My parents visited for spring break. They left this morning and what remains is Sunday. An I-will-not-get-the-Sunday-blues type of Sunday. We cleaned up last week. The yard is in good shape. The house is free of piled up messes typically saved for weekends because we’ve been home, work free, school free, worry free. We finish off homemade cinnamon rolls for breakfast courtesy of my husband. We check rooms, the pantry, the fridge, wall outlets, my car, the back porch, closets and bathrooms to make sure everything is packed. We stand in a prayer circle, holding hands, reflecting on time well spent and petitions for a safe trip home. They pull out of the driveway. Standing on the porch in our pajamas, the still cold March morning chills our bare feet. We wave our last goodbyes.
Back in the house, I set out to get myself dressed for church. On the counter, next to my sink, I find a small plastic bottle topped with a red cap, the front label peeled off. Hmm… Dad probably left this, whatever it is. Mouthwash? Aftershave? Definitely not Mom’s because whatever she owns lives in pastel bottles with shimmery letters. I rotate the bottle and read the label:
I chuckle. I process five thoughts: 1) Dad found it on a run. He hates throwing anything away. He brought it back and meant to give it to me in case I’d drink it later. Except I don’t drink whisky. And I certainly wouldn’t drink that one. 2) For whatever reason, Dad slaps it on as aftershave. I mean, do people do that? 3) It’s Dad’s mouthwash. And he takes a tiny swig. But he doesn’t drink, so that’s odd. 4) Maybe he does drink a little swig with his morning shave. 5) He’s reusing a bottle he found somewhere and put mouthwash in it because he didn’t want to buy a travel sized bottle of mouthwash. Plausible.
Knowing it’s not something worth turning around to retrieve, I message Mom, just to see which of my thoughts is close.
Is this Dad’s?
Throw it a way. I think it’s alcohol.
It is. Fireball Whisky.
Does he take a swig every morning?
Or does he use it as aftershave?
He couldn’t have found it on a run,
it would’ve been empty. 😂
No he uses it after he shaves.
LOL! That’s what I thought.
Confirmed. I burst out laughing. He scratched the devil off the front. But why would he go out of his way to get a small bottle of Fireball instead of regular aftershave? Maybe he does take a little swig.
Papá had a mouth full of sweet teeth
Not a tooth
He liked Folgers instant coffee with
a heaping spoonful of sugar and milk
No tomes café o te vas poner prietita,
He pulled up his long sleeved shirt,
proving it with his farm tanned skin
I didn't care if my skin got dark
I took a sneaky slurp of his hot coffee
before delivering it with a small plate
full of chocolate chip cookies
or a thick slice of banana bread
Mom's 7-Up pound cake
carrot cake drenched under
a thick coat of
cream cheese icing
On hot summer days
we greeted him with a tall glass
of Coca Cola or iced tea
garnished with lemon
accompanied with a side of sweets
When we had it,
a bowl piled high with
scoops of butter pecan ice
made its way onto his lap,
replacing his straw work hat
changed the channel to Bonanza
or Gunsmoke reruns,
his favorite shows
Replacing his hat,
the signal he'd had his fill,
we collected empty dishes
Rising from his seat,
he thanked us
and waved goodbye
He'd return tomorrow,
his sweet teeth
urging him back
I took myself on a date today. With ideal places still iffy, I took her to a local coffeehouse. She likes coffee. I invited her to bring her journal and she ordered a raspberry mocha. Indoor seating is closed, but the proprietor offered the patio. We accept, walk around to the back, and find a table. We have the place to ourselves. He delivers the raspberry mocha.
I open up to chapter five of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, and peruse the exercises at the end. I pick up my pen and start answering the questions, reminding myself to dig deep and be honest. This is our second round with the book. The twelve weeks we started in October 2019 came and went. We worked on morning pages, three days of writing every morning for twelve weeks. It’s become a good habit. I’m still wondering what three pages means if we start with an 8.5 x 11 journal then switch to an A5. But three pages is three pages, sometimes more, sometimes less, but every morning. Mostly. And ideally before we pop into social media, work, email, busy-ness, but that’s tricky with work. Weekends and breaks are best, but we’ve stayed the course.
