Monthly Archives: June 2013

Metamorphosis

My family was poor. As a child, by not having four-legged friends, I grew an unusual fascination in the behaviors of tiny critters, mainly insects. Curious in what lay beneath the ant piles, I liked to dig apart their colonies to watch the different activities of the workers, the soldiers, and the queen ant that I read about in library books. I never developed a fear of grasshoppers, even if they spat “tobacco” on my fingers, or of handling caterpillars that pricked when they crawled on my hand, or of sneaking up on lizards that left their wiggling tails behind, wondering what the funny red thing on their throats going in and out was all about. My fascination for those critters was a favorite pastime.

Not all school projects were memorable, but I remember one that stuck with me for years. When the teacher assigned a report on any subject, I decided to pick caterpillars. On a large poster board, I drew the four stages of the butterfly: (1) egg, (2) larva, (3) pupa, and (4) adult. I described metamorphosis. Though it wasn’t a Picasso, my work earned a ranking on my school’s hallway wall, posted for all to see, with the highest mark in class: A+.

One sunny day at recess, I found a black woolly caterpillar crawling in the shrubs and gently placed it in my palm. My classmate naturally was curious and asked to see what I held. When I opened my hand to show him, he whacked it so hard that the caterpillar flew out and disappeared onto a bush. And that’s when I morphed! Without hesitation, I slapped him on the face, hard. The boy stood stunned, mouth opened.

As an adult, I often thought about the word metamorphose. It means to change completely in nature or form.

I think about how alcohol deceived my loved ones, giving them a false sense of reality. After drinking, like the caterpillar many years ago in my book report, they metamorphosed into social butterflies fresh out of its cocoon. They felt invincible, glamorous or intelligent. Gone were the restraints that crippled them emotionally. They carried a false sense of bravado. It was then that they laughed wildly, conversed freely, and flirted openly.

The more attention and compliments they received from others, the less they knew the difference between genuine praise and mere flattery.

(A small excerpt from Running in Heels – A Memoir of Grit and Grace ).

© M.A. Perez, 2013, All Rights Reserved

12 Comments

June 26, 2013 · 10:20 PM

Five Things to Watch Out For

  1. Discouragement – brings hopelessness and despair
  2. Doubting of others – hinders you from trusting
  3. Blaming Others – distracts you from change
  4. Misunderstandings – causes confusion
  5. Pity – keeps you in a pit

A little something that I wrote in my devotions years ago, still a great reminder for today. I am sure we can all chose either one of these points and expound on them. Please share which one resonates with you.

© M.A. Perez, 2013, All Rights Reserved

3 Comments

Filed under pessimist, Social

He had a rugged, but kind, short-bearded face

He had a rugged, but kind, short-bearded face with laughing brown eyes and charm that wouldn’t quit. We came from similar marital backgrounds. We each knew what it was like to be in an abusive relationship, encumbered with alcoholic spouses, broken promises, and betrayal. We both shared the same desires, with honesty and trust at the top.

He waltzed away all traces of reservations in my heart. I felt he could be trusted. He treated me with respect. He took my breath away, loving me for me: tenderly, passionately, completely. He even—as they say in the movies—“made my toes curl.” Moreover, as much as he loved me, he loved my four children. And they loved him in return. That was the icing on any cake! There may not have been a lot of money floating around, but in our eyes, he proved himself worthy. We never had to compete for his attention. When his buddies told him that other fish were in the ocean (that didn’t include small guppies), he simple said, “Not like this one.”

When he asked me one day what my goals in life were, I couldn’t answer, turning my face as the tears fell. Burdened over daily matters as a single mom, clouded my vision for the tomorrows. After several dates, for the first time in a long time, I thought about a future and possibly having one with him.

From day one, I loved his adventurous spirit for the outdoors and watching him with my little gang. Whether those outings included dove hunting, camp-outs in tents, air shows, the circus, Disney World, or barbecues at the parks, he made it fun and special for the children. I was grateful for that.

After my ex deserted us, I had to find a job to earn income. But my being away had left the children’s safety net to unravel. One by one, serious issues ensued that needed my undivided attention. I could only do so much. I felt guilt ridden, like a complete failure.

