From the mind of an Hermana Coraje…

From the mind of an Hermana Coraje…

“I’m glad I cleaned the house today,” she thought in her best Lady Macbeth fashion. “Too many damn cobwebs. Out damn memories.”

She’d contemplated burning some sage but settled on removing old totems from the past as being enough. Finding the photos of “that other family” triggered this latest “limpiada,” a lesson taught by her mother.

“The best way to get rid of the past,” her Mamá Coraje once said, “is to believe it never happened at all.”

Rewriting history was a family skill so well-honed, even Orwell would blanch out of shame. For the Coraje women, lies were irradiated truths. Truths were best regarded as lies told by those who only wanted to destroy their gossamer veneer of perfection. The singular male Coraje — the son or brother  — seemed to lack the focus required. He was a man-boy with feet of clay, desperate to be liked and loved, lacking integrity and grit.

Adept at creating her own reality since youth, this particular Coraje sister didn’t even break a sweat at the effort anymore. Ignoring events, people, the color of her skin, her family’s lower-middle-class reality, it didn’t faze her in the least. She chose to dance on the jagged edge, to remain a beautiful liar en pointe. Yet, the years were now revealing their own subtle truths, manifested in her stick-thin figure and the frozen look of bitter disappointment on her face. Whatever beauty or character was erased now.

It was seeing a photo of her mother with her American-born cousins that triggered this bolt of divine inspiration as she finished cleaning. She’d send the found photos to their original owners. It would be easier to simply place them in the trash.

La basura se junta,” Mamá Coraje would say about people who had lost their use to her.

Another pair of trembling hands would soon hold the plain manila envelope she’d carefully filled with photos covering several years from what was now a different lifetime. The note? Benign in its phrasing, but packing a wallop that would reverberate beyond several area codes: “I thought you could use these.” Its simplicity was almost too perfect! Minimum effort for maximum damage, this bread & butter note written with the same intent as a “Thank you” card or a grocery list.

Would she know that sending this package would elicit feelings of anger and rage? Would she know that emptying her house of what was once treasure would be deemed callous and heartless? That the question of “Who does this?” would be muttered via texts and phone calls and several lunchtime conversations? The frozen smiles captured in these wrinkled black & whites and torn color images belied something she would never allow herself to acknowledge: her own feelings of malignant envy.

As la Hermana Coraje transported the sealed envelope to the post office, she reflected on the scorched earth demeanor of the Corajes. It was a cold feeling, cold and lonely and terrifying in its power. Was this too much? Had she gone too far? But she caught herself before any rationality or humanity could take root. Gripping the steering wheel of her sensible Japanese car, a trace of a smile revealed itself as she accelerating on the gas.

The return of Las Hermanas Coraje — #heythere

The return of Las Hermanas Coraje — #heythere

“Hey there. Sorry about your loss…”

That’s all he got. Not a phone call.  Not a personal visit. A text. And that text, perhaps delivered in a show of support, instead felt like a crushing blow to a family already down.

Las Hermanas Coraje did not disappoint this bittersweet week of loss and family bonding. Only one of the Corajes made their way to the house that first, emotionally complex day.

We had been waiting for the other Corajes to make some show of support, offer a comforting gesture, anything. Instead, the Coraje matriarch stayed away, even though she lives just a few blocks away. To date, she’s only limited herself to a single, minute-long conversation the day before my aunt died.

As for Las hermanas C?

After their one-off performances of “The Pendeja Monologues” via phone prior to my aunt’s death, they have resurfaced to exist in a series of brief texts. The best part? These texts felt like they were written between stop lights as they ventured to the next destination in their carefully maintained lives. To be honest, anything more would probably require us using a defibrillator on them.

Just when things couldn’t get any more strained, the younger Coraje was moved to write what is now known as the “Hey There Text” to my grieving uncle. Maybe that “hey there” was just one of those little nudges we give people when we want to be tender in getting their attention? Maybe that “hey there” was how my uncle and the younger Coraje always addressed each other? Maybe it’s a musical cue, a Rosemary Clooney “Hey There?”

