Disbelief.

It’s almost unbelievable that I had a place within your space

Until I didn’t.

I imagine being there like a time lapse in a movie,

Flashes of movement all over,

Never still in one place and finally gone.

Is my energy still there, like a phantom?

Had I known,

I would have taken better note

Of how perfectly our bodies fit together on your couch on Sundays,

Would have memorized the exact green of your eyes when they’d go wide with surprise,

And would have appreciated the stillness of the early morning air

As I, exhausted, heard you walk through the motions of getting ready:

Shower. Perfectly ironed work clothes. Belt. Boots with a thud. Feed the cat. “Stay as long as you’d like” with a kiss goodbye.

The smell of my perfume that you liked so much must be

Long gone from your favorite sheets and

I wonder if you’re still finding my hair everywhere,

Curly reminders of what we used be.

A Deeper Understanding.

I recited my friend Charmaine’s poem, titled “A Deeper Understanding,” for the Mixed Magic Theatre’s monthly poetry show. Char also curated the show, and it was interesting to get a behind-the-scenes look at how shows like this are put together. I hesitated to share the video, because I immediately began scrutinizing the way I wasn’t sucking in my gut and way my mouth moves and how my hair is parted in the wrong place and blah blah blah but decided that I should, because I was a little part in a big piece of magic and it’s a magic that should be shared. Despite the pandemic, despite the odds, the MMT team was able to put together a show that included many different forms of art. Sharing the video is also a way to showcase Char’s art, which I am so honored to have been chosen to read aloud. I agreed to participate because I knew the poem would be beautifully done, but it’s brilliant, absolutely brilliant. I just hope I did it justice.

You can watch my YouTube debut here, on the presentation of Rise to Black: Onward, here: https://youtu.be/-I35ne0jGQg. I hope you enjoy the show and leave the MMT a like and subscribe!

All the books.

My new year’s resolution is typically to hit the gym, lose weight, or stop being a miserable bitch, but this year I’ve decided on something that I’d actually like to do. I will spend the year reading. A few days ago, I proposed to myself that I read one book a month, making that about 10 more books than I read last year. But I’ve just begun my second book of this year and it feels right.

Those that know me know that I’ve been a bookworm all my life. I used to cut class in high school to go to the school library and read with my friend Rose. Last year, I had to implement a “no-buy” policy for books because the spending was getting out of hand and my bookshelves were bursting at the seams. The thing is, several years back, I was taking some pretty heavy medications for anxiety and depression and they just fucked with my brain chemistry. My ability to sit for long periods of time, focus, and be creative took a hit, big time. Any motivation to read just wasn’t there. And part of me also felt shitty because I’ve always wanted to write something beautiful and never have – reading someone else’s art felt like a reminder of that.

A few months ago, however, as I lay in bed bored to hell and back, I discovered the world of “booktube” on YouTube. It’s a community of readers that review, share, and gossip about books and reading. How nerdy, but also how glorious for me to stumble upon it. Some of the booktubers I follow have really piqued my interest in getting back in the reading game, and the name of the writer Brit Bennett came up in several videos. This past weekend, I hit the Pawtucket Public library in search of her book The Vanishing Half, but came up empty-handed (trust me, I requested it). I instead found her debut novel, The Mothers, and good god! It’s a great story with beautiful and complex characters, but her writing style and the way she views and describes things – even the most mundane – is what blows me away. When I have to put a book down to blink the tears back into my eyes simply because of a single sentence, I know I’ve found a good one.

I am sharing this with y’all not because you give an actual shit, but to hold myself accountable. I need to set the intention, say it out loud. Here is an abridged list of books that I am interested in getting into asap:

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter (starting now),

Homecoming by Yaa Gyasi

The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V.E. Schwab

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

Bloodchild by Octavia Butler

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

If You Come Softly and Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

If anyone has any suggestions, reviews of the above books, or would ever like to “book talk,” let me know, baby. These are wild and frightening times, let’s go somewhere else for a while, even if imaginary.

The sun.

I must have been in the third or fourth grade. We were standing, single-file, outside and waiting to have recess. We were being led by a teacher that taught our grade but wasn’t our actual teacher. I wasn’t fond of her, I remember.

It was chilly, but the sun was out. One of the rays of light hit me right in the face, and it felt so good. I could feel the warmth spreading across my nose and eyes. It felt so good, in fact, that I closed my eyes and smiled. I swayed, ever so slightly, as I let the brightness travel down to my toes. I relished in my moment of meditation for about 10 seconds (if that) and when I opened my eyes, found that the teacher was staring at me. I’ll never forget her face – absolute anger.

“Go to the wall,” she shouted, arm extended outwards, index finger pointing to the school’s brick wall. I felt the blood rush to my face. I hardly ever got in trouble and was really confused. What had I done?

