete departure from my usual style, but I digress. The girl on the left is Vero. We met at the end of 2009. She was hired to replace one of the assistant managers that quit to go live in Miami. I remember her first day clearly. It was a Black Friday, and I had been assigned to be seasonal keyholder, starting that week. She came in at about 9am looking all nervous. We immediately clicked. I showed her the ropes on how to work around the documents and cash register. In return, she stole my heart. A week later, she was calling me ‘wife’. Three months later, she was moving in with us. For all intents and purposes, it was a torrid romance–without the sex.
We shared some things: our love for Harry Potter (which brought about a huge weekend-long marathon of all 7 parts that were out by then), our love of food, Caprica, art, smoking … We spent countless hours just shooting the shit in our living room: me, pouring my heart out over a cigarette and a Coke; she, drawing her soul into countless lines and dots on paper, while a watery Coke and a half-burnt cigarette waited on the sidelines. I finally got in her what I had yearned for in so long: a close female friend, someone I could go places with and make fun of stuff and just be generally silly together. We did all that stuff: tandem supermarket visits (including some light thievery), visiting Walmart to drool at the bikes (and then unhooking them and riding them around the aisles), brunch (and mimosas!), weird dates (hers) in which I was the third wheel (and surreptitious chaperone), the Kitty Kitty Dinosaur podcast … Tons of things I never thought I’d be able to do with a girl friend. But she came into my life, and we did.
We shared an unparalleled love for coffee. I used to brew coffee every morning, just for her: a tall take-along mug she would finish off throughout the day (well, in the first few hours, actually). I didn’t share her obsession with sunflower seeds, carrots, or broccoli. We saw eye-to-eye in our love for queso del país and bacon (and Colombian sausage, oh! those were the days…)
We also shared our love for Bob. And the three of us became quite inseparable. Trips to the beach became silly photoshoots, long drives to Mayaguez became a shortbus of strays on the way back … and through all the thick and thin of it, we stuck together. In spite of my (back then) unmanaged mood swings (later diagnosed as PMDD), in spite of her habitually short temper and tolerance (which she stuck out and worked with just for me) … we remained friends and living partners.
She also did wonderful things for our home. Our walls became the perfect canvas for her to bring life to some of the things she had in mind: a blue-haired cry for help in her room, a redhead dreamer in our kitchen, and an unfinished tree-sprite in our hallway. Constant reminders of how much she suffused herself into our lives.
Then an odd thing happened. Vero fell in love. She had been looking for it in all the wrong places, suffering all unwanted advances, rebuffing guys that would’ve been good to her, wallowing in her own misery when the ones she did go after treated her like shit … And through it all, the one thing she thought she’d never get kept her spirits up, I’m sure, at least a little. And then the coin dropped …
…and Julius came into her life. And it was inevitable: she moved away.
I’m glad for her, for them. She’s happy, they both seem to be. Parachuting, living in the woods, getting a corgi … all the awesome stuff she wanted to do for a long time (and some extra awesome stuff she probably had NO idea she wanted to do) … all of it came into fruition. And she looks happy. She has looked this happy ever since they finally got together. It’s good to see.
From a slavery to retail (ended mainly by an unjustified firing from Hot Topic, complete with an acrid denouement of a lot of the relationships that had been established due to her work) to an absolute freedom and rein over her own life …. It’s been a hell of an era for -veedot.
This is the last picture I took of her. She had come back after practically having moved to Boston, just to celebrate my 34th birthday. And she baked one of her delicious beer-can chickens for me. She was always that thoughtful.
They say hindsight is 20/20. This is true. The more you learn with the hard knocks of life, the more you can contextualize your past. For example: I’ve learned in the last few months about the many people I came to love, but never came around to telling them because I myself hadn’t noticed. It’s been oddly liberating, finally understanding where my feelings stem from and how they work.
And I’ve also redefined my way of loving. Loving not to do with sexuality as much as knowing that you’d do whatever in your power to make that person happy. In this sense, not many people remain in the list of “loved ones”. But Vero is one of them. What I have come to define as “people I’ve fallen in love with”. She may not know, and it’s okay. She already gave me what I never thought to ask of anyone: her devotion, her friendship, her love… and her happiness.
Those were fun times, and now we’re having our fun times apart. But to adapt what Rick Blaine once said to Ilsa Lund: “We’ll always have the supermarket.” And that is that.
Still… I miss you, Vero. And I hope you’re always as happy as you are now.
I never told my whole prom story (in blog form). I mentioned it in passing in one entry about three years ago, but I never went into detail about the whole tragedy of it. A few weeks ago we were talking about this among friends and I told them the whole story, and one of them – bless her soul! – said: “Everyone’s entitled to a prom night!”. Prom night was a myth I pursued after my own prom had passed. I insisted in participating in my brother’s and my sister’s proms, seeking to capture whatever I thought I had missed in my own. Some would call it pathetic, but I know I was desperate.
