Arroz con Leche

I close my eyes and my bones tremble in anticipation of the fear.

***

They were all there in the first nightmare I had. My grandparents, my tía Angelita and (God, please, no) my mother were sat around the little dining room table in my current flat. The chairs are usually stacked up because my flat mates and I don’t hate out friends enough to invite them over but my abuelo (formerly know as el abuelo, because he was the only one I truly knew) had unstacked the chairs so we could sit while my abuela made arroz con leche the way no one else has ever managed.

My abuelo looked old but sturdy, the way he used to when he’d get on all fours so I could ride on his back around the living room when I was six. It was one of the qualities that redeemed him from sitting me on the couch and reading to me from the Bible back when I used to wonder if it was magic and different people read different things after being told it held the entire story of our lives; past, present and future. He’d probably be disappointed to know that now I do think it says different things to different people.

Meanwhile, my tía Angelita looked old, like she had the last day I saw her in her flat in Alicante. It was a nice flat, well located, with a beautiful view of the Mediterranean and visiting her felt like she’d wrapped her hand around my heart and started squeezing. She sang to us when we left, because she didn’t want to us leave, so God-awfully lonely and whilst my cousin promised I’d call her, I didn’t know how. That promise shouldn’t have been made by somebody else anyways, because I knew myself well enough to know that I couldn’t keep it. My own sadness was threatening to kill me back then, I didn’t know how to handle somebody else’s, even if I did love her. It was selfish, no doubt. But not malicious.

My half-brother texted me when my tía Angelita died. I found out about both my grandparents on facebook. Although I hadn’t talked to my uncle for a year and a half when my mother died, I found a way to contact him so that he wouldn’t find out his sister died the same way. I knew how much it fucking hurt to come on line, find out that someone you love is dead and that nobody had bothered to call you.

I sat close to my mother, who never looked sick in my dreams after her death even though she was still only ninety pounds. She didn’t feel frail when I hugged her, though, the way she had in real life. And my abuela brought plates out to all of us. My abuelo and tía Angelita immediately started eating, but my mother stopped me from doing the same. It was poisoned she said, although that seemed preposterous. My abuela was forceful in trying to get me to eat although my mother kept telling me not to and I was so confused because I knew my grandmother, knew she loved me, knew she would never try to hurt me. My abuelo and tía Angelita ate and they weren’t poisoned. They were fine.

It seems unfair now of my subconscious to come up with a dream of her trying to poison me. My abuela wasn’t trying to hurt me when she died. She didn’t know that she’d be the first of four people to die in only 18 months. Several deaths I was unable to process until my mother died too and then the impact of all that loss hit me like a bullet to the heart.

When my mother ate the poison in the dream, I realized I was asleep. I realized they were all dead and I woke up. But it didn’t matter, they were still dead and the pain was worse when I wasn’t asleep and unaware of the reality of them being gone.

Ever since that night I’ve had nightmares of every one of my family members and friends dying.

Sometimes I wonder what the poison was: the consistent fear that more people are just going to unexpectedly drop dead or that I’m never perfectly convinced someone’s still alive until I see them again.

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