By Natasha Yannacañedo
Every couple months during my childhood my mother would go to Florina — a ninety- pound, four-foot-eight, alcoholic, high-heeled, Filipina hairdresser with big permed black hair. Florina’s specialties were melodrama and squealing with delight. “I have to get my special conditioner,” my mother would say. I am not sure how old I was when I finally realized the lie. Hair dye was the “special conditioner.” I ask myself: how many lies are told for vanity’s sake? My lover has even recruited me to deny his latest vanity venture. I have lost count of the number of people that have sworn me to secrecy over “being done” in some manner or another. My trepidation is: will I succumb?
My mother remembers her rage. My sister remembers the drama. My brother remembers not knowing. My father remembers his helplessness. The doctor remembers the potential lawsuit. I remember death’s proximity. And all the blood. Days of bleeding, through my mouth, through my nose, pools of endless blood— no one knowing the cause. “Your daughter will die within the hour if we do not give her a banked blood transfusion.” A stranger’s gift allowing my salvation. I exist, a living testament, “Blood is the gift of life.”
Janis once said, "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." Perhaps free isn't all it's cracked up to be? "No expectations, no disappointments," my ex-husband repeatedly said. Furious, because it made me so desperately sad, I would respond, "What kind of a love denies expectations? Where I feel as if I can't count on you?" Doesn't intimacy come with expectations? How can it not? And what a way to live life, walking around feeling that no one can really be there for you — that you shouldn't expect that security. But you’re saving yourself from "disappointment" by being in a constant state of isolation. True intimacy permits some expectations — you cannot convince me otherwise.
The Name Remains Changed
Once upon a time, I was young and head-over-heels in love but too much of a feminist to take on my husband’s name. My husband and I combined our last names into one. We petitioned the courts and made it legal. Everyone told us we were insane. I reveled in my rebellion against society’s sexist norms. We ended in divorce, and I kept my new name. I had established myself professionally with this name, but most importantly, it reminds me of the courage I had to take a chance. The failure does not matter. What matters is the bravery that exists in me. I gave myself permission to be the exception to the rule. The ex-husband is a tiny memory. I keep the name for me.
Mi Amor, Burn Me to Ashes
As I drive by the cemetery, I survey the dead. I wonder at the strange construct of concrete monuments to those that have left us. Burn me to ashes! Don’t leave me to lie in an ornamental deathbed as my bones decay. Don’t let me be forgotten within the walls of an overpriced coffin. Return me to the sea, to Machu Picchu, to the tree across the way! Do not implicate me in an artificial and commercial death—have a party, take a vacation, tuck it into savings. Use the money to buy you some happiness, not fund my death.
Top 20 List for Personal Sanity
1. One real vacation a year— no exceptions, no drama.
2. Orgasmic sex at least 3 times a week.
3. Act, dance or create whenever possible.
4. A margarita with rocks/salt when necessary.
5. Quality time with mi amor.
6. 7 hours of sleep.
7. A fat, tuxedo cat named Bambi that cuddles.
8. A book that makes me cry and laugh out loud on the subway.9. An opening performance that drives me deeper into my character.10. A brilliant film that touches on the truth of humanity.11. Clothes that make me feel sensual and fashionable (but not a ludicrous price).
12. A friend that listens.
13. Seeing extraordinary theater.
14. Yoga and Zumba.
15. Comfortable shoes that look sexy.
16. A good meal with a good friend.
17. A well-run rehearsal.
18. Students that rise to the challenge.
19. Stimulating conversation.
20. A lover that doesn’t need to be told.
As the years pass, the greyness of life is something I discover more and more. Not so much discover, as fall upon. There is no real black and white—only varying shades of grey. The sin of lying is not the transgression I learned as a child. Sometimes we lie to make someone feel better...to stave off their sadness. Often there exists a truth in both sides of a quarrel.
She erupted in contagious laughter, her full lips glistening like an enticing whisper beckoning. I resisted temptation and slowly sipped my red wine. Her seductive laughter and perfect, white teeth, that mane of endless hair and hazel eyes that pierce through to the truth. All of her— disintegrating the boundaries of self.
The crisis always happens in the middle of the night. When sleep is most precious, that is when the emergency calls. The ruptured appendix, the water breaking, the high fever, the screaming baby’s ear infection. Never at a convenient time when nothing else is going on. It must be dramatic and ill-timed to have its full effect. That way it makes for the best story to tell.
The Claim to Grief
Sometimes we feel as though we have a unique claim to grief — it is ours alone and no one else can fathom our abyss. Wouldn’t it simply be more beautiful to acknowledge the universality of the human condition? That we all experience suffering. And with that wisdom, treat one another with more kindness, more empathy, more respect. Instead of lashing out in anger, let’s take a moment to acknowledge our shared fragility.
