Monthly Archives: June 2015

My Ghost

I have a ghost. He lives with me.

He’s about 5’8 and wears John Lennon glasses. His nose is beaky and his hairline receding into a widow’s peak, even at 23. But his face is round and smile is good-natured. He wears a blue flannel shirt with a musky smell that is all male, all his. His name is Jason, but we all called him JT. Still do.

I sense him when I’m driving long distances and my mind is confused. In my empty passenger’s seat, my body feels him looking at me, touching my hand with the slightest air and letting me know that everything is going to be okay, even when it isn’t.

But he’s not here anymore. A part of me wonders if I was the one that made sure of that.

When we first met when I was in college, I thought he was cute. He was three years older than me, wore cowboy boots and his silver car was named Bertha. His favorite song was by a one-hit wonder by the name of Lara Fabian, called, “I Will Love Again.” He had an AIM and we would message all the time. He played piano for the kids at the Salvation Army, and was rather gifted. He would buy me drinks at Starbucks and Chinese food at the mall. He would make jokes about Bertha and my car, the Spacey Crowe Mobile, having a baby car together one day.

Nights in the parking lot outside of our college Hillel, he would hold me tight and tell me how wonderful I was. How I deserved someone in my life to hold me the way he would. He was a romantic, although not with me. Never with me.

He knew my intimate secrets, and I knew his. His were darker than mine, depths of depravity and depression that I would never know, blended with talk about electroshock therapy and highs from mixed cocktails of prescription pills to get away from his intense clinical depression. My ghost was a tortured soul.

There was a choice. I made it. I couldn’t be close with someone who I loved who was hurting himself. I told him to get help, but until then, we couldn’t be friends anymore. He never did.

I saw him six weeks before in the old age home in Reseda during a social action event; he loved volunteering. We talked as we normally had, with the veil between us showing its holes. I was beginning to let go of my anger towards his addictions, hoping maybe we would be friends once more. He asked me to come with him and some friends to a coffee shop. I didn’t go. I should have. I would never see him again.

The day came. I was told that night he walked into his parents bedroom and collapsed. His heart had stopped. My denial took over for the next couple days; 23-year-olds don’t just fall down and die, after all. Girls at 19 don’t lose their friends to death.

I decided to confront my friend David that Tuesday, who was the bringer of the news. I pulled him in to a room with filing cabinets and mint green walls, asking him about JT. Was it true?

“Yeah, he’s dead,” David chirped.

My voice reached a fever pitch, screaming and causing the entire room outside to stop in shock as he started bumbling and getting defensive about some random unrelated rumor. My mind started spinning around the mint green walls, my heart crushed. It was my fault, my fault. JT was dead because I abandoned someone I loved.

There are other ghosts mixed in from the days after, now reduced to shadows of memories. His mother rocking back and forth at the gravesite in a pink dress. His snide ex-girlfriend hitting on his brother at the house after the funeral. The boy who would become my ex-boyfriend three months later after saying I was too fat to be with him, as I grabbed his chubby hand at the cemetery and lead him toward the gravesite. My Hillel leader, who had to announce somberly at the event after the funeral that one of our community members had died. But I see JT’s specter more than anyone.

As I moved on in the years, I blamed myself, swearing that I would never abandon someone in need again. Yet I was still seeking him and his guidance in dark times. There were moments where I was left to wonder what he would think of this guy or that guy, hoping it would make his romantic soul wandering the ether happy.

Yet at the same time I didn’t want to love anymore. Letting someone that close to me, and then the subsequent loss, was just too painful. I thought that if I found someone I really cared about, but didn’t love, it would make my life easier. So I did.

For seven years, I was prisoner to that child, who made me think I could capture what my ghost wanted for me — a person to hold me tight — but instead echoed every insecurity that played around in my head. He used the details that were confided in him and turned them into weapons against my sanity, cutting into my very soul. I tended to my wounds alone, forgetting about my ghost to try to mend the scars.

