Moments Matter

Breaking Free: A Story of Generational Freedom

Editor’s Note: I’ve taken a bit of a respite from writing on Clearly Kristal. Well, I’m back. I’m ready to write. To share in honesty and truth. As Writer Anne Lamott wrote in her book “Bird by Bird: “You string words together like beads to tell a smeonswingtory. You are desperate to communicate, to edify or entertain, to preserve moments of grace or joy or transcendence, to make real or imagined events come alive. But you cannot will this to happen. It is a matter of persistence and faith and hard work. So you might as well just go ahead and get started.”

So let’s get started…

“Well, do you want the place?” my mom asked.

I ran my hand along the kitchen counter and strolled towards the living room.

The internal dialogue and imagery in my head as an 18-year-old about to land her first place went something like this:

This place could be all mine! I envisioned the lights dimmed in the small living room. The music jumped, lights flashed, friends danced. The crowd was pumpin.

“So, what do you think, Kristal?” my mom prompted.


Snapping out of my daydream, I whipped, “Uh, ya, I’ll take it.”

She nodded her head, and then pointed to the window, and offered to sew paisley patterned curtains to match my futon. As we walked around the old vacated house, I sensed my mom’s underlying sadness.

I then imagined her dialogue:

I’ve lost her. She’s moving out. My baby.

The Swimming Pool House
This first place, though, was no regular house. This house was full of deep family history. It was owned by my mother’s father (my grandfather), who moved his family to California from New Mexico around 1955.

My grandfather had kept the house as a rental property. Over the years, the house was split into two separate living spaces with a tenant in each space. The inside of the house was simple with its thick carmel brown shag carpet and pasty white walls. In the living room was a wall and floor heater that made a loud ticking sound when blazing. The tiny kitchen had an old broken down dishwasher, but was equipped with a highly used microwave. Next to the kitchen leading to an outdoor patio was a double decker washer and dryer. I think you could fit five pieces of clothing in it total.

The hallway that connected to the living room led to the first bedroom on the left with a tiny closet and a big window. Continuing down the hallway on the right was a bathroom with pink and black checkered tile that had a lingering musty smell.

The outside of the house was something special. My grandfather had painted it fluorescent green during the 1980s. Hence the name “the swimming pool house” fit perfectly. Even though the color was awful and neighbors detested it, my grandfather loved the color. He was never one to follow the rules, but made his own rules up in life. Which is all the more reason I too loved this swimming pool-colored house.

Moving West
My grandfather had moved his family west for a better life in the mid 1950s. His youngest son was born with severe mental and physical “handicaps.” In the small New Mexico town with at least a thirty-minute drive to the nearest hospital, my grandparents consulted with world-renowned specialists to assess their “handicap” son. Their son’s prognosis was bleak at best. At the time, California provided the best state care for special needs individuals.

Around age 14, my mother was uprooted from her little southwestern desert town for sunny, hopeful California. After a few years of living in California, her mother, who had always been a rather bitter, uptight woman, began experiencing terrible headaches. They soon learned she had a brain tumor.

My mother lost her mother to the Lord during brain surgery at age 17. My grandmother was only 36 years old. By age 18, my mother broke away to marry her high school sweetheart. She packed her own boxes of memories from this very house. It wasn’t until years later, my mother admitted that she felt guilty for leaving her widowed father alone.

But she needed to break free.

Generational Freedom
Now more than 30 years later, we walked the same rooms. “I can still smell my mom’s gardenia perfume,” she said, taking a breath as we entered the bedroom. I inspected the closet with its thick wooden sliding doors. I tried to busy my mind with where my roommate, and I would put our twin beds and matching black lacquer nightstands.

Just before starting my freshman year of college, I packed 18 years of memories into boxes and carted them five miles away to the swimming pool house.

Yet, underneath all the excitement, I felt a sense of abandonment of my family. As the eldest sister to my two younger sisters, I was the leader and organizer. I kept as much as I could “together” when my dad was checked out on a drinking binge, and my mother was doing her best to keep up family appearances while working multiple jobs.

Like my mom, I was ready to carve out the world and make it my own. I needed to break free.

Now as a mom, I’m several short years away from my first child wanting to break free. Sometimes when tucking my two girls in to bed in the darkness of their rooms, I hold a long, close-up gaze. I want to freeze that moment in time. I make a mental note to hold that moment close to my heart before the tour of rentals and packing of memories begins.

Because I know someday they’ll daydream about the day they break free.

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A Repost: Bring It

Editor’s Note: As today marks the 11th Anniversary of that horrific day in America’s history, I dedicate this post to the victims, heroes and all those who lost loved ones.

There’s a beautiful canyon near my house that I occasionally run in the morning. The beauty of the landscape, wildlife and pure nature is breathtaking. When I don’t have my kids with me, the quietness of the canyon is tranquil.

During my run this morning there was a stillness in the air through the thick humidity. I poured sweat. I thought of today. The day in our country’s history that changed everything.

I thought about that morning. The towers and buildings falling. The planes. The heroes. The villains. The families.

Like the generations before us that immediately recall where they were when JFK and MLK were assassinated, we all remember where we were…

I recall my work had called and left message while I was in the shower to not come into the office. I came down our apartment stairs with dripping wet hair. I glanced at the television and then saw my husband’s face. He had tears in his eyes. Soon after, they hit the Pentagon. A place where my husband’s father had worked many times over the years.

In a quivering voice, my husband explained that he was relieved that his father was not alive to witness the attack on this landmark – a symbol of our freedom, our heritage. A place he connected to his father. This was personal now.

That morning my husband and I broke away from the media images to get some fresh air. Living in a crowded LA city, there was always the hustle and bustle. But that morning it was eerily quiet. You could hear the electricity lines buzzing. The streets and sidewalks empty.

In the afternoon, I ran out to the grocery store to grab some food for dinner. People in the store were moving in almost slow motion with looks of sorrow painted on their faces. I had felt guilty for grocery shopping. I should be mourning.

But this was only the beginning of the long road ahead for our country. The next day, I remember driving to work and listening to the radio. The heart-breaking stories of loved ones searching to find their mother, father, sister, brother…tears blinded my driving at one point.

I pulled over to sob.

I had not personally known a soul in the attacks that fateful day. Did that de-personalize my feelings of sadness? Absolutely not. I could feel their pain, their anguish. I prayed more in those days than I had in my entire life. Asking myself, “How could God let this happen? Why God? Why?”

At the time, I worked in a skyscraper building for a financial services company in Los Angeles. Security was beefed up, which drove home the realness of the situation. There was no laughter, only whispers. Lingering images of red eyes and empty tissue boxes filled the office cubicles.

Coming from a small town, my parents were concerned about me returning to work in a big building. My response: I will not live in fear. When I live in fear, they’ve won. I walked with my head held high. Let them come. Bring it.

While running today – 11 years later, the scenes of that day flashed before my eyes. I noticed a patch of what looked like white lilies in full bloom. I thought of the gravestones of those lost. But I also thought of their peace. Sweet peace.

Today I ran a little harder in honor of the fallen heroes. I even sprinted in the end. Winded, I thought of the firefighters making their way up the flights of stairs. Bring it.

After I finished my run, I sat on an old wooden fence next to the trail. I closed my eyes and prayed.

We will never forget.

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