Finally, Some Sister Time

I’ve missed my sister immensely.

People don’t always understand how close I am to my sister. Alya and I have been each other’s best friends for my entire life, and there is no shaking that kind of connection.

We’re so close, we’ve laughed at the demonstrations of sisterly affection in Frozen. Elsa and Anna are nowhere near our levels of closeness, and both Alya and I know this for a fact. “I mean,” Alya has said, “I think I love you so much, I would not be able to stop hanging out with you even if I found out I had ice powers and it might get you hurt.”

This particular analogy got tested during the pandemic.

Suddenly, both Alya and I were faced with the very real possibility that hanging out with each other could hurt us.

We held out for a good solid five months. Then, after assessing the risk and deciding we wanted to see each other more than we worried about getting sick and potentially dying, we arranged for me to stay with her for a week.

Side note: Yeah, we were hysterically morbid, about the whole thing.

I’ve been quarantining far more than Alya, so she got tested right before I arrived. That didn’t stop us from being nervous on the car drive over to her house. We asked each other about how comfortable we were wearing masks, what we should expect in the next few days, and a few other precautions.

That’s when “Bohemian Rhapsody” came on the radio.

I mean…were we just supposed to not sing it?

We belted out the lyrics with gusto, spraying who knows how much spit into the car, and we finally relaxed.

When we got back to her house, we were just engrossed with each other. I swear, it was like Christmas. I woke up in my specially made-up guest room every day excited to hang out with Alya. I spent every waking moment of my visit with her.

We exercised on her elliptical together, listening to the ultimate bop-master, TheFatRat the entire time. We drank coffee in the mornings and hung out in her backyard while her adorable pupsters, Ushi, lay down on the sidewalk next to us. We watched The Lord of The Rings, the extended editions, through to completion, quoting it at every turn and, if it was evening, taking a drink every time Sam said “Mister Frodo.” We tried reenacting the dance number from the “Genghis Khan” music video, only to find to our dismay that they actually used professional dancers in it and we couldn’t faithfully replicate their moves. We ate inadvisable amounts of Hot Cheetos Puffs with white wine in the evening. We drank Sauvignon Blanc and spent a few minutes trying to say it in exaggerated French accents. We cuddled with Ushi and gave her a bath in the middle of the day. And (suckily) we attended to our respective work schedules, too.

Ushi and I are best buds. Clearly.

That single week was seriously one of the best of my life. The threat of potentially getting sick hung over my head for the first few days, but the opportunity of just spending time with my sister (in the house, never out and about, mind you) was obliteratingly positive. Unbeknownst to me, a knot of anxiety had slowly been building up inside of me while Alya and I were apart. But when we were together, it’s like she just pulled and poked the knot away.

Upon arriving back home, it felt like I was missing something.

We have made plans for the future, a joint birthday party to which no one is invited except us and Halloween dress-up plans to look like Merry and Pippin. I look forward to seeing her again.

At the time of this writing, I just got tested for COVID-19. It felt like the smart thing to do after returning home, and I’m currently waiting for my results. I feel fine. And honestly, the test wasn’t that bad. I think my unnaturally large nasal cavities (thanks to my grotesque schnozz) have given me the capacity to have giant Q-Tips stuck in them and twirled around for samples without much discomfort.

I think people should be careful when planning visits to their family and friends at this point, as the pandemic still looms over all our heads, but I have no leg to stand on when it comes to restricting travel. I had to see Alya. However, communication is key. Be open and honest with comfort levels and risk assessments.

And I sincerely hope that everyone gets the chance to feel as happy as I did that week.

Gratitude and Moving Forward

This is going to be a short one.

I’ve written posts like this before, from time to time, so I get that you all might be tired of them.

But heckin’ heck, I just can’t stop myself from singing your praises.

Every single one of you who reads, likes, comments, or skims through my blog is incredibly awesome, and I just wanted to throw (another) thank you your way. You have made the blogging experience intensely enjoyable for me, and it wouldn’t be the same without you.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times, I was hesitant to interact much with people on the blog. I was afraid it would be like a comments section for a particularly controversial YouTube video.

