Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmastime Blues

It's been a really difficult four months.

Somehow I've maintained the appearance that I am doing really well.  I've slipped back into the normal routine of life; parenting, working, and going through the motions.  But inside, especially over the past month or so, I am really struggling and hurting worse than I've ever experienced.

I am familiar with pain and death and grief.  I've been close to it before.  I can still remember the year after my Dad took his own life-Thanksgiving, Christmas, his birthday, and Fathers Day.  Those firsts were really hard and so I know that all of these feelings just come with the territory.  But in a season when everything is supposed to be Merry and Bright, I just wish I could disappear for a few weeks and just be done with it all.  I'm not feeling thankful.  I am not feeling joyous.  What I am feeling is heavy, overwhelmed, and on a bit of an emotional roller coaster.  Every day on the way to work, I get in my car, take four or five sips of coffee, and then cry for twenty solid minutes or so while I listen to my "Crystal Playlist" on repeat.  As soon as I pass the Panera Bread on Hawthorne, I change the radio over to Lady Gaga and start pulling myself back together so that by the time I arrive at work I am ready and no one knows.  Days off are the same.  Skype with Mom and Kim, breakfast and dressed for Harper, cartoons for a few hours, and then nap time.  I get one good solid hour of  breakdown mode before she starts to twist and turn and then its pull-yourself-back-together time for the rest of the evening.  I want to sleep all of the time.  When I arrive home at 7 or 8, it's already been dark for hours and I just want to grab something quick and usually very unhealthy to eat before collapsing in my bed and re-starting the whole charade the next day at 5 am.  I'm overwhelmed.  I'm exhausted.  I miss her so badly, so very badly that I can't even type the name Crystal without crying.

I'm getting help.  I was recommended an excellent therapist by a friend here and I've been going every other week for the past 10 weeks.  She is really helping me.  She also has been warning me that these feelings were coming and were inevitable; especially in this season and time of year.  She has also taught me that it's OK to feel like this.  For my entire life, I've worked hard to always have it together, do things the right way, and be responsible.  For now, I just want to be AJ, a regular ass person who just lost one of the most important people in his life.

I have also had Sabin, who has become my rock.  I don't think it's possible to even write how thankful I am for him and what he has done/is doing for me through this hard time.  To feel like I have someone who I can come completely unglued in front of, who will sit with me and just let me cry, will encourage me to yell and scream and act like a fool if I want to, who will literally pick me up and carry me to bed so he doesn't wake me because he knows I don't have the strength to move from the sofa to our bed.  That is what true love is all about.  To have gone through something like this with him has bonded us together in ways I didn't know existed between two people.  I love this man with every fiber of my body and I also know Crystal loved him too.  I am so thankful that we had that amazing trip in February where they got to meet.  I still remember being in the hospital with Crystal on our last day.  She was so sick, and Sabin stepped out of the room to go get a nurse because she needed some help.  We were in a deep conversation and something clicked in her mind.  She looked up at me, saw that he had left the room, and goes, "he really IS one of the hottest human beings I've ever seen." We both started cracking up and then went back to being serious but just that memory alone makes me smile from ear to ear.

I got a very sweet letter from a friend I went to high school with who lost her brother awhile back.  She said that she read that next to losing a child, losing your sibling is one of the hardest.  It, probably for the first time in your life, makes you realize that you are not invincible.  That the end is coming for all of us whether we like it or not.

Last night we celebrated Christmas with Sabin's friends who are all headed out of town this week.  We received many special gifts, but perhaps this is one of the most special items I've ever received:

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

My thirty year old thoughts.

I am coming out of one of the hardest months of my life.

During the first weekend of August, Sabin and I flew to Idaho to visit Crystal and watch her girls perform in the local rodeo in Cambridge.  At the beginning of the summer, my sister and her husband got the girls a new horse named Sally and they began training on barrels with her.  Even though she knew I didn't know much about horses or rodeoing (and I think it goes without saying that Sabin didn't either) she was rather insistent that we come to this rodeo.  It had been a few months since I had seen even a photograph of her and our phone conversations became less frequent, but we were still texting pretty much every day and I was hopeful that it would be a fun quick weekend trip to visit with my Idaho family.  We packed a few changes of clothes and off to LAX we went.

