“33 is some shit.”
he warned me of what the year would bring, saying the words slowly and with a certainty. not quite removed from the discomfort of 33–in fact, four months shy of his 34th—his words were laced with bass in his voice. he was serious. sad, even. it wasn’t the year he had lost his dad, but it was the most critical of the last ten. he had adapted and shape-shifted into what it was to be a father with and then, without one, making it one of the many instances in our relationship where we’d travel separate roads. i was the mother who needed mothering, with a living mother that had laid bouquets to rest on our relationship. throughout the years, we piled chrysanthemums and lilies on moments to mourn what would never be. i never had opportunities to converse on holidays about the kids’ report cards, milestones, and the revelation that in so many ways, we are our parents (sometimes, our children are, too), how he did. i have already lived death.
but he had the honor and the privilege of knowing what it was to have the example, even if he hadn’t lived up to the expectations. i remember watching him from the doors of the ICU that winter, back when the only distance between us, between family, was that of the living and the soon-to-be-departed. the silence of the room was interrupted by the fluctuation of vital signs on a monitor that translated medical jargon into an understanding of what was happening before our eyes. it didn’t mask the truth. being at his father’s bedside, he placed his own flowers—secrets and things that he couldn’t fix his lips to say aloud—next to ventilators and drainage bags. he’d never be the same.
since, i watched him painfully puzzle-piece his life together, questioning his role in disconnects, and overstanding the why’s behind his dad’s decisions only in the aftermath. is this too late or on time? the gist of 32 for me was to hold hands and help him heal. this was doing life with someone. in doing so, i thought of the following during the process:
removing the dynamics of the relationship itself, what are the side effects of growing up with a parent and experiencing a sudden passing?
is the pain we feel ever ours alone? in our anguish, do we ever think of who shares that space with us? is grief not a shared experience?
what is the significance of 33 that he feels compelled to preface it with a disclaimer about shadow work?
five days after 2020’s arrival, i picked apart chani nicholas’ horoscopes for the year, dissecting the themes between taurus and virgo (my sun and ascendant) to make sense of the omen.
“what you habitually do determines what you make out of your life. little here is fair. one of the only ways to battle the unequal distribution of love, care, and resources is to make it a habit to support yourself. no amount is too small and all investments come with the benefit of compound interest.
bet all you’ve got on you.”
“with mars spending half the year in your 8th house of shared resources (mars will be retrograde there from September 9th – November 14th), it’s safe to assume that you’ll be working through many a lesson that asks you to clarify what you need in your collaborations and how to advocate for yourself within them. red flags here must be heeded.”
i bridged her insight to other astrological forecasts received at the onset of the year, marrying together words and quotes like emotional wounds, detachment, redirect, and edit, to “love is durable; trust is fragile.” when i looked at the meaning of 33 itself, i found it to be considered the “master teacher” and when i spoke to my grandmother, i was reminded of Christ. this would be a year of life and death, the prerequisite being that third week of January in 2019 in preparation of this one.
exactly one week after my birthday, on 05.03, we laid in bed and spoke about his dad.
“if you and your father were closer, do you think his death would have caused you to spiral?”
how odd is it to want a deeper connection with someone, but also experience gratitude that it didn’t work out that way? i would revisit this conversation and takeaway in the months ahead up to the present time.
in the days that followed, we grew—together and apart. at the end of spring, we realized it was time for us to become one with the seasons and go to counseling together in an attempt to revive the wilted parts of our relationship. i was living in the memory of what it was to be betrayed, the side effects of worst case scenarios lingering around in speech and sex. he always felt i was never truly over it. the body keeps the score. and in truth, as amplified in virtual sessions with a therapist, i wasn’t. i still held on to the memories of what led to our daughter’s birth and summer ‘18. the problem began with him, but i held on to it. this is how i avoid death—i extend expiration dates and hoard memories to keep them alive. i held on to his words, jotted down as reminders, bullet points, and saved audio notes for memoir writing:
“how can you give up on something that’s always there?”
