The Roads Our Hearts Know

The Roads Our Hearts Know
We know all the avenues, and all the roads.
I can walk to Mrytle, Wyckoff, or Knickerbocker 
with my eyes closed.
And I do. 
More than you can imagine.

The way to the post office, the supermarket, the cuchifrito.
Street fairs, and flea markets.
All across Brooklyn and Queens. 
Times Square, 34th Street, and Broadway.
All the bus lines, all the trains.

My soul aches 

the way people’s broken bones ache
on rainy days. Except for me
it’s every day
when my eyes are open.

We roam Bellevue, Memorial Sloan Kettering,
the dollar stores, and the parks.
All the places I don’t visit anymore
in New York. We’re like ghosts 
replaying records new and old. Except one of us
is alive, 
and alone.

All the time,
I hang out with my mother.

Nowhere fancy. Nowhere grand.
Just a mother and her daughter buying groceries together
every night
since she passed.
I dream, and I long
for the roads our hearts know.
And for the life mama, and I
no longer have.

Ice Chips

Ice Chips
Ice chips.

I gasp from a night’s fog.
Ghosts came home with me from the 9th floor.

Ice chips.
None of the nurses said anything to me 
whenever I entered the employee only pantry 
with a styrofoam cup to get

ice chips.

Unstrapping the bi-pap mask feels like
apologizing for plunging my mother’s head into water.
If we’re lucky,
I can slip a third ice chip into her mouth before
I re-strap what must feel like a bear trap 
of air wrapped around her head.

She points out the window.
She flicks invisible shackles 
off her legs before trying to swing them over the side of the bed.

I ask her where she’s going every time,
knowing that she can’t answer until
finally 
I ask:
“Do you want to go home? Is that where you’re trying to go?”

She nods yes —
delirious.

I clutch my heart,
clutch her hand
and, tell her,
“Yes, you can go home if you want. Don’t worry about me and daddy. We will meet you there.”

Every hour I flinch now.
Ice chips.
Bed up.
Bed down.

Mama there’s nothing behind the curtains what are you pointing at oh my God.
Whatever ghosts were at her bedside followed me, 
and jolt me awake as my leaden body 
moves to get 

ice chips.
Except I’m already home.
Without her.

I wrote this is in December 2018 when my mother was rushed to the ER, and she spent one night admitted on a regular hospital floor until her ICU admission the following morning. Only one person was allowed to stay with her. No one else volunteered. I wasn’t going to leave her alone.

I didn’t sleep that night. Was not at all prepared physically or mentally. Every time I was about to drift off, I jolted awake for one reason or another.

Oxygen deprivation makes you hallucinate. So does sleep deprivation.

It was traumatic. No one else, but my therapist, know the details of that night. I had nightmares about it after where I’d wake up in my own bed, and swear I was still in the hospital, already halfway up to get my mom some ice, or fix her blankets, or move her bed, or keep her from trying to leave the bed, or or or or…

I know it’d hurt her to know how much pain this memory caused me. And at the same time, I would do it all over again. When faced with the hard stuff, you see just how much effort people are willing to put in. In the months leading up to her passing, I did the hard stuff when no one else was willing.

Why? Because I was an asthmatic, hard of hearing, anemic, colic, preemie, and my mother took care of me all her life. Surgeries. Hospital admissions. Doctor’s appointments. Chicken pox – twice! Cracked my skull open once. Ear infections so bad, I would literally scream like someone was stabbing knives in my ears. I remember her breaking nights to slip the nebulizer mask over my face or to give me some nasty medicine. Even after I was an adult, and lived on my own, sometimes if I had a doctor’s appointment, she’d go with me just because. And when she got cancer, I tried to return the favor. My efforts definitely pale in comparison compared to the years she put into me, but I still did it because I loved my mama.

And while the pain has… become more of a scar that aches really bad on some days. A limb I was forced to live without, but life has never the same. I don’t regret being there for her. I’d do it again.

I Die

I Die

I die

over and over.

 

I used to think I wanted to.

I used to flirt with death using the same razors

mama used to shave calluses from her

hard working heels

but now I know better

 

when walking feels like

dry heaving my broken insides

when it feels like vomiting

the pieces of me

of her

that have loosened in me

since she left

 

pieces trying to force themselves out of my body

 

but I hang onto them

no matter how sharp

 

and I die

from doing this.

 

I die when I remember her face

turn blue

 

I die when I can feel how soft her hand was in mine

in my mind and

I realize

I can never feel it again.

I die.

– Rachel R. Vasquez, June 2018

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I wrote this around 4 months after my mama died. Grief feels very surreal in the beginning. Our culture truly does not give grievers enough time before they have to throw themselves back into the daily grind.