Besides the morning pages, Cameron also makes us go on an artist’s walk. Once a week, but more is okay. No one else is allowed. No spouse. No kids. No pets. Reeses hates it when we leave without him. No music filled earbuds. Those walks have become our lifeline. We have to listen. Pay close attention to our surroundings. Our inner voices.
The reason for this intervention is to unblock Creativity. I have great ideas. She’s not so good at following through. No time. Self-doubt. Stuck. Getting too old. Needing to tend to the kids first. Working on alone time with the hubster. Alone time with each kiddo. Family time. Cooking. De-cluttering. Work. Self-soothing with too much social media. Lots of self-sabotage.
We’ve made lists of possible dates: museums, an empty church, hiking, a relaxing bath, perusing bookstores, a massage, star gazing, tickets to a musical, day trips, lunch at a new to us restaurant, an art class, hand lettering, hanging out at a library. Artist’s dates are the hardest to schedule. Once a week. Every week. We’re working on that. We need variety, but we’ll take what we can get. It’s usually a walk, hike, short drive, a visit to a coffeehouse, or massage. Our last pre-pandemic artist’s date, just when we were making progress on this new routine, was to the Lone Star ‘Zine Fest.
Today we went to a new coffeehouse that opened about a week before the pandemic shutdowns began. I’m glad they’re still around. Artists’s date for the week is done. I’m glad we spent time together. We need it.
Virtual workouts aren’t my favorite if there’s a live in-person option. There are pluses, like having the entire spin studio to yourself. There are more virtual classes available. Some can be done at home. 24/7 access.
I don’t own a stationary bike so I went to a virtual spin class today. I opted for one called “The Trip,” which takes you on a surreal, computer graphic ride through hills and highways resembling roller coasters. Studio lights are dim, a screen comes down, the music comes on, and an instructor’s voice from who knows where guides the workout.
It’s a hard 50 minute class that I haven’t attended in several years. I’m the only one in the studio. Plus. I start the “ride.” After the warm up I realize it’s too much visual stimulation. I pump as hard as I my legs will pump. I listen to the cues. Add more resistance, the invisible voice instructs. Nah, I’m good, I pant back. I do my best to keep up with the beat, the cues, the hills, and bright lights that guide me along a virtual road up to the sky and down, roller coaster style. I can’t skid off the road on this ride. Plus.
I last 25 minutes. Minus. Sharonda, my favorite instructor, isn’t here to catch me cheating. Minus. So I cheat. Minus. My heart feels like it’s running away from me and I can’t catch it. Minus. I’m the only one still in the studio. Plus turned minus.
I need other people for good, healthy peer pressure. How did I ever survive 50 minute rides? I’ll be back, but I’ll try the version with a screen full of human instructors. Once more classes are added, I’m opting in for the in-person instructor led version. I’m so done with virtual everything.
The place is a “bakery boutique.” I look for the address then poke around their online space. Macarons. I’ve never had one. Maybe I’ll eat one today. Frozen coffee drinks. Boba tea. Smoothies. Fancy cakes for special occasions we aren’t celebrating any time soon. I peruse the menu before we leave to prepare S. with options for today’s, what do you even call it? ‘Tween date? Hangout? Meeting with a friend? I don’t dare call it a playdate because that’s for little kids. Eleven is way too old for a play date.
We arrive and walk toward the bakery, her friend waiting near an outdoor table. Ready to enter and pay for her order, S’s friend interrupts, her giddy personality bubbling from her grin. “You made it! My mom gave me money for us to have treats. She’s in the car.” Okay. I thank her and S. bounces a little, trying to contain her excitement. They walk in. I return to the car.
There’s a liquor store on one side of the parking lot. Should I take a look? I decide against it in case S. returns for more money or something else. I don’t dare go back to casually say she can find me in the liquor store. I don’t want to make an irresponsible adult impression. I also don’t want to embarrass S. Those reprimands are never fun.
