My [redacted] Journey

A teacher's search for inner peace.



October 1, 2014

Dear Readers,

Today’s Writing 101 assignment is to write about finding something.


Denial.  Anger.  Bereavement.  Depression.  Acceptance.  These are all stages of grief.  For the first 26 years after the loss of my daughter, I experienced a constant barrage of emotions, along with four out of the five stages of grief.  Never, not once, in 26 years, did I ever come close to acceptance.  Today, however, I am happy to report that I have found it.

Jessica passed away on June 26, 1987.  She was not quite three years old and I was not quite 23 years old.  The havoc this event wreaked in my life is immeasurable.  Denial, anger, bargaining, and depression have been the ebb and flow of my life, to some degree or another, for the past 25 years.  Every event, every undertaking, every celebration in my life was filtered through my daughter’s passing.  So much so, that I experienced nothing in my life in its pure form.  It was as though I had an asterisk next to my name in the book of life.  “* Mother of 5”, “* College Graduate”, “* English Teacher”.  The asterisk at the bottom of the page always indicated the same caveat, “* Daughter passed away June 26, 1987”

In recent years, maybe the past 7 or so, I stopped looking for acceptance and resigned myself to the fact that I was never going to find the ever elusive, acceptance.  I pared my grieving down to only one month a year, June.  This is not something I did consciously.  However, my other four children were relieved when I began to cut back on my fits of sobbing.  It’s not that they begrudged me my grief, they were just frustrated at not being able to help me.

Twenty-six years of therapy, two mental breakdowns,one halfhearted suicide attempt and I still had not found that damned acceptance stage!  Until recently.

Like any good epiphany, my epiphany came out of nowhere.  It happened just a few months back.  I realized how very self-centered and narcissistic I had been regarding Jessica’s passing.  Several years ago, I found the strength to accept that Jessica’s death was not my fault.  However, I could not accept the fact that Jessica’s death had nothing to do with me.  Let me just say that one more time, “Jessica’s death had nothing to do with me.”

I have spent the better part of my life feeling sorry for myself.  Well,not exactly, it was an extremely painful experience.  However, my grieving had taken the focus off of Jessica years ago.  Now, it was all about me and how my daughter’s death had really screwed with my head.  Things were about to change.

Last year, through a series of unexpected events, I was flying home to Arizona from the Middle East.  The date was June 26, 2013, and it was the 26th anniversary of Jessica’s death.  It had always been sacrosanct for me to do nothing but grieve on June 26th.  Yet, I had scheduled a 30 hour, two stop flight home.  What was I thinking?  I wasn’t, and that turned out to be the best thing for me.

I was 30 minutes or so from my final landing when I said to myself, “Well, this has sure been an uneventful June 26.”  And just like that, it dawned on me that I had finally found what I had been looking for all these years, acceptance.

Peace, ~v.



Marriage and a Modern Muslim Girl

September 30, 2014

Dear Readers,

Today’s “A to Z Challenge” is brought to you by the letter “M“.

Writing 101’s assignment:  Write a post with roots in a real-world conversation.  For a twist, include foreshadowing.

Based on real life events.  The names have been changed.  Peace, ~v.


“Miss Victoria, my mom would never make me marry if I didn’t want to.  And I don’t want to!”  Della was adamant as she spoke with all the confidence of an 18 year-old about to graduate from high school.  The rest of the girls in my class smiled their knowing smiles.

It was the end of the school year and my students were schooling me on marriage in the Middle East.  Of all the Middle East traditions I know, the ones involving marriage are the most perplexing.  Males and females are completely separated by society, in public and in private, from around the age of 5.  By age 20, most young ladies are bound to an arranged marriage.  Having never been alone with a member of the opposite sex, teenage girls fall back on their fantasies of love and marriage.  Each imagines she will fall madly in love with her husband, but only after she marries him, of course.

Della didn’t ascribe to that conclusion.  She was determined to go to the university and determined not to have an arranged marriage.  “I will marry for love or I will not marry at all!” she was fond of saying.

The bell rang, signaling the end of the day, and my students hurried out the door.  Della hung back, she had something on her mind.

“Miss Victoria,” she began after the class had emptied.  “Miss, I don’t think I’m going to go to the university.”

“Oh, no?”  I tried to hold my surprise in check.  Della dreamed of becoming a television journalist.

“No, Miss.  I don’t think I can do it.  It’s probably too hard for me.”

