This autumn my dad asked me to start a project with him. I suggested we write letters to each other based on how he used to write me cards as a kid. We’ve sent a few back and forth. It’s been beautifully healing.
We’ve both agreed to share them publicly. We feel it may bring some insight for others.
This is a letter sent this morning. My dad already read it. It’s the first one I’m sharing.
More will come.
Image description: A photo from Fall of 1978. I am sitting on my dad’s lap at the Como Indoor Gardens in St. Paul, MN. We are both smiling and wearing white sweaters. I am two years old.
It's been too long since I wrote you a letter and I've got some stories to share. I know things have been rough for you over the past week or so especially. Cancer fucking sucks. I've been thinking a lot about you and been imagining bringing you with me all week long. I know it's not the same as having you physically here or me being there. But I've felt you beside me despite the physical distance between us. And while you may have been in the hospital, you were also with me in all these stories. You will always be with me.
You said something recently that has rooted itself deep in my heart. It's made being so far away not as difficult because it's helped me see you everywhere. You told me, "Jason, I want you to know that I see your friends as my family."
This week has been full of friends and family, and you've been seated among us all.
Here are a few moments we've shared throughout the week.
Monday, November 2, 2020
I was meeting with my dear friend Rupy when I first learned you were heading into the hospital. We are volunteering to co-produce a Virtual Art Salon for immigrant artists. On Monday, we were selecting the six artists who will be a part of our first Salon.
You were with Rupy and me. We held space for you before continuing on with our selections, and you helped guide my hand and heart from there on out. We selected artists in San Antonio, Oakland, New York, and New Jersey. I knew you'd be proud of how carefully we considered every application.
Tuesday, November 3, 2020
A little over a week before Election Day, I decided to hold virtual space for my friends on Zoom for seven hours. My invitation was simple: come as you are, all conversational boundaries will be respected, come and go as you please.
Friends young and old from across the country joined throughout Election Day. We talked little of the election, and decided instead to share art and story. People who don't really know each other found new comrades, and we laughed amidst great uncertainty.
You were there the whole seven hours. You joined us in laughter and merriment, taking respite from all the shittiness of cancer and the suffering of this world.
I just wish I could have shared with you the homemade noodles and roasted pork tenderloin I made. I think Grandma Irene would be proud.
Wednesday, November 4, 2020
Rupy and I met with four immigrant artists throughout the day learning more about their art, their way of making, and who they be. One artist, Kiana Honarmund, created a video about water. The video through line is her washing her hands in a bowl of water over and again. Cut between and laid over this video are various ways water moves on this planet.
Your hands are one of the strongest memories I have of you. When I started working as a barista almost a decade ago, my hands started growing rough from all the washing, cuts, and burns. I felt in them you, and all of the manual labor your hands gave to keep a roof over our head and food on our table.
Watching Kiana's video, I saw your hands being washed, and I felt your hands in mine. There was no physical distance anymore, and I was by your bed just holding your hand tenderly.
Thursday, November 5, 2020
Your hands and their labor surfaced again for me when Rupy and I met with Juan C. Escobedo in San Antonio. He's constructing an installation of about 400 cardboard shuttles making their way to a giant piñata planet made of white and beige tissue paper. The caravan of shuttles is blocked from getting to the planet by a cardboard wall surrounding it.
Listening to Juan talk about making each shuttle by hand and the importance of labor, about who gets blocked from resources, about the choice of cardboard as material reminded me so much of you and your labor. The way your hands broke down cardboard produce boxes. The way you talked about your union and the challenges of workers trying to affect change within it. The way your hands showed all of it.
As Juan shared one of his shuttles, a smile grew wide on my face. We were in the backyard looking up at the sky pointing out constellations. We are together among the stars.
Friday, November 6, 2020
I sat at Alamo Square with my friend Mark eating a donut and sipping coffee. We talk often of memory and family and dreams and legacies. Talking to Mark reminds me of talking to you. He used to work for a church, and while not Catholic understands the rituals of Christianity. He, too, is queer and marvels at the esoteric. Our conversations have a way of dancing between multiple truths and parallel realities.
You and I have often found ourselves doing similar dances over all the years I've been alive. Your letters written to me during the silent retreats you went on were always filled with philosophy and theology.