My Chiquita Bonita Banana de Mamí, Missy Lou, Fia Mia, Noodle, Oosey-Goosey child is growing up. I’m lucky if she lets me call her any of those names now, outgrown almost as soon as she kicked her feet free out of that infant swaddle. It seems that her feet have always been ahead of her. I snap a picture. Seriously? I’m snapping a picture of my kid hanging out with her new bff.
I roll down the windows and sit in the car, the steering wheel a makeshift desk for my journal. I need a mom-ervention, a sister-vention. I switch between journaling and pinging text messages to my sisters, each one interrupting the other conversation. I send the picture.
It gets worse Cat.
Those boba teas are 👎🏼
Sorry to say, it does get worse! I would've gotten a slushie instead.
I feel like the paparazzi. S. got invited to hang out with a friend at a little bakery boba tea place. My pingüilla is a middle schooler who doesn't want to hang out with me. 😩😩😩
She probably hates it lol! 😂 I'm not sure what she ordered.She's been glued to my side through about the end of fourth grade. She still falls asleep in my bed. E is always in his room. They come around when it's convenient. Like when they need food or a ride to a boba tea place.
I write a little. Ping a little. Watch a little. It rained earlier. The tables and chairs are still wet. Bff takes off a black hoodie and wipes down the table and chairs. They sip. Laugh. S. waves to see if I’m watching. I am. I wave back. Shrugs her shoulders. Back to the bff. Takes a sip. I don’t think she liked the drink she ordered. They both keep shaking their hands free from what seems to be condensation transferred from their drink cups. Neither one goes back in to ask for napkins. As much as I want to, I don’t swoop in to suggest it either.
Bff’s mom strides toward them. They all go inside. Ah, looks like that mom is swooping in to ask for napkins. Nope. Bff’s mom walks out with a drink. S and bff return to the table. Looks like more giggles and a few minutes later, they both rise and part ways.
S. returns to the car. “I got a macaron! Here, have some.” I take the piece she offers. Delicious.
Coming soon…The Anchor Chart Pub. For teachers. All day happy hour. If you take a mental health day, come on in and get a deal. We’re working on our menu, so please be patient while we develop these recipes with our resident (part time, second job) teacher mixologists who craft the perfect cocktail/ and so far, only mocktail.
Tasting rooms will be available for team planning.
We’re working on a special Pandemic Teaching menu. If you have menu suggestions, please reach out. Should your suggestion make it on our menu, we’ll send you a discount code to use on your first visit.
I followed Mom into the dim, musty store. The crammed racks bulged with pioneer costumes, so I thought. Tables full of merchandise didn’t catch my attention. Mom led me to the back of the store—it smelled like Goodwill. “Can I help you?” A woman with twitching cheeks and shaky hands that moved to the beat of her voice approached us.
“We’re looking for boots. Monday is Western Day and she needs a pair of boots,” Mom informed, looking down at me. I hoped not to find anything here, but pretended to study the goods and figure out what Mom was up to.
The lady brought a pair of black stitched boots with pointy tips. “These are boys’ boots, but they might fit. No one will know the difference,” she said holding them up, attempting to display them in such a way to make me forgive her for showing me something so ugly.
“Try them on,” Mom impatiently muttered.
I took off my old sneaker and tried to stuff my thick foot in the boot as I held on to a display table for balance. “They won’t go in.” Both embarrassed and relieved, I shook my foot out. The boots were huge and my feet still didn’t fit in them. Good. I didn’t like them anyway. A few had potential, but they were made for dainty feet, too small for me.
I acted disappointed, knowing we’d soon be at Carmen’s, the paradise of western attire. I visualized my boots: soft and smooth, smelling leathery sweet, no creases until I put them on and walked around in them. They’d illuminate my life until I scuffed them up enough to make them my own, but not so much to wear them out too quickly.
