“What’s your name again?”

I swear this the fourth time he’s asked me this, and if he does it again I’m walking out. I don’t care what happens. 

“It’s Jazrael, Jazrael Florentine”

“Wow that’s an interesting name. What does it mean?”

What does my name mean? The name I’ve had all my life means absolutely nothing, at least nothing that I can figure. I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve made something up for what my name means. Perhaps that’s the beauty of having a unique name. It can mean whatever I want it to mean, but sometimes I wish I could just be a Sofia, or an Abigail. Something not so….different. 

My name has often started many a conversation, however as an introvert, getting to know people is really not on my top priority list of things to do. If anything conversations about my name often drains me. Does my name define who I am, or do I define my name? 

While in college, I once tried to Google my name and found that even Google has no idea what my name means, so if Google doesn’t know then I will never know. However I was able to find someone else named Jazrael on MySpace and I thought about messaging her to see if she had a similar problem. Then I decided not too, I mean how weird would that be. 

My mom said she heard the word Jazrael when she was on a plane flying to New York. She said she felt that it was a sign from God to name me that. When I asked her why she said because she had been praying for a baby for about a year. Then one her way to New York she was praying on the plane, and she heard someone behind her say it. She said when she heard the name her stomach gave a jolt (I think maybe the plane flew into some turbulence, but what do i know). That jolt was her sign from God saying that she would have a baby and that she would name her Jazrael. I still didn’t understand, and frankly the first time she told me the story of how I got my name I thought she was crazy. Who names their kid after a word that they hear on an airplane and then say it was a sign from God? 

Well whatever the reason, she wrote it down that day in her Bible, and the day she found out I was going to be a girl, she knew that was going to be my name. 

There are days when I love my name, and there are days when I I can’t stand it. Regardless…I am Jazrael and today my name means miracle.

This story was based on a conversation I had on the plane ride to Indiana a couple of weeks ago. I ran across a woman with a unique name and we proceeded to discuss how she felt about her name. While I’m not sure of the particulars of how or why she was named (I don’t even remember the name now), the conversation lead me to wonder what it would be like to if I would have had an interesting/unique name. 

Abueltia, cuanteme un cuento

Tell me a story I tell my great-grandmother as I climb into her lap.

“¿Quien eres niña?”

Who’s this she asks, as she places her hands gently on my face, exploring every centimeter of my face and body, from the bridge of my nose, to my ears and down to my legs. You see my great grandmother is blind. She lost her vision to diabetes, soon after she lost her left leg.

I giggle as I feel her rough wrinkled hands move over my face. Those same hands that just a few years earlier were teaching me how to roll out the perfect tortilla. Those same hands that were used to help cure people’s illnesses when she worked as a curandera. Those same hands that used to work the migrant fields for hours so she could provide for her children.

Soy yo. Chata”

“Ay niña traviesa. ¿Qué no ves que quiero estar solo?”

“Abue tu siempre quieres estar sola.” She always wants to be alone. My bottom lip trembles and my eyes begin to water.

“¡Por favor! ¡Por favor! Cuenta me un cuento. ” Tell me a story please I begged her.

My great grandmother always had the best stories. Every year we would gather during the holidays making buñuelos and tamales and every year we had a competition to see who told the best family stories. Sitting around the kitchen table embarrando tamales, or at the end of the day tomando un cafecito con pan, we would tell our stories. Some were true stories and some were not so true. Some stories happened yesterday and were told at the expense of someone in the room. The story teller would say anything to get a laugh, because when everyone laughed, that’s when you knew you were a good story teller. Others were stories from generations back, and told with such reverence, no one dared interrupt. Those were usually told by my abuelita, the matriarch of my family, but after losing her vision my great grandma distanced herself.
As an eight year old I didn’t understand why my grandmother didn’t want to tell anymore stories. But today was the day that I would get my story.
¡Andale abuelita no mas una!.”  Just one…all I needed was one story. One story to know my abuelita was still with me. One story to know that only the outside had changed and not the inside.