I went back to work about a week and a half after her passing. I remember walking in the streets, physically straining to hold myself back from what felt like dry heaving. I can’t describe it. It wasn’t necessarily about being nauseous all the time. It was like, being a water balloon ready to burst and with any poke, gentle or otherwise, the balloon will splatter into a mess. I felt like I was literally hanging on by a hair, trying to keep myself from literally collapsing in the streets in pure agony.

Sometimes it did feel like “Fuck, I’m going to throw up,” because the horror of loss and witnessing death feels that way. Sometimes it was more like an unfathomable sorrow and pain that I could barely contain within myself in silence.

It’s like being punched in the gut multiple times. There’s only so many times you can let yourself get punched without ever making a sound. Sometimes the pain is so great, the only relief is to make a sound – to cry, to scream, to release.

There were many times I couldn’t hold it back, and I had to pull myself into a restroom stall or even face a wall in the subway to just break down. Let some of the tsunami out just enough so that I could return to appearing “normal” and walk that fine line between sanity and the insanity that is grief.

There were mornings I didn’t make it to work, and the mornings I did, it felt like a drunken haze, an alternate reality I was being forced to live in. How do people laugh? Go to work? Keep going about their lives when this life is missing from this earth? When this life has been snuffed? How does no one notice when the sun is blotted from the sky?

I wrote this back then. It’s been a year and 4 months since she passed now. While it’s no longer a physical strain on a daily basis to hold back my grief, it still comes in waves. Ever since, I’ve been following only a single line of advice. Take it one day at a time.

#VSS365 May 2019

Once again, trigger warning for grief related stories below. May is not only the month of mother’s day, but it’s the month of my mother’s birthday. Needless to say, May hits me hard. This is the second time around since her passing.

 

#VSS365 April 2019

Warning – the first few “very short stories” I wrote in April may be triggering. I’m still grieving the loss of my mama. I write in an effort to comfort the ever present void in my life due to her absence.

What missing mama is like

What missing mama is like

It’s having to YouTube how to peel yautia.

It’s having to Google translate Spanish.

It’s all the little girls holding their mother’s hands on the street.

It’s all the elderly women and their middle aged clones sitting between shopping bags on the train.

It’s buying flowers every 20th because the petals feel like the tops of her tender hands.

It’s not knowing who to put in my emergency contacts now.

It’s not having someone to ask if these shoes match with this shirt.

It’s realizing my life was on training wheels the whole time I thought I was adulting.

It’s realizing that “You are my sunshine” is the saddest song ever created.

It’s having to keep family drama to myself.

It’s not knowing whether to bundle up unless I actually look up the weather.

It’s sleeping all the time because dreams are the only way to see her.

It’s chronologically organizing and filing day every card she’s ever given to me.

It’s caring for an oversized pair of pajamas the way a museum conservator does artifacts.

It’s not having a partner the night before Thanksgiving who knows how to tuck in the turkey wings.

It’s buying nothing with her name, for Christmas, mother’s day, or her birthday – ever again.

It’s being truly homesick, because home is where the heart is and my mom, was my heart.

It’s crying at the live action trailer of Dumbo, because damn those bastards who take his mommy. Heaven forbid Disney decides to reboot Bambi next.

It’s her number in my favorites, that I refuse to delete, because she is still my favorite person to talk to.

It’s never being able to talk to my favorite person again and when the cold turkey becomes unbearable, it’s stalking her Facebook feed, memorizing text message threads and writing her in messenger despite that it’s the same as writing to myself.

It’s writing her into a Christmas card for my dad because I’ll be damned if I have to refer to my parents as anything other than a pair – two halves of a whole.

It’s having a dream where she isn’t really gone, and it was all a trick, because she is here – in the flesh, and I’ve never known true happiness until that moment.

It’s waking up at one in the morning and realizing she died all over again, and real life, is the nightmare.

It’s knowing my life will always be “the before” and “the after”.

And most of all, it’s knowing I will never bask in the unconditional, effortless love, that is my mother’s.

– Rachel R. Vasquez, January 2019

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I don’t think many people realize, until they’ve lost someone so integrated into their lives, what having that person gone is like. It affects so many things, it’s this gaping hole in your life, that you are forced to live with. To learn to live with.

Some things have “work arounds”, like youtubing a video about something I could’ve asked my mom about. The 2 years before she passed, she taught me how to make pasteles from scratch and we made them together for the holidays. This past holiday, I stood in the supermarket feeling completely bewildered, because I didn’t know the difference between yautia – white or yellow – and malanga. I think if I didn’t have the internet on my phone to help, I wouldn’t have tried making pasteles without her again.

