On Heartbreak, Transition, and Something That My Pops Told Me
The flight back to Los Angeles was heavy. I’d been sleep deprived for a few days, not being able to get more than a couple hours of sleep each night. Not that I wasn’t trying; I’d been desperately trying to get some rest. But my mind had been on overdrive, and shutting those thoughts down in the solitude of darkness had become absolutely futile.
I collected my belongings from baggage claim and met my father curbside outside of the Southwest gate. I tapped on the back window of the car and heard the click of the trunk. Instantly, a wave of exhaustion washed over me as I struggled to stuff all my gear into the trunk. All I wanted was to get home, crawl into bed, and sleep this feeling away.
“How was your trip?” my dad asked as I settled in the passenger seat.
“It was great.” My eyes blinked blurry as my mind wandered, a strong ping of nostalgia pinching at my temples. “You’d love it up there. The trees. The air. You should drive up the 101 one day all the way up to Humboldt. It’s pretty amazing.”
“That’s good. Maybe one day soon.”
My father and I have never really been close. He was one of those stern stoic men who was never really concerned with being friends with me; through my childhood and adolescence, he was very strict and severe and we clashed a whole lot. But as I’ve grown older, as I’ve seen for myself some of the struggles that he and my mother must’ve endured as undocumented parents working to raise three kids, I began to understand the urgency and toughness behind this style of parenting. Over the last few years, I’ve found myself opening up to healing and building a relationship with my father, and I know that he’s been receptive to the changes in both of our lives.
“So… I signed the lease today with Julio for the apartment. I finally got the keys to the place.” I said.
“Oh yeah? How’s it feel?”
This was as good of an opening as any; I was dying to talk to someone. My chest has been tight the entire weekend, and the thoughts had been pushing me further and further towards the edge.
“To be honest, dad… I’m incredibly confused…”
“What do you mean confused?” my dad scoffed. “Isn’t this what you wanted?”
“It’s not that I don’t want it. I mean… today… signing the papers, handing over the second portion of the deposit and going for broke, and getting the keys handed to me… being able to unlock the front door of my apartment and step inside. It was such a remarkable feeling. I’ve dreamt about this for years. And to finally realize this vision… it was amazing.”
“So… what’s the problem? Don’t you like the place? Your roommate?”
“It’s not that either.” I shifted in my seat.
“This is a big transition for me, something I’ve been visualizing for a long time. And it’s not that I didn’t have to courage to do this before; I just felt that I had a lot going for me here. You, mom, the family… you are all here. My job was here. All my friends were here. I had a steady girlfriend here.
“And then, things began to change. My friends began move away to other parts of the country to continue with their careers. Others got married and had children. It felt as though everyone else was moving right along into the next phases of their lives. And I felt stuck. I’m 28 years old; 30 isn’t all that far away. I’ve been feeling this desperate surge in me to take charge of my life. To move forward. To accomplish something. To make some of my dreams come true.”
My dad nodded.
“This is all so hard for me. To leave. But as difficult as this transition is turning out to be, I’m not afraid. I’m excited and happily anxious.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
I took a deep breath.
“When the guy handed me the keys today for the apartment… my breakup with my ex finally became incredibly real. It hit me all at once, like I’d been drop-kicked. I’ve been working around this feeling for months now, focused on getting things done and moving forward, settling into this new job, experiencing new places and people. But in the back of my mind and deep in my heart… I’ve kept this feeling locked away. And as soon as I had the keys in my hand, that feeling was set loose. I’ve been struggling to keep it in check, but… shit… I don’t know what to do. This feeling… it’s excruciating.”
My dad drove on silently. I put my head between my knees and tried to catch my breath.
“I don’t understand. I thought you said the break-up was mutual…”
“Dad… it’s NEVER mutual. Whenever a guy tells you that, it really means that he got dumped.”
“What do you mean?”
I sat up and took a deep breath.
