Panorama of San Bernardino

Friday, March 23, 2018

Into the White

There’s a Pixies lyric from their song “Into the White” that goes, “there ain’t no day and there ain’t no night.” That’s how my last year of high school felt. All of the days and nights blended together.

Looking back, it seems like it had a trajectory. But really, I was just struggling to keep my head above water and then took on water.  It was simple; I couldn’t handle anything anymore and just gave up going to school altogether. At first, missing a class. Then a day. Next, weeks in bed. And when my mom threw water on me to wake me up, I would pretend to go to school and then go home when my mom left for the breakfast shift at the coffee shop she waited tables at.

It wasn’t a conscious decision to let it all go. Rather, It was like a slow fall off the longest cliff ever into the shallow water below.

At some point, I realized I was not going to graduate. But, I didn’t care. I had sabotaged my dreams of attending college at Claremont McKenna. It had worked far better than I ever hoped. I dropped out my senior year of high school, second semester, five units short of a high school diploma. And took my GED which I passed (during the GED test, which seemed so easy, I remembered taking my PSATs, and my language/reading comprehension score in the 99th percentile).

I didn’t cry until I saw my twin sister Jackie and my best friend Tracy walking at graduation and I had to watch them from under the bleachers. Tears falling on my cigarette. I think I used my Sex Pistols t-shirt to wipe my smeared eyeliner. And suddenly, I didn’t feel cool anymore. I felt like an utter loser and as if my life was over.

But, the funny thing is my life was just beginning. It’s common knowledge that I had a fine second act and I would go on to have great times and accomplish more than I ever imagined, while still remaining true to my punk rock self.

Yet, I’ve started having those feelings again. As if my life is over. Forty something, barren, and so much damn sadness all around me, I have to keep reminding myself, through my writing, that my third act is still to come.

And, I know through experience that life always appears the most bleak and then, the sun peeks out from behind the clouds and lights everything up.

Into the white. From dark to light.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Artist or bust

I have made a decision. I am a writer. First and foremost. To all of those who see me as a lawyer first, you’re wrong. Or as a wife, daughter, caretaker or sister, you’re wrong.

A writer. That’s me. I write to breathe. To remember. Sometimes, to forget. The high is better than anything in the universe.

There are times, I have buried things. I write to excavate them.

My childhood was me making stories in my head to escape the chaos. I became a writer then. Or maybe I was born one.

It’s only taken me a decade to see I am who I am. And I shouldn’t be afraid to tell people of my dreams. I’ve always had big dreams. Many of them came true. But this writing thing. It’s a doozy. The opposite of easy.

Yet, I can see it happening sometime soon. I’ll break away from the day to day. Give up my nine to five. Sit on my ass. Put fingers to keys. Or maybe even pen to paper.

And just write.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Eulogy for my brother in law

Note: I struggled with whether to post this but when I asked my husband, he wanted me to. This is for you Gabe. RIP.

My name is Juanita Estella Mantz and I am married to Gabriels younger brother Adrian. I have known Gabe and Adrian for more than 25 years. 

I was 20 years old when I met my husband and later his family. Albert the father, Orieta the mother and Gabriel, aka Gabe, Adrians older brother. The Pelaez family was whole back then and a small but close knit and beautiful Argentine family. Small but proud. 

And so cultured with their traditions. I was brought into their family and in fact, Gabe was not just a brother in law to me. He was my brother in heart for the last 25 years of my life. 

And the cost of being part of this beautiful family has resulted in heartbreak. First, the heartbreak of losing Adrians dad Alberto some years back and now, the unthinkable in losing Gabe. Gabe was only 54.

Losing Gabe, it quite truly broke my heart, all of our hearts, into pieces. The pieces are still there on at the floor of the hospital at UC Irvine Medical Center because Gabe was too young, his son Nicolas was too young, and it was way too soon. 

And my husband and I and his mom didnt have all the adventures we were meant to have with Gabe. It is as if a projector broke in the middle of a movie.