Being a single mom took its toll; it wasn’t fun. I felt tired of pretending I had it together. My faith had always been the glue in my life but I had let God down too. I’ve been too busy, feeling haggard with the hustle and bustle of life, trying to keep our heads above water from the bills that flooded in every month.

“Are you sure you’re ready for the whole package?” I had asked him. Incomplete individuals usually search for fulfillment and happiness in others instead of finding their sense of well-being and self-worth from within. I had since learned that my completeness didn’t come from having faith in any man, but in a perfect God who loved me unconditionally, like no other.

With my heart on the line in this new relationship of ours, I wondered what if down the road we were abandoned? Deserted again. Forever?

Yet … I loved the one next to me, wanted him by my side and even believed that God had brought us together and superseded our circumstances. My heart was torn and pounded out of my chest. Would he share my faith?

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My eldest, Anna Marie, with her Pops

His silence now ate away at me.

Then ever so gently, he took his thumb, wiped my tears and whispered, “You are the family I’ve always wanted.”

And the four words I will never forget:

“Let’s find God together.”

Dedicated to Mark, my husband and best friend –
a Stepdad who stepped up to the plate in more ways than one

© M.A. Perez, 2013, All Rights Reserved

6 Comments

June 15, 2013 · 10:40 PM

“I No Spic Inglish!”

As a young girl, I knew I had the best Daddy in the world. Although my parents were divorced, throughout the years, he’d come for me.

I loved it when he took me to the parks. My daddy may have been short, but he was a big kid at heart and loads of fun. He had a knack for mimicking different sounds. Children laughed whenever he cried out like Tarzan on the jungle gym. He wouldn’t hesitate to push me high on the swing. I squealed with delight when he ran in front and scrambled away right in time before I could kick him. He’d twirl me on the merry-go-round until we couldn’t go anymore and tumbled on the ground from exhaustion. Me from laughing hard; him from running in circles.

Daddy worked as the produce manager in a huge grocery chain store. He was a hard worker, a model employee. A friendly, robust, people-person, he never grew tired of chatting with his customers and telling them jokes. His dark eyes twinkled with glee. The mirth in his thick Puerto Rican accent, combined with his animated personality, charmed all.

Sometimes Daddy caused havoc, but always in fun. He often mimicked the sound of a kitten near the produce stand at work to see the children’s reactions. Once an elderly woman hunted everywhere for the pobrecito. Then another time while whistling like a bird, he had customers looking up for one. He even imitated a newborn’s cry.

“Excuse me, sir, but don’t you hear a baby crying somewhere?” a worried customer asked.

“A baby? No, no,” he answered. “No baby over here.” Daddy chuckled as he related to me how he watched the mystified customer walk away, shaking her head.

Daddy told me the story when a little boy in a shopping cart kept staring at him the whole time, while his mother across the aisle weighed her vegetables.

“I smiled at da boy and asked his name, but he dun say noteen,” Daddy explained. “He just keep lookin’ and lookin’ at me, like I’m ugly or somethin’.”

“Then what did you do?” I asked and chuckled.

“I dun do noteen . . .” Daddy’s eyes twinkled.

“Go on,” I persisted, knowing of his pranks.

“I just smiled big and stuck out my bottom dentures at da boy.”

“No, Daddy, you didn’t!” I laughed, remembering him doing that very thing before, enough to startle anyone.

“Yeah, but then da boy started cryin’, so I got outta there fast,” Daddy said guiltily. “I dunno where I get these jokes. You got a funny papi, eh?”

“Yeah.” I giggled. “Muy loco, all right. Tell me the story about the goat sucker in Puerto Rico,” I said, wiping my eyes.

“¡Oh, si!” Daddy exclaimed, slapping his thigh. “¡El Chupacabra! Dis thin’ dat went round to all the animales suckin’ their blood dry.”

“Yep, that’s the one,” I said.

“Man, da people get so scared and say it’s some kind of diablo. They say, ‘sierra la puerta’, close your door, El Chupacabra is goin’ to suck your blood!”

“Ya ever see one, Daddy?”

“No, no, I never see dat thin’ in my life.” He chuckled and added, “I dunno if I believe it.”

“Well, it’s sure an awful scary story.” I shuddered at the possibilities.

Yes, my daddy has always been a natural born storyteller. I could sit and listen to him for hours. “Tell me again about the first time you left Puerto Rico on the plane.”

