"You might think I'm losing my mind, but I will shy away from the specifics." --Relient K.
I wrote my first entire short story when I was fifteen. I wrote it in two hours on a train ride from New York to Connecticut. I was extremely proud of myself; my face was beaming for an entire week. I showed it to every person I crossed and begged them to read it. I sat in front of them and stared at them until the last page was flipped. I'm kidding--I didn't do that, but I wanted to. Ever since then, I knew I wanted to write, but what in the world would I write about? I've struggled with this for an extremely really long time (a whole whopping ten years). Am I a good enough writer? Would the stories I write be enough to touch people. So many fears--so many worries. It's kept me from sitting down and writing for a really long time. Finally, I needed to get down to why I was so afraid and the truth is, I simply felt that people would misunderstand me. Which meant that I wasn't secure in my identity.
Even as I sit down now, I feel as though my identity is something that's constantly being shaped. It's not the who-am-I kind of identity that's being shaped--but instead the, how-do-fit-into-the-world. Does that even make any sense? For example, and yes, I will shamelessly use my daughter here, I'm a mom now, but how does being a mom help me contribute to the world. See the difference, did ya see what I did there? Anywho, before you read the next I don't know how many chapters, here are a few facts you probably need to know. Or at least, I think you need to know, but probably aren't important.
I was born in Central America--San Jose, Costa Rica. Yes, I speak Spanish fluently. No, I don't have an accent. No, I don't look Latina, but yes I can salsa. My hips don't lie and my hair is wild. I haven't been back to Costa Rica since I left. It's a foreign place to me, even though I want to identify with it as my "home". Too late for that, though. We (my mother, sister, and me) left Costa Rica when I was eight years old. For now, we'll just say that it was in pursuit of better and colder things. We ended up moving to New York, you'll read about all this, I promise, but now I somehow reside in Texas. There's a whole lot between Costa Rica and Texas, so hopefully the chapters fill the gap just a little.
When we moved to America, and I didn't look Latina, it was the first time that I struggled with identity. I didn't speak English at the time, so it was even more obvious back then that I was hispanic, but the more I grew up and the more "Americanized" I became, the identity struggle cut even deeper. I should probably mention somewhere in these lines that part of me is Panamanian and the other Jamaican, maybe? Anyway, my skin is brown and anyone simply looking at me might just simply say I'm African American. That couldn't be further from the truth. Which bring me to stereotypes.
I'm not crazy about stereotypes. Is anyone really crazy about stereotypes? I don't think so. As I scroll through social media, I'm finding that we have the need to describe everyone and everything. Now we describe things with #hashtags. Hey, I'm not judging, I do it ALL the time! In fact, I might use a whole bunch of them through out, so I apologize in advance. #sorrynotsorry. The latest on trend is a little tiny four letter word: #basic. "Basic", according to Urban Dictionary, is someone devoid of defining characteristics that might make a person interesting, extraordinary, or simply worth devoting time and attention to. In other words, if you like simple everyday things--like boots in the Fall, you're "basic". Well, I'm over here claiming I'm NOT basic. Hence, the title of this book.
Since the majority of these stories take place in my past, I can't be held responsible for any mistakes. In fact, some of these stories might be completely made up. I have an extremely vivid imagination and maybe we didn't have twenty baby chicks once upon a time living in our front yard...I'll have to confirm that story with my mom. There are undoubtedly moments in my life that I can't remember in much detail, and if I can't I'll try my best to guide you through my memories. There's also the messy affair of having these memories that contain other people. There are some situations in here that are extremely hurtful (to me), and just out of respect, I'll change names. I also extremely apologize if you're reading this and I know you and you're just finding these things out about me. I usually say that I don't tell these stories to anyone, simply due to the fact that it's not a way I like to begin friendships, but I'm about to share these stories with the world, so hopefully we can both get over it.
This might sound a bit cliche, but I hope through these stories that you can laugh and cry along with me. I really want to show you my heart and the things that God is constantly teaching me, even if it's from stories years ago. I admit, I'm probably an extremely unreliable source for these stories, I mean they're mostly about me, but if Jesus would just come down and write them for me it would be a whole lot easier. Can you imagine Jesus sitting at my desktop right now? That would be epic AND a bit embarrassing, since I'm currently licking the frosting of a pumpkin spice cupcake--which probably makes me extremely #basic.
