Working Title: Who Are You Competing With?

This story came in a dream, and I’ve spent months writing, rewriting, deleting and re-reading. I haven’t written short stories in a while either, which may explain why it took me a long time to spit this out and leave it alone after an acceptable first draft came together.

Writing this was fun and freeing, returning to my start of short stories over novels. There is less intimidation when writing short stories, when the adage of “you must know your main character like the palm of your hand” doesn’t apply as much because you won’t be with this character for very long. I spent a few months with her, and we’re still getting to know each other, and like all relationships, you learn something new about each other every day. At least, every day I went back to re-read and rewrite.

I enjoyed the freedom of this short story, of finding comfort in not knowing what happens next, because the story I wanted to tell begins and ends when it does. There may have been storylines that happened during that time, but I get to decide how important they were. Since it’s up to me, this is the most worthwhile story that she has to share.

Please enjoy and tell me how I did going back to my original medium. Or if you think I did a horrendous job, which I love to hear. My imposter syndrome is feeling a bit starved lately.

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

The further she was in her pregnancy, the more distant he became. She expected that, since she wasn’t the one who was pregnant.

Joanna had met him when the baby’s mother was four months along, and she took it as a good sign that he’d been open and honest with her from the beginning when they’d only met by chance.

Since then, their relationship had an expiration date for her, the date when she was leaving New York or when the baby was born, whichever came first. That reality made the relationship sweeter, since they would never have to leave the honeymoon phase, the time when they can’t get enough of each other and everything is fun and an adventure, when they meet up with mutual friends for parties that last hours and always end with them pushed up against a corner together. They never had to leave the stage of being the envy of their long-term monogamous friends.

They never had to have the conversation about where this was going, whether they would continue their relationship long-distance, how she would be as a stepparent or whether she’d ever meet the baby’s mom. He liked that about her, she knew he did. She knew he loved how uncomplicated they were, how there were no unanswered calls or texts that a night together wouldn’t make up for. She knew that from how he called her his girl and from how he spent afternoons with her, coming and going as he pleased.

So when Davis told Joanna that he’d met another girl he was interested in getting to know, she said she was fine with it. Because she was. Wasn’t that, after all, the true tell of how relaxed, chill and young-at-heart you were? Who and how you chose to date in your early thirties was more of a status symbol than the clothes you wore or the restaurants you visited. Now, your status was dictated by who was taking your clothes off and which restaurant they took you to afterward.

This other girl was younger, also thought nothing of Davis’ imminent new arrival and looked up to Joanna, according to him. Davis told her multiple times that this younger girl (who had seen Joanna at other parties, but Joanna hadn’t ever seen her or made the effort to meet her) wanted to be like Joanna when she grew up.

The flattery helped Joanna come to terms with her new reality, and made her stick around. She wasn’t ancient at thirty-two by any means, and she hated to think she was too old to at least try to understand Davis’ attempt at polyamory before he became a father. If anything, she respected that he was getting his fun before the baby came. She felt a bit sorry for Davis, who was so clearly trying to hold onto his youth with these three women, and she still knew that their arrangement was still the envy of their long-term couple friends. Joanna’s only rule was that she would never talk to the younger woman or stay in the same party for longer than ten minutes if she was there. She didn’t have any rules for interacting with the baby’s mother other than making herself scarce, more out of respect than feeling intimidated. The other parties seemed to respect those rules without her or Davis having to enforce them. All the more proof that if there were a Dating in Your Thirties Without Being Uptight quiz at the end, Joanna would ace it.


“You’re really still seeing that guy?”

“And you really are having that tone with me right now?”

Joanna’s stepmom was the only one not on board with the arrangement, expiration date or not, and she checked in on it on their weekly FaceTime calls.

“What tone?”

“That judgmental tone. I would have thought you wouldn’t fault me for dating a guy with kids.”

“He doesn’t have kids yet, though. Unless you count that little girl he’s seeing on the side.”

That made Joanna feel better, less old and ancient. A woman’s thirties looked different now than before. A time of empowerment rather than a sentence as a spinster, being single and dating in your thirties wasn’t unusual now and was even celebrated. Joanna wanted to embrace that by staying open to their arrangement.

“That’s gross.”

“Is it though? How old is she again?”

“Twenty-one, I think.”

She knew how old she was. That was the first thing Davis had told her, before he’d told her for the first time that she wanted to be like Joanna when she grew up.

“And he’s thirty-three?”

“Jesus’ age indeed.”

Joanna’s stepmom laughed. It was their private joke. The two women were seven years apart, but in moments like these, when Joanna’s lifestyle choices were obviously alien and too much a product of the current time, the age difference widened. They felt like parent-child rather than friends, as they usually did.

“So he should certainly act his age.”

“Does that mean I’m not acting my age if I’m a year younger?”

“I would say so, but you’d only hang up the phone on me.”

And she was right. The call ended shortly after that when Joanna said she was meant to meet Davis soon.

Joanna was supposed to meet Davis at Bryant Park, which she wasn’t fond of but it was close to where he was coming from after the prenatal appointments he dutifully attended every week. She sat on a bench by the fountain, people watching. Autumn was just beginning, and tourists and influencers took turns looking for the best tree to use as a back drop for their videos or photos.


When she was in eighth grade, Joanna had her first kiss and her first boyfriend in quick succession. Both had ended as quickly as they started. It had happened on a trip to New York, with a lot of flirting back and forth all day, culminating when they were back on the bus to Maryland. With the lights dimmed, the freeway on either side of them and what felt like endless amount of time before they were home, a game of musical chairs, bus edition, let her sit next to the boy she had a crush on, Bobby-Mason. Not soon after they were sitting together, he told her that their other friend, Lester, wanted to talk to her. Lester was taking a break from making out with Mari and had Joanna sit next to him.

“Bobby likes you,” Lester told her. “He wants me to find out if you’d say yes if he asks you out.”

Joanna wanted to play it cool, to act mature and like the girls she saw in movies. She had just seen 13 Going on 30 and she wanted to act thirty. So she told Lester that she would, but that Bobby-Mason would have to talk to her directly and sit with her on this bus trip for longer than a minute. Lester said he’d tell him, and she went back to her now-empty seat.

She looked out the window at the dark, flashing lights coming and going, heart racing, when someone sat next to her. It was Bobby-Mason.

“Did Lester tell you?”


“Alright!” Bobby-Mason said and grabbed her hand. They didn’t say anything to each other, and then Lester and Mari were in the seat in front of them.

“We’re trying to see who can kiss the longest. We got one minute. How long can you guys go?”

Bobby-Mason spoke. “Start counting.”

With that, Bobby-Mason leaned over and kissed Joanna clumsily. Not knowing what to do, Joanna went along, moving her lips in response to his. The cheering and wooing eventually was too much for her, and she pulled away. Bobby-Mason put both arms around her and hugged her close to him, so that she was leaning on him with her feet on the seat.

“Four minutes. You guys win.”

They sat like that for a while, Joanna feeling his heartbeat on her head, thinking they were so mature for sitting together like that. It was uncomfortable and she had to keep shifting her legs when they fell asleep, but subtly so Bobby-Mason wouldn’t see. She got out her iPod to distract herself and Bobby-Mason asked for one earbud. They listened to music together as Joanna smiled at the darkness out the window.

“Want some gum?” His voice was at her earbud-free ear.

She nodded, and suddenly Bobby-Mason was leaning over her and kissed her again, except when he pulled away this time, Joanna had a mouthful of gum. We are so mature, she thought. She’d only seen adults in movies sit like this, sharing earbuds and sharing gum.

The bus trip eventually ended and they were back in Maryland, and Bobby-Mason got in his parents’ car without saying goodbye to Joanna. That’s okay, she thought. In a mature relationship, we don’t have to be together constantly. We are better than that.

That night, as her dad drove home, she thought about how vastly different she was from this morning when he’d dropped her off. Now, she was someone’s girlfriend. She’d kissed a boy. That’s the first thing Jennifer Gardner had done when she transformed into a thirty-year-old in the movie. She’d kissed a boy. Now Joanna was closer to being older too.


