Alter Serving Sickness.
He started to have the dizzy spells and headaches in churches. He was an alter boy. One sad Saturday night alter serving a funeral for a poor man who was murdered while helping someone who was being robbed. The robber grabbed a loose brick in the alley and bashed it over his head. He’d never been very sensitive to the many dead bodies carried up those church steps, until this one. Standing, holding the candle up for the reading. He saw the wet alley, the brick hitting his head. Water and blood. Bits of white and blue bone. He saw the body go limp. The reading was so fitting, beautiful, tragic. The Good Samaritan. He couldn’t hold back, and then the headache. He saw the brick come towards him, heavy dizziness. His knees began to shake. But he held it together. Focusing on the flame of the candle in front of him. His arms felt heavy. The glass around the candle shaking, clattering a bit because of his hands. Took a deep breath to calm himself. Padre Almodovar saw the single tear role down Alejandro’s cheek. Alejandro couldn’t tell if it was because of the sadness, this poor man’s sacrifice or the sharp pain, a thorn right above his eyes, deep into the brain, making him cry.
Adios to Church and Dios.
The headaches got worse. Until he had to stop serving funerals. Finally had to stop going to church all together. All the Tías and Abuela giving him the evil eye on Sundays, as he looked at them sad-eyed and sorry. No one believed he really had the headaches, except his mother. Everyone thought he was just making up excuses to not have to go to church. “But Ma that doesn’t even make sense. You know I like alter-serving. You know I like the songs, the service.” “I know mijo. I know, calma, calma.” He tried to figure out, the sharp pain starting under the eyes sometimes. Or at the temples. Like his hair was being pulled back hard. Or a pinch behind the nose that would grow into a pounding throb. Ma couldn’t take him to the doctor, what would she say? Mi hijo tiene dizzy spells and headaches in churches? What should we give him? Some holy water and Eucharist tablets? Una limpiada with a rotten egg, the cool shell rolled over his body?
Alejandro grew up. Out of catholic grammar school, off to catholic high school. But, for all those years he never entered a church. And he stopped believing in God too. One day, the voice that he’d talked to for so many years. That thing inside of him that he thought, called, God…disappeared. In the shower one day at college, gone. He was talking to himself. His thoughts and speeches, monologues and soliloquies were being directed to some strange force of narration in the back of his head. The voice was towards people he knew, or saved for stories. The great narrator inside his head. He thought, God must have been what man imagined his inner voices to be, his own thoughts, the worst, and most fantastic of us. The more imaginative of us humans, the creative, illustrious artistic shamans, we must have turned that voice, that inspired thing inside us, that rush over the skin, deep in back of the throat, tight at fingertips to create, that strange tingle, must have been the first thought of something spiritual…something like a muse or god. Yes, the gods are our self-narrations. The gods’ voices, our own…self-importance.
Santos in the Eyes.
One winter day he went to visit una amiga, Cristina. He’d never been to her home before in Humboldt Park. He walked from Fullerton and California to her house in the wet Chicago winter snowfall, the lights fuzzy, everything glistening wet with snow. Hungry for Cristina’s ma’s cooking. He could smell the arroz con gandules, lechón, acapurias, y tostones on the tongue, snowflakes melting into his clothes. He’d barely eaten that day, slipping along the sidewalks, trying not to get his boots too soaked in slush. Finally he arrived, up three flights of stairs to the apartment. Everyone was already talking and eating. He got comfortable, besos and abrasos to todos, and straight to the food. Sitting their eating in the living room he noticed the fireplace decorated with ornate vases, strange beautiful things that looked like fancy punch bowls. Four or five of them all in a row, with flowers and fruits, figurines and candles, beads and all sorts of things around them, inside them. His vision began to blur. The lights along that wall began to pinch at his eyes. He squinted and kept eating. The night went on and everyone left. He stayed talking with Cristina and asked, “Hey is there something wrong with the lights in here? What are those vases? Cus the lights along that wall are bugging me. She looked at him, her eyebrow raised, curious. “Esos son los Santos, Orishas. The Santaría…dioses.”
