Feeling “blah” once again. Don’t know why.
Eating although I am not hungry. Sleeping although I am not tired.
So over it.
Happy New Year, y’all.
Feeling “blah” once again. Don’t know why.
Eating although I am not hungry. Sleeping although I am not tired.
So over it.
Happy New Year, y’all.
The past few weeks have come and gone since the last time that I wrote in what seems like the blink of an eye. In summation, it had been a bit of a roller coaster. However, it felt like the backwards-facing type of roller coaster more than anything. It was all a bit scary, emotionally I couldn’t predict what was coming next with each sharp twist and turn, yet exciting and exhilarating at the same time. There were also times when I felt in complete freefall.
Since then, I’d had a number of session with the bariatric surgeon and those on his team, especially the psychologist and nutritionist. Each time, they patiently answer all my questions (in Spanish, mind you) and reinforced the feeling that I am ultimately making the right decision for myself. All in all, the situation seemed initially more promising than I had anticipated. I had undergone several medical tests and slowly began losing the 10 or so kilos pre-bypass that I need to in order to make the operation itself less risky, even surprising myself in the process. Was it a challenge sticking to the regimen and prepping myself (mentally and physically)? Oh yes. There were and still are times when I would love nothing more than to indulge in a delightfully greasy cheeseburger drowned in copious amounts of Heinz ketchup. When a craving hits me, it hits me. Hard.
Things seemed to be moving forward and onward without a hitch. I purchased some prescriptions and vitamins, started getting required vaccinations (such as a tetanus shot) as the date of my very real surgery neared (far faster than I realized).
But my newfound hopefulness was not met without challenges. I would be lying if I wrote that I wasn’t feeling scared, hesitant, or even selfish at times for what I intended to do in a short time. I have been keeping my probable surgery on the down low for the most part, expect from a few select people with whom I am close. The reactions, though mixed, were anything but ambivalent.
Initially, my gastric bypass surgery was scheduled for December 20th. Then I rescheduled it for January 3rd. And just a few short days ago, I called it off indefinitely.
It wasn’t simply a matter of the risks of the surgery itself. Nor was it merely about the future restrictions on food intake. A part of it was the issue with potential complications for taking meds (my antidepressants and otherwise). A part of it was that I am currently dealing with some difficult personal circumstances that would hinder the critical stages needed pre and post op to be successful And another part of it was just feeling like I hadn’t been properly informed about all the possible post-surgery complications. Simply put, once again, I have backed out, following my (enormous) gut.
I just don’t know what else to say for now :-/
I’m sure that if teaching had a Bible, somewhere near the front, it’d probably have the commandment, “Thou shalt not cry in front of thine students.”.
Today I broke a cardinal rule of teaching. I cried in front of my class of 6th graders.
Let me back up. This is a particularly challenging group of kids. As much as I know that they are not “bad” kids or “lost cases,” many of them are entitled, spoiled, and not accustomed to hearing the word “no” or respecting authority. I could go on and say that they are immature, but I already mentioned that they are 6th graders, so that would be redundant.
But today was a very hard day, as was yesterday for me (when I incidentally cried as well, though this time it was only in a meeting with three other teachers and my principal :-P). Looking back on the 90 minute class and knowing what I am capable of, I honestly don’t know what I could have done much differently. I woke up feeling “unwell,” but managed to make it to school and start the day with right good hope that I could get through the school day in one piece. I know that when I am in a funk, I need to keep busy and keep my routines going.
The writing has been on the wall for some time. As you guys may recall, I posted not too long ago about teaching with depression, and some techniques that had come in handy for me for not totally losing it. I guess my luck ran out.
The class was especially bad today, and 90 minutes is a long time to be doing live theater in front of eleven and twelve year olds who are being rude, obnoxious, and unruly. It is difficult for me to recall what exactly the trigger was that set me off, it’s all kind of a blur for me at this point, but of course it was only in the last five minutes of the class that I lost my bearings.
I was feeling like a downright terrible teacher. A person who was weak and couldn’t even command a shred of respect from a group of some bratty tweens. I felt like I was in the wrong profession, in the wrong place, on the wrong planet. I felt like I had no business trying to be a teacher when I wasn’t even cutting it as a psuedo babysitter.
