Mami

Mami

Mami and I

Whenever I tell people that my I recently lost my great-grandmother, they usually think that it wasn’t a big deal to me. I understand their reaction. Some people aren’t close to their grandparents and most have never even met their great-grandparents, but Ofelia Gonzalez, or Mami as we all called her, was truly like a mother to me.

She was born on September 8, 1925 (Although it could have bene 1924, the records back then weren’t great). Like the rest of the world at that time, Cuba was a hard place, especially for the poor families. She dropped out of school shortly after middle school in order to get a job at a factory in order to help her parents support their siblings. And she never stopped working. Even when she wasn’t working outside of the home, she still cooked, clean and helped raise kids, grand-kids, great-gran kids and even great-great-gran kids.

If one of her older siblings needed help, she would be there. I remember when we were living in Cuba she used to take me with her to visit one of her older sisters. She and her husband were very frail, so Mami (probably already in her mid-60s by then) used to clean their house, do their chores and bathe them both. I loved to go because they were hoarders and one of the things they hoarded was issues of this magazine called Bohemia. I’ve always been a big reader, so I would sit there and read magazines and help her if she needed my assistance.

When we immigrated to the States, and my parents weren’t able to come with me, Mami became my second mother. My aunt was here and my grandmother was able to come a year a later and they all, to some degree, became my second (and third and fourth) mothers, but Mami was the closest one to me. We were a poor family of immigrants, so that meant that we all had to share rooms. For the first few years, I slept in a pull-out sofa bed with Mami as my companion. I always tried to fall asleep before she did because her snores were really loud. At times I would shake the bed, or poke her really quickly and act like I had no idea who had done that, just so that I could catch a quick break and fall asleep. We moved houses several times and we always shared a room. I’ve never had my own room since I was 11 years old. As a teenager, of course I wanted my privacy, but now I’m glad that we had all those nights together, even if her snoring could wake up the entire neighborhood.

At some point I got older and would stay out late like most college kids and sometimes she and my grandmother would be up waiting for me, just to make sure that I got home okay. Even at 30 years of age, after I moved to Topeka, Mami would always remind me to wear jacket if it was cold and to take medicine if she suspected I had a cold. She never stopped caring for me, no matter how old I was. I was her favorite and it wasn’t a secret. I think because my mom was in Cuba for so long, Mami always wanted to make sure that I was doing okay and we formed a bond. I must admit that sometimes she was overprotective, but I know that she did it out of love and I now thank her for that.

When I was 13 or so, she was diagnosed with emphysema. A family member of mine sat me and my two cousins down (they were basically the same age as me) and told us that Mami only had a couple of years to live (the joke’s on him because she lived another 20 years). I remember feeling lost. She had never smoked in her life but in that factory in Cuba she had inhaled a number of toxic fumes that had really damaged her lungs. That night I prayed to God that Mami wouldn’t die just yet, that He would give her more years so that she could meet one day my future wife and kids. I made a sort of pact with God and that was our deal. And He stuck with it, for the most part. As my cousins had their kids really young and dropped out of school, I kept on studying and focusing on my goals and always remembering that “deal” I made with God as a child.

Years later, Mami went to the hospital for a routine procedure and she contracted a deadly bacteria while there. From her hip down, her entire body was purple. The doctors gave her a grim prognosis; she didn’t have long to live. But I knew better. I knew that God was going to heal her. He had to, right? I knew he had heard my prayers. So right there in the hospital I directed everyone there to join me in prayer. And what do you know? Mami was sent home not long after that.

Then another time, she got even sicker. When I arrived at the hospital my grandmother (her daughter) told me that the doctors had said that there was nothing they could do. They wanted to start talking about “pulling the plug.” I started to cry, not so much out of sadness, but out of anger. I knew that this wasn’t her time and I was pissed at the doctor. I went outside and I confronted the doctor and told him to get lost, to never talk like that around my family. He thought I was insane, but I just knew that it wasn’t her time. I went back in to the room, held on to my Bible and started to pray silently as the tears streamed down my face. Mami hadn’t opened her eyes in 24 hours, but the moment I started to pray, she sat up straight with a jolt, looked straight at me and said, “My son, keep praying for me” and closed her eyes again. And so I did and she was okay. She made it through that one.