¡Ay niña como friegas! Ta bien pues. ¡Pero no mas una!” Fine but just one, she said.

¡Gracias abuelita!” I screamed and kissed her cheek. Then I settled onto her lap, my head on her shoulders, listening to her heartbeat as she played with my hair.

“Erase una vez…”

Once upon a time…

This story was loosely based on my great grandmother Maria. Although she didn’t get totally blind until I was in my early teens, I remember sitting by her bed holding her hand as she told me her story. I remember the way her hands would move over my face and the length of my body. Trying to see how much I grew in the last months. I remember her seeing me through her hands.

3 of the 4 awesome grandmothers I was blessed to have in my life. On the left my abuelita Maria, my dad, my abuelita Chole holding my brother, my grandpa, and my abuelita Juanita. Missing is my Abuelita Toña.

Bob’s story

Posted: 11/02/2012 in Uncategorized

“So where are your pants?” I asked Bob as I handed him the sack lunch and money.

“I don’t want to talk about it!”

“That’s fine you don’t have to talk about it, but I can tell something’s wrong”

Bob is a homeless man living under the I-10 West freeway. His shaggy grey hair, ruddy cheeks and beard make him look more like Santa, than a homeless man. Bob has been living on the streets for about 4 years now. I met him one bright Thursday afternoon on my way to work. I happened to be at the right place at the right time. As I handed him my dollar, he thanked me and told me to never stop smiling. He had no idea how much I needed to hear those words on that day. No idea how often I would replay those words in my head within those 24 hours. Never stop smiling.

Ever since that day, I made it a point to go out of my way to see if Bob was there and to hand him whatever I could. The more Bob smiled, the more I wanted to know about him. I started parking my car and walking over to him to chat. I would ask why he wasn’t at a shelter, and he would say its not his thing. “Been there and done that.”

Bob wasn’t a drunk, nor did he do drugs. Bob just happened to have been a man who had suffered a lot during his life. He was a victim of circumstances. circumstances that led him to be homeless and with no family at the age of 60. Bob loves to laugh and tell jokes, he thrives on making people smile. His favorite saying is, “Eyes are the window to the soul, and the smile is the welcome sign at the door, saying come on in.”

On that particular day, my heart broke for Bob. He didn’t have his usual glimmer in his eyes. Instead there was a heaviness to them. There was no smile, no welcome sign. If anything, everything shouted DO NOT ENTER, but I knew he wouldn’t tell me to leave. He enjoyed our conversations as much as I did. I saw him turn and I saw him walk, and that’s when I knew.

“What did they do to you Bob?”

As he turned, I saw the the first tear. I listened as he told me that he had been assaulted and raped the night before. I cried with him and for him. Bob had never hurt anyone. He was a victim of circumstance, he was one who had his reasons for not wanting to stay at a shelter, one who had encouraged strangers on their drives to work. “The police won’t do nothing”, he replied when I asked if I should call them.

Some would say what happened had been Bob’s fault. He should’ve gone to a shelter a long time ago. He should’ve gotten a job. He should’ve defended himself better. Bob however could not do any of these things.

I dropped Bob off at a hotel that day, after I had gotten him a new set of clothes. I told him I would be back in the morning and that I would help him find a place to stay that wasn’t a shelter. You see I had always thought Bob to be the cool homeless guy. I figured I was doing enough by stopping by every once in a while, giving him money and food. I realized that day however, that Bob was more than a homeless guy. He was my friend. The person who assaulted him the night before saw him as a victim. I saw Bob as a survivor.

I don’t really know a homeless man named Bob, there was however a homeless man that I saw on I-10. He was in his boxers, and he was walking funny. He had the same ruddy cheeks, beard and hair that I described, but I have no idea what his real story is. He did however tell me to “Never stop smiling” after I handed him some money today (Thursday). I really did need to hear those words, and I really did repeat those words over and over in my head. He will never know how much his words meant to me. Today that homeless man blessed me more than I did him. 

I might not know Bob, but more than likely, there really is a Bob out there somewhere.

“And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’” Matthew 25:40