What can I say? Depression (compounded by stress) plays tricks on your brain.
It wasn’t a sudden flood of tears. Rather it was like a dam that had started to gradually crack and give way at a very inopportune time. I could feel my face turning bright red, my nostrils and eyes began to sting. By this time, there was no way to escape. The first tear started to form and then trickle down the side of my face. And then another from the other eye. And then another. Before I knew it, I had several tears streaming down my face.
One by one, the students stopped what they were doing and all looked at me in surprise. I imagine that for some of them, it was their first time seeing their teacher cry.
“Ms. White, are you okay?” one of them finally asked cautiously.
“Yes, yes, I’m fine,” I told them as my voice cracked. More tears fell, my lips trembled, but still formed a weak, meaningless smile.
I don’t remember exactly when the bell for lunch finally rang, but by then, the damage had been done. I hastily called the school secretary, my voice still trembling and cracking horribly, and asked to take the rest of the day to go home. I grabbed my purse and made a mad dash for the stairs, but not without running into a few faces with concerned expressions.
I took a nap when I got home, and after falling into a deep sleep, awoke with a headache like a remnant of a nasty hangover. Different circumstances, same horrible feeling:
What did I do? What have I done? Oh, f*ck!
It’s not like I was yelling profanities at the kids or dropped my pants or hit one of them in class. It’s not like I did anything unethical or wrong, but man, it sure feels that way.
What tomorrow holds for me at the school, I don’t know, I can’t say. I don’t know how the kids will react when they see me, if I’ve totally gone and lost all respect in their eyes. Or maybe they’ll cut me some slack. Maybe they’ll finally start to look at me as someone whose feelings can get hurt just as much as theirs, that I’m human.
Or maybe not.
As my friends and the readers of my blog know, I have been battling my personal demons for many years; many years longer than I have been keeping this blog and account of my days , ups and downs, and feelings.
Nevertheless, it’s hard for me to admit this. It’s harder to consciously think it, hard to say it aloud, and even harder yet to write it, but there’s no denying the hard truth: Deep down, after 33 years on this planet, I have yet to truly be at peace with myself.
Don’t get me wrong, I have come a helluva long way, and I know it. I am able to acknowledge different virtues and positive qualities about myself that I believe are of utmost importance, which I wish more people embodied: I am generous, empathetic, considerate, and kind towards others (perhaps to a fault). I care, I give a damn. I’m honest. But demonstrating the same positive characteristics when it comes to myself is another matter altogether. It’s an ongoing process, I suppose.
When it comes to seeing myself clearly and objectively, I experience a distorted view, as though I am looking through a freakish funhouse mirror.
I’m digressing. Let me get back to the main point of my entry today…
I have been enjoying every moment of my week-long spring vacation from school so far- Sleeping in, going out to lunch with gal pals, catching up on reading, watching the newest season of my favorite series (90 Day Fiance), spending some quality time with Seba and Fede, and so on. However, this morning, I woke up with a knot the size of a grapefruit in my stomach.
In a few hours’ time, I have an appointment with a bariatric surgeon.
This will actually be my third appointment with him. I had gone to his Recoleta office two other times in the past 13 months or so, emotionally and mentally going back and forth about the extreme possibility of undergoing a gastric bypass operation in order to lose my excessive weight once and for all.
Now, now- before y’all start going medieval on me in righteous indignation, let me explain a few things:
This is not the “easy” way out. There is nothing easy (physically or otherwise) about this possibility. I have been attempting (and repeatedly failing) to lose weight and be healthier for years and years. I need help, because what I have been doing isn’t working. It’s gotten bad. Bad to the point that I honestly find myself internally debating whether or not it is necessary for me to go up two flights of stairs, knowing that the result will be me getting absurdly winded and out of breath to the point that other people notice. It’s gotten bad to the point where I don’t want to catch a glimpse of myself in a picture or in the mirror, it’s hard to look at myself and recognize who I am and what I have become. It’s bad.
The possibility of undergoing a gastric bypass has been in the back of my mind for some time now, especially since I found out that I am supposedly eligible to undergo the surgery without any cost due to the national “Ley de Obesidad” (Obesity Law) here in Argentina since I meet the requirements, including a BMI comfortably over 40.