The wall drained any warmth I had accrued just a few moments ago. It also took away my joy. I really couldn’t figure out what I had done wrong or why it had caused such a reaction from her. I was embarrassed, but mostly hurt. I was a fucking nerd (and in retrospect, already had low self-esteem) and desperately wanted the approval of all my teachers. I wanted to be one myself.

This was about 25 years ago, but I think about it often. To this day, I am unsure as to why enjoying the sun for a few seconds was such a bad thing to do, such an insult to the craft of being a learner. And the more I think about it – and I subconsciously realized it back then – the more I realize I didn’t do anything wrong at all.

The point: the shit we do and say affects people. It can hurt them or make their day a little better. It can weaken an already fragile perception of self or give it a confidence boost. It can reinforce pre-existing notions or allow for a change of mind, should they decide. Our roles as friends, partners, relatives, or strangers, even, isn’t to try to change or influence a person’s perception/behavior/feelings to one that matches our own. It’s to let them be and live in theirs. We aren’t supposed to stifle a child’s momentary delight in the sun; we should allow, encourage, and celebrate it.

So I’ll say now what I couldn’t say then: You can piss right off, Mrs. Whateverthefuckyournameis!

La Virgen.

I follow the beams of yellow light through the kitchen, past the ajar door, and into the dark bedroom. I can’t see much, but by memory, I make my way to the wooden bureau. I gingerly pass my fingertips along the perfectly-lined belongings: the jewelry box with the missing dancing ballerina, the ceramic Virgin Mary with the chipped fingertips, the Avon deodorants. My hands land on the round jar of body powder and, with a rush of boldness, I grab it. I have watched Mamita enough times to know you don’t twist the lid; you simply pull it off. I inhale the smell I know well. Standing on my tiptoes I lean into the mirror and ever so slightly see my reflection. My brown curls are pulled back into a tight ponytail, untamable little frizzies surrounding my face. Before I slip my hand through the powder puff’s ribboned handle I already know it will be a perfect fit.

“Don’t forget: you always have to smell good,” I whisper to the pretend camera in the mirror as I bat my lashes. White circles begin to form on my neck as I dip the puff into the tiny mountain of powder and press it against myself. I bang my knee into the brass drawer handle. There’s a creak by the bedroom door and I clumsily try to place the lid back onto the jar. My hands are far too small and it’s too dark.

Jacqueline. Qué hace aquí?” Mamita asks sternly as she flicks on the light.

I freeze, thinking she might not see me, my fingers tightly gripping the edge of the bureau. I refuse to make eye contact with her through the mirror. I’m only five, but I know I shouldn’t be in this room alone. I look down and notice the powder has landed over the front of my puffy red dress. She pinches my chin with her thumb and forefinger and forcefully turns my face upwards as she grabs the jar of powder.

Siéntese,” she says, and nods towards the edge of her bed. Somberly, I take a seat. A tear threatens its escape as I close my eyes. I am expecting her to call my mother into the room for a swift punishment. Instead, I feel a gentle swipe at my neck. Through the mirror, I watch as she wipes the ivory powder from my skin with a soft handkerchief.

“You added too much. Es asi,” she says with a laugh. She dabs the powder puff around my neck and under my chin. I laugh, my gap-toothed smile wide in the mirror. She steps back and watches me, her dark brown hair greying around the temples. Lightly, she brushes it against the tip of my nose. Boop. The puff, originally a light pink, has turned white from overuse.

“It smells so good,” I say.

Lila symbolizes innocence,” she says with a gentle swipe. “Ámbar is for courage and jazmín is for love. Entiende?” I nod my head to say that yes, I understand, but I don’t. She tucks a lone, loose curl at the base of my neck back into my ponytail. I giggle once again with delight at the tickles.

Hermosa,” she smiles. “Que la Virgen siempre la acompañe.” May the Virgin Mary always be by your side, she wishes. My eyes wander to the ceramic statue at the bureau. The Virgin’s tiny, pearl white hands extend outwards, as if waiting for someone to fall into her open embrace.

I look away, shyly, trying to hide my grin.

A letter.

As part of my job, I sit in on the classes we offer to provide technical assistance support to anyone that might need it. A benefit to that is that I get to participate. During last night’s class, the instructor asked us to write a letter to our younger selves. I smiled, and the following is dedicated to 6-year-old me, short and in a cheetah print with a book I had no business reading at that age in hand.

