by. William Soriano
“It is perhaps the greatest misperception of the death of a loved one: that it will end there, that death itself will be the largest blow. No one told me that in the wake of that grief other grief’s would ensue. […] I was alone in the world and acutely aware of that." – Cheryl Strayed (“Heroin/e” 1999)
A few Sundays ago I was sitting in church teaching the children of a good friend of mine how to draw. My friend is the pastor of the church and he has 5 of the greatest children I know. They’re the best audience, a perfect product, such a true representation of their creative, wise, and loving parents.
We were all working on pictures of dinosaur-turkeys drawn off the handprints we just traced. Staying true to the randomness that makes up the essence of me, I had only one requirement; All dinosaur-turkeys had to have a tattoo of a butterball turkey on their side.
While everyone sat trying to apply my random instructions I filling the air with the noise of the boring events of my life that aside from them only interesting to me. One of the best cases for children that I’ve learned in my short time being adopted by the creative focused faces around me was they love it when you share the boring details that a kind stranger on a park bench wouldn’t care about. Also, they have no choice but to listen, because I’m older and smarter.
Between my directions on line length, which color crayon to use, and suggestions other than cow manure I told the boring details of my night in as much energetic detail as I could muster. The story droned on about how the beard that I had been rampantly growing out of control. I had reached my breaking point with the facial hair that I have fun saying took me 33 years to grow. It began looking like I was a homeless possum that chose to live off welfare rather than take a shower, shave, or seek a dental professional. I grew my beard out of laziness, I didn’t think that having a beard required such attention.
I gave every detail and reason on why it became so distracting. Counting every long winded reason that would otherwise remain junk in my head. I raised my voice explaining “I was trying to study!” then described the large and fancy scissors that I grabbed, all the way up to the hour I spent trying to correct my moment of poor impulsive judgment.
By the time I had reached the point of wrapping up my excited noise Rilo was the only one still paying attention. Of course it was Ri who held on to every word of my boring silliness. She’s one of the best conversationalists I’ve known and at 6 years old the best at telling stories of the most boring things. True to Ri after I finished her sweet soft voice said she wanted to cut off her hair so she could save it.
My interest piqued and curious how her statement is going to somehow lead into her favorite subject. I asked her to explain why on God’s Earth would she want to do something silly like cut off her hair. Had she not listened to my long rant on how I regretted having used my shiny stainless steel, adjustable tension, scissors on my beard? I just finished saying the mistake was trying to fix the first impulsive action!
Funny thing about perceptions, when I think that I am going to hear a child say something like a child I am reminded of how wise and naturally kind they are. Through her cute voice beneath her long brown head of hair she simply said, “I want to save my hair so that I can make a wig.”
My heart broke, and I questioned where she came up with that amazing and selfless idea of hers. Was it something that she had just learned in Bible study, perhaps overheard someone talking about? Basically shocked but as the little angel that she is she patiently and delicately explained that she wanted to cut her hair and save it so that a wig could be made for a little girl like her who doesn’t have hair so they can have hers.
The hardest part of writing this is fighting back the tears when I realize that although Ri likely has a very innocent and incomplete definition of the reasons for the hair loss, what cancer is, and even the idea of death, she still had a better understanding at age 6 than I had.
My understanding was that I had no option other than to accept things for what they were. I was seven years old and hadn’t learned yet what it was to regret how long a lifetime would be. I accepted the situation for what it was, nothing that I could do anything about. I may not have known anything, and been dumb, but I knew enough to stay silent.
October 8th, 1989 I was playing outside in the front yard passing a McDonalds Play-Doh extruder between the woven links of the towering chain link fence. The sun was bright and the temperature perfect as one would expect from Los Angeles County. From behind me I heard the cheap aluminum frame of the screen door open. From behind the dented dirty grey mesh screen my mother called out “Willy, you need to come in now.” Doing as I was told then I obeyed my mother, leaving the fast food burger maker with the neighbor boy then making the steps through the green grass up to my mother wondering why I had to come in so early.
“Your father has passed away” she said hidden in the dark room with the curtains drawn blocking the California rays that bleached the arm she used to hold the door open for me. “You need to say goodbye to your father.”
I stepped up and into the dim room. It was sliced with panes made of swirling smoke. Virginia Slim Ultra Lights. My eyes stayed fixed to the right. Just past her until my eyes adjusted to the dark living room. The kitchen floor held my gaze. Staring at the geometric pattern littered with small specks that mimicked the years of dirt and cigarette burns. I thought about how I would stand on my tiptoes cooking hot dogs in the microwave counting to 30 as I stepped in the center of the square tiles.
