I remember the very moment I read Dr. Kay’s message. It was one of those rare nights when my husband went to bed before me. Though I would say that there was nothing “normal” about that time after Rafa’s birth. After the ceremony and the departure of my family. After that cleansing time at the ocean. Everything was rare. I was walking up the stairs, headed toward bed and reading messages on my phone. I was almost to the second floor when I came to Dr. Kay’s message. Carlos Alvarez (a.k.a. Dr. Kay) is our dear friend who was living across the ocean in South Africa when all of this took place. Over five weeks had passed since Rafa’s death and the texts, voice messages and emails were no longer as overwhelming as they had been at first. Roughly translated, the message read:
I used to love that old R.E.M. tune “It’s the End of the World as We Know It.” You know the one:
It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine
Some weeks ago, I started singing those lines in my head. Apart from the chorus, the rest of the song is a rapid rattling off of what seems – at times – to be nonsense and at other moments, profound political commentary. That’s what life has felt like these past three months: crazy, intense things happening too quickly to even fathom ‘keeping up’ with them. Flying around the world from one continent to the next with fleeting days at home between trips.
There have been many things to write about and I have composed the first lines of more than one post in my mind. But, the beginning of the year seems to be the time that “In the Name of Rafa” hibernates. And that’s okay (at least that’s what I keep trying to make myself believe).
Well, this little blog project, ‘In the Name of Rafa,’ just turned one. It’s hard to believe. Throughout these twelve months, I have done my very best to share thoughts, experiences and feelings boldly and humbly from the heart. Many things have happened: deaths and births, travels, workshops… and all kinds of feelings from love to exhaustion, from rage to elation, with the constant presence of deep sadness and deep gratitude; life’s two palms gently against one another in reverence.
It’s pretty constant now. The remembering. My thinking: “At this time last year, I was… we were…” Last day of work. Belly photos. Nursery painting. Baby shower. Doula arrives. Midwives’ appointment at the house. Last breastfeeding class. In-laws come for a visit. The pull of memories, regrets and nostalgia make it challenging for me to stay present in 2019. I’ve always been like this about the details of what happened on a certain day, in a certain year… even at a particular hour. It feels like a blessing and a curse – this year more than ever.
I do not want to be sitting here, writing this. I would rather be doing any other thing in the world. I have procrastinated for long enough and now, in the short time I have, I must write.
I was going to start this long overdue post by saying that time is flying. I was going to say that there are certain things I need to write about from the time right before Rafa’s death and birth so that I will never forget them. But now, time is mush. Time is nothing.
120 months (ten years) ago today, I moved to Mexico. One year and two days ago, I started to share openly that I was pregnant. Four days ago, my husband’s mom died. It is almost inconceivable to me that in less than 6 months, Yeyo lost his son and his mother… and both of them, so very unexpectedly. I only know how it has been for me, the departure of my mother-in law, María Ofelia Arruti Hernández. I can only talk about the way that one grief touches and stirs the other. I can only share that every time I imagine Ofelia on “the other side,” I see Rafa in her arms, the two of them smiling and enjoying themselves. Every time I think of this, I weep. They are tears of sadness and joy, pure emotion. I have no idea if a place like heaven exists. I doubt it. But it gives me so much solace thinking of Rafa with his grandma, that I am forced to suspend my disbelief.
I have a somewhat strange practice that I do at the beginning of each year. A while back, a friend of mine told me about las Cabañuelas: in some Oaxacan communities people believe that one can learn something about the upcoming year by paying a bit more attention to what happens in the first twelve days of January. Each day corresponds to an upcoming month. I like the idea of seeding intentions or understanding better what one could expect of the year, simply by being more aware during its first days. And so, since 2015 I have been writing monthly intentions for the year between the first and twelfth of January.
But since Rafa’s death, time is different – I no longer live it as a mere instrument to mark the passing of specific events. Though I’d like to still believe that time is divisible, limited, linear… I no longer believe it’s that simple. I now experience linear time as a trick. When I turned to the month of December in my calendar this year, I read the intention there, shook my head and laughed cynically. It said: “Enjoy the moments of feeling good and wellbeing. It is a time to celebrate a wonderful, magical year.”
Below that, in pencil, I wrote myself a note in response: “Fuck you, former self.”
I saw Coco. I went to see it the day after Christmas with Yeyo and the rest of my family. I was two months pregnant. I actually really liked it. I cried at the end, thinking about how we would soon be a bigger family with a new baby. I also heard a lot of grumbling in Oaxaca this year about the commercialization and Disney-ification of el Día de los Muertos as a result of this and other films. As November approached, there was a tangible shift in the energy of the city. Every hotel was fully booked and flights were impossible to find. The place was going to be a full capacity and that made me nervous.
Don’t get me wrong: I love everything about this holiday. I love the colors: purples, oranges, yellows, fuchsias, black. I love the costumes and parades and the building of altars. I love the solemnity and the celebration all tied up in one paradoxical package. It’s the pretty much the only holiday I celebrate all year. But with all the hype in the U.S.A. about Day of the Dead in recent years, Oaxaca has become somewhat of a mecca for foreigners during these days. And this time around, well, I have a very different relationship with death than I did before.
Note: Sometimes, this blog will be in Spanish. Sometimes in English. I will not translate, but rather try to strike a balance between English and Spanish posts so that these reflections can reach a broader audience.
Nota: A veces, escribiré en español. A veces, en inglés. No voy a intentar a traducir todo, sino encontrar un equilibrio entre las publicaciones en inglés y español para que estas reflexiones pueden alcanzar una audiencia más amplia.
Hoy, el 24 de octubre solía ser el Día del San Rafael, el arcángel. También hay cierta evidencia de que hoy, hace un año, fue el día que el embrión que era nuestro Rafa se implantó en mi útero. Nunca lo sabremos por seguro. Pero me parece un buen momento para compartir algunas de las sincronías relacionadas con el nombre y el ser que fue Rafael.
Nuestro bebé no tenía nombre. Por muchos, muchos meses no supimos como llamarle. Su nombre sólo vino después de que murió y nació. En el mero principio pensábamos que iba a ser una niña entonces le decíamos “lentejita” porque presumimos que era Ruby quien venía en camino. Luego, cuando descubrimos que el bebé tenía pene, Yeyo se obsesionó con la idea de que aún así, el nombre tenía que empezar con una “R”. Buscamos por arriba y por abajo los nombres que nos gustaron que empezaban con “R”. Fue difícil. Creamos una pequeña lista de candidatos y la escribí en un cartón amarillo que colgué en el refri. De vez en cuando agregamos un nombre a la lista.
Twelve hours passed between the mid-day visit to the doctor’s office confirming that Rafael was no longer alive inside my womb and the beginning of full-on labor. That time was both sacred and a total scramble of consciousness and memory. I had several realizations during those hours that I have come