“So, listen, babe. I met this girl and I want to pursue something with her. I wanted to tell you about it beforehand though.”

They had been having an afternoon coffee in her apartment. Davis had come over to help her pack, but he’d instead sat on the couch while Joanna took her pictures and frames off the wall and told stories about where she’d gotten each one. Davis had spoken after a very long silence of being on his phone, and Joanna had to stand still and put down the frame she had been wrapping up.

She appreciated Davis breaking up with her so serenely and without drama, without the secrecy and duplicity. Dating in your thirties, she’d thought. Her chest felt tight at the reflex hurt of not being chosen, but she knew herself enough to be sure that she’d be composed long enough for him to leave before she got truly upset.

“Well, thanks for telling me. It’s fair you want to pursue something long-term with someone else instead since I won’t be around for much longer.”

Davis looked surprised and put his phone in his pocket before coming up to stand in front of her. She didn’t want him to do that, to comfort her as he hurt her, because she wouldn’t hold off the tears long enough that way.

“I didn’t mean instead of, babe. I want to see her as well. To get to know her at the same time as I get to know you.”

Joanna’s hurt started disappearing, but it was replaced with confusion. She went through her catalog of emotions to decide how to feel, but she looked at Davis instead.

“That’s cool, right? We never talked about being boyfriend and girlfriend.”

Joanna said no, that they hadn’t, because it wouldn’t be fair to either of them since she was moving to London in a few months’ time. But when Joanna had told Davis that she wouldn’t mind spending as much time as possible with him before she left, she had thought that even though the label wasn’t there, the mutual understanding had been. That hadn’t been very relaxed-dating-in-your-thirties of her.

“So I want to try this polyamory thing, see what happens.”

“I have to admit, I don’t have much experience with that,” Joanna said. “The wildest I’ve gone is dating multiple people at the same time, but not when it got more serious with someone.”

“I’ve done it once,” Davis said. “But I caught intense feelings for one person and had to end it with the others.”

Joanna was conscious not to look too surprised at ‘others’ with Davis holding her so close. This is fine, she thought. It’s another experience. Just like your move to London.


After that conversation, Joanna had seen Davis sparingly. When he wasn’t spending time with her, he was at a doctor’s appointment with the baby’s mother or going roller blading in Central Park with the other woman when the weather was nice. She thought about taking up cycling or rowing or even yoga in Central Park, before she remembered she hated all those things and that she had already sold her bicycle. That had left her with the weekend shift.

“I resent that,” Davis had said when she jokingly mentioned it. “You’re not minding me or keeping me company until your relieve comes.”

“It was a joke,” Joanna had said. “But there are only so many weekends before I leave.”

She had wanted to spend more time with Davis, or to at least spend it doing more than sleeping or watching him nap as she worked or packed or filled out forms for her job in London. She had wanted to feel less like the place Davis came to crash because it was close to the younger woman’s apartment that she shared with five others. But she knew that voicing this would break the spell, ruin the relaxed, twenty-first century version of a summer romance that they were having. Just go with the flow, she’d tell herself. Think of the stories you can tell about this time in your life.


“You’re what Carrie Bradshaw would be in today’s world,” Carly said. They were at a get-together in Carly’s place, smoking a joint and chasing it with wine.

“Are you saying my outfits are ridiculous and I spend too much money on brunch?”

Carly laughed. “No! I mean that you’re having incredible sex with Davis and don’t mind that he’s spending the rest of the week with another woman. And when he’s not doing that, he’s at birthing classes with the mother of his child. Your life is a sitcom’s wet dream.”

Joanna laughed, well aware of how their relationship looked to others. They didn’t know that she had seen Davis only once this week, when he walked into this party.

“You’re just so chill,” another one of their friends said. “I could never.”

“That’s incredibly judgmental,” Carly said. Joanna was grateful for that, taking a puff and a sip to hide how much that comment stung. Not because of the inherent judgment behind the compliment, but because of the nagging concern that she also couldn’t do this for long. She was grateful for her self-imposed deadline of saying goodbye and graduating from the experience.

“This is a modern kind of relationship, allowing our partners to explore their desires and identities. Not clipping anyone’s wings with the garden shears of the patriarchy.”

Everyone braced themselves for the Carly Tirade every party was known for. They only had to wait for her to run out of steam.

“We are beyond the ghosting and vanilla dating of our early twenties. We drink the medium shelf wine and liquor, not because we are snobs but because we know ourselves. We take our coffee black or with an offensive amount of sugar,” she looked at Joanna when she said that. “We know what we want and don’t give a shit how it looks just because we’re ladies of a certain age. At my age, my mother had two kids under ten and hated her life. I’ll be damned if that’s me.”

Everyone took a collective breath as Carly took a puff and sip of wine, ready for the rest of the rant. But it didn’t come, and instead Davis came to wind his arms around Joanna.

“See! Look at that!” Carly said and pointed at the two of them. “Davis came with his girlfriend but is now lovingly showing affection to his partner, after going to a birthing class with the mother of his child. What more can you ask for!”

Joanna froze and hoped that her tactical sip of wine hid her shock. Davis was laughing and held her tighter, oblivious to her reaction. She squirmed her way out of his arms, saying she had an early day of packing tomorrow.

“My closet needs a good seeing to,” she said, as she hugged Carly and kissed Davis on the cheek, hoping she wouldn’t run into the other woman on her way out.


She still waited for Davis at Bryant Park, and as she took out her phone to message him to check in, a pair of their mutual friends spotted her. She waved back at them and started walking over to meet them. It was Gianni and Carly.

“Amore, Davis has told me,” Gianni said. “He told me to tell you he can’t meet you because the baby is coming today.”

Joanna knew the baby would be due soon, just like she was due to leave New York in a month’s time, but she was banking on the last few weeks of sweet goodbyes and simple romance of two people committed to nothing but giving each other pleasure.

“He said it’s not serious, but that she was a lot further along than he thought,” Carly finished. “But he’ll be at the hospital with her for a while.”

“I’m confused,” Joanna admitted. “I was supposed to meet him today. Why wouldn’t he just call me?”

“We were supposed to meet him for lunch, and he said to tell you.”

“But were you already coming this way? Did he ask you to find me and tell me?”

“Amore, we are just telling you what he wanted us to say. It was easier.”

“He could have just called me.”

Gianni and Carly just looked at her, fidgeting and waiting for the polite time to leave. Joanna was angry and confused at how Davis’ mind had worked that morning and how he had reduced her to playing telephone with their friends in the playground.

“Did he put you in charge of telling her too?”

“He said he’d told her already. That he said it could be any day now.”

“So he did know how far along she was?”

“Amore, I do not know. He just said to tell you that he can’t meet you today and that he won’t be contactable for a while when the bambino is here. He said to tell you that you shouldn’t worry if you don’t hear from him for a while.”

Joanna was thirteen again as Gianni was talking, going right back to eighth grade when Bobby-Mason broke up with her three days after their bus trip through one of their friends. She had played it off then and gone to sit on the benches to braid her friend’s hair, but she’d cried in the bathroom after school. At least now she could go back to her apartment to break down in peace.

“Okay, well, thank you for coming to find me. You didn’t have to do that. You could have just called me too.”

“Don’t worry about it. We’re going for dessert a few blocks over and you were on our way.”

“You just came from lunch with Davis right now? You were with him just now?”

“Si, si, amore, before he went to a doctor’s appointment for baby.”

As Joanna was putting the dots together and getting angrier by the second, Gianni and Carly said their goodbyes and walked west, arms linked and stealing glances at her as she stood in the park. Alone and confused. Just as she had stood after Bobby-Mason had broken up with her by proxy.


Two weeks passed before she heard from Davis. The first five days, she was tempted to call him or text him, to like the Instagram picture he’d posted of the small baby feet of the little girl that had made him a dad. To somehow remind him of her existence. But she didn’t.

The anger that had started in the park had morphed into rage over the two weeks. Rage at Davis, at herself, at Gianni and Carly who had nothing to do with this. She avoided the larger groups of friends, fearing she may see him before she was ready. She used the excuse of needing to do some admin before moving to get out of plans or to head home when small three-people dinners threatened to spill over into group-nights at the bar.

