When I came across this picture of my Mom and me earlier today, it brought back a flood of memories. Many of what a tight unit my Mother and I made. As we get older, we often forget the impact our Mothers have had on the people we are today. How, through kindness and unconditional love, they made us strong. Preparing us for the long road ahead. As we grow, it’s important to remember the sacrifices and selflessness they exercised. Though my Mom could be tough. She always made an effort to shield me from any pain that would come from learning the hard way. Thanks Mom. Your sacrifices have never gone unnoticed.
I was home one day and decided to see if I could find a movie on Netflix. It seemed to be a better choice than watching CNN or any of the twenty four hour news networks. Unless I know ahead of time just what I want to watch. It can take up to an hour to find something that I feel can hold my interest for more than it’s entirety. Within a matter of seconds, I found a Seth Rogen film I had not seen or even heard of. It was even under the ‘Critically Acclaimed’ category. So, how can I refuse? Now don’t get me wrong, Seth is pretty one dimensional in his work. Throughout his career, he’s pretty much cornered the market as far as lovable losers are concerned. Still, I love his work, and in many ways, identify with his characters.
Going in, there were two other factors that drew me to the movie. One; It’s filmed in my then current city of Seattle and much like my years as a New Yorker, where I would be able to name most of the streets and locations featured in the various franchises of Law & Order. I easily recognized many of the Seattle streets where the film was created. What I did not expect and did not bargain for was the reaction I had to Jordan-Gordon-Levitt’s character Adam being diagnosed and struggling with cancer. As someone who watched a beautiful soul succumb to leukemia and die when I was only eight and was told I had month to live due to a brain tumor when I was twelve, it fucking wrecked me.
I was seven or eight years old when my Father started dating Angie. She was like no other person I had met before and maybe until I met the woman who would eventually become my wife. Angie was born in Taiwan and lived with her very strict, traditional and educated family in Queens. I’m not sure how the two met, but with Angie being was a teller at a local bank and my father still driving a bus for the city. The chances of them crossing paths was pretty high. On the nights we’d pick her up from the apartment where she lived with her parents. I’d have to hide in the back seat until they emerged and I got the signal that the coast was clear. She, along with her family had immigrated looking for a better life and like many, the chance to work towards the American dream. A recently divorced bus driver with a son was more of a nightmare than a dream.
Angie and my dad were polar opposites in almost every way. While my father stood 6’4 with a booming voice. Angie was tiny in comparison, always speaking softly in what often seemed like whispers. Her jet black hair often hung down below her knees. Often causing her peers to ask how she kept it looking so manageable and beautiful. Though my Dad was always a heavy drinker and an occasional drug user. Unlike my Father, Angie never acquired a taste for alcohol, drugs, or gambling. Such distractions or deviances never interested her.
Her generosity and penchant for spoiling me were undeniable. However, introducing me to New York City’s Chinatown and adventures on Mott Street would impact and influence me the most. She would read the Chinese comic books I’d buy each time, teaching me a new word, phrase, or Chinese slang term. As a kid who hated the Wringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus, my Uncle Ray and Aunt Mary would take me to each year. Angie’s taking me to the Taiwanese Circus left my mouth gaping in amazement and adoration. The experience blew my mind.
By the age of seven, I had already witnessed a friend fall to his death and been to a funeral, but seeing Angie fall to Leukemia was the hardest thing I’d witnessed before or since. Seeing her lay in a hospital bed connected to tubes. Experiencing the process of her flowing black hair become stubble, only compared to what I saw in war movies depicting prison or concentration camps. The treatment, drastic, yet unsuccessful only seemed to make things worse. Eventually, after often brutal chemotherapy treatment that only seemed to worsen her condition, she would come home with my Dad , but it was short lived, as she would soon return to the hospital where she would pass.
Even now, when I bring her up in conversation, my Dad easily recalls detailed memories of her kindness, their time together, and what it was like sitting by her bedside at the hospital. As I write this, I try to focus on all the good and kindness that she brought us. The positive imprint she left in her twenty seven years on this planet. Maybe, writing about the suffering will help me heal enough to focus on the good things.
As for her family. I didn’t meet any of them until the day of the funeral. Like I said, they would have never let their daughter date a man who was divorced with a kid. When I think back to those days; and I often do. I didn’t like it, but I kind of understood. Looking back, I can’t help but think, that experience had a lot to do with my drive in volunteering on so many cancer related fundraisers. To think that something good came out of that tragedy is as rewarding as it is hard to believe. In the end, Angie may have been the greatest, most positive influence on my early childhood. Her presence and overall impact certainly influenced me as an adult and effected the way I’ll always want to treat people. I will always love her and appreciate the short, yet impactful life she lived. Till this day. I still have the Chinatown shirt she bought me on a trip to Mott Street. I had to be eight at the time. Though it hasn’t fit in more than forty years, I keep it as a token of her kindness and the last physical item representing our time together. Thanks Angie, you will always hold a place in my heart.
As of late, I’ve been doing my best to reach out to long-time friends and loved ones. With the advent of social media, many of us, myself included, have overlooked the importance and joy of hearing a friend’s voice over the telephone or opening a handwritten note or card from someone you once shared frequent exchanges with. Just imagine if one of your hundreds of friends on Facebook ever got a call from you. Don’t worry. You’ll be struck by lightning while accepting your lottery win before that ever happens.