For other things, like the urge to call her, it doesn’t go away. It’s almost been a year and even today, without thinking, I thought, “I should call my mom,” and then to realize, “Oh wait. Yeah…”

Running errands have become quieter for me. Either she kept me company or I called her on the phone to catch up. I like to talk to people when I cook dinner, and she was one of the people I called most. Now there are times I cook in silence, and my husband asks me, why aren’t I talking to anyone? Because sometimes calling someone different makes it feel a bit better, other times, nothing can replace talking to her so I choose to talk to no one at all. There, in the emptiness of a phone call and conversation that could’ve have been – had it not been for cancer.

It sucks. Still trying to find ways to cope. Writing is one way. Taking it day by day.

Candles

Candles

My mother never liked candles.

Twice they were responsible

for a childhood blaze.

Now, like a candle,

her life wanes.

 

Her lips form soundless shapes

on January 9th,

“Happy Birthday.”

She smiles bright and sleepily

even when she’s held me to

her swelling belly

after I cried to “You are my sunshine,” on the guitar.

She mouths, “I love you, “

as if she’s drifting.

 

Sailing on the lip of a parting boat

and I am her shore.

The ocean between us grows by the hour.

 

Her glow extinguishes

with every breath,

her soul relinquished,

lying dazed, unfocused, silent –

she becomes far.

 

Her body rancid,

we count the days,

her wick dims placid.

 

A piece of my heart,

a piece of her goes.

I pray God carries her

afloat like music notes,

as she slowly sets like a sun,

into a gentle wisp of smoke.

 

Tallow lessened into rest

until her time has run.

Ended to infinite slumber,

from ember to ashes,

a votive that has un-mothered.

 

– Rachel R. Vasquez, February 2018

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I wrote this in February within the weeks my mother was becoming less like herself. By then she was in a nursing home, intubated via tracheotomy, and Pleurx catheters in her lungs and stomach. Although she survived a bout of pneumonia in December and January appeared hopeful, as February rolled in, I noticed she was sleeping more, becoming less focused, and forgetting things you told her minutes before. The cancer was progressing fast. A church friend of hers sat with me and said it reminded her of her father, who, like a candle, dimmed each day until he wasn’t there anymore. I wrote this praying that if I could not keep her, that God at least take her peacefully, without pain.

Room 10-24

Room 10-24

There was a woman I didn’t recognize,

the same color as the walls,

stacked like a house of sticks frail enough to knock over with a touch,

waiting for her daughter.

And I,

looking for my mother

popped my head into each room desperately.

In the room I passed

this woman I didn’t recognize was

until my cousin said,

“That’s her!”

I’m here mama. I tell her I love her, kiss her short haired head, and hold her hands.

I try to focus on her smile and not the tubes.

I come home guilty because

for just a brief second

she was a woman I thought I didn’t know,

until she was my mother again.

 

– Rachel R. Vasquez, November 2017

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This is the first poem I’ve put on this site for 2018. I have gone on internet hiatus with social media, my blogs, and writing in general since October. There’s no easy way to say any of this, but my mother, my sweet mama who I lovingly refer to as “mamasita”, died in February after a 4 year fight with stage 4 breast cancer. My life has been whole heartedly focused on the last 6 months of my mother’s life and now that it is “over”, I have never felt so – angry. Lonely. Heartbroken. Lost. Out of place in this world. Like I’m living in a twilight zone where everything else moves when for me, it’s like the sun has been blotted out of the skies.

I’ve spent my life writing. My mother knew I loved to write. And though I haven’t felt like myself in months, and I can’t imagine a future where one day, “this” will feel okay, I know that this is step one. Step one: Get back on my blog, my twitters, and write. Do the thing I know I loved once and hopefully it will get me through, one day at a time.

I am thinking of creating a blog dedicated to the last 6 months of her life- of my life when she existed in it. There are so many emotions and so many lessons learned, writing seems the only way to get it out of me. Until this new blog comes into existence, this is one of the first things I wrote as things began to go downhill. When I was beginning to face the fact that my mother was dying.

She was in the first of what would be a weekly routine of urgent care and hospital stays before the climax in December and the end in February. I was looking for her room in Memorial Sloan Kettering with my cousin, and I passed right by it. I peeked in there, saw a woman looking down at the floor, and I didn’t recognize my own mother. I kept going, trying to find her, when my cousin pulled me back saying that she was in the room I’d just dismissed.

When I realized that I didn’t recognize my mother, it was terrifying, and I felt incredibly guilty. I would never tell my mother that I didn’t recognize her. I cried when I got home that evening when I told my husband about it. I’m crying just writing this, but I’ve gotten this far! I’m typing! I’m going to keep trying and no matter how painful, I’m going to vent this in one of the only ways I know how.

If you have a mother alive, please, cherish her always.