Homes in Seashells

Ok so here goes something I have been writing for a long time. A lot of this is in Spanglish. It just felt right for the character.

Chapter One : beginnings

I was born on the day, of the worst earthquake that ever overpowered my country. Or so my mother loves to tell me. She has told the story so many times that every detail is etched like scratches on a blackboard into my brain. It is so real to me that it has become part of who I am. I can see the dusty green hospital, and smell the anesthetic which permeates the room.
My mother jokes that this is hwy I have a tendency for bad timing. It was an earthquake which ripped the earth so hard that my mother did not know whether the pain was coming from her pushing me or from the earth pushing us. It must have clearly scared her that the doctors abandoned her to her fate, and the nurses scurried away. Everyone screaming, bits of ceiling falling from the shaken building, and all my mother could think of was getting me out of her tired body. There was one nurse who stayed hovering underneath the table. Of course, we would find out later that Socorros only stayed because she did not reach the door in time and would watch my mother with frightened half shut eyes.
Push, Push Empujeee My mother would yell to herself. She could feel me, a tiny being trying to keep inside, perhaps because the pushing of both her body and the earth must have scared me. So there my mother was in the midst of all the tumulto not knowing what to do , pushing away for her dear life. I don’t know how she knew I was about to come out, or how Socorros, the small 17 year old nurse finally awakened from her comatose and grabbed me before I slipped onto the floor, and most likely to my death.
But Socorros did just that., and even found a blanket to grab hold of. The first thing she saw was ojos color relampago, which scared her . She says they were so bright they looked like flashes of lightning.
Vamonos, we have to go. My mother told Socorros as the tremors shook the earth electrifying the tiny hairs of their arms. Panic does incredible things for people and my mother, still recovering from birth still managed to leave the hospital running as fast as she could
My mother collapsed on the lawn, ignoring the pain and awestruck patients scattered there. She did not want to see the fresh blood around her or hear the moans and crying of people calling for their lost children, like cats who had been bereft of their small kittens over no fault of their own. She tried not to hear the scuffle of doctors trying desperately to bring in the new cluster of patients.
My mother just lay there with me in her arms grasping for dear life. My mother chose not to move and it was good thing because tremors shook the earth, protesting the wakeup from that earthquake_________________________