Then came the night in the white hospital halls with the child behind two double doors. It was the most extreme maneuver, but not the first time he threatened what he did. He was not in need; he was waiting behind those doors with his own version of a knife, waiting to slash at me yet again. I felt guilty, but walked away that night, the traveler’s prayer on my lips, praying for my ghost’s protection along with the loved ones that I had lost over the years.

The healing was not easy. The cracks would show, triggers popping up at first constantly to leave my body shaking on the bathroom floor, then less and less severely. I would crack, but be able to stand. Yet sometimes I would lie in bed crying, and a part of me could feel through my tears a hand brushing my hair from my eyes, telling me that it would get better. That I would find my way, that I would find love again.

There are echoes of my ghost since he left this world, of intimate friendships and reaches at flirtations. The green Jeep of a Christian guy with a receding hairline who was interested in me, but whose family cornered him about why he would want to go out with “that Jewish slut.” The bald head of a boy who knew me better than almost anyone as I was curled up on the bathroom floor, drunk and crying over my divorce as he held me tight and his lips made promises of taking care of me that he would never keep. A boyish faced friend with the softest hazel eyes looking at me constantly while driving me back to my car when he should have been watching the road, my eyes staring at the dashboard craving his kiss good night, but not receiving it. The guys’ beds that I had flitted in and out of, not loving them and using them in lieu of investing in someone for an extended period. Finding ways out of true intimacy because in my mind, love meant losing, and I couldn’t afford to lose again.

JT haunts me, the romantic who was close to me but didn’t want me. Who wanted me to find love but didn’t want to be mine. Who I loved for being in my life and being a friend, who I hated for leaving me behind and not seeing that I loved him, wanted him to stay amongst the living, to get better and grow older with the rest of us.

This wasn’t the life I expected, with my older self — divorcee, hidden romantic yet cynical lover, wandering and desperately healing soul — standing over his grave on a bright summer’s day in Simi Valley. The only way he has left to hold me is through a sprinkler going off at the top of the hill, and me looking down at my waist to notice a rainbow surrounding me. We are worlds apart, yet forever tied together.

As I zoomed out of the cemetery, I turned on my iPhone, played “I Will Love Again,” and just kept on driving. I just hope his angel wings can keep up.

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Ms. Reina Goes to Washington: Ten Years Later

4thjulyI can’t explain Washington, D.C., in the summertime. For a California girl, it was everything against what I had experienced before when it came to summers. There were no beaches or flip flops. Swimming pools and pedicures were things left best to my home.

DC summers came with lush green fields with fireflies skimming the grass while you kicked back with a cold beer, rich red brick buildings with history around every corner, intense summer rains that felt like a warm shower, humidity that would cause my hair to frizz like it never had and my glasses to fog up every time I walked out of an air conditioned building.

During those hot, humid months, approximately 4,000 students from all over the country will come to be interns every year, flooding the city with innocence, ambition and even more alcohol than what runs through Washington already. They are students who yearn to be more than cogs in the wheels of the world, but want to shape it to be better. In 2005, I was one of them, thanks to The Fund for American Studies’ Institute of Political Journalism, then at Georgetown University.

Ten years seems like a long time and no time at all. The contrasts play out every day. Time changes us, like rock hitting water where it eventually smoothes out the stone for us to become who we are.

It was ten years ago that I landed in Washington D.C. knowing no one but my friend Robert from college to begin a two-month journey that one of my teachers then called “journalism boot camp.” It led to eight-hour working days with extensive metro and bus trips, topped off with night classes. I still don’t know how we did them, and on top of it, I didn’t know how I found time to blog regularly for my own personal “Ms. Reina Goes to Washington.” But there were certain things I remember.

Ten years ago, I was going to be a journalist. I was accepted to an internship program in Washington, D.C., so I could have a better chance for a good future. I got a scholarship, and my mother was so excited she bought me a bunch of new dress clothes and suits at Nordstrom with a personal shopper. They didn’t feel right on me; they were high-necked, girly and strange for a chick who prided herself in wearing Supergirl pajamas to her pop culture class finals.