This was not the Della I knew.  The Della I knew was confident, independent, and so sure that she would be broadcasting on TV in the near future.  I could tell she had made up her mind.  I muttered a few platitudes and Della slid out the door.

The next day, Della again stayed after school.

“Miss, can I tell you something and you won’t tell on me?”  She asked.

“Of course,” I assured her.

“Miss, my mom wants me to marry my cousin right after school is through.”

“And you don’t want to?” I hedged.

“No, miss I don’t even like him!  But my mom says I should marry him because he is part of our family and at least if he hits me or something, we can control him.”

After I regained my composure, I said, “What about college?  Doesn’t your mother know you want to go to college?”

“Yes.  But she thinks it’s time for me to get married.  I don’t think she will make me if I keep telling her no.  And she stopped talking about it a couple of weeks ago.  But I think she is going to ask me again.”

“Well, can you keep telling her no?  I mean, I don’t know…” and my voice trailed off .  We both knew the answer to that question, and we didn’t have the heart to face it.

The next few days were a whirlwind of activity.  Every now and again, I would catch Della’s eye and she would flash me her beautiful smile as if all was right with her world.  I tried to reason out the scenario in my head.  Della’s mom would persist in asking her daughter to marry the man she had picked out for her.  Della would continue to resist.  I was convinced that Della’s mom would not force Della to marry.  Unfortunately, I was right.  Della’s mom did not have to force Della to marry.

I saw Della one last time before graduation.  We hugged and we cried and we laughed, all things that Della would no longer be allowed to do in public now that she was no longer a girl.  Her face stoic as she pulled away from me, Della stood terribly erect.

“Miss,” Della announced in a bold voice.  “Miss, my mom asked me again to marry my cousin.  I said yes.”

She didn’t wait for my reaction.  She simply turned on her heels and was gone.



38 and Counting

September 29, 2014

Dear Readers,

My writing assignment for today is to write about the home I lived in when I was twelve.  The twist is to write in varying sentence length, short, medium, and long.  The short ones will be the most difficult for me.  I’ve never met a sentence I couldn’t painfully stretch out.  I’m long-winded.  There, that’s a good start.  Happy reading!

I remember both homes I lived in when I was 12.  I can even supply you with the complete addresses, not that remembering my childhood addresses is such a terrific feat.  Then again, perhaps it is.

I have lived at 38 different addresses.  I have lived in only one state (Arizona) and two countries (the U.S. and the U.A.E.).  However, I have had more residences than I think I can recall.  Also, if I include the two times I was homeless, that brings the figure to 40.  If my math is correct, I have moved at least once every 15 months or so throughout my lifetime.  And still, I’m not finished.

Childhood Homes

I can describe all of my childhood homes in the same manner.  Three bedrooms, two baths, a dog or two, my parents, my five brothers, my two sisters, and me.  If anyone’s keeping count, it’s ten.  My two sisters and I shared a room, my five brothers shared another one, and Mom and Dad maintained the master bedroom.

I didn’t bother me having to share so little space with so many people.  My mom was a great organizer, still is, so we rarely had fights over the use of the bathrooms.  I still marvel at the fact that Mom made sure all ten of us were cleaned and pressed every Sunday in order to attend mass.

What we lacked for in space, we more than made up for with love.  My perspective may be completely different from any and all of my siblings.  However, I grew up knowing that where ever I was, as long as I was with my family, I was home.

Adult Homes

The feeling that I am home hasn’t always transitioned to the homes I have lived in as an adult.  I tried my level best to create a home for me and my children while I was raising them.  Each has fond memories growing up.  I’ll take that as a good sign.

While living as a family with my children, I knew I was home.  I felt I was home.  Now, I’m struggling to duplicate that feeling.  I am struggling to duplicate the feeling of home I remember from childhood.  I’m struggling to get back that feeling of home I created for myself and my children.  It seems a daunting task.

I want to feel I’m home.  I need to feel I’m home.  Unfortunately, that feeling isn’t going to come from an address.  It also won’t come from the structure or the place in which I reside.  No.  That feeling of being home, the feeling that says “This is my home and I belong here,” that’s going to have to come from within.  Peace, ~v.


Food is My Sister

September 27, 2014

Dear Readers,

My assignment today is to write about a favorite childhood meal.  The twist is to tell the story in my own distinct voice.  This could be fun…

My mom is the best cook, period.  No, seriously, my mom is the best cook, ever.  So,having to pick just one favorite childhood meal is difficult at best.  Instead, I am going to try and explain the connection between me and food.