Maybe.

I hate texts for this reason. There is no context to feeling! And it is so easy to jump to an irrational conclusion. However, the rules of grief and consolation are very specific. You need to hear a VOICE, see a FACE, not read “HEY THERE…”

But that’s just me…and probably most people with a normal heart.

Whatever their intent, the “Hey There Text” was received as a cold gesture of fulfilling an obligation, not the warmth of a niece offering care and support to her uncle, to all of the family members who are inconsolable. In the end, it’s the one moment that finally unleashed a response text of no longer pent up fury from his daughter.

There it was. In black and misspelled white, but it didn’t matter. The emotion behind each letter registered loud and clear. You could practically hear the keys on a phone being slammed, punctuated by a “send” stroke that screeched “Fuck You!” instead of “whoosh.”

I don’t know what the aftermath will be thanks to this latest salvo of hurt feelings and incredulity. More than likely it will be spun faster than the already tangled web these spiders have created to shield themselves from us.

What happened to los C? Whatever the supposed beef against certain members of the family, fine. That score will be settled in its own time. But why are they offering so little consolation to the man who has been NOTHING but their champion these many years? At the very least, they should honor his grief. God, the level of disrespect and selfishness they’ve shown is staggering. It’s next to impossible not to think, “Yup. They’ve shown their true faces.”

As we reviewed the photo albums that day, searching for photos to illustrate my aunt’s legacy, we noticed a specific narrative in those first books. It wasn’t my own family present in the many pictures reviewed through tears. It was la familia Coraje who dominated the frames.

These fading pictures might as well be bats trapped in amber at this point. Worse, as the paper and chemicals are decomposing in these fragile albums, so are the ties that kept the Coraje bound to my uncle and his family.

We know time is not in big supply in this life, but los C can still turn this around. A mea culpa is not necessary. However, accountability should be on their minds. A show of respect would go a long way, as would an acknowledgment that my uncle was indeed “married” in the spiritual way to my aunt.

As hurt turns to anger turns to retribution, perhaps it is best we all retreat to our corners. Still, something tells me a bell will be rung one more time. Only then will we witness the KO punch that will end this chapter of “Los Hermanas Coraje.”

Hmm. There’s a good use for “Hey there!” followed by “You won’t believe what happens next!”

But truth be told, I realize this entire narrative is causing so much unnecessary pain. My uncle has already lost his soulmate! He doesn’t need to lose more family members through petty displays of poisonous manipulation. It’s so bad, he’s worried the Coraje shenanigans will add my family to the list of the departed.

Rest assured, dear uncle. We’re not going anywhere. Period.

Dammit. It is time for a truce, not pull focus from the devastating loss of my amazing aunt. And no, I don’t want to hear about Emails and other careless whispers delineating “secret meetings” with my already burdened uncle or references to my family as being “instigators,” either. That trick of playing the victim card is as tired as a bunch of aging nags on a barren field. If you aren’t happy with this record? Go to the source, you cowards!

By the way, when you do, it better be face to face. Don’t just send some bullshit text that starts off with “hey there.”

So, here’s a message to all for us: Live the lives you want. Just don’t confuse drama for happiness. (Thanks, Parks & Recreation for that profound truth.)

Wednesday, October 1. Written and posted from Wayne Ave. Manor.

“El día que mi padre me olvidó”/”The Day My Dad Forgot Me”

“El día que mi padre me olvidó”/”The Day My Dad Forgot Me”

Mi nombre es Jorge. En el barrio de mi nacimiento, todavía soy “George,” pero ya no me identifico come ese muchacho del ayer. Soy Jorge, pero no soy el original. Yo soy el segundo Jorge porque llevo ell nombre de mi padre. Mi madre quería llamarme Alejandro pero nací para llevar la marca de ser el primer hombre en una familia sencilla. El orgullo me nombró, no la poesía o el romance.