Joel picked us up from the airport and we headed to Cambridge.  I didn't dare ask Joel anything about her, how she was, what to expect. I was just anxious and nervous to see her.  As we traveled the two hour drive, my stomach was in knots. I smiled and carried on small talk until we pulled in to the rodeo, but my insides were screaming "get me there.  get me there now."  The lights were bright and the two city boys seemed slightly out of place as we made our way in to the fairgrounds.  My heart was pounding out of my chest.  I could feel that she was there, but didn't know how to get to her.  We found the teal group in the bleachers, sat down for a second and tried to hug and visit with those I hadn't seen in awhile. I was distracted.  I just needed to see her.  I felt like it was one of those movies where everything in the background is blurry and moving in slow motion.  We found the bar, ordered a few beers and then off we went.  I nearly sprinted as soon as I saw the car and as we got closer and closer, a feeling I have never felt before came over me (a feeling I hope to never feel again).  Our eyes locked and I just knew.  So did she.  I wanted to grab her, hug her so tight, but I couldn't. She was still in there.  And as soon as she saw me, she cracked a smile and remained eye-locked with me for several minutes. Even though I didn't say it out loud, I told her several things in those few minutes of eye contact. I let her know how much I loved her, and I told her it was OK to go now. I let her know that I would be there to take care of anything she needed me to. We were all there, all of the pieces of the puzzle that I know she orchestrated fell right into place and we watched as her eyes dazzled at the sight of her girls barrel racing in the same rodeo and place where she took the title of Queen years earlier.

The following few days were a blur.  I know we made it to the tail end of the parade that happened in Cambridge and I know that even though she was in a lot of pain, she was able to see the girls prance by on their horses and also the car that was decorated in her name and decked out in ovarian cancer teal. She got to visit with her Mom for a few minutes in the car.

We made our way back to Fruitland where she lived with Sunnie; it seemed to take years to get only an hour or so back there.  Joel got her into bed and about thirty six hours later, still peaceful on the pillow top mattress topper that she just had raved to me about in texts days earlier, and surrounded by close friends and family, laying right next to her husband whose new tattoo was barely 48 hours old and of which she was so proud that she kept telling everyone to "look at it...c'mon babe show it off," she went peacefully and on her own terms.

It is strange to say she is gone.  I still look at her Facebook every day, hoping that somehow this is a dream and a text saying something so funny that I want to pee my pants will just show up on my iPhone screen.  She is one of the four favorites stored in my speed dial-Mom, Katie, Crystal, Sabin.  I don't want to erase it.

We had a very long, emotional, but memory filled (and even sometimes fun!) week celebrating her life leading up her massive service on the 10th (her lucky number).  I got to laugh and cry and grow immensely closer with so many people that loved her as we chose photographs and songs that would honor her.  We had 390 chairs at her service and the entire back of the hall was still standing room only.   It was so incredible to see how many people truly loved her and how many lives she touched.

And for me, this tragedy gave me one incredible gift.  It has shown me how many people love me too.  The amount of cards, messages, emails, Facebook posts, and text messages I have received is shocking and humbles me to my core.  Perhaps the best of all of those gifts is the blessing I have been given in the shape of the truest love of my life, Sabin.  I always knew he was special, in fact I wrote a whole post about how incredible he was on this very blog that my big sister wrote me a personal message about saying, "seeing you this happy makes me have legitimate chills."  But when I think back over the past month, the amount of strength, compassion, and hope I have been given has come from this man.  He has let me vulnerable, he's pushed me to be strong when I needed to be, and is constantly reminding me how special I am. He came home to LA so that he could fly back with our daughter and make sure we were together in honoring Crystal.  I can't imagine experiencing something like this without him.  To say he is my rock is a understatement.  To say he is my mountain...that is just cheesy.  But I have fallen so much more in love with this man and thank God and my guardian Angel, Crystal, for him every single day.

