PET STORY: “Circles” by Miguel Angel

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by Miguel Angel, San Diego, CA

“The eye is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the second; and throughout nature this primary figure is repeated without end,” Ralph Waldo Emerson, Circles.

Looking at the calendar I realize how close we are to the vernal equinox. Since Tita died last December, I have not taken a walk in my neighborhood. I just became aware of this; I have missed watching the trees at the end of Park Boulevard dance with the breeze, apparently unaware of their bareness, on this soon to end winter.

I have lived in University Heights for almost six years. Through all this time, Tita and I tried different routes on our daily walks but we always returned to the northernmost block of Park Boulevard. Tita loved being recognized and petted by the storekeepers along the street and I loved keeping track of the passage of the months by observing the trees lining the street. Those trees were the constant measure, the chart by which I knew the season we were in. Those trees marked consistently the perimeter of the circles in my life.

Whoever says we have no seasons in Southern California is not very observant. It doesn’t matter how much we humans wish to detach ourselves from nature, we possess an innate internal compass pointing toward it. This compass is not obvious to everyone. Most of us live life immersed in what we call “life and living;” our daily routines of ‘important’ jobs, superfluous diversions, inadequate nourishment for our physical survival, and a lack of awareness of who we are and what we are doing.

To keep it all in context, I wander through life watching the sun’s light change its hue, angle, and intensity; tracking the phases of the moon on the firmament; and absorbing the subtle changes around me. One thing I have observed so far, and of this I am certain: life is a puzzle of cycles, of circles. We journey through intellectual, physical, emotional, as well as spiritual cycles. And it all moves forth in such a flux of experiences that, oftentimes, we are unaware of their endless repetition.

Some of the cycles we go through that appear more relevant to some of us are the emotional cycles. Often, when we experience loss, we focus so much on loss that we do not realize it is only one aspect of a much greater cycle, but not its entirety. To experience loss, we have to experience its opposite, the prior absence in our lives of that which we have lost. We also dismiss the process by which what we lost came into our lives, how we became engaged and related with someone or something. The intensity with which we experience loss has to do not with a constant that applies to everybody, but with a variant that is our own individual perception of emotions and values.

I grew up in Mexico, where pets are not part of the family but rather third-class members of the household. I remember our poor dog, “Consentido”—his name means spoiled and trust me he was far from that—eating leftovers at the very end of our meals. There were no pet stores where one could walk in with a dog to buy toys, special food, treats, and all these things Americans afford their pets. Hell, for all I remember, we were struggling to feed ourselves!

Then I moved to the U.S. where I met Cuauhtli and Tizoc, two beautiful Xolo Izcuintle breeds who taught me a different way to relate to dogs. They were walked twice a day, ate special foods, and slept at night with Kish, their owner, who preferred to sleep with them instead of his human lover.

 A few years later, after I begged my friend Kish for a dog, and after I put up with him for months on end telling me I would never make a good parent, Tita, a perfect mix of Xolo and Italian Greyhound, arrived one Christmas day and life was never the same.

Falling in love with her was very easy. It was essentially love at first sight. I remember Kish walking in with this tiny, dark charcoal-colored bundle in his arms. He laid her on the floor; she looked up at me and then started shaking violently. She was afraid of those strange surroundings. My parental instincts kicked in instantly.

Kish told me I needed to find a name for her. I didn’t hesitate for a moment—the scene in my favorite movie, Like Water for Chocolate, in which the main character, Tita, had been beaten by her mother and was hiding in the dove cot, where the doctor came and found her shaken and bloody, came rushing to my head—and in one breath I said, “Her name is Tita.” Never mind that was the name we grew up calling my older sister. In Mexico it is not considered an honor to have a pet named after a human, particularly a family member, but I did it anyway. That was the first huge sign that my attitude towards pets had changed greatly.

Staying in love with Tita was not as easy; it was somewhat challenging at times. I look back now and I can think of more than one thing I would happily give to relive the same situations all over again.

