Electrocuted and immensely alive.

I was once electrocuted as a teenager.

It’s hard to tell what got me to that space. I was in the 8th grade, impatient to be of service to the revolution. If I only I were in another school, I could have joined one of the youth groups dedicated to organize teenagers to promote the cause, and to provide conscientization tools. If I had gone to a less privileged school, I could have been interacting more with the revolutionary youth. I could have been in rallies and meetings. I could have been on street demonstrations, and eventually help with the barricades, with the taking of radio stations, with the publishing of clandestine newspapers. I could have been helping the revolution, until it was time for me, too, to take up arms and help change the brutal regime of death and injustice.

But the Externado de San Jose had no such groups. What we had was an advanced academic program, mixed with the Jesuit mandate to create citizens with a social conscience and a spirit of service to others. We had the dedicated priests who tried hard to teach that Catholic theology was synonymous with social justice. We also had many teachers who were university students and, therefore, quite in touch with the times, with the revolutionary fervor and the need to produce a new human being who lived by rules different than the repressive and oppressive exploitation that history had given us. Of course, we also had very smart students, many of whom were from the richest families of El Salvador, families that were exactly what the repressive and oppressive exploitation salvadorean history had given us.

There were no youth groups in the Externado. No organized resistance. That was for the poor schools, the Instituto, the public schools, and the National University (the U, we called it). What I had in the Externado that connected me to the revolution were the books, the papers, and the discussions with other students and teachers. I had managed to write a play and organize a mural; it was a periodical with political cartoons, editorials, news, and social analysis that was not distributed, but rather pinned inside a glass frame on the wall of one of the hallways of our old building. Students and teachers could read it, stoping on their way to class or office hours. I got two friends to help, and collected articles and opinion pieces from other interested students. I wrote the editorial piece and drew the cartoon. We called it El Pulgarcito, after the story of a Thumbelina sized boy, the size of a thumb (pulgar). It was also the nickname of my country, the smallest of the continent, and one of the most insignificant in the world.

I was impatient for more, though. I wanted to participate and help in the larger process happening outside. There was a revolutionary movement touching every aspect of life: peasants, workers, students, teachers, priests, women, youth, farmers, and artists were all organizing. The movement was social, devotional, political, and armed as well. The people were insurrecting at all levels, and from all sectors there was a clamor for change and social justice. I wanted in. I wanted to serve. So, I talked to my father. He was connected and involved. I told him I had something to ask, that it was serious. We went to the back patio of the house, under the terrace. He sat with me and listened attentively, nodded pensively when I told him I wanted to join the movement. He asked me to wait a little, that he was going to connect me with the right people.

I was too impatient, though. Life was flowing strong and fast, and I didn’t want to stay in place while it all happened outside. I didn’t want to stay frozen in privilege while the land was being covered with revolutionary currents.

I went by myself to the National University. I’d heard that many revolutionary organizations met there in secret. I had explored the grounds before, at a time when the campus had been closed by the military, and the rooms and projects had been all abandoned to entropy and jungle. Now, it was teeming with activity. Men and women walking all over, with books and stethoscopes, beards and glasses. I walked guided by instinct. In that ocean of university students and professors, I saw my older brother walking towards me. We saw each other at the same time. Each surprised to see the other, because he didn’t go that university either. He was a senior in high school, but here he was with two friends I’ve never seen. We greeted each other, almost imperceptibly. “What are you doing here?”, he asked. “Just passing through, visiting friends,” I said. “What are you doing here?”, I asked. “Same,” he responded. “Just passing through.” Neither pushed the matter any further. We both knew. We silently agreed to pretend.

If found what I was looking for. It was a shack behind a mound of earth covered with overgrowth. There were four doors to the long shack, each one leading to a different student organization. They were not university groups. They were part of the high school and junior high student organizations. They met here, hidden from the authorities and spies in their own schools. This was a central hub where a youth organization could coordinate activities across many different schools. I didn’t hesitate, I knew where to go. It was not the largest and most popular MERS. I was instantly attracted to the student branch of the PRTC. There was no reason I could give for this. It was a knowing that came from having seen my life a few times in the past. I simply had seen myself walking through this door before. So, when the door was there in front of my, I walked in.

At the same time, in what seems like a different world, I was also following a mystical path. It was the 8th grade and my soul wanted a lot more than masses and confessions. I needed to experience in my own flesh that spirit and awakening others were content to read about. I wasn’t satisfied with the promise of heaven, nor was I scared of hell. Traditional religions no longer had an appeal to me, and the material world was not enough. I went on my own, to study and practice. In the 8th grade, I was studying western esotericism, hypnosis, parapsychology, and magick.

The spiritual fires were fanned within me. I couldn’t just remain placid and settled in the occurrences of life. I couldn’t follow the reasonable program: be a good student of a good school, choose a profession, get a family, make a living, follow a religion, and train good children to be good citizens.