She didn’t miss Davis. She didn’t feel lonely. She didn’t miss trading off whose apartment they spent the night at, or having to subtly decline spending the night at Davis’ if all three of his roommates were around. She finally finished reading the book Carly had recommended and completed a yoga challenge. She said a teary goodbye to her therapist and promised to seek her out again if she was ever back States-side. When Davis finally called her to meet up, she surprised herself by noticing that she hadn’t thought of him in days.

As she read Davis’ clipped message asking her to meet up at a place of her choosing, she suddenly thought back to the first time she saw his baby announcement. When she saw the Instagram photo of the baby feet, the congratulating comments and heart-eyes emojis, her attraction to Davis was gone. She felt guilty at first, hypocritical and cruel, at finding a dad so unattractive as soon as the evidence of fatherhood was in front of her. It went beyond her lack of desire to have children herself, and she was suddenly giggling at the idea of having children with Davis. She laughed hysterically at the ridiculous thought, almost feeling sorry for the woman who was linked to Davis forever by way of this child. How long would it take Davis to grow up, to stop wanting to live in an apartment with three roommates just to be able to say he lived in Murray Hill? Would he ever get a job with benefits now that he had someone else to look after?

She was suddenly thankful to the baby for providing her an out of ever considering having kids of her own with him, to absolve her of even having to consider such an improbability. Because of that gratitude, and her own stepmom’s words in her ear, she wasn’t mad at the baby. It wasn’t the baby’s existence that made Davis so unattractive now – it was Davis pretending to be ready for the baby that made Joanna’s attraction fade. If this was part of the quiz, she would have failed spectacularly. Spectacularly and she would have taken her F and been grateful.

She would never have to compete with the baby. She would withdraw herself from the race, and knew that she was the wisest to do so. Of all the women in Davis’ life now, the baby did not have to compete with anyone. Joanna didn’t want to compete for second place with the baby’s mother and the other woman he was seeing, who was keeping him in tender hooks, keeping him interested. He’d lamented multiple times how she wasn’t returning his texts, once even as they were laying naked after making love. He squirmed away from her embrace to check his phone before putting it back with a groan and disappointment in his face. Joanna had thought her cool affect at his actions were her relaxed disposition at their arrangement, but it was really boredom of his disregard for her existence.

She was too old, too exhausted, for that tango. And she didn’t want to compete with herself either, the part of her who egged her on to go with the flow, to be adaptable, lest this opportunity should pass her by. She shook her head at that part of herself who was forever trying to hold onto her youth, her worth, by putting others first. She embraced the maturity of watching some opportunities fly by, of staunchly putting herself first.

So she put on her best armor to go meet Davis at an expensive cocktail bar he always made her pay at, putting on her outfit that she knew would turn heads, and went to tell him precisely that when he finally contacted her.

When she walked in, he was at the bar, looking at his phone. She saw, out of the corner of her eye, a man in a suit and a man in the fringes of the group he was with turn and look at her as she walked in. She kept the smile that was bubbling on her lips away and looked straight ahead. When Davis spotted her, he nodded his head at her before going back to his phone.

“Hey, babe. Do you want a drink?” He already had a drink in front of him, the watered-down Old Fashioned he always ordered and only drank half off before leaving for a chain Irish pub across the street.

“No, thanks. I’m not staying long.”

“Oh, you meeting people after this? What’s the move?”

“I’m not meeting anyone. I just have a few things to say to you and then I’m leaving.”

“But I missed you, babe. I’m learning to be a dad, so I’ve been distracted, but I wanted to talk to you.”

“I’m going to do you a favor and give you one less thing to worry about. You can go be a dad, go chase after that twenty-year-old. Do not worry about me. I’m out.”

“What do you mean? I thought we were having a good time?”

“I was not having a good time. So now, my gift to you, is one less woman to worry about.”

Joanna stood up and noticed the man in the suit was looking at her again. She flashed him a smile before turning back to Davis.

“And don’t bother coming to my goodbye party next week.”

She left then, and she heard Davis sigh, but her stubborn gait away from him in her best heels that weren’t packed yet were louder. She didn’t want him to stop her, to come after her and apologize. She wanted another cocktail bar, somewhere she could drink alone. She smiled at the thought.

(Different) Choices

It’s been a while, almost six months.

To be transparent, I’d like to admit that this flux period has lasted longer than I thought it would. As such, this blog has been left by the wayside a bit. I have been writing, though, just nothing that is ready to be shared yet. I have also been thinking about this particular post for a while, too intimidated and not ready to write it. Suddenly, it’s all I can think about, with yet another immigration anniversary looming.

When you read this, it will be the seventeenth anniversary that I became an immigrant and arrived in the US for the first time on my first-ever plane ride. Last year, I reflected on the relatively better future I wouldn’t have had without that first plane ride. This year, I’m reflecting on something different, building on that gratitude from last year that has only increased in the past 365 days.

This reflection started, as it often does, as I thought about my identity, what labels I felt most comfortable with, what groups I felt were most welcoming. Shocking to no one except maybe me, none of the labels or groups that have been assigned to me feel right. There are those that do (cis heterosexual woman, for example), but those that don’t, and as I thought about why they don’t feel right, I came to the conclusion that they don’t feel right because I didn’t choose them. There are some that don’t feel right because they haven’t chosen me.

I’m still workshopping this idea internally, so please allow some incoherence as I present this idea with some anecdotes and recovered memories.

Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

I immigrated to an area in the US that is very diverse, but that diversity was scary at the beginning. Coming from South America, I was already a minority within the minority. I was meeting kids from countries I had only heard of until my first day of middle school, and I didn’t even know of the existence of the Philippines until I met a boy from there in my first ESOL class. In a place where I didn’t speak the language, knew the customs or fit in, I already didn’t feel at home in a group of people that was meant to alleviate the transition, kids who didn’t recognize the words I used when speaking Spanish, the language we were supposed to share.

As I moved through the education system and before getting to college, I still hadn’t found my tribe. My group of friends in high school was still diverse, but the only thing we had in common was our class schedules and our obsession with graduating. In retrospect, a lot of the friendships there were out of convenience, which would explain why most of them didn’t last the test of time.

When I got to college, it was better, but not really. I was ‘too brown’ to blend in with my white friends, not knowing some key references and cultural phenomena that bonded them by virtue of their upbringing. I was also ‘too white’ to blend in with the few Hispanic and Latinx folks I ran into. My Spanish, again, was too foreign for them and my English too tainted with American expressions. My white friends treated my heritage as an anecdote and a party trick, and my non-white friends… I didn’t have many, but it’s not like we bonded over our ‘BIPOC person in a white world’ experiences either.

I oddly found a respite in Leicester, England, the first time I studied abroad. To everyone there, I was just American. I sounded American, and to them that was plenty. Even my other international student friends from European countries saw me as American, often forgetting that I spoke Spanish at all. I was just Vanessa to them, not ‘Vanessa who can also speak Spanish. Ask her how to properly pronounce “quesadilla.”’

These thoughts race in my mind lately as I think of choices, those I have made and those that have been made for me, and their consequences. Dissecting my life from the very first choice when I wake up to the last one before I drift off to sleep, my life is a series of choices from where I have been in the past seventeen years.

Although this way of growing up has afforded me many a choice, it didn’t come without its share of conflict, internal mostly, but also external as others also had a hard time putting me in a box I didn’t always fit into. I’ve been mocked plenty a time when I use a word translated into English from Spanish as it loses its fidelity, or when I pronounce something the British English way because it’s easier on my tongue and the Hispanic accent that sometimes comes out. But it’s not me humble bragging or putting on an act to be likable. It’s just… me. It was a breath of fresh air to read this Esther Perel quote: ‘A sense of different belongings as I express different versions of myself.’ This is more nuanced than code switching and expands into the person I have chosen to be, picking and choosing aspects of cultures, identities and places that feel right. The amalgamation that has provided a home in myself to always come back to.