After being out of work for almost two weeks,  followed by an 82 hour work week because of a huge pre-planned visit with the president and several VPs of my company, we were able to have a nice dinner with Rilynn, MeKaty and the Heimgartner's (who had an already pre-planned Disney trip to LA) and then drove to Las Vegas where I entered my thirties.  Old friends flew in, new friends were able to come, and even my brother-in-law Joel joined us.  It was hard to celebrate, however inside I am happy and I had an AMAZING trip.  But this loss has changed me in many more ways than I anticipated.  I see life through a different lens and I even feel like a slightly different person.  I know there are several stages of grief and I am probably only in the beginning, but the days feel heavier and longer.  I'm tired, I'm at odds with others and with myself.  The one thing I will do that I wished I had done when I lost my dad was seek some professional help.  In a video message Crystal recorded for her girls, she says, "Don't ever be scared to talk to someone, whether it be a counselor or therapist.  Get help when you need it."  The other thing I am doing is squeezing my baby (ies) tighter every night and letting them know how much I love them.  Above all else, I miss my sister, but I still have a lot to celebrate and power on for and I want to continue to make Crystal proud because I know she is looking down on me (and eating, and marathon training, and shopping!).

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Dear Mr. President

Dear President Obama,

I share the same age with Edward Snowden, who most of America now knows, released top secret information about the NSA and alleged tactics they use to "spy" on citizen of the USA. I hope that other than this numeric similarity, he and I are drastically different in every other regard.

I want to start by saying I think Edward Snowden is a traitor who, in my humble opinion, should face the most drastic punishment possible for his erroneous behavior.  Any person granted classified information through the government (or companies in which our government contracts with) is held to the highest standard of secrecy.  What Edward Snowden did is inexcusable, and granting him asylum or any other benefits shows other under-educated, somehow now-high-profile, socially awkward computer geeks with similar information that they can do or say whatever they want behind the guise of that bright-white  screen that they use without the full realization that those secrets are called SECRETS for a reason!

I'd also like to say that if you are "spying" on my phone calls, emails, or texts please continue!  I have nothing to hide and if the government is screening me, I encourage them to keep doing so along with my friends and family members.  Honestly, I have acquaintances that believe STRONGLY that Beyonce and Jay Z are members of a cult, that they should be free to tote around semi-automatic handguns and red-neck flags, dismiss the gay population as second class citizens by not allowing them to marry, and even believe you are the Anti-Christ who will watch us all perish by 2016..  Puh-llleeeeaaaasse "spy" on them all, because I think a few screws are lose.

All joking aside (I really wish I was joking in the former paragraph), as long as schools are being shot up, marathons bombed, and a violence levels that are horrific to watch continue in this country with the terrorism target pointed directly at us and innocent people dying in terrible tragedies every single month, I say that the NSA deserves a round of applause for WHATEVER tactics they are using or need to use to make America safer.  It's strange how we inherently put our trust in you to take care of us through difficult times, yet badmouth you and beat you up anytime anything goes wrong.  "Save us when we are down, but watch us stone you when we are up."

As a two time voter of you, Mr. President, I want you to know that I am personally proud of the progress you are making.  I only hope that as the end of your second term culminates, that you move more quickly on the issues that got you elected in the first place.  I urge you to work with the Supreme Court to ensure that the legalization, nation wide, of gay marriage passes proudly.  I also strongly support any and all gun/firearm reform that gets automatic weapons out of the hands of any person with a criminal or mental disorder background.  I understand the need for the Right to Bear Arms, but do you really think our founding fathers envisioned a lunatic walking into a public school or screening of a film and killing dozens of peoples with a weapon like that when they wrote the Constitution?!?

President Obama (can I call you Barack----no, no, no I understand), you are the face of the new generation of American's.   I proudly write this letter in support of you.  In a time when people are so concerned with complaining, I wanted to compliment you on a job VERY WELL DONE.

Most Sincerely,
AJ Fernandez
Los Angeles, CA


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

My love/hate relationship with May.

I have a love/hate relationship with the month of May.

On one hand, I love May for many reasons.  It's usually the month of new birth and excitement.  Trees and flowers are blooming, windows are open, and the smell of "new" comes across in so many ways. It's the month that we celebrate my daughter's birthday (more on that in a minute), my sisters birthday, Mother's Day, and of course Memorial Day.  