I yearned for liberation, both in the historical world outside and in the innermost sanctum of the soul. The revolutionary fires were fanned outside and inside. Liberation and evolution were stirring the depths of my soul.

The many worlds I had to inhabit were for the most part kept from colliding, but one day they all seemed to lead to this specific moment, when the chamber where I was became solid, when I didn’t know how I had been caught in this current of time. I wasn’t sure what lead to this, but I was here now, being electrocuted. There was a minute instant, when the current begun to flow through me that I remembered having taking a misstep. I remembered this moment, right when the current is about to flow and trap me there, when I know I was free and flowing but now I am falling into an oh-so-solid reality of matter and life. I knew that this moment before the electro-magnetic current overflows my nervous system, was the exact same moment I experienced before I was born, before my essential self was fused with my human nervous system and life as an individual begun in this planet, in this particular historical moment in this particular country. I had been here before, and here I was again, and again. Sometimes I was experiencing this before reincarnating, sometimes with my hands extended as the Man in the Cross while high voltage is passed through by someone or something behind me I cannot see, attempting here to freeze hope, stop the flow of life, stunt liberty, and crush the seeds of love. But there was nothing I could do now to avoid being trapped in this current of bioelectricity, nothing to do to escape. The only option now was to ride out these currents of light and life.

When electricity begins to flow through the waters of my brain, everything else freezes. Every nerve in this body was created to conduct electricity, to conduct subtle currents of magnetic and psychic energy, to carry information from one part of the body to another.

This nervous system that was created with very subtle wires––with very small and delicate rivers of energy and light, was designed to carry through it the most beautiful impressions of light, depth, sound, touch; the loving caress of the Beloved; the brutal gentleness of the sunset; the wind coming down from the volcano; the smell of spring in a tropical land.

This nervous system, designed to carry beauty and pain is, in this moment of electrocution, only able to carry high voltage, freezing everything in place, not allowing a single thought to be transmitted to the body; not admitting even the movement of lips and tongue to ask for help. There is just the freezing energy, and the movement––the swaying back and forth of a body that is being cooked alive, immensely alive.

 

 

 

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Kissed by Lightning

She was a bundle of energy with a happy pretty face. I always saw her running, laughing, talking fast, and looking at the world with dark bright eyes full of curiosity. She was twelve years old, like me, but her precocious nature carried experiences beyond our age; experiences of sensual games I had only barely begun to fathom from rumors and books.

Her name was Luz, and with her I shared my first kiss.

I didn’t know her well. I only saw her here and there, played the occasional game of hide and seek, racing, or tag. I also heard that she kissed boys already, and my mom told me that the nurse that helped her during her miscarriage—and tended to her after the subsequent necessary operation to save her life by making sure she didn’t get pregnant for the tenth time—lived in that building, the number 7. She also told me that the kind nurse, who we all thought was always too angry because she never smiled or said “hello,” had a pretty daughter she was trying to keep safe from all the boys that kept hovering near their apartment, some of them too old to be having any good intentions. It took me a minute to realize that the kind and gentle nurse, that had helped my mom, was the same surly woman dressed in white who would always balk at us if we were sitting on the stair-case leading up to the fourth floor; the top floor of the building where she lived with Luz and her younger brother, Rafael.

I understood, then, why she was always angry and frustrated. But I still didn’t understand why, the other day, when she had come home and found me and Rodolfo sitting on the stair-well right above the third floor, she had mumbled a “buenas” when I said “buenas tardes” to her, but started to insult Rodolfo. He said “Muy buenas tardes,” under his breath as she was walking past us. I didn’t understand why she turned around after having gone up a few more steps, and why she started insulting him and hitting him with a rolled up newspaper that was hiding a hammer inside. She called him a hijueputa and a maricón––some of the most common insults in San Salvador. I also didn’t understand why it was an insult to be the son of a prostitute, or to be homosexual. There were many things I didn’t understand yet, but I knew you were supposed to get angry if someone said that to you, and fight. Of course, Rodolfo didn’t fight. He was always nice, kind, and generous. I have always known him to be gentle, and never get into fights. He was 18 years old, and he was with me all the time. He always came to see me after school, and showed me his books of high school math, chemistry, and electronics. He taught me to use the sliding rule to make calculations, because calculators and computers had not been invented yet. I loved learning these things. I couldn’t wait to be in high school, where I could learn these advanced and exciting things, and not the boring things they insisted on teaching in the sixth grade.