In my family, the Alex Zubia family, food is our legal tender.  In fact, food is so powerful to our populace, that it has never lost its value.  Over the years, Food has evolved into a member of our family, with the same rights and responsibilities as every other individual.  Food is both our strength and our Achilles’ heel.

Growing up, Food always received more attention than I did, even when I was the one making it.  By age 9 or so, my sister and I were making homemade tortillas for our large family of 10.  Mercy would usually roll out, shape, and watch the tortillas on the griddle, while I was tasked with making the masa (the dough).  To this day, I can assure you that my 6 younger siblings do not remember that I made quite a few of our tortillas.  However, I can also assure you that they remember how good they tasted.  Upstaged by Food.

I can’t say that I blame my siblings for celebrating the tortillas and not me.  Food was the golden child in our household, it could do no wrong.  Food was never distasteful, I was.  Food was never too salty, I was.  Food was never so sweet that Dad would ignore its shortcomings, I was.  And Food never made you sick to your stomach, unless of course, you forced it to.

I had a love/hate relationship with Food.  I loved to eat Food, but I was jealous of all the attention it garnered.  One day, I had simply had enough.  As we sat down to dinner, I was overcome with joy at even the smell of Mom’s spaghetti.  I was going to eat, eat, eat, eat, eat.  I was going to eat this Food until I couldn’t eat no more.  And I did.  And when I couldn’t eat anymore Food, I threw-up the Food.  It was one of the most euphoric feelings in the world.  I mean it was disgusting!  Thus began my road to bulimia and eventually, anorexia.

During my love/hate period (bulimia), I still didn’t receive the attention I believed I so richly deserved.  The focus was always on Food.  That of course is not true.  But, in my overtaxed brain, I believed it.  And everyone can see (now) that my love/hate relationship with Food would eventually lead to my simply hating Food (anorexia).  And it did, lead to my simply hating Food.  But did my family hate Food because it was making me sick (in the head)?  Nooooo, Food was still the golden child in our family.

Several years and several hospital stays later, Food and I have reached a detente.  I have been forced to ease my hostility toward Food, if only for my health.  Food still holds sway over most of my remaining siblings, however.  Hell, who am I kidding, it still holds sway over me, as well.  What can I say?  Food is our family’s golden child.  Food is a member of our family.  Food, why that’s the name of my third sister.  Peace, ~v.


Longing to Laugh Out Loud

September 23, 2014

Dear Readers,

Today I have managed to combine two assignments into one blog post.  The first assignment is the “A to Z Challenge” and we are now up to the letter “L“.  I have posted the story in today’s  “Longing to Laugh” one year ago.  However, I revised almost all of it to fit today’s assignments.  The story is as true and accurate an account of my time in the Middle East, as I can remember; the names however, have been changed.

My next assignment is for my Writing 101 class.  I am to focus this post on the contrast between two things.  Here’s the twist:  I am to write the post in the form of a dialogue.  Enjoy!  Peace, ~v.

“Miss Victoria, it is our tradition.  Women do not laugh in public.”

Of all the traditions and customs I had to learn while living in the Middle East, this was the most disturbing.  I had been teaching in a remote town in the middle of the Arabian Desert and after six months, I was finally beginning to fit in, until today.

Tears began to well in my eyes as I stammered, “I’m sorry, Miss Da’ad.  I didn’t know…” and I let my voice trail off.

“You must not cry, Miss Victoria.  I do not mean to hurt you, but we do not laugh in public.”

I knew why the women were not allowed to laugh in public, it was the same reason they wore abayas to cover their bodies and shaylas to cover their heads.  It was the same reason they couldn’t leave their homes after dark and the same reason they couldn’t see their sons graduate from high school:  Men have no self control.

That is not the official reason, of course.  However, I had had enough discussions with my tutor, Mr. Mahmoud, to have reached that conclusion long before Miss Da’ad told me that she longed to laugh.

“So why do Muslim women have to wear the veil, Mr. Mahmoud?”  I asked him one evening between lessons.

“The woman must protect her honor, Miss Victoria.”

“You mean without her veil, a Muslim woman has no honor?  I don’t get it.”

“No, no.  She must be modest in her dress, that will protect her honor.”

“Oh!  I see, dressing modestly and wearing the Shayla keeps men from lusting after the women.  So really, wearing the veil protects the man’s honor.  Well why can’t men protect their own honor?”

“No, no, no Miss Victoria, you are getting it confused!  The man, he is not allowed to look at the woman.  If he looks at the woman with the lust, the woman has no honor anymore.  So she must not draw the man’s stares and she must not look at the man in public, or even at the home, she must cover herself to protect her honor.”