I’ve felt at home when I wasn’t home, because my ‘home’ is just where I grew up. I don’t really feel a sense of belonging and attachment to the places that saw me develop before I left them. I don’t hate them either; rather, I hold a deep gratitude to them because they allow me to say I came from somewhere.

I am not making sense here, and this reflection was less peaceful than last year’s and more jumbled, but I’m workshopping my identity as I start my exit from my twenties. It felt like a good time to do it. All that I’m sure of, though, is that I am a reflection of my choices, choices I have made from the cultures, people, places and stories shared with me. Like a bizarre ragdoll made from different fabrics that somehow still resembles a complete person by the end of the process. Could I have come up with a better image? Probably, but the ragdoll image resonates somehow and not everyone is a fan of them (I think).

This whole business of feeling different is lonely. That was another thought that brought tears to my eyes when it came, that the feeling I’ve never been able to escape for the last seventeen years has been loneliness. Loneliness at not being able to connect with those I should connect with by virtue of having something in common. But if I didn’t find my place through school, through college or even through my family, where would I find my place?

It’s been very lonely, which is a feeling I have just learned to identify and be comfortable and uncomfortable with depending on the day. I very rarely feel lonely when I’m the only person in the room, but I have felt lonely more times while in a group of people. The same loneliness applies to people and how it feels when I don’t feel chosen even if I’m choosing them. It’s been a work in progress to accept that the biggest disappointments and hurts in my life so far I’ve experienced because I didn’t feel chosen by a particular person.

I am different, as my therapist kindly pointed out a few months ago. The context was different than the one I’m discussing today, but it’s all I’ve been able to think about since she said it, finding more and more examples of that reality every day. So I end this clumsy reflection and even clumsier blog entry with that: I’m different. And maybe I’m the same as everyone else in that they all feel different for whatever reason, and that’s okay. My story is and will continue to be different as it progresses, and maybe by my next immigration anniversary, I will have this neatly worked out.

Changed the Soil

My plants are alive and thriving. Because now I have plants.

No one is more surprised than me, but every time I go to water one of them I remember my prediction from a few entries back. Nothing has died yet, and the only worry I had was an aloe leaf that was starting to rot and yellow. After I cut it away, the rest of the plant still stands.

A lot of my success (so far) is likely due to the abundance of natural light in my space, which I didn’t have in my parents’ house. Natural light there is available, but there were only so many spots that a plant could live for fear of a pet chomping on the leaves or knocking something over if left unattended. And yet I can’t help but wonder… like the many plants that didn’t make it, was I not meant to thrive where I was?

What follows is a plant tour and some reflection – setting out expectations early.

The Avocado Plant. Yes, that is a Nando’s table stick I acquired.

We begin with my pride and joy: the Avocado Plant. It is one of three seeds I tried to sprout months ago for a second time, and one of the two that made it up here with me. I must confess here that I forgot to bring any of plants with me and I forgot to ask someone to look after them until I came for them, so imagine my surprise when, two weeks after I moved, there was a stalk coming out of the pot. No one had done anything to it, it was barely getting any sunlight, and the stalk itself was drying out. When I brought it home with me, it lived in the balcony for a few weeks, without any expectation or goal attached to it. One morning, bleary eyed and not ready to start the day, I noticed leaves coming out of the stalk.

From then on, the Avocado Plant continues to surprise me with its resilience and determination to grow and sprout new leaves. Against my mom’s plant advice, I kept it outside for a while thinking avocados like warm climates and so it would likely enjoy the summer heat. I brought it inside permanently once some of the leaves started charring and the soil was constantly bone dry.

It’s not the prettiest looking plant and it’s plain if we’re being objective, but it’s my favorite. I don’t see myself in any of my plants and rather see my growth in their growth, but the avocado plant does seem to prefer being inside to outside in the hellish East Coast summer like me. It’s a bit gangly and not particularly beautiful (like me until I turned 22), but it is consistent (like me always). The leaves that come in from the top of the stalk have looked the same for three rows now, and I’d bet the one coming in will bring two sisters with it.

Initially, I left the charred leaves as they were without pruning the burnt or the leaves altogether. A reminder of it not liking the hot outside and a badge of determination to keep growing when given proper light, water, and encouragement. But today, I pruned the burnt leaves before its photo op. Maybe, like me, it’ll feel good after a haircut. Maybe, like me, it’ll prefer the cooler autumn days in a few months. I stopped naming my plants after I had to throw them out when they were irrevocably dead, and I said I wouldn’t name any of the avocado plants I was trying to grow until I saw consistent and steady progress. If the Avocado Plant lives and thrives long enough to see if it likes to be outside in the milder autumn days, maybe I’ll give it a name then.

Lilly the aloe vera plant with my second Nando’s table stick that I acquired.

We continue with Lilly the aloe plant, and the one I’m most afraid of. Notoriously picky on the conditions they prefer and stuck up because of their health benefits, Lilly gets whatever she wants so long as she doesn’t die. She was a gift from a family friend we’ve deemed The Plant ER (although she couldn’t save my amaryllis; she returned its pot with Lilly in it), and I want to keep her alive purely to honor that family friend. I always tell Lilly she has to stay alive not for me, but for who gifted her to me.

I’m not sure how much I believe in things like this, but apparently aloe vera is one of the many plants that can ward off negative energy and bad vibes that people may bring into your home. I’ve only had to cut off one leaf that was growing yellow and rotting in the past two months that I’ve had her, when several people were in and out as I got settled, so maybe she’s doing her job. I don’t do much to her besides check her soil before watering or occasionally praise her for still being alive, which seems to be working so far. Perhaps we don’t know each other well enough yet so we stay out of each other’s way, wary of upsetting one another or causing distress. Perhaps it’s just enough for now that she helps me out by staying alive and warding off negative energy, and I help her out by not overwatering her

The IKEA cacti.

Up next, we have the IKEA plants. None of them have names individually and they’re here to have a good time. All of them low-maintenance and nondescript, they blend into the décor and are just happy to be here. They don’t demand individual names or to be kept together, and they’re all so far happy with their assignments.

The two cacti are my second ever cacti (their predecessor lived for a year and bit before I left it behind when I moved to London; it died shortly afterward of what I like to think as loneliness, but really it was from neglect and overwatering), and they get watered only on the twenty-second day of every month, with a light spritz in between whenever I remember it.

The IKEA succulent, who may be getting the name of Miss Keisha.

The succulent is the middle child of the four and was recently repotted. In true middle child fashion, it got an upcycled candle jar for a pot, with no drain hole, and I’ve toppled it over a few times, including when I was taking the picture. I even turned it around so the one yellowing stem wouldn’t show in the picture. I have high expectations for the succulent, and I’ve promised it that its next pot will be a brand new one and not a hand-me-down.

The snake plant that has no name but should.

The youngest sibling of the four that is the snake plant got priority for repotting. I picked the snake plant because of its slit down its big leaf and not in spite of it. I immediately liked the yellow tinge to the leaf and loved that it was the last one of its kind on the shelf, so I figured I’d give it a good home until the slit was the cause of death. Two months on, and the snake plant likes me so much that it bore two more growths, and so it got a brand new pot with a drain hole. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but it may be getting a name soon.

The IKEA plants were the first bit of greenery in my new home, and they had a place in it before they even arrived. They were selected because I thought I was finally ready for plants and wanted something sturdy and low-maintenance, something I wouldn’t be distraught to say goodbye to should it die. Joke is on me, because I would be distraught if they (or any of their plant siblings) were to decide to leave me one day.

The African violet with its exponential growth of flowers.

We move onto CeCe, the African violet plant. CeCe was a gift from my grandmother and another one I was terrified to receive. CeCe and Lilly moved in at the same time and are kept apart so they don’t gang up on me, and because they have different watering schedules. CeCe came with four flowers and she continues to surprise me with new ones and small buds constantly, which I deeply appreciate since my favorite color is purple. CeCe also has to stay alive for who gifted her to me and not for me, but so far she seems happy to be with me as I am to have her. Her success is my success, or maybe she just likes the praise whenever I notice that there are more flowers than the day before.

The Lowe’s Plant.