I remember her as a puppy, waking me up in the middle of the night. I would get up thinking she needed to go out to do her business, but she would look at me happily wagging her tail and all she wanted to do was play. She did this at two or three a.m. I must tell you here that I am a Leo. You can mess with anything but my meals and my sleep; so you can imagine how ‘excited’ I was.

I also remember taking her to the park one cold winter morning. She was wearing her brand new sweater when she took off running and disappeared for a while. After I saw no sign of her coming back to me as she always did, I started calling her. She returned covered in human poop, proud as could be, and very eager to kiss me showing off her newest favorite scent. I was irate. I threw her in the back of my red pick up, took her home, and hosed her down with freezing water—I know, all of you dog-lovers hate me right now…but it worked. She never did that again. She would find poop along our walks and she would pretend it wasn’t a big deal; and she made sure I saw her ignore the poop.

Then there was the time she ran right into a cactus and came back to me screaming with needles all over her butt. When she tried to take them out with her mouth she got them on her tongue also. So I sat there, on the side of the road, plucking needles out of my dog’s mouth and butt. She cried with every needle I pulled out.

It was not only trouble she got into. She would also make me feel very special. Anyone who has a dog knows about those welcome-home displays of happiness from the little ones. When I was coping with my mother’s passing, Tita would lick my tears at night whenever I was having some distressing dream and woke up crying. There were also those times when I would catch her looking at me as if I was the most beautiful and perfect thing on the face of the earth. I don’t know if she was thinking of a juicy steak but it certainly felt good to be looked at that way.

I watched her grow old and slow down. All that energy she had as a puppy and as a younger dog was gone. A calm ease took over her and she was content staying on the sofa, always looking at me, always trying to take in as much of me as she could. I would go to work and leave the soft music playing for her all day long. When I returned, I would find her on the couch in a reverie, drooling all over the pillow.

When she was diagnosed with cancer, I promised her I was not going to let her suffer while I told myself that I was going to be strong and live up to that promise.

She had surgery one morning in late September. I went to the veterinary to pick her up in the evening expecting a limp dog, all drugged and knocked out. I found a very happy and alert Tita, wagging her tail, excited to see me. When we got home, I looked at her and she reminded me of an old stuffed animal with many stitches on her belly. I felt very sad. I told myself she would be fine and I told her she better hang around for a few more years. She looked great during the following days and I believed she would be around for a good, long time. A couple of months later I realized I was in denial when I saw her energy drop and her health decline rapidly.

Some people believe in reincarnation but I do not know what to believe in that regard. Lately I have been reflecting on my life repeatedly and I realize I have gone through so many seasons, so many cycles that I feel I have lived several lives and I have traveled a long, long way. Internally, physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually, I think of myself as an ancient tree: I have a ring for every one of the lives I have lived. Tita is one of those rings, one of the bigger ones perhaps.

Life does present itself to us in cycles, in circles. Things, people, friends, lovers, and yes, pets also, come into our lives and leave an indelible mark on us. We are left transformed forever when they leave us. At one point, it will be us who will leave others, and we become another season, another cycle or circle in someone else’s life.

I had Tita put down early on December 9, 2005. It was one of the saddest days in my life. The previous two nights we didn’t sleep well. She struggled to go outside to do her business on the first night, and on the second night she peed, pooped, and threw up all around even though she had not eaten for three days. She looked at me and I could see in her eyes how sorry she was, embarrassed perhaps—we tend to anthropomorphize our pets too much sometimes—but I knew the time I feared the most had come. At 3:00 a.m., I made the decision I was going to call the veterinarian in the morning and went to bed, but I couldn’t sleep.

When I came back from the veterinarian my cultural beliefs in dealing with the deceased took over me and I made a shrine with Tita’s picture, her collar, flowers, candles, food and water. I also kept her bed intact for three months and I have allowed myself to cry as I please.

“Our life is an apprentice to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens. There are no fixtures in nature. The universe is fluid and volatile. Permanence is but a word of degrees,” Ralph Waldo Emerson also wrote.