It’s been the exact opposite of that for me. Everyone has been really awesome, and I’ve had engaging discussions with people about the topics I love best.

In particular, I’d like to throw a thank you to these blogs:

From famine to feast: She has been one of the highlights of my reading time on WordPress, full of insightful essays and moments of self-reflection. I swear, she makes me think more about life, the universe, and everything than The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And that’s saying something. She has also been one of the most supportive and kindest persons to interact with in any comments section ever.

The Orang-utan Librarian: If you have any sort of love for books, I highly recommend giving the Orang-utan a follow. With an incredibly engaging and conversational tone, every post is one that draws me in. I trust the Orang-utan’s opinions more than my own at times! Plus, there has never been a more interactive presence regarding books and opinions than with this book-keeping primate.

Art of Almost: Whenever Tom leaves a comment on one of my posts, I know I’m going to either a) learn something new, b) crack a smile, or c) begin an eager discussion about our favorite pop culture topics. His writing style is incredibly cultured, which belies the spirited and fun nature that hides behind it. I look forward to every online conversation I have with him.

In addition to these blogs, I’d also like to thank these people who don’t have their own blogs, but who support me nonetheless:

Bubba: My bestest buddy. He won’t ever tell me that he’s read my latest post. But whenever we’re playing video games or chatting online, he’ll just randomly drop tidbits into the conversation that I’ve discussed on my blog. If I had to pick anyone to show my new work to, be it a short story or that epic super-hero saga I’ve been working on, he’d be the first I’d go to.

Danny: The boyfriend. He has subscribed to my blog, so he gets email alerts every time one gets posted. He treats them so officiously too. For example, if he hasn’t seen a movie that I’m reviewing, he will wait to actually see the movie before reading my review. And he’s the one I seek to pre-read my posts before they’re published, just to check if they’re okay for the public eye.

My mom: Yup, that’s right. My mom. She is the absolute best mother in the world. She could have no idea what I’m writing about, but she will support it anyways. (Seriously, do you think she will ever play Doom Eternal? Not a chance in hell. But she will have read my review by now.) She hypes me up to all her friends, so much so that I get embarrassed. But that’s what moms do.

Moving forward, I’m already planning on what kind of posts to focus on in the future. The pandemic has clearly changed quite a few things for me. Travel posts will be few and far between, but, I mean, it’s not like they were plentiful to begin with. Movie posts might also change a bit. Less reviews of new releases, and more “deep” discussions of my favorite classics.

I’ve also noticed that I’ve been neglecting my book posts. Work has swarmed up around me since the quarantine, and I’ve taken to rereading oldies-but-goodies as comfort food for my brain. However, I’ve got a delightful patch of new books that I should be finishing up soon, so expect more book posts!

Also, I have really enjoyed retelling old D&D stories of mine, so I’m thinking of ramping up how often I regale you with my party’s embarrassing tales.

The one-post-every-five-days schedule has really been working out for me, so that is going to go unchanged.

Anyways, that’s all for now. If you have any ideas for stuff I could write about, don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments! See you later!

(By which I mean five days from now.)

My Shaka Brah

Bet you forgot this picture existed, huh, Bubba?

To talk about my friend Bubba is to embark on a million stories.

I’m surprised I haven’t written a post dedicated solely to him yet, but keen readers of my Below Average Blog will no doubt have seen mention of him in numerous posts. He’s traveled with me to many places, played countless games with me, and indulged my weirder habits.

He’s one of my bestest friends, and this post is for him.

Side note: Hey, Bubba! I know you’re reading this!

The first thing you should know about Bubba is that his real name isn’t actually Bubba. It’s Genaro.

The story of how he got the nickname “Bubba” is before my time. I think when he was in elementary, some friends of his just decided to call him that.

The second thing you should know about Bubba is that he’s a fantastic human being.