I didn’t understand why she was angry at him. Why was she hitting him with a hammer inside a rolled up newspaper? Why was she calling him those names, and “dirty” as well? I thought later that perhaps she thought he had insulted her when she walked past her, or maybe she thought Rodolfo was one of the older boys circling her pretty daughter, Luz. He wasn’t. He didn’t seem interested in girls. Never had a girlfriend. He spent all his time with me. He picked me up at 5:30 a.m., because I liked attending the morning service at the christian church I had just joined when I went to see that strange group of religious people who had taken over an abandoned church in the Colonia Magisterial. It was a neighborhood designed only for teachers and their families, with apartments for sale that they could afford on their salaries. The church had been abandoned two years before, because the priest working with the teachers had been kidnapped by the Mano Blanca, one of the death squads committed to fighting terrorists and communists, and to kidnap and torture everyone who opposed the government or help the poor organize. The church building had been abandoned for a while now, and Rodolfo told me of this group of christians, “evangélicos they call themselves.” He told me they seemed different from Catholics. They really read the Bible, and they didn’t have priests, but called each other “brothers and sisters.” They seemed to have a good community that loved each other and Christ. They loved God so much that they came into the abandoned Catholic Church, after her priest had been kidnapped and his cadaver dumped in some hidden place, and proceeded to destroy all the statues of saints and virgins because they were not God. I wanted to go see this community that talked to God directly, without a priest or mass. So, he took me there. I was already fascinated with the Bible, which my father had taught me to read. They were discussing it and reading it together. They were all praying together, too, with fervor. When the moment came when the pastor asks if “anyone here present wants to take Jesus into his heart,” I raised my hand and everyone was happy for me and prayed for me with all their hands like antennae over me. Since that day, I started going to their service every morning at 5:30, which gave me enough time to get back home for a quick breakfast before going to school. Rodolfo would pick me up in the morning, take me to the service, and wait for me outside. He never went in. In the afternoon, he would come after school and we would spend the afternoon together.

She shouldn’t have hit Rodolfo like that. He hadn’t done anything wrong. Luz was too young for him, and he didn’t even seem interested in getting a girlfriend. He had never had one. He wasn’t one of the older boys circling that pretty girl with the curious eyes and the bundle of precocious energy. Of course, I was interested, but I didn’t think at the time that any girl would want to kiss me. I had seen my face in the mirror while making kissing faces. I looked too comical with my lips pursed, and if I opened my mouth like I saw a guy do in a movie once to kiss a girl by putting his mouth around her lips, I looked even worse. No, there was no way any girl would kiss me if I looked like this. Besides, I was too short. Everyone said that, and I talked too funny and made everyone laugh when I said my name or any other word with the letter “R”. How could I ever kiss a girl, when they are all too tall for me? Even if they didn’t mind how I talked, they would laugh and run away, for sure, if they saw the face I saw in the mirror when trying to see how I’d look if I went for a kiss.

It wasn’t that I had crush on Luz, you see. She was very pretty, however, and she liked to kiss boys. Every one said that. I didn’t feel the pangs in the heart and the void spot in the stomach like I felt with Alba, the girl from Colonia Magisterial I had a crush on last year. Still, Luz was very pretty and it was a lot of fun when I played with her and the other boys. I actually had never seen her kissing anyone, but everyone said she did. I had also never seen her brother, Rafael, kiss any boys, but everyone said that he liked boys too, and that he was gay and that was why he spoke like a girl too.

When I told Rodolfo that I was thinking of asking Luz to be my girlfriend, he laughed at me and said I didn’t have the courage. That angered me, and I said I would prove him wrong. Toñito was there, too. He was a quiet boy who often came to my side of the neighborhood with Rodolfo. He would hang out with us, but was mostly very quiet and shy. I told them both that this day I would ask Luz if she would be my girlfriend. Rodolfo said I would chicken out, like I had chickened out with Alba the year before. I promised to myself I would do it, “no matter if she laughs at me or makes a face of disgust.” I would ask her, and prove to myself that I could do it. So, I went up to the apartment buildings, around building 7 where she often hanged out with her brother and the other kids.

There she was, talking fast next to her bycicle, giving commands to other boys and looking around as she always was, like attempting to drink in all the colors and shapes around her. I walked fast, ahead of Rodolfo and Toñito, and called her to come to me. I had to be assertive, so that the doubt and fear couldn’t crawl in. So that the thought of my kissing face in the mirror wouldn’t come up to remind me of how I never said anything to Alba the year before. I came up to her, and when she heard me call her name, Luz stopped what she was saying and ran to meet me, her curious eyes opening wide and fixating on me for a moment, to see what I had to say with such urgency. I was in the middle of asking her the question, if she wanted to be my girlfriend, when Rodolfo interrupted from behind me, and in a louder voice said: “He wants to make out with you.” A hint of anger or contempt in his voice. I didn’t finish my question. She looked up at Rodolfo, her attention going to the sudden and louder voice. Her mind, quick as her eyes, understood what Rodolfo was saying before I could say what I wanted to say. She then looked back at me, and asked, “Really?” With my mind now confused and scrambled, but the impulse that brought me there still carrying me through, I simply heard myself say, “Yes, I do.” She smiled, and looked to the side. It was a sweet smile. She quickly said, “Okay, meet me at seven on the stair-well.”