Joan Didion wrote a book on grief after losing her husband, the book is called The Year of Magical Thinking, and in it she says, Life changes in the instant… The ordinary instant…”

Confronted with sudden disaster,  we all focus on how unremarkable the circumstances were in which the unthinkable occurred.  The clear blue sky from which the plane fell.The routine errand that ended on the shoulder with the car in flameshe was on his way home from work, happy successful healthy, and then gone.”  End quote.

I think that quote captures how I feel. It feels surreal. Like Gabe isnt really gone, like this is all a bad dream, one we will wake up from. Like that horrible day did not really happen. It is as if he could reappear if I pray hard enough.

It truly is a mad world. That was Gabes favorite song. He would always burst out singing it and say, "I love this song" when it came on the radio. We would be laying out by the pool at the house in Oak Hills listening to the 80s station and he would start dancing and singing and we would tease him. "You like Tears for Fears?" 

But the song was prescient in that the songs first refrain says it all and is very applicable to today.

All around me are familiar faces
Worn out places
Worn out faces

Bright and early for their daily races
Going nowhere
Going nowhere

Their tears are filling up their glasses
No expression
No expression

Hide my head I want to drown my sorrow
No tomorrow
No tomorrow.

Unfortunately, Gabe did not get a tomorrow. And, that mad day, the horrible day, at issue here with GABE was Feb 13th, the day when the unthinkable happened. The day before Valentines day and one moment, it was a sunny beautiful day and Gabe was at the auto shop (Prestiege Mercedes Benz) and he was fine, a healthy man of 54. Then, the next moment he wasnt fine and after four days of fighting to stay, he would not recover. 

That instant, the ordinary instant, with a bright blue sky and all, changed my life. 

It drastically and tragically changed Gabes 13 year old son Nicolas’ life and Nicolas’ mom Sallys life. 

It changed the lives of all of his friends and loved ones. It altered the life of anyone who was close to Gabe. Everyone who is here had their life changed in the instant when Gabe left us.

And it changed the life of my husband Adrian, Gabes only brother. My dear devastated Adrian who cant even speak and can barely walk he is so full of grief. 

As is Gabe and Adrians 84 year old mother Orieta, Gabe was her firstborn, 

Both Adrian and Orieta are so devastated with grief. They have wept and wept and so I am here to say what they cannot even say. Because to say it makes it real. 

I am the voice of both Adrian and Orieta today.

But it is hard for me to breathe right now. It is almost as if I do not want to breathe because breathing means living and youre dead. Gabe, youre not here with us. And we wish you were. Oh how we wish you were here.


But is Gabe truly gone? There is an old saying, in the midst of life we are in death (Didion mentions this saying in her book as well). 

Does Gabes death end his life or does he live brightly and shine in our memories of him? Perhaps Gabe continues to live within us in the memories of his infectious laugh and smile. 

The way he would whoop with delight.  "Whooooo" he would say when we played dominoes. He was happy and confident and full of life slapping down his tile with gusto. 

Does Gabe live in the memories of his charisma and in the love he showed his family not just in words but in action. Gabe visited his mom every day and had mate with her. 

Orieta lives with us and every day I would open the door leaving for work at 8 am and there he would be. Our dogs Frodo and Chewie would jump all over him and Orieta would walk out of her room rubbing her sleepy eyes and he would say, "Mom, youre like a mummy, get up." 

Then he would sit and heat up the water for their Mate tea and pour it in the cup and they would share the straw they call a bombija and then he would toast the bread and butter her toast for her. Every morning. He never missed a day. 

And I remember when I was on vacation, I recall grumbling when the doorbell rang everyday and saying in my usual sarcastic way, I bet its Gabe, because I was sitting on the couch all sleepy with no bra on, in my pajamas… and the doorbell rang every day that week and I would open the door and there Gabe was smiling saying, "Is my mom up?"

That memory shines so bright it almost brings Gabe back to life in my minds eye. I can see him in that memory. I really can. Gabe lives there, I swear he does. And he lives here in our hearts.

And how he was with his dad Alberto. They were so much alike. Both charismatic and passionate and strong. Both Libras, both talkative and opinionated as heck (I am a Libra too so I know). They worked together for years at the shop and they loved one another.

