On October 2015 I noticed that I was losing hair in small circles. In less than a month the small circles grew incredibly bigger. Instead of feeling negative about it I ultimately shaved my head clean and started remembering the first time I lost all of my hair. I was seven years old then. While I was writing as an effort to remember I realized how much what I love and what loves me back has shaped what I am as a person today.
I have had a relationship with death that started even before I was born. My mother’s pregnancy was threatened by pre-eclampsia and a minor case of almost falling down a cliff a few dozen meters high. Then, as she was giving birth, my own umbilical cord started strangling me as I tried to leave the womb and to free me from what could’ve been certain death a surgeon made an incision that cut me just above one of my eyes. I was almost left blind, or dead, so it wasn’t that bad.
My family at this point was always struggling to meet ends and still hardship somehow managed to show itself very often. This along the years would make my very optimistic father seriously question whether if life was an adventure, or a struggle. I’ve come to realize that the only reason he was able to stand for so long was because he had a family. I’ve come to realize later on that the only reason anyone survives long enough is because they’ve had a family.
To be honest my life hasn’t been hard. It hasn’t been riddled with unyielding difficulty or shattering tragedy, but I have payed attention. It’s not in the evident but in the subtle that I have been able to observe how pain relates to myself and others. I have not yet been scarred, but I have seen countless open wounds. I took a strange fascination with wanting to see people for what they are deep inside. I desired to understand them.
When I was still a toddler, a neighbor, who was probably insane openly threatened my parents to kill me and attempted to do so one time. We had to move constantly during my early years due to a series of difficulties and I was a very sickish child, getting fevers and colds as often as every week.
There’s the time when I first saw blood. A man stabbed another in a grocery store I used to visit often and from the place the cashier made hide I saw as the man threatened her for money. I was begged not to say anything. Now that I remember, I didn’t see the man who was stabbed again. Could be anything. At the time I couldn’t make sense of a man bleeding to death, but it was naturally terrifying.
As any kid, I grew up without the slightest hint of what was going on around me. I engrossed myself with fantasies, made buildings out of furniture, ate cheese and wasted away my days playing games.
When I wasn’t able to play games I was usually coming up with new ones in my head. I thought that if I imagined hard enough before sleeping, I could actually visit those inventions in my dreams. I came up with all sorts of worlds, characters and adventures. Whenever we were on the road, what was outside the window became a stage for an adventure, and a makeshift character made with two of my fingers ran across the stage. I used to link my tiny stories together, and as the years passed they formed a narrative with a very changing universe of characters and settings as new interests and ways of thinking developed in my life. After 20 years, that “metaverse” as I ended up calling it is still developing and changing, just as I as a person have. This narrative is probably the most significant and private aspect of my life. I work on it every single day.
I loved playing games so much that language itself wasn’t an obstacle, but another challenge to surpass. Despite not knowing a word of English, I started learning all by myself just from playing titles such as Final Fantasy VI or Earthbound. It was just me, some initial help from my father and an Spanish-English dictionary. I never studied for a single English exam in my life and aced all of them, not counting that one that consisted of 5 different exams during a lapse of 6 hours. For that one I studied a little. Aced it too.
My father loved showering me with gifts and games, during my childhood I’m pretty sure I completed over a hundred games, if not more. I didn’t have time for keepsakes, I traded my completed games for new ones or loaned them from Blockbuster. I remember praying to Blockbuster instead of praying to God at nights. I really wanted the God of Blockbuster to bring me new games.
I started going bald in spots when I was about six years old. It meant nothing for me at the time, and even when the disease claimed all of my hair, including my eyebrows, I didn’t mind it much, but my parents found it very distressing. I remember visiting my sick brother in bed with a bunch of toy cars and making tracks with the folds in the bed sheets, then he played ‘the barber’ with me. It was supposed to mean that whoever cut my hair did a terrible job. The barber had a heavy french accent.
My family at some point became economically able to seek treatment for me in Mexico City and there we were able to learn that it was alopecia areata universalis. Most definitely hereditary, since my grandfather was also completely bald, eyebrows and eyelashes included. There, my father was sold the hope for treatment even when there isn’t any proven way to treat alopecia. He wasn’t told that, of course, and he still believes there’s treatment. Before all of this one of the doctors back home had made my parents use a cream on me that at the time was recently proven to increase the risks of skin cancer, had my mother not mentioned that they were using the cream on me I could have cancer right now.
Constant recurrence of colds and fevers also pointed out a problem with my tonsils which got really swollen at times so they had to be removed via surgery. During my recovery I experienced for the first time how sweet it is to let a woman you fancy take care of you when you’re frail.
Despite my apparent misfortunes I was completely unaffected. As a kid, I was very sociable, going so far as to dial random numbers in the yellow pages just to strike a conversation and most of the times I’d try to make about games or about themselves. I’ve always loved learning about people.
In a single day our economic stability went down the drain. We were forced to leave the city and seek opportunities at life elsewhere. We left our big home and our nice lives which lasted less than a few years and returned to the struggle. Just further below this time.
