November 17, 2016

Reconnecting With My Used-To Be Father

Originally published on the Huffington Post.  
I hardly noticed the sun had completely set below the horizon while I sat in solitary darkness in my living room. The only light giving life to the room was from the incessant scrolling on my phone. Shifting my thumb up the screen, then down and up again in hopes to find some unlikely-of-animal-friends videos to distract me enough so I can forget about calling him.
My palpitating heart thumped harder as I stood, feeling more doubtful with every step made; every step signifying I was closer to dialing that number.
I went outside and as I paced the patio, I began reciting my introduction to the fully exposed moon.
Hi, Andrew. It’s me Sofia. Scratch that. What if it’s not his number anymore? What if I can’t recognize his voice? Cigarette abuse is notorious for cracking the voice. Assuming he still smokes a pack a day. OK, Ok - how about: Hi, may I speak to Andrew?
No rehearsed speech could persuade my anxiety to simmer down. I just had to get it over with. Get over the first slump and this stomach-pit of fear, and just go for it.
What’s the worst thing he can do? Hang up? Reject my call? Tell me to go fuck myself? Okay.
I’m prepared for whatever outcome. Time forces you to be prepared by a default. To be prepared for the rejection. To be prepared for the silence.
Silence is a comfortable space. Or, at least it evolves into comfort with time. Six years of time approximately. I’ve found that when there’s a disparity of connection and time, it relieves people from having to face the music, to face the grim realities of the situation at hand.
Coddled in the safety net of silence and repression.
I apprehensively hit the call button. The first dial ring felt like it dragged as long as a thriving river that I wished would just shrivel up. The second ring felt like a rat race to the voicemail. Half a second after the third ring, there was a sudden answer of a man grunting out a hello.
My assumptions were wrong. I recognized his solemn, gargled voice immediately.
“Hey, Andrew? It’s Sofia.”
“Who?” he asked.
Without any hesitation or time to process the small blow of this void, I responded:
“Sofia. Your ex-stepdaughter.”
I was six years old when I met the man who would not only end up breaking my mother’s heart, but would go on to create delusion in the hearts of both her kids.
My stepfather was a man of his word. He was loyal, hardworking, and Cuban-American. My mother, a stern, wise and virtuous woman, met him in the direst of situations that some people find themselves in on U.S. soil.
She was a recently divorced single mother, whom had recently migrated to Florida from Italy with her baby boy and girl.
With little means and a great desire to find solace, their encounter at a measly bar she worked at, along with their several ventures thereafter, manifested the possibility of The American Dream.
The idea that her kids didn’t have to grow up at the only expense of her blood, sweat and tears with no reward. The idea that she could be happy again.
The idea that my mother could start a life with someone who genuinely needed her guidance just as much as she needed his.
It was the prime transaction of both deep devotion and resources. But, was it love? I’ll get to that.
As time progressed, they married and began to synchronize their lives as one. My mother had finally found consolation and he had found a reason to live again after his beloved mother’s long battle with cancer.
My stepfather took the physical role of being a father figure for most of my brother’s adolescence — and mine. My dad lived in England during this time with his wife and though he was still a part of our lives, the distance created much static in our relationship with him.
For the next thirteen years, my stepfather would attend every dance rehearsal, every soccer game, and every school ceremony.
He taught my brother how to build and repair things. He would take him to work with him on the weekends, show him the ropes, and compensate an allowance so he learns value.
He taught me how to be generous. Anytime I’d see the homeless rummaging the streets of Miami, he would encourage my compassion by giving me a dollar or two to give, or run to the nearest cafĂ© and purchase them a meal.
He was a man of his word. He was devoted to my mother. He was devoted to her kids.
Until one day he wasn’t. Until one day my mother could no longer guide his inner demons to their death. Until the stench of beer and sweet liquor consumed his integrity.
Until one day his supposed love became an infatuation. An obsession with control.
An obsession to control and demonize my mother.
My reason for calling was simple. I’m graduating with my bachelor’s degree in English next month, and this milestone has urged much retrospect.
At least that’s what I told him. Though this was true, my urge stemmed much deeper than that. Though I’ve known nothing about him or his life for the past six years, his presence would continuously appear within the remnants of my mind.
I was desperate to know if he was okay. If he had moved on, or if he was in fact the man I admired for so long.
If he was regretful over the vile things he had committed towards the end of our time together. If he had regretted not saying goodbye to my brother and I – never bothering to look back.
Our call was over in exactly three minutes.
Through the awkward chuckles and repetition of overused adjectives, he mentioned what a surprise this call was and how genuinely happy he was to hear from me.
I asked if he would meet with me so we could properly catch up. I couldn’t say what I needed to say to him, what I never got to say to him, over the phone. It was far too important to be lost in translation and not be rightly emoted through the eyes.
He accepted my invite with unfamiliar optimism, and we then scheduled a day favorable for the two of us. Thursday afternoon, it was set. He couldn’t give me an exact time, but “we’d play it by ear” he said.
Before hanging up, we exchanged our excitement in seeing each other again and my heart did not jump or skip a beat.
Instead, it was in state of reconciliation. The regret and resentment that had built over the years had momentarily dissipated.
I immediately called my mother to update her on the successful call. Though she had her reservations about me getting back in touch with him, she was supportive in my intentions to gain closure. She understood how important this was not just for me, but even more for my younger brother.
My brother’s last memory of our stepfather was at the courthouse. His sixteen-year old self sat outside of the courtroom and once deliberations had adjourned, Andrew steps out without a single acknowledgement of him, wearing a grin that represented a win in taking one last stab at my mother’s decision to divorce.
So naturally, my mother advised me to keep my guards up and not allow my excitement to fog my intuitions.
I went about the rest of my night, invoking pride and enthusiasm into the pasta dish I was preparing for dinner.
Mid onion peel, I received a call back from my mother. She tends to do this, call repetitively to overcompensate for any given situation and reiterate her motherly convictions.
The tone of her voice had changed from our previous call. I know this tone far too well. The soft and mellow pitch of disappointment with a hint of pity. The Spanish language tends to make everything sound much more dramatic.
She starts with a prelude on courage and strength to set me up for whatever she’s about to share with me. I respectfully interrupt and ask her to get to the point. My nerves had outdone themselves by now so a pep-talk was far from what I needed.
“Mami, what is it?” I asked, again.
She quickly relays how Andrew’s coworker is also a childhood friend of hers. He’s also the one who helped facilitate this process by sending my mom the number so I can call. This friend was present when I called, and tells my mother that Andrew has expressed that he’s in a good place in his life right now and feels that I may result in opening unhealed wounds.
She gets to her final point:
“Andrew isn’t going to meet with you.”
A long pause of silence makes its debut again, and I return to peeling back the skin of the onion.
People from the past always have a way to shift the present into perspective.
I truly felt that I needed to pay grace to him. To show gratitude as my life and accomplishments come into full circle. I truly made myself believe that I wouldn’t have been able to reap the opportunities of academia this country has offered me if it wasn’t for him.
Despite the wrongdoings, despite the foul comments that were shouted, I made myself believe they were forgivable because I succeeded through, despite it all.
It goes without saying that I’m no longer the seventeen year old girl who felt crippled witnessing my mother suffer because of a man who I regarded as a father. Perhaps by virtue of being well into my nearly mid-20s now, I have gained a deeper understanding of his own suffering as well.
I did learn something more valuable though: forgiveness is earned, not gained out of mere compensation — Or worse, out of pity.
I fixed my eyes around my home, looking for any representation of him. Any glimpse of the impact he’s made on my life. I found nothing. Not a single photo, not a single reminiscent object that portrayed his existence in my life.
I had nothing to feel regretful about. He gave up on us. He was the adult. Heshould’ve done the mending. But he didn’t, and I guess that’s okay too.
We paid our dues in double, found pain and struggle, and made it out with humble hearts.
I lit the candles throughout my home, flicked on all of the light switches. I stood in clarity, as the lights illuminated every crevice and saturated the darkness of the shadows.