Alejandro went of on several trips to México, to visit family, to learn something about his culture, to regain the broken clay pieces of his Spanish, cracked along the years, to gnaw on the dirt and lick the sky’s brilliant, dirty blue. In one of those trips, visiting a church named San Matin de los Mayos, he walked in taking pictures of the gold leafed trimming along the alter. Snarling at the grotesque and outlandish, exaggerated and imposing grandeur of the décor. The obviousness of its intent to leave such an oppressive, heavy sense of awe, this new white God over the natives. To convert them by the shear force of this eye-soar of a church. Gothic monstrous spiked, gold and bloody imaged Jesús y somber Virgen painted thing. He learned the most ornate and “beautiful” gold-leafed churches all lit up magnificent and magical, the very best of the “best” churches in México were always the ones closest to mines. Where the wealthy Spanish miners would give gold and silver to build churches, petitions to God to keep the wealth coming. He thought, some strange sad offering of the land up to a foreign God, a god not of that dirt, those waters, that rock or sky. This new God ravaging, cultivating, carving deep into the earth god’s side. The old walls leaking, a draft brushed the back of his neck.
The blurred vision began, the slight throbbing around the eyes and temples. He squinted trying to read the small plaque at the entrance as he left. The church was built over native temples, left in ruins. The Spaniards’ custom, to convert the natives with this new God supplanted over the old. The holy land where the pyramids stood at least kept sacred, revered by the natives. Another conversion technique. The whole hill that the church was built on, actually the base of a temple, buried under years of green. The headache worse now. His eyes drawn to the wood floor. Old and worn. With wholes, notches in every other bored, that looked like for lifting the floorboards. He asked his tía standing along the side admiring a supposedly miraculous, still growing wooden statue of Jesús, “what’s these holes in the floor for?” “Ah mijo they’re for the dead buried debajo de la iglesia.” The headache burned for three days straight. He’d learned to keep quiet about it though. To live past it. To keep breathing. And most of all to avoid any more churches.
Visions at Teotihuacan.
Another trip to México he visited los pirámides de Teotihuacan. This time he was ready, anticipating the dizzy spells, actually looking forward to them. By know he’d come to accept them. To think of them as a strange kind of gift. Something of a link to the other worlds, those of the dead, ancient gods, the unseen, spirits, los muertos. He saw himself climbing the steps of those pyramids and the heavy hand of one of those gods coming over him, sending him tumbling down the steps. He might die. He might see or sense something. The meaning of these spells. His strange curse. His gift.
He climbed the pyramid of the Sun and the Moon. Nothing. Not even the slightest bit of nausea, no dizziness. Nothing. Only the cool sweat of the climb. No visions. No voices. Only the slight panting. The beauty of the mountaintops hidden behind misty clouds. The luscious green of the valley.
El Museo de Antropología, DF.
He went with his abuelos to the famoso Museo de Antropología en el DF. He’d gotten up that morning, a little nauseas. He thought maybe he was catching a cold. His nose slightly runny. He ate some cereal, a banana and some bread. And off they went to the museum. An hour or two into the museum. After he’d walked with Abuela through the halls of evolution, wondering what she could be thinking. Her strong Catholic conservative, old way, strict and condemning thinking. He noticed her quieter than usual. She usually had something smart-mouthed, almost instigating to say about everything and everyone. Her sharp tongue silent through the halls. Past diagrams and skulls of Australopithecus this and Neanderthal that. The many stages of evolution spelled out. The skulls and skeletons and theories behind glass for all the eager eyes. Her silence. What was she thinking?
They entered into the hall dedicated to Teotihuacan. He recognized the recreation of the side of one of the temples. The pyramid to the Sun. With it’s giant stone faces of Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent and Tlaloc with his fangs, the rain god. He tried to read the plaques along the walls, many people walking around behind him. And the dizziness came. The squinting of the eyes trying to read. His stomach began to ache. He walked forward towards a glass window, searching for somewhere to sit down. A few steps forwards, he looked down at his feat, the walls and everything around him swaying. He reached down trying to kneel, but fell. His whole body heavy. He only heard the thud of his knees hitting the floor. Surprised. He was falling. Everything fading. The voice of Abuela, Ay Mijo qué pasa? He felt her at his side. Another voice and maybe someone lifting him from the other side. And then black. Down on his back. A circle of people around him. Voices. Se ve muy pálido. Da le aire. Quítale la chaceta. Da le aire. Esta sudando. Alza sus pies. Voices. The cool of the floor on his back. Everything black. His body lip.
Is this happening? Everything dark. Can’t move. Can’t see. One thought. Slight fear. Ay dios, I’m going to die hear. On the floor of the museo with everyone watching. Que vergüenza. No. No. Te desmayaste, ya. Levántate. La voc. The voice, calling from behind the eyes. No body. Darkness. The cool floor like fingers pushing feeling along his back. The voice. Get up. Your hand to your forehead. How silly, how embarrassing. Te desmayaste. Te desmayaste.