At seven, I arrived, and she was there. Her short dark hair fell over and below her ears, emphasizing and framing the features of her face under the dim lights of the evening. Her denim shorts had been replaced with a soft skirt with flowery design. Her freckled face, smiling mischiviously and happy. “Okay, like this…” she said, moving to the landing of the stair, one step below me. She had already calculated the maneuver that puzzled me. This way, she didn’t have to lean over too much to be able to kiss me. We were almost the same height, if I was standing a step above her. She put her arms on my shoulders, and I held her waist. My mind went silent, no more worries. My left hand went behind her light green t-shirt. She pulled me closer, still smiling. I didn’t purse my lips, or opened my mouth wide. She took over, and I absorbed everything. Her small chest pressed agains mine; and this sensation of firm breasts on me, I had never considered. Incredible as that was, even that evaporated when her lips touched mine. She parted my lips with the tip of her tongue, and started playing with mine. My eyes closed, like hers, and my hands went to rest on her back. She held my neck and touched my hair, and breathed into me a life I didn’t know. I smelled fire in her skin, and tasted nature in that kiss: the wet grass after the first rains of May, mixed with the fragrance of the many orchids in the Salvadorean fields. I thought for a moment that I was flying over the green and flowery cloud forests of El Salvador, when the taste of honey combined in our tongues. Electrical fluids coated my senses, and the smell of lighting opened my forehead. The sweet multiplicity of nature expanded the sense of taste and smell for the duration of that kiss. That kiss was no longer lips and tongue, but an expansion of nature itself within my frontal cortex.

I didn’t expect this much from a kiss. After that, it didn’t matter anymore that I was too short or too shy. It didn’t matter that kids and grown ups made fun of my speech. It didn’t matter, at all, that Rafael came downstairs and laughed hard at me standing on a step to reach her lips, or that she turned away embarrassed and laughing too. It didn’t matter that she ran away. It didn’t matter that the next day I found out that Toñito had met with her an hour later to get his first kiss too, a meeting instigated by Rodolfo after I had proven I did have to courage to ask a girl for a kiss. It didn’t matter if I thought we were going to be something couple like, but we weren’t. Yes, it all hurt, but it really did not matter anymore, not really. Just like it didn’t matter that a week later Rodolfo would try to wash the confidence and courage from me, by holding me upside down by my ankles over the railing of the fourth floor of building 7, to make me look at the drop four stories below, to make gravity pull out of me the joy and courage, to hear from me a shriek of terror. None of that mattered in the end, and not because I didn’t scream, and not because I held my terror inside until he put me back on my feet, and not because I summoned the rage and terror of ages within me and punched him hard on his testicles and saw him bend over and lose his breath. No. It all didn’t matter because I had been kissed, not just by a girl named Luz, but by her namesake within the thunderstorm, and the fullness of nature had truly penetrated my mind without regards for how small, insignificant, and petty I and all my people can be. And because in the presence of such a gift from the Goddess, all kisses became, after that, the first kiss into the santo sanctorum of Life; and that undeniable fact melts and and dissolves all other experiences unto the endless fields of Her bosom, eternally impregnated by the Light of the first rains of May.

Early Memories

I was leaning over the rail of the crib looking at small farm animals laying out on the floor. It was a cement floor. I looked at the hardness of the floor. I knew it to be hard. I looked at the small animals: a cow, a horse, a small simulation of a fence. I looked at it as if I was a being far detached from God’s world.

I fell, of course, like I knew I would.

I knew I could have done nothing to prevent it, yet the feeling of having missed a step came––just like last time. I knew once I fell that I could do absolutely nothing to change the chain of events that were to follow. I knew the smell of metallic blood followed by the smell of rubbing alcohol. I knew the pain, the ringing of ears, the wet face, the searing blacking out pain, the coming of the darkness. I knew the bright brilliant white light that was going to invade my head and my dreams and my life.

I knew this as I was falling to the harsh, hard reality of the cement on the floor of the small room in the small house of a very, very small country.

Of gases, fire balls, and heavenly hearts.

The night before, I had come back from the fair with a bright blue ballon. The helium inside, I was told, was lighter than air and that made the balloon always want to elevate itself. I wondered how far it would go, if I wasn’t holding it down. I was thinking of finding out the next day, to let it go to heaven and see if it would find a resting place, or if it would keep going forever until it reached the stars.