“The last several months of our relationship were toxic for us both. Somewhere along the way, we grew far apart. I guess I got caught up in my own visions and stopped being attentive to her needs. And I know that I hurt her a lot. She was a part of my visions for the future, but… I suppose I wasn’t taking into account what she wanted. And after a few times of fighting off a break-up, she finally made it clear that she wanted out. And I realized that I had to let her go. And when this became our reality, a part of me shut down. I guess I was just too wounded and angry at the time to accept it.”
“Is this why you’re leaving?”
“There are many reasons why I’m leaving. I’ve always told you about living in Berkeley. But I’d be lying if I told you that it wasn’t a big reason why I felt that it was time to go. I figured that the best way to heal would be to start over fresh somewhere new. And now that I’m here… knowing that I’m leaving… knowing that I’m probably never going to see or hear from her ever again… living with the fact that we never even had a half-decent good-bye… it’s devastating.”
My dad cleared his throat and gripped the steering wheel. My chest burned and I gasped. Suddenly, he pulled over, parked the car, and killed the engine.
“Jesús… let me tell you something. And I want you to listen to me very closely.” He glanced at me and sighed.
“Heartbreak. It sucks. And I know you’re hurting. How could you not? It’s still fairly fresh. I don’t know about the sort of relationship you had with her, and it really doesn’t matter. This is your situation right now. And you can’t run away from it. You have to confront what you’re going through and feel it very deeply. As much as it hurts, you have to feel it so that you can accept it. For all we know, she’s gone forever. And that’s just some life shit. That’s how it is.
“But to be honest with you, I think that this decision that you made about leaving is the best one you could have made in your life right now. Transition requires that you make some very difficult decisions. She’s obviously in a moment of transition as well. She’s living her life, making her own decisions. You have no choice but to follow suit.”
He was silent for a moment. He turned to face me before continuing.
“I never told you this before, but… I think the time has come to tell you this story.” He cleared his throat and glared out of the window in front of us, speaking slowly into the night.
“Before you were born, I had a series of dreams. They were very potent and vivid, unlike any other dream I had before then. In my dreams, there were these beings that kept telling me that YOU were something really special. When I asked why, they told me that you were destined for BIG things. They told me that everything I’d been working towards in my life had been in preparation for a BIG move that was set to become my personal project in life: to bring you and your mother to the United States as soon as I could, and to protect you and make sure you had everything you needed to develop your strengths. In my dreams, I kept seeing the Griffith Observatory; I’d never been to the United States before, but when I talked to your uncles about my dreams and described what I had seen, they told me that it was here in Los Angeles.
“What I’m trying to say to you is that… I believe in you. I believe in what I dreamt. I’ve believed it your whole life. I believe that you have potential that could take you places and perhaps even change the world. Because you changed mine. That’s why I did what I did and that’s why I was who I was with you. I did my part in the best way that I knew how. I fulfilled that personal project because I had no choice. You are destined for BIG things.
“This experience you’re going through… we’ve all been there before. It’s hurtful and the feeling imbeds itself into your heart. You’ll never forget her, and to a certain extent, your heart will never let go of the moments that you two shared. But you have to let her go. You have to, because YOU have to refocus yourself and concentrate on bigger picture stuff. Your time is too greater, and you only have a certain amount of time to fulfill your personal projects.”
I looked up at him and he smiled.
“You have a lot of maturing and growing to do, Jesús. You are too easily distracted and too emotional sometimes. You have to learn to harness these feelings and experiences, and channel them to create something. You are a creator and a communicator. That is your role in this life, the way I see it. You were born with a gift and I’d hate to see you not move forward with it. If you waste this time and don’t take advantage of the opportunities you’re creating for yourself, you’ll be letting us BOTH down. Because YOU are my dream. And my dream is for you to make your own dreams comes true.”
I wiped tears from my cheeks and the tension that had been bubbling inside for weeks finally surfaced. My pops reached over, placed his hand on my left shoulder and squeezed gently.
“Let yourself feel this pain, son; it’s almost bittersweet. But don’t let it swallow you. And if you’re ever too deeply in pain and you don’t know what else to do, just keep walking. Keep walking, keep your eyes on the horizon, and follow the sun. Sooner or later, you’ll find your way.”