On the flip side, I always get super nostaligic, emotional, and "heady" in May.  I overthink everything.  I mourn the past year and think back about how things could've, should've, would've been if I had made different choices or decisions.  I questions things uneccessarily and somehow avoid (or am oblivious) to the beauty that is around me.

I'm coming off a fantastic weekend where we celebrated Harper's 2nd birthday.  Its strange, because everyone tells you it flies by, but you don't really know what that means until you are staring into the eyes of your no-longer-a-baby toddler and you can literally remember every second, every smell, every sound of her birth and realize that over 700 days have past since that happened.  

For this birthday, we were blessed to have a ton of friends and family on hand to welcome Boogie into the "terrible twos."  We had a beach party on Santa Monica, both Grandma's were on hand, and our new family (namely Aunt Sarah and Aunt Ann) helped create a spread that was inspriring and creative to welcome in a new year for my baby girl.  

I just cant get over how big she is.  She speaks.  She kisses.  She mimics.  She cuddles.  She is is simply amazing.  

I was also floored by the amount of love and support that came from Sabin and his friends, who have become Harper and I's family here in LA.  I can hardly speak or type about it, because it makes me emotional.  But to see a group of tight-nit, currently child-free, 30-somethings show up for the birthday party of their friend's boyfriend's daughter on a Saturday morning with presents and smiles makes me SO incredibly thankful to be here.  It makes me thankful to have found the person I know I was meant to be with forever and watch as we evolve into a family.  Its so much bigger than any one of us.  Its inspiring.  It's what I've prayed for.  It's what we've been blessed with.    And Sabin's gift of the Barbie Power Wheels Jeep will be the highlight of Harper's 2nd birthday for the rest of her life.  She keeps hopping in it (it's currently parked in my living room), putting on the new sunglasses my Mom got for her, turning on the fake radio, putting her hands on the steering wheel, and then yelling, "Sabin get it for me!  Sabin get it for me birthday!"

I also loved watching my daughter learn about the bond that her two grandmother's share.  It's fun to think about it from her perspective.  She doesn't realize that not every set of Grandma's are that close or have known one another for most of their lives.  It's really cool and I think about that time when she goes to a friend's birthday party and says, "why aren't your Grandma's hugging and smiling and loving one another?"  I fear it may be worse than finding out about Santa, Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny.  But then she will always have that.  It makes her special, and even more blessed.

My sister just turned 32.  She is a fucking. rock. star.  I am sorry for the language, but there is (in my mind) no other term for her.  She was given months to live at 28, a month to live nearly 3 months ago, and she is still fighting every day.  I love her.  Sabin and I were able to Facetime with her for awhile on the night of her birthday, and I swear if you didn't know you wouldn't even guess she was sick.  Her hair looked awesome, she had just come home from a birthday party with her girls, and looked amazing.  I am in awe.  She amazes me.  Last month, she decided to sneak away to marry the love of her life in a beach wedding in Hawaii.  I wanted to be there so badly.  It's one of those things that I know my fifty year old self will kick my thirty year old self for not doing.  Hence, my above statement about me getting all heady every May.  

I am starting to fall in love with Los Angeles.  I think for the first six months or so I loved LA mainly because I was in a new relationship and you know how everything seems to be butterflies and rainbows when you are newly in love.  But over the last month or so, and especially with having visitors this weekend, I am realizing that I am starting to be comfortable here.  I have the places I like to eat, I am more confident navigating surface streets and directions, and overall really enjoy being in a huge metropolis. There is something strange and intersting realizing that you share a small space with millions of other people and that all of us are feeding off and feeling the struggles and successes of those other people without even knowing them at all.  We just go together, LA and I.  If you had asked me ever before if I thought that was possible, I would have said no.  But we fit.  I know I still have a lot to learn and there will be things that I learn to hate.  But overall, I can finally say I made a really good choice for me, for my family, for my career, for love to come here.  

I'm excited for June.  June is usually wonderful for me.  

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

For my sister...

I've felt this overwhelming desire to write for the past few days.  Sometimes that little voice instructs me to get these things onto paper (or this generations version of paper which is now a backlit screen with autocorrect and spell check built in).

