Why Do These Things Happen To Us?

In 2010 I left Northern Virginia where I’d worked as a Spanish language Family Support Worker with 27 clients and their beautiful children. It was a rewarding and busy job, but tough in that I was required to make home visits once and twice a month to each family. As you can imagine, driving around the DC area and getting caught in lunch time and rush hour at the end of the day made for a stressful job. I practically lived in my car. Not to mention the enormous binders I had to keep updated for each of the children of my 27 clients, which included their shot records, school and medical information, and a detailed, written account of each of our home visits. I felt I could never catch up.

Our manager Nancy was a wonderful, kind woman who understood when I told her I loved my job, but I’d decided it was time to return to my creative life as a painter and a writer. Nancy, a jewelry designer in her spare time, supported my decision wholeheartedly, and my co-workers also understood, despite their personal fears about what I’d be living on monetarily in the future. I didn’t care. I’d felt like a round peg in a square hole for years. I needed my creative life back.

Two months later, I bought an old house in Berkeley County, West Virginia and three months later, I moved to a state I’d only visited once in my life. It felt like I’d jumped off a cliff, but I trusted myself and the Universe, and never once have I felt I made a mistake. I finished writing my first novel, it was published in 2015, and here we are today. I’m still happy with my decision–the only decision for me–to paint and write full time.

Taking control of my life, adapting to new situations, and remaining flexible is nothing new to me as I grew up an Army brat, who moved and thrived every two to four years until college. I raised my kids abroad for 13 years, traveled extensively, and I took control and easily adapted to becoming a 50-year old single mom. I sacrificed until my children graduated from university and found good paying jobs, and then moved to West Virginia. It was an easy decision. I knew it was time to focus on ME for the first time in my life.

So, fast forward to 2016. When my step-mom Rebecca, a lovely woman who has cared for my 84-year old father, who suffers from advanced Alzheimer’s, called me in early January with an invitation to visit them, I jumped at the chance. Rebecca was concerned that my father wasn’t interested in eating and that his roommate’s death a few days earlier would negatively affect him; it was important to fly to Florida. I knew we’d be busy, so I decided to leave my laptop at home to concentrate on my family. Rebecca graciously paid for my airline ticket and my sister was able to get a week off from work, so off we went to offer moral and physical support, where we could. For five days, we visited with my dad, who now lives in a wonderful assisted living home, and enjoyed our time with Rebecca, who treated us to three days in Key West, Florida near the end of our visit. We had a great time, enjoying the warmer weather and each other.

005

Then we heard the news: a blizzard in the Washington, DC area which would also affect my adopted town in West Virginia. We watched the Weather Channel every few hours and on late Wednesday, Jet Blue called us–our Saturday morning flight was cancelled. I’d survived the back to back blizzards in Northern Virginia alone with my dog in late December 2009, and knew this could be bad. Here I was thousands of miles from my house built in 1907, and my next door neighbor was pet sitting for me. I had visions of my old roof caving in, of frozen pipes, and a leaking roof, which I know didn’t help my nerves. Then I realized that my neighbor and her husband would be shoveling for me, as well. I felt just awful. Thinking we’d avoid the blizzard by flying a day earlier than our scheduled Saturday flight, we changed our tickets to Friday morning. I called my neighbor to let her know. She told me that my Friday flight would never leave the ground. She was right–late Thursday evening, Jet Blue called about the cancelled flight on Friday. And the representative informed us that the next available flight out of West Palm Beach Airport or Ft. Lauderdale would be Wednesday. Six extra days. Wow, we couldn’t believe it. What could we do?

Now, I’m a firm believer of not freaking out about such things, as I believe things happen for a reason, but…it was glaringly obvious my poor neighbor and pet sitter and her husband would be in deep kimchi with their own home and trying to shovel 35 inches of snow to get to my animals. I called my neighbor with the bad news, but she didn’t miss a beat. She was several steps ahead of me. If the power went out, she’d take my Chihuahua and cat to her home, where she lives with two large dogs and two cats, and two kerosene heaters. I felt badly, but there wasn’t a thing I could do. I thanked my neighbor profusely, and promised to give her my firstborn…who is now 30 years old! That’s what I call true friendship from a woman I’ve only known four years.

The weather reports were correct and for once, hadn’t exaggerated–my West Virginia town had 35 inches of snow by Sunday. And since I’d expected to be home by Friday, I now had an interview with The Center of Puerto Rican Studies to finish by Sunday evening, and I had no laptop. Rebecca graciously offered me her brand new Apple computer, which I wasn’t familiar with, and then I realized she didn’t have word processing capabilities. I didn’t want to fool with that, so I finished the interview in an email and did the best I could to find copies of my author photograph and a copy of my bookcover, which were on my cell phone. It all worked out, but not without the fear that I’d lose the interview because the server kept shutting off. Lord, what a headache. But I got it done and was never so happy to press, ‘Send’.