No matter how much time has passed, there will always be a place in our hearts for friends, family and loved ones — sharing memories and getting updates on their current or recent doings. In contrast, exploring a new way to see one another. Although, those first words, “Hey …, this is …” might take a little courage. There is almost always a reward on the other end of the line.
I was living in Midtown Manhattan when my grandmother was hospitalized. The smart as whip, quick witted person I had known my whole life was quickly fading. and though I could not accept it at the time., was not returning home or even graduating to one of those old age homes that, at the time, had only seen in movies and on TV. With trips from the Broadway office where I worked quickly becoming a challenge. I decided to stay with my Dad in Staten Island, just blocks away from the hospital she had been admitted to.
One weekend morning.as I held her fragile hand in mine. She turned to me and in a weakened voice inquiring about an incident I hadn’t thought of in close to twenty years. Referring to a second grade incident that I took the blame for but never played any part in or even witness. “Why did you throw that girl’s snow boots out the window?” Those words, the last she would utter before passing away served as a heavy burden I still carry today. Of all the things I did. The bloody noses and black eyes I gave out to those who came to me looking for a fight. The times I mouthed off to teachers or questioned the religious dogma we were being force fed. The one she took to the grave was the crime I never committed.
While I still look back, dream and write about my childhood and growing up. Rarely do my dreams include the angel who played a pivotal role in my growing up and becoming a man. The few times she’s showed up in my dreams, her role mirrors that of her real life presence. Through thick and thin, my grandmother was always that of a care giver and a peace maker. Whereas she always comes up in conversation with my Dad and Step Mom. I often feel that I never had a chance to thank her for her infinite kindness, hard work and guidance. I promise to always be grateful and appreciative. Oh, and just a reminder. I never touched her boots.
It’s been close to a week since my Mom’s first visit to our new home here in Jersey City. During her week here, I made it a priority to capture some intimate images of her stay. Being that we’ve lived so far from one another for over twenty years now. I don’t get to see her nearly as much as I’d like to. While her stay had it’s share of ups and downs. It reminded me of how much I love, respect and appreciate how much she’s shaped the person I am today. By far my favorite moments of her visit was seeing her interaction and the positive foot print she left on everyone she met. Her smile, positive outlook and ability to make complete strangers feel like family are inspiring. Looking back at her visit, I realized that the thing I enjoyed the most was hearing her speak in Spanish s0 often with anyone and everyone she new spoke the language. For me personally, it’s always been one of the many traits that made her so beautiful. Till this day, I still remember the first words she taught me as a baby “Dame Un Beso.” (Give me a kiss.) All these years later, I still tell people about my first words and about what an amazing woman my Mother has always been. Despite all our differences and endless similarities. We still love one another to the fullest. Thanks Mom.
I was having a conversation recently with a photographer I had just met the day before. We were just talking shop and sharing some of our experiences. Then she said something that hit me like a bag of sand. (bags of sand are quite heavy.) She said “To be honest. I’m only truly happy when I’m shooting.” I sat frozen for a second. A second that seemed like a lifetime. This woman who I had just met said what I’ve been feeling for so long. It was as if someone had just hijacked my soul and said the very words that I’ve never been able to say myself.
Since I was a child I always had this hyper creativity about myself. Always writing and creating in one way or another. It wasn’t until I got into photography that it really hit me though. From the moment I got my first camera I was obsessed. As I got better that obsession took up more and more of my time and occupied more real estate in my thoughts. When I think about it I’m reminded of an old Ray Romano skit where he talks about his young daughter of four. She was looking out the window in what seemed to be deep thought for some time. When he asked her what she was thinking about. She replied “Candy”. That’s me. Only a lot older and with photography. I was laying in bed last night around 4:00 AM. Tossing and turning, reflecting on that days shoot and the ones that are coming. Thinking of how I can avoid having my pictures start to look the same. Working on new concepts and ideas. I just can’t put my mind to rest. Laying awake my eyes focused the wardrobe in front of the bed. “What if I emptied it out and photographed someone inside. Someone who feels trapped.” It’s fucking 4:00 AM and I’m thinking about this shit. It’s crazy.
My long time friend Mandy got me into volunteering a little over a year ago. During the times I shot these events I’ve received so much love and praise for pictures I thought were pretty mediocre. I’ve sent them to her with an almost apologetic tone. Of course she’s always positive and appreciative, exclaiming “these are amazing.” “Why are you so hard on yourself?” The thing is, I’m not an events photographer but I want to be at my very best regardless. Even when I’m shooting portraits, something that I’ve become very good at. I keep thinking “I can do better. I can do more.” It’s an obsession.
The plain and simple truth is that when I’m shooting. When I’m in that mindset. I’m the very best I think I’ve ever been or can be. I’m pretty much a dork when it comes down to it. But when I’m in the studio communicating and creating, I feel like a fucking Rock Star. I can say and do things I wouldn’t be able to otherwise. I’m happy and confident. I’m not shy, self conscious or clumsy. (okay, maybe a little clumsy.) Not to freak anyone out but I’ve even compared it to sex. Not quite there but about as close to an orgasm as you can get without….. well, you know. So yeah, maybe I am only truly happy when I’m shooting. God, help me.