I do not expect this surgery to “fix” me, nor am I expecting a quick fix of any kind. If anything, it will probably replace some challenges with different ones that I will need to overcome. Even if I successfully lose my excess weight, I acknowledge that I still have my issues that I must address if I am ever going to be well, inside and out.
In the past 13+ months that I have been contemplating this surgery, I have had to zone in on my hunger and what makes it tick. The fact is, I have noticeably large physical capacity for food. I get hungry frequently and I am able to eat a lot, let’s face it. And the thought of never being able to go back to some of my favorite foods, some of my worldly comforts, is daunting. I mean, will I be able to lead a normal life without ever indulging in even an occasional treat (especially in social situations)? No Diet Coke ever again, no gum, no fast food?
But I think about how much harm that my unhealthy lifestyle has cost me. Everyone has his or her vices. Some people choose to consume alcohol, others smoke or do illegal drugs. Some people compulsively spend money or hoard. Me? My Achilles’ heel has almost always been impulsive excess, mostly through food. That was what led me to a long-term battle with bulimia that almost took my life, and that was what also led me to my current state of morbid obesity. It’s just not worth it.
Of course, there’s always the possibility that I won’t be able to undergo this procedure. Perhaps the doctors don’t deem me physically (or psychologically) apt? An insurance rejection? Who knows? That in itself makes me nervous. But no matter what the outcome of this consultation ultimately leads to, I just know that, at this point, I need all the help I can get.
I will keep y’all posted.
There are many things that I love about my job as a teacher. Among these things is the fact that no two days are the same, that I get to interact with so many different people from so many diverse backgrounds and ages, and that I have the opportunity to share what I know and love in front of an audience.
But on the flip side, as you all know by now, the depression demons that haunt me tend to rear their ugly heads at the worst and most inopportune times. When I become depressed (which has unfortunately been occurring quite a bit in these past few weeks), it is beyond paralyzing. It is downright crippling. When I am having an off day at work, these very same things that I once loved about my profession work against me, like my worst enemy.
Teaching is a job that is generally made for extroverts. While I’m not a classic case of an introvert, I am not gregarious or a social butterfly. There are times I’d much rather avoid people altogether. I’d probably honestly have to classify myself as an ambivert – a bit of each, and sometimes just my own random, ad hoc category, not otherwise specified. I have often said that teaching is not unlike doing live theater, but with about five or six acts a day, five days a week. But in this case, I have no understudy.
Recently, I have fallen into the self-destructive habit of making myself sick sometimes before I start my classes every morning. Seriously. Every. Single. Morning. When I wake up, sometimes it is all I can do to just barely hold it together. On days like these, it’s not acting so much as it is pure pantomime. I want to at least attempt to keep up the pretense for my students and colleagues alike, but some days are harder than others. I can’t help but wonder what I must look like through their eyes, if they can see past the quirkiness and smiles.
Something is clearly amiss, but for right now, in this moment, my #1 priority is to simply continue with my routine, with my job, with my livelihood. After all, the show must go on, no?
I reiterate, I love to teach, but some days, I feel like I’d be better suited for a traditional and solitary cubicle/desk job, where I have the option to hide behind a computer if need be.
Yet I feel that I can’t possibly be the only teacher out there who suffers from depression. I simply can’t be alone in the sense of having a very “visible” job while battling a mental illness. Nevertheless, depression and other mood disorders remain taboo, a sign of weakness, a “choice.”
Since the time that I started teaching classes, about twelve years ago now, I have finally been able to learn some tricks to help me get through teaching while depressed and/or anxious. If I ever have the opportunity to mentor a budding educator who suffers the way that I do, I would surely have a lot to say.
I suppose that I would advise taking measures, however small, to work toward preventing these episodes. One example of this that has worked for me to an extent is practicing deep breathing techniques (before, during, or after). When I find myself dizzy or lightheaded or short of breath for psychosomatic reasons, it’s a strategy that has more than served its purpose.
