My running club

I have been running for nine years and in that time, I have had plenty of reasons to run, think time while I run, training calendars to follow, and miles to cover.  A few years ago, my friend and fellow runner Alejandro posted an online challenge.  He challenged us to offer the names of our departed family and friends who lost the battle with cancer. He would wear their names on ribbons on a flag he would wear during the race. He would also think of these people during his training.  While I did share a few names, this challenge changed the way I ran. My running club was born.
Inspired by my friend, I began to devote my training runs to those I have lost.  I honor those I lost to cancer. I honor those I lost to AIDS and suicide.  I honor those I lost to accidents and old age.  Every single mile is spent with one person.  I remember them and revisit the memories we shared.  Sometimes I do talk to them. I ask what they might do in a situation I am currently living. If I feel tired or unmotivated, their memory pushes me forward.  So many of my antepasados fought to their last day. Their courage inspires me.

Since my running club began, a few traditions have been established.  I always run with my grandfathers and my uncles who have died. I always run with my baptismal godfather. The first mile, so often the most challenging, is usually offered to someone who passed recently. In recent months, I have lost my Tio Mario, our host when we visited Peru last summer, and one of my mom’s best friends, Rosario Otarola. The last two miles are offered to two special people. The second to last mile is offered to Luz Nieves, my best friend’s mother. Mama Luz was a vibrant, beautiful woman and devoted mother. She cheered for my best friend and me during a few of our races; it was my best friend who first inspired me to run.  The last mile and therefore every crossing of the half-marathon finish line is devoted to Brett Haagenson, one of my dearest friends. Brett was a coach and teacher and he still plays those roles in my life.  Currently, I am dealing with workplace challenges so they are on my mind while I run. Thinking of Brett helps me smile and shake that negative energy away. 
I am truly grateful for the amazing people in my life. My running club has allowed me to stay close to those who have passed. 
I remember and honor these people and ask that you lift them and their families up in prayer.
Tio Mario
Rosario Otarola
Rafael Medrano
Abuelito Marcelo Calderon
Abuelito Rodrigo Urbizagastegui
Tio Delio Calderon
Tio Armando Villa
My nino Malaquias Mercado
Godfather Alex Loza
Charlene Brown
Keith Rodgers
Marco Ortiz
Father Bob Mathews
Remy Watson
David Villalpando
Danny Pastor
Donnell “Don” Grant
Luz Nieves
Brett Haagenson

Poem for a friend


I wrote the following poem in Spring 2011 as part of the “Poetry for Change” curriculum unit  in . English 11, Future Leaders for Social Change Academy
Four years and eleven days later
A villanelle
For Brett
We lost our friend so long ago. 
He left us before the summer came.
Our loss darkened springtime with woe.
Tainted cells grew, silent as snow,
Slowly smothered out his life’s flame.
We lost our friend so long ago.
There was no way for us to know.
In vain, all searched for one to blame.
The loss darkened springtime with woe.
We fell prey to its undertow,
Gave up hope, cowered in shame.
We lost our friend so long ago.
A robust warrior was brought low,
Disease became victor in that game.
Our loss darkened springtime with woe.
We lost him to an unseen foe.
Our lives will never be the same.
We lost our friend so long ago.
This loss darkens springtime with woe. 

A car just like hers

I knew somehow, even before the news footage confirmed my prediction, that the little boy’s toy car would look exactly like the one we have here at home. Primary color plastic of red body, blue wheels and handle for pushing, goldenrod yellow hood. I imagined little Carlitos Nava riding in that same car. And he did until Monday afternoon when the violence of Oakland streets took his life.

I took M to 64th Ave and International this afternoon. We each carried a rosary. M insisted on seeing Carlitos’ photo so one of the men at the makeshift altarcito moved a giant teddy bear aside. In the photo, Carlitos is not smiling but his deep brown eyes peer out in wonderment. M’s chatter subsided. I placed my hands on her little shoulders and tried to think of a prayer. Instead I read the handwritten flyers announcing a weekend fundraiser for his family and his memorial service.

On the drive home, I watched my daughter through the rearview mirror. I have been hard on her lately. She is going to sleep very late this week: 11pm Monday, midnight last night. I speak to her as if she were an older child. My expectations for her behavior rival those I had for my high school students when I was an administrator. She is my almost-three-year-old but she is still my baby. I think about Carlitos’ mother and how she can’t ponder whether she is doing right by/for her child.

“Mommy, are you crying?”


“Why are you sad?”

“I’m sad for the baby.”

“Did they hurt your feelings?”

“No. But they hurt his mommy and his daddy. It’s not right.”

“No, it’s not right.”

