Posts Tagged ‘tatiana de la tierra’

Remembering Desi

August 4, 2013

We lost tatiana de la tierra on July 31, 2012. Then came the massacre at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and then Newtown and all the senseless gun deaths since. The slaughter in Syria continues, so the death of my sweet cat, Desi, on August 3rd, one year ago, seemed like a strictly personal matter. But while every day’s news fills me with outrage and grief, Desi was my companion for more than 15 years. We were fiercely attached. I’m still mourning and cannot help but write about her.

Desi healthy adult

When Desi decided (insisted) she would come home with me, I knew I loved cats but I honestly didn’t expect this little cat to love me. I’d always wanted to live with a cat and up until March 1997 it had never been possible. Without cat experience, I bought into the stereotype: they were completely independent and narcissistic. When I moved to California, I felt I had a stable place to live and stable income. So, finally.

But I didn’t want Desi. She had been weaned and abandoned way too young. Three weeks old or less. When she scurried up my arm like a little mouse, found my heartbeat and clung on, I was afraid she’d be a special needs kitty and I wouldn’t know how to take care of her. I tried to explain and apologize. I tried to remove her from my body. She shrieked and held on. I tried again. She screamed. So I told her I hoped I would know what to do. I promised her I would always take care of her the best I could and would never abandon her. And she remained as fiercely attached to me, at least emotionally, throughout her life as she was that morning.

desi as kitten
I can’t say how she discovered we were different species. For the first weeks we lived together, she copied everything I did. She grabbed the pen after I used it and pulled it over the page. She hit the buttons on the remote control. She tapped the letters on the computer keyboard and she would only eat at the table and only if I put her food on a plate that looked just like mine and her water in a matching glass. She couldn’t tie my shoes, but she loved to untie the laces. She loved water. She’d join me in the tub. I had to keep the toilet top down or she’d jump in and swim around. (OK, that’s not something she copied from me.) She slept wrapped up in my hair. One evening I put dinner on the table and she stayed on the floor, looking up at me and meowing. I put the dinner plate near her. She kept looking at me and crying. I transferred her food to a bowl. I gave her water in a bowl instead of a glass like mine. Then she purred and ate and drank and I don’t think she ever copied me again.

They’ll tell you cats don’t tolerate change. Always buy the same brand of cat litter. If you have to change their food, you’ll have to trick them, introducing the new flavor gradually. etc. etc. Desi was adaptable. She accepted any substitution without complaint, except that she accepted no substitute for me.

That made it hard to travel. I had to go to Vermont twice a year to teach. There was always someone here to take care of her, but she’d get sick from stress. Dad had a stroke. I went to New Jersey to be with him. Desi got sick.etc etc . Stress led to crystals led to damage led to her inability to control her urine. It wasn’t her fault. I couldn’t afford to keep replacing mattresses or the futon sofa. I had to stop inviting people over. But Desi had taught me unconditional love. What’s a ruined mattress compared to that?

Desi with vase
The economy crashed and three jobs evaporated. There was no work in Los Angeles. The only money I earned was from out-of-town assignments. I traveled a lot and I felt so guilty. When I returned from the last trip, she had stopped eating and I promised her I wouldn’t leave again.


Her appetite came back. For the next five months, I never left her, but we went to the vet over and over again, each time with a seemingly minor problem, hyperthyroidism that could be controlled, an infection that could be cured, impacted anal sacs and abscesses. There were weeks when she seemed healthy and happy and I’d think everything was fine. Then she stopped eating again. She lost pound after pound. There was so little left of her. I tempted her with her favorite–tuna fish and rejoiced when she ate. But then she refused it. She hid whenever I tried to tempt her again.

Why didn’t I trust what she was telling me? I kept putting her favorite food under her nose. She kept running from it. Those few mouthfuls of tuna she did swallow must have caused excruciating pain and there I was, repeatedly tempting her. The last morning of her life we discovered her intestine was completely blocked with tumors.

I held her and said goodbye on August 3rd, 2012.