We kind of met during freshman year of high school. Our lunch tables were close to each other, and we were aware of each other’s existence, but we didn’t really talk.

Our friendship really started chugging along come junior year of high school.

And we reached maximum levels of buddiness during our college years.

We would have manversations while playing Halo. We tried starting a YouTube channel that hasn’t seen any activity in years now. We would stay up till early hours just talking about goddamn anything.

And I don’t know if Bubba feels this way, but I think the universe confirmed we’re supposed to be friends when it gave us jury duty at the same time.

One of the greatest things about Bubba is his sense of playfulness. There is no one (aside from my sister) who I would rather explore a new place with or try a new game with, than Bubba. He taps into my inner goofball and we can both have insane amounts of fun just being stupid together.

We played though Alien: Isolation together because I was too afraid to play it alone, and the game got so stressful for us, we set a timer for ten minutes, effectively limiting how long one of us would play before handing the controller off to another person. Eventually, we would actually throw the controller at the other person when the timer sounded, no mater if the Xenomorph was inches away from killing us.

We have gone to the beach at six in the morning, and because we’re so eager to just jump into the water, we freeze our tits off by wading in before the sun has properly come out. I remember complaining about how my recently shaved legs were blistering from the icy salt water, and as Bubba laughed at me, a perfectly timed, frigid wave just slapped him in the sack.

We once even braved an epic knife fight at a casino together while trying to escape a dreaded Oompa Loompa bonus.

Side note: I’m exaggerating, Bubba, I know. But come on! It was intense!

We’ve also waited in line after line at Disneyland together like a couple of motherflubbin’ champs.

And there is no one I would rather camp with outside of a movie theater, waiting for a premiere, for twelve hours.

The ability to be “stupid” with a person doesn’t sound like a compliment on the surface. But it’s one of the highest pieces of praise I can lay on Bubba’s shoulders. He doesn’t make me think about how I’m behaving or what words are coming out of my mouth or what my face looks like. I can be totally natural in front of Bubba, and I hope the reverse is true for him.

He is the first person I think of when I consider going out to have fun. He is one of those rare people who can truly make you forget anything wrong going on in your life. Seriously, the apocalypse could be happening, and Bubba and I would be able to laugh about it while playing Minecraft.

During this pandemic, he’s been the person keeping me sane. We play together over Xbox Live, and even though miles separate us, it feels like he’s sitting right next to me as we mess around in the Nether. I can picture his expressions perfectly.

You might be wondering at this point why this post calls him “my shaka brah.”

Well, see, I got a free download of the game Life Is Strange, in which a bunch of whiny hipster teenagers go through some trials and tribulations. At one point, the main character makes a joke and says, I shit you not, “Ready for the mosh pit, shaka brah.”

Bubba had been watching me play through this game the whole time. As soon as this line was spoken, we looked at each other and just shared the biggest groan/chuckle/screech you’ve ever heard. It was like our humor and our disgust got together, had a baby, and this was the baby’s first noise.

After that, we started calling each other “shaka brah,” you know, to be ironic.

And, well, it stuck.

It’s gotten so bad that we actually label gifts to each other as being from “shaka brah” to “shaka brah.”

And the rest is history.

Black Lives Matter

I was hesitant to post something like this. I’m a nonconfrontational person by nature, and I did not want to invite conflict onto this writing space of mine that has been largely positive for me.

But these issues need to be confronted.

I live in the United States of America, and while “freedom” and “equality” are terms that are bandied about quite frequently in our country, not everyone is free and not everyone is equal here.

Systemic injustices have permeated our society, injustices which have been demonstrated to endanger the lives of our citizens. A long-standing history of racism has been built into our country’s government. Our very Constitution was created with the notion that certain people only counted as three-fifths as a person.

And that’s not fair.

This has always been a problem within our society, but added pressure from the COVID-19 pandemic and a spotlight on racial inequity has set our “melting pot” to boiling.

Riots and protests are sweeping the nation, with support and condemnation rising up like a tide on all sides.