It wasn’t until my grandmother had her stroke that my mother discovered the dentures. My grandmother had managed to hide the false teeth from my mother her entire life! My mother stood there in shock in front of the doctor. The stroke was bad enough news— now her mother had, in her vanity, been keeping secrets? The irony was the vanity never dispersed. Even with paralysis on her entire right side and brain damage, my grandmother still applied her makeup every day. And my mother, in revenge for the secrets that had been kept, would tease her that her eyebrows were drawn on crooked.
“I had the weirdest dream last night…that I shit on myself,” my boyfriend confesses.
“Don’t you remember the text I sent you after the stunt you pulled on Tuesday night?” I ask.
“No, what did it say?” he asks.
“I texted you that you were self-sabotaging and shitting all over our relationship, so your dream makes perfect sense.”
This Strange Thing Called Email
I remember being in college and hearing about this very strange thing called email. When I learned what it was, I said, “That’s ludicrous; I’ll never do that. I need real interaction.” And yet, now, I spend hours of my life every week responding to emails, the modern day requisite of communication. Technology improves society? I remember days when a phone call announced a birth, a death, an illness, a divorce. Now, I receive emails. Cold, detached emails. And we wonder where people’s empathy has gone? We live in a world of detachment. Emails and texts. The art of conversation is becoming extinct.
My Sister’s Curls
My sister was a little devil with springy curls and mischievous eyes. She had no fear. When she was four, she told the checkout woman how babies were made; the woman’s eyes got bigger and bigger as my sister said the dreaded words “and then the daddy puts his penis in the mommy’s vagina.” My mom was mortified. Then there was the time my sister cut off all her curls because my best friend, Megan, and I wouldn’t play with her. She stuck her curls in my drawer with the hope that I would get blamed for her crime. And, in my family, this was a crime. My mom didn’t allow me to cut my hair until I was twelve and here my sister had done it to herself at four. My mom came home and screamed into the phone at her hairdresser, “It’s an emergency! We are coming over NOW!” The irony was the real emergency was the house that had been on fire right behind ours that day. But my mother couldn’t be bothered with that when my sister’s curls were at stake.
Seduction in New York
There exists an art in the implementation of a New York seduction. Some are born with the gift of bedroom eyes and come hither charisma. Others must work at it. Women with their painted, puckered lips, high heels, waxed privates, and meticulously applied make-up. Men with their gym routines and carefully styled hair— not to mention financial abundance. The overpriced scents purchased by both sexes to entice the potential lover. The game of seduction may be rigorous and often thrilling. However, I prefer the tranquility of a committed sex life.
I Wasn't Angry
I wasn't angry. I felt sorry for him. He looked like a man on the brink of death — the suicide angel looming, about to pounce. The slouched posture and downcast eyes, the stringy, unwashed hair, the energy of a defeated man perplexed me — how could I have ever madly loved this man? What game had my mind played on me? What was the trick? How could my heart have been so easily fooled? He professed, "I love you and I'm in love with you but I can't be with you." The ridiculousness was laughable when I found distance. I finally figured out it wasn't love — he was infatuated with the idea of love, but the actual act, the practical day to day implementation did not apply since he had never been taught how to do that. And for that, I wasn't angry. I just felt sorry for him.
You Cannot Defeat a Memory
You cannot defeat a memory. You can wail and curse and go to therapy. You can confront the person responsible for the source of the pain. You can meditate and freewrite and fuck your little heart out. But you cannot defeat a memory. The seed has been planted; there is no true uprooting— there is only dealing with it the best way you can. Because everyone knows: you cannot defeat a memory.
A man or woman shall die but once. If this much is true, then this is our one and only precious life to embrace. But what if we have many lives? Perhaps reincarnation is reality and we must work each life to inform the next. Do we then resist the urge to squander our choices on pure pleasure and work towards a life with more integrity and substance, balancing instant gratification with maturity? Or do we live more fully each and every moment of our bountiful lives because we know we have been blessed with so many? The fear of dying resonates among the masses, often paralyzing us so that ironically we forget to live. We will never know for sure the answer within this lifetime so why not assume this is our one and only precious life — and treat it as such.
Grandma is Now the Earth
My grandma is now the earth; we buried her ashes in a rose garden. Often when I watch a play or a movie and someone dies, I think of my grandma and ache for her. She had an amazing spirit. Singing and gambling and winking, brain damage and all. And I think of her in the earth. Randomly in those rose gardens in Santa Rosa. I never visit. She is not really there anyway. That’s just her ashes.
They were a work of art. Ma'at's beautiful, brown hands possessed the most exquisite fingers I had ever seen; they looked like they had been chiseled to perfection. Obsessed, I would memorize their design whenever rehearsals got tedious. I had never been entranced by a part of someone's body, yet her hands were what poems were made of. Ma'at proved natural beauty still dominated in a Western world of hair straighteners. Her hands remain etched in my memory this many years later.