Llevar el nombre de mi padre tiene una gran responsabilidad. Como todas las cosas buenas, los griegos inventaron “Jorge.” Per mis padres Jorge y Lilia Carreón Ramirez crearon esta versión. El origen de mi nombre representa lo que es un granjero o una persona que cultiva la tierra. Ni siquiera puedo cuidar una planta. Sin embargo, esto me dirige a usar una metáfora. Las palabras son lo que yo cultivo porque soy periodista. Yo cuento las historias de personas que tú conoces para ver en la tele o leer en la Internet. Creo que eso me hace un granjero de los medios.

Siendo el segundo Jorge de mi familia es una historia diferente, una historia que no llevo a contar al mundo. Nunca pensé que mi padre y yo teníamos muchas características en común. Siempre estuvimos en una guerra de ideología. Ahora soy mayor y empiezo a darme cuenta de lo que tenemos en común. Como la mayoría de los hombres latinos, vivimos en nuestros recuerdos. Es como si fuéramos granjeros cultivando la tierra que da vida a nuestro´árbol genealógico.

Ahora mi padre está enfermo. Su mente está borrándose lentamente en una manera insidiosa. Un día no voy a ser el segundo Jorge, pero el primero. Es por eso que tengo que recordar todo relacionado con él y con nosotros. Porque ser Jorge es mas que compartir el mismo nombre de mi padre. Ser Jorge es vivir como el conservador de la historia de mi familia.

Porque anoche, al final de la fiesta de cumpleaños de mi hermana mayor, mi padre se olvidó de mi por la primera vez. Me dio su mano, como si yo fuera un desconocido, no su hijo mayor, no el que lleva su nombre. En ese momento, si cambio todo porque reconocí que sí, mi nombre contiene poesía y romance.

Porque llegó el día de ser Jorge el primero.

Domingo 28 de septiembre 2014. En mi casa en South Pasadena, CA


My name is Jorge. People still call me “George,” especially in the neighborhood where I grew up, located in the shadow of downtown Los Angeles. I’m Jorge, but I’m not the First. I am the Second Jorge because I carry my father’s name, a junior version. My mom wanted to name me “Alejandro,” but I was born to carry the name of our patriarch, the first boy born of immigrants in their new country. Pride named me, not a sense of poetry or romance.

To carry your father’s name is a huge responsibility. Like all good things on this earth, it was the Greeks who invented Jorge. But my parents, Jorge and Lilia Carreon Ramirez, created this version. The origin of my name is supposed to mean “farmer” or a person who cultivates the ground. I can’t even take care of a plant. Regardless, this does lead me to use a metaphor. I cultivate words and images because I am a journalist. I tell the stories about people you know to watch on TV or read on the Internet. Maybe that makes me a farmer with the media as my expanse of land to nurture?

Being Jorge the Second is a different story, one I never intended to tell to the world. Not really. Yet reasons exist why I can admit that I never thought my father and I had much in common. We were always locked in a battle of ideology. Now that I am older, I see what we do share and it is more than the name. Like all Latino men, we live in our memories. It is as if we are a special brand of cultivators, tasked with the preservation of our family trees.

My father has Alzheimer’s. His mind is slowly being erased in the most insidious manner. Since the day he was diagnosed, I knew that at some point I would no longer be Jorge the Second, but the First. That is why I have to record all that is Us before his files are completely emptied of data.

Because being Jorge is not just sharing the same name.

Being Jorge is living as the chief chronicler of my family.

Because last night, at the end of my older sister’s birthday party, my father forgot who I was to him.

He offered me his hand to shake, smiling and saying “It was nice meeting you.” Sure, it was a polite and friendly gesture. He meant it. That was the version of Jorge for when he met people he liked. But it was more than that, because I recognized that my name does carry poetry and romance.

Last night, I became Jorge the First.

Sunday, September 28. Posted in Spanish and English from Wayne Avenue Manor in South Pasadena, CA