Ten years ago I boarded an airplane from Long Beach and headed towards the Watergate Hotel. I would order Chinese takeout from the shopping center underneath and watch The Princess Diaries from a luxury white-sheeted queen-sized bed before moving into my twin bottom bunk at an apartment across from Georgetown University. My friend Robert would join me in the morning after a red-eye. After taking a shower, he and I went looking for breakfast. All we could find is a pizza place open at 11 am along the waterfront of the Potomac. I stared at the Utz potato chips for sale on the counter. I didn’t realize that was the east coast’s version of Lay’s.

Ten years ago I met a crazy group of people who would become my classmates and friends. Together we would learn how to “sweat professionally” and navigate the city without the use of a car (our internship program didn’t allow us to bring them). This often meant buses and a lot of walking, even into the next state to use the Metro.

Ten years ago I would meet two girls and a guy who I would spend five days a week with navigating our way from Georgetown University to the northeast corner of Washington, D.C. for our internship. We would sit in the marble of Union Station waiting for our shuttle to take us after we got off the Metro, occasionally indulging in Godiva blended drinks. We ate lunch together every day in the cafeteria and make jokes, coming up with nicknames for each other. Mine was Stickies, due to my penchant for Post-it notes.

Ten years ago my just-dumped roommate was constantly bringing boys home, including a Marine that followed her home from the Pentagon City Mall. The boys in the apartment across from mine would stare at me and ask me questions as I went up and down the stairs to the second story of our walkup. I would hang out on the stoop in my red and black checkered Vans with my friends. One of the guys, who was an avowed communist, nicknamed them my “anarchy shoes.” It was different. I was different.

Ten years ago I had a boyfriend when I went away. He wanted to stay together while I was gone, which meant him crying and mewling to me every day on the phone about how hard it was with me being away. He made me feel downright guilty for being gone and having a good time with new friends as he was sitting at home alone with nothing but his new history degree.

Ten years ago he sent me roses and a teddy bear on my birthday. My roommates and I didn’t have a vase, so I cut off the top of an empty gallon bottle of Crystal Geyser, filled it with water and stuck the flowers in there. I was enamored with the idea of them. No guy had ever sent me flowers before, made any kind of traditional romantic gesture for me. It blinded me to the problems. It would do so for years to come.

Ten years ago I had an economics professor who was 6’4 and looked like an Sicilian mobster, yet when he opened his lips a pure Virginia accent would come out as he paced up and down the front of the classroom. He was unabashedly libertarian in this free market-based economics class. His favorite way to end a story was, “That ain’t gonna happen. That ain’t gonna happen. So you die. And that… would be a tragedy.” He offered to grade the first test on a curve, but that went straight to hell when the avowed communist scored 100 percent.

Ten years ago I went to places I never thought I would go. I sat in the room where the State of the Union is delivered in the most comfortable chairs I might have ever sat in. I met Bernie Sanders and asked him a question (yes, he was cool then, too). I visited the executive offices and journeyed through the state department. One day while getting on the bus to go back to the university, I watched then-VP Dick Chaney’s intense motorcade drive by. On my birthday that year, I saw then-president George W. Bush speak, and threatened with my friends to cross over to where the demonstrators against him were protesting. For the sake of not being arrested or kicked out of the internship program, we didn’t.

Ten years ago, I sat in classrooms where I would hastily scribble supply and demand charts and notes on moral relativity as the little crucifixes stared down at my Jewish face from the Georgetown University classroom walls. I spent a good chunk of time created controversies by saying things out loud that my fellow students would only whisper. Shockingly, these outbursts created some of my best friends on the trip.

Ten years ago I would journey to Philadelphia where I would work a convention booth for my internship company. The consultant on the booth was so impressed he wanted to hire me. My refusal was from that stubbornness that wanted to be a writer. My pride, as always, got in the way of my best interests.