Sometimes when you’re in front of an audience of squirrelly, mischievous, eye-rolling students, you just have to pretend that you are really doing theater. Middle schoolers are a tough crowd to win over, no doubt, but even if I have to get into character and feign enthusiasm for something as mundane as English grammar (“You guys! The second conditional is my FAVORITE conditional!”), I at least build sufficient momentum to be caught up enough in the moment to just get through it until I class is over. Pretend that my class is a reality show, find spontaneous, humorous moments, whatever. Do I act exaggeratedly like a John Keating or a Dewey Finn on crack? Absolutely. It’s all part of the act. As soon as they leave the room, however, I can go from a jovial, animated comedian to a collapsed, deflated caricature of myself in about eight seconds. It’s exhausting, yes, but I have to get through my depression somehow.
I would also ask a person in my situation to look for a mantra, something to quietly repeat to yourself, to help get you through even just one more minute without breaking down. However, it must be something believable, nothing too “pie in the sky” or Pollyanna-esque (like, “I am in charge of how I feel today, and I am choosing happiness,” the thought of which sends me into a frustrated shame-spiral). I have several quotations that come to mind in trying times, but one of the most effective ones has simply been, “Just keep swimming.”
It is considered a cardinal sin to cry in front of your students. My kids are can sometimes be bonkers in class, and when I am experiencing a hard day, I know that I cannot afford to slip up. In all of my classes, I have a “popsicle stick” system for drawing their names at random to call on them, for forming groups, and so on. I am extremely fortunate because my middle school classroom is in a prime location. Apart from being close to the cafeteria (meaning I can beat the lunch line rush), it is also mere feet from the women’s faculty restroom. If it comes to the point where it’s either fight or flight time, I choose a name from the popsicle stick bag, dub them the “Junior Teacher” for 2 minutes, and am normally able to make a hasty escape to the bathroom to have a brief but powerfully helpful cry. I splash water on my face, put my hair down out of the bun I normally keep it in to shield as much the redness from crying a possible, and am more or less able to carry on until the bell rings.
It’s not to say that all of my students are little hell raisers. Far from it. Quite a few are delightful, thoughtful, and honestly a pleasure to teach. The flip side is that they are also super perceptive when Ms. White isn’t “well.” Keeping this in mind, I keep a Google doc folder entitled, “Teacher Brag Book,” where I keep scanned and photographed notes and pictures that my students have created or written for me over the years. When I most need them, they remind me of why I am doing this job to begin with, giving me the extra push that I need to keep going.
If all else fails, I allow myself one (or sometimes two) mental health days off per school year. I know that there are many people who would frown upon this, but the fact is, I’m not playing hooky or having a Ferris Bueller experience. I’m just trying to unscramble my marbles, recover, and decompress. It may be just one work day, but to me, it makes a substantial difference in my ability to continue to do my job and do it well.
While the advice above is no substitution for seeking real help, and while they are not completely foolproof, it’s worth giving any of them a shot, anything just to get through another day, another hour, another class. There’s no one single, cookbook recipe for overcoming this particular type of adversity, but for those of us who do not wish to jeopardize our jobs, having a bag of tricks to fall back on is like having a small stash of petty cash that we keep in a desk drawer for an emergency situation: it’s not always enough, but hell, something is better than nothing. The show must go on.
In the meantime…
Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…
They say that the eyes are windows into the soul. I suppose. When I look into the eyes of my nearly three and a half year old son, Sebastian, I see so much. So much sweetness, so much innocence, so much potential. Yet as clear as his big, beautiful brown eyes are, there is a certain opaqueness about them, and seeing beyond what is at the surface is difficult at times.
Almost one year ago, I wrote a particular blog entry about Seba when he was just two and a half years old. In this post, I expressed my deep concern over the fact that my child was still not talking. As in, no vocabulary whatsoever. It was troubling me a great deal that, despite the fact that he was and is a clever and happy little boy, and despite everything that he was able to do, he had yet to utter a single intelligible word in either language.
Fast forward nearly a full year later, and things have improved somewhat. He now has about half a dozen words that he uses fairly consistently (among them, “Papa,” “Agua,” “Chau,” and “Peppa” (as in Peppa the Pig), but alas, not “Mama” or “Mommy” quite yet. And despite the fact that my child is not regressing, it is still somewhat disheartening to see his peers continue to reach milestones that seem light years away from my little boy.