"Don't let me ever think, dear God, that I was anything but the instrument for Your story."--Flannery O'Connor
First Christmas Fiasco
"Newborns make the worst roommates!"-Jim Gaffigan
I don't recognize myself in the video.
The house looks warm and cozy, I can taste the smell of Christmas--the pine tree, the tamales. I can taste it through my screen, because I'm just sitting down to watch a video that my grandma has kept all these years. There are Christmas decoration, the video blurs a little bit, and then there's me. They say it's me, but how can one really be sure? There's laughter and distinctive voices in the background, and then, as a I watch the little girl--maybe about eight months old, the camera focuses on her sitting under the Christmas tree. The little girl is fascinated with the decorations or maybe pine trees taste delicious, but either way, she has enough strength to pull the entire Christmas tree on top of her.
The video camera starts to blur, the voices all start to fade...and then you can hear the shrieking scream coming from under the decorated tree. There's a moment when no one really knows what's happening. Then the video starts again with another scene from another time.
I guess if you really think about it, that should have been someone's first warning of what my life was going to turn out like. You know, "Hey, guys, Sharina here--yeah, she's definitely going to have a lot of these moments." Wouldn't that be a nice warm and friendly warning?
Let's backtrack. Even though I'm seven months old in the video, there's a lot of history to be written here. At the moment, we were living in San Jose, Costa Rica in a house that my grandma bough for my mom. This is where I grew up. We've got a white fence, and no--not a picket white fence, just one to keep all the burglars out. At the very front, there are stairs leading up to the main walkway. The yard is split in two sides as the walkway curves to up to the door of the house. On the left hand is pretty much green grass, but on the right, there are planters and bushes along the bottom of the living room window.
As you walk inside our house, you immediately walk into the dining room, and to your right there is a room with a picture of a Carnival boat, some couches, a vinyl record player, and a plant. That plant was replaced by the Christmas tree that almost took my life. Okay-maybe I'm exaggerating here, I'm still alive! As you fix your gaze straight ahead, there a kitchen and then a door that leads to the backyard. A yard full of mystery and adventure. If you're walking towards the kitchen, to the right there's a hallway that leads to the bedrooms. Three bedroom in total.
The schematics of the house are like this: First, there's my father's bedroom at the corner of the hallway to the right, then as you turn left, there's my brother's bedroom, and then as you keep walking past that bedroom, there's our room. My mom, my sister, and me. For as long as I can remember, we three, shared a bedroom. I think the layout changed various times through out the eight years that I lived there, but it was always us three as far as I'm concerned.
I'm the baby--of course the baby would write the memoir. My oldest sibling is twelve years older than me and my sister is six years older. You guys are OLD. Always old to me. Anything I ever did, I did because of you. And if I didn't do it, I also didn't do it because of you.
Growing up, going into papis bedroom was a big deal to me. I'd pretend to fall asleep in his bed watching TV until he carried me back to my bedroom. It always worked too. I'm pretty sure he knew I was awake, because sometimes he would tickle me to see if I would smile. Oh how I wish I could tell you more, but I vaguely remember things about my father. We'll have an extensive psychological discussion about this in a later chapter, but for now, let's head back to the 90'.
Christmas in Costa Rica, at least for us, has a specific timeline. We start celebrating on the 23rd. Getting family together, baking a ham, stuffing stockings. The 24th, we spend the day making tamales. A delicious hearty food. Tamales are what brings us together. We spend hours meticulously cutting vegetables, shredding meat, then an assembly line is made to make the process go fast. We start out with masa (a fine corn meal specifically for tamales), then we put carrots, potatoes, meat, rice, and olives. Once that process is done, we wrap the tamales in platano (green banana) leafs, and then double wrapped in aluminum foil. The tamales are boiled for two hours or so (sometimes, if you're starving it seems more like 7 hours). There was a lot of family bonding during that time. All of us, stuffed in a kitchen with the smell of tamales tantalizing our noses. On the 24th at night, if you're not a baby and already sleep, you get to open presents. Then on the 25th, we wake up in our pjs, eat breakfast, and spend the day playing with our new toys. You get to play with your presents if you're not busy having a tree fall on top of you.
