I have all these memories of us watching your collection of concerts on VHS. That’s how I learned about Ozzy Osbourne, The Scorpions, Queen and KISS. We loved KISS. I have all this pictures of us at the Mexico City zoo and the apartment we shared for some time. I wish I could remember those times but unfortunately most of my long term memory is gone, except that one memory. The recurring memory of the day you died.
I was only 5 years old, you were only 17. My mom’s youngest brother. I came into consciousness that night, in a taxi cab we took from Mexico City to the mountains of southern Mexico. I remember the headlights illuminating the darkness, no electricity, no paved roads. The car was forced to go around the cattle on the dirt road. The dark silhouettes of the dried up trees, like skeletal hands coming out of the earth reaching upward.
Suddenly, I could see in the distance the faint lights of the few houses in the village that had electricity. We finally reached grandma’s house and that’s where I saw you. For the last time. Laying on a table, wrapped in a white sheet. You looked like you were sleeping. Women covered with their black shawls, holding candles, praying the sorrowful mysteries. All of them chanting in unison, like a wailing cry. I never forgot it. It was impossible to forget because I witnessed the scene again and again for many other people in the village. For years, I was closer to death than anyone else.
Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us sinners, Now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
That was the day the darkness took me.
The funeral procession was the next day. Going down the mountain in that rough terrain, rocky and dry, I marvel now at the fact that people were able to carve a life out of that environment.
I have vague recollections of that day, as if coming in and out of a drunken blackout. I remember the hole in the ground, the men lowering the casket and covering it after. What I remember the most was my grandmother’s wailing screams. I will never forget that. Throwing herself on the ground, like she wanted the earth to swallow her too. There was nothing around the cemetery, even to this day. Nothing but dry hills and mountains in the distance. Desolate. Forgotten. Only the sounds of the funeral songs, ancient native melodies, with Christian words, echoing around the hills.
A friend told me once, “You know, that story you told me about, the funeral procession going down the mountain, it gave me such a mental image, you should really do art about that.”
I said, “I’ve been trying but I’m still working on the day I got to my grandma’s house”
“Oh, when you saw him laying on the table?”
“Yes, I’m stuck there. I haven’t left, I’m still stuck in there.”
I realized I wasn’t speaking figuratively. Not only my artistic vision is stuck there but psychologically, I never really left that place.
Finally one day, sitting at my therapist’s office, almost 30 years after it happened, she asks after a long discussion: “How often do you think about this?”
I don’t recall this memory being too present when I was younger. It became more active in my head when I was around 14, almost like an intrusive thought. After, I was too drunk and sedated to remember until I sobered up the first time at 21. Then I thought about it everyday.
I can trace back the entirety of who I am to that moment and that place. For years I had this recurring dream that I was driving my dad’s old car, or that I was riding a bus, down to southern Mexico. In my dream I go through all the roads leading up to the village. My psyche kept taking me back there. To face the worst day of my life, but I’d always wake up before reaching my grandmother’s house. I had that dream for a decade.
“What do you think will happen if you stop thinking about it?”
“What will happen if I stop thinking about it? Will I just forget about him entirely?”
I burst into tears as soon as I say that.
I don’t recall ever crying over any of my dead. I’ve had old cries bottled up in me, for decades. They’ve been catching up with me for a few years now. They chased me long enough.
I realize now that the darkness that took me wasn’t the worst thing that happened that day. It didn’t take me away, it adopted me, it was always meant to bring me back. It protected me. It helped me survive. So that one day I might make sense of it all, in my own time. To bring that darkness into the light would be my hero’s journey, my call to adventure. To take the pain and the tragedy and make something useful out of it, that it might give my life a deeper meaning and purpose. That the resulting freedom would justify the tragedy.
I seem to have found it. But it’s deeper than I thought and I continue to search, and learn and discover things about myself. If I can ever become an expert on anything, if I can ever truly own something, it should be my own story. The story of my family, of my people. I am them, and they are me. I feel not just my pain, but theirs. I shed not only my own tears, but the tears they couldn’t shed.
“There was never a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor any of these kings. Nor is there any future in which we shall cease to be.”