Early in the morning, the routine noises of the house started as planned. First, my aunt Juanita got up to prepare breakfast. I heard all the familiar noises that come from her room and the kitchen, as it happens every morning. Normally, I woke up first, but I’d stay in bed looking at the ceiling and the sun beams that made dust particles dance to the noises outside. Usually, when my aunt got up to prepare breakfast, my little brother, Carlitos, would wake up and follow her into the kitchen. She would sit him on the counter from where, groggily sucking his thumb and twirling his hair with his other hand, he would watch her prepare the food in our old gas oven. That day, however, he stayed in bed for some reason. Later, he would tell me that someone told him to stay in bed sleeping longer. He thought it had been me, or perhaps some woman; the identity of the voice wasn’t clear, but he followed the advice and stayed in bed with my other brothers, my mom, and me.

I was looking at my ballon, now a little deflated. It was no longer resting on the ceiling. It was hanging low, now. What had happened to the gas inside? Why didn’t it make the balloon go up to the sky anymore? What made it happy to just float in the middle of the room? No, it didn’t seem happy. It seemed to just had given up; a blue balloon unable to go up to meet the greater blue sphere of the sky. It was not happy, it was resigned. Maybe I should have done it yesterday, let it go when I got the idea. But I liked feeling the pull from it. It was the first helium balloon I had ever seen in person. Before this, I had only seen them in cartoons. Now, I had one in my hand, in real life. It was really blue and it really floated. I had now a piece of fantasy in my hands, a fantasy I had assumed was only possible in television. This small sphere of blue in my hands had a gentle and steady pull to the sky. It wanted to fly up, just like I wanted to glide up to the heart of the sky. To be precise, it was not the flying that my balloon and I wanted. It was the being home, where the heart of me and the heart of sky are one and the same. Secretly, I wanted to see this little piece of heaven make it there. But I also wanted to feel that magical, gentle pull on my hand a while longer. It made me feel like I was floating a little. Its aspiration met mine, and if a television fantasy was now in my hands, perhaps the secret fantasy of my heart could also become real with this ballon.

This morning, however, it was just a blue ballon floating midway between the floor and the ceiling, and my thoughts contemplating the nature of hellium and gases. My mom woke up, asking me if I smelled gas. I couldn’t smell it, but I told her that perhaps it was the gas that had escaped from the balloon. I was seeing in my mind’s eye the subtle currents of gas fostering through tiny, tiny pores in the ballon. If the gas was lighter than air, then it was perhaps thinner and could pass through microscopic holes the air could not fit through.

Before I could speak this thought to my mother, a loud explosion shook the brick walls of the house. My mother ran out, I followed her. I saw Carlitos sitting up as I ran past him after my mom. Outside the master bedroom, a living room and a family room ended in a door to the right. This door led to the kitchen, which was a small enclosed room to the left, the bathroom in front of the door, and the patio and servant’s room to the right. This door to the back of the house was open now. Pedrito, an older second cousin staying with us was coming out to investigate the explosion. My mother was running towards the back door, screaming “Juanita! Juanita!” And from the frame of the door that led to the back of the house where the kitchen was was emerging a huge ball of fire, with the figure of a woman inside, shrieking and holding her arms out in a torturous plead for help and the end of unimaginable suffering.

My mother was aiming to embrace her, to smother the fire with her own body. Pedrito was moving to intercept my mother, to keep her from getting enflamed too. In a frozen moment of time, all three were heading towards each other. My aunt tripped, saving the other two from her fate when the flames started to subside after she fell and rolled.

Someone had left the kitchen’s gas tank open, and the brick walls of the tiny kitchen room had been holding the gas inside, waiting for a match to strike. I didn’t know then that these were different gases, I only thought that the gas was taking my balloon to the sky and my aunt to a fiery death.

She didn’t die, however. My aunt was a single mom with two daughters. Ever since she was a little girl, her face had some kind of damage that made her mouth be on one side, and not centered like for most people. As a young woman, she saw in this a deformity that would forever impede her finding a partner. She told me once, long after this fire, that she went once to see a brujo, to ask for magic to release her of this deformity. Doctors couldn’t do anything at the time, and the brujo from Usulutan said he had the power to do that, but if he did, my aunt would never be happy. He said that it was better to stay with her face as it was. My aunt reluctantly agreed.

This day, however, and many more to follow were far from any happiness she hoped for her life. The recovery was more painful than anything I could imagine. She had burnt 85% of her skin. When I visited her, she would tell me of the treatment. They had to hang her body on straps, and several times a day a nurse would come in to scrub her body from the burnt and dead skin, until it was all raw flesh. Then, an antiseptic cream would be applied that brought the burning sensation all over, only slower and steadier this time. She would scream each time, of course, because there was nothing else she could do.

The images of that morning are unforgettable, of course. And the lessons of gasses that take blue spheres to heaven or small sparks to fiery explosions are still being assimilated. But the most decisive and everlasting impression was the whisper in my brother’s ear of an intelligence that guides our destiny, and the ferreous tenacity of spirit of my aunt, who showed the mettle of one who endures all and everything. To aspire to the heart of heaven is a good thing, but to make of that aspiration one that survives everything and continues to seek to the heights is indispensable. It is the proper act of a spirit that will never deflate to lie resigned in mediocrity, but will continue to seek––with arms extended through the fiery storm––the proper place of the soul in the silent center of the heart.