April 27, 2016

How Being Vegan Aids in Health & the Planet

As a young girl, I remember constantly finding myself internally conflicted over our earth and all it’s inhabitants. I remember thinking that there was always such a divide, not just between people themselves, but more or so between different sources of life – animals, nature. Earth marginalized and bridged as a whole. I felt this divide and disconnect, but I couldn’t understand it. I couldn’t make sense of these thoughts because I was in no position to. “That’s just the way the world works.” I imagine thinking. 

I remember intently having these thoughts specifically over the animals we generally regard as food.  The first time I ever saw a pig, or some version of it, was on a frigid night before Christmas. My stepfather would begin to delicately unfold the foils of our catered homemade food prepared for Noche Buena; seafood paella, perfectly boiled yucca, tender rice and beans. And what lay under the one propped over a large oven rack was a guttered corpse of what was seemingly a pig, or what was left of it at least; perhaps only the bits favorable enough for consumption (or safe enough that is).

The giveaway was in the face. I couldn’t recognize it’s expression, as it was much more nonchalant and lifeless than those of my pop-up animal books. But I knew with some degree of certainty that its pudgy, distinguishable, now pale-pinkish nose was that of a pig.

About two weeks later, my second grade class was taken to a farm on a school field trip. Next to the chicken coop was a pig, as big as the one I witnessed roasting over the coal, laying on a bed of honey-brown haystack. Pinker in color and grunting loudly this time. 