Since what feels like ages after that ominous entry, Fede and I have been having Seba tested by various professionals with expertise in different fields. Seba has also additionally been undergoing occupational therapy and speech therapy a few times a week. What we know so far is that in terms of fine and gross motor skills, he is above the norm. Furthermore, a CAT scan has shown that his brain is physically fine and developing well (*major exhale of relief*) and his hearing is also perfectly normal. However, the fact of the matter is that when it comes to communication and verbal expression, Sebastian is about on par with a one year old.
A few months ago, we applied for and obtained a “Certificado de Discapacidad” (“Handicapped Certificate”) issued by the city government. As ugly and as extreme as it sounds, it was mostly for the significant advantages that it would allow us in terms of services for Sebastian that could receive full coverage by our private OSDE insurance. The label that my son was given, according to the panel of professionals who issued the certificate was TGD NE (Trastorno General de Desarollo No Especificado), more currently known as TEA (“Trastorno del Espectro Autista”). After doing some online research, I found the English equivalent, PDD – NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified). After doing further research, I also found out that the same PDD acronym is known in the parental community as “Physician Didn’t Decide,” as the diagnosis itself leaves more questions than it does answers in terms of what the affliction is and how it impacts the child.
TEA. TGD-NE. PDD-NOS. SPED. ABC-XYZ. Welcome to the world of intimidating acronyms. Previously among my fellow educator colleagues, we used to half-jokingly call SPED/LD students “Alphabet Kids” for obvious reasons. It never seemed like such a big deal until suddenly those seemingly random, jumbled-up letters started spelling out a serious sentence for a child. My child. And now they are as ugly as they are disjointed.
It’s disheartening on so many levels. Above all, I know that my priority should be that my son is simply healthy and happy, and that I should be contented with that. However, I worry about what the short and the long term future holds for him, if we will eventually need to send him to a special school, or what will happen when he and his peers are more conscious of how he is “different.” I wish I had an inkling of what the future holds, but I just don’t know what I should be feeling right now.
And then comes the guilt. All over again. That his delays and issues undoubtedly stem from something that I did at one point or another (either during the pregnancy or his first precious months of life) for him to turn out like this.
Every three months, I receive an email update from a parenting newsletter in Spanish, Planeta Mamá. For my own sanity, I need to unsubscribe from it. It includes news about what my child at X number of months/years should be doing: “Congratulations! Your three year old is probably already [insert seemingly impossible accomplishment here – Using full sentences. Completely fluent in sign language. Starting to write the his first novel. Using telekinesis to bend random objects with his mind at will, blah blah blah]… GAHHHH!
I know, I KNOW that I cannot and should not compare my son to other kids. I understand that . No, seriously, for the last time, I get it. But what can I do, when the differences are so striking and obvious?
It wasn’t too long ago that a coworker’s relative came over to our apartment to “read” Seba’s aura (Hell, I’m willing and open to just about anything at this point), and concluded that Seba is actually an “indigo child.” In other words, he is a special child with an “old soul” and unique psychic abilities, but the fact that he is caught between two worlds impedes his ability to communicate.
Other people have observed my son for a brief time and believe that he has several classic autistic traits and tendencies, so that must explain his delays.
Another helpful person, seeing how sensitive and delicate the situation at hand is, offered the reasoning that Fede and I are “lazy” parents, hence the reason that our son’s lack of speech. Needless to say, this strong, unsolicited advice stung me quite deeply.
Despite his lack of words, it is completely evident that Sebastian doesn’t have a mean or aggressive bone in his body. He is cute as can be, he is happy. He is is sweetness personified. Despite his lack of language, he has his own distinct and bold but affectionate personality. But as I look into his deep, coffee colored eyes, I just wish that I knew what he was trying to tell me without words.
All I can do for now is to hope that he does understand and know how unconditionally loved he is, and that there are no words, in any language, to express what he means to me.
A couple of years ago, I found myself seriously debating leaving my job as a middle school ESL teacher. I went so far, in fact, as to starting checking various job listings in earnest and even interviewed for a different position in a high school. The kids that I was dealing with at the time were a crass and unruly bunch. Incredibly disrespectful to each other (and sometimes even to me), it forced me to take a major step seriously question who I was and what the hell I was doing teaching down in the rabbit hole known as middle school.