My tia Juanita endured. Survived everything. She is now in her 80’s, beautiful and alert, full of curiosity, laughter and kindness. Unknown to most people that know her, she is part of a group of healers in her church dedicated to this service, and her gift of healing is powerful, as is the light that radiates from her beautiful and happy face.

Mama Spider

It is said somewhere that the mother spider, when the hunting has not gone well even after building the perfect tapestry of a thick, sturdy, heavy and sticky cobweb, she still manages to feed her children. They wait, somewhere unseen and protected. She walks towards the center. She lays down. She wraps herself up with her own string. Once she is completely covered, the way she would bind a fly, she taps on her web. She taps a signal designed to tell the children that there is game. The tinny little children come running. They need to feed this night or they won’t survive. They come to the mother and they begin to devour her, not knowing it is their mother. Thinking it is just an insect, just another nurturing bundle, they open her up. They go inside her belly and eat her from the inside out, devouring her completely.

Her sacrifice allows the children to grow into adulthood, to live one more night so they can go and hunt. So they can go and have other little children who would devour their mother.

Mama spider. Mama spider.

Weaving and forming. Teaching and feeding.

Out of your bowels we ate.

Out of your spirit we grew;

to hunt one more day,

and tomorrow.

So was the spirit of my mother, even when I did not see her.

From the depth of her corpse, I grew and came out.

The ladies of fate always seemed to be weaving a strange web around my mother: strange happenings, magical, astonishing and weird. A teacher in a school for poor children, she took it upon herself to help a child who reminded her of my younger brother. She didn’t know why she felt compelled to take him under her wing, to buy him a pair of shoes, to bring groceries to his mother. It was pure compassion, or motherly love springing from unknown currents in her soul. She wanted to take care of him and protect him. She brought this little boy to play with us. We took an instant liking to him. I took him outside to play soccer, to meet my friends, to talk, to be one of us. With his confused eyes full of wonderment and restrained joy, this boy joined us for a moment in our lives. A few months later he disappeared from our lives. He became a ghost, a shadow, a memory––like so many people in El Salvador, never knowing why, where, or when they went.

Years later, my father was in exile. Death squads came after him, and he managed to escape. One day, my mother was coming out of the school for rich kids where she was also teaching (she always worked at a rich school for the money, and at a poor school for the government pension). She was about to get into her car, when two cars with tinted windows blocked her in front and behind, and men with dark glasses came to her with even darker motives. They told her, “Ma’am, you’re coming with us.”

Those simple words filled her spine with a chill. She knew what was coming next. She knew. She could almost experience the ride in the back of their car. She could almost feel the boots on her face. She could predict the raping and the flame. She knew the cutting of the nipples. She knew the breaking of the teeth. She knew of the brutal interrogation of “Where is he?,” “What else do you know?,” and “Where are the others?” She knew the longing for death. She knew it was all coming to an end. She knew what followed. That time line was flowing right in front of her, and she was just about to be carried away in its current.

Her body paralyzed, she couldn’t move. It was just the coldness of certain death for her. She couldn’t move, she couldn’t react.

She only could say, “Me?”

“Yes ma’am, you’re coming with us now.”

Once again she repeated, “Me?” and the “Come with us” was the only answer, with a hand grabbing her by one arm, leading her to a sequence of events that were long ago written, and nothing at this moment––nothing, no one––could come to her rescue.

She was in that space where we found ourselves so many times in that jungle, when reality had become so hard, so heavy, that no escape is possible. No light, no hope, no brilliance seemed to exist, just the pulling into heavy hardness. This was the harshness of reality. And here she was, knowing that all she could do now was to follow this thread.

At this moment, at this exact moment, the driver of the car in front comes out. Dark glasses. From some remote whisper of awareness, she felt she recognized him. One day, a year or two before this, she went to the house of the little boy she had taken under her nurturing love–because he looked like my brother perhaps, or compelled by unknown oceanic depths. She had come to see the mother of the little boy that day, a year or two ago. She brought the child’s mother some food, shoes, shirts, love and compassion. When she was leaving, the father was approaching the house. The father of the illegitimate boy, in a suit and dark glasses said to her “Ma’am, I know what you’ve been doing for my son and I want to thank you for everything. For the love you’ve given him.” It was a brief encounter. She left. He went. And here he was now, again, same dark glasses and suit, driving a car for men of money and death, looking at the woman that was about to die under torture. There he was, telling the other men: “That’s not her. We’ve got the wrong one. Lets go.”

They left, and the specter of death vanished, and the lightness of being filled the flesh of my mother; tears coming out, of pain and joy; but more than anything, tears for having recognized the silver and red threads of the tapestry being woven by fortune.