Ten years ago I spent the fourth of July in our nation’s capitol. I went to a picnic in Maryland at my friend Rudy’s house in College Park. We then took the Metro back into the city, where I found my friends on the Mall and we ate berries in the humid aid and watched the most incredible fireworks in the shadow of the Washington Monument. We then had one of their friends drive us back to Georgetown, where we journeyed down into the famous Tombs and drank beers together. I rarely have known such perfection.

Ten years ago we laid on the grass in the courtyard of our Georgetown apartments watching Office Space projected onto a screen. We laughed as we saw our internships play out in front of our eyes onscreen. Shaking our heads at the guys in the short-sleeved button down shirts, we swore we would never become like this. We were going to be too busy changing the world.

Ten years ago, when it was raining in that courtyard, we danced in the shower of warm water while this Californian was taught how to do a proper slip and slide across the mud. Every thunderclap over our heads led us to cheer loudly. We screamed and laughed, not caring how muddy our clothes would be. That was what laundry was for.

Ten years ago, my friend’s roommate was just kicked out of our program for plagiarizing, but had left a watermelon behind in the apartment. My roommate had knives, so I volunteered to carry the watermelon over to cut it. Walking out the door, the cold watermelon immediately fogged up my glasses. I had to be led up the stairs to my apartment to cut the watermelon. To this day, it was the sweetest one I had ever tasted.

Ten years ago, two girls laughed nervously when my economics teacher was talking about the Holocaust in terms of government corruption. That 6’4 Sicilian with the deep Virginia went on a brutal tirade like I had never seen in my life, anger spewing from his pores. After class, as I was comforting him, he looked at me with sad eyes because he knew I’m Jewish, and how dare they laugh and insult the tragedy of my people. On the way back to our apartments, my African-American friends and I would talk about shared histories, how they felt the same way when people would make jokes about slavery. I saw more into being Jewish than I would have ever done being surrounded by a bunch of Jews.

Ten years ago, I ate dinner with my friends at a local restaurant they told me about this special African-American internship dinner that they were going to. They said, “You should come with us!” I laughed and held out my pale arm, responding, “Guys, I think there might be a problem with that.” At the same time I was flattered, because for a small second of our lives there was no race between us.

Ten years ago, I came back to Southern California. A part of me wanted to stay on the East Coast and try to make my life there, but I had a boyfriend waiting for me. Everyone said he was happy when I came home. I didn’t know how to feel.

Ten years ago, I was terrified my beloved grandmother would die while I was gone in Washington. When I returned home, she was there, in all her 4’10 glory. She was standing, holding the back of a chair in the dining room, and she stood so tall. Her face beamed, screaming the pride that words would never find. I was becoming the woman that her time would never let her be, and she loved every second of it.

And ten years passed, and the memories have ebbed and flowed. How different the world shapes us to be. We have had tragedies that have made us into the people that we have become, failures and successes that have been both public and private. We lost the innocence that made us the people we were back then, and yet somehow still retain shreds of it here and there.

Personally, I did things that I never thought I would do, both for better and for worse. I married and divorced, fell in love and fell apart, got jobs and lost them too. I moved around from here to there, closing old doors and opening windows filled with fresh air. And yet, there was something I couldn’t forget about the people who I made my life with in D.C., how they were different from everyone else.

Every year around this time we get invites to the alumni weekend in Washington. Every year, there will be a Facebook conversation amongst the groups of friends talking about how this year should be the year that we go. I haven’t seen any of them since that summer, although we will keep in touch from time to time. Even now, though, I miss them with every beat of my heart.

Sometimes I want to crawl back into that time. Life was a lot easier when there weren’t adult worries of illness and finances, when we still harnessed ambitions to change the world and then the world showed us its ugly side to kick it out of us. Yet I treasure every moment we had together in that summer, seeing the building blocks that it made for my existence and what kind of people it made us in the long run. We became us.

The time is past, but there are still so many good things from that Washington summertime. Even ten years later, I would not dare to forget.