My brother’s prom came a few years after my own. I had already graduated from college and had one of those temporary office-clerk jobs after a disastrous stint at a computer systems corporation. I jumped at the opportunity of spending the night at my brother’s hotel room with my then-boyfriend, Oscar. It wasn’t half bad: we scrammed early off the dance floor and beelined to the hotel room, we ordered room service, we got drunk, we went to sleep, and I woke up a few hours later when my brother and his friends came in with a bottle of rum. I had my rum shot, and then it went up my nose. Epic. Hilarious. But not my prom.
My sister’s junior prom was epic too, for all the wrong reasons: I got a flat tire and I had to change it. Imagine that: a girl bedecked in a spectacular, long evening dress full of glitter and satin… changing her car’s tire with great effort, getting all sweaty and dirty (and bloody knuckles too). Yeah, some may see it as a sexy fetish. I won’t judge you, guys, but I beg to differ. Her senior prom was a disappointment too, although I did see one of my elementary school ex-classmates attending the same prom. Maybe this disorder isn’t so strange after all. The Prom Vampire Syndrome.
So what went so wrong that I had to go stealing my siblings’ prom? I’ll tell ya…
It all started on the planning phase, I suppose. Back in 1995, merengue was all the rage (I think it still sort-of is, you won’t find a party in Puerto Rico without its merengazo long set). The artists of the moment were Olga Tañón (complete with pre-op nose) and Tony Vega (where IS he now?), and the class president would simply NOT have prom night without ‘em. These merengue divas were fucking costly, so the budget had to give somewhere else. I’ll tell you where it got cuts: the yearbook (it never got printed. Instead, each of us got it in digital form in a CD-ROM… about 8 years later), and the location for the prom.
It’s important to think about the size of our graduating class: each grade was composed of 9 – 10 classrooms, each classroom had at least 20 students in it. Being conservative, the number would be 180… then take off about 10 (dropouts, people that chose not to go, etc) … 150 – 160? Okay, let’s go with the 150, it’s nice and round. Now add parents and prom date for each one of those students – let’s say, to compensate, that each student brought only one parent and one date – and you get the sheer number of 450 souls to attend the event.
Where was my prom being held?
Parque Julio Enrique Monagas: it was a fucking tiny room at the top of a fucking tiny mogote (flat-topped mountain). The place is perfect for a small wedding, a business meeting … something small. My class prom was not small. I’ve seen hotel ballrooms filled to the brim for a prom of a graduating class of 60 students. My class was NOT small. But they HAD to have Olga Tañón and Tony Vega. I hate merengue, so you can guess where that left me and like-minded people: very, VERY upset and resentful. I wasn’t gonna enjoy Olga Tañón! I definitely wasn’t gonna enjoy Tony Vega!!! Why did I have to lay low and accept this decision? Well, maybe ‘cuz I was way stupid!
Now, on the personal front, you’d think I had more control of the variables. I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted as a prom dress:
(Something like) this, of course, paired with my dearest Doc-Marten-style boots… And I also had a very precise picture (as in: “I had a magazine cutout”) of the makeup job I wanted… minimalist, sweet, just a bit of attention to the eyes, nothing fancy. I was never a huge fan of makeup.
The gown was the first let-down. Money was short, this much I knew, but I was never told. So, when the time came to choose a prom gown, I was painfully aware of the price tags over anything else. I didn’t dare to go over $100, and I ended up choosing an $80 dress in the kind of slinky fabric I hate (you know the one! sticking to all the wrong bulges and seams…) It didn’t even look like a prom dress: slinky black little number, long but only down to my ankles, with a double row of silver-colored buttons down the front, with a ruched section of fabric in the middle, criss-crossed with thin bands of the same fabric … sort of going for classic-greek, but not quite getting there…
Then my mother thought it wise to get me some control top pantyhose AND some control-top panties …
oh, yes! The same! So you can guess how many muffin-tops I had … about a THOUSAND! And I couldn’t do anything about it because I only thought of trying the whole thing out the same fucking day of the prom! Stupid stupid me!
My mother also thought it would be a great idea to have our personal stylist (of that time, she’s long gone, thankfully! Dreadful woman!) do my makeup for me that day. To be honest, I thought it would be a great idea too – I’m less Michaelangelo and more Pollock with my makeup brushes. The woman arrives and I show her the magazine cutout I had saved for months (!!!), told her “I want something like this!” … and to this day, I remember her words “¡Ay, no! ¡Esos ojos de vaca cagona!” (translate for yourself, if you don’t speak Spanish, but … yes, something to the effect of a cow shitting … enjoy!) Then, she proceeded to do whatever the hell she wanted to my face.
And I swear, to this day, that the woman did what no other living creature has dared: she made it look like I was wearing another woman’s face as a translucent mask.
Nothing has ever been more unbecoming ever again.
(and let’s not even talk about The Hair, although, to be fair, I only acquired peace with my own hair within the last few years)
So, feeling completely unlike myself and very self-conscious about my general appearance, we set out to the prom. The first warning flag of All The Things That Would Go Wrong was the line for the elevator: long, serpentine… The ballroom was on top of the mountain, and the only way to get there was a single elevator. Now, why it was taking so long would be a surprise. We were first supposed to walk in one by one as a few words on each student would be read over the mic. I don’t know how in the world they were keeping the order straight: 150 students arriving randomly at any given moment would not make it easy. However, for me, this would be a highlight – or so I thought.