Up next is the Cordyline plant. Ms Big Red. The new kid on the block. I think I jinxed myself with Red before we even got home because a) I named her straight away and b) I picked her out solely because I like the leaves, not because I’m confident I can keep her alive. I also picked her out of vanity, because I want to start my outside plants collection, like I won’t inevitably have to bring them all in when it gets colder. She will be monitored closely during her first few weeks with me, and with any luck she will growth with me and watch the cooler seasons pass from inside until it’s time to go back outside next summer.

The herbal corner.

We end with the herbal set. They’re my least favorite and I will tell them that to their face and for free should they ask. They were a gift from work, and work they made me put in. They came as seeds in a grow-your-own kit, and I made a gigantic mess when it came to planting them. I used one of my food prepping bowls to soak their soil along with other kitchen tools because I didn’t have any gardening tools back then, and although I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited and proud of myself when the first leaves came in for all of them, the herbal set broke my cardinal rule of plant care: they made me get dirty.

There was dirt under my nails for hours after I planted their seeds, and every time I check whether they need watering, some soil ends up on the table or the carpet. They are my bastard set as they’re only here to do a job (give me fresh herbs) and have to work with whatever I feel like giving them. I know that an experienced gardener may tell me that is the reason they’re not growing, that they can feel my obligation-only attitude toward them, but I constantly tell Basil that I’ve been wanting fresh pesto for months and he’s not delivering.

There’s no big realization or profound comparison when it comes to the herbal set. They’re here to do a job and so far they’re dragging their feet on delivering. I hope that one day they surprise me and without even noticing I’ll have enough for a pesto, ceviche, chimichurri, and to season a chicken. Until then, they’ll be judged much harshly than the other green things in my home.


My plants are my gift to myself, a challenge and an opportunity to allow myself to grow with their growth. The plants added an element of play to my life that I lacked until very recently, of doing something just because. Yesterday, I went to pick up some gardening supplies (who, me?) and spent a few hours on the balcony when I came back, in the heat and sun, repotting, pruning, and talking to the plants. And I think I enjoyed it. No, I’m sure I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the fact I wanted to do it, that I had nowhere to be and nothing else to do but play with literal dirt.

I think the fact I enthusiastically talk about plants shows my growth. My growth in their growth. When I tried to keep plants before, I was frustrated and bitter about only my plants dying even though they were kept with my mom’s plants, which thrived and looked good seemingly effortlessly. But now, my mom’s plants are struggling. Nothing has changed about their circumstances or their care, but the money tree is now only a trunk, her own aloe vera (also a gift from the family friend who gave me Lilly) is hanging by a thread, and CeCe’s sister has never put out flowers for her in a year of being with her.

I wonder if I was right, that my plants sensed back then how stuck I felt, how I longed for a change of scenery to help me grow. Now that I’m in a different place and have different plants, perhaps we work off each other’s energies and try to prosper. I’m sure one of them will have their bad days or periods at some point, just like I will, but hopefully we can get through it with some water, natural light, and patience. Without even noticing, all of us may grow.

In Flux

Well, it’s been a minute. Three months to be exact. Looking at my last entry, it went live a few days before I stopped feeling so lost. On reflection, what I was truly feeling was a mix of lack of direction and impassiveness. I know I’m not alone in being bored of the waiting game the universe started playing with everyone in 2020 that keeps dragging out a year and a half on (#LoveIsNotTourism), but by April, waiting on major life changes I was ready for due to factors wildly outside my control left me feeling restless, angry, and depressive. I was really no fun to be around.

Then the wait was over.

Sitting atop a waterfall in Deep Creek, MD

On the same day, a promotion at work and an apartment landed on my lap. At least, that’s how it looked on the outside. However, neither of those things were given, and I had to put a lot of work in to even get to ‘compete’ for a spot on both things. After a lot of false starts and promises, I got to the point where I had resigned to being stuck until… the universe said I could move forward.

Once those two ‘gifts’ were given, within the following two weeks I moved out of my parents’ house and had an active role in hiring my second direct report. Neither of those things were something I’d done before, and I’d be lying if I said I had a wink of restorative sleep those two weeks. Setting aside the work aspect (because that somehow turned into the less demanding of the two), I spent those two weeks being incredibly scared. And I’m still scared.

Doing it scared.

I don’t do well with change. I’m a routine person through and through, and as I get older, instead of getting more easy going, I find there are less things I’m able to compromise on. I like to think that since I have a set of priorities I never compromise on no matter the setting (any outing has to involve eating at some point), it leaves some gaps for things I am happy to compromise on (I don’t care what we eat, as long as we eat something). So the upset of routine and change that moving brought sent me into an anxious panic for a period.

I’ve never lived truly alone like I do now (a safe thing to admit on the Internet? One to ruminate on later). I went from living at home to living at college, going back and forth for four years, then back at home, then with roommates and a boyfriend, then just a boyfriend, then back at home. Never have I been able to set up a kitchen how it makes sense to me, or know with absolutely certainty that absolutely no one will walk through the door at any moment. Never have I been able to eat brioche and potato chips for dinner because that’s all I could stomach while ill from second dose side effects. Never have I gone days without speaking to another person that wasn’t on the other side of a screen.

I count my blessings daily that I wasn’t forced to self-isolate or self-quarantine during the height of 2020, and I’m sympathetic to those who were isolated in cities far away from loved ones without any indication on when they’d be allowed to reunite. I will always think fondly of the five weekends in a row that my family and I played the same card game until all of us got good and had won at least once. And although the course of 2020 makes me appreciate my time alone that much more, there are things that are 100% more difficult because I’m alone. Loading and unloading the car takes twice as long, assembling a couch cost two broken nails, and hanging up decorations feels like an extreme sport.


I continue to be in flux, even two months in. I’m constantly scared and doubt myself, but I found refuge on an Instagram story that one of my friends probably had no idea would affect me so: if you can’t get rid of the fear, do it scared. That mantra let me carry out a long drive to my best friend’s wedding and back home by myself; it let me get on a mountain coaster despite my fear of heights; it also let me get the pictures on this post. There are bigger waterfalls in the world, but even a small waterfall is tall enough to make me queasy.

The change and the fear is also what’s kept me from writing for three months. During a time I had competing priorities, I was scared to sit in front of a blank page and have nothing come out. Or worse, have something come out that doesn’t deserve to be published. So, here I am, doing it scared. Scared to also give an update to the world should I fail and have to struggle through the changes I asked for, sought out, and received. Never once have I questioned whether I deserved what I’ve been given, but if I would be able to maintain it.

The jury is still out on that one, but the rent this month is paid, all bills are paid, I have food in the fridge, the A/C is working perfectly, and the plants I have managed to acquire are all alive and thriving. More on that next week.

Crystals and Oils

It’s been exactly two months since my last entry, and though I’m not sure my absence has been noticed (not that I started this project to be noticed in the first place), I must admit that I barely thought of this blog in the past two months myself.

As I start this entry, I don’t know what shape it’ll take, how long it’ll be, or if it will provoke any sort of response. I’m not sure I want it to, either, because I’m not making excuses or looking for sympathy. I’m simply writing to write. And I haven’t done that in a while.

I’ve been toying with entry ideas all week, but whenever I thought of one, I thought of a reason I “wasn’t ready to share that yet.” I probably didn’t want to share that idea to begin with and felt like I had to, and I’ve been slowly working to get out of the “I should” mindset and move into the “I want” mindset. There is one idea that I keep coming back to in general, and I think I’m okay sharing that here (if anyone even reads this, but again that’s never been my main goal).

Photo by Daniel Jensen on Unsplash

I’ve been feeling lost. Not in the “finding myself during the pandemic” way, or “trying a different hobby during lockdown” way, or even in “trying the latest workout fad” way, but in the way of looking for lifestyle changes to make myself feel better. That may sound similar to the “finding myself” conundrum, but the difference is subtle. Here are a few examples.