The past few months have been challenging.  I've been questioning a lot.  I'm still questioning now.

Four years ago, I rushed off to Idaho when my big sister went in for a check up and they found some abnormalities near her stomach.  From the very first phone call, which I can remember every word and detail of even to this day, our family embarked on this journey of Crystal's battle with cancer.  I was in Lake Tahoe for work.  My sister told me that she was going down to Boise because they wanted to see her at the Mountain State Tumor Institute.  I asked, "Do you need me to come?"  She replied, "Well, I don't NEED you to."  Which is Crystal code for get your ass in the car and come here because I am scared.  And thats exactly what I did.  I drove like a bat out of hell, straight through the night with only two changes of clothes straight through to Idaho and then woke up only six hours later to head to Boise.

I was one of three people who sat in the room with a doctor right after that first surgery, and looked at images of large tumors and internal organs.  Somehow I knew the right questions to ask.   What does this all mean? What are the treatment options?  The doctor looked me dead in the eyes, and he said, "Look, I am speechless.  Honestly I've never seen this is anyone her age, with her health.  I am scared for her.  If I have to give my honest assessment, I would start preparing your goodbyes because I believe that she only has a few months left."  As the very kind and compassionate Dr. Perez said those words to me, his eyes actually glazed over and he was teary eyed.  And even then, I remember that I was keeping it together while a doctor that had just met my beautiful, vibrant, dynamic sister that day was nearly losing it.

For the last four years, thats right YEARS, my sister has transformed her life into a story of survival, determination, and endurance.  She tried everything.  Flights to Mexico to see alternative doctors, diet changes, supplements, chemotherapy, radiation, blood transfusions, herbs, traditional medicine, alternative medicine, in between medicine.

In the meantime, her charismatic and witty daughters flourished into young women.  You see, when Crystal was first sent home to die four years ago, she simply wasn't ready.  She had two very young girls who needed their Mom, and she took each day by the balls and lived it like it was her last.  Mainly because it quite possibly could have been.  Rilynn Grace and MeKaty Rose kept my sister alive these past four years.  They are a testament to her willpower to survive.  They are smart, funny, not to mention gorgeous children who needed to see how to treat other people and the only person in this life who could REALLY show them that was my sister.  From the time that she was their age, everyone whose met Crystal feels like they've known her their whole life.  Her Mom always says, "she's never met a stranger."  Its remarkable, in a world where everyone is in such a hurry to get on with their lives and stays in their own bubble or circle, Crystal has always somehow found a way to get right in there with them.  Even the most shy and timid people immediately strip away their shell upon meeting her.  And that type of personality is so hard to find.   Somehow, BOTH of her children have inherited that.

So here we are.  Four years later.  And the time is coming to say goodbye to my sister.  It's hard to even write the words.  Sometimes when I think about it, I have to somehow step outside of myself and pretend as if I am a spectator watching this happen to another family or a person I don't know.

I've screamed out to God.  WHY?  Of all of the serial killers, murderers, rapist, and despicable humans out there are you choosing to take this simple, kind, young single mother?  I know there is a reason for everything.  I just wish I could know what it was.  Someday I am confident that I will.

A few of my favorite memories with my sister are recording a video at Magic Mountain and calling our group name "KWV" for Kids With Voices instead of Sistas With Voices. Learning to line dance to Garth Brooks when her country bumpkin behind came to visit from Idaho and spent those summers in Las Vegas. Her crush on James, a stinky neighbor boy with frosted blonde tipped hair. Her convincing our father at 14 years old that her farm drivers license gave her the ability to drive in Las Vegas on the freeway and taking Katie and I to Dairy Queen every night that summer while saying, "I've never been to a real drive through before!." Her flying to Tennessee to watch me in a high school play and asking for my autograph afterwards saying that she was going to keep it in case I was ever famous! Her doing a keg stand at one of my crazy college house parties and all of my friends saying, "is your sister single?" I remember going, "She is married and has kids crazy!" Showing up to her house and her telling me I was going to be her second shooter on a wedding photography package she booked (mind you, I don't even know how to work the zoom on my cell phone!). Walking down the Vegas strip and watching her freak out because the wheel on her baby stroller broke off, and her sitting on the edge of Las Vegas Boulevard saying she was not going to walk until someone found and bought her a new stroller. Many years at Lahontan, laughing sometimes until the sun came up and then getting angry that it was too hot to sleep in so we would do it all over again the next day. Our special "divorce trip" when she came to Chicago and we both spent money that we didn't have buying whatever we wanted and listening to music and screaming into the air about how much we hated our exes. Disneyland with the girls where she drove one of those silly moving carts so that we could bypass the line, and when anyone would stare, her saying, "I HAVE CANCER!"

