Rear View Mirror

I was driving home the other night from a wonderful evening with a friend. The air was heavy with light rain and I decided to take a detour through my favorite part of town. I drove north along Rio Grande in my open-air jeep. It was dark but I could smell the recently refreshed lavender and alfalfa. It was cool and as the rain does, it was cleansing. The Cicadas tune was in full effect almost overpowering the music from my ear buds.

There are so many incredible things happening in my life and yet I am reminding myself to be humble, to be grateful and not to play big because I fear so much that as wonderful as it is, it has the power to disappear as quickly as it has appeared. And as I type this, I am recalling all the times 11:11 has popped up in the past few weeks and I’m apologizing to her that I won’t be small.

“We start off with the music and it kinds of propels the lyrics. It made me feel like I was in a car, leaving something, a bad situation. There’s an emotion there. I remembered all the times I wanted to leave…”

Eddie Vedder, Rearviewmirror

I continued to drive. Rearviewmirror, by Peal Jam, blasted in my right ear. I decided to continue my drive into the heart of where I grew up, down El Pueblo I continued. Middle school memories flooded the dark road in which I had traveled on the daily, back and forth for Middle School. Memories of tween awkwardness, trying to fit in, trying to stand out, thinking I was bigger and braver than I was. As I was cruising, the rain came down diagonally at me, it wasn’t harsh; it was reminding me of how much I love and hate the rain.

I continued north on 4th Street because something was calling to me. I drove past the home I had for the first decade of my life. It was behind what, at the time, was a feed store that my grandparents owned. Almost every farm animal you can imagine, we had at one point or another…dogs (primarily Doberman Pinchers), cats, rabbits, chickens, roosters, ducks, geese, guinea hens, cows, pigs, horses, turkeys, turtles, a domesticated crow and even a donkey, named Columbus. As you could imagine, my home became an annual field trip destination for my and my brother’s elementary classes. I spent every waking hour playing in and out of the feed store, roller skating around the concrete floors, climbing and jumping off hay stacks, and taking care of the baby chicks and rabbits during the spring season. I’d even jump in and help as a cashier at the ripe old age of 8 years old.  In that moment, the rain brought the scents of feed, burnt hay, and manure.

Growing up Catholic, we lived across the street from our parish, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I made my first holy communion and confirmation there. There was youth group and fiestas with a parade. I remember one year as a participant in the parade, I got to throw candy to the street lined onlookers from the top of a real-life horse drawn wagon. Years later, I returned to teach catechism. Not a mega church, if you showed up late people knew because the doors opened up right into the main hall and you were most likely going to be standing.

Next door to the feed store was a little convenience store called Roybal’s. We would go there in the afternoons with our change and buy candy then we would walk the opposite direction along the ditch back to Alameda Elementary to play on the playground after school. I remember I always looked to the east to St Francis and the Arroyo culvert that intersected the corner of St. Francis and 4th street. There was always tagging on the cement slab…maybe that was what fueled my interest in street art and later street wear designing. VL13 was always prominent. It was for the world to see between a fire station and a day care. I remember asking what that stood for. My mom said she didn’t know. My dad told me it stood for Vatos Locos 13 and that they were a gang.

I am grateful to say, “I didn’t or don’t recall any instances with interactions with gangs throughout school” (except when I transferred to Del Norte and was wearing a red bandana—in a really cute way—and a guy asked if I was a Blood, I immediately freaked out and said, “NO”). I wasn’t considered chicana enough and I wasn’t white or rich enough. I was a coyote’…or that’s what I was referred to. As a kid I hated being called that as an adult, I kind of like that! I’ve read that a coyote “signifies the answers to your problems that often come in ways and forms you least expect. The coyote can live anywhere and can be found everywhere and is a teacher of hidden wisdom with humor”. I guess I like that more than being categorized. I do remember growing up, that you couldn’t show fear, or you’d get picked on, but for the most part I got along with everyone. The only times I got involved in physical fights were because I was sticking up for someone who was being bullied or I was trying to break up a fight. In some ways, I was sheltered from that outside community, but maybe because, in my own home, we had our own internal nightmares. My life bounced back and forth between an ideal childhood and the horrors of an alcoholic and abusive father. When he was sober, he was an incredible dad. When he wasn’t, I was concocting ways to poison him so he wouldn’t hit my mom. The last memory I have from the Alameda Feed Store is holding my mom’s hand, running out the back door of the mobile home as he was coming in the front door.