I have been incredibly fortunate to have had a life made easier due to possessing a skin color that borders on a light khaki versus a darker shade of brown. And not everyone has had this privilege.

And make no mistake, it is a privilege. I am not a victim of racial profiling as a result. I don’t fear for my life when police are nearby, and I have the freedom to wear a black hoodie and stand on a street corner with relative impunity.

And even though I have not discriminated against a person based on the color of their skin, I am wracked with guilt over having had benefits that other people are not allowed.

There are some who might say that I should not feel guilty. That I have done nothing wrong. That “all lives matter” at the end of the day.

I don’t think those people understand the gravity of the situation, of what it is like to be a person of color in America today.

As such, I refuse to be someone who stands by while fellow human beings around me suffer simply from being born with more melanin pigments in their skin.

I choose to acknowledge that these injustices exist.

I vow to support those who are fighting for their right to live without these injustices.

I pledge to abolish these inequities at every opportunity.

And I promise to have my actions speak as loudly as my words.

Murder Hornets and More: 2020 Is Apparently the Year That Keeps On Giving

Murder hornets.

Seriously?

Murder hornets?

Ugh.

I schedule my posts way in advance, so I’m typing this right as Murder Hornets have become relevant in current news. For all I know, by the time this post is published in a few weeks, maybe they’ll have all flown away.

Yeah. Right.

So just in case you haven’t heard, a type of Asian hornet has somehow made it to North American shores, and it’s just another dump on the shit-heap of stuff that has happened this year. Vespa mandarinia is considered the largest hornet in the world, and it is absolutely savage in how it takes apart bees. That’s how it earned the “Murder Hornet” moniker. It rips their heads off.

These hornets are not really out to target humans (though their sting purportedly hurts a ton), but our agricultural honeybees are in danger. I mean, they’re in more danger than they used to be. Honeybees have a hard life anyway, what with vanishing colonies and all.

The last thing the bees need are Murder Hornets.

Goddamn Murder Hornets. Could they have been named something a little less foreboding? A little less apropos?

It’s not just me that’s feeling like 2020 is shaping up to be a very shitty year, is it? Normally, bad years are highly individual things. 2016 was a terrible year for me personally, but I had a phenomenal 2019. It’s all a matter of personal experience and perspective.

But I think everyone can agree that 2020 is a globally shitty year.

I’ve been keeping to routines, trying to help out family and friends who are more anxious than me, but current events are starting to wear me down.

Especially now with flubbing Murder Hornets all over my news feed.

Sometimes, on my walks that I take around the neighborhood, I imagine how these times will be talked about in the future. How everything will go down in history. It’s strange to think that I’m a part of it. I’m living through history right now. We all are.

It’s nice conceptually, but damn fucking unpleasant to actually experience.

My friend Mia, whenever we play Dungeons & Dragons with our party, she plays the cautious and practical character. And she swears up and down that the worst curse you can lay on someone’s doorstep is “May you live in interesting times.”

I’m really understanding her point now.

How To Start Your Day When You Just Feel Blegh

Even though quarantining, self-isolation, and sheltering at home have not largely altered my life, I’m not immune to the monotony of my new routines.

I mean, I’m a very comfortable introvert, but even I’m longing to just go to a movie with one of my buddies.

Or to pick up a smoothie.

Or to find some tasy goddamn dumplings.

Ugh. I’m craving dumplings.

Lately, I’ve found myself stagnating in a pool of ambivalence every time I wake up because my day will follow the same cookie-cutter schedule without any deviations.

I wake up, go to work, eat lunch, do some chores, go for a walk, watch a movie, play a game, go to sleep. Rinse, dry, repeat.

Anyway, as a continuation of my new “How To” series, I’ve decided to write up some tips about how to stave off this blanket of boredom and ennui I’ve been suffering from. If you feel the way I do, hopefully these steps help.

