Archive | March, 2013

Love is Love

28 Mar

isa heart handsWhen I was in fifth grade, I had a crush on a boy named Jake Rubenstein. He had reddish blond hair, a dotting of freckles across the bridge of his nose and he ran faster than all of the other boys. Word on the blacktop was that he liked me back, and although I was extremely shy around boys and preferred to worship them from afar rather than talk to them, my heart was filled with innocent joy that a boy actually liked me!

While playing handball with my best friend Kelly, I told her that I thought Jake was cute, and she said, “You can’t like him—he’s Jewish!”

Jewish?” I asked, confused. “What’s Jewish?”

She informed me that it was his religion, and sometimes he wore a black beanie on his head when he went to church. She told me he couldn’t have a girlfriend who wasn’t also Jewish, so I should just forget about liking him.

“Unless you’re Jewish,” she told me. She stared at me across the handball court. “You’re not, are you?”

“Not what?” I asked.

“Jewish, dummy!” she said, bouncing the red rubber ball several times on the grimy asphalt.

“I don’t think so,” I answered. “I mean, our family doesn’t go to church or anything.”

“Well then,” she said, “you’re definitely not Jewish, because I think you would know if you were.

“Oh, okay,” I told her, a little sad, yet relieved at the same time that I had found out this important information before anything went too far. Whatever Jewish was, Jake was probably not the boy for me. That day, I decided to stop liking him.

It was the first time someone told me I shouldn’t like someone because they were different than I was.

Shortly after I graduated from college, I sat my mother down and told her that I wanted to marry Rene, an undocumented, uneducated Mexican Indian from Oaxaca. Rene and I met at a restaurant in Santa Monica where I was a waitress and he was a cook. While she liked Rene very much, my mother told me that I shouldn’t marry him because he and I were just too different.

“Jess, honey—you need to reconsider this whole marriage idea,” she said.  “The language barrier and cultural differences between you and Rene are just so vast—it’s going to make your marriage too difficult.”

Even though her feelings were expressed out of love and concern for me, thank God I was bullheaded enough not to listen to her.

When I called my grandmother back in Baltimore to tell her that Rene and I were getting married, her first reaction was, “But Jessie—your babies will be brown!” I wasn’t angry with her. In fact, I remember laughing about it with Rene. I understood that she was from a generation where it was unfathomable to think about marrying outside your own race. Her comment didn’t bother me one bit.  And yes, all four of my babies turned out to be the most beautiful brown color imaginable.

First society tells us not to love someone because they are a different than we are. Now, as is the case of same-sex marriage, they tell us not to love them because they are the same. The funny thing is, no matter what we look like on the outside, the love we feel on the inside is what truly matters, and it’s always the same. And what gives me, you, the church or the government the right to tell someone they can’t marry whom they love?

Change often takes generations to come about, but it always comes. Let’s not waste any more precious time. Love is love and it’s time to finally be fair about it.

Jesjsie and Rene in 1986

Jessie and Rene in 1986

Rene and Jessie today almost thirty years later.

Rene and Jessie today almost thirty years later.

Advertisements

Time to Write

7 Mar

lighthouseMy father died at age fifty-three, never realizing the dream of who he planned to be. He was a brilliant and articulate man; a gifted writer who had a degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University. But as many of us do, he smothered his initiative and creativity because he became too comfortable with that unyielding fear of not being good enough.

Maybe it was safer for him to hide behind his responsibilities and his resentments than to pursue his desire to become a writer. Perhaps the thick file of rejection letters hidden in the bedroom closet was just too much for him to bear. Sadly, he traded his beloved Smith-Corona typewriter for a bottle of gin and gave away his literary dream for a two pack-a-day nicotine habit and the television remote control. He died when he was only three years older than I am right now.

I’m grateful I didn’t inherit my father’s gene for alcoholism, but I did inherit the gene that’s even more intoxicating—the one that programmed both of us to believe: I’m just not good enough, so why bother trying?  As I’m sure my dad was, I have been embroiled in my own decades-long internal struggle about whether or not my abilities are good enough for me to realize the dream of who I want to be.

Lately, you may have noticed that I haven’t posted on my blog as regularly as I have in the past. Then again, you may not have noticed at all (See? There it is again–that annoying voice in my head telling me that nobody cares.)

The reason I haven’t posted much recently is because I’ve been working very diligently on writing a novel.  This is something I’ve fantasized about doing since forever, but that errant gene passed down from my dad discouraged me from really trying until recently. It doesn’t help that this whole crazy writing process, which includes opening oneself up to judgment and criticism is very scary at times. Wait—I take that back—it’s utterly terrifying! All the time!

But I’ve got a good story to tell, and I’ve been savvy enough to surround myself with a supportive writing group,  who along with my wonderful and encouraging family, read my words and tell me what’s not working—and more importantly—what is working. The very best part is that they also say they can’t wait to read more. So, whenever I can steal away a few quiet moments from my busy life, I write, and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.

When I write, I often think of my dad and how painful it must have been for him to let his dream slowly die away. It may be that I’ve carried his destructive gene around with me since birth, but I now realize I’m not destined to follow his path. I’m the one in charge of making my dream happen, and as much as I want to sometimes, I can no longer blame my lack of confidence on my heredity.

I’m a writer and it’s time to write.

The following is a poem written by my dad and published in 1954

Beacon

The lighthouse keeper told me once about loneliness;

About how, when he first took the job,

He was afraid the light might go out,

And then wished it would.

He told me about a sailor that explained to him

What it means to a shipload of staring eyes

To see his spinning human message

Punching hope through a wall of distant despair.

The keeper said his life got a little dull at times,

And his wife complained once in a while

About having to live always on the edge

Of extreme ways of life;

But, he said, he was the denial of death.

I read in his diary, after he died,

That he hated the coming of spring, because all night

He heard his steel and concrete index tick off sparrows,

With little thumping sounds,

And that his hired man complained about the mess.

He willed his telescope to his wife, that was all he had,

And she told me that day that reason

He took the job was

He loved the freedom of the sea.

–Joseph Winters

My dad, Joseph Winters in his senior photo in the 1954 Johns Hopkins yearbook

My dad, Joseph Winters in his senior photo in the 1954 Johns Hopkins yearbook