Author Pamela Painter says her son told her “You can be between men, but you can’t be between cats.” But I can’t face adopting another. Maybe like Desi, I accept no substitute. In spite of which, I need to be among cats, so I’ve been volunteering at the Amanda Foundation. The rescue cats need some attention and affection as much as I need them.

After some time, I agreed to foster a beautiful kitten that needed a temporary home.


She was soon adopted.

Then I took in Johnny, the jaunty but mellow and companionable 7-year-old altered tom

more johnny 008

who stayed with me for three months before the Rascal and Chloe Rescue had to take him back after pipes broke in the apartment above me and workmen needed the run of my place to make repairs, after which I was again working out-of-town. I hope he has a loving home soon.

Don’t I get attached? Well, of course, but while it’s nice having a cat around, they are so very much Not-Desi that I miss her more than ever.

For years, I’ve tried to put into words what she taught me about trust. How she trusted me with her life without ever relinquishing her own sense of self. I could never get the words right. (Just as I failed to trust her when she asked me to understand her rejection of food.)

Trust. But Ashana M. expresses it perfectly in her blog, so after saying thanks for reading, I’ll give her the last word.

In tribute: tatiana de la tierra

August 1, 2012

tatiana de la tierra now lifts away from the earth: tribute to a friend

When she was a little girl, at a time long before I knew her, tatiana de la tierra had a different name, and she stopped speaking. She went mute. By the time we met in 2010, tatiana had grown into her energy and her courage and her power and her free, uncensored tongue. tatiana said whatever she felt, believed, wanted to say. That doesn’t mean her words were ever cutting or cruel. She was funny and honest and out there, a voice of joyous and uninhibited liberation.

We met after The Blessing Next to the Wound was published. tatiana was going to review it for La Bloga but before she wrote anything, she wanted to interview Hector Aristizábal and me. The book upset her, reminding her of events from her own past she would prefer to forget. She wanted to know from us why Hector would want to probe the pain in his life, his arrest and torture, his brother’s murder, and more. tatiana, like Hector, emigrated from Colombia.

She, too, had trauma and violence in her past, but she preferred to heal herself in spiritual ways and put the pain behind her. It was not her way, though, to say someone else was wrong. With her openheartedness and ever alive curiosity, she wanted to understand Hector better, not to criticize or condemn him.

That day, tatiana performed some of her poetry for us, her rollicking, funny, wild celebrations of women’s bodies and lesbian love. She revealed herself a force of nature.
I came away from our meeting with her Chibcha Press book, PĂ­ntame una mujer peligrosa, and a new friend.

tatiana invited me and Hector to her apartment in Long Beach–a magical space with ritual objects and her extensive collection of folk art and books and record jackets from all over Latin America. And the two beautiful cats, Shakira and Mojito. tatiana was was initiated into Munay-ki and in a ritual ceremony she invoked for us mystical bands of protection.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a believer, but I was glad tatiana had spiritual protection, this impressive goddess of a woman who was struggling with kidney disease and dialysis (which didn’t stand in the way of her trekking to ecoaldeas in Colombia or shamanic trainings in both Americas or drumming on full moon nights in the mountains in Altadena) and her beloved brother’s murder and her difficult father’s recent death.

And she began to look at those wounds. tatiana began to write her own memoir and send me chapters. They should be published and read and the only reason I’m not posting them here is so that on-line publication won’t stand in the way of Olga Garcia, her literary executor, shepherding them into print.

Last year, she seemed to be at a low point. She was laid off from her library job. The IRS decided to audit her. A long distance relationship fizzled.
The diagnosis of cancer came soon after. It spread through her whole body like quicksilver. To her bones. Tumors popped out everywhere, you could touch them bulbing against the skin of her arms. Inoperable.

When tatiana was too exhausted and in too much pain to do anything but lie in bed, Shakira and Mojito, curled up around her.