I know that another pet will come into my life, a wonderful pet indeed, because there is a history that is waiting to be repeated; there is a circle whose circumference must encompass some of me, there is a cycle that cries to be circumvented again. I also know that I will not forget my beautiful companion of ten years; an unforgettable animal soul that taught me about love and responsibility, a dog that tamed me, trained me, and made me hers.

This spring equinox I will walk the 4600 block of Park Boulevard in University Heights, I will look at the trees lining the street, I will think of Tita when I see on them the new growths, the harbingers of yet another season, and I shall smile and rejoice.

For Tita with love,
Miguel Angel, Spring 2006

Story: The Woman in Me, by Miguel Angel

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The Woman in Me
by Miguel Angel

My mother’s pride
Was in her hands
The piano was her soul
I watched in wonder
As she played show tunes
Miles off from Rock & Roll
What she loved she taught me
Now music’s what I do
And often when I am writing
In my hands
She’s there too

If I sing, you are the music
If I thrive, you are why I’m good
If my hands can find some magic
You are the one who said they could
When the child who’s still inside me
Finds a song in empty air
When there is joy in making music
It is you who put it there.

I had heard this song several times before and I remember focusing on the bridge, which is the second set of stanzas. I assumed the song to have a romantic overtone and being directed towards a lover. It wasn’t until recently that I actually listened to the lyrics and realized it was directed to a mother; and while listening a tear peeked in my eyes.

No, my mother didn’t play piano or any instrument for that matter—neither do I—and she didn’t need to. There were so many other things she did…and did well.

I vividly remember seeing her for the last time, and I recall how much I cried at the certainty I was not going to see her alive again. I also remember clearly the words a friend offered to help me deal with such a heart-wrenching moment.

“When we pass, we don’t just disappear into nothing. We simply become more a part of those we leave behind. Your mother will always be a part of you,” he said that evening over dinner at a fancy restaurant overlooking beautiful Acapulco Bay.
When I was a child, I am embarrassed to admit, I don’t believe I appreciated my mother. How could I? I was a child and therefore the world had relevance only in reference to me. My mother was not a human being with feelings and needs then. She was there to provide me with care, love, and attention. No more and no less.

I remember however, in my earlier years, thinking of both my parents as these giant, all-powerful, all-capable people. I admired the fact that both of them had no formal education—my mother barely finished second grade and my father third. They, nonetheless, had a great sense of what was proper and right, and their common sense and set of values was admirable.

My mother was quite the disciplinarian. Being the one who stayed with us all day, she was the one who laid the law and enforced it in the house. But that is not to say that she was harsh; quite the opposite, she was able to remain loving in spite of having to deal with 5 children all day long. I do not know how she did it. All I know is that mothers like mine should automatically qualify for sainthood.
I remember some hot nights in Acapulco, when I was about 4 years old, in which I would wake up unable to sleep because of the heat. My mother would take me outside and give me a bath under a sky laden with stars telling me stories prompted by the endless questions I had about everything around me. I remember her telling me once that when people were no longer with us (she was smart enough to know not to use the word ‘die,’ God only knows what line of questioning would have ensued) they became the stars we saw above.

We also had cooler nights, and I remember waking up because my blanket had slipped off and I was cold. As if I had summoned powers beyond me, two hands like butterflies would grab the edge of the blanket and cover me gently, at the same time that rose-petaled lips would kiss my forehead and tell me everything was OK.

When I had a project in school, something for which we needed our parents help, I would be all worried when, before going to bed, I would realize I had not done it. My mother would tell me not to worry and, the next day, things would be miraculously materialized before my eyes.
I remember how she told each one of her children separately we were the one she loved the most. She also told us not to share that with our siblings. Her voice could be thunderous when she had to, but for the most part she was soft and tender. I loved the way she call me ‘papa’ or ‘mi rey,’ which means my king. I have many memories of her willingness to help others, her inability to refrain from giving, and her capacity for being caring.