Recently at this time my father’s father in law died, and he felt an incredible loss that he was never able to come to terms with and he had no idea where to go or what to do. Without guidance or resources, life becomes very harsh.
My father succeeded in taking management of an old restaurant in a town 100 kilometers away from the city. He lived inside a makeshift “room” not bigger than two square meters for a year before we had the resources to rent a house there. For the next 15 years my parents would devote most of their efforts to this restaurant.
Running a restaurant is not easy, neither is dealing with a loss that I could only compare with having a winning lottery ticket suddenly catch fire and vanish in front of your eyes, except that the ticket cost your life savings.
Games helped me find solace in the years to come, as they would be very lonely. Still, my father strongly suspected that they were the cause of my hair loss. No, he was actually very sure of it and he really wanted to remove them from my life. Probably the realization that they were the only thing I had that made me happy was what stopped him from reaching those extremes. I don’t think I would be alive if he ever did that when I was young. I am certain I’m not exaggerating.
Life in town was hard. Back at the city everyone knew me and my circumstances. It wasn’t the case now, as both at the streets and school I was laughed at or picked on. My easygoing nature could only take me so far. When I tried to get close to others I would get turned down because of my appearance. While they were exemptions I periodically felt more and more lost about how to socialize properly with others.
Life at home was hard. My father was left very affected by all that happened and became very prone to anger at the smallest provocation. He soon took the project of “cleansing” me from games, taking them away for weeks on end, which didn’t help my whole situation. Naturally, my grades started to drop, which in turn caused my father to become even more vigorous in his reprimands. He started saying and doing things that a kid shouldn’t go through. I became very withdrawn in my own family.
I didn’t want to go to school and I didn’t want to be home either. The most peaceful times of the day were those hours that happened after school and before my father came back from work. Whenever I heard him come back I literally started shaking with fear — I was genuinely terrified of him. Even to this day I still feel a hint of fear when he comes back, even when I know nothing bad will happen anymore.
During many years the thing I’d look the most after was summer and winter vacations where I was able to stay at my grandparents house for two weeks. We visited them often anyways but I wanted to be with my grandmother a lot. One could argue that it was because I got too much out of her. She indeed gave me spare money, prepared all the dishes I liked and even bought me games when my father wouldn’t do that anymore. It wasn’t because of that but because there I was uninterruptedly able to feel happy, safe and at ease. I didn’t even mind my uncle waking me up at night when he was drunk to talk to me for hours on end about nothing at all or my grandfather taking the television to put on his news or make me go with him somewhere under the scorching sun. I didn’t even mind the time when my uncle put off a cigar in my hand or when I made my grandmother really mad for breaking the plant pots in the bathroom. All of that was fine compared with being home.
There’s something really sad about not being able to be yourself with the people you love. Sharing time with my family began to feel like a compromise of my own identity. I felt fake.
Whenever I wanted to talk about what interested me I would be shut down and told how useless those games are and how bad they have been for me. About how they’ve made me lose my hair, how they were making me withdrawn or unsociable outside home. In their eyes, a kid once that won a prize for getting the highest grades in a municipal examination was reduced to a student with a lot of failing grades due to games. My family found a culprit and the verdict was irrevocable.
My father never gave up in his efforts but at the same time wasn’t consistent with them. Sometimes he wouldn’t mind and other times he just snapped on the spot, taking away everything for weeks on end and I wouldn’t be able to even watch TV. All I could do at home at those times was study and sleep. I had to learn to be always on my toes, never to let my guard down. I wanted to defend myself, but nothing I could say had any validity.
One time when I got really bad grades in fourth grade he told me I was leaving school for good. He took me to one of his friends, a secretary of education, and there they simulated paperwork that severed my ties with education. I felt some of the darkest things at the time but all I could do is sob in silence. After missing school for almost a week to clean dishes at the restaurant I was taken back to the secretary’s office to be notified that the whole thing was a play. For my father this was an attempt at making me see the importance of being in school and not in the streets working but to me it was nothing more than a cruel prank.
It’s only after I started studying college that I was able to begin to understand my father. It’s really hard building understanding in an environment like that and sometimes distance is necessary. It’s important to keep in mind that my father was also going through a lot himself, all while trying his best to do the right thing for his family. At the time I wasn’t able to look at him as anything other than someone not to provoke, but he was far more scared and lost that I’ve felt at any time. I do not resent him in any way, because I love him.
I never stopped missing the times when my father would bring me new games and spend the night playing them with him. Those were possibly the most precious memories of my childhood. And I knew they were never going to repeat themselves again.
My maternal grandparents were my most important family away from home. My grandfather, Don Antonio, as people respectfully called him, was a very old-times man. A great example of a hard working and self made person that came out of poverty very successfully after much struggle. I didn’t pay much attention to him early, as he never involved himself too much with children, but he became more important to me later on.