Even after all that time leading up to that point, I was still tempted to walk away from it all. Despite the sacrifice, patience, and effort that it had taken me to finally earn a respectable teaching position, I still felt that it was an option for me to choose to simply jump ship, and venture out into the unknown, rethink my career and maybe join the circus. Yeah, middle school will do that to you.
Fast forward a couple of year later, and it’s the same damn thing. Only this time, I am no longer the young, 20 something whippersnapper that I once was. I’m older now, old enough to understand that that’s not the way life works, and I have a family to provide for. And that I can’t just run away from problems, I have to face them and the reality: I am a middle schooler for life.
In retrospect, I can’t honestly say if I ever really thought that I would (or could) leave my job. It’s not just the fact that in this day and age and in this economy, any halfway decent job is a blessing. It’s that I really feel that being a teacher is something innate in me by this point. And as for the whole junior high thing, well… On one hand, it’s true that middle school has a bad rap. I mean, think about how many books have been published about surviving it (for students and teachers alike).
Nevertheless, they also say that teaching middle school is, “… like Scotch. At first you try to get it down. Then you get used to it. Then it’s all you order.”
Teaching tweens can undoubtedly be trying. That stuff that people warn you about, that they are walking hormones personified, that they test and push limits, that they are ornery little beasts? Yes, it’s true. Throw the fact that in any one of my classes, the students have starkly different levels of English ability and various first languages, and I know damn well that I have my work cut out for me. But nevertheless, I find something about this particular age group that still draws me in. Most of the time.
To make my current endeavours even more interesting, my other middle school ESL colleague and I are being “voluntold” to take on a student teacher for a couple of months to show her the tricks of the trade. My initial reaction was that of incredulous resistance (“Hellllllllll no”). But maybe, just maybe, I actually have some middle school wisdom to impart on this budding educator.
I guess one of the first things that I would demonstrate to my soon-to-be student teacher is that while middle school involves more than its share of trials, challenges, and low points, the highs that you get when things go particularly well with this particular age group are indescribably, well, high.
When I have a student experience the famous and coveted “Ah-ha!” moment when they previously thought that they couldn’t do something, that’s a high. When a student leaves me an occasional silly-sweet note, that’s a high (I keep all these momentos in an album to revisit when I need it). When student who I previously taught make the trek all the way to Room 7 where I teach to pay their old teacher a visit, that’s a high. When I get to watch “my kids” evolve and make progress (not just in English) and become little adults, that’s definitely a high.
Middle School is a time of self-discovery and figuring out where you fit in in the world for most 12 year olds. It’s no different for me, even now, even after all this time. I guess that’s why I inevitably keep gravitating back toward this topsy-turvy group.
Not long ago, I was teaching a class that went completely awry. No, I’m lying. Scratch that. A series of classes for a series of days that had gone haywire. I’m not a shouter or one of those teachers who flicks the light switch on and off repeatedly to get their students’ attention. But it’s honestly days like these that cause me to question if I am really apt at this whole teaching thing at all, even after all these years. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I don’t get angry, I digest my anger unhealthily in the form of depression and stress. Needless to say, it has a lot of consequences, psychosomatic and otherwise. And I wonder why the hell I’m subjecting myself to this.
But then I think about the ghost of Teaching Past. I think about how far I’ve come, how my kids have come. I think about all those “high” experiences that I mentioned. I think of younger siblings of students who I have heard are actually looking forward to having class with me (gossip, both positive and negative, spread faster than peanut butter at my school). And I know instinctively that this is where I belong, and as per usual with middle school, there is still work to be done.
Located in the heart of Microcentro, Florida Street is considered by most trusty guidebooks to be the main Buenos Aires shopping district, where some of the most successful businesses operate, the true center of the city itself. Giving an impression on paper not unlike that of Times Square, they paint an enticing, colorful picture of the pedestrian street as a must-see, must-do for the true Porteño experience. What these books fail to tell you is that while Florida Street is indeed a center of Argentine commerce, the business to be done and the money to be made is mostly of ill repute.
