By Gloria Partida
The relativity of time is a concept appreciated by everyone regardless of your level of physics expertise. How many of us have looked at our teenagers and wondered where the time went, or sat through a half-hour meeting that seemed endless?
Then there are the special dark holes of time that suck us up and spit us out into alternate universes. We have all had “Eat, Pray, Love” events even if they never produced a bestseller. For some of us this might have been a Woodstock or Burning Man event. The birth of a child, for many, is an instant wormhole of life-altering turbulence.
There is nothing, however, like tragedy to make you feel as if the very molecules of your being have been scattered so violently that cohesiveness is a property forever lost. An instant of time or a grueling, months-long challenge can disassemble even the best, well-put-together lives.
This time musing hit me solidly between the eyes today when, while reviewing an upcoming court date on my calendar, I suddenly realized that my family and I are finally coming out the other end of a vortex that only months ago had swallowed up every scaffold of peace and safety upon which we had hung our lives.
The inventory: temperance, generosity, fortitude, courage, compassion, patience. Anyone who has sat through catechism recognizes these as six of the seven virtues. I have tried to hold these firmly in the palm of hand for as long as I can remember. I say “I’ve tried” because they are slippery suckers.
The events of March 10, 2013, resulted in a spectacular life face-plant that sent my virtues flying down disgusting storm drains, which I retrieved covered in humanity’s runoff, and into vicious briar patches, whose retrieval has left scars. Some virtues I’ve yet to recover.
When my adolescent son finally told me he was gay it was more of a confirmation rather than a revelation. Nonetheless, I was immediately on the defense. I anticipated the negative reactions from my family and society. I knew that many aspects of his life would be difficult and even unsafe, but as time went on and there seemed to be a general shift toward acceptance of the LGBT community, my apprehensions lessened.
So when I arrived at the emergency room at 4 in the morning in March to find my son Mikey barely conscious and possibly headed for neurosurgery because of his sexual orientation, my reaction was one of complete grief.
The following two weeks of hospitalization unveiled personal strengths we would have been content to leave undiscovered. Being able to power through the feeling of a cold lead weight in the pit of my stomach as I washed gravel and blood out of my gentle son’s hair, watching the basin turn red; the squeezing of my chest as my son repeatedly woke and called out in a panic “Are you there, mom?” because the severity of his swollen eyes kept him trapped in the dark; listening to a visibly shaken surgeon tell me the reason his eye had developed an infection a week later was because he had a 2-inch piece of fence post lodged behind his eyeball — these are all experiences I would never wish on anyone.
Having survived this magnitude of violence, my son and family immediately became magnets for people who had suffered similar experiences and wanted to share their stories. Sadly, there were many. This produced for me, ever the optimist, an internal civil war.
The thought of my daughter on her many long-distance runs caused me to look longingly at the Xanax prescribed to my son to help with his post-traumatic stress disorder. And how could I let my grandson shoot baskets in the cul-de-sac unsupervised ever again? How could people who started out sweet and promising turn into vessels of evil? What was the point of navigating the minefields of adolescence if there was no guarantee that you would not run into a suicide bomber once safely through?
It is part of our DNA coding to invest in our children. I’m sure there are a million papers about why we do it, none of them very warm and fuzzy. Regardless, when one of my children was born with cerebral palsy, I became a dedicated special education advocate. If you needed a field trip driver, cookie baker or School Site Council member, I was there.
But what quickly became evident spending so much time on school campuses was that I needed to be responsible for more than my own children and not just the smart, easy-to-get-along ones. Not just the ones that were dropped off in shiny cars or rode the best bicycles.
Essentially, what I realized is that No Child Left Behind was being implemented all wrong. This led to my car being filled with all the “challenging” children on field trips and having a delightful boy that I always ran into in the junior high school office waiting to see the principal at my dinner table for half a year because his mother, I later discovered, was working the night shift.
We are always shocked at children when they push someone in front of a train or beat someone within an inch of their lives and say “how did this happen?” If we traveled with those children on their journey into adulthood, we would understand.
So here I am taking stock of those virtues and wonder, where is my fortitude, generosity and temperance? Have I really lost nearly half of the virtues I have held so dear for so long? Am I not really the person I thought I was all this time? Isn’t the compassion I feel for my son’s attacker and his family enough? Can I substitute it for my lack of wanting to give them any credit or temper my wish for justice? Do I really want to continue to advocate for equity in play dates?
Because the reality of trying to reach out to the marginalized definitely gets you kicked out of the adult cool crowd, and trying to crack that wall to get the kids who need to see what brighter futures look like is daunting, to say the least.
Then I think of how “Aida” saved my life.
When I was in seventh grade, growing up in an incredibly tough Los Angeles neighborhood, my English teacher was a wonderful man, the true embodiment of No Child Left Behind. He took us to see Puccini’s “Aida” in all of its glory at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The memory of the power and beauty of it can still make me cry.
I try now to hold that memory up and look through it while scanning the landscape of adolescence and look for the promise that was so familiar to me but now is a little murky. Some days I can almost believe that asking, “Would you like to stay for dinner?” will make a difference.
Maybe I’ll spend a little more time on my knees looking for those last three virtues.
— Gloria Partida is a Davis resident and the mother of Lawrence “Mikey” Partida, 32, who was savagely beaten in March while leaving a family party on I Street. The attacker will receive a five-year prison term under a plea agreement negotiated last month that designated the assault a hate crime.