She must have been carried to a bed in one of the tents at some point and she laid there exhausted with me in her arms. Word got out that I was born, the miracle baby, underneath so much destruction. Later my stepfather´s grandma would tell me that life and death go hand in hand, and where there is destruction there is also creation. We were in all the news. My mother´s tired face smiling past everyone trying to seem brave , my small brown pinched face crying in protest perhaps because of the lack of sleep. Later, much later, I would find this tape of that famous news report. I would play my mother´s face over and over, and try to fathom what this must have been like for her.Of course I couldn’t
Because I was the speck of hope for everyone who had lost something people wanted to name me Esperanza, or Milagros or something to the degree. But my mother did not want to put such a responsibility on such a small child. She did know what to name me at first. That was before she found that all she had wa sone wasted suitcase and the card of the virgensita which she carried in her pocket.
When we were finally released from the hospital, and the feeding frenzy lessened My mother had the strength to ask what happened to her family. She knew that it surely was nothing good, because she knew even if her mother was mad at her she would have visited her in the hospital. My mother has a strange way of dealing with things. She tries to look strong, and you will never see her cry at least not then. Until one day years later she will see something, a remnant of days past maybe a tree, a baby in diapers anything and she will break down and cry,. I never saw it as healthy to deal with things properly but then, perhaps that is my father´s genes kicking in.
Socorros was by my mother´s side and grasped her hand. It is hard to imagine the way she was in those days. She was tiny, with frail hair and scared eyes, and pretty in a doll kind of way. Except she seemed almost boyish and feminine at the same time, with copper skin and green eyes which seemed hard but underneath were filled with huge amounts of love. She might have passed for a girl who came from a good family if it wasn’t for the worn look across her face. She grasped my mother´s hand slightly, and smiled meekly. She was hardly the proud gargantuan woman who declared a full out protest on the mountain top of La Tempestad, or married the handsome man and would barrel out laughs like she was in a fist fight. She would whisper to my mother way into the night, under the wet damp tent , while they heard moaning well into the night.
“Don Chus, who had been out of town at the time of the earthquake visiting his wife who was dying in the hospital .’ Soccorros said one night grasping my mother’s frail hand as she looked out into vacant space. ‘It is strange how those things work. Strange how someone dies from something totally separate from the earthquake, something less distant. Her death was a natural one, and as a consequence was left forgotten amongst all the other ones. How one thousand people could have died, a thousand less or more and yet this woman was supposed to die anyway.” Socorros mumbled to my mother smoothing the hair from her forehead.
There must have times where my mother was alone just staring into white expanses of space for days at a time watching the water dissolve from the windows, smelling the wet grass which was trampled by the German doctors. The doctors treated her and other patients carefully, like well protected lab rats. But what was worse was the reporters who were like vultures upon the victims.
And my mother kept quiet, and held me close. She was never one to resort to large eloquent words anyways. Socorros seemed determined to stay by her side, perhaps because I was a miracle baby, the person who had survived. Finally, my mother got the courage to ask if she knew anything about her family. ‘ Nina Soccorros, I need to know if my grandparents have called me, they are from Apatos, a small town near La Paz’.
” I don’t know what has become of them, but if they were where there in that town then there is nothing left.” Socorros said it matter of factedly, as if she had said this one too many times this day, Socorros, years later, would tell me whenever I got angry at my mother because things she did “I will never forget the look on her face that day. It was a look of a woman who had lost everything, but had gained something as well”.
My mother´s simple, rustic face etched in pain, and gulping it down like she always did in those situations. ” Where are my things?” She asked Socorros. Socorros must have sensed the urgency in her voice because she grasped the small wasted Adidas bag which was underneath the bed. My mother still keeps that horrible bag with her at all times. I never understood why when I was little but now, when I can understand my mother´s mysteries much more I can comprehend. The bag is all that she had left of the girlhood she left behind.
My mother grasped the bag, carefully like a stolen treasure. There are parts of the story which I will never know, I don’t know why she had this bag with her or what exactly she had planned to do with it.
But I do know by heart what was contained in the bag : A large plastic comb, three skirts and some shirts and some pictures. One was of her father Jesus, who had passed away. The other was of the family together, her aunts and uncles and mother. That was her whole livelihood,
” I have to go and find out what happened” She said with determination. Socorros looked at her wide eyed, ” but you can’t ! It´s too dangerous! Your absolutely insane!”
And perhaps she was. People who are in mourning tend to do crazy things. The smallest motions tend to become absolute necessity.
Socorros, feeling that she was responsible for my mother decided to go with her. It mattered little to the doctors that the woman wanted to leave the hospital with her injured broken ribs, and small baby, it just meant one less patient to tend to.
My mother must have been frail and weak, but a combination of tragedy and fear made her numb. She was in such a hurry to leave that she almost went out in her hospital robe, but Soccorros convinced her to get dressed.
With the roads blocked by the numerous landslides it might have taken them days to get where they were supposed to go.They must have traveled a long way to get there. They must have waited in line for a long time. But then they had yet another stroke of good luck and the young american reporter that followed my mother around a lot decided it would be a good story and took them to the town. He was tall with a large ribbed vest and glasses and he provided the only remaining realistic photo of my mother in her town. She was covered in dust, wearing a faded blue dress, solemn as if she is waiting for the people to come out of the corner and embrace her …but there is nothing there but rubble and half covered debris. The church is crumbled…and there my mother stood as if she was posing for any photograph, frail and covered with dust in her blue wrinkled dress, her expression solemn as they all must have been in those days and a fierce determination scrawled on her lips.
I went there years ago. That town, or what is left of it. It is a forgotten place in the other end of the earth full of enormous plants and flowers. But it must have been so different from what my mother was used to.
“The dust clouds rose up as far as you could see Mija and you could barely see anything. I was glad about it too, because I was so afraid of what I might find” My mother whispered to me when I was young.
There was my young mother, with her one good wrinkled dress sitting in the middle of a town made of rubble. And there she observed with absolute honesty the damage that had been done to her quiet hamlet : She watched the broken churches, the remains of the small school where she had skipped hand in hand with her little friends. And now it was all dead. Dead.
Afterwards the stories of these deaths would come. She would hear about each of them, distant relatives, and their sad forgotten stories. They told her of Isabela, who had left for the capital city to get a special dress to celebrate her quinceanera party and how she came back to find that she no more remaining living relatives. A week later, little Isabela hung herself in her beautiful pink dress in a small and desolated room. They told the story of the brave school teacher who died hovering over the small cluster of schoolchildren trying to protect them from the monstrous mountains of rubble. They told her how the mangy mongrel of the Garcias managed miraculously to survive despite the fact that it:s owners had died, but passed away a couple days later because of the lack of food. I imagined that my mother remained strangely mute in those moments, it was as if it no longer affected her no more. This was no longer a time for grief.
Yet she must have sat there for a long time. No matter how much she tells me the story, I have been able to recapture that single fabric of time in my head. She never told me of the life she had in that tiny town. The truth is, I do not know what she was like as a girl nor what her family or friends were like. I do not even know who my real biological father is, if it was that gringo sailor that had stopped into the town, or the old man who raped her, and so many other countless thirdhand rumours I have heard throughout all my life.