My oldest uncle lived with them and we all lovingly called him “Neon” as he helped run my grandfather’s neon light business. He was riddled with morbid obesity, depression, alcoholism and what I suspect was a case of schizoid personality disorder. He was good at heart but he never found the strength or reasons to become independent. He never married. He spent most of his time shut inside his room sleeping or watching TV. Just as as my alopecia was most probably hereditary, my father became terrified at the thought that I would become like him in the future.
Alcohol was a big problem for them. My grandfather took to drinking and while the subject remained taboo, it is said that there were very verbal and even physical fights between them many years ago. Their relationship was that of mutual distancing, merely talking to attend business issues, which my uncle managed very efficiently despite anything that might discredit him. He didn’t even eat at the table with his parents or anyone for that matter, just as much as I was starting to prefer myself. The similarities would raise red flags in any parent — with mine it wasn’t any different.
I loved my grandmother the most. She knew my favorite foods and let me play my games on their living room TV, even if that meant that at times she wouldn’t be able to watch her soap operas. Since I was a toddler she took a special liking to me, perching me in her belly as she watched television and I slept. She knew who I thought I wanted to be at any given moment, I told her the things that made me afraid and what I really felt because I told her everything. I was completely sincere with her, she always listened, always comforted me. Their house became like a second home to me and in my heart it still is my one true home.
I always knew that my grandmother’s smiles sometimes showed a hint of sadness. When my other uncles and aunt would come they would only do so if there was food or money for them, so she always prepared big meals for them to come. When you love someone you can be aware of the pain they can inflict upon you, but you continue to love them nonetheless. But I believe that even a mother can have enough of one-sided love.
From a very early age the concept of death struck with me. How does one say goodbye to your loved ones? I’ve come to learn that there’s not such thing as a proper goodbye. People stick with you even after they’re gone.
Uncle Neon’s alcoholism reached life threatening levels during early 2013 and after being warned he didn’t stop. Alcohol took him one night after his body couldn’t take any more of his lifestyle. I stayed watching over him that night, and I couldn’t believe what happened. He died while we slept. When someone so close to you dies, time just stops and you can never believe it. It appears to me that the brain can’t handle the concept of death too well.
No mother should live to see his own son die. A lot of questions were asked to God, but everyone knew the answers already. A few months later, breast cancer was detected in my grandmother. After removing one of her breasts and confining her to a wheelchair, we hoped for recovery.
After all this, something in my grandmother just switched off. She wouldn’t speak much and didn’t pay much attention to others. Still, her ways of handing out a smile or laughing remained the same. I realized that she has endured a lot thorough the years, and how her love for her family is what has let her endure so much. Just like my father.
One day, my grandmother didn’t feel so well. After a few minutes, she got incredibly ill. We rushed her to the hospital, where we found out that a blood clot had entered her brain. I cry whenever I remember the last time I talked with my grandmother, because she made me laugh and because in a way, she told me that I should seek my happiness. We greeted and said goodbye in laughs, but I knew she was in pain. I didn’t expect that to be the last time. The next morning I got a call from my mother — my grandmother had died.
She loved until the very last moments of her life.
They took her corpse back home so my grandfather could see her, as he didn’t after we took her to the hospital. I can believe any man breaking down, but not my grandfather. All his life he faced many difficulties and didn’t flinch but this time he was absolutely devastated.
Family, after all, is everything.
I didn’t have the chance to say goodbye properly, but there I did. I hold her in my arms as I poured all of my heart into her chest. I told her what she was: my princess, the love of my life.
After over 50 years he was alone in his household. There wasn’t a single day that he didn’t miss his spouse or son. He also regretted immensely many things he did to them, as he commented to me one time. Sometimes he would cry silently at the table, other times he would sit at the edge of his bed for hours, just staring at the wall.
“I can’t believe that all I’ve worked for in my life is repaid to me like this. God is either unfair, or cruel.” That’s what my grandfather told me one day. So far, what I know is that God or not, life is not fair. I do not resent this, as it’s just how reality is. Sometimes, in the silence of his empty house, we’d talk about the meaning of life. We ended up agreeing that while there is no apparent meaning, a good family is the closest thing to a meaningful life. Family isn’t blood but strong ties. I am tied to him and the past residents of his house with a bond stronger than blood, just as my father is tied to his stepfather.
Almost a year had already passed after my grandmother’s death. One morning I found out my grandfather drooling in the floor of his room. I put him in his car and drove him directly to the hospital. He has already survived thrombosis before, but nobody was so sure this time. Just when we believed that he was recovering he suffered an internal hemorrhage out of the blue, and it was lethal. In less than an hour all the remaining family gathered around him to say goodbye. He was aware, but he didn’t look terrified of death, as he used to say he was. In fact I believe that he, after all that he’s lost, welcomed death with open hands. Each of us took turns to say what we must. Some spoke from their hearts, some still have to learn the lesson.
And so we said goodbye.
I know what real loss looks like. I’ve seen it in my father and grandparents. Hair loss? Nothing. With or without hair I am the same person. And so, I found out why I didn’t care when I first saw those bald spots a few months back.