Exiting the dark, muggy Catedral subway station into the light of day, the true aura of Florida Street can only be experienced once you begin to walk the twelve or so tiled blocks. It is not long before you become aware that this, indeed, a quintessential tourist trap, the kind that tourists are warned about in “Lonely Planet.” Perhaps it is spotting the scores of dirty beggars, street children, and sometimes pickpockets roaming the streets, or maybe it is the numerous rectangles of paper easily spotted throughout, boasting the 24/7 services of prostitutes for just “75 besos.” In any case, it becomes strikingly in a short time apparent that Florida Street is no place to live.
Yet that was exactly where I lived for nineteen long months.
Finding a place to live in Buenos Aires was by far one of the the greatest challenges that I had to undergo in my rite of passage towards becoming a porteña for many reasons. Navigating the new, unfamiliar rental system back in 2009 without a garantia in place was quite the endeavour, but what choice did I have? Using my elementary level of Spanish, I scoured real estate websites, pitifully attempting to translate and decipher the meaning out of the advertisements. I ultimately got in touch directly with the owner of an apartment on Florida Street via the well-known website, SoloDuenos.com.
After moving my three suitcases worth of personal possessions into the 27 square meter studio apartment, my Floriderrific adventure had begun!
My honeymoon with Florida Street was over before I had even had the chance to stock my mini-bar sized fridge in my powder blue carpeted kitchen. This was due, in part, to the sudden realization that, though living on this street may be a dream for those with large quantities of disposable income for overpriced leather jackets, there wasn’t a single supermarket or even mercado chino to be found. Crap.
Okay, problem one: No supermarkets whatsoever within a 15+ block radius.
Problem two: The prostitutes and cross-dressers.
Apparently, Florida Street is just one long ho stroll, with everyone trying to make an extra peso. The photograph below is a crossdresser who would belt (you couldn’t really call it singing) the lyrics to “Hound Dog.” It was always “Hound Dog.” Incidentally, his/her outfits seemed to get shorter and skimpier each time I saw him/her. *Shudder*
Problem three: The manteros. Not so long ago, before their presence was deemed illegal, Florida Street was also plagued with another quandary, the manteros. Manteros earned their names from the Spanish word, “manta,” meaning “blanket,” from the broad, heavy canvas blankets that they spread out in the middle of the pedestrian walkway, stretching the length of nearly all of Florida Street. Furthermore, they earned their sketchy reputation from the cheap wares that they hawked on these blankets. These goods mostly included plastic toys cheaply made in China (like the tomate loco), knock off perfumes, and occasionally brightly-colored handmade scarves and the like. The sellers came mostly from the poorer provinces of Argentina or from neighboring Peru, Bolivia, or Paraguay. While it was occasionally possible to save a couple of pesos when haggling with these boldly pushy vendors in the short term, they caused more headaches and problems than they were worth in the long run.
Other memories (or at least an epithet for “what could not be unseen burned into my retinas”) from Florida Street included:
Arbolitos, standing around conspicuously by the droves on each passing block. There, they would call out, screech, or drone their arbolito catchphrase, “Cambio! Casa de cambio! Dolares, Euros, Reales, Cambio!” In the nineteen months that I lived there, three different ones asked me out on a date.
The heavy rains following humid summer afternoons that brought relief to the entire city, and Florida Street was no exception. Except that walking on the loose tiles that covered the street would often result in rancid, dark water splashing out between the cracks, getting on the tops of my shoes or dirtying my feet. There was also the time a homeless man on one block decided to proudly strut around after one such rain with his pants at his ankles.
And, of course, there were the panpipers hawking cheaply made recordings on CDs. One one hand, I have to admit that the panpipes are indeed capable of creating lovely, soothing tunes that hint of their culture in some exotic, far-away land. But when they play the panpipe version of “My Heart Will Go On” for the six millionth time, it mostly makes me want to fall down to the ground in an epileptic fit.
Every so often, nostalgia hits me (that, or an inevitable errand that can only be done downtown) and I wind up visiting my old ‘hood. But this now time, thankfully, I don’t have to retreat back into my shabby Florida Street apartment at the end of the day. Forget the nineteen months that I lived there, nowadays, I can hardly spend nineteen minutes there without wanting to leave… Call me crazy, but Florida Street has lost its charm. Or maybe I’m just getting old and cynical 😛
… No, that’s impossible.