There are days where, at the end of the workday, I feel like I don’t have more energy than what it takes to walk away from my home office and to my bedroom, where I lay down and watch TikToks for an hour, sometimes more. As I keep scrolling, it’s in the forefront of my mind that there’s something I should be doing, some way I should be being productive instead of laying down and scrolling. But I just… can’t bring myself to do it. I can’t put in the effort it takes to get up and find the “something” that I’m neglecting. That ongoing internal conflict is in my head every day, and when I notice that I’ve enjoyed having quiet afternoons because I’ve actively stepped back from side hustles, I wonder if I’m spending too much time doing nothing. Because I don’t know how to just exist. Unless I have something to do, I’m lost, and yet I’m often so exhausted getting out of bed in the morning that the first few hours of the day, I’m on autopilot.

While racking up the hours spent on TikTok, I saw multiple creators talk about moldavite. I know better than to think that’s fate and not the TikTok algorithm, but I still went and read more about it. I went as far as making a mental note to look into buying a necklace the next day because “it couldn’t hurt.” If a crystal could show me the path forward, or show me that I should stay on this path a little longer and be patient, I would fork over however many dollars it took. How did I get to the point where I thought a crystal would help me? I don’t know. While I respect people who respect crystals, I’m not educated enough in the subject to participate, and I know myself enough to know that this is not the right time to start learning. I’m lost, so I almost grabbed the green crystal life raft.

I’m not sure where this next one came from, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was TikTok, too, but I also found myself looking into CBD oil. As I’ve acknowledged my anxiety and its triggers, I’ve looked for ways to manage it and cope with it, and while I’m hesitant to research medication because I’m afraid of the side effects, I thought CBD would be a good halfway house. So I looked up the nearest shop, looked at their products, and thought nothing of dropping at least $60 for a vial of oil that could potentially, maybe, hopefully, take the edge off every once in a while. I never made it to the shop, because I realized it was another avenue I was looking at to make myself feel better. Buying (expensive) oils wasn’t who I am (or who I think I am), but I’m lost enough to wish it would be. I’m lost enough to put my hope in an oil that sits under your tongue and takes your worries away.

Even without the pandemic giving the world a write-off for 2020 and beyond, I know I’m not alone in my feelings. It’s not comforting necessarily to think that there have been others before and there will be others after me who feel just as lost at my age, mainly because if there are so many of us who feel lost during our twenties, it will eventually stop being so, yet here we are. It’s kind of encouraging, however, to come across articles like this, which essentially say that the late twenties are a pain for everyone. “Pain” is an adjective that was carefully chosen: my lower back has been in pain for so long, I can’t remember when it started, and I had an endoscopy yesterday as part of the process for finding out why my stomach bloats without warning and why it’s so painful to eat certain foods I’ve been eating all my life. My insides are as lost as my head, it seems.

Crystals, oils, mindless scrolling, and swearing off pork (after watching the Italian butcher shop episode of Chef’s Table). Will any one of these help me feel less lost? Is realizing that I’m looking for an easy, passive solution the answer itself? Even if I never followed through with any of them, maybe they achieved their purpose in being instruments to help show me “the way,” even if “the way” isn’t any of them. My thoughts are as convoluted as my sentences, but maybe if I acknowledge I’m lost I’ll be on my way sooner.

Quiet Isn’t Always Peace

We have learned that quiet isn’t always peace

Amanda Gorman, “The Hill We Climb”

Gorman’s poem had other, widely relevant and more poignant take-aways than this, but this part of the longer line is what stuck with me. Because that’s what anxiety is. That’s what anxiety feels like.

Photo by Andraz Lazic on Unsplash

I had a complex about allowing myself to say I have anxiety because it felt like a disservice to people who have actually been diagnosed with anxiety. I haven’t been prescribed medication and it’s not an official diagnosis, but I do exhibit symptoms and have done so for as long as I’ve been alive (now that I know to look for them). It’s a term most of us throw around, like saying you have OCD because you need to have your coffee a specific way or you freak out (when OCD really is tugging on the knob of the front door three times to make sure it’s properly closed and look back before you drive away to make sure your cat didn’t run out without you noticing even though you saw her at her food bowl before you left and if you don’t perform this ritual every time you leave the only thing you’ll think about as you drive away is her running away when a dog or loud noise spooks her and how you’ll never see her again because she’s an indoor cat with no collar and no microchip), but most people exhibit different symptoms depending on their different triggers.

The existence of triggers is something I have come to understand and notice the more I notice a specific anxiety symptom. Why does my heart race and extremities go cold after I glance at the clock? Because I registered the time and that a particular meeting with a particular coworker is coming up, a meeting I won’t particularly enjoy and that will most likely demand a lot of my time and energy afterward. All this happens without my saying one word out loud.

When I stay quiet, my thoughts aren’t peaceful. My thoughts race, bounce inside my head like red balls. From a song to a memory to something I need to do back to the song then to what I’m wearing that day to the one thing I must not forget to do back to the song then to what I want for breakfast then how my hair is looking oily even though it’s only day two after washing then back to the song and then to noticing the mind chatter and making myself focus on what I’m doing at that moment. All before I’ve been awake for a full ten minutes.

The mind chatter has been with me for years, and what I thought was me being efficient and using my time wisely by always planning and making the most of all the time I had is actually anxiety. In recent years, I can recall two incidents that triggered my anxious tendencies and put me in overdrive to compensate for the fact that the situation was outside my control. When I wasn’t working at fixing these situations or coming out the other side of them, I was thinking about the work I still needed to do, and when I got back home, I’d take out my laptop and pick up where I left off lest the thoughts I had during my commute home would disappear. It was quiet, with no noise other than keyboard clicking or the noises of the train as it moved from stop to stop. My mind, however, was the opposite of quiet.

The quiet that isn’t always peace is what it feels like every day since that first triggering incident. It was a season of unpeaceful quiet. Of being so out of control and dependent on others even after doing everything I was supposed to do. During this season, I tried drinking black coffee for the first time. I was in an office and someone offered to go on a coffee run. I asked for a soy latte, and the person came back with apologies that the café didn’t carry dairy-free milk (what in the pre-oat-milk-craze hell!) and that he’d gotten me a black coffee instead. I drank it and it was vile. Yet passable. I winced as I drank it and my stomach was cramping within the hour. From that day onward, I take my coffee black. And I enjoy it. It’s been years, but that result of trauma and a trigger incident that became a trigger season has become part of my personality.

Now, I drink black coffee and it’s a toss-up between racing thoughts or simply enjoying the warm beverage (the benefit of being born in South America and drinking coffee since I was eight). All while staying quiet. Quiet isn’t always peace inside my head.

I have heard many times over the years from many different people that I speak too fast. I don’t notice it, on myself or others, and I wonder if that’s another anxiety symptom or just my personality. Like the black coffee. My brain works faster than my listener, so words flow out faster. If I can’t stop the thoughts from bouncing and racing and flowing too fast, why should my spoken words be any different? Maybe my listener should just keep up. Make their brain work faster.

Until my brain slows down, quiet isn’t always peace.

Half-moons, Crowns and Rollercoasters

I started and finished In The Dream House recently, and though it didn’t affect me as much as A Little Life last month, it did made me ponder my own relationships. I then remembered this quote from The Fault in Our Stars: “As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”

Falling out of love is like the free fall of a rollercoaster: all at once, then slowly. You feel like you’re falling to your death and are leaving your stomach behind and forget you’re securely strapped in, that you won’t actually die. But for a quick second, you think you may just fall and die.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

The start of my all-at-once descent was returning the gifts. Jewelry, clothes, knick-knacks big and small. Like the love you had for that person, you don’t know where to put it if not with you. I sold, gifted and gave away, shedding the memories with them. The love in each one. If the love disappeared all at once, the significance of these mementoes should as well.

The first-ever ring took the longest to disappear. I sold it a few months after the free fall, but it was one of the first things I replaced. I replaced it with another ring shaped like a half-moon. I wore it proudly not only because it was a Swarovski (I thought that made it and me better), but because I’d bought the femininity symbol piece for myself to wear on the same finger where once sat the symbol of our first Christmas as a couple. I’d gotten to pick that ring, so it was only right I’d get to pick its replacement.

Every day for over two years, I wore that half-moon sparkly statement piece. It had become a part of my daily routine even after I started dating someone else and he got me a ring that I also picked myself (a dainty crown). One day, the half-moon ring symbolizing my “single woman not by choice” status started oxidizing, the rust a sign of daily wear.