As a full time writer and blogger, I really missed working on my second book during my winter vacation. It was tough to put my new characters on hold, but it was a great time and opportunity to put pen to paper and write out scenes longhand. Sitting on the beach on our last day, I told my sister about my second book, ‘The Lament of Sister Maria Immaculata’, and received good feedback. She loved the story. It was the first time I’d spoken my story out loud and it really helped in discovering weak links and missing information. I was newly inspired and anxious to get back to writing, but I also knew this visit could possibly be the last time I’d see my father. I vowed to enjoy every minute. Every day, I tried to remain in the present and not sweat the snow or my lack of a laptop.

Wednesday morning, we headed to the airport and the flight took off during a thunderstorm, which is NEVER my idea of a good time. The captain informed us that the extreme turbulence would most probably last the duration of our flight–two hours. I can’t tell you how terrified we were with the plane dipping, shaking, and careening left and right. I laced my arms through my sister’s arms, we prayed and kissed our butts goodbye. At one point, my sister asked me to please stop repeating, “Ay Virgen, ay Virgen” because that frightened her more, which I understood! But I guess all that fear bottled up inside was more than I could handle and I began to cry. The young woman to my right rubbed my arm and asked me what I did for a living, probably to distract me. I laughed and replied, “When I’m not crying on flights from hell, I write books!”

We landed safely, the Metro was working, and miraculously enough, the spot where I’d parked my car before we left for the airport had received enough sun because my car was entirely clear of snow! I drove right out of the spot and decided to park closer to my sister’s townhouse. When I reached a cleat parking spot, I turned off the engine and made my way inside. When I returned with my luggage, my car wouldn’t start. I couldn’t believe it! I don’t know where the hell I keep my reserves of patience, but I found it. My poor, long suffering neighbors would have to add one more day of shoveling and caring for my home and animals, and my sister had to put up with me for one more night. Luckily, my area didn’t lose power, and I drove home Thursday morning. I was happy to see the mounds of snow around my house. I love snow and had hoped I’d see a bit of it. Well, I wasn’t disappointed–there was at least 30 inches in my front and side yards.

004

I will never be able to repay my awesome neighbors for their tremendous kindnesses, and I am blessed to know them. My furry kids were happy to see me and my home was toasty and warm. I do wonder, however, why the Universe chose to preclude me from experiencing Blizzard 2016. I guess some experiences are meant to be, and it isn’t until much later that we see the Great Plan. It is often later when we realize the ‘why’ and are able to nod our heads and say, “Oh, now I get it.” I believe that to be true, but I’ll never leave the house without my laptop again.

Stay warm out there, my friends.

 

 

About Eleanor

ellie

Puerto Rican novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s careers as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language family support worker, and a refugee case worker, inspire her stories.

‘A Decent Woman, Eleanor’s debut novel, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico, was selected as 2015 July Book of the Month for Las Comadres & Friends National Latino Book Club, and is listed in Centro Voices, The Center of Puerto Rican Studies, ‘Essential Boricua Reading for the 2015 Holiday Season’. Book clubs across the United States continue to enjoy A Decent Woman. Eleanor is featured in the anthology, ‘Latina Authors and Their Muses’, edited by Mayra Calvani, and in the soon-to-be released anthology, Organic Coffee, Haphazardly, edited by Allie Burke. Eleanor is a proud member of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, PEN America, The National Association of Professional Women, and the Historical Novel Society, and she is a contributing writer at Organic Coffee, Haphazardly Literary Society. When not writing, she loves facilitating creativity groups, reads, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

Eleanor is a mother of two wonderful adult children and currently lives in West Virginia, where she is writing her second novel, ‘The Lament of Sister Maria Immaculata’, and a collection of short stories.

http://amzn.to/1kzKdGq

 

The Disappearance and Surprise Reappearance of my Dad

The Disappearance and Surprise Reappearance of my Dad

Florida, 5:30 pm.

My dad was relatively calm today with beautiful, albeit brief periods of lucidity about his ear, and how it feels to lose an ear to cancer. Dad tells us he’s grateful to the plastic surgeon, and how it’s better to lose an ear than die from cancer. We agree with him, and I glance at my sister. I know we’re thinking the same thing-Dad is back. That’s what we think he would have said before he was diagnosed with dementia which turned into Alzheimer’s. We know this is only a brief reappearance of our father. Soon, Alzheimer’s will overtake him like a spiritual possession, and we won’t know who he is once again.