Depression is no joke. I feel like I have so much to get off my chest right now, but I can’t even seem to get started. My blog has been untouched for several weeks now, but I don’t really have much to say, just the same streams of negativity that flow through my mind.
Just when I think I’m going to be alright, the ugly, formidable depression monster reappears.
And it really gets to me.
It plays with me and tells me that I’m no good, that despite everything I do and everything I’ve worked for, that I’m a loser. It tells me that I’m beyond repair, beyond hope.
I want to reach out, but midpoint through the halfhearted motion, I stop myself and give up.
I feel too sick to go to a doctor.
I’m too lonely to reach out to anyone.
I’m too lost to ask for directions.
Is there no end to this?
This week is Father’s Day back in the United States as well as here in Argentina. For some, it signifies a perfectly lazy Sunday morning, with handmade trinkets, warm hugs, and special moments. It is a memorable day to spend with their beloved dad, who nurtured them, loved them, and supported them throughout the years.
Unfortunately, this is not the case for me. For me, Father’s Day is one of the most conflicting and farcical days of the year.
The role of a parent is an awesome responsibility, one not to be taken lightly. Keeping this in mind, it baffles me to no end how we can set such high expectations and demand licenses for people to fish, to own a dog, to become a teacher, and so on… but there is no real requirement whatsoever for being a parent.
Isn’t that unfortunate.
You may notice in this particular entry that I do not refer to my male parent in this case as my “dad.” A dad and a father are not the same thing. While it is true that he was partially responsible for my birth, he abdicated being a dad to me and my sister for as long as I can remember. He was responsible for the holes in my heart that I carry with me to this day, which I futilely attempted to fill with food, self-mutilation, promiscuous sex, and other extreme and unhealthy means. He was never responsible for my wellbeing or upbringing.
While I fully acknowledge and understand that one has to be responsible for their actions, shortcomings, and behavior, I cannot deny how deeply my father had thoroughly hurt me through the years, and how this had and still has resulted in me being as damaged as I am. He was negligent in every sense of the word. Impulsive and genuinely selfish to the core. My father was equal parts workaholic and alcoholic, both of which have ultimately led to his downfall. Only now, as an adult with my own child, am I starting to come to terms with this and understand that a great deal of how I am is because of how he was.
At this point, my father has almost nothing and no one. To say that, at 65 years old, he has hit rock bottom would be an understatement. He foolishly gave away his life savings to an online catfish he was lusting over who was less than half his age, all the while owing tens of thousands of dollars to my mom in backed child support over the years. While I know that I *should* feel pity for him, there is only disgust and fury. He never had the time or money or energy to invest in his family or what mattered most.
Yet I know that he expects me to call him, as I (used to) dutifully do, on the 19th.
I don’t care how many years have passed. I don’t care how short the phone call is. At this point, I truly have nothing more that I want to say to him.
Far be it from me to put anyone who is down and out on blast, but there are far too many grievances and wrongs that have been done to me, my little sister, and my beloved mother admiringly, bravely, and single-handedly raising two daughters on her own.
How can I wish a happy father’s day to the person who refused to pay for my braces as a kid because they weren’t a “medical necessity”?
How can make a point of reaching out to the man who cannot tell you with complete certainty what day my birthday falls on, nor how old I will be this year?
What could I possibly have to say to a sick individual who openly made cruel fun of obese people in front of me as a preteen (do I even need to go into how fucked up this is as an eating disorder survivor???).
This day merely represents to me a warning and a reminder of my worst nightmare – that one day, I will wake up to find that I have become him, a metaphoric knife dangling mere inches over my head, threatening to drop at any moment.
As Amy Winehouse so articulately put it in one of her songs, “I can’t help but demonstrate my Freudian fate.”
They say that it’s not forgetting that heals. It’s remembering. If this is truly the case, I still have a hell of a lot of reckoning and remembering to do before I can even come close to starting to heal. To this very day, if I think about him and the hurt that he caused me for too long, it drives me blindingly mad.
I guess I need something to talk about with my shrink this week.