“Wait!”  I said, a little more loudly that I had wanted to.  “Even in her own home she is not allowed to uncover herself?”

“Of course not.  What if her husband brings home a friend?  What if her uncle makes a visit?  She cannot make the mistake and uncover her modesty.  If she makes the man to look at her, she loses her honor.”

“It would be an honest mistake if that happened.  Her honor wouldn’t be lost.  Anyway, if that happened, it would be the man who steals her honor, not the woman who loses it.  See the difference?”

“Miss Victoria, the woman must protect herself.  Even in her own home.  The man, he does not have the will to look away.  The man, he is not responsible to keep the honor.  If the man has lust because the woman, she is not covered, the woman has failed to do her duty.  The man cannot be expected to look away!  And then what?  He see the woman, uncovered, and he has the lustful thoughts and the man, he cannot control his thoughts.  No, no Miss Victoria, the woman, she is responsible for keeping her honor pure.”

“But she has no control over what men are thinking when they look at her, whether she is covered up or not!  If a man sees a woman without her Shayla, he should quickly cover his eyes if he has no self-control.  It is the man’s responsibility to control his thoughts and protect the woman’s honor.”

“So, that is how it is in the West?  The woman, she is allowed to do whatever and the man, he must protect her honor and control his thoughts and actions?  She is allowed to make the man to lust after her?  She can stop this, she can save the man and herself if she wants to!  The woman must protect herself and she must protect the man.  The man cannot help himself, it is the woman who must protect them both. It is not the man’s fault.  The woman must not draw the attention to her.  It is because of he that the man has not pure thoughts.  It is because of her that the man, he cannot control himself.  It is because of the woman that the man does not respect and honor her.  The Muslim man, he respects the women and he honors the women, but the Muslim man, he cannot be responsible for what he thinks and what he does if the woman does not protect herself.”


So there it was, the fault in the logic of Muslim society.  Intellectually, I had known it all along.  Women wore the veil because they had to protect the men, not themselves.  And here I was, apologizing to Miss Da’ad for my shortsightedness.

“Of course I shouldn’t laugh in public, Miss Da’ad.  I did not mean to draw attention.”

“No, no Miss Victoria, keep laughing.  The Muslim women, we cannot laugh.  But you my sister, you must never stop laughing.  Never stop laughing my sister, because when you laugh, you are laughing for all of us.”

And so I laugh.  I laugh long and I laugh loud, hoping that the sounds will reach across the miles and into the patient ears of my sisters in the Middle East who are longing to laugh out loud.

The following was posted in Al Arabiya newspaper September 23, 2014:

“Don’t laugh out loud,” Turkey’s deputy PM urges women


Truth in Jest

September 22, 2014

Dear Readers,

For my Writing 101 assignment, I’ve been tasked to write about the most interesting person I met in 2014.  Although I met him long before this year, I could think of no other person I’d rather do a character study on.  Enjoy!  Peace, ~v.

He had an unusually loud disposition.  If he were an article of clothing, he’d be a silk paisley tie; worn only sparingly, but always at the best parties.  His humor, delivered tongue in cheek, was  both his introduction to, and his shield against the world.  His humor was never biting.  However, he never turned it off, leading one to believe that he was well-versed in protecting his inner child.

His business acumen has won and lost him a fortune.  Now, he was working toward his retirement, though no one who knew him could ever imagine him slowing down.  He made his way through life schmoozing all the right people.  Most never tired of his spiel, because he always had a ready smile, one of his more endearing qualities.

Never schmaltzy or sentimental, and never one to wear his heart on his sleeve, I know he does love me, this yenta.  He has to, he’s married to my sister.  And I, too, love my brother-in-law, George.  What a mentsh.



September 18, 2014

Dear Readers,

My new assignment for Writing 101:  You discover a letter on a path that affects you deeply.  Today, write about this encounter.  And your twist?  Be as succinct as possible.

She pulls the letter from her coat pocket (tap, tap, tap).  It caught her eye on the way indoors, so she scooped it up (scraatch, scraatch). 

“Dear Mom,

It will take courage for you to stop.”

She briefly lays the letter on the sink as she searches for a dollar bill.

“…recognize that you will lose me, your career, everything.”

She runs the water in the sink so no one hears her (snort).

She tosses the letter in the trash, and wipes her nose.

She smooths out her skirt as she exits the teachers’ lounge.