We spent a few weeks on my mom’s best friend’s couch while she found the means to move the trailer to a new location, just a little further down the road. We were encouraged not to speak of what we witnessed, because of the shame that came with it. It was a new start in big lot. My mom had built a homemade kiln to fire her pottery. We had a garden each year and when it rained like it was on this evening, the deep red dirt filled with clay would cake like adobe. We had a huge hill in the back that we would play king of the hill on or use it as a BMX course for our bikes (the rumor was that the land owner buried her husband in the hill). Adjacent to it was a small forest filled with Japanese Elms and Cherrywood trees, it served as the perfect backdrop for a vivid imagination. As a fifth grader, I would pretend I was traveling to different parts of the world and it was all in my backyard. Growing up in the valley is its own unique experience. It was beautifully bitter and sweet childhood. I loved the life in this space, it was eclectic. This road I spent the next decade on, Robin Meadows, didn’t understand zoning. There were mobile homes like mine and mini mansions that mingled together. As kids growing up, we played on the street…kickball, soccer, stick ball…you’d hear “CAR” and immediately move to the side and then start it up again as soon as it passed. I was a tom boy and it was always a challenge when someone said I couldn’t do this or that. Maybe it was ego, but really it was my internal drive that doesn’t like to be told what I can and can’t do.

We would go swimming during the summertime in the arroyo…I know, I know…ditches are deadly. I didn’t fear the water. I feared the creepy guys that hung out on the ditch. Years later, when I would go running along the ditch I wouldn’t go without my full bred German Shepard, Nikka, because I knew no one in their right mind would fuck with me…however there were a few that weren’t in their right mind but once she barked they knew what was up.

My poor mom…in middle school I decided I knew everything there was to know in the world and did some really stupid things. I know I was stubborn and a pain in the ass, but I kind of blame her for raising a strong independent girl. Luckily, my stupidity, like puberty, subsided in time for my senior year. I think I just got tired of being grounded or my mom got tired of grounding me. I remember talking about following the path of fashion back in middle school and high school. I spent time sewing in middle school and once I started working more on building my shoe collection and styling my own look. I remember being asked if I was from California because I didn’t look the same as everyone else in the school (Z Cavaricci was big at the time–for those that don’t understand the fad, pleated pants and mock turtlenecks with the namesake across your chest). I took that as a compliment. However, obstacle upon obstacle prevented me from pursuing fashion, some at my own detriment, and of course that wasn’t really a thing for a girl from the valley to follow.

Have you ever seen or heard the George Lopez sketch about achievements and the reaction of Chicanos? See in the valley you aren’t supposed to stand out. The skit goes a little something like this: “Chicanos never say congratulations when people do well. ‘I got a job over at the hospital.’ Do we say good luck? No, we say, ‘Don’t fuck it up like last time.’ Or, ‘So now you think you’re all bad, or what?’” I recently had a conversation with a friend about this very subject. He is doing some mind blowing things all over the world, yet I don’t think it is celebrated as it should be.

As I drove out from Robin Meadows, back on to 4th Street, I’m Only Happy When It Rains, by Garbage started playing in my ears. I smiled. Is it true? The complicated nature of life carves us into who we are and drives our dreams or teaches us helplessness. It was so dark as I drove down the road, finally approaching Paseo Del Norte. As I drove closer to the Rio Grande, the cool air hit me and sent a shiver down my spine. The summer heat was beginning its escape and the seasonal change was approaching. Again, I could smell the sweetness of the valley the only scent missing to make this fragrant journey complete was the smell of roasting green chile.

I’ve been searching for what I want to create this season. Ideas have been swirling but I haven’t been in love with them until I started turning inward. Last season, I turned to friends and family for inspiration and it played out beautifully. This season I wanted to create from my own life experiences the history that has been woven through out my being. As I arrived at my casita, the rain had subsided, I looked up to the heavens that had been cleared with the stars bright and twinkling, and I thought about an illustration my KK shared with me just days before.

Cati Ambriz

And while so intelligent and timely for the craziness happening in our world right now, I see it as an internal reflection in how no matter where we go or what we achieve we can’t separate ourselves from our experiences. We can grow with them and transform. We can love and love hard even when it’s so easy to walk away. We can care and create beauty in our lives and the lives of others. All we need to do is reflect on the power we all have found in our complexity, anxiousness, magnetism, confidence and by telling our story. While you may no longer be going that direction, it is still helpful to take a look in your rear view mirror every once and a while, smile and see how far you’ve come while continuing to moving forward. I haven’t left everything in the past, there are certain people, characteristics, and tangible items that have been passengers with me on this journey. They are too precious to leave behind. And as I finish typing these final words, Dreams, by the Cranberries is playing….

Oh, my life
Is changing every day
In every possible way

Dreams, The Cranberries

My latest story will be revealed on September 14, 2019 in London UK. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I do creating it.

With light and love,
Dara Sophia

Find my It’s Complicated playlist HERE
The Pattern is this crazy mind reading app (or as my son puts it, has an algorithm that reads your deepest smart phone thoughts) that pulls out your soul and puts it in front of you like a mirror. You can find it HERE.

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