i guess i’ve only been in love once.

oh, i remember my first relationship. he was cute and sweet and artsy. he always smelled like paint and had chapped lips and big dreams. he quoted vonnegut daily and i thought he was the sun. he also talked about marriage, and kids; things i did not want.

it ended. i wasn’t in love.

i remember the relationships after that. i remember dating a girl for the first time, how new and frightening it was, and how it ended, unceremoniously, and it did not hurt.

there were others after that. temporary infatuation, questionable choices. guys with bad haircuts and “straight” girls figuring things out.

i loved, but wasn’t in love.

and then there was THE relationship. i was IN love. IN L-O-V-E. i’m talking ‘this is it’ thoughts, future planned, promises, everything. it started like a storm, powerful and electric and gorgeous, but it eventually became a devastating hurricane, and we were not prepared for it. a wreck.

it destroyed. it ended. i almost drowned.

in a way, i’m still relearning how to breathe.

i spent some time trying to anchor myself in all the wrong ways. rebounds, rebounds, rebounds. i made myself believe that i was moving on, when i wasn’t. i couldn’t let go.

it’s as if i was scarred all over, and kept poking at the scabs. i always had blood in my hands, under my fingernails, in my mouth.

so i stopped. i decided to focus on myself, even when the dull ache in my heart didn’t quite go away, but kept stabbing at me.

i spent sleepless nights blaming myself for so many things that i couldn’t control. i felt broken. i thought i’d never heal. my fingernails were clawing at something that was already non-existent. trying to hold on.

and then, out of nowhere, i met someone who saw beauty and happiness in everything. caught me off guard because i wasn’t looking for anything. it was just a crush, i told myself. it would go away, eventually.

it didn’t. i tortured myself thinking “it’s too soon” and “i don’t deserve this” and “will he still like me once he finds out about the past?”

toxic behaviors and thoughts are hard to unlearn.

he was patient. he listened to my silence and made me laugh whenever the bags under my eyes were too obvious to ignore. it took months of tiptoeing around my feelings + rom-com-like moments + late-night conversations + encouragement from my friends for me to finally take a chance.

fast-forward to today.

he’s not perfect. i don’t put him on a pedestal like i did with the ones before him. he’s real and human and honest. he doesn’t have anything to hide and he lives in the present. he doesn’t hold on to anything negative. i see him clearly and unfiltered, and that’s what i like about him.

he does little things that might seem insignificant to others, but to me, they mean everything.

i still get scared sometimes. i still have a hard time opening up to him even though i trust him completely. it’s not his fault.

he knows that. and he’s still patient. he still listens to my silences and makes me laugh so hard my face hurts for days. he keeps me anchored when i get too anxious about things i can’t control.

i don’t need a partner to make me happy, but i do know i can’t stop smiling when i’m around him.

this might be the second time.

How do you grieve when you’re a non-believer?

How do you grieve when you’re a non-believer?

This a question I hear often, right after I reveal I’m an atheist when asked about grief. Actually, I don’t like the word atheist, it always sounds so divisive. I prefer the term non-believer. I just think it sounds nicer.

Let me elaborate.

– – –

Christmas Mass had just ended, and I was waiting outside for the rest of the family so we could go back to the hotel. My aunt R, who is my aunt by marriage, found me after a couple minutes.

She lost her mom many years ago, so we started talking about how the first holidays without them sucked, and she gave me plenty of good advice.

Finally, she told me she didn’t understand how people who don’t believe in God are able to grieve properly. I didn’t say anything, just nodded.

“I can’t bear the thought of never seeing my mom again,” she said. “How do atheists deal with that?”

I kept quiet, changed the subject. My family, with the exception of my sisters, has no idea I’m a non-believer.

– – –

I figured out I wasn’t religious when I was 12 years old. I kept it to myself, of course, because I was attending Catholic school and my family was very involved in the church. My mom was also a teacher at a private Catholic school.

It’s not something that happened overnight, it was slow-burning, a thing that grew until I came face-to-face with that fact that I really didn’t believe in God, or an afterlife.

I struggled with it. Did it make me a bad person? I thought I was confused.

My crisis got worse when I came to terms with my queerness (or bisexuality, if you want to label it), at age 15. I thought that maybe I didn’t want to believe because I knew the church would never accept me.

I looked into other religions, but the feeling remained the same.

I just didn’t believe. Once I accepted it, I felt relieved.

– – –

My mom raised us with an open mind. She told us we should respect other people’s religions, because everyone is raised differently. She was a devout Catholic, but she didn’t think her religion was the only way.

I still remember when I told her I was a non-believer. It wasn’t that long ago, maybe four years or so. It was harder for me to come out as an atheist than it was to come out as a queer woman.

My mom was devastated. She didn’t care about my sexual orientation, but she couldn’t believe I wasn’t part of the church, ANY church, anymore.

After being speechless for a few minutes, she took my hand and said, “You’re a good person. I don’t doubt that. I need to process this, but I can’t and won’t change your beliefs.”

I know she struggled with accepting my atheism up until she died, and sometimes she would ask me questions, and I gave her answers she didn’t understand.

She was somewhat relieved that my atheism didn’t come from a place of anger or bitterness. It is just a thing that is part of me, but doesn’t define who I am.

– – –

While mom was battling cancer, I would often sit with her and read her the Bible or pray rosaries with her. She would thank me for doing so, because she thought it was a hugesacrifice for me to do something I didn’t believe in.

But it wasn’t a sacrifice at all. My mom found comfort in religion, in God, in Jesus, and I was grateful for that. Her faith helped her cope with her pain and struggle, and I will always appreciate that.

With religion, my mom coped with the thought of dying. Without religion, I coped with the thought of losing her.