Gabe also lives on in the memory of how much Gabe adored his son Nicolas and saw him as much as possible. Anyone who knew Gabe knows how much he treasured his son. It was really all Gabe ever wanted to talk about, his boy Nicolas. Nicolas’ mom Sally was reminiscing to me how Gabe would call every day to talk to Nicolas at 2:45 when he got out of school. 

And I remember watching Gabe with Nicolas and thinking that other than my own father who loved his daughters fiercely, I had never seen anyone love a child the way Gabe loved Nicolas. It was truly the most unconditional love I have ever seen. Nicolas is beautiful with his dark wavy long black hair and  those deep brown eyes and that Pelaez dimple. Gabe will always live in Nicolas we know that. 

But we also know Gabe was broken hearted by the loss of his son Andrew who was hit by a car many years ago and at the very least it gives me some peace to know they are together now.

Gable also lives in the memory of the relationship he had with his brother Adrian, who he helped support when the family and Albert had issues. Gabe was in high school and he became a surrogate dad to Adrian, he is ten years older than him you see. And he took on the responsibility at a young age. 

They were ten years apart but close. When we were young, Adrian and I worshiped Gabe and Sally. They would take us everywhere, Vegas, Big Bear, Laughlin (never asking us for a dime because we were poor as church mice) and I always thought they were the most beautiful couple. Looking at the pictures, I see that they were majestic and luminous. 

A couple of years back, when we lived in Hesperia, and Gabe was living with us, we all went on a cruise and we had the best time. It was me, Adrian, Orieta, Gabe, Sally, Nicolas, my mom and my twin Jackie and her husband Joe. 

And a couple of Christmases ago, we got a cabin with my family and Gabe and Nicolas came along and I just remember Gabe showing up with bags and bags of meat to prepare. Because that is how Argentines show love, through food.

Gabe also shines in our memories of him being willing to give the shirt off his own back, much to his detriment at times. So generous. And giving. 

In how big he lived, never settling for easy. Always speeding through life, much like the fast cars he loved so much, he lived big and bold, working hard to be a better Gabe. 

How talented he was with cars. Gabe could literally build a car from scratch and did. He could fix anything and he loved him a Mercedes.

Was Gabe perfect? No. But Gabes imperfections are what made him so human, beautiful and true. 

In the end, I think what we can remember and even learn from Gabe is to appreciate each moment because it might be our last. And to take time for our family and friends and loved ones. And we need to butter our mothers’ toast for them, whenever we can.

I will end with the lyrics to last refrain from the song Mad World, 

"Hello teacher tell me what's my lesson
Look right through me
Look right through me

And I find it kind of funny
I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I'm dying
Are the best I've ever had
I find it hard to tell you
Cos' I find it hard to take
When people run in circles
It's a very very
Mad world
Mad world."

Notes on grief

The last four weeks have been a zinger. My brother in law had a massive aortic rupture without warning. We were in the ICU in Orange for days.

Open heart surgery that lasted twelve hours. We were brimming to the rim with sadness and anxiety but we couldn’t break.

No sleep, so much grief, heartbreaking decisions, and it all felt like a bad dream. Then he passed on the fourth day. I fell to the ground. “Must get up,” I thought. So I did.

Funeral to plan. Collages to make. Still had to go to work. Every day.

My family shattered. Glass on floor. Husband in pieces and 84 year old mother in law a zombie. Then clothes to bring, photos to copy for montage and a reception to plan and much more. His 13 year old son to comfort.  A eulogy to write. I didn’t cry, not even once, that week. I read Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking” straight through (not my first time).

Then funeral.  More hazy moments. Friends in the seats are the only thing that kept me sane. I felt my family shrinking. I spoke. But felt weightless and floating over myself. Watching it all.

Reception. I couldn’t eat. Beer then more beer. Too many (exemplified by me saying “This is for the homie” with tears in my eyes pouring beer on the grass.)

The worst was the next day.

The sinking in of grief.

My house felt like a tomb.