I eventually stopped wearing the half-moon every day, then I stopped wearing it all. Instead, I wear the crown every day, the meaning of that one different as it came from a different person but symbolizing the same thing: here’s a daily reminder of my love.

One day, I decide to wear the half-moon ring and the crown ring together. In an attempt to accessorize, I stack the half-moon ring on top of the upside-down crown on my right index finger. The juxtaposition of my single days with my new relationship looked fittingly fashionable.

After half a day, I hate it. the half-moon ring keeps getting caught on my clothes and makes pulling up my jeans after using the bathroom difficult. The crown sits as it’s told, barely there at all. My single days are well behind me, and any attempt to keep the mindset I had then is irritating to who I’m trying to be now.

Shortly after buying the half-moon ring, I cut my hair. The free fall of the rollercoaster, I chopped my waist-length, box-dyed, damaged hair to a shaggy long bob that sat just above my shoulders. I loved it when I got it, and more than anything I loved how it didn’t pain me to let the hair go. When I looked in the mirror and styled it curly, shaggy or with long-disused hair clips, I wondered what had made me so averse to short hair on myself for years. My senior year of high school, I got a disastrous haircut that took months to grow out, and I wore it in a ponytail every day because of how much I hated how it looked on me. A friend tried to curl it in an attempt to make me feel better about how it looked, but by the end of the day it had transformed into a bushy mess. When I looked at my post-break-up haircut, I wondered if I had just done it wrong back then, and that eight years later I finally knew what my hair wanted and how it looked good (I didn’t).

Two years later, I’m trying to grow my hair back. It’s barely reaching my midback now and the highlights I got with the chop are well gone. As if punishing me for the throw-away decision, it took the better part of those two years to learn what it wanted, what products it tolerates and how to style it to make behave for longer. “Earn my love,” it’s saying. “You want me back? Treat me better.”

My boyfriend loved the short hair. “It’s how I met you,” he says when I look in embarrassment at our first pictures together. But he didn’t see my struggle to navigate it short, like he didn’t see the struggle of making the half-moon ring work with the crown he’d given me. He didn’t see my struggle of re-learning how to be single only to unlearn it again when we got together. He didn’t see the clash of my trying to figure out who I wanted to be, that I didn’t want to be the same as I was in the previous relationship. He missed the all-at-once fall down the rollercoaster but is seeing the slow transition back to a new start.

During this transition, he’s seen the self-sabotage, but he’s far too kind to point it out. He reassures me that he still loves me, that he only didn’t text back because he was cooking dinner. Once, during a text conversation about our future together, he went as far to warn me that he was hopping on a phone call in case I didn’t hear back from him for a bit. That he is very much still invested in us. I wasn’t relieved when he said that. I was skeptical: I would have been relieved if he’d said he was finally having second thoughts. “Ah, there it is,” I would have thought. “I knew it was too good, too easy, to work out.”

The free fall and slow ride back to a new start is messy. Exhausting. Enlightening in some instances, sure, with the odd epiphany about my last relationship (no, it wasn’t very nice that he didn’t do anything when his mom made you cry in front of him multiple times; that wasn’t normal), but mostly exhausting. The self-doubt and self-awareness that often come hand in hand take the wind out of me just like they empower me: realizing that I stayed in a relationship two years too long makes me wonder if I’ve gotten too used to never asking for help, and what kind of partner that makes me now. But at least I’m working on it. And I do not wear the half-moon ring anymore.

“Yeah, you did meet me with short hair,” I say to my boyfriend. “But I hope you like me with long hair just as much. Because I like that better now.”

“I already do,” he says.

Hey Jude, Will You Leave My Head?

First post of 2021, and I’m starting off with something a little different.

I finished A Little Life over the weekend, my last book of 2020 and my first book of 2021. It took me about a month to finish not because, at just over 800 pages, it was a challenge, but because… it was a lot. And not enough, as all good books usually are. This blog won’t turn into a book reviews blog, I promise, but rarely am I so affected by a book that I can’t stop thinking about it, so I’m writing about it. I’m even listening to the Spotify playlist that the author compiled for the book as I write this.

About a week before I actually finished it, I put the book down and didn’t come back to it. I was very close to putting the book in the freezer after one particular plot point, but I made the mistake of stopping on a Sunday night. The first thing I thought of Monday morning after a semi-sleepless night was this book, how I was so sad at what had just happened that I couldn’t keep the thoughts from bouncing inside my head like little red balls. So I have to write about it. I have to process what I just read.

If you’re precious about it, I’d stop reading now to avoid spoilers.

Picture by me

From the first few pages, I didn’t know what I was reading about and there a lot of names from the start. That is, in fact, my only complaint about the book: So. Many. Names. Some don’t come back or are only mentioned once or twice in passing, and some keep popping up but I don’t care enough about the character to try to keep it straight. Think One Hundred Years of Solitude but none of the names are related to each other so you don’t have many points of reference.

It wasn’t until about fifty pages in that I could keep the four main characters straight, and it took me the first section to start actively disliking Jude, the person around whom the book’s universe revolves. And yet as the book progressed and I started finding the breadcrumbs about his past and his traumas, my dislike faded, and inevitably I started rooting for him, if anything because of the people around him who loved him so much and were so invested in his wellbeing. Much like the characters themselves, the people who loved him, I found myself begging him to seek help, to talk about his traumas, to unburden the people who cared for him and just try accepting the love that was given to him.

The book is about friendship on the surface, but as you dive deeper and move through the torturous pages, you find it’s about self-love, self-loathing, pride. How those three aspects work together in a span of thirty or so years to conclude in the ultimate act of sparing your loved ones and yourself from further suffering. It’s not a love story and it does not have a happy ending – when you get to a happy part at the end of a chapter, the author warns you it won’t always be like that by crushing the present she’s just constructed. She warns you that more tragedy is coming. And I appreciate that earnest take of life itself, because you don’t know that you’re in the good days until they’re over.

That it’s a book about trauma is obvious from the first few chapters. The three seasons of trauma that Jude experiences could have been books of their own, but that would have been very predictable and sensationalist sales-bait. You may not see many plot points coming (although I successfully predicted the two main deaths), but you know there will be something horrible. You’ll only be surprised by how terrible a specific event is. But you get insult to your injury when you find out what made Jude be what he is, what he sees himself as, because you see what the trauma and the injury have done to him, what they made his life be like. By the time you find out what happened, you almost don’t care – you’re angrier at what his life has become because of it.

I loved this book, despite the can of worms it left writhing in my brain. Its home is in New York City, but it doesn’t do the annoying thing of making the city a character in itself, inserting homages that only other New Yorkers will appreciate and non-New Yorkers will want to move there to understand. The city is a setting, as it should be, and the characters go to a lot of other places as we follow their journey. They have flats in London and houses in Upstate New York – their happiness and suffering are the focal points and settings in themselves. The story is told around their grief, their happiness, their humility. It’s their lives, not their lives as New York has molded them to be lived.

I will also always appreciate a book that isn’t heavy in description – I have no idea what the characters look like aside from Jude’s eye color, Willem’s hair, JB’s body type and Malcolm’s mixed race because they are used as markers, tools to tell a specific part of the story. I know Jude comes to appreciate tailored suits and loves baking and cooking for others (a man after my own heart), and that Harold teaches him to drive; I know Willem is of Swedish decent and has sandy hair; I know JB gained weight after this meth addiction and that Malcolm struggles with his identity because he feels he doesn’t look or act Black enough. And that’s all I needed to know about them to have me invested, because what they look like wasn’t always relevant to the story.

I loved the narrative of the book. It wasn’t linear, as if the author was telling us scenes as she remembered their relevance to the main story arc, and yet it flowed. This only bothered me until the second section, after which point I started trusting the process and understood I would find out what I needed to find out when I needed to. I found this particularly inspiring because I often have issues sticking to a linear story when I write, getting a bit boxed in by my own pressure to tell the story sequentially while dropping breadcrumbs to the ending. Of course, the story does need to have some structure, but that’s where technique comes in, something this author showed me.