The wait was long and tortuous. My feet were killing me: no boots for me, my mother wouldn’t have it! So instead, I was wearing shiny black high heels. I have flat feet, so you can imagine. I never wear heels.
After more than an hour’s wait, we were finally at the top, albeit still at the end of a long line that ran from the ballroom all the way across a hallway that led to the elevator door. Then I saw it happen: the diva Olga Tañón whooshing past us in a fucking hurry. And then the line started to move.
As I pranced into the ballroom, I realized they had completely skipped the idea of reading anything other than the students’ names as they walked in, so it was “Diana Campo”, quick picture with my father, and that was that! Later on, I learned that Ms. Tañón was in such a hurry that she gave the ultimatum that she either started within 30 minutes, or she was gone (with full pay, of course!). So, any glory that dissenting students would have at least walking into the room was foregone in favor of this fucking bitch.
Moments later my father pulled me apart and told me my mother was feeling sick, so we had to go. I don’t blame her: the ballroom was small, its ceiling was quite low, and by 15 minutes in, I was feeling like fried fish under the spotlights. It wasn’t a nice place to be. I bid my adieus and went home for the night.
So, does everyone deserve a prom night? Maybe.
I was thinking about this today and I realized that maybe I should have taken better control of the variables I could control: the attire, the makeup, the hair. I didn’t have to accept what was being handed to me right off the bat.I could have gotten creative, like sewing the dress or look for bits and pieces off older garments from home or the Salvation Army. I could have practiced the hair and the makeup at home, maybe raid mom’s makeup box. I could have taken the whole thing into my hands and run with it. It was my prom, after all. If it were today, that’s what I’d do.
But then I remembered what was really going through our minds back then: mom was surviving cancer. Plain and simple. There was no time nor energy for anything other than that. My involvement in school issues was limited, competing with my other escape (boyfriend, sex…). The whole teenage-side of my life, I think, was sort of a cardboard facade waiting to peel off at any moment. It was gone long before my senior year, but I kept up with the motions of being a graduating brat. My heart wasn’t into it, though. Had I really been into it like a normal teenager, I would have gotten a $200 dress like my step-sister’s (2 years down the road):
… oh, wait, I did wear that one … to fuck some other boy in his car… jeez, I’m such a smutty fucker. Nah, I don’t deserve a prom. 😉
My grandmother used to have an odd sense of humor. “Yes, we have no bananas,” is a sentence she used to repeat in context of derision towards third-world countries. In retrospect, this could have been odd to see, since – as I learned later on in my life – my grandmother was born in Cuba and was raised there for at least the first 3 or 4 years of her life. She faintly, yet fondly, remembered the hacienda she lived in and the servants that used to work for them. My grandmother, it seems, was on the right side of the Habana Hotel. Yet, if you ever mentioned Cuba to her, just like it would happen to almost any conservative Puerto Rican in the heyday, all that would spout from her mouth would be clichés about bananas and dictators.
Later on, through observation and interaction with Cuban families, I realized they are like a race in a permanent state of flight: a flight from their island, from their situation, from themselves. The ones I’ve met have been the kind of people to keep their nationality on the down-low, their exile has erased all identifying traits from their skin and tongue. Cuba is an ideal relegated to porcelain decorative plates and the occasional tiny tattered flag swaying in the wind.
… and I’ve realized that the constant throughout these refugees, the ones that claim to be from Habana and nowhere else, the “cubanos gusanos” (like my father-in-law has been herad to say), is that they hate themselves as a nation. They hate what they’ve come to belong to, so they decide to belong to it no more.
… and I’ve realized that this is exactly what’s happening in this island as well. We’re in decay: last few decades have seen to that. But the downward spiral flow has accelerated in these last few years, few months … and suddenly, all I see in my timelines and friend-feeds, all I hear from my loved ones is that we’d all prefer this island to blow to pieces. We’ve lost optimistic hope. Suddenly, I’ve even read people saying that we, as a people, deserve the brutal injustice to which we’ve been submitted… and I can’t help but understand, because there’s a side of me that thinks so too.
Every time I read a friend or family member justify the police’s violent response to pacific protests and what is mainly citizens claiming for their given rights, I cringe, and I tend to agree that this island needs some bloodshed, some fire and brimstone, some death.
We’re going down the same way as Cuba, or maybe not. I think the political details are completely out of my scope. But the self-hatred I see in Puerto Ricans today seems to be the seed of the dull resentment and silent rage the Cubans have come to live with for decades.
Yeah, we’re all out of bananas … but we sure have the fascist government that goes with the Banana Republic combo!
PD: My apologies to all Cubans and those of Cuban descent. My intention is not to offend nor judge in any way. These observations are purely personal, and more of a comparative relflection on what’s happening in PR during these days.
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