I imagine that Soccorros watched her , her eyes filled with worrying and tried to console her ( although showing affection for Tia Soco was and would always remain for the rest of her life, an incredible effort). However my mother, always trying to seem strong, seemingly immune to the horror. ( admitting that she needed help was my mother.s biggest fault, what a pair do those two make!)
A long time must have passed, just her and Soccorros listening to the graveyard silence , two silent doves in the darkness. But at some point my mother broke the spell and found the photograph that was buried deep inside her pocket. I can almost imagine how she must have looked at that stained and wrinkled photograph of the Virgen, and how her face slowly lit up in a smile.

” It was at the moment, my darling, that I had an epiphany.” My mother would tell me mysteriously. She grabbed that small and wrinkled photograph of the Virgin as if it was that relic which saved her life. It was also at that moment when my mother started to bleed, and this too she saw as a sign however Socorros cursed herself for succumbing to this girl´s foolishness.
My mother was looking for a reason why she had been saved. She did not understand why virtually her whole town had vanished but her and this small child had survived. I once read in a small book about trauma survivors that victims tend to cling to insane notions rather than the reality which faces them. I guess this is why my mother embarked on her search for meaning, here intense need to know breaking the pattern of tedious periods where she was stuck once again in that morose and half broken hospital.
Whichever way it was, because of madness, anger or survival, my mother fiercely held on to that small wrinkled sticker that had the image of the company. In the beginning, soccorros believed it was because that the powerful saying that was engraved within it. But then she realized that it was because of something behind the picture.
Weeks past, everything seemed suspended in terror…the small tremors that never seems to cease, without knowing how to return to any state of normalcy. Sometimes, I wonder what my mother might have been like if it all had not happened, if she had led a normal life. But it is best not to ask that.

It took a long time for Socorros to realize what my mother was staring at so intently. It wasn’t the Blessed Mother but something behind it. She realized there was a name of a company etched behind the picture.
‘I am gonna find that company Socorrito, and I am gonna thank them for saving my life.” My mother said quietly. Of course, people in that time were willing to believe anything. There was rumour about a Nino Feo ( Ugly Boy) who had predicted, as a revenge, that there would be two more earthquakes as a consequence of everything that happened. Nino Feo, once scorned and repelled was now considered a national hero. For awhile, Nino Feo predicted many events and occurrences and became part of some of the local television news reports. But after awhile, Nino Feo became a reminder of an old wound, like the throbbing of a once broken arm during a lightning storm and was quietly left in the shadows, never to be heard from again.

All I know from the rest of the story is that my mother packed a suitcase with her old adidas bag and with Socorros ended up on a trip to the United States. I don’t know how she got there. I don’t know exactly what happened. But the truth is she ended up having a home and eventually got married to a decent but humble man and had my brother Carlitos. I don’t ask for details. I was taught never to ask.

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