Gilbert Y Maria

The water was cool as it sloshed between Gilbert’s toes.

“Okay, I’m ready”, Maria shouted as she smoothed the hem of her San Dimas High School Drama Club t-shirt over her jeans. A nearby mallard ignored Gilbert to focus on trying to eat a floating grocery bag, what El Pasoans called a “Texas Jellyfish”, despite Gilbert’s attempts to lure it closer with popcorn. Gilbert sat on a rock and put his blue and orange sneakers back on.

“Thanks for turning around like a gentleman so I could pee, Gilbert”, Maria said. His shoes smacked and slurped on the muddy bank as he plodded back toward her.

“Of course, M’Lady,” he said with a flourish and a half bow.

“Ew, don’t do that. I ain’t no one’s lady, and that’s what creepy internet dudes do.”

“Heh heh, I know, I was just playing,” Gilbert mumbled, blushing. Gilbert was not playing. He thought “M’lady” was muy suavecito.

Gilbert was glad to have soaked his feet, blistered by his running regimen undertaken three weeks prior, as part of a semi-secret self-improvement course he set himself to for the summer before Senior year at San Dimas.

“Like another mile, then I guess we’ll turn back,” Gilbert said.

“We should have ridden our bikes,” Maria said.

“Totally. If we come back, we will.”

The path glinted in the noonday sun, and they kicked up a trailing plume of dust as they trundled toward the cave to which Gilbert’s Abuela had sent them. Maria walked light but sure, like an antelope, often called Speed Goats in regional vernacular. Gilbert slouched and stomped, like something that scared away antelope. Maria retrieved her phone from the pocket of her Cowgirl Up! brocaded jeans, and shaded the screen with her hand to check the battery level. She smiled and nodded.

“I’m at 67%, so I’m going to save the location in my phone when we get to the cave,” Maria said.

“Good idea. Oh dang! Check it out!” Gilbert exclaimed, pointing at a shopping cart nestled against a pecan tree. Certain he had stumbled upon a deus ex machina boon to help his hero’s journey, he adjusted his glasses with his thumb and forefinger on the side of the lens. He thought the maneuver was more sophisticated than using one finger to shove the glasses up the bridge of his nose.

“It’s a H.E.B. buggy, they got the best buggies,” Maria said.

“Yeah, they’re real good. Do you want me to push you in it?”

“Um, no, but maybe let’s, like, put our backpacks in it.”

Maria was ever practical, which developed early for her as the oldest of three, born of a mother who functioned as if she were single since Maria was small. She had put herself through nursing school while Maria helped with her sisters, both still in diapers.

Gilbert placed his backpack in the cart, then held his hand out for Maria’s. She passed it to him with a “Thank you,” and he put it on top of his backpack with great care. Gilbert pushed the cart. Invisible cicada roared as the cart clattered down the path. Maria giggled.

“What? What is it?” Gilbert asked, familiar with being the object of ridicule.

“Heh, it’s nothing”, Maria said.

“Come on, forreals, what is it?” Gilbert pleaded. He was unable to conceal the anxiety in his voice, which cracked through “is”, rendering it a two-syllable word.

“Your backpack sweat stain looks like the Spiderman logo. It’s kind of cool”.

“Aw, man!” Gilbert huffed, pulling the shoulder of this t-shirt around to see it. “Huh. I guess that is kind of cool.”

“So, San Pedro cactus. I think Mr. Ballinger told us about those in botany. Did you have him last year?” Maria asked.

“Nah, I heard he was alright, but I had Ag instead of botany. I liked it ok. I couldn’t decide between 4H and FFA, and anime club disbanded because Jeff Huerta kept on downloading porno animes, so I didn’t do either, so I could focus on being a mustache farmer” Gilbert explained with a smirk.

“I’d hardly call that a mustache,” Maria said, her words pricking with the barb of truth.

“Man, whatever, by the time summer is over, it’s gonna be muy macho, you gonna see it like DAMN,” Gilbert offered as a rejoinder.

“So this stuff from the cave will help your…quest?”

Gilbert stopped, and the shopping cart rattled and squeaked to a stop with him. “It’s not a quest. It’s a plan. Quests are lame. Quests involve wizards and shit. Please don’t make fun of me.”

“No, I’m not, Gilbert. I’m proud of you. You’ve lost weight, and you’re taking me on a real life adventure to get a psychedelic cactus your grandmother-who is a real-life witch-told you about. It’s kind of awesome, but it’s a bit much to take in.” Maria said.

“It does sound kinda crazy when you put it like that. And awesome. And Abuela’s not a witch, she’s a curandera.” Gilbert resumed pushing, a supermarket Sisyphus.

“Whatever, it’s still witchy,” shrugged Maria.