—-

Hi, Jackie –

I’d sadly like to confirm that your suspicions are correct: life isn’t always easy. Or fair. Or delightful. I am writing from a time in which lots of things just don’t make sense. Everything feels out of whack and out of your control. And we know you hate feeling out of control. You’ve gone through some difficult times – mostly internal and self-imposed – that have brought you to rock bottom. You’ve fought really hard to earn your successes, however small, and it sometimes felt like it wasn’t even worth it. But fear not, my curly-haired & neurotic child, because I am happy to report that you made it out to the other side. You’ll never feel like that again. Te prometo.

You’ve also gone through some fantastic times, times that far supersede the bad. The friends you made early on are still there, backing you up to the end like an army of a million. Your family – parents, sisters, cousins, aunts & uncles – they love you unconditionally and you sometimes wonder why. When you wanted to quit, your nephew Jonas kept you fighting. You didn’t know, then, that you’d one day meet Elias. Those boys brighten your world. You’ve traveled to places that have made you feel tiny and in awe and that is how you’ve come to learn that there is so much more to this life than your tiny Central Falls heart could have imagined.

Your other suspicions are correct: being shy, reserved, and making yourself small to make others feel comfortable doesn’t get you very far. When you enter a space and feel so out of place that you mute yourself, don’t. When you’re positive you know the answer, don’t hold back. Open up, talk; you’ve got valuable things to offer. When you want to tell someone you love them, say it. And when they inevitably hurt your feelings, don’t leave it festering in your chest. Be careful, however: your words are like caramel but you’re also really good at hurling them like daggers. You’re little, but you’ve already discovered this, huh? Be nice to those around you.

You’ve got a dream, baby, and we all know what it is. Follow that creativity and keen eye for detail and nuance that create stories in your head all the damn time. Stop lying and give into the geekdom: you love words. You love books and how they smell. You love the crinkling sound the spine of a book makes when you open it as you read by flashlight. I know you picture yourself sitting beachside, typewriter in tow, drinking a mimosa while working on your next bestseller. But to get there, you have to put in work. And then some more work with another layer of work. Things don’t just magically appear because you want them to. You’ll learn it time and time again, trust me. Do right by yourself and just go for it. Just jump. You’re smarter and cooler and far more valuable than you give yourself credit for.

Stamps.

I stamped 450 postcards yesterday and, halfway through, I remembered that I fancied myself a stamp collector for a few years as a kid. I used to get these finely bound, glossy magazines in the mail with cool stamps and stamp collector paraphernalia, and I would read them from front to back, circling the ones I really wanted. I’d also do calculations: this amount of stamps will cost this amount of $. If I actually purchased anything it was minimal, since I didn’t have a penny to my name at the age of 8. Hell, I still don’t.

I guess the concept of having the money – the luxury, really – to splurge on stupid shit like NASA-themed stamps and stamp albums (no disrespect to stamp aficionados, truly) was appealing to me. It seemed like a fancy hobby to have.  I also liked the idea of borrowing the family’s best pen (you know which one I’m talking about, every household has one), writing the best love note known to man, and shipping it off with the swift lick of a tongue on the back of a stamp (remember when stamps didn’t have adhesive? The horror!). It’s just funny because up until yesterday, I hadn’t given a single thought to my stamp-collecting days on East Street in Pawtucket.

Being a kid was cool as shit. You pick up early that the world can be a crummy place, but you’re typically too lost in your own imagination or toys to really let it hurt. Not every kids’ experience is like this, sadly, but for the most part, we are gifted the ability to sit with innocence for some time, however brief. Good ol’ naivete spares you for a little bit. You don’t have much of a concept on money, so you think your parents can afford to buy a whole book of stamps and also keep the electricity on. You don’t have a concept of time, so you aren’t aware that some people in your life won’t be around forever. You cannot comprehend, just yet, that you won’t be around forever, either. You have no concept of ignorance and hatred, so you don’t understand that you might be viewed as less than, stupid, or as nothing because of how you look, your gender, or your zip code. You aren’t familiar with heartbreak, so you don’t know better than to memorize every inch of the face of the round-eyed boy that sits next to you in class.

I could go on forever. I’m feeling melancholy, I suppose, and I just want my leopard overalls, jelly chanclas and gafas back, along with a stamp magazine. Maybe this time I would buy myself a pretty stamp as a reminder – a token – of a better time.

Lenny.

Dear Lenny –

I love you so very much, my Lenny bear! I am so sorry that you feel like the world doesn’t love you – but I do. You are an amazing little guy, with so much to offer this world. You have the kindest heart and the best smile. You also give the best hugs when people need them the most. I wish you could be a kid forever, so we could keep you safe forever. I hope the world you grow into loves you just as much as I do. I promise to always defend you.

<3,

Jax

Lenny is my best friend Cindy’s son. In explaining the protests, she had to have the heartbreaking conversation with him that he is viewed differently – negatively – because of the color of his skin. He asked her: why doesn’t the world love me or my daddy? At just five years old, he is starting to learn that his place in the world isn’t as safe as he once thought.