Eventually I got older and met the love of my life and got married and had kids. We lived in Miami for a year, so she got to meet my wife, Elena. She also got to meet my daughter Ellie in person, but she never got to meet Oliver in person. She did see him through FaceTime numerous times, but now I know that she will never get to meet our yet to be born daughter. At least she won’t get to meet her in this life and I hate that. That’s why I said that God followed through, “mostly.” Of course, He didn’t have to follow through at all, but He did. He listened to the prayers of a teenager. Mami lived a long life and we shared so many great memories together.

Almost exactly a week before she passed, I had a dream that she had died at home, surrounded by the family. I woke up depressed because I knew that the dream was God preparing me for what was to come. I didn’t tell my family because I wanted it to be wrong, I wanted it to be just the product of my anxiety, but I knew deep down that it was a warning, a preparation.

The day before my flight to see her, she passed away at home, surrounded by the family. I wanted to see her one more time. I wanted to hold her hand, to maybe even hear that snoring that I disliked so much growing up, but would love to hear one more time now. I wanted so badly to be there and pray for her in person. But that awful night I got hysterical calls from my mom and my brother and I knew what had happened. Why couldn’t God just give her a few more hours so that I could see her one last time? Is that selfish to ask after all the time He gave her? Maybe, but I still would have wanted to be there in her last moments. Not seeing her one last time is a big scar in my soul.

My grandmother was devastated, and she still is. My mom was a mess. She tried giving her CPR for a long time until she had to be pulled away. Despite all that, I wish I had been there with her in her final minutes. My family, being really poor, didn’t have enough money to bury her like we all wanted, so we had her cremated. And to even get the money for that procedure was really difficult and stressful. I flew down to Florida for the funeral and got to see her, but she wasn’t really there, it was just her body. I know where her soul is now.

One thing that hurt me, besides her death, was the lack of support from many people that I consider(ed) friends and others that I admire(d) because of their religious status and whatnot. I hastily setup a GoFund me account to help my family with the costs and was really shocked by the lack of support from people that I “knew” would be there for me. And it wasn’t even the money that bothered me. It was that people didn’t call, or even texted me to offer their condolences. There was almost complete radio silence from people that I assumed would be there for me. But to my surprise, new friendships that I had just recently established in the last year or so were actually there for me. They texted me, they called me and they even gave. Sometimes it’s not the quantity of years, but the quality.

I’m sure that in time my resentment for those people will abate, but for now that pain stings. And honestly, I also expected a LOT more people at her funeral. We have a really extensive family and Mami was always calling everyone on the phone and looking for ways to get together, so I expected a lot more people. She touched so many lives, she worked so hard, she loved so many, but not many showed up to her final goodbye. I know that in the end what matters is that the closest to her were there, but still, it just feels that her life didn’t matter as much to those people, when it mattered the world to me.

I know that we’re lucky that we had her so long, but that’s never a consolation. Death is never easy, no matter how old the person was, at least not if you loved them.

I kind of lost my way a bit in my 20s, nothing serious, just a few disappointments in life that led me down a path of mediocrity, but thanks to Elena’s encouragement and support, I was able to graduate from college and be the first person in my family to do so. I know that Mami was really proud that day, even if she wasn’t able to fly to see me. That’s the reason why her, and the entire adults in my family, left Cuba, for us kids to have a better future, to graduate college, to “be somebody.”

I don’t know if I’m “somebody,” if my accomplishments are what she and my family expected of me, but I hope that I made her proud.

 

 

 

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The Bubble

The Bubble

We never had to deal with the stress of food allergies before, so this is all new to us with Oliver. Mostly everything in our house is nut, egg and dairy free. There are some exceptions that we hide well in top cabinets for when he’s asleep. And we do order pizza every once in a while (after the kids are in bed and we feel guilty about it), but we wash our hands thoroughly afterwards and we clean every surface that came in contact with the pizza box.