Gilbert’s stomach rumbled and cooed like a sea mammal. “Shut up, you stay out of this! You ain’t the boss of me no more,” Gilbert scolded his belly.

“You’re funny, Gilbert, how come you’re not funny in school?” asked Maria.

“Most of what I think is funny is just weird to most people”, Gilbert said.

“Oh yeah, like what?”

“Batman with a Hitler mustache. Song parodies. Farts set to classical music. Elaborate puns.”

“Yeah, most people don’t really like puns. At least you don’t make stupid dirty jokes all the time and call everyone gay like the other guys.”

“You’re funny, too. I remember in you wrote that sketch for theatre showcase about the guy who got both his thumbs stuck in mousetraps at the same time” Gilbert guffawed.

“Heh-oh yeah! That happened to my Tio Beto.”

“My Tio Yunior calls me Beto, sometimes, but mostly he calls me ‘fucker’”.

“Well, I think we’re almost there, fucker”, Maria said, her raised eyebrows skewing the azimuth of her inverted teardrop face.

“Hah, yeah, gotta be getting close” Gilbert said.

“Remember when Colton Bostick called Idalou Maddox “Mama” in health class?” Maria asked.

“Yup, everyone called her ‘Mama Maddox’ forever. She liked it. Colton tried to make his perro bite me cuz I told everyone he got cut from Pop Warner for having lice, pero he got stung on the nose by a wasp.”

“Aww, poor puppy,” Maria pouted.

“No, not the dog, Colton.”

“What? No way!”

“Yeah, it got all big, and he was crying. Were you there when Seymour Nguyen, Brooks Calhoun, and Darius-“

“Hey! That’s my shopping cart, you little shits!” a voice bellowed behind them.

“Oh my God, Gilbert, there’s like a crazy old cabron! Let’s get out of here!” Maria huffed, breaking into a run.

Gilbert whiteknuckled the cart and ran, bent at the waist. Gravel and dust pinged off his glasses, eventually finding its way into his eyes. Gilbert looked behind him. A middle-aged Caucasian man in an unbuttoned mossy oak camouflage jacket and tawny work pants stood in the path. He was carrying two orange hardware store buckets with marijuana plants growing out of them, each standing about four feet tall. He set them down and pulled out a machete from a holster at his side. “I need my shopping cart, little dude!” the man snarled. “I’ll gut you like a catfish!”

Gilbert started to run again. The shopping cart swung side to side in loosely oscillating arcs as a crazy wheel lodged itself sideways, digging a furrow like a plow’s blade.

“Ditch the buggy!” Maria yelled.

“Imma get y’all! Making me run like this! This is some bullshit! Imma get y’all!” the man bellowed.

Gilbert stopped the cart, snagged his backpack, and threw it on. He put Maria’s on in front of his torso. His hands moved quickly as he squeezed the crisscrossed straps at his clavicles and began a frantic run. He looked like a chubby turtle oozing out of its nylon shell.

“Dude! We didn’t know! I’m sorry, Mister! Leave us alone, please, Sir, we’re honor students!” Gilbert bleated during exhalations, remembering from his running lessons (a component to his training as a boxer with Tio Yunior) to breathe in and out as his left foot struck the ground to stabilize his organs and avoid getting side pains. He stood up straight and lean forward a little at the ankles, to spring off the balls of his feet instead of clip-clopping with like a flatfooted Clydesdale. Gilbert could almost hear Tio Yunior’s barbed encouragements “Pick up the pace, chubs, ey! If you don’t give up, you can have chorizo at breakfast.” Gilbert was also not too afraid to forget his manners, having searched for the appropriate term of address for the crazed man with the machete chasing him toward a secret cave filled with magic drug cacti.

“C’mon Gilbert! I know a safe spot!” Maria shouted, from 50 feet ahead.

Gilbert’s packs rollicked and rustled as he ran through the red dirt. He couldn’t help but notice Maria’s bottom as she ran. He didn’t know what he liked about it, but he had a suspicion it was something special he’d soon better understand, probably by this time next year. Gilbert leaned forward as if a deckhand lashing sails in response to an unexpected Nor’easter. He lengthened his stride, closing the distance between himself and Maria. He was soon in speaking distance.

“Just around the bend. Follow me,” Maria said in a harsh whisper, so as not to apprise their pursuer of their plans. Rounding the corner, Gilbert saw still more dirt path, bordered by brush and mesquite. “This is it,” Maria said as she stopped and gestured at a stand of Carrizo cane.

“Forreal?” Gilbert panted.

“Yup. No time. Be quiet.”

She parted the cane and stepped through, the stalks resembling a mating of bamboo and corn- tall and thin, but with large leaves which pointed straight down. Maria was careful to not crunch the dried undergrowth. Gilbert followed.