As my eyes dilated in the dim small room, I stood facing sofa bed couch that soaked up most of the space in the room. On it laid my father. His body covered up to the bottom of his neck with the sheets. His eyes were closed and the shade of his skin was lighter, not pale, just different, but unmistakably lifeless no familiarity had death.
Continuing to follow my mother’s suggestion and silent urging I took a couple small steps forward towards the sofa and the man who had been my father. I gently whispered “goodbye.” Absent of the I love you that I wish was just a forgotten bit of memory rather than the truth of having never said it.
My goodbye was complete, and I quietly turned around without sound or a single tear.
I wasn’t numb, or in what I would describe as in shock, I was simply quiet.
I passed my mother, who was fixed within the door’s protective frame, then out into the postcard-bright Southern California sun. When my pupils shrank to acclimate to the light so too shrank any further memory of that day.
It took a year for me to cry. I was in the kitchen with my mother. I’m certain that was the first time I cried, because I did so longer than my emotion produced tears. So I manufactured a few extra tears, because my mother was hugging me saying “I know, I’m sorry.” I had never heard these words. I had never expressed myself this way. I didn’t want it to end.
My step sister was born 10 months after that day so there wasn’t really the time for my mom to give me any attention that had felt pretty selfish to want by that point. Soon after she married him we moved to Kansas where he soon passed away that same year from cancer as well. I was 9 then.
For my father’s death I was taken to Disneyland. Maybe because I wanted to behave and didn’t know any better. But that day someone thought that maybe it would be a good idea for me to visit my father’s grave, and bring a camera. I don’t know or understand the reasoning for that, but if I were to do it, it would be because I thought the son would smile and act like everything is “cheesy” if someone was behind a lens. Someday, if I don’t know how to deal with a sad child, I’ll avoid the reality at all cost. That’s what I would come up with in desperation, so I understand and choose to forgive, if that’s indeed the reality.
My apartment was empty aside from an old red futon that I somehow managed to keep over the years as well a desk that once was property of the U.S. Government. The heavy wooden desk was made when government furniture was built to last and required skilled craftsmen. Very much unlike the cheap aluminum futon frame shipped flat in a box that had assembly instructions printed in all languages excluding English, and on paper thinner than pharmacy fact sheets.
Just as empty as my cold apartment. I was alone in life worn, a primitive belief that I would never achieve happiness until I lost everything and gave up. I was as fragile as a Faberge egg and up to that point had thought I'd tried everything so I might as well let go. Best case scenario my life got better, worst case then I wouldn't be in any position to care either way.
Every attempt at taking control over the outcome of my life was almost always avoided by managing to be saved by a stranger. My inability to ever learn from my mistakes meant that I hadn’t earned that extra chance. I always managed to stay in relative the same pattern of depression, self-destruction, being-saved, resurrection, and repeat.
It was earlier that year when I first began constructing the idea that I would be better off long term if I accepted that I was undeserving of being saved. I keep being given second chances and I couldn’t take letting myself and another person down. I systematically broke my relationships; pushing to the point beyond acceptable patient loving strain and disenchantment. Then I worked on losing my job which took nearly 6 months to achieve.
Not working obviously left me without money to entertain myself. Depression robbed me of the desire to seek out entertainment. At a certain point though the definition of entertainment becomes anything to pass the time from thinking of how cold, alone, and scared I was. I went to the public library and to minimize my exposure to potential saviors grabbed a book from the shelve at random. Nothing influenced me about the book more than it being at the appropriate distance to my hand.
I left with the book and sat on it for over a week before forgetting about it and then rediscovering it under my futon. “Can I explain to you why I wanted to jump out the tower block?” was the first line on the first page I read. To sum it up it was about a set of strangers who met on the same London rooftop on New Years Eve for the specific reason of ending their own personally tragic lives. Nothing particularly interesting about that other than I myself was planning on a similar fate on New Years Eve. Even if I was finding meaning where none was to be found. It was December 28th, 2006 and it was enough of a similarity that I read the rest of the book in one sitting. None of this is to say that the book was any good or not, it was eventually made into a movie so I must not have been the only one to find some sentimental meaning in it.