Through my juvenile eyes, I garnered that the farm animals were breathing specimens, just like me, but were somehow still inferior to my life by virtue of what is taught through every multi-colored food pyramid --and even more understandably, my parents and elders; my homage and culture.

Within my juvenile heart, without any imposition to convince me otherwise, this idea of my life or human life, valuing more than those who were deemed divergent was never digested adequately. In fact, if I may be embarrassingly more explicit, the inner-workings of my digestive system seemed to also *literally* be in disfavor. Without completely expelling my tract (or yours) ~pun-unintended~, I suffered for most of my youth from gastritis to ulcers and whatever stomach-churning side-effects you can imagine that result in between. 

Cue in medication after medication to aid in my discomforts. Only succeeding in relieving my condition, which soon became a lifestyle–ranging from days to months–until it would eventually wear off during my next ~limited to non-acidic~ meal.

I believed I was just fragile and that this would just be the challenge I would grow to feel as my normal. The growling pains and burning debilitations became my normal. 

During my first semester of college, I enrolled in a nutritional course on a whim in hopes to better understand my body and to perhaps discover any nuances to better facilitate its impaired functions. To my surprise, the gawky yet insanely knowledgeable professor was a vegetarian and though a bit bias in her approach, she would begin to uncover unfathomable facts that both enraged and enlightened me. She established her stance with the showing of the documentary Food, Inc.

Gripping the edge of my seat, I thought: "This can't be. These barbarian acts committed by leaders of animal agriculture operations, in which is then rendered as food, our food, cannot be taking place in esteemed America." In what I hoped would be doubtful, I would then relentlessly begin discovering what I feared would be true and it became impossible for me to ignore. 

The charging river of information syncing with vigorous currents of research flooding my mind was impacting me so profoundly that it led me back to my roots. The unsaturated ideals I had rooted as a little girl were increasingly growing into full ~fruit~ion. And my tummy seemed to pleasantly agree.

Though my own validations of plant-based eating were founded on ethics and health, there was another and perhaps more important layer that I hadn’t yet scoped out. When becoming plant-based, it's like your mind renders 20/20 resolution and your perception of the world around you becomes crystalized. It is the strangest and most overwhelming vampire-like effect, which actually takes some time adjusting to because it feels like your sensibilities are on full-throttle all the time.

Now, this may be about the time where some of you pitifully laugh (if you haven’t already) or think how grossly farfetched it may be to believe that a mundane human habit that we've committed for centuries and centuries, such as eating a piece of meat, is in direct correspondence to the environmental catastrophes happening all over the world. If you did, just know I don't blame you. In fact, I got a few chuckles out of it myself -- It sounds otherworldly and just bonkers.

It is fair to say, though, that we as humans have developed pretty nasty habits over time; from littering our garbage all over our beaches and thus endangering ocean life, letting the sink or bath water run while California reaps a drought, and even a habit that has become as necessary as driving which has been proven to continuously pollute our air. Not to mention a great degree of social and political habits we've become desensitized to over time due to their constant reoccurrence.

So, I believe at this point, it’s safe to say that just because something has been committed time after time, doesn’t automatically deem it right or grant it any validity. As time continues to progress and our population grows tenfold, our habits, but particularly our habits of eating – have become so climactically influential that it can no longer be overlooked.

We are currently growing enough food to feed 10 billion people  

2,500 gallons of water are needed to produce 1 pound of beef

Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction.

130 times more animal waste than human waste is produced in the US – 1.4 billion tons from the meat industry annually. 5 tons of animal waste is produced per person in the US.

3/4 of the world’s fisheries are exploited or depleted.

We could see fishless oceans by 2048.

Each day, a person who eats a vegan diet saves 1,100 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 30 sq ft of forested land, 20 lbs CO2 equivalent, and one animal’s life.
[Sources listed on: Cowspiracy]

I’m not good with numbers, but I don’t believe it takes a mathematician of any sort to understand the heavy burden these facts carry. 

I know it can be difficult to make the correlation between diet and the environment because then it would mean we would have to take a look at our own lives and enlist changes. And changes of embedded habits and ideals are the most daunting kind. It’s a damn scary thing. But, for earth’s sake, if the consequences of lifeless seas, water depletion and animal extinctions don’t frighten you even more, then let me ask you this: What comes next?

The bare resemblances and truth of every story lies in the details. It unfolds between every line, guiding us through pieces of information that are essential before reaching the conclusion.  As we continue to endure these abnormal natural climaxes, our planet is trying to tell us something. Something bigger than each and every one of us.

A revolution. A world where animal-protein is no longer humanity's only method of thriving, thus allowing our egos and archaic beliefs to be set aside. To become wholehearted again, the way we used to feel as kids. For your sake. For your kids and their kids sake. For earth’s sake.

Featured on The Huffington Post