Imagine having to have that conversation with your son. Imagine saying that to a child who is pure light, goodness, and joy. Imagine knowing that once he becomes a teenager, growing tall and strong, he will begin to be perceived as a threat by the world outside the safety of his home. Imagine knowing that your son has to fight ten times as hard as everyone else to prove he belongs, is intelligent, isn’t a threat, and deserves to wake to see another day.

It’s not my job to tell you what to do or think or which side to stand on. I, myself, have lots of learning (and unlearning) to do, and I have begun that process. They’re uncomfortable conversations and introspections to have. But I do know that race isn’t a joke, that skin color affords some of us certain privileges, that police brutality is never warranted, and that our commander in chief is a race-baiter, among other things. I also know what’s right and what’s wrong. It is never right to watch a man be suffocated to death over $20. It is not okay for 15-year-old boys to be murdered for running away from the cops or because someone thinks they don’t belong in a particular neighborhood. It is also not right to have watched it happen for so long or to let it happen ever again. There are so many things that are just not okay. This calls for a systemic overhaul (and not just in law enforcement) and that can only happen if we each do our own work and come together as a collective to insist that BLACK LIVES MATTER.

P.S. Anyone interested in doing some reading, I recommend Dr. Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. It’s put a lot of things into perspective for me. It’s a text everyone can read, regardless of race.

Fit.

We’ll do anything to make ourselves fit – into jeans and spaces and roles and relationships even when it is obvious that we do not fit, belong, or are wanted there. Shit, sometimes we don’t even wanna be there. Yet, we are willing to deal with and do things that go against what we stand for or believe in. We bend and accommodate even when it’s killing us on the inside. We try again and again, becoming flustered and crying into our so-over-it pillows. We face rejection and we internalize it, blame ourselves. “I am this, this, or that.” When we’re being especially spiteful we start with the “I am not this, this, or that enough.” It’s painful, ain’t it?

One night, when getting over my last heartbreak – and it took me what felt eternities – I began berating myself once again, remembering all the ways in which I had messed up, cheated myself out of happiness, and the time lost hurting. Eventually, I shrugged and thought: All I did was try to love him. I can still remember that moment crisply, precisely. A calm came over me, and I knew, I just fucking knew, that I would never be upset over that shit again. I had loved someone wholeheartedly, selflessly, and without agenda. Had my love/attitude/expectations been perfect? No. But I had attempted to give someone all of me – with its chipped nail polish and quick comebacks and collection of books & insecurities – unconditionally and until I took my last breath. It was out of my control what they did with it. It was not up to me to decide what they did with that gift. In that moment, I found that idea beautiful, more beautiful than any other thought I had ever had. I could rest easy because all I ever did was try to be good to someone.

So, if you’re going through it (and I know some of you are) take comfort in that, soon enough, your golden little heart will heal. You might always feel a sting of hurt, or even of love for that person, but your idea of love just isn’t their idea of love. You just didn’t fit into their bigger picture. And that’s okay. It’s beautiful and wholesome and amazing that you tried.

<3,

Jax

Olla tomica.

My parents use la olla atómica for everything. Lentils, meats, potatoes, chickpeas, the kernels for mazamorra. Everything goes into the pressure cooker. My dad will inevitably ask, “cuanto tiempo ha estao pitando?” and my mom will say that it only just started whistling and to give it a few minutes. When I was younger, I would tip-toe past it because I thought that if I was too heavy-footed, it would explode. To this day, its screech eeeeeeeeeee! makes my heart skip a few beats.

One day, back on Sylvian Street, a BOOM! rang throughout the apartment. I met my mother in the tiny kitchen, and found her wide-eyed, looking up at the ceiling. I found a blob of beans clinging for its life and water dripping down the cabinet drawers and puddling at our feet. I looked at my mother, she looked back at me, and I know we were both thinking the same thing: What the fuck are we going to do with this mess?

Am I the olla? The frijoles? Or am I the mother and daughter duo, coming to the realization that this shit is messy and won’t be easy to clean up? I’m not sure. But when I was thinking of a way to explain how I sometimes feel lately, that particular memory came to mind. It’s a feeling that is overwhelming, unnerving, and quite frankly, unnatural. I feel it in my brain and I feel it throughout my body. It keeps me up at night. It’s unlike anything I have experienced before.

I’ve been advised to calm down. Relax. Stop overthinking. Obviously, I know that being optimistic is better than being anxious. Thinking of worst-case-scenario does nothing for my mental health. We will get through this, healthy and okay. But if I’m being honest, all I hear is eeeeeeeeeee!