I am half Mexican, but I was raised American. I only spoke English until I got to high school and discovered in my first-year Spanish class a gift for languages and a heritage that had only been faintly echoed in the accents of my abuelitos and the food on the kitchen table.
Los Dias de Los Muertos is a part of that culture, one that I’ve grown to cherish. It blends Catholic spiritualiy with family honor, history with the present, uniting all points in time and space here, in this point of the four-dimensional Universe, when the days are turning dark and the veil between the worlds feels thinner. Fr. Andrew Greeley talks in all his novels about the shining ones in the bright lands, an Irish expression of the Communion of Saints. I’m part Irish, too, and tonight my eyes close and I think I hear them, whispering just beyond reach.
Well, either that’s the shining ones or the folks downstairs watching TV.
In an hour and a half, I’m starting NaNoWriMo. All Saints Day, celebrating those who are in Heaven. Heaven being a construct outside our linear space/time continuum, we celebrate by name those we know who are up there because they left before us, but we recognize dimly that there are others who are also up there who are yet to come.
In Mexico, the adults who have died are celebrated on All Souls Day, November 2nd. Tomorrow’s the day for the spirits of the children, the innocents who have died, to come back and visit. Toys and candies are left out for them, pinwheels and Mickey Mouse baloons. Even today in Mexico, too many babies don’t live to get old.
The psychologists say that when a child experiences sexual or physical abuse, at a certain point on a clinical scale calibrated to precisely measure horror, at a certain point on that scale the child’s emotional development stops dead in its tracks. So if a young boy is raped at age eight, he can grow up and live to be a man of 100 years, but without psychological intervention he will react to all situations like an eight year old. The event(s) effectively kills the child emotionally.
It sounds wierd to say, looks wierd written down, but thank God it wasn’t sexual abuse. Thank God it wasn’t my parents or any other adults. Thank God for the Complete Sherlock Holmes and a big purse and for finally, finally standing up for myself. Thank God the little jackass’ family moved to Hawaii.
It’s funny, I thought I’d forgiven him completely. And here I go, calling him names again.
When you’re twelve years old, you don’t know what love is. So when he tells you that he loves you as he hits you repeatedly on the head, you believe him. When he tells you that you’re stupid and lucky he’s around to protect you, you believe him. When he grabs your arm hard enough to leave black bruises for two weeks and drags you away from your friends to berate you, you change for PE in the girl’s bathroom and make sure they’re well hidden, because they’re your secret. Your stigmata, if anyone saw it they would truly know how stupid you are. Only one person knows what kind of an idiot you are, and he left his mark to prove he still cares, that you still belong to him.
This year’s novel idea came to me in a dream, one with Martians and mummies and superheroes. The plot itself developed into a tale of mourning a lost childhood. Too much responsibility for little shoulders. For some reason I didn’t see the paralells with my reality until last week. I have a card here on my desk with a plot point, a snippet of conversation between the main character and her former friend. The former friend says, “Start acting like an adult!” My main character snaps back, “I never learned how.”
You can learn how, I’ve discovered. Having a solid family base, one that has fairly healthy relationships is a bonus. Observation and study can take the place of therapy if your tongue gets tied up when you have to face the eyes of a shrink. So can writing. I think I’m about 16 years old, now.
And there’s someone I like. Not just like, but like like. It’s absolutely terrifying how all my education, all my finely honed wit, all my inner strength, all my spiritual growth can be tossed out the window with one. stinkin’. sentence. Five words, a compliment probably tossed off without much thought and I’m blushing and not making eye contact and the Debate Team from my university is thinking about revoking my elocution awards.
God, when did I become such a girl?
Tomorrow’s only an hour away, now. The spirits of the children are coming back to visit, lined up like it’s Disneyland. Children who have been born, some who haven’t yet.
I’ve got this strange feeling that somewhere in there is one who looks a lot like me, twelve years ago.
I think I’m going to ask her to stay a while.