And, as she tells the tale, the magic of the Kindly Ladies becomes entrenched in our consciousness, and our words. And so the mother spider weaves a thread. A chance meeting one day, a voice heard another day… moving… changing… Creating a knot here, a thread there. And so it went, this tapestry of light. My mother, always silent; always absent; always inside her cocoon of happenings; always surrounding us as we devoured her. Always giving. Always threading. Whispering. Silent. But providing the legs and the thread and the moving.

 

http://thetelling.libsyn.com/the-kindly-ladies-mama-spiders-invisible-story

 

Juancito

How I loved coming out of my house in Zacamil at the hour of dusk to the calm of the setting sun and the illuminated volcano towering over the rooftops of the rows of small houses of many colors competing with the colors of the sky—a competition destined to fade into the dark starry sky without a winner. How I loved sitting near the almond tree with its big green leaves that seemed to dole out their night dew slowly and steadily throughout the night, and talking to Juancito and the small cadre of friends who congregated to laugh and marvel as the stars blinked at us and shared the mantle of mystery that kept them cozy and distinct above.

There was Juancito, my older next door neighbor, with a name that fits his loving gentle light that poured though a face that seemed as smart as it was bright with idealistic youth, a round face with thin lips and wide almond eyes that smiled easily. He must have been 17 and I 10, and the others came and went through many evenings of what my older brother called bullshit conversations—useless and devoid of the adrenal flavor of fútbol

“Juancito” was previously published in this anthology.

and fights, of fashion and girls. Far removed from the expectations of our age and situation, we talked and marveled about the nature of the stars, the silent unknown around us, science, history, and the heart of humanity. We delved into topics that to this day grip my heart of hearts. Juancito shared with us his marvel for life, his hopes for a world free and true, his vision of a human race mature and just, and his enthusiasm for science and the future.

 

I was alone with him one night, leaning against my father’s car in the parking lot above the row of houses of our neighborhood, after the other friends congregated around “El Chele” Medrano, the feared dad of a pretty girl who had been my playmate since I was 3, to hear him speak of sex and whores and why Jesus really sweated blood with Mary Magdalene in the desert. Juancito and I stayed apart, pondering hard on the infinite nature of the universe and the relentless nature of its laws, and came to that point where the mind wakes up into a sense of timelessness and ceases to be his mind or my mind, and it becomes a book of ideas that said that, out of the infinite number of solar systems, there had to be others with life like ours, or even life unlike ours but conscious and alive. The mind speculated that any mind which wakes up to the realization of its universality would wonder, perhaps at that very moment, if there was perhaps another mind pondering the same question about the existence of other minds like this one that is thinking right now; and just like that, we looked up to the night sky and realized that, at this very fleetingly eternal moment, another child like Juancito and me was looking up towards the infinite space above him and wondered about us. The mind who wonders seemed to breach the dark gulf separating one from another, and there was just the wonderment of having, for a moment, touched another.

After this and other conversations of religion, politics, philosophy and things, life took over, and I lived the life for me, and he went on to his revolutionary calling. I overheard once that conversation when his aunt, the nurse, the one who took him in her home and once saved me from the toys I had shoved into my nose to see how far my hole went. It was that conversation where the mother figure tells him to be careful, that he is taking too many risks, that he could end up dead or tortured, that he should study and prepare himself for a good future and a good family, that he is smart and good and therefore must not throw everything away, that “be careful and think of us who love you and will miss you,” and that the revolution he is struggling for will never happen and is all a farce and everyone is for himself and more good can be done by staying in school and raising a family. Yes, I heard that conversation, and I heard his response, loving and kind as when he talked to me, and just as full of splendor were his words when he told his aunt that what we are doing, this our thing, is not for us, that we will never see the benefits of our work, that it was for the future of humanity and that others in distant times will live the life that is right and just and good. This is not for me, not for us. It is for the future of humanity.

That was the last I heard of him. Juancito became a “disappeared”—a victim of a repressive paramilitary government for whom Juancito was a terrorist, a public enemy, the disease of the world coming from outside to disrupt their world of possessions and private wealth and the rule of arms. Juancito disappeared and was never, ever found. His happy, tender voice full of hope and smiles was never heard again.

There is a silent void where you used to be. I called you “Juancito” when you were older than me, and I call you “Juancito” now that I am older and you are still a very young man. It hurts, Juancito, to know you gone, to intuit you tortured and killed. I have kept our talks in my most intimate abode, and once in a while I look across the gulf of time and space and I see your face looking up into my eyes with a wide-eyed child next to you, wondering if I see you and if I am also thinking about you and know that there is another out there in this limitless, free, and revolutionary vastness.

 

Click here to watch Koyote read “Juancito”

 

 

 

The night was rich with secrets.