“I think we found some,” Mom interrupted, shaking me back to the darkness of reality. The rickety sales lady, our of breath, approached us. She looked flustered. She climbed a tall, creaky ladder to retrieve a dusty box. What’s inside? Ugly boots or dream boots?
Mom helped me open the box, as if I were a toddler that needed help opening a gift a parent was proud to present. No one tried these on judging from the smooth, unwrinkled tissue protecting the boots. Through the thick layer of tissue, I couldn’t make out the boots. My heart pounded harder as my hopes went up. This was the moment I’d been patient for. Finally, I’d look good on Western Day, not overly costumed like a rodeo clown, but dressed up enough to look western, like the other girls. No sneakers this year. All I wanted were dream boots. I looked up at Mom and smiled. “Open ’em up.”
Holding my breath, I carefully unfolded the tissue. First the top layer, then the next. There they were, all settled in their nest, my eyes probably the only eyes to gaze on them ever since they incubated on the top shelf of the cave-store. I looked at Mom, waiting for her reaction.
“They’re beautiful,” she beamed.
What? Mom must be insane. These are the ugliest things I’ve seen in my entire life, I silently screamed.
“Try them on,” she instructed, sounding less demanding than when she had me try on the boys’ boots. There was no way I was putting these things on. Two-toned beige and brown with frou-frou stitching ruined the boots. The stitching made them look like a quilt for feet. They weren’t smooth. Not leather. Too pointy. The real kicker? They stood on a three inch heel. Not my dream boots. I hated them. I’d be the center of attention, the rodeo clown.
“Try them on,” Mom reminded me.
“Oh, yeah, okay.”
Reluctantly, I eased my right foot into the boot, balancing myself against the table again. My toe touched the bottom of the boot and my foot slowly progressed. Please don’t fit, please don’t fit, please don’t fit. My foot popped right in. Too bad a prince wasn’t looking for his Cinderella. I shifted my weight onto the booted foot. My left foot dangled aimlessly without its partner.
I hope they’re too expensive. My stomach quivered at the thought of wearing these things. These were the kind of boots floozy women wore, the kind who had bleached-blond hair with dark roots, the kind of women who wore frosty blue eye shadow and streaks of fuchsia that blemished their cheeks while they held a cigarette between crookedly lined orangey-red lips. These boots were made for women who wore low-cut, skin tight shirts and designer jeans that might pop if they sat down too fast.
“You like them, right?” I didn’t want to disappoint her. I looked down at my foot again. “The boots, you like them, don’t you?”
Don’t. I don’t like them. I didn’t have the courage to say it out loud.
“They’re the right price and you will wear them if I buy them, right? Right?”
I nodded. “Oh…yeah…right.”
What? I couldn’t believe what came out of my mouth. Silent words of protest tried breaking free. Why did I say that? I lied. Mom, I lied. Can’t you hear me? I hate these boots! They have high heels. It’s like walking on stilts in a circus. I’ll fall flat on my face. People will laugh at me.
“We’ll take them.” Mom smiled at the twitching lady.
“Wonderful!” She took the box, relieved her trip up the ladder wasn’t wasted. While Mom paid, I wondered if she bought the boots because she thought they were beautiful or if she bought them so I’d stop bothering her. On our way out of J.C. Jones, Mom handed me my purchase. I glanced down the sidewalk knowing my dream boots lived at Carmen’s Western Wear but weren’t destined to come home with me.
Mom’s famous question broke the silence. “Are you satisfied?”
The budget. That infamous budget forced Mom to buy me what I wanted, but didn’t want. If I needed a small bottle of glue for school, she bought the huge bottle to last the rest of the year. When I requested a cigar box to use for my school supplies, she bought a plastic one so it wouldn’t wear out. When I told her I needed a large green eraser, she bought one that was half pink for pencil erasures, and half gray for ink erasures. Who erases ink? I never used that eraser.