Taken onto the plane in a wheelchair, tatiana traveled alone to a healing center in New Mexico where she lay naked on a buffalo robe in the wind and sun. This was not the first time in her life that doctors had told her she was terminal and yet she had gone on living. So while she began to make final arrangements–writing her will; arranging for her archives to go to UCLA–while her mother flew in from Miami to be with her and aunts arrived from Colombia, tatiana said she was refusing to die.

Hector and I visited her in the hospital after the colostomy which was done not in hopes of a cure but to keep her a little more comfortable because of the large tumors blocking the passage and causing excruciating pain. She looked so healthy and joked around about her colostomy bag with her accustomed lack of inhibition and good cheer and told about the new apartment she was moving to–on the ground floor, to make life easier–it was tempting to believe she would be all right.

Maylei Blackwell contacted tatiana’s friends and family with an invitation. On Thursday, July 12, we gathered for a healing ceremony at the home of Qween Hollins in Long Beach, a place where the LGBT community gathers for non-patriarchal spiritual practice, where we were saged and then went down steps carved into the earth, into the pit–“the womb of Mother Earth”–with a fire pit in its center. About 25 of us took our seats. Above us, trees and towering sunflowers, and a light rain fell.

Qween Hollins is gifted and absolutely genuine. She led the 2-hour ritual which, though many of us hoped for healing and cure, we understood the ritual was aimed at leaving the outcome open and letting the spirit guide tatiana to wherever it was she was meant to be. At one point, tatiana transformed before my eyes to a 5-year-old little girl. She just grew younger and younger, a look of total trust and innocence.

Then, inside the house, we were joined by her mother and her aunts. tatiana, exhausted, had to lie down on the bed. We shared food and then tatiana got off the bed and we presented our gifts of poetry and memories. So many people simply adore tatiana. they have been so inspired by her courage, not just in how she has faced the pain, but they have felt liberated by her refusal to censor herself. tatiana had taken down the necklaces that used to hang over her bed and had them in a basket so everyone could take one.

True to tatiana’s spirit, there was a lot of laughter and sexual commentary. Her mother spoke in tribute not just to tatiana but to her community. “Everyone has heard of witches, but you don’t know they really exist and you’ve never actually seen one. To me, that’s what lesbians were. I couldn’t believe it. But I’ve learned that you have been mother to my daughter and sisters to my daughter. When she first had her kidney disease, I told her to come home where I could take care of her and she said, no, I’m staying here. Then I came to visit and I saw you are her true family. I love you all and I consider you my family and I’m proud you are part of my family. Thank you for loving my daughter.”

Once everyone had a chance to speak, we lit candles, tall white candles that burn for seven days and we placed them in the center of the room on two trays and spoke our intentions.

Qween invited tatiana’s mother and aunts to lead us in prayer. This was so open of her because I’m sure she knew where those prayers would go, back to patriarchal religion, but she showed the women this respect. tatiana’s mother asked the Lord for blessings and to care for and comfort tatiana and ended it in Jesus’ name, and the aunts led us in the Padre Nuestro.

We sang De Colores and an African song that Qween taught us.

tatiana said she was exhausted but happy.

I did not see her again. The apartment was crowded and hectic. I didn’t want to intrude. On Monday, though, Maylei suggested I visit but told me to text first. I don’t have a cell phone, so I phoned instead. tatiana could barely speak she was so weak. she was too exhausted for a visit then but said she would call me back the next day, Tuesday, if she felt stronger. Instead, Tuesday afternoon, July 31, I got word that she had left us. The world is diminished.

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Gore Vidal also died on Tuesday. These words of his apply so well to tatiana de la tierra: “Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.”

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Tatiana’s memorial service will be held on Saturday, August 11 at 2:00 pm at Forest Lawn Cathedral Chapel, 4885 Cherry Avenue, Long Beach, CA 90807

The family requests that no floral arrangements be sent. Instead, friends and family are welcome to bring loose flowers that everyone will arrange together.

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News: February 2015, Olga Garcia reports that thanks to Mario Garcia and Maritza Alvarez tatiana’s website is live again: Please visit!