When you live in Costa Rica, the seasons aren't really the same as in America. You have: rainy season, then even rainier season. During December, you're not under 12 inches of snow. Instead, you get to enjoy being outside. If you got a new bike for Christmas, you get the awesome privilege of being to ride it. I obviously don't remember getting any presents during my first Christmas, but I did get an entire Christmas tree. One that would perhaps set the path for the rest of my life. It's no wonder I'm not a big fan of Christmas, or presents, or decorations. Call me a grinch, but wouldn't you be traumatized as well?
This- as far as I'm concerned, was my pain exposure to pain.
Halo, Mami? Soy yo!
"There'll be days like this my momma said"
The echoes of laughter filled the hospital hallways. Every room filled with the possibly of adventure. In one of the rooms, there was a gigantic massage pool in which I got spend a lot of time in. Cafeteria lunches were a treat and spending the days with mom at her job was the best. When I tell people that I spent a lot of time in the hospital growing up, they immediately misunderstand me. Some of my best childhood memories are from spending days with my mom around her work.
We'd go on days where there wasn't school and sometimes on weekends when my mom was on call. I went once when I fractured my wrist and had to get an X-ray. I was extremely excited about getting an "excuse" to spend time in the hospital. For me, it was a world filled with wonder; so many things to explore and enjoy. But it wasn't just the wonder of it all, it felt like I belonged there. Even my mom's co-workers felt like family.
Even though I seemed to belong there, it wasn't always easy. Before I go any further, let me just say I'm completely grateful for the fact that my mom had a career while we were kids. It inspires me to know that her work was important to her. She taught us so many things by being a full time working mom. It wasn't always easy though, and I'm sure she could tell you more about this than I ever could.
One of my earliest memories was when my mom had to do her medical training in Mexico in the year 1992.
"Halo, Mami, soy yo!" I held the telephone up my ear. The spiral chord wrapped around my hands.
The telephone was in our dining room and I would sit by the window and stare longingly until my mom came back. I'd pick up the phone and keep trying to reach her, but my family had unplugged the phone. Apparently I called every chance I got. Sorry, guys! I'm not entirely sure how long she was gone or what I did during the months that she was gone, but some days it feels like there is still a void from that period in my life. One that, till this day, reminds me that when God gives someone a promise [in this case He gave my mom a promise], it means that the path in order to reach it isn't always easy. Sometimes it means leaving your kids for a period of time, but other times it means spending days with them at work. Sometimes it means setting out to do things on your own and realizing that you need full support from community.
I struggled for a while with having a mom who was gone from 7-6 every day, but the more I look back today, the more I am so grateful. I look at my daughter and I want her to see passion in me, like I see passion in my mother. I want her to know to love God fearlessly, love people passionately, and love life greatly.
I've recently done a study about the difference in God's Will and God's Promise. At first, they seem to be the same, but the more I studied the more I learned that they are completely separate things! Check this out, here is a familiar promise that God made to His people in the Bible:
+ God promises the Israelites freedom from labor +
Exodus 6:7-8 "You’ll know that I am God, your God who brings you out from under the cruel hard labor of Egypt. I’ll bring you into the land that I promised to give Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and give it to you as your own country. I AM God.”
+ God's Will +
-God uses Moses to speak to the Israelites. Moses has a stutter and is fearful!
-God tell Moses to speak to Pharoah (The Egyptian King), but Moses argues with Jesus because not even the Israelites had heard him.
-A journey that should have taken 11 days, took 40 years!
Here we see that even though God promised something, there was going to be some work in between. The Israelites struggled with this concept and complained for a really long time; until it took them forty years to reached the promised land and the freedom. We see here that they needed perseverance, they needed faith, and they needed strength. God's will did all of that for them. In the illustration below we also see that getting to the promise isn't always a straight shot. A journey that should have taken eleven days, took forty years! Sometimes we want to take the fast route (the arrow that leads to the promise), but it usually looks like all the messy squiggle in the middle. Sorry for my lack of artistic diagram!
All that to say, I can see God's promise to my mom, obviously I didn't KNOW this when I was younger, but I can confidently write about this now. I can also see the will in which God worked in my mom's life. I was part of that will and it's pretty amazing. I'd also like to add here that this was not the only time my mom was ever gone, but it was first, and I learned a lot....even though I was two.