This time I was determined I wouldn’t let the budget get in my way. Western Day approached at school. It was the biggest day of the year, bigger than Halloween. Everyone participated in Western Day. I hated it because I only had last year’s pink western shirt with hot pink satin piping around the sleeves and collar. Mom had to hack a foot off the bottom of my jeans for them to fit.
I wanted to look like the other girls. Every year they wore their western hats and Wranglers, plaid western shirts pearl-buttoned up to the collar, and leather belts with their names stamped on them, complete with shiny heart shaped buckles that clasped in front. To complete their outfits, they wore boots. They got new boots every year. I had to settle for my sneakers.
I made up my mind. This year would be different. I owned a western shirt and jeans. I learned not ask about a hat. But boots, oh how I wanted a pair of boots. I imagined my boots, nice and smooth, black or brown—a nice neutral color, waiting for me on Western Day morning. I’d own the good kind, leather boots that creased around the widest part of my foot to fit, molding themselves to fit only me. They wouldn’t sound like high heels—those were too clickety—but commanding, a strong thud that let people know when I walked down the hall. Just the right sound, unlike how sneakers sounded when I stomped around in them or how they squeaked when I dragged my feet.
I needed con Mom into buying me these boots. “Just be patient,” she’d say. That meant no; it always meant no.
Determined to get my boots, I approached her cautiously like a cat approached a foreign object. I purred, “Western Day is coming up and I need a pair of boots. I can wear last year’s shirt, I have jeans, I don’t need a belt, but I need boots. Besides, the weather is getting colder and they’ll keep me warm when I walk to school in the mornings.” Whew! I let it out and she didn’t interrupt me. “I’ve been patient,” I added, letting her know I wasn’t taking no for an answer.
“I’ll think about it,” she replied.
It was better than ‘be patient.’ Progress in the making. It wasn’t a yes or a no, but a maybe. Maybes worked out to my advantage. I pestered her about the boots until she gave in. I felt like two-stepping her to the car, but I didn’t want to make my enthusiasm too obvious. She might change her mind.
We drove to Carmen’s Western Wear. We rarely bought anything here; it was too expensive. They had lots of nice things to look at and dream about. Usually full of customers, there were no parking spaces. Mom parked a little way off, in front of old and grungy J.C. Jones, which sat next to the drugstore. I asked if they were even still in business. I jumped out of the car and made my way to Carmen’s. Mom cut me off.
“No, we’re going this way.”
I looked around. What did she mean?
“The drugstore?” I gulped.
“No,” she replied, pushing the door into J.C. Jones, “they have boots here too.”
Well, I thought, maybe we’ll go to Carmen’s after we’re done here.
I used to write on walls. The first time I wrote on one was when I was in 3rd grade, or was it 5th? We were supposed to move to Corpus Christi, Tx. Then Uvalde. Then Hereford. There was one time when all things looked favorable and we would move once and for all. At least that’s what I gathered from all the eavesdropping on my parents’ conversations when it seemed I preferred to take an armload of Barbies from one room to another. I was the weird kid who wanted to experience being the new kid at a new school. To leave my mark on our house, I took a ballpoint pen and scrawled The Almaraz Family on the closet wall in my best, largest cursive handwriting.
That was one of the worst things I did. I was the poster child for an obedient, responsible first-born. In college, I’d wake up in the middle of the night and scrawl snippets of inspiration, lines of poetry wanting to be born, titles for books that have yet to be written, little philosophical tidbits my brain processed from class discussions, quotes from English class readings. I taped sheets of notebook paper along the wall next to my desk so it was ready for me to fill throughout the semester. Writing on dorm walls? Not allowed. A journal and pen lived on the floor next to my bed, but I liked the idea of being a renegade and writing on walls.
When I moved into my own classroom, word walls were one of my favorite features. As I moved from one campus to another, I landed one that allowed painting walls, within reason. I cheered up my classroom and painted a quote here and there. I had plenty of decorative letters that spelled out DREAM, READ, BELIEVE, and READ EVERY DAY. Besides books, this is another way I’ve left my mark and wrapped myself in the comforting arms of words.