Monday, February 6, 2012

Letters From South America #4

La Paz

A few blocks into the heart of the market square, the witches market is established precariously close to the San Franciscan church; it is the ever-present sense of duality, two shadows of persisting beliefs for a generation who has shallow roots in both. Here you can buy talismans for wealth, travel, luck and love, great stone owl totems and effigies  to Pachamama, gnarled skeletons of llama lambs still growing their wool, hung next to the small skulls of birds, and the bright bottled happiness that sparkles with glitter and sunlight, if that is what will make you happy. All of this is sold by the wise old crones with collapsing withered apple faces and their granddaughters, who attend church with these talismans nestled in between their breasts.

In a hotel room eight floors above the city, we pretend to be rocks stars and order champagne  that bursts in my head, tiny balloons of air making it even harder to breath in the view of the city lit up blue and gold. I want to dive into the fluorescent green park below, I want to indulge in my precarious youth that disappears from my lips with each breath of cigarette smoke. I dance until my legs seem independent of my body, belonging to another species of animal; the muscles begin to bunch and ache as if I have walked from here to Macchu Pichu. In this city that overflows with so many people, bodies pressed together in the streets as they are in the clubs, it is so easy to feel lonely.

There is a pigeon lying dead in a puddle on the street, its little body so still yet the downy feathers on its breast move ever so slightly in the breeze. Meters away, a man lays face down on the concrete, and the people walk past and over him like that dead bird. I do not know if he is asleep or passed out, yet I cannot stop to help him. It is too dangerous, even for a showing of human compassion.

At the height of my rebellion, I became involved with a Wiccan. I say involved because our relationship was not exclusively sexual; I also got involved with his religion. He said that he could fix my gnarled skeleton with herbs and spells, which would have made me immediately skeptical if it came from the mouth of anyone else, but he carried all of his beliefs in his eyes, so passionately that they seemed to burn with the unnatural hue of gold leaves. He made me undress in the woods on the outskirts of town, and he would massage my whole body in a thick, black red paste that smelled like sage and almonds, chanting over me in a language that resembled but I did not recognise as Latin.
I hated learning Latin in school, Latin is the plague of my life. No, not the whole damned language, just one derivative in particular. Scoliosis. Doesn’t sound very dangerous, does it? I’m sure you’ve known a couple of girls at your school who have it, you know, the ones who had to wear a back brace and had school bags that they dragged behind them on wheels. You might have even been a little bit jealous that they always got to sit down in the school photograph, and were frequently given passes out of class; their illusions of suffering extracted them from the monochromatic backdrop of students and made them interesting. Well, I sure was jealous of those girls, I’ll admit that, but for a completely different reason. Sever or advanced scoliosis is the rotation of the spine beyond seventy degrees.  This can place pressure on the lungs, restrict the breathing and reduce oxygen levels. The distortions may also cause changes in the heart. I cannot run without pain or shortness of breath, I cannot walk in a straight line, I cannot even dance for very long, and certainly not all night. And I do suffer from changes of the heart, but that has nothing to do with my condition. 
That day I could not say that I felt any change in the depths of my malformed bones, but I liked the feeling of his hands on me, and the smell of the almonds, and how it made my skin feel smooth like young wood.  “If you surrender yourself to the Goddess, she will take the burdens of your pain upon herself,” he would say, but I couldn’t even think of doing that; it wasn’t fair. These were my pains, and my burdens, I could not expect a deity to take responsibility for my tortured physical and emotional manifestations.  They were what made me who I was, and if I gave them to her, what then? Would she be corrupted, would I have to take her place? No, I could not take on guilt from a goddess as well as my mother.
But I liked his warm, soft hands upon my back, so I let him think that he was helping me, and I wore the cracked rose quartz talisman on a long chain so that it lay tucked in between my breasts; I knew that if there really was a God, he would be able to see it hiding there, but at least the reverend would think it was a rosary.

One day when I went to meet him in the forest, he was not alone. A little grey kitten was curled up in his lap, and as he was deep in meditation, I managed to coax the animal out and into my arms. She was so warm and soft, I could feel her little heart beating furiously against the heel of my palm.
“Today,” he said, eyes still closed, “We are going to fix your spine for good.” His voice was not soft and light as it normally was, but crackled like dried leaves, leaves that would have usually been raised by his lofty nature; this filled me with a sense of dangerous foreboding. I looked at him, my eyes narrowed so that the dying sunlight could barely filter in, but it did nothing to illuminate his intentions. “Hand me the kitten,” he said, in a voice that was not his own. Hands trembling slightly, I handed over the little, helpless thing with hesitation. If I had seen the ceremonial knife blade glinting gold in his pocket, I would have run with her still in my arms, but I was anxious, and the fact that I couldn’t pinpoint the cause of this anxiety drew my focus on the kitten and not the blade. That was at least until he drew it out of his pocket and pulled it across the kittens throat. It was only a tiny pink esophagus that, moments before, had been contracting with mews and was now slick with spilt blood. My stomach rolled like an ocean, the horror resting as bile at the base of my throat, and for the first time in my life I tried my best to run; the pain was intense, like a rope of fire curled around my spine, but the sight of that unnaturally bright red against the soft neutral colors of the fur and the forest spurred me on. “Wait, Melissa, wait! This is all for you!” I heard him call after me, and something in my changeable heart snapped. He was not a Wiccan, I knew that Wiccan’s didn’t believe in animal sacrifice; he had either confused his methods of worship, or he was a highly disturbed human being. The bottom line was that he couldn’t help me. None of these people could, they were too busy wrestling with their own demons. Mine appeared to be the most sever, the one that needed the most urgent attention because of its physical manifestation, but the truth was it was not.

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