We’re on constant alert every time we go anywhere. Sometimes we half-joke that we wish we could keep Oliver in a bubble in order to keep him safe. And this was the inspiration for this illustration in the book I’m working on:

little penguin in bubble

Working on a Children’s Book

Working on a Children’s Book

My son Oliver has severe food allergies. He’s not even three years old and he’s had his fair share shots of Epinephrine. Of course, I pray everyday that he outgrows all of his food allergies, or at least one of them, but in the meantime, I want him to learn about them.

For his age, he already knows a lot about which foods are “safe” and which are not (and also how to label a food that he doesn’t like as “not safe”), but I also want him to know that he’s not alone, that although we can’t go to restaurants together as a family, there are other things he can eat.

I looked around for children’s books dealing with food allergies, but honestly, I didn’t see any that were meant for his age. Also, the ones I saw, while they may have had a great message, they were really old.

So, I decided to make one. I’ve been working on it for a while. I should’ve completed it by now, but for whatever reason, I just haven’t made the progress that I wanted to make.

I plan for this blog post to be the beginning of a series where not only do I share my book’s progress, but also my struggles. Frankly, I think one of my biggest fears is completing a project (like this book) and then have nothing happen, like no one buying it, no one reviewing it, no one loving it. And although I am making this book for Oliver, I also want other children and other parents out there who struggle with food allergies to embrace it, to find solace in it.

So, here we go. Stay tuned!

Nostalgia

Nostalgia

Just tonight I rediscovered about 40 or more comics that I worked on when I was a teenager. The body proportions of these characters are completely out of whack, but what did I know back then? It’s fun to read through all of these and see how cheesy they were.

But also, it’s fun to just go back and look at how I created dozens of superheroes with recurring story lines and enemies and alliances. My favorite of all those was Captain All Hero. I certainly was very inspired by Superman when I created him and that’s pretty obvious by looking at him.

So, tonight, I did something fun. I scanned a character sheet I did about 19 years ago and digitally colored it. Again, the proportions are insane. His head is really small and his muscles are crazy, but keep in mind how young I was.

Here he is!

captain_colored

Boys and Body Image

Boys and Body Image

Much has been written and discussed about the media’s effect on girls and their self-image. But not much has been written about the same effect on boys. While girls tend to want to be skinnier, young boys are pressured to put on weight and build muscle. Both things can be potentially devastating.

Watch any TV show or movie today and without a doubt you’ll see a guy taking his shirt off to expose a perfectly chiseled body. (The fact that a lot of women lust over these guys unabashedly while criticizing men doing the same over a supermodel is the subject for an entirely different blog post.)

Or just look at any magazine rack in the store and you will see the same thing. I’m not saying that things have gotten better for women, I’m just saying that things have gotten as bad for men. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

As Dr. Raymond Lemberg, a Prescott, Arizona-based clinical psychologist and an expert on male eating disorders, said:

“But while the media pressure on women hasn’t abated, the playing field has nevertheless leveled in the last 15 years, as movies and magazines increasingly display bare-chested men with impossibly chiseled physiques and six-pack abs. “The media has become more of an equal opportunity discriminator,” says Lemberg. “Men’s bodies are not good enough anymore either.'”

And he’s right.

I don’t want my son (nor my daughter for that matter) to grow up thinking that a man must look a certain way to be a man, or to be attractive to the opposite sex. I want my kids to grow up without feeling pressured into looking certain way. And let me tell you something, our culture is not making that easy.

Please read these two articles. Let’s be part of the solution.

Articles:

Body-Image Pressure Increasingly Affects Boys

It’s Not Just Girls. Boys Struggle With Body Image, Too.

The Worst Case Scenario

The Worst Case Scenario

Okay, so I’m fully aware that if you mention or compare someone to Hitler then Godwin’s law comes into effect and no one should take the discussion seriously. With that in mind, I still invite you to take a wild (and hopefully impossible) ride into an exercise of speculative fiction.

First, some facts. Donald Trump has called all Mexican rapists and criminals, wants to ban all Muslims and track the ones that live here already and has said a bunch of other odious things.

