About Elizabeth di Grazia

An artist, I follow the nudge inside of me. This nudge led me to write Peace Corps stories, find the front door to the Loft, and to graduate from Hamline’s MFA program. The story that became my thesis for Hamline is woven into my book manuscript: HOUSE OF FIRE: From the Ashes, A Family, a memoir of healing and redemption. It’s a story about family. And a story about love–for my partner Jody and the son and daughter we adopted from Guatemala. Most days, I can be found working as a Human Resource Manager for a foundry in Minneapolis. When I am not at the foundry I may be volunteering as a Police Reserve Officer for Richfield, MN or kicking butt at Kor Am Tae Kwon Do.

Only In My Dreams

Only in my dreams do I sprint toward the hurdle. When I’m two feet away, I bring my right leg up to my butt and quickly extend it over the bar. It’s a beautiful thing, a split in midair. I continue scaling hurdle after hurdle until my final sprint across the finish line.

I’ve never done hurdles. I was the high schooler who after running the anchor in a relay or the 200-yard dash, went to the restroom, pulled a cigarette out of my gym bag, and smoked in the last stall.

Last week, I didn’t smell the tell-tale odor of cigarette smoke at Juan Jose’s conference track meet. No girl was hiding in the last stall.

I love watching Juan, Crystel, and their teammates run. I’ve known most of the team from kindergarten. At the meets, I can tell who the runner is by their body build, their stance and style before they even hit the straight away, their legs pumping up and down, their breath filling their lungs, and their arms propelling them forward. I stand twenty-five or fifty yards from the finish line, hollering, “Go Richfield, Go!”

It doesn’t matter to me where the runners place. It’s their heart that I love. I’m drawn to the winners and the losers, who give every ounce of energy that they have to the race. I’m drawn to the runners who strategize in the 800 and mile, who plan their break away, two hundred or a hundred meters from the finish. I’m drawn to the runners who starts at an all out run in the 200 and 400-meter dash, who have expended it all by the time they cross the finish line.

That is courage.

This track year, I was particularly drawn to a little guy with red hair, a sixth grader, who lined up for long distance races, who had to know that he was going to end up last or second to last and ran every race anyway. He stayed true to his nature and when he was one hundred meters from the finish line, he sprinted as if he was going to be first. I imagined him levitating, running on air those last one hundred meters. His feet were no longer on the ground, he had sprouted wings.

I remember that feeling. I quit smoking my 2-pack-a day habit in my mid-twenties, and started running marathons. I was like that red-headed sixth grader. Regardless of where I would place, I sped up towards the end of a race until my feet were off the ground and I was flying into the finish.

My days of levitating are most likely over due to a knee injury.

I’m okay with that. I can push myself in other arenas.

I’ll cheer on others. Celebrate with them.

The 200-meter race, is usually one of the last events of the meet. It was wonderful to witness the Richfield runners being first in every heat except Juan who was second in his.

Placing last, first, or second, it doesn’t matter. What matters is heart.

Lock Your Car

October 2008

I’m a Police Reserve Officer for the city of Richfield.

Is that why, I want to shout, “No, Don’t Leave Your Wallet There!” to the lady who has her billfold sitting on the ledge in the coffee shop. Anybody could open the door, grab her billfold, and be gone.

Or, is it because I’ve stolen before?

In my teens, I did a number of things that I am not proud of. At one point, taking blank checks from my parent’s checkbook, signing their name, and then retrieving the cancelled checks from the mailbox. Our life was so chaotic that I got away with it for … awhile.

I want to holler to the woman who is walking to the shower at the YMCA, “NO, don’t leave your iPod sitting on your gym bag. Cover it!”

While still a teen, I opened the back of a car, once, and took the person’s groceries. Not because I was hungry but because it was there and because I could.

I often tell Juan Jose’ and Crystel to care for their belongings, that they could be stolen.

Soon after getting her phone, Crystel left it at our table in the restaurant, while we helped ourselves at the buffet. It wasn’t until we were walking to the car that she realized that it was gone. I saw her startled face. She was stricken. I pulled her phone out of my pocket. Told her that as far as a thief was concerned she had just laid $500 on the table and put a sign out that said, Take Me, when she walked away from the table.

Jody, Coach Marty, Beth

When I first put on a Police Reserve jacket ten years ago, it felt very comfortable. After a moment, I realized why. I had stolen a similar jacket from a river bar when I was seventeen. The bar had live music, dancing, and it was sticky hot. People piled their jackets in a corner. I eyed the pile, picked out a dark blue jacket that I thought might fit me and walked out of the bar. I wore that jacket for a couple of years.

Sunday evening, I was helping Scouts with their personal fitness badge. A billfold and phone were laying in a pile amongst papers and pencils on the ground. “Someone is going to stay here, with their stuff, right?” I asked. The Scouts had walked across the street to a park to run a mile. Still, I was nervous. I reached down and put the billfold and phone in my pocket for safekeeping.

This morning I got a text from our neighbor: FYI: someone rifled through my vehicle (on my driveway) last night. It was unlocked. I think only took some cash. I reported to police. They said at least 5 people from Morgan to Logan area reported the same thing.

I’ve sat in many police reserve trainings, and we discuss car break-ins. We provide a Theft from Auto Prevention Program by conducting a risk survey of unoccupied vehicles, in hopes that drivers will think about what they are leaving behind in their unlocked car. We tuck the result of our inspection under windshield wipers.

I text her back: It happened to us as well. Too embarrassed to report. Jody and I are Police Reserve Officers.