I am beyond thankful for the past four years.  They've brought me closer to my sister.  They've brought me closer to many others as well.  I've learned, through looking through the lense of Crystal, that nothing other than today, right here and right now, is promised to us. I know that my sister will be welcomed into the gates of heaven with open arms, but I am just not ready to let her go. I wont ever be. And when she does leave this life, there wont be a day that passes that I won't think of her.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Seven months later

It has been almost seven months since I've posted to my blog. Somehow life got in the way. And in many ways, I'm grateful that it did. So much has changed for me since my last post, all of it amazing, wonderful, chaotic, and interesting. Just the way I like it. I'm sitting on the beach, alone today on January 3rd, 2013. I'm staring at the ocean, reflecting on the past seven months, and so thankful for the gifts I've been showered with. Here's the rundown. I'm officially a Los Angeles resident. I am the store manager of my very own flagship store that opened last Friday. I'm the daddy to the most incredible 20 month old baby girl who shines brighter than the sun on Venice Beach today. I have found the true love of my life. I have amazing friends and family and am making it a priority to make a meaningful memory everyday. In October, we packed up and moved from Sacramento to Los Angeles (after a grueling apartment hunt and emotional goodbyes to so many that we loved). Hours on the ground, I began a whirlwind three month trip between San Diego, Las Vegas (Stephen's dirty thirty), Denver, San Diego a few more times, Tucson, Sacramento, and finally landing back in Los Angeles in the middle of December to open my store. On one of my brief trips home for a weekend, my ex wife and her boyfriend (I promise I couldn't even make any of this up if I tried) invited me to a BBQ with some old friends that lived here where they wanted to introduce me to this mutual friend they knew. As I came down the stairs, Harper in hand, I laid eyes on him. And I knew, from that very second that he was it for me. He is an actor (quit rolling your eyes), originally from the east coast, but an LA resident for ten years with an overwhelmingly awesome group of friends that have welcomed me into their club with open arms. And did I mention he may be the hottest human being I've ever seen in real life (and if you've met him, you're probably shaking your head yes too)? We began our journey with a date...to the pumpkin patch with Harper. And from that day forward, and ideally every day after this, we've fallen deeper and deeper in love. He is magnificent. The type of person that you want to emulate. Witty, funny, caring, easily relatable, and gives as much as he gets. And did I mention that he adores Harper? And she does the same in return. When I first came out, I always thought in the back of my mind that I would be single for a long time. The more men I dated, I realized that all gay men SAY they want the traditional life...white picked fence, 2.5 kids, and a golden retriever in the backyard. But when push comes to shove, very few (and I mean VERY) actually do. So when I met him, and I carefully evaluated his responses and interactions with my beautiful baby, I honestly couldn't believe it. They were, and still are, authentic and genuine. It actually took me several weeks of having to look at myself in the mirror and say, "you aren't dreaming, this is your real life" to believe it. And he renewed this feeling in me that maybe, someday I might actually want a brother or sister for Harper. That's right, more kids! Or one more. But yeah, that guy that up until four months ago told every customer, every friend, every family member that I was D-O-N-E is singing a new tune these days. It's funny how one person can shift your entire life. For me, he has breathed new life in me. This year, I'm not setting any New Years resolutions, other than to continue building on the things I'm already doing. Be a better daddy. Be a better boyfriend. Be a better brother, son, nephew, friend, ex husband, friend, grandson, cousin, employee, manager, and the list goes on.... And I already feel like I've been pretty darn steady and reliable up until now, so it will be a challenge to figure out how to get better and better with each passing day. I'm happy. I'm smiling. I'm content.