Hey there! So I finally decided to start blogging regularly again inspite of my grueling work schedule, even if it meant staying up until 2am every night, and what happens?! OS is threatening to disappear! The Fates are in rare form this week. I hope this won't be my last hurrah, but in answer to the Repost OC, I've chosen my one and only Editor's Pick. Wrote it almost exactly two years ago, but I've been thinking about my childhood in Puerto Rico a lot lately, so it seemed an appropriate choice. Hope you enjoy it. :-)
Whenever the temperature starts to rise into the 100’s and the air is so humid I feel like I’m trying to breathe under water, I start to flash back to my childhood in Puerto Rico. We moved there when I was 6 and I went from having a 3-acre yard with woods and a creek in Connecticut, to an apartment in El Condado. I’ve moved around a lot in my life, but leaving that house ripped my heart out and I never again allowed myself to become attached to any place or home. There was nothing wrong with our new accommodations, mind you; it was a penthouse in San Juan with an ocean view a half block away from the beach. But my freedom was gone. I couldn’t simply go outside and play unless my mother took us to the park. I couldn’t run wild, or sit on top of my beloved boulders (my particular favorite was shaped like a giant frog). I couldn’t pick wild black raspberries at the edge of the woods, or blueberries, or crabapples; or steal plums and cherries from our neighbor’s trees. I couldn’t spend hours in the woods, catching water spiders, running from water moccasins, talking to fairies, or searching for pirate treasure chests. And, to make matters worse, I had to leave my favorite stuffed animal and my cat behind.
Still, I found new things to love. I learned to drink nectar out of the stems of the red flowers that grew alongside our building’s parking lot. I befriended stray cats who would meet me in the parking lot at our appointed hour for a bowl of milk. I learned how to body surf the huge waves, how to survive a wipeout, and how to dodge stray surfboards. We had friends with houses in the country. There I first learned to ride a horse, bareback and without reins, hanging on to their thick manes for dear life as I galloped with a pack of local kids for hours through the mountains. I discovered the bounty of tropical fruit, there for anyone to pick and enjoy. The horses loved to eat the green mangoes that had fallen from the trees – pit and all. I remember thinking how foolish the Spaniards had been. How they had discovered a paradise, a true Garden of Eden, and, blinded by their so-called “civilization,” had chosen to destroy it all and doom the majority to a life of poverty and toil.
Sometimes I would wander off to explore, marveling at the gourd trees and picking wild citrus fruit. There were streams and rivers, but I was warned never to touch the water lest I catch a deadly parasite that would cause my belly to swell up. Life was so different there in the country. I’ll never forget one time when I met a country urchin. His thumb was all purple and swollen and, when I asked him about it, he informed me, very matter-of-factly, that he had been bitten by a rat and was going to die soon. He lived in a shack with his mother and many siblings, and no one seemed very troubled about it.
I could reminisce for hours, but I have strayed from the story I originally intended to tell you. In the apartment below us lived a witch. I’m not talking about a mean scary old lady who liked to shake her finger at kids – I mean a young, attractive, real practicing voodoo priestess. Her apartment was dark and full of voodoo dolls, and she had taken a definite disliking to us. I’m not absolutely certain why, although I’m pretty sure the fact that my little sister could be heard screaming from our balcony up to four blocks away had something to do with it. She, my sister, had a nickname among the locals: Terremoto (earthquake). Everyone in El Condado knew who she was, whether they’d met her or not. I can imagine her (the witch) all decked out, performing some solemn ritual, just getting ready to sacrifice one of the magnificent doves she had bred just for that purpose, when my sister would let out one of her earth-shaking screams. Everything would come crashing to the floor and the dove would escape to freedom through the balcony bars in a flurry of white feathers. I’d seen them escape. Pissed her off no end…
The witch did everything she could to frighten my mother, saying she would make us move out. Undaunted, my mother informed her that she would be the one to leave. Friends suggested we wear amulets to protect ourselves, but my mother stubbornly refused, saying that would only give the witch more power. She would put curses on us and try very hard to get some of our hair or other personal belonging to make her spells against us stronger. She once tried to get into our apartment, but our housekeeper was no dummy. She and my mother guarded us like fierce watchdogs, and she couldn’t come anywhere near us.
I’m not sure if she ever managed to somehow get a piece of us, but I think her spells worked just the same. My sister suffered the worst of it, which is why I’m inclined to think she was the main target of the witch’s rage. She suffered constant terrible nightmares and would see all sorts of demons in her room day and night. Terrified, she would escape from her room in the middle of the night and climb to safety (and cookies) on top of the refrigerator. Afraid she would come to harm, my mother took to locking her into her room when she went to bed. I can only imagine how traumatic this must have been. Every morning we’d find her asleep on the cool tile floor up against the door, where she had cried herself into an exhausted sleep.
The witch only ever got to me once. She had been particularly angry that day. I remember seeing her cast the evil eye as I waited for the elevator with my mother and sister. That night I woke, sensing someone in my room. I opened my eyes to see a bright red glowing figure the size of a young child, standing a few inches from my face. Since I went to Catholic school, I could only imagine it was the Devil. Too terrified to even scream, I turned around and hid under the covers. My heart pounded wildly for what felt like hours until I finally dozed off again. I dreamt of a kind old man. He had long thick gray hair and a beard, and was wearing a gray t-shirt and pants. As we walked together on the beach, he told me he knew what had happened, and he told me to sprinkle holy water on the spot where the demon had stood so it would not be able to return.
I never told a soul what happened that night and, having no access to holy water, I had to make do with some tap water that I had blessed myself. I was afraid every night from that night on. I made up all kinds of superstitious rules to protect myself. I could never sleep facing that direction again, so I taught myself to sleep on my right side and to stay that way all night, which felt very unnatural and uncomfortable. I told myself that if I was completely under the covers, nothing could get me. Living on a tropical island and sleeping in a room with no air conditioning or ceiling fan, this could get pretty hot. It was also difficult to breathe, so I made a small opening in the covers, a few inches away from my nose. I slept in this way until I was twelve, when we moved to Chicago. The witch had gone by then – my mother had won. A funny thing happened while she was moving: two of her white doves escaped and flew up onto our balcony and into our apartment. We could hear her screaming with rage – my mother’s triumph was complete. I haven’t thought about this for years until this day. Funny what your senses can trigger…