The Clutter of Life
When one has held proximity to death and escaped on the side of the living, there is often a lesson to be learned. Often, the lesson is shuffled into a "to do" list and buried in the clutter of life. As I unbury priorities and dismantle the chaos of daily existence, I chastise myself for losing the mighty grasp on what is true to my heart, that which is essential for this life of mine. I disappear into paying bills and the tyranny of the North American work ethic. One of the most difficult things to maintain is marching to the beat of my own drum, defying the masses and claiming my own specific piece of life, that which was created just for, and by, me. How many of us get lost in that shuffle of existing?
Mad Waterfalls in Your Head
The faucet won't turn off
And it's not just the constant
Then torrent of impossible ideas, obsessions, procrastinations, regrets, pipe dreams
Rushing, flooding the mad waterfalls in your head
As the baby cries incessantly
The old homeless man
Walks with no shoes in a city whose streets are littered with broken glass
The sirens wail (ambulance stuck in traffic as another New Yorker dies due to the pure selfishness of others that can't be bothered to clear the path for someone to have the chance to live)
Mad waterfalls in your head
They won't turn off
You love and loathe
The city, the life you’ve chosen
Mad waterfalls in your head
The first day of school was always so exciting. The planning! What to wear?! What notebook to pick out with a cover that best expressed my personality? Would the teacher be mean? Hard? Too hard? Who would be my best friend? What sports would I be able to get out of? What books would we read? What would we get to write about? And what, oh what, should I wear!? The anticipation was thrilling! Juxtapose that to the spring, when the days were meticulously counted until the last day of school, and summer plans were all-consuming.
Some Say About God
Some say that God is a HE and He died for our sins
Some say there are many gods and they are almost human like us, flawed and whatnot
Some say he is a SHE, a goddess, and presuming God is a HE is wrong
Some say they find great comfort knowing God exists after the death of a loved one
Some say God is a fantasy created to endure the suffering that is life Some say God is dead
Some say God simply exists within us, potential needing ignition
I say have whatever God you want
but please don’t commit heinous acts in their name
The present bites like a rabid dog. Choking, drowning in the heart of darkness — almost even disconnected from the overwhelming sadness. If only I could be released into the sunshine of your perspective — birthed to the other side. How do you maintain such light? Positivity is what made me love you, yet now so out of reach, taunting me. Cruel juxtaposition of lovers’ opposites. How to achieve the other?
Breathe easy, saunter down the street.
Your hair never looked so fabulous,
your clothes show off your sexy ass.
Eat french fries while laughing
and not feeling one ounce of guilt.
Step on stage to thunderous applause
and bow feeling proud.
Watch the ex drool as you walk
through the crowd with your tits bouncing.
Life is good in this country
where freedom is taken for granted.
Savor your liberation.
I believe it was the fullness of his lips that provided the overwhelming talent he had for kissing. Or perhaps it was that he could navigate his tongue so sensually. He possessed the gift of instinct— the romantic movie kind of passion where your knees get weak and the wetness, down there, begins right as your lips touch. A lover may have many faults, but a master in the art of kissing can be forgiven almost anything.
You know when you get on the subway and some asshole guy is taking up like three seats, sitting with his knees spread way open? No one needs that much space between their legs. I want to scream, “You got 300-pound balls or what?!” Or when people are riding on the subway and are unnecessarily right up on you? Feeling like you went to third base without consenting? I fantasize that sharp knives burst out of my flesh like Wolverine. Except my knives come from all parts of my body like a human porcupine and I completely annihilate the rude fuckers invading my precious space! No wonder my mother worries about my transformation since moving to New York.
Quesadillas & Top Ramen
College was a time of quesadillas and Top Ramen. Gloriously we did not know any better. It was fast and cheap. Satisfied our trashy taste buds, giving invigorated meaning to the words “Ignorance is bliss.” We remember driving up to the coffee stand and ordering three dollar lattes with whole milk, justifying the purchase by saying it was replacing the cost of the cigarettes we used to smoke. And it was always “we”, including friends and possibly the latest lover I had acquired, a unified front, us against the world. What a blissful, ignorant time it was.
There are people that live with frozen hearts. You must not cross them, as they can destroy your life, and even if you don’t betray them, they still may ruin your life for sport. It may not be their fault; perhaps when they were children they experienced such cruelty that their hearts became stuck. The clinical term for this is sociopath. The sociopath does not struggle with shame and has no moral conscience; there is no guilt, no remorse, just a history of demolition of innocent people’s lives.
To overcome my own shyness and help others conquer theirs. To be empowered and teach others to be empowered.
To live in the moment, without detriment to myself or others. To learn to let things go and accept the truth,
no matter how much I want to kick and scream against it. To get out of my head.
To not let the suffering in the world overwhelm me.
To truly see strength in my vulnerability.
To act. To teach. To inspire. To create. To produce meaning. To make the world a better place.