I remember how beautiful I found her even on a ‘bad hair day.’ I remember how simple she was, how unsophisticated, and how humble. Although the latter is something I didn’t get from her, I was fascinated about how much I looked like her in my teens when I tied a scarf over my head and around my chin. That was until I started growing facial hair though.
I imagine how challenging it must have been for someone from our culture and with her level of education to deal with having a gay child and yet I can’t find a single instance in which she made me feel I was less of a child of hers because of that. As it is common for our culture, my sexuality was not something we spoke about openly, but there was always the uttermost respect for who I was and I always knew myself to be loved as much as my brothers and sisters.
In my later teens I suddenly grew to appreciate the woman who game me the gift of life, and I remember how we would joke and tease each other. “You should have stopped having children after you had me,” I would say to her.
“I should have stopped having children right before you,” she would be quick to reply.
See all this gray hair on my head?” She would say, “You gave it all to me!”
My mom grew old
Her hands grew numb
Now she cannot play
I came to visit
She sat and asked me
How it could be this way
I couldn’t find an answer
I played this tune for her instead
My mother sat there, smiling
For she knew what it said

When she grew sick with cancer, she kept most details about her illness from her children, especially those of us who were away, in order not to worry us. I was fortunate enough to be able to see her 3 months before she died ten years ago, as I was fortunate to spend a few weeks caring for her and pampering her exactly the way she deserved. She would not take that easily though. She still wanted to be the mother and she wanted to get up and cook and make me feel like everything was normal, like she was still the mother and I was her child. I would hide from her and cry because I found it so unfair for her life to end that way and because there was only so much I could do about it.
If I sing, you are the music
If I love, you taught me how
Every day your heart is beating
In the woman I am now
If my ears are tuned to wonder
If when I reach the cords are there
If there is joy in making music
It’s a joy that you put there

It is true; I am blessed to have known for a few years now, that when we pass we don’t just disappear. We simply become a part of those we leave behind.

There is a wonderful woman in me and it has nothing to do with my sexuality or my flair for feather boas and high heels.
I get to experience that woman all the time, when I feel successful and accomplished, when I feel capable and proud of what I have done, when I experience myself as a caring, giving member of the human race, when I am able to extend a hand to someone who is in need, and most especially, when I get to be nurturing and loving.
I have 3 children in my life now—Jesse, Aiden, and Liam—who remind me of my own childhood and my mother almost every day. When I read to them before they go to bed, it is my mother’s voice I hear; and when I go into their rooms to cover them, it is those butterflies of my mother’s hands which grab the blanket; and when I kiss them in their sweet foreheads, it is my mother’s rose-petaled lips which kiss them.

I often talk to them and called them ‘papa’ or ‘mi rey,’ and when they make me laugh I hear my mother’s joyful peal of laughter ringing in my ears.
And even though I never told you
It took time until I could see
That if I sing, you are the music
And you always sing with me
Yes, you are always there in me.

To the woman in me, the music in my life, my mother, Sylvia.
When I look to the night sky you are the brightest star in the firmament. May you always live in me!
With Love,
Miguel Angel, (Your favorite child)

Heart of a Woman SPANISH Version receives Rave Reviews

Corazón de Mujer, Heart of a Woman| 3 Comments »

Corazón de Mujer
Heart of a Woman SPANISH Version receives Rave Reviews

Corazón de Mujer, Heart of a Woman, captures eloquently and beautifully the myriad aspects of a woman’s nature and thoughts. Sheryl Roush shows her emotional and intellectual depth in this carefully selected collection of quotations and beautiful writings for, about, and by women.

I was mesmerized beyond words by her cleverness in organizing the varied sources of material in a way that made sense and made it easy to enjoy. Her Heart Book Series (Heart of a Mother and Heart of the Holidays) lives up to its title. It’s brimming with heart!

Utterly refreshing, Corazón de Mujermade me laugh and cry, moved me and touched me, and made me aware of things that, both in women and in myself, I didn’t know about. This collection is a celebration of womanhood. Every woman in my life deserves a copy!
-Miguel Ángel

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