Last Monday I received news that my aunt Martha had passed away. It’s difficult to articulate what my feelings were, beyond immediate sadness, because death is one of those fundamental concepts that our brains can’t really comprehend. So mine did the same thing it often does: move the weight of the processing to my subconscious. My wife has been excellent about checking in on me, since I’m basically finishing out my last weeks at my current university while attempting to pack my apartment up for the first part of our move across the country and prepare for her graduation this week. I’ve been doing a lot of journaling these past few weeks and it has been helpful.
But as I’ve started and stopped packing over and over I’ve felt myself a bit…paralyzed. Since I graduated in 2016 I’ve basically been moving every single year, from apartment to apartment. Really every year since I’ve left home, I’ve treated the spaces I’ve lived in as temporary shelters. I rarely, if ever, put any artwork or photos on the wall because I figure I’ll be moving soon. Always moving. Always transitioning. As I look at these boxes in my apartment, I think I’ve been simultaneously unpacking deep seated feelings of my family. Of my friends. Of the ones I can’t visit anymore.
One of the things about this transient lifestyle, or one of my coping mechanisms rather, is that I always said, “I’ll get to visit [insert family member] later. Next year…” Then next year becomes two years, then after graduation, then after settling into the job, and so on and so forth.
My great-aunt Nana. My aunt Socorro. My uncle Pablo. My uncle Frank. My grandma Mary. My grandpa Pepe. My wife’s grandparents. And now Martha.
It’s hard fighting my inclination towards self loathing and guilt. Guilt that I haven’t been able to be there for my family during their time of need. Guilt that I never made that visit to these people who have been a big part of my life that I’ll never get back. And the guilt, turned inward, turns into anger. At myself for not having my shit enough together to not be able to do more, to be there more. Fighting that urge to just yell, “GOD FUCKING DAMN IT” and just punch something until I’ve exhausted myself.
I pack up pictures and think back to the summers my family traveled to Nebraska to visit our aunts and uncles. Lot’s of bike rides (and unfortunate bike accidents). A LOT of land. Cookouts, fireworks, and staying up late with my cousins. My uncle Paulo cracking up a Schlitz and being the lovable curmudgeon befitting us Reynoso men. My aunt Socorro sitting back in her chair, laughing (I loved her laugh). Right now, I think of the way both she and Martha said my name. Martha especially, when I’d say something funny, would laugh and say, “Riiickyy…” and the end of my name would just trail away in the air. I always liked that.
So I’ll continue cleaning, packing, decluttering and getting rid of the stuff I don’t need. But right now, while my family mourns, I’ll keep those memories of late summer Nebraska nights. I’ll hold onto them and think of playing card games and fighting my uncle as he tried to cheat by looking at my cards. I’ll think of the smell of big breakfasts in the morning and maneuvering around countless grandchildren. The infamous wedding where my sisters and cousins literally outran the bartender while absconding with bottles of liquor. Right now, those are the things that I need.
I don’t know if any of my cousins read what I write and I really wouldn’t blame them if they actively avoid it. But on the off chance that they do, I want to say that I love you all. To Christy and Cassie: your mom meant the world to us all and we’re richer for having been a part of her life. To the Whipple, Vergil, Reynoso, Dominguez, Molina, Garza and Ramirez families–I will continue to send all of my adoration and love your way. I hope, however small, it can be of some comfort. And especially to Lisa, Mary and my dad: lean on each other and on us.