You recently said you weren't a theologian, and I refuted your assertion. Talking with Mark I realized you are correct: you are not a theologian. Instead, you've become a mystic, and you are sharing in / of the mysteries of the universes.
As Mark and I sat at Alamo Square, you danced upon the roofs of the Seven Sisters welcoming morning. I loved seeing the sun above your head, and your mom's moves in your bones. Your magic is that family is always present. Thank you for all of your gifts.
Saturday, November 7, 2020 - Morning
I woke and spoke with you after learning the night before that your life is now moving month to month. We talked about greeting remaining moments with comfort and care, being as pain-free as possible. Home and family bring care; they also make pain a bit more bearable.
I've been creating A Space for Dreaming with my dear friend Crystal. We planned a three-part, two-day workshop for November 6 and November 7, 2020. I spoke with mom and the siblings right after I hung up our session on Friday night. I spoke with you shortly before our next session Saturday morning.
When Crystal and I started our Dream Space on Saturday morning, we asked, "What desire do you want to bring here today? What do you want to leave at the door?"
I shared that I wanted to leave your cancer at the door, and that I desired to be in space and time with friends and comrades.
When Dream Time came, I turned off my camera and microphone and put up my feet. As I closed my eyes, I was suddenly transported to the spot around your left kidney where lymphoma is metastasizing. As I swam in cancer cells, I remembered to leave your cancer at the door.
And you and I were suddenly on a plane to California. We arrived at a gathering of cabins on a Northern California beach. My friends and our family were all there. There was no COVID and no cancer. There was just this time together with sand between our toes.
I made a meal for everyone, and it was served as the sun set over the Pacific. Music, dancing, merriment, and laughter carried us from dusk to midnight. A bonfire was lit, and we all gathered around to listen to you tell tall tales.
I cried. Deeply, deeply cried.
I still had time before we all gathered again, so I sat in John's lap. He embraced me as I recalled the dream. My sobbing turned to a smile.
This dream is as real as any memory. We were on that beach. I made that meal. You told tall tales.
This is what I will remember. This is the care and comfort I envision for you.
Saturday, November 7, 2020 - Afternoon
Our comrade and dear friend Tomas invited John and I to join him in going to the Castro to celebrate the announcement of President-elect Joe Biden. Celebration felt so distant. I just wanted time with you. I want and wanted to be next to you holding your hand or watching whatever you wanted to watch. My dream of us on that beach felt like it was flying away.
Feeling lost, I just listened, and I heard your voice. "Your friends are my family."
John and I joined Tomas and Eric and Manny in a delightful trip down Market Street to join the celebration. We arrived at the edge of Castro and Market, just far enough away from the masses. The music spilled up the hill, and we danced in the streets. It was a moment of breath and bliss amidst so much uncertainty and stress.
As I danced, I knew this is where I should be because this is where you'd want me to be: among family, experiencing all of life, full of its joys and pains and delights and anxieties, dancing not in spite of it all but because of it all.
You helped teach me this: life is beautiful because it is messy.
Saturday, November 7, 2020 - Evening
John and I came home before the crowds grew too large and because we were a bit too intoxicated. I closed all the curtains and threw on some music. John and I laid down on the bed and held each other tenderly.
After so many emotions and moments and dreams shared with so many friends and comrades and family, this moment of comforting darkness and intimate rest with my husband stilled me. In that deep tranquility, I recognized this bond I have with my husband is a reflection of the one between you and mom.
I am grateful for this gift.
Sunday, November 8, 2020
A day of rest is needed. A day of video games and movies and cooking. A day of enjoying the comfort of home. A day of return.
It is also the day you returned home.
Monday, November 9 and Tuesday, November 10, 2020
I know the time when we both physically occupy this material reality may be coming to a close sooner than desired. And that saddens and angers me. I wish cancer, a cancer most likely caused by your exposure to Monsanto's Roundup through your labor as a custodian, wasn't flowing through your marrow.
I also know you are and will always be ever-present. You exist not just as you are right now; you are all of who you've been and all of who you have yet to be. You are here in these stories, and I will forever share these stories.
You are my blood and bone. You are my flesh. And while the flesh of your physical body will at some point be no more, the flesh of your spirit always lives.
That, to me, is heaven. And I am lucky that for this moment we get to share this heaven while still in these physical bodies.
I love you, dad.
And as Dolly Parton sings, "I will always love you."