Sleep Till Your Belly Button Pops

I know this might seem counter-intuitive if you’re trying to make yourself more alert and ready for the day, but sleeping in is a must if you want to maintain a) your health and b) your energy level for the rest of the day.

Occasionally, there are times where sleeping in makes you feel more tired than before (which is weird, but it’s happened to me too), but overall, I’d say the benefits of only leaving your bed until you want to outweigh the negatives.

I mean, at least sleep will take up some time from the boredom, am I right?

Drink Your Daily Coffee

You don’t neccessarily have to imbibe caffeine every morning, but you should have a regular drink you sip to start your day, be it orange juice, tea, or milk.

I like to drink a cup of coffee in the morning, and by doing so, it’s one of the ways I let my body know it’s time to start the day.

Plus, yeah, caffeine helps.

Give Yourself a No-Work Lazy Day Once a Week

One of the reasons I’m being crippled by listlessness these days is that I work every day. I work from home, so this sheltering in place thing has seen my workload continue, if not triple. As such, I don’t have that rejuvenating break from work colloquially known as “the weekend.”

Something I’ve noticed that can help me out is if I finagle my work schedule so that for one entire day, I have no work. It’s just one day of me being able to do whatever the hell I want (while self-isolating). I can walk around the block one hundred times. I can go on a Star Wars movie spree. I can work on a puzzle while drinking supbar lemonade.

These breaks are bliss, and I should really schedule more of them for myself. Sadly, I’m a bit anal when it comes to working every day.

Play That Funky Music

I can’t understate the importance of listening to uplifting tunes in the morning. It’s one of the only things that keeps me sane.

Nothing gets you excited for the day like bopping along to some foot-tappers.

I highly recommend “Tragedy” by the Bee Gees, “Sunlight” by TheFatRat, or “Another Sunny Day” by Belle & Sebastian. (Those are just a minuscule fraction of the songs I listen to every day.)

Meme It Up in the Morning

I groggily reach for my phone every morning to see if anyone has texted me. The answer is usually no, but sometimes I have a few work emails waiting for me.

Yay.

One thing you can do to brighten up your day is to browse through social media feeds looking not for how awesome and stellar everyone else’s lives are but for those sweet, sweet memes.

Starting your day with a guffaw is helpful.

Take a Shower

I think I shower once every other day.

On the days when I do shower, there is a noticeable increase in my evergy levels. Something about getting clean and dressing myself just kind of wires me up to be more prepared to tackle my day.

Force Yourself To Go Outside at Least Once

I’m not a naturally athletic person, so I can empathize with people who just stay indoors all day.

Still, going for a walk around the block, a run in the park, or, hell, even just standing outside on the front lawn, can be refreshing.

Make Your Own Holidays

I did this for a bit, and it was quite fun for a while.

I made up imaginary holidays, like Hat Day, Feet Day, Romper Day, etc. Went on for a good two weeks. I posted daily on my Instagram stories and even got some of my friends to follow along.

In the end, I got tired of having to be so active on my Instagram (oops), so I stopped doing it, but it was definitely a diverting manner in which to break up my typical routine.

Schedule Treats for Yourself

I have an agenda that I use to make sure I keep up with my work schedule. Every time I finish a task, I check it off on my agenda.

In order to liven up my days, I also include fun things on my agenda. For example, for today, I wrote “Movie Night with Bubba,” because my friend and I are going to hop on Discord and watch a movie together while social distancing.

Even though it’s an inconsequential, fun activity, it feels so satisfying to check it off when I’ve done it.

Dunk Your Head in Water

Seriously.

Do it.

You might think this is something that only works in movies and TV shows, but it works.

This is the ultimate wake-up call, and I never feel so alert as after I’ve randomly soaked my head in water.

A D&D Story: The Skull Room

My group of Dungeons & Dragons adventurers is not comprised of the smartest characters. As players, my friends and I have a tendency to be silly, stupid, or bold just for the entertainment value of it all.

During this particular campaign, Sidney, Dalton, Mia, and I were at the table.

