How to Live When it Comes to Dying

I’m at a really interesting point on my year, and it’s only the beginning. For the past few weeks I’ve seen my name – both my birth and chosen name splattered around the internet. It has been overwhelming and amazing. Both feelings simultaneously. I’m trying to understand how to take hold of both of those feelings, and own them.

A few months ago my uncle, great uncle if we’re being particular. Came to the states for his annual holiday visit. He retired to the Dominican Republic years ago. His house there is breathtaking. It sits in the mountains overlooking a rolling rapid river. His house has no actual windows, just shutters so that you can hear the river from basically anywhere in his house. Outside there is a mango tree, he has a swimming pool and a marvelous garden. At night you have to sleep under mosquito nets, which isn’t actually that bad when you have the sound of a river to lull you to sleep.

He is still here now. Not next to that rolling river, but instead in Long Island. He is going though his second round of chemo.

My mom died unexpectantly when I was 14. It was shocking and it was painful but it was brief. My family doesn’t grieve. We do not talk about the sadness that comes with death. The pain associated with loss. The repercussions of what happens to you after someone you love is gone. I went back to school a day later. Went to boarding school a year later. And didn’t shed tears over what had happened for years.

One year, a few days after when my moms birthday would have been. I cornered my dad. He hadn’t called me that weekend to check up on me. My father and I have always had a relationship that wavers from extremely close to painfully far apart. I spent most of my late teens and early twenties not speaking to him. I spent most of that time angry at him for choosing his new wife over me. For allowing her into his families life.

We met for lunch and I ripped into him. I broke down, maybe for the first time in years about how alone I felt. How much I missed my mom, and how much I despised him for not being there. My mom and him were high shook sweethearts. How could he have forgotten her birthday? How could he have forgotten his kid? To my surprise, my father who had always been the type to attack when confronted started crying. He told me he had never stopped loving her, and didn’t know how to voice his loss. His sadness.

For the first time I saw how he must have felt when she died. For the first time I realized how my stepfather must have felt. I thought about what it would feel like to have the woman you loved ripped from you. I broke down again.

My family doesn’t deal with heart. My dad’s father was a businessman as was his father. My dad and his sister are architects. Their worlds are numbers. It’s funny though because those numbers are highlighted with beauty; of gorgeous buildings. But there are no words. Just images and structures.

My world has always been words. But they have always had to stay written. My household didn’t allow for me to be outwardly expressive. As a kid I read everything I could get my hands on. I would lock myself away and write everything I felt. Everything I wanted to feel. My grandpa often says to me what are you going to do if someone stumbles across your notebooks when you’re gone? They’ll think you were always so angry or so sad. Whenever I write he says I always make a note explaining that’s just how I was feeling in that moment, so no one will take away whatever is in those books as who I am.

That is my family in a nutshell. We have feelings but they are meant to open they are meant to be suppressed.

My uncle is sick. I have no idea how sick because again my family is all business. I don’t know anything about cancer, or really watching someone die. My mom died while I was home, and those sounds still haunt me. I didn’t say goodbye to her. That will always haunt me.

My family speaks about doctors. About surgeries and about medicine. They don’t talk about how he feels. He doesn’t talk about how he feels. And I’m realizing I have no idea how to ask. Conversations are about doctors appointments. About how he feels physically; what foods he can keep down.

He goes to get his chemo treatments in Manhattan he goes alone and comes back filled with medicine – poison. I stop myself before I ask what it felt like. What it feels like to have all of that medicine running through you. What it must feel like to spend the winter of one of your golden years in the cold of New York, when for years you’ve basked in the sun of the Dominican Republic.

I am trying to find the words to let him know that I’m there. If he wants to talk. But I’m failing at those words. He instead asks about me. About gender and about sexuality. He is gay but his experience is extraordinarily different than mine. He grew up in the 40’s. His life was a secret. When he did come out it wasn’t to a world with shows like Modern Family. It was a world where he was a faggot, a Jewish one at that. A world where gay men were the punch line. His love life was not celebrated.

My grandfather tells me about how he felt when my uncle came out. How confused he was that a man could love another man. I was so attracted to women he told me once. I couldn’t understand how he looked at a man and felt those same feelings.

This was my grandfathers first of what would prove to be many surprises in the family. All of my grandparents grandchildren are either mixed or black. Both of their kids; my dad and my aunt married black spouses. My mom who was also white married my father and they adopted me. Years later my grandfather would deal with me coming out of the closet and then coming out again as trans*.

My grandfather and I always push and pull at each other. He, like my father reacts to frustration with rage. They both have horrible tempers that end up isolating them from the people they love the moat. At their core they are both anxious kittens. Kittens cloaked with the mask of lions. My childhood was spent hearing my father roar.

My grandfather always wants to talk business. Even when it isn’t business, it’s business. Everything had an answer. And everything if you break it down for long enough becomes black and white. This way of thinking has proven to be very difficult when talking about gender and sexuality. It has also proven to be difficult when talking about sadness. About the fears associated with losing someone. When I speak about my mom it is one sided. I’ve never felt solace going to my grandfather or my dad. It’s top overwhelming for them.

I want to talk about my uncle. I want to talk to him. It kills me to think that he could be gone, and I will have missed out on knowing someone and equally as important he will have missed out on knowing me. Someone that I love that is. God that is a hard word amongst my family.

