Wednesday, May 31, 2006

vignette: in remedios

Some things are severed slowly over the course of days, weeks, months and years. There is nothing dramatic, no identifiable turning point that you can point to and say “There. That’s where everything went wrong”. Instead, there is this terrible dawning of insight, a dim epiphany that things are no longer as they were; that the person who you once cared for and believed cared for you no longer feels the same way; that everything that was once certain and true and irrefutable is now impossibly grey and has the consistency of smoke – as if everything that mattered was gathered surreptitiously, bit by bit so no one notices, then set fire to, and all you can see is are the ashes in the air. You subject yourself to a barrage of questions beginning with: “Was it me?” and “What did I do or not do?”. And of course there are no answers.

In Remedios, some of those who are left behind wear grey. When they begin to suspect that a leavetaking has taken place without consultation, explanation or rationale, they come to Mr. Diaz’s shop on Reyes St. where everything for sale is grey and buy an article of clothing from the old man – a shawl, a sash, a hat, a blouse, a shirt, a tie, a pair of socks. The store is almost always full of people, shuffling around, picking things up, trying them on, looking in the full length mirror at themselves from head to toe, seeing if grey suits them which it invariably does.

Others left behind take to wearing beaded bracelets, thin and fine black leather straps with a small single object strung through. They buy the strings at Mrs. Ruiz’s embroidery store but provide their own personal item of memory: some carry miniaturized picture frames with blurry snapshots; some use pendants invested with memories; some have metal dog tags etched with someone’s name.

And there are those who eschew grey attire or bracelets and walk the streets of Remedios like ghosts, unable or unwilling to sublimate the pain of the long goodbyes in any other form. They can be seen on any given day, tracing the paths they once walked with friends and lovers, counting each step in silence, their lips forming the numbers. They are convinced that when they reach a certain digit they will at last understand exactly why they were left behind and perhaps finally come to accept their solitude.

The most famous ghost of Remedios is a woman named Anna Suarez. Everyday she describes the perimeter of her neighborhood with her feet, beginning just before dawn at the gates of her house, down the street to the Ramos Park where she goes in circles around the playground ignoring and mostly ignored by the homeless people who live there, then across town to St. Francis Elementary School which she haunts in a perfect square pattern, stopping only to watch the children eat during lunchtime. That is when she unfolds the napkin that contains her lunch, a thin sandwich or dried fish with rice, there on the balding grass next to the wire fence. When the bell rings, she stands up to continue her routine, walking down the busy main street, oblivious to the delighted tourists who take pictures of her, with her, next to her. They smile as they pose beside her as she walks, while one of their companions takes the shot. Her final stop, where she spends the rest of the day, is the Church of the Holy Virgin. There, outside one of the side chapels, she stands until the sun goes down, counting numbers over and over again quietly.


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