Dalton was the Dungeon Master (DM). He ran the whole show, planned out the entire area the rest of us were exploring. He’s methodical in his craftsmanship, but has a delightfully dark sense of humor when he sees his players making mistakes.

Sidney played our resident Warlock with persistent bad luck. He’s the most affable person I know, but damn, he is plagued with terrible rolls and poor, split-second decisions.

Mia was our level-headed ranger. Of all the characters in our party, she’s the one with logic and practicality on her side. We all would have died during our first mission if it hadn’t been for her.

And I was my all-time favorite Barbarian Half-Orc. Unbridled rage, loyalty to her “tribe,” and rash choices are my bread and butter.

In this mission, the three of us players were exploring this underground cavern. Rumors of a dark-magic forge built here kept us searching for hidden rooms and strange mechanisms. Eventually, we reached a massive space with wooden contraptions that told us we had found our forge.

Unfortunately for us, we didn’t have long to enjoy our discovery.

As soon as we entered, a giant, flaming skull suddenly appeared and started throwing fire our way. It also conjured up these minions from out of nowhere, all of them surrounding us in an instant.

As a Barbarian (and as a Half-Orc), I charged into the fray heedless of my safety. Mia’s Ranger and Sidney’s Warlock had no choice but to follow my example.

After the first two rounds of combat, it was clear our party was out of its depth. But Mia and her Ranger were the only ones to realize this and remark upon it.

Side note: Come on. I’m a Barbarian Half-Orc. Recklessness is in my blood.

In an effort to try and incorporate some strategy into our attacks, Sidney moved his Warlock out of the room. There were two entrances to the large space, and Sidney figured we’d be less of a target if we split our forces. His Warlock walked out into the hallway, all the way around to the other side of the room. From that spot, he was able to start Eldritch-Blasting the backside of our opponents.

Unfortunately, in the time it took him to walk there, my and Mia’s characters became overwhelmed. My Barbarian went down, and Mia’s Ranger needed to drag me the heck out of there.

Even though her Ranger is not a natural healer, she holds all of our Healing Kits in her pack. So, for the time being, she’s our go-to healer.

Her action was used up in dragging me away during that round. Mia assured me that when her next turn came around, she’d heal my Barbarian right up.

At that exact moment, Sidney’s Warlock took a huge barrage of punishment from the flaming skull. So much punishment, in fact, that he got knocked out too.

Mia paled and stammered that she’d get to him on the turn after she healed me.

True to her word, Mia healed my Barbarian right up. Then she began to make her way to Sidney’s downed Warlock.

Unlucky Sidney had moved so far though, that by the time Mia’s Ranger got to his body, he was gone.

As in dead.

Sidney laughed at Mia’s dismay, and his laughs increased when the first thing my Barbarian did upon waking up was to rush back into the fight.

I’ve never heard Mia curse so much.

The healing my Barbarian had received had only given me so many Hit Points (HP). In no time at all, I was downed again.

With a grimace of frustration, Mia got her Ranger back into that giant room, resigned to hauling my unconscious Barbarian carcass out of there once more.

The flaming skull and its minions had other plans.

They peppered projectiles at Mia’s Ranger like there was no tomorrow. And even though she managed to drag my Barbarian out of the room and into the hallway, the damage was done. She got knocked out too.

So in Dungeons & Dragons, there are these things called Death Saves and Death Fails. After losing all your HP, you have to roll Death Saving Throws. That means rolling your 20-sided die in order to determine if your character lives or dies. If you roll a 10 or higher, you’re in the clear. If you roll lower than that, you’re an inch closer to death. You have to make three successful rolls in order to be considered “hanging onto life.” If you roll three fails, your character is officially dead, and a new one needs to be made.

Sidney’s Warlock had failed all three of his Death Saving Throws before Mia’s character could heal him.

So with my Barbarian and Mia’s Ranger both down, we needed to make those throws.

Mia failed all of hers.

I made it.