Tonight, my father isn’t asking the same questions over and over, and hasn’t asked about his hospital stay. He’s leading the conversation…and it is a conversation. Dad asks for a cold beer before dinner, and we hand him an O’Doul’s, a non-alcoholic beer, in a nice cold glass. He doesn’t seem to notice the difference, and we make sure to shove the green and white beer can down deep into the trashcan in case he grows suspicious of the switch.

As Dad speaks, I feel myself slipping out of my current daughter/caregiver role into grown daughter role, and I realize I can’t do that any longer-he can’t be trusted. As much as we, his daughters, would love to have our independent father back, and my step-mom misses her take-charge husband, it’s never going to happen. He has advanced Alzheimer’s; it’s done. Last night, Dad didn’t know who we were. He thought I was a nurse named Carol, but tonight he asks us about our husbands, and asks how the kids are doing. He’s in and out.

The next ten minutes confirm my fears-Dad pours his orange juice on top of the baked chicken thigh on his plate. My sister’s eyes grow as large as my own, and my jaw drops as the juice precariously reaches the edge of the plate, now mixed with tomato sauce. The dish would be called Poulet a l’orange without the tomato sauce, I think. I don’t move, but instinctively, my sister reaches for his plate, and my dad looks at her with clenched jaws. She backs off as he grips the plate with two hands. We still have bedtime to deal with, and we don’t want a bad night with him. It’s our last night alone with our father. My step-mom arrives in the morning. I can’t imagine how they will do when we’re gone. We must have the discussion of future care with our step-mom when she returns.

We sit patiently at the dining room while our father eats his chicken and spoons every last drop of orange juice off his plate. He has stopped talking, and seems to be in another world. At least he’s not a picky eater, I think. Thirty minutes later, Dad uses the toilet, brushes his teeth, and we give him the prescribed little blue pill to induce sleep, and he sits at the edge of the bed. I can tell he won’t go easy tonight. He wants us to leave his bedroom, and close the door. I have visions of him falling and hitting his head on the edge of the dresser or bedside table as he is still wobbly from the surgery. When we won’t leave his room, Dad opens the drawer of the bedside table, and takes out all the contents-his wallet, a set of keys, assorted papers, and his watch, setting them on the bed. It seems to be a show of contrariness or a need to control his environment. He says he doesn’t recognize the keys, and I’m confident they are keys from the old house. The keys and his watch go back into the drawer, and now he inspects all the papers one by one. I feel my patience wearing thin, it’s been a long, long day, but we stand in front of our father patiently waiting as he takes an inventory of his possessions. Finally, he is satisfied and the drawer is closed…only to be reopened seconds later. The inventory begins again. This happens three times. It seems interesting neither me or my sister loses our cool. I wonder if we’ve begun some bizarre contest to see who loses it first. We are both stubborn, but perhaps it’s more that we realize it’s our last night with our father, so we indulge him. I know very well if I were his full time caregiver, I would be more firm. Again, I’m thankful for my step-mom. I feel like a grandparent taking care of a grandchild for a week, and then flying home. I feel a bit of guilt and a bit of relief. I miss my house, my routine, my kids, and I have a book coming out in early December.

“Do any institutions or organizations have control of my money,” he asks us. It’s a good question.

“No, you and your wife control your money.” He seems satisfied with the lie, and the drawer is closed again. We are able to tuck him into bed. He has more questions, he says. We lean in.

“Do I have your contact information? I want you to write everything about yourselves, your husbands, your children, your jobs, and what you’ve accomplished in life.” Awesome question, Dad. We’ve done this for him many times over the years, and we’ll do it again as he loses every little book we make for him.

“It’s important to have this information in our personnel files, and we will teach you how to access and extract this information when the time comes. We won’t tolerate bad manners or excessive force when dealing with prisoners. Kindness and offers of gifts will encourage them to speak to their comrades who might be persuaded to join us.” Our eyebrows shoot up-we realize Dad is giving a military briefing; it goes on for an hour, maybe more. I am stunned beyond belief. He is an articulate, soft-spoken, and firm leader speaking to his troops or giving a briefing at the Pentagon where he worked for nearly twenty years after a thirty-year Army career. Did he give this speech in Vietnam?