“When I left my home town Utuado in 1952?” His eyes flickered miles away, as he mused. “Flyin’ in dat two-engine airplane made me so scared. I needed to go to el baño so bad. The stewardess want to tell me somteen. Pues, I dunno what she say; I dunno any English then. She talk louder but I dun understand; I just wanna go. I try to make her understand me, so I jell to her, ‘I no spic inglish! I no spic inglish!’” 

As I listened to his broken English, I laughed until my sides ached and my eyes watered.

Papi

My Papi, Benjamin Pérez

“Daddy, you didn’t know how to speak English when you were nineteen?”

“No hija, I didn’. Later, my cousin in New York explained to me that da stewardess just wanted me to put my seatbelt on. Ay bendito nene,” Daddy laughed. “I didn’ understand noteen.”

“Hey Papi,” I said, wiping my eyes. “Ya know what?”

“¿Que mi vida?”

“Ya still have an accent.”

“Ju tellin’ me, man.” He laughed.

Thirty years later:

My world shattered into a thousand fragments.

Along with my heart.

My hopes.

Dreams.

How so? When my husband at the time blurted, “I’m just not happy.”

After much heated words and screaming fits, I was relieved when he stormed out of the house. I felt ashamed knowing that Daddy and my stepmother were visiting us and within earshot in the guestroom, and had heard everything. By the time I went downstairs, Daddy was on his knees praying in Spanish by the bed. I stood by the doorway listening to his prayer, forgetting to move. Daddy, crying, glanced up and reached out his hand toward me. I went to him and collapsed, sobbing.

That day was Father’s Day, 1991.

The following day at the airport heartbroken and devastated, as we kissed and hugged to say our goodbyes, words stuck in my throat. He didn’t know what to say. He wasn’t sure what to do. But my daddy’s silence comforted me and it was enough. He wrapped strong, loving arms around me. I was a few inches taller, but felt smaller. At that moment, I wished I could stay in his arms and be a little girl again.

Today, with Father’s Day soon approaching, I remember how special my daddy has always made me feel. I still feel his love across the miles when we speak on the phone. At any given time when we’re together, I can still feel secure and safe in his arms as we embrace. His eyes still carry that familiar twinkle during his story telling.

Before long, we are reminiscing, we are laughing, and we are enjoying the magical moment of father and daughter.

(Work published in La Respuesta Magazine, as well as in the Homepage of Sofrito For Your Soul)

© M.A. Perez, 2013, All Rights Reserved

31 Comments

Filed under Fun, Language Barrier

Amazing Grace

I kissed her sweet, velvety cheeks. When her tiny hand wrapped around my finger, she instantly wrapped around my heart. Having just witnessed the birth of my first granddaughter, I was simply ecstatic. Grace Elizabeth, a little thing with a mop of chestnut hair and raven eyes, reminded me of the sister I loss so long ago.

Not long after, our joy was short-lived. Apprehension and a staggering wave of fear suddenly replaced excitement and joy.

Her doctor ordered x-rays, ultrasounds, RSV, EKG, blood work and an echocardiogram. “She has three holes in her heart,” he announced. His foreign words invaded my head: “congenital heart defect . . . coarctation of the aorta . . . a ventricular septal defect . . . an arterial septal defect . . . a bicuspid aortic
valve . . .”

But three words snatched my breath away: “open-heart surgery.”

Surrounded by family, we waited. Watched. And prayed.

That night, my daughter Angela and I shared a couch that opened to a bed in Grace’s room. Dreams and visions overlapped, as I drifted in and out of a fitful slumber. Nurses routinely coming in to check on Grace’s vital signs, administered meds and prepared her feeding tube around the clock, interrupted sleep.

But tonight was different. At 3 a.m., a nurse instructed all residents to remain in their rooms behind closed doors. We couldn’t help but peek out of the window blinds. We watched in horror as the mother of the infant in Room 1704 ran inside, her hand over her mouth. Her wails carried across the hallway from inside. When other relatives arrived, they hold unto one another weeping, lamenting, and grieving.

Tears flowed down our faces. I gazed upon Angela—my baby girl who always wanted a baby girl—and grieved along with her. Though she carried unspoken heaviness, she remained strong for her household.