They emerged on the other side, once again on the banks of the Shackleford reservoir. Maria peered at Gilbert, and raised a finger to her lips. Her hair smuggled hulls from the golden feathers of the seed pods. He plucked one out and presented it to her. She smiled.

“How do you know this place?” Gilbert asked, between deep but slower breaths. Running sucked, but had paid off.

“I used to fish here with my dad before he deployed.”

“Oh, Dang. I’m sorry.”

Vámonos!” Maria commanded, grabbing Gilbert’s hand.

“Your dad left when we were in 2nd grade, right?”

“3rd.”

“He brought you to my birthday party one time. He got blown up, but, like, he looks the same, right?”

“Yeah, but he’s not the same. He just watches Fox News and yells at the TV a lot. Can we talk about something else?” Maria’s voice was firm, and Gilbert knew this was non-negotiable.

“We ain’t gotta talk.”

Muted footfalls broke in over the wind rustling the cane and the lapping undulations of the water. A crane, primal and dinosaurlike, paused from stalking mosquito larvae to regard them. It turned its head so slow as to be almost unobservable. Gilbert had never mustered the patience the bird demonstrated in that moment.

“Hey! Little dudes!” rose a shout. The crane took flight. “I just needed my cart. No hard feelins, alright? I left y’all some weed! I’m taking my cart and leaving now.”

“Let’s keep going this way a little bit, then cut back to the path,” Gilbert said. Maria squeezed his hand.

“We shouldn’t get the weed, should we?” Gilbert asked. They stared at each other for a moment, and erupted into a peal of laughter.

“You are crazy. Okay. What would you have done if that guy was still coming for us, Gilbert?”, Maria asked, her clear eyes reflecting the shimmer of the sun on the water.

“I would have liberated his teeth from the tyranny of his gums.”

Maria laughed, snorting. Gilbert laughed. Somewhere a crane watched a battalion of ants march up an Acacia from a high bough. The Acacia tree is a plant found around the world, with approximately 20 subspecies native to Texas, and prized by the curanderas for its dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, a powerful psychoactive substance. A large flock of Starlings approached, and in an instant reversed direction in one smooth movement, as if sharing a common, unquarrelsome mind. A quarter mile away, a man guided a shopping cart down a red path impregnated with stones, smiling at having a convenient means to transport his illicit cargo, orbited by dragonflies flying at right angles. Here with Gilbert and Maria, turtles sunned themselves on logs and silver-blue fish sploshed in the reservoir as a lifelong friendship was born.

 

 

 

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Day 14: Warrior II

My back pain flared up recently. I have sciatica and a few herniated disks in my lower back, and arthritis in my mid back. I decided to confront it instead of just being in pain or medicating.

I’ve found some stretches that work, and Muay Thai. I’ve done a few classes here and there over the years, but I haven’t been able to really pursue it due to scheduling. I was worried the rotational nature of the kicks would aggravate my back. It hasn’t, but it has had the benefit of loosening up my exterior and frontal hip muscles, which contribute to pain and immobility. I’ve been really drained in jiu jitsu, especially working takedowns. My hips have been weak, and MT has helped my athletic stamina for BJJ.

In addition to minding my posture and stretching every hour, I’ve been trying to do yoga several times a week. The other day, I was able to bend forward from the waist more than I could in years, and was feeling great. I cam almost do a perfect downward-facing dog now. I went into Warrior 2, and the instructor said “say something positive and affirming about yourself”. Without thinking, I calmly said “I AM a fucking warrior”. I was stunned for a second, then I smiled, because even though it’s kind of corny, I know it’s true.

The past few months have been a period of transition, and I haven’t had much of a routine to speak of. Taking the time to ground myself and be intentional with my time has been hugely beneficial, physically and mentally.

I was talking to a friend who had started seeking mental health services. He was worried he was making a big deal out of nothing, or too sensitive. He’s also in the military, and there’s still a stigma about seeking help. He asked a few coworkers about it, and a few thought he was just being whiny. I pointed out that the people he asked are 1) men and 2) military members. We are cultured to ignore feelings and get the job done. When my mom was dying 10 years ago, I feel I shouldered a lot of the administrative burden of managing the details. I had to. I promised myself I would process it later, so I could take care of business. I thought I was acting out of strength, or being tough, but it was a reaction of fear. I was unwilling to process my emotions and thoughts head on, and packed them away. In not dealing with it, I was being a coward. It blew up years later.

That’s not what warriors do. Sometimes you do have to keep moving forward, but you also need to make sure all your gear and faculties are battle-ready. This includes mental health, diet, sleep. Everything.

Being a warrior doesn’t mean being perfect. Namaste, fuckers.