I also use my past as an example that people make mistakes and can change.

Living Like You Are Dying

When the buds begin to show in springtime, I think of my mother. It was the season she learned that she was dying. I wonder what it would be like to learn that you won’t be present by year’s end, yet there is the promise of life all around you. A promise in the buds on fruit and maple trees, woodpeckers drumming, and robins with pieces of grass or a beakful of mud. Crocus with its purple and white flowers peeking out of the ground on the sunny side of the house and in the air the smell of rain, soil, and grass.

In a way, I do know. I didn’t think that I would live to be twenty-five. I didn’t have any hope for the future. I’m still surprised that I created a loving family. A safe home. And, my children and their friends, teens in their own right, still want to hang with the moms for a game or two of Monopoly.

Though that time of turmoil, chronicled in House of Fire, is long gone, I still live as if I’m going to die.

I make a great effort to live with no regrets. I’m already planning our families next Guatemala vacation in June of 2018. It will be our 5th visit to Juan Jose’ and Crystel’s birth country. I have my sight set on a sailboat river tour of the Rio Dulce, Lake Izabal, and Livingston before spending time anchored alongside an island jungle and beach.

Fortunately, Jody saves for the future. She packs away items from one holiday to the next. If it was up to me I’d just go out and buy the same thing year after year.

It’s helpful to live like you are dying. I’m at every track and cross country meet with the kids that I can attend. Though, I did hold back from going to their Nordic ski events. Somehow, I didn’t think that I’d regret standing in the cold waiting for them to come to the finish line. Maybe, next year.

The lilacs haven’t bloomed yet. But, they will. Their green bud promises us that.

The robins will strengthen their nest with mud. I’ll do the same showing up for my kids.

 

 

It’s A Different World

A few weeks ago, my job was expanded to include another plant under my human resources umbrella. I introduced myself to the General Manager and the office and production employees. I started with the personal.

“My partner and I have two children. They are 14 years old. We adopted them from Guatemala as infants.”

I shared my philosophy of human resources. I view my human resources department as a service to employees. I explained how they would see me on the manufacturing floor. I welcomed them to stop me and ask for a W2 form, address change form, vacation slip, etc.

Their eyes lit up when they understood that I would come to them instead of them having to come to me.

I marveled that I could bring me to them. The all of me. Specifically, having a partner.

It wasn’t that long ago that I never mentioned the word ‘partner’ at work. I kept the personal to myself. I wanted people to judge my human resources style not my personal life.

What changed for me was that same sex marriage became legal in Minnesota on August 1, 2013.

I am legitimate. I don’t need to hide behind unspoken words. I don’t need to say anything about my personal life. Or, I can.

This past January, Jody accompanied me to a work outing. I introduced her to the President, Vice President and others as my partner.

It’s been 4 years of living in a different world.

It’s a good thing for all of us.

Traveling with Hispanics

Guatemala City, Guatemala. Heading home with Juan Jose’.

It started when Juan was eight months old. I was sure that at any moment, gun wielding policemen would climb aboard the airplane and snatch our baby from Jody’s arms. We were on the flight home from Guatemala. Everyone on the plane could tell Juan wasn’t our baby. We were white and he was brown. I was in terror that Juan could be taken away from us, even though he was legally ours.

This fear has continued, though it hasn’t stopped our family from traveling. Internationally, we have traveled four times to Guatemala and once to Mexico. In a week, we will be boarding a plane for our third trip to Florida.

Peten, Guatemala Juan Jose’ age 7

The fear starts about the time we book our flights, whether international or domestic. I start thinking of all the documents to bring: passports, adoption paperwork, name change documents, birth certificates, citizenship papers, and photos of us as a family. All the paperwork that will prove that Juan and Crystel are our children.

We have not been questioned or stopped at airport security. That hasn’t ended my heart from beating furiously as our passports are studied, then we’re looked over, and finally the returned gaze back to our passports.

Cozumel, Mexico Crystel age 10

Even Juan and Crystel have questioned their citizenship. The first time they asked, I was driving them home from grade school. “Are we citizens?” Crystel asked casually. She is usually the one who brings these types of things up. Juan just sits quietly next to her, listening intently all the same. Once we were home, I opened our lock box. Showed them their Certificate of Citizenship documents and the welcome letter from President Bush. I described to them how I had laid out a train of documents on the floor, ten in all, sent them in, to make sure that they would receive their citizenship.

Even though we’ve been on 7 flights, I’m still afraid. My latest fear is that Juan and Crystel could be separated from us and questioned. That would be traumatic for them. For all of us. And, isn’t it our job as parents to raise our kids with the least trauma possible?

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala Crystel Age 11

I was thinking about this with our upcoming flight to Florida. It came to me that there are two additional things that I could do. I could apply for TSA precheck and Global entry. That would be proof to security that Juan and Crystel have already been vetted and have proved their citizenship. I immediately applied online, received our appointments, and took them out of school to meet with the agency. As of this writing, I’ve been approved. Juan and Crystel have not yet even though we applied at the same time and were at the same appointment. Jody has been approved even though she filed several days after us.

Florida, Age 3

When the renewal comes up in 5 years, I hope that we can simply complete a renewal form and pay a fee.

I finished applying for Global entry for us this morning.

I don’t ever think that it will be easy for Juan and Crystel to travel our world for the simple reason that they are Hispanic. As their parent, I’ll do what I can for as long as I can to make it not traumatic. That’s my job.