My sister and I wished we’d taped our father’s speech/briefing. I am amazed at how much information is hidden and tucked into the recesses of his brain. We wonder what prompted the ‘outburst’, and then I remember…his military ID card was in his wallet. Did that jog his memory? For an hour or so, we saw a side of our father we never knew when we lived at home as young adults. Dad always left work at the office; we never discussed his jobs or his time in Vietnam. My ex-husband was a Vietnam vet, and I remember their deep conversations about the military and about war. We didn’t have those conversations with our father. I’m impressed, curious, and a bit thankful he didn’t go into any gruesome war stories tonight. I realize there’s a huge part of my father’s life I will never know about with Alzheimer’s destroying his brain; it wasn’t meant to be, but I’m grateful for the glimpse of my father tonight.

I’m thankful I listened well to the stories of my grandmothers, aunts, and my mother. My Puerto Rican family’s oral storytelling tradition birthed the idea of writing my historical novel, A Decent Woman. I wasn’t meant to write a book based on my father’s life; he was a private man, and didn’t open up to me-the women of my family opened up to me. I was meant to write A Decent Woman; all my life experiences have led me to this point. I inherited my father’s tenacity, stubborn streak, courage, and strength of character; that will help me see this book published.

NOTE: I am back in West Virginia tonight, and going through my editor’s final edits. A Decent Woman comes out December 12, 2014 with Booktrope Books.

Please join me on:

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/eleanorparkersapia; Twitter: eleanorparkerwv; Website: http://www.elliesbookz.wordpress.com

Thank you for taking this journey with me. Your prayers, kind notes, comments, and healing thoughts have meant a lot to my family. I will be back in Florida with my father and step-mom in a few months. Be well.

Ellie

The Use of Spanish Slang, Words, and Phrases in Novel Writing

When the student is ready, the teacher appears. –Buddhist proverb

A Google search for the definition of a new term to me, ‘heritage speaker’, led me to a blog series by Lisa Bradley who writes at Cafe Nowhere. Lisa’s blog is a gold mine of information and I was happy to land in her’ Cafe’. I especially enjoyed her series, Writing Latin@ Characters Well, where I found the answers to questions about the complicated business of using Spanish words and phrases in novels.

My novel, A Decent Woman, debuts this autumn with Spanish words sprinkled throughout the story. I’m a native Spanish speaker, so it was natural for me to include them as I wrote the story.

The questions rattling in my brain this week,( besides the questions of when the City Public Works will collect the debris from my neighbor’s downed tree branches now littering my sidewalk), were:

1. Should I italicize the Spanish words and phrases in  A Decent Woman? What about my character’s thoughts? Should they be italicized?

2. Is it best to offer the meaning of Spanish words and phrases within the text, or place a comma after the Spanish word and use the English word in the same sentence?

3. Should I include a glossary at the end of the novel for non-Spanish speaking readers?

4. Am I missing important differences between 1900 Cuban and Puerto Rican slang, words, and phrases? Important to know as A Decent Woman is historical fiction. I wouldn’t want to get caught making a faux pas. See right there? I automatically italicized the French word.

5. What were Puerto Rican Spanish curse words used in 1900-1930? Yes, I need to know this!

Thoughts and light bulb moments I gleaned today from a few of Lisa Bradley’s blog posts, and from her reader’s comments as they pertain to my novel:

1. Me – Do not use names for characters that require accents marks. I used the names, Raúl, Agustín, Isabél, and Vicénte in A Decent Woman. Great names, but what a pain when it came time to edit! I kept finding names with missing accent marks during editing. I have since replaced Raúl with Isidro because it’s an older name, and learned about the ‘find’ and ‘replace’ feature on Microsoft Word. I’m no longer hesitant to use great names with accents. I learn every day.

2. Do not italicize Spanish phrases or words in a book. Potential readers and buyers will (hopefully) have read the book cover blurb and/or the synopsis on Amazon or Goodreads. If the author has written a good description, synopsis or blurb, the reader will know to expect some Spanish words.

3. Readers will rise to the challenge; don’t dumb down text with translations of Spanish words. I’ve read books with French and German words in the story; a talented writer will offer the meaning of the word or phrase within the text. A very talented author will make you think you haven’t missed a beat as you read along.

4. No glossary. Same reason as #3.

5. I’m still searching for the answer to my question about whether thoughts should be italicized in a novel. I’m sure my editor extraordinaire, Ally Bishop, will know the answer to that, so I’m leaving that one alone for now!

What do you think? I’d love to hear your comments!

Thanks for your visit today! Click Like and Follow, please. I will do the same!

Definition of a Heritage Speaker: “a person who is raised in a home where a non-English language is spoken, who speaks or merely understands the heritage language, and who is to some degree bilingual in English and the heritage language” (Valdés, 2000)

Link to Cafe Nowhere:

http://cafenowhere.livejournal.com