Of course, we don’t live in Weimar Germany, but humor me for a moment. Again, I repeat that this is all speculative fiction and I sure hope that none of this comes true.


 

Trump’s America 

A few short weeks before the general elections, a massive terrorist attack takes place. It probably won’t be another 9/11, but more in the style of San Bernardino or the Paris attacks. It would be a group of armed terrorists shooting a large number of civilians.

The country is in a state of shock. People are afraid. People are angry. The terrorists are Muslim and one of them was a Syrian refugee. Immediately, Trump condemns the attack and spews his rhetoric on how to make America safe and great again. He stokes people’s fears and they eat it up. He becomes president.

Another alternative:

Trump becomes president. A few short months after his presidency, there’s a terrorist attack. This becomes Trump’s Reichstag fire. All the terrorists were deemed to be Muslim. If one of them happens to be a Latino American Muslim, then this is even more of a victory for Trump.

Hate crimes against Latinos and Muslims rise. Trump doesn’t condemn these attacks. In fact, his words only serve to inflame the people’s anger against minorities. Laws are passed that not only ban Muslims from coming in, but the ones already here have to carry an identification card at all times.

Right wing militia groups of “regular people” begin to take matters into their own hands. Officially, Trump condemns the violent acts by these groups. Unofficially, he not only supports them, but he funds them. These groups become his unofficial SA.

Of course, his “official” reprimand will be in the form of an offhanded comment, not paying too much attention to the issue.

Because people fear another “imminent” attack, many willingly give up their rights in favor of draconian laws. These “laws” give the federal government unprecedented power, especially the Executive branch.

Any person deemed “suspicious” (of being either a terrorist or an illegal) can be stopped by the police. In other words, anyone that looks Latino or Arab is continuously harassed and abused by the police and Trump’s right wing groups.

In order to keep people “safe” and find out if the terrorists have any weapons, people are told to register all of their weapons with the federal government. Months later, a lot of those weapons are confiscated in the name of “national security.” How so? “Well, if the government is here to protect you, and you trust the government, why not give up your weapons? Only bad guys have weapons. Are you a bad guy?”

Trump ignores the constitution, and since he’s the only one who can keep America “safe,” he makes provisions to be elected to a third term.

From then on, things will only get worse.


 

There you go. This is a brief worst case scenario of how Trump, and I suppose anyone, can destroy the fabric of this great nation. All it takes is for one person to use a group of people as a scapegoat, to use fear to control the population and to speak to a white minority who think this country is “being taken away from them.”

If Trump does win the Republication nomination and then he actually becomes president, then I’m afraid that this nation is actually being taken away from us, the rational and loving people who once made this country great.

Some more (factual) reading:

Is Donald Trump a Fascist?

Trump’s Weimar America

I’m Feeling 32

I’m Feeling 32

Sorry about they T-Swift reference. I couldn’t help myself.

Two days ago I turned 32 years old. Having my birthday at the end of a year allows for a long introspection. This year has been challenging in many ways, but it has also been very rewarding.

I’m beyond thankful to God for my wife and my two children. They give me the strength and the drive to become a better man every day.  A large part of why I want to become a successful bestselling author is to be able to better provide for them.

I’m also really excited to start a brand new job next week. I’m a bit nervous, naturally, but I’m really looking forward to it.

I began working on my children’s book with a brand new Wacom tablet, thanks to a VERY generous and kind investor.  I also began writing the sequel to The Mysterious Manuscript and I’m really excited about it. Also, I worked on another book, which I haven’t really publicly talked about, but I’m very excited to share in the future.

On the other hand, every year that passes without me achieving my dreams of becoming a bestselling author does bring me down a bit. In all honesty, I have only myself to blame. I haven’t put the time and effort necessary to work on my writing as much as I should have, but I plan on remedying that in 2016.

I know that I can’t control how my book sales will do, but I can control my work ethic and dedication and it certainly needs to improve.

All in all, 2015 was a good year, but 2016 and being 32 is looking a lot better.

Happy New Year everyone!