My eyes fixate upon our sick Grace. The doctors had said that Grace needed to gain weight, but she only grew weaker and tired more easily. Instead of eating, she slept during feedings. I watched her shallow, rapid breathing and listened to the heart monitor. Beep. A precious life. Beep. Hopelessness loomed. Beep. I said another prayer.

Beep, Beep, Beep. The rhythm of Grace’s heart monitor echoed louder in my head.

Come morning, more alarming reports:

“Murmur is louder.”

“Heart’s beating fast; enlarged, working too hard.”

“Surgery tomorrow.”

We waited for the day; we waited for the hour, but when the time for her procedure arrived, tomorrow seemed much too soon!

In the morning, we huddled around Grace in a curtained room. Words failed to express our love for this precious twenty-nine day old child. We covered her with our tears, our kisses, and our prayers.

“Please Lord, bring her back to me,” my daughter whispered and cried.

In a moment’s time, they whisked her away to prep her and lay her on the operating table, surrounded by nine surgeons. We felt helpless but believed God while we prayed that He would return Grace to us alive . . . whole . . . and healthy.

After four hours in surgery, the cardiologist reported, “Grace’s heart is very sick,” and added, “We didn’t know how sick until actually seeing it.”

The pendulum swung. We sat and paced. Paced and sat.

A flood of questions crammed my mind: How do you silence the sobs that overtake you? How can you calm the waters and keep the dam from bursting from within the depths of your being? How do you say good-bye when someone has captured your very heart and soul?

Nine hours later we were told, “Her heart failed when taken off bypass.”

My gut tightened. “Please, Lord.”

We gathered in a quiet room to pray. I studied the faces of each family member. The women prayed openly as they cried out to God. The men, unable to trust their voices, did not open their mouths for fear of losing control.

After three hours, the doctor’s assistant entered and announced, “She’s made it, but she’s not out of the woods yet.”

We hugged one another. Tears of relief flow freely.

“The next forty-eight hours will be critical,” she cautioned. “You can briefly see her soon.”

Emotions raw, I lacked the courage to see Grace lying still, motionless, and heavily sedated. “I want to see my granddaughter when her beautiful eyes are open,” I said.

Angela understood. “Mom, go home and rest,” she urged. “I’ll keep you posted.”

Day One Post-Surgery, my daughter’s report via email:

Baby Grace remains heavily sedated, and has countless tubes and wires attached to her small frame. Mom, the list is endless: a breathing tube, pacemaker, rectal thermometer, catheter, and so much more. Arms and inner thighs are bruised due to multiple attempts to locate the main artery. The sides of her head are shaven. Her face is bloated from fluids. One lung has collapsed. Mom, I’m so scared!

Day Two Post-Surgery, another email:

No movement, still heavily sedated. I held Baby Grace’s little hand and said, “Mommy’s here.” Grace moved her head for me and I whispered in her ear, “Mommy loves you so much.” When her eyes opened for me, my heart skipped a beat!

Day Three Post-Surgery:

Mom, Grace is better and responding to touch. Her swelling has gone down. They re- installed her feeding tube today and are giving 5cc of my breast milk per hour. She is eating now and will gain weight again.

Day Five:

My first day to see Grace since her surgery. Overflows of emotions bombarded every nerve in my being. Hope crashed into fear. Joy into anxiety.

I must keep it together. My legs turned to putty. My daughter took me by the hand and led me into Grace’s room . . .

I see her! I reached down, caressed her face and gently placed my hand over her chest. The incision was the length of my index finger.

And then her eyes! Those familiar eyes sparkled and looked at me as if to say, “See Mimi. I’m here. I’ve made it.”2062_1069678230028_1130_n

Seven years have passed.

Grace recently graduated to the first grade, grinning from ear to ear. She laughs and skips about, discovering her world. My precious granddaughter has been through so much. She won’t remember a thing about her ordeal. Nevertheless, I will forever hold onto the memories of those dark days and long nights. I will relish the story of this tiny girl who showed tenacity and never gave up.

I lift Grace, embrace her, and smother her with kisses. Her little heart beats next to mine; nothing short of a miracle.

Our hope.942275_10201220822310463_1048247074_n
Our joy.
Our gift.
Amazing Grace.

© M.A. Perez, 2013, All Rights Reserved

8 Comments

Filed under 29-days old, Grace, Health, Open-heart surgery