My mom would smother me with love. She loved flowers and fruit. The art of Matisse and O’Keefe. We would paint each other’s nails in the summer, outside in our cement coated backyard in Queens. I would struggle away when she locked me in bear hugs. When she would overwhelm me with kisses and tells how beautiful I was.

Those are memories now.

I’m not sure how to share them. I’m not sure who will listen.

My mom died like a wave crashing into shore. It was quick and before I knew it it was gone. Her memory fading into the sand. You can curse at the stars you can curse at the sky but once death takes over well it’s infinite goodbye.

I know that will happen with my uncle eventually. This is his second battle with cancer. He is older this time and this winter is so cold. I’m not counting him out, but I’m realizing how much of a risk life is on it’s own never mind after you add cancer to the mix.

Sometimes we have to realize that we have to reach outside of our own comfort zones to comfort those we love. I am learning how to do that, and I hope that he and I can make contact.

On Race and Satire

Whenever my grandfather reads one of my blogs, the first thing out of his mouth 9/10 is: “But why do you curse so much?” He thinks that it makes me look quite unprofessional, and claims that it is unnecessary. Now being that he is from a totally different generation I understand that reading a 20 somethings blog is probably not only confusing but slightly painful. He grew up in a world where students took penmanship classes, men and women actually courted each other, the man has told me his has been drunk a grand total of ONCE in his life. Which I could say as well…back in my Freshman year of high school. For the most part of love the snark of the internet. I love the tone that our generation has. We are a funny bunch, dealing with a boatload of societal crap, and taking to blogs to get it all out. Sometimes however the internet can make me want to kick basically everything in sight. People often use sarcasm or irony as a free pass to say things that are actually not at all funny. They use their privilege to comically comment on conversations that go on in different corners of society as if they were invited to those conversations.

Last week we were all presented with the XOJane piece on the white woman who just COULD NOT with the black woman in her yoga class. In case you missed it

This week we have this web gem. Which I think is someones attempt to be ha-larious. But see the thing is. It isn’t. First off Thought Catalogue isn’t The Onion; which is known to be satire. And for those confused to what the definition of satire is this is it: “the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.” When done correctly AND IN THE RIGHT SPACE satire is the cats mother fucking pajamas. Satire can often be used as an excellent tool to make people realize how asinine a particular new story or line of thought actually is. Satire has proven to be extremely effective and popular online. I would say about half of the articles I read have some form of satirical tone. Our generation loves them some good ol satire. 

But here’s the thing: Not all journalism has to be funny. There is still a place for serious blogging. Thought Catalogue, while allowing some pretty dull, vain, and typical millennial dribble is not a site built on satire. So when someone takes it upon themselves to write an article such as the one above one begins to question whether or not the entire internet is just trolling OR if people, hiding behind the veil of satire are actually being racist as fuck. 

Every Black History month a section of our country takes to the media to say some really truly inconceivably ass backwards shit about why Black History month either shouldn’t exist OR why White History month should exist as well. Now I don’t have the time or the energy to thoroughly get into why White People are basically THE LAST demographic in our country who need an actual on the calendar month to be openly celebrated. All one has to do is look at who runs this country to understand that white people do not need anther pedestal to stand upon. The problem with articles such as these, is that white people have gotten to the point where they do not know what to do with their privilege. They can’t assert it the way that they used to; they are no longer slave owners, the civil rights movement wiped out Jim Crow and segregation, oh and we have a black president. Now I am in no way saying that ALL white people are racist. That would be a a horrible sentence to write, as it is not true. But young white kids looking for I don’t know, support? Acceptance? A voice? Are taking to the internet to say some really backwards things. And they are doing it by hiding behind satire. 

Men in our society are not taught not to rape. In sex ed their is no point in time where the teacher devotes a lesson to why rape is a horrible crime. Instead women and girls are taught how to not get raped. They are told the best ways to avoid getting assaulted. The people who are responsible for the crimes, are not held accountable. They are men, and they are privileged. How often are rape victims put on trial for telling the truth? How often do entire Universities and towns support rapists while degrading the woman or girl who was assaulted? 

White people are taught about slavery in school in books penned by white authors. They attend college classes, where some are fortunate enough to learn that white privilege is a very real thing. They then enter the real world and see first hand that society still does bend for them in ways that it does not for minorities. In the LGBT community white people often talk about how black people are missing from their parties and events yet still go through with naming them “Queer” and giving parties titles that fetishize or isolate minorities. They then sit back and complain that their parties are too white. They then go on the internet and write pieces about how sorry they feel for black women in yoga classes. They jokingly write about White History Month. White people have gotten to the point where they are so privileged that they can learn about their privilege and then complain about it and then do nothing to fix it because they actually do not have any plans to make things any better for minorities.

Sites like Thought Catalogue and XO Jane will continue to publish these pieces, because their audience is mainly white. Black voices will come up in the comment sections, but they are drowned out by the fact the authors are white and privileged. If you are going to be racist, be a fucking racist. If you are going to be a journalist who sticks up for minorities and talks about the very real race problems in our country, do that. But if you are just looking for laughs, kindly do not do so at the expense of a race of people who have had to be the butt of not only your jokes, but the end of your whips for far too long.