My dad gently shook my left shoulder, waking me up from a nice sleep. I was five years old. His face, close to mine.

“Do you want to help me?”

“Yes,” I instantly replied. What could be better? He was my hero. He was the strongest and wisest man in the whole world. When I was five, my father was not afraid of anyone. He could take anyone in a fight and drink with him later. He was always singing and smiling. Everyone I knew wanted to be around him, and everyone respected him. My father had seen the specter of the rivers, the Sihuanaba herself, and survived with his sanity. My father was strong and brave enough to fight a tiger and roll down a ravine in deathly embrace until the cold water of the river below separated them.  My father knew the secrets of the world and could speak with God, when I was five.

My father was fun, and I could be anyone with him. I could be Tarzan, Ultraman, and Batman when my father was home. When my dad was around, I was intelligent and fun. I was brave, because there was nothing to fear. The world was an open book to me, because he was the window to history, music, art, philosophy, poetry and religion. Nothing seemed impossible, and everything was good. When I was five, the world and I were good, noble, brave, and true–-like my father was.

To his question my response was unequivocal, a “yes” that emanates from the heart of everything I am. For the first time, my father was not there just to guide me and play with me. Now, I also felt part of his world. I left for a moment my own, and entered this new universe. In this new and bigger world, he was no longer supreme and invulnerable. In his world, he had to hide, stalk, and hold the secrets of the night to protect them from the ravaging forces of the human world outside.

It was 3:00 a.m., and we got up with a huge ream of papers. We got into the car and drove around Santa Elena with the lights off. He gave clear instructions before opening the passenger’s window to let the chill and the silences of the night in. “Count to ten slowly in your mind, and every time you come to ten, throw a small stack of papers outside the car.” There. That was my job. It was simple, and fun. But more than fun, it was serious. It was deadly. It was my first conspiracy. It was the threshold into a larger world of secrets and intrigue. A world that would have the mayor chase my father out of town with a gun; that would send their army to look for secret rooms in my grandma’s house; that would chase two Cubans jumping out of the window while riding a motorcycle, from a house my father was renting to them; that would bring many, many encounters with death for my entire family.

In this bigger world, my father was running for the office of governor for the progressive party, and while seeking that office was perfectly legal, it would get him killed by the ruling party––a party that never lost any elections because they would cut your fingers, rape your wife, or massacre your priest to stay in power. In this world, my father had to hide in order to do what was right. He was part of a vast conspiracy to subvert the power structures of the world. He was working with the guerrillas, the muchachos, to make a just and sane world.

Later, he would tell me about the struggle and the thirst for justice. He would tell me about the injustices of the holders of economic and political power, and the heroes that gave their lives fighting the good fight. Later, I would see him cry while burning the diary of Che Guevara, and I would listen to the secret history of the world. He, my hero, would tell me of his heroes: Camilo Torres, Fidel Castro, and Jesus of Nazareth. I remember worrying that these stories meant that I was supposed to one day also take arms and kill for this utopia. The fear of death and torture would come much later, many times over. But the fear of killing people became present there, and I knew I never wanted to kill, but I wanted to work for this world. This seed of desire became a life-long answer to his question: “do you want to help me?” Because now it is no longer about helpin him pass subversive propaganda, but help clarify his vision by discovering it within myself, and work in this vast conspiracy to make of this world the sacred kingdom we secretly know we can make.

The dark world outside the car brought in hints of future chills of death through the open window. It hid like an invisible wall the human world of conspiracies, power struggles, and crimes. But the shadows outside held much more than that. They held, in this larger world where my father was not God but just a man among many, the mysteries of realities beyond conventional reality. These shadows whispered to my unconscious that my father was vulnerable, and later I would come to understand that while he was a good boxer and outstanding arm wrestler, his real opponents were his thoughts; that the tiger he was fighting was his alcoholism and depression; that his heroic adventures were stories to entertain me, but hid in their shadows a soul struggling with insomnia and suicide, guilt and a clamor for freedom.

These struggles I would see him fight, and win as in his stories to his son. I saw him struggle with the demons of thought, jealousy, and belief. I saw him thoroughly defeat the tiger of despair and meaninglessness. In the end, it was the shadows and phantoms of his mind that proved the harder demons to cast out. True to his word, he proved every single story to be true, and every one of my thoughts about him as a five year old, have become justified now that I am a man in his fifties. The other ones, the ones I feared as a child, the brutal soldiers, I saw my father truly dispel them with one word. It was his own mind that brought the real enemy, and my father prevailed.

I was only five, and I had a full life ahead of me, there, in the darkness of a loud silence outside an open window. There, in the night, the shadows were pregnant with secrets. There would be a time for me to face the dark, a time for me to struggle and face. For now, at the age of five, at the threshold of time, all I have to do is breathe calmly, count to ten, and send printed papers out the window for the secret beings hiding in the shadows of the night.