Laughter ensued as I stared dumbfounded at my little Half-Orc, the only surviving member of our party. Dalton had his head in his hands. Sidney chortled about the near Total Party Kill (TPK) we just had. And Mia was laughing with pleasure at my guilt for getting her Ranger killed.

I seriously had no idea where to go from there.

Dalton ended up making the executive decision to retcon the entire encounter.

We pretended the whole thing never happened, and when we picked up our game next week, we avoided the shit out of that skull room.

Of Pandemic Proportions

Hey, guys.

So as you might have noticed, there’s a bit of a global pandemic going on. COVID-19 is running rampant, and societies across the globe are doing their best to try and halt its progress.

Quite frankly, it’s a little overwhelming.

Numbers are being thrown in my face every day by news outlets. Not an hour goes by that my phone doesn’t receive some kind of alert, be it from social media, a news app, or my email, regarding the coronavirus. Some of my more…anxious…family members are not handling the situation well at all.

And even though my lifestyle is more than well-suited to being in quarantine, the word itself inspires discomfort and a tiny degree of terror.

That said, I’m doing okay.

I’m looking on the bright side, and this whole social distancing thing isn’t all that bad.

I’m spending way more time with my beloved bird, Froley. My writing output has never been higher. My walks feel more special because they are the only times I leave the house now. In order to mark this self-imposed isolation, I’ve taken to doing puzzles, and the practice is quite relaxing. (Except for that one time when I knocked the table I was working on with my knee, and I lost a good chunk of the puzzle. That was traumatizing.) Playing video games feels like I’m performing a civic duty now that going out to socialize is frowned upon.

All in all, it could be worse.

And I know that for some families, with loved ones suffering from the illness, it is worse.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the whole thing, you’ve come to the right place. I’m here if you just want to talk (about anything) or vent (about mostly anything).

I’m a Below Average writer, gamer, person, you name it, I suck at it.

But I do want you to know that I’m a slightly above average listener.

And if you feel alone, I’m here for you.

Remotely.

But you know what I mean.

Soda Can Therapy

My sister, Alya, is one of the most beautiful persons I know. When I was younger, I seriously thought she was so gorgeous, she could be an actress if she wanted.

To this day, I’ll look at her, and it’ll blow my mind how pretty she is. Like, I know looks aren’t everything, but hot damn, my sister is breathtaking!

She has thick, wavy hair with a natural color of burnished gold. Her eyes can switch from a sea blue to a pale green to a steely grey depending on what angle you’re looking at her from (and on what color shirt she’s wearing). She exercises a lot, so she also has a fit physique, complete with trim calves and defined forearms.

Her personality is magnetizing, too.

She’s sprightly and vivacious. She boasts often because she seems to have a wellspring of confidence within her that never runs dry, but it’s always meant in good fun. One of the first dates she went on with her future husband is now a hilarious story, because she insisted she could play tennis extremely well, and when that wasn’t the case, good-natured humor ensued. Her attitude and active mind boost her good looks to the millionth degree.

But it wasn’t always this way.

My sister went through a bit of a “blossoming” phase when she was in high school. That’s when she became the person she is today.

In middle school, she was bullied terribly.

To this day, I don’t know why she was bullied. She was thin, wore glasses, and sported an unfortunate haircut, true. But she was genuinely a great kid. Smart, good-humored. But she was missing the self-confidence which she has now, and I guess that made her a target.

I’m sorry to say I wasn’t aware of her troubles then. I was making the transition to middle school as well, so I was more or less absorbed with what was going on with me. As far as I was concerned, Alya was just my knowledgeable big sister who I hung out with after school.

Alya later told me that she purposefully hid her trials from me. She didn’t want me to know that she was getting bullied. But she did admit there were times she cried before going to bed, dreading school the next day. She developed a habit of grinding her teeth in her sleep, as if she were clenching her entire body before having to dive back into the toxic atmosphere waiting for her.