With warm coffee in my left hand, I sit on an oversized faux-leather chair at the end of a hallway connecting buildings x, y, & z. I’m looking down the long distant corridor that leads to the student center, registration offices, and the bustling cafeteria that features the attached over-priced coffee shop. This hallway connects all the other buildings together, filtering most of the student population through it countless times a day.
I’m set up in an area at one end of the hall I have my blue binder open across my lap. I’m scratching words across the lined pages, haphazardly trying to keep myself busy to ignore the increasing anxiety I feel tightening in my chest. Frightened because halfway down the hall to the right of the river of students is my honors classroom. The nicest and most obvious class, visible to all the faces walking by.
For the wall isn't plaster, cement, or drywall, but a large pane of glass with ”JCCC Honors Learning Studio” etched upon its surface. To help provide the privacy necessary to actually have students work, they’ve also included a lovely illustration of knowledgeable foliage, but still allowing the unique large tables and chairs around them to be shown off to passerby’s. This classroom is absent of the forward facing desks, rows of fixed seating, or cumbersome chairs affixed with barely usable desktops, like the lecture halls hidden behind numbered plaques beside bland wooden doors. Honors classes have fewer students so the tables were designed to sit groups of 4 and promote discussion. This was a very purposeful fishbowl.
My first day of class and school I sat facing that transparent wall motivated by how I dislike having my back to a room, relying on my anxiety and mental health quirks. The expensive chairs and higher learning, honors expectations made me accept that I have to make some changes in my life.
At home I have a 15-foot display case, 15-feet of window paned double glass doors with 5 sections of wood painted a clean and unobtrusive white. Simple enough to not distract from all the memories and accomplishments on their fishbowl home. I’ve lived in this apartment for 3 years and that long wall lit up by my antique stained glass windows has remained barren.
Instead it’s the blatant unforgiving truth, my life is empty. The memories I have exist purely in my mind. What fills my life is trash, dirty clothes, and crap found in my pockets. The real me who gave up trying to fill it. Who doesn’t know in 3 years how to pretend any better.
Loneliness is the most damaging ways to feel that breeds more absence from life if not kept in check. Sadly, I’ve spent 90% of my life with that jarring emptiness inside of me. It wasn’t until recently that I found that the cure for it was not to isolate myself but to become part of a community. Not just becoming apart of something but to live with a purpose.
I’m sort of anxious of sharing what it was because its so simple. God.
My hesitation from saying upfront that I’m happy now and experience joy on a daily basis because of religion is because its so cliché and the impact is so profound that relying on simplicity f stating because I found Christ just isn’t enough. People including myself have strong opinions of religion so its important to me to emphasize the many facets of the experience.
I mentioned my loneliness growing up. Recently around 7 months ago I was in a rough space. I had spent an extended period of time in deep depression. I lost my girlfriend, job, friends, and basic support systems. I was on the verge of giving everything up and no longer trying. However, the annoying hopeful optimist immune to any death I attempt at sharing with it urged me to give life another go arming me with a statistic that 10% of people who are involved in a religious organization are happier than not being if not being in one at all. I had already believed in God, I just had conflicting beliefs of Jesus which I knew would adversely effect my getting that desperately needed positive boost. I literally had nothing else in my life at this point so because I saw a neat building on their corner, I found a church called the greenhouse culture. That first time there I tested the idea of giving the entire self over to faith. To every person whom asked this stranger “what brings you here today?” I unloaded the wet, torrent of snot, tears, and garbled sentences on every thought and feeling that is normally hidden never admitted to another person.
I just found the freedom that sharing the real menu caring or unaffected by what somebody thought about me. At the end of that day I learned that these people, those Christians, no matter what I previously thought are worth me reconsidering my old opinions simply because they listened to the real sad, scary me without judging or interrupting me, not even once. Out of mutual respect and because they offered breakfast to come again learned as much as I could from these truly genuinely kind, and happy people. So with an open mind I went into a church and then read the bible. What I found immediately was that my original opinions & beliefs were based upon bad facts and loud voices that carry them.
The more I learned, participated, and gave to this rebirth into faith the easier and more sense it all became to make and the symptom of was becoming happier. It was through the church I found a support system, family, real acceptance, and how to love the person that I am. I'm proof that the statistics are true and for once it's good to be just another statistic. I thank god every day for making my shitty life have reason and future purpose being a 33-year-old drop out that ambitiously became an honors student in the 30 days, and the ability to full heartedly and shamelessly share the results of my oft changing experiences. This is how I became me.