I’m at my most inspired after reading a great new book, and this time is no different. After I get over it, that is. I need to mourn this book and the characters; I have to mourn the feeling that I will never again be able to read this book for the first time.

Steaming Black Coffee

The last blog post of the year…

I’ve inadvertently taken the month off, and in observance of my birthday on Friday and the general write-off this year month has been, I’m calling it a day after this one.

It started more emo than it is here, and it all came from the first line, when I was sipping on a cup of black coffee the other day and enjoying the simple pleasure.

Happy reading! And for those who have stuck by this blog from the beginning when posts came once a week, to now when they come once a month (2020, amirite?), thank you. Here’s to whatever the other blog posts, months and days will look like.

She found comfort in the steam from a hot cup of black coffee.

Though she didn’t actively seek it, she always ended up being alone. At the end of the night, at the end of the day. She hadn’t noticed, but loneliness had moved in with her, into her.

It began at her feet, making her walk away from any group of people at a party after the conversation was over. It stayed at her feet for a while and made her walk the other way from coworkers leaving the office, often walking around the block once to make sure she lost them before going to take the train. The loneliness would weigh her feet down and kept her a few paces behind a person she knew who walked ahead of her – the loneliness knew she hadn’t gotten to the voice yet.

The loneliness then moved up her back, keeping it turned away from everyone else. She could hear people talking and would join in even without being asked. The words would come out and the doubt would come in, and the loneliness fed on that and made her keep her back turned. With her feet secured and then her back, the loneliness would make her turn an about face after a few pleasantries exchanged at a friend’s get-together or a polite glance given at the handsome barista.

The loneliness saved her heart and her head for last. They were easy pray and to be savored as dessert. By then, she had stopped being invited, and colleagues kept their pleasantries to the office. With the loneliness firmly rooted inside her, though, she didn’t even notice. She welcomed the quiet and simplicity of her exterior as a welcome contrast to the chatter of her interior. She wanted nothing else besides what she already had, because she hadn’t noticed that the loneliness had taken everything.

It didn’t pain her to part with everything, though, to be reduced to nothing but her apartment, her clothes, her furniture, her knick-knacks. She started the day alone and she ended it alone, and she didn’t notice. Others noticed for her, told her they admired her bravery at going to dinner alone and traveling alone with a book, some puzzles or an adult coloring book. When she wondered if she should mind, if there was something wrong with her for not minding her own company, she looked for people who weren’t alone at the restaurant, or a couple who was laughing together at the bar, to compare. She felt happy for them. Happy that they enjoyed each other’s company, but she didn’t envy them.

When she did feel anything other than simple contentment at her arrangement, she felt wonder. She wondered what arrangements had been made for those people to laugh and joke and spend time together. She wondered what they talked about and if they ever ran out of topics of conversation. She wondered what it felt like to find that arrangement effortless. The loneliness inside her would dig its claws in deeper, reminding her that this was comfortable, familiar and expected. At the prompt, she would retract and leave the others to their own lives.

So she always enjoyed her black coffee alone, and as she watched the steam rise and disappear and absorbed the smell and felt the warmth of the mug on her hand and tasted the bitterness and heard herself say “Mmm,” she was comforted.

On My Immigration Anniversary

I’ve been writing this entry in my head for a while, and it will mark my serendipitous return to my poor, neglected blog.

This past Thursday, the 19th was my immigration anniversary. Sixteen years ago on Thursday, I arrived in the US for the very first time, not knowing a lick of English, not knowing any of the extended family that waited for me and not knowing what being an immigrant entailed then, now and for the rest of my life. Every year, I reflect on the years that have passed and often get stuck in the thought loop of, “What would I not have, have not been able to do or had not seen if I hadn’t gotten on that plane with my dad in 2004?” 

The answer? Everything. Everything I have and hold dear, every experience, every memory, every friendship.

But, because it’s also been a strange year (few years, really) to be an immigrant, this year’s reflection was different. Like with anything or anyone you love and love well, you have to be lovingly critical, but critical nonetheless, when considering the good and the bad. This year’s reflection also started with a memory.

Little Vanessa. Circa 2002? One of the few pictures of my childhood that I’m able and willing to look at… for two minutes tops.

When I was eight or nine, I got caught cheating on a test. This was Ecuador, so the details are a little fuzzy because of Trauma and trauma, but the gist is: I was sitting next to my “best friend” and we were given a test that she hadn’t studied for. The classroom had those two-seater desks where two children fit comfortably, and to keep us from cheating, the teacher gave each seat of the two-seaters a different version of the test.

As the teacher dictated the questions, we were supposed to write down the answers for our version on a blank sheet of paper. On one of the questions, my friend nudged me and pointed to the blank space on her paper. I knew the answer, but I shook my head at her because I didn’t want to get in trouble for talking during a test. She kept nudging me, so I did the next best thing: I wrote the answer in tiny letters on a tiny piece of paper, folded it and handed it to her. The teacher happened to be walking by as my friend was unfolding the paper. When the teacher inspected it and saw it was written on, she snatched both of our tests and returned mine with a zero.

I can’t remember what happened next, whether I was sent outside while the other students finished the test, whether I cried or not, or what my friend did. What I do remember is feeling incredibly sad and ashamed, with that prickly sensation on the back of my neck that I can now identify as a panic symptom (Little Vanessa was panicking at the thought of getting a zero on a test and getting in trouble – that’s Trauma with a purposeful capital T). I also remember writing “zero” in cursive next to the numeral the teacher had written. My loopy cursive was self-flagellation, a habit I carry to this day as an almost-twenty-eight-year-old adult; no one is as hard on me as I am on myself.

The next day, my mother went to talk to the teacher, to plead my case, and I don’t remember what the resolution was. I want to say that my friend and I got half the grade we would have gotten had we finished the test without cheating, but I definitely remember that she didn’t get in as much trouble as I did. I found out later that the teacher was a friend of my friend’s mom. The quotation marks around “best friend” were not accidental. We didn’t speak after that and actually became frenemies until I moved to the US three or four years later.

Why that memory and why now? I don’t know. All I know is that the test did not matter almost twenty years later, and that friend got pregnant at seventeen and posted a lot of selfies on Facebook last I checked when I still had a Facebook account years ago. I know you’re not supposed to get pettily happy about things like that, that motherhood can come at any age and in any circumstance as long as the woman is happy and sees the child as a blessing. But, on behalf of that little girl who wrote “zero” to make sure she learned a lesson, I’m pretty happy I turned out nothing like that former best friend.

That was not the first or only instance of unfairness that Little Vanessa would experience, and certainly not the first or only instance of pain or panic symptoms at not being the best, brightest or best behaved.

What Little Vanessa did not know at that time, however, was that she would come to a place where such unfairness wasn’t so blatant, where tests were better administered and she would be protected from being manipulated into helping a friend cheat. Little Vanessa would come to have opportunities, to go to university although her family was in no position to help her pay for her education. Little Vanessa would come to speak three languages, an asset that would set her apart wherever she went and at every job she had. Little Vanessa would even learn to drive a car that she owns herself, which she would drive on bad days while singing along to the best of All Time Low to cheer her up.

Adult Vanessa, however, still struggles with the realities of being an immigrant, struggling to always be grateful to a country that has done so much for her yet has behaved so heinously throughout history, even as recent as the past four years. Kids in cages, police brutality, the student loan system… all that lives in the same system that gave Adult Vanessa the opportunity to think differently, to question ideas that would have been a given in Ecuador had she grown up there. Can a place that supported Adult Vanessa in getting  a master’s degree in another country be the same place that does not support other immigrants who don’t have the privilege of migrating legally? To the point where they’re denied health insurance and are disproportionately dying from this unforgiving virus?

The answer is yes. Yes, it can be the same place. And that is the biggest way I celebrated my immigration anniversary this year: by accepting that two things can be true at the same time, and that my experience could have easily been different and harsher if I happened to belong to any other marginalized group. For that, I’m thankful. For the ability to be critical yet appreciative of my experience. To even have the right and privilege of speaking my truth.