There was only one time when Alya actually broke down about a situation going on at school. She and I were hanging out with our childhood friend, Mia. The three of us were each other’s closest friends, and nothing was more enjoyable than just kicking back at Mia’s grandparents house, giggling about books we had read and planning our next adventure pretending we were on Middle-Earth.

That day, we were just chugging a bunch of those mini root beers and having a burping contest.

Side note: Yes, we would have burping contests. No, we were not ashamed.

After the contest, Alya told Mia and I about this boy who had bothered her at school. I can’t for the life of me remember what the boy did. All I know was that it upset Alya almost to the point of tears. Not tears of sadness, but tears of frustration and anger.

For a while now, I had been eyeing this sledgehammer that Mia’s grandparents kept in a toolshed, and at that point I had the perfect idea. I suggested we all let off a little steam by using that sledgehammer to pound away our problems. The plentiful amount of root beer cans around us could serve as symbolic stand-ins for the objects of our ire.

Alya, Mia, and I then solemnly proceeded to heft the sledgehammer over our shoulders and then slam it down upon those teeny cans, crushing them flat. It’s a testament to how much soda we guzzled that we were able to do this more than a few times. We decided to give Alya the majority of cans to smash, but there was still enough to go around.

These days, I kind of question whether or not that was healthy for us to do. I mean, we were not shy about naming the situations or people that we were venting our pent-up rage against. Those cans were getting destroyed.

But we felt better afterwards. And that’s all there really is to it.

This soda can therapy in no way fixed Alya’s bullying problem. I can only hope that at least for that afternoon, this one moment helped her feel an ounce more in control of her situation.

Side note: I won the burping contest, I’m 90% sure. Mia and I were always the big contenders in these things. For the life of her, when Alya was young, she just could not burp. She would try, but nothing would come out.

The Story of My Parents

My mother came to the United States from Mexico. She and her family became naturalized citizens, and they settled in a small town nestled right next to the border. My mom’s father, my tata, worked in the fields for a living. The town is a farming community, and that was the work that was available. My mother was the first of five sisters to go to college.

My father was raised in a broken household in New Jersey. He spent some days with his mother, some with his father. Hunger was a frequent companion of his life. He wasn’t particularly close to his brother and his sister when he was young, but that is something he tries to rectify now. A tad directionless after high school, he joined the Navy.

After graduating from college, my mother became a kindergarten teacher at a local school. She has not left the place since she started, remaining a respected member of the faculty.

My father went through many experiences while in the Navy, most of which make for awesome stories, but he still jokes about how the Navy stands for “Never Again Volunteer Yourself.” After finishing his service, he decided to become a teacher. He learned Spanish, knowing that a bilingual teacher would be more desirable for schools to hire.

He got a job at my mother’s school.

When they first met, my mother thought my father was too proud. She offered to help him set up his classroom, an old-hand reaching out to a newbie, but he refused. My mother’s first impression of him was soured.

My father was completely oblivious of my mother’s dislike. He asked her out on a date.

They dated quietly for a while, until my father asked her to marry him. He also took that extra step to ask my tata for my mother’s hand. My father’s Spanish-speaking skills were perfect. He asked respectfully and quietly.

My father might not have realized this, but he was technically asking for my nana’s, my grandmother’s, permission instead of my tata’s. She ruled the household from behind the scenes. She sat next to my tata when my father asked, and she slapped his arm repeatedly, hissing, “Dile que sí!”

My parents got married.

My mother came from a large family, where family reunions included hundreds of people who all seem to know each other’s names. Everyone knows everyone’s business.

My father barely spoke to his own family.

My mother made it clear to my father as soon as they were married that she wanted children. A year after they were married, my older sister was born.

I came after, about a year-and-a-half later. Early on, my parents made it clear to the two of us that we were to be the most important person in the other’s life.

Of all the gifts my parents gave to me, this establishment of love between my sister and me is the greatest.

Not a day goes by where I do not hear an “I love you” from my parents. Despite wildly different upbringings, my parents came together with the understanding that they would create a nuclear family based on acceptance and love.