 

 

Zoe and Claire

This piece originally appeared on Medium.com

 

 

 

 

“You are so boring”, Claire said, wrinkling her nose at “bo” and yawning out “ring”.

“I had to hire a private detective once”, said Zoe, searching for an opportunity to be helpful.

“Do tell, maybe your story will keep me from succumbing to acute existential ennui”, Claire huffed.

“Nevermind, if you’re not interested…..” Zoe paused, waiting for an affirmation from Claire along the lines of “it’s fine”, or “please, Zoe, do go on.” Though they’d been best friends for the better part of 20 years, Claire was forever emotionally unavailable for Zoe, which suited them both just fine. In her normal life, Claire was known as warm and approachable, while Zoe was the reigning bareknuckle boxing champion on the carnival circuit. When together, they fed off each other’s energy symbiotically, Zoe being vulnerable and needy, and Claire being icy and flippant. They deeply cared for each other.

Zoe imagined squaring up with Claire, stepping to the right, and punching Claire in front of her ear, at the nexus of temple, cheekbone, and jaw. Just once. Claire often had destructive impulses, and often gave in to them. She ate a whole cheesecake the night before. New York cheesecake, so it was really a squat cylinder of cream cheese. She knew she’d shit weird for a week, at least weirder than usual.

Claire’s guts felt like cement, and she didn’t think she had the wherewithal to be combative. “So, a private detective?”

“Yeah, she was shifty, and always rubbed her hands together like she’d just put on lotion”, Zoe said.

The waiter showed up with a fresh round of mimosas. Zoe’s Rottweiler, Foreman, regarded the waiter for a moment, decided “nah, it ain’t worth the trouble”, and lay back down at Zoe’s espadrilled feet and athletic, mocha ankles.

“Are there a lot of lady private detectives?” inquired Claire, in pinched tones, which had the effect of seeming genuinely interested, but she was really just holding in farts. She was thankful to have Foreman as a scapegoat.

Zoe continued. “Yeah, I guess so. Marge was great. She didn’t have a badass private detective name, just Marge Miller. Tough old broad. Anyways, she found my niece. The little shit had shacked up with a small-potatoes weed dealer on an Indian reservation.”

“I thought she was gay?”

“She did too, I guess. Chalk it up to experimentation.”

“Is she still training?”

“No, she hasn’t been by the gym in ages. She had a fight, and just didn’t show up after first day of camp. She’s still in decent shape, but she’s a weak person. She’s really in to drones now.”

“Hm…that’s weird.”

“Yeah, I dunno. So what’s up with you?”, asked Zoe.

“I’ve been wanting to be alone a lot lately. I mean, not alone like you, but you know, by choice. I feel like barfing all the time and I’m tired and talking to people makes me super tired.” Claire sputtered.

“You could have Lyme disease”, offered Zoe

“Like Kathleen Hanna?”

“Yes, like a Black Kathleen Hanna, but not married to a Beastie Boy.”

“Hm…that actually sounds kinda fabulous” considered Claire.

“Or you could be an introvert”, stated Zoe.

“I think I like Lyme Disease better. Doesn’t Maculay Culkin have Lyme Disease?”

“No, he’s probably immune to everything, except look-like-a-goddamn-80-year-old-scarecrow-itis. Avril LaVigne has Lyme.”

“Maybe that’s why she’s with the Nickelback dude.”

“Gotta be. Cheers, bitch”, Zoe said, raising her glass before draining it.

 

Owning my body

I was talking to a dear friend earlier. She’s a makeup artist, and her husband is a tattoo artist. I realized both of them work in helping others own and customize their bodies. I think that’s beautiful.

Prior to that conversation, I managed to do a 25 min pilates routine with Paloma crawling all over me while I had spaghetti going on the stove. When dinner was prepped, I went to jiu jitsu. It was a short class, but one of the most technical, effective sessions I’ve ever had on the mat.  I feel great. I can often be in a rut, waiting for my alarm clock or lunch or sleep. I don’t want to be in stasis until I die. I want to be awake, to be present, to learn, to experience, and move.

I want to feel great all the time, but I know that’s not how life works. Still, I’ve been having a lot of nice days lately.

Things are looking up. Tomorrow is Maundy Thursday. For me, this year, it brings to mind the importance of relationships, specifically friendships. Also,for me, #squadgoals are mostly hoping to join or start a squad.

We caucused yesterday. This was our first time living in a caucusing state. It was disorganized, and they ran out of ballots. Towards the end, the kids were cold and tired, but they made it. Utah seems at times ruled by religious zealots and rednecks. It was encouraging to see a lot of progressives out, of various ages, colors, economic brackets. The enthusiasm was infectious, and it was therapeutic to be with a multitude of people who give a damn. It’s so easy to be cynical and not care- I did this around 2005 as a defense mechanism. I got better.