– – –

The day after mom died, we had a memorial mass for her. It was absolutely packed, there weren’t enough seats for people inside the church, and it was all oh-so overwhelming.

My sisters and I were sitting right in front of the altar. Everyone came over to give their condolences, and then it happened.

“God needed another angel.”

I don’t remember who said it, it’s all a blur, but I remember glancing at my sisters and seeing their faces. One of them looked absolutely furious, and the other one started crying.

Later that day, one of my sisters said, “You heard that, right? Well, I need my mom here, not somewhere else!”

I told them that they meant well, that it is something people say to comfort those who have lost someone, but they weren’t having it.

It was the first time I felt absolutely lost, and didn’t know what to say.

Until today, my sisters are still struggling with their faith. I know that most of that struggle is due to the shock of losing mom, and that’s okay. Maybe in a couple years they’ll find their way back to the church, or find another church, or maybe they won’t go back to anything.

That’s fine. I’ll be there to support them no matter what they believe.

It’s particularly hard to feel this way in a devout, conservative family. We don’t talk about this with my mom’s family. They don’t know how my sisters feel about the church.

It’s better this way.

– – –

How do you grieve when you’re a non-believer?

I think you grieve just like anyone else. You deal with the fact your loved one isn’t around anymore, you cry, you scream, you get angry, you hurt, you laugh.

The only difference is that you accept you’ll never see them again.

In my case, I’ve decided to devote my life to advocate for cancer patients. That’s how I cope, that’s how I grieve. I try to do my best at creating awareness for colorectal cancer screening and prevention.

This is the best answer I can give anyone; I’ve found a purpose that works for me.

But back to the “no afterlife” issue.

I don’t think my mom is truly gone. She lives in me, in my sisters, in all the people she met. I honor her memory every time I can, so she lives through stories, anecdotes, and photographs.

Her energy hasn’t gone anywhere. I still can, and always will, feel her in my heart.

in 2016…


my mother’s absence grew heavier with each passing day

but for the very first time in my life

i felt her strength in my veins

(i miss her, i miss her)

i realized that you can love someone so much it hurts

but love isn’t supposed to make you bleed

so i learned to let go

(what ifs, should haves, aren’t allowed anymore)

i kissed a boy for all the wrong reasons

he gained my trust with half-truths and big words

and when his lies came back to haunt him

i was already gone

(i blamed myself for being so trusting again)

i discovered that my friends truly are my family


and i hope i’m the same for them

(to quote a great movie, they “complete me”)

my sisters laughed and cried and succeeded

and when i look at them

i can see my mother in their eyes

(they’re growing up so beautifully, she’d be proud)

mom always wanted to help everyone

so i met warriors with battle scars and stories to tell

and i found a purpose for my grief

this is where i’m supposed to be

(i made it, i made it)

i went on impromptu adventures and chased after strangers in a state fair

burned my mouth eating pizza while lost in austin

hung out with wrestlers and got drunk with my best friend

strolled the streets of philly with one of my favorite human beings while we laughed

and my chest stopped feeling heavy

(i let go of so many things)

i met a man with a love of horoscopes and the patience of a saint

i tried to fight it for months, but his smile got under my skin

and when he held my hand in public for the first time, i realized it’d be okay

(maybe this won’t last forever, but i’m glad we met)

i learned that the future will always be uncertain no matter how much we plan

but that’s okay

i’m ready for it

i’m ready

(i’m happy)

Of grieving and marshmallows

Theodore Roosevelt wrote this on his diary after losing his mother and his wife on Valentine’s Day, 1884. Photo credit: Library of Congress

My mom’s apple salad was, still is, legendary.

I never tried it growing up, because I found the combination of marshmallow and apples to be, well, gross. But everyone always raved about it, how good it was, and it always disappeared from the bowl in minutes.

My mom made it for the last time for our 2014 Christmas dinner, almost two years ago. She was fragile and tired from a brutal round of chemo, but she insisted that we had to stick to tradition, so she got out of bed and started preparing the salad.

She was halfway through it when she realized that my aunt forgot to buy the marshmallows for the salad. My mom always used a particular kind and brand of marshmallows, and we all knew it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find them at a Mexican grocery store on Christmas Eve. However, I grabbed the minivan’s keys, took one of my sisters with me, and we went on a search mission for those marshmallows.

We ended up finding very similar ones after visiting several stores, and mom’s smile when she saw them lit up the room, the world. I sat down to watch her prepare the salad (she refused help), and I told her I’d try it. She looked at me in shock, because she knew I had never wanted to try it before. But she smiled some more and said, “Well, I have to make sure it’s extra delicious this time.”

It was. I immediately regretted all those years during which I refused to eat it, because wow, it was tasty. We joked about the marshmallows and how we avoided a tragedy later that night, while mom took her chemo pills.

Today, marshmallows make me cry. Whenever I walk down a grocery store aisle and I notice the marshmallow section, I have to look away. My throat shuts down, and my eyes sting with tears, and I have to look away.

Grief creeps on you like that, when you’re least expecting it.

Continue reading “Of grieving and marshmallows”

Birth, death, and rebirth: A (kind of) brief summary of Panic! at the Disco’s rollercoaster career

Photo credit: Shirlaine Forrest

I’ve been a Panic! at the Disco fan since 2005. Yeah, you read that right. I’ve been listening to this band for almost 11 years, and man, let me tell you. It’s been a wild ride.

If you’re not familiar with the band, or if you’ve only ever listened to that goddamn door song (its name is “I Write Sins Not Tragedies”, you’re welcome), here’s the basic stuff you need to know.

Continue reading “Birth, death, and rebirth: A (kind of) brief summary of Panic! at the Disco’s rollercoaster career”