What is right in these situations? I can hop back in my hybrid, back to the weeknight farmer’s market, back to my suburban neighborhood, where every evening, after dinner, it is safe to take my daughter around the block in her toy car. I have no answers, only emotions.

NOTE: There will be a carwash both Saturday and Sunday at the market at 64th and International to help raise funds for the Nava family. Viewing will be Monday, August 15th, 6 to 9pm, Clarence Cooper Mortuary, Fruitvale Ave, Oakland.

Bad news

A former student of mine died today. It has moved me in ways I couldn’t have predicted, in ways I have yet to understand. He wasn’t a student I knew well or even one I liked very much. And yet I feel odd. As if the room is lopsided.

I had printed out a recipe for natural egg dyes. My daughter’s first Easter egg coloring. Why not be mindful of harmful dyes? Then I received the news, via email. So the recipe disappeared. I don’t know where it has gone.. I’ve searched my desk, my recycling bin, my book bag. Maybe someday I will find the printout and I will smile. Not today.

A few weeks ago, I was at my annual trip to a Catholic conference. I finally wrote down my list of 100 personal dreams. One of them was to blog again. I have so much to say. I am a mother, partner, daughter, friend, half-marathoner, teacher, former assistant principal. I was so ready to return to the written word, my old friend.

Not today.

RIP Donnell Grant: Some bad news on an otherwise lovely Sunday

I met Don at the Endup several years ago. I don’t quite remember why or how. I think Housewife and I were carrying on as usual, walking the runway or dancing the Hustle or hooting and hollering for the house music. In any case, Don found me amusing, all 4’11” of grin and crazy dance moves. We became friends instantly, sharing a cocktail or beer over gossip. Don had a lovely voice, one he was too modest to show off very often, and he loved to dance. He had hung out at the Endup since the days of disco and he knew a good groove when he heard it. Like the many men and boys of the club scene, Don was a familiar face, someone I could trust to keep me from getting jostled on the dance floor.

During the dotcom upheaval of the late 90s, Don took a job in Germany. That summer, I journeyed there, crashing at Don’s place. It was my home base as I took the train to Belgium, France, Holland, and different cities in Germany. Together with Don, I partied at one of the best clubs I’ve ever experienced and went to my first rave. I learned a few words in German and learned to embrace traveling alone. Once Don returned to the States, I drew away from the clubs as I dove into straight girl singledom but Don would send me Christmas cards and tell me about the ongoing club scene.

Today, the DJ gave me the bad news that Don passed earlier this year from complications from pneumonia. I am sorry Don is no longer with us but I know he is on that dance floor in the sky, that he’s probably chuckling at someone’s silliness, that he is gracing another place with his affection and good nature.

God bless you, brother.

Honoring a lost friend

I learned a lot from Charlene Brown. I met her at Columbia University in July 2004. We were roommates while enjoying a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to study the Renaissance. We became friends right away. We shared a love of musicals and plays, art, good food, and the marvel that is New York City. We were also comrades, the only openly religious members of the summer teaching institute, and therefore supported one another when anti-religion ideas were put forth.I will never forget Charlene’s smile and her gentle manner. I am sad to learn she has lost her battle with cancer.

One of my fondest memories of that New York summer was rushing back to Morningside Heights in a rainstorm one night after watching a show. We were drenched but laughing all the while as we ducked into doorways and hopped puddles. Our shoes were damp for days.

I never kept my promise to visit Charlene in the Central Valley. We kept in touch via cards and emails. The last time we corresponded, she was hopeful about treatment and focused on her teaching. I am happy to learn she kept teaching history throughout her battle with her illness and that her funeral was a huge celebration of her career and life.

Now I know she’ll never miss a show and she will always lift a prayer.


Farewell to a young star

10 Things I Hate About You wasn’t meant for an Academy Award. But to a young English teacher who wanted to instill a love of Shakespeare in her charges, it was a godsend. The 90s high school update of The Taming of the Shrew was an instant hit and remains a cult favorite.
It also introduced me to Heath Ledger. I liked him instantly. He had sparkling brown eyes that crinkled at the corners when he laughed, a sprinkling of freckles, a lanky frame, a devil may care energy. Even though it was a teen romantic comedy, he shone.

I followed Ledger’s career as he co starred in The Patriot, led the fluffy A Knight’s Tale, then really showed his acting chops in Monster’s Ball. My bro dismissed him as a pretty boy. Then he starred in Brokeback Mountain. And the world realized what I had known for years, that he could break our hearts as only a gifted actor can.

Heath Ledger is dead at 28. Accident or suicide, the facts are not available. But we have lost a great talent.