“i got so comfortable in his existence. that’s why i lost him.”
he spoke about other people, not knowing he was speaking of me.
triggered and guilty, i went back to individual therapy.
in that time, i had a dream and manifested an event: “blackness in latinx greek lettered organizations” with my friend Janel of Ain’t I Latina?. i wrote an essay on identity surrounding Beyoncé’s black is king. i wrote extensively about pleasure for the first time, uprooting personal kinks and hidden desires in direct relation to being sexually violated as a child. my sessions centered heavily on trust and how my lack of was deeply embedded in the fact i didn’t trust myself, my intuition, more than it was me not trusting him. that wound cut deeper.
in everything i dreamt of and designed, the universe was pushing me towards selfhood. if life stripped me off the labels and the longevity of our partnership as it did him as a son and father, his core, who was Erica, truly? for years, i unconsciously assimilated my own parent’s projections of who she said i was, and i stayed because i had something to prove.
that i could see something through.
that i wasn’t a failure.
that i was deserving.
nothing gives me more ammo than the pursuit of proving someone wrong and the thrill of chasing ‘be right’ is an inexplainable high once attained. our collective durability to withstand the toughest times became my badge of honor, but i also realized our survival was grounded in trauma. i stayed because someone who wasn’t present still maintained a presence in my life (her). i stayed because i thought helping would in some way, heal me (him).
mars retrograde happened and the horoscope of 01.05.2020 manifested…
throughout the year, i subscribed to spirituality publications, and with the birth of september came a heavy influx of articles on the sahasrara chakra in my inbox every other morning. i had no clue what the reoccurrence meant, but after three weeks of my fingers tussling with my hair, i impulsively cut everything i grew, wanting to remove dead ends from my crown. my hair hasn’t been short since my 25th birthday. surely there was something symbolic about this chop in conjunction with my readings. what did it mean to sit still in a time of busyness and remove an attachment? what did it mean to want to see myself in a new light? in a year of working through trust issues, i let an unknown someone put their hands in my hair and i let go.
and ironically, on the next day, it would be the last time we’d speak. there was no blow up or argument—just a increase in our empathic abilities and an awareness that we weren’t aligned. for years, i’d hear him relay his granny’s words to our children, “who don’t hear, will feel,” and we heard everything we needed to about our connection through energy. sometimes, the hard work is already done on our behalf if we just lean into and accept the vibrations of a moment. i was learning to differentiate between the sound of intuition guiding me and trauma misleading me.
the next week, bottled emotions would come to a head and he’d leave home. move out-of-state. i would resign from a writing job. the same day, i’d break up with my therapist. it’s like he took everything with him that also no longer served me, even if i loved it, out the door with him. and yet, i was at peace with it all, knowing there are gains even in losses.
i’ve read that horoscope multiple times since, this time with more awareness at what house this all would transpire in. anyone knowledgeable on astrology will tell you the 8th house is all about the hidden, (re)birth, death, transformation/regeneration, and taxes. the hardest parts of 33 to me tackled every area of this as it did him. what parts of us needed to die to blossom? where did we tax out our integrity? how did the secrets we so closely held to show up in our lives? in what ways did we subconsciously impose our traumas onto the other?
when i think back on this year, i wonder if he didn’t divulge the details of how this year would roll out because he knew one of my strategies for survival is to always remain in control. it’s how i keep my anxiety and ptsd in check. but if he told what was to come, i would once again shrink myself in a chapter that called for expansion, just to continue a narrative that came to a standstill three years prior. this i couldn’t control—it just had to happen. i needed 2020 and the age of 33 to wake up, to detach, and to ride solo in the same way his father’s transition did that for him.
this is how we’re celebrating our 16th anniversary. this is how to choose you to come into you, how to celebrate the restoration of your self-sovereignty and the passing of patterns. what magic to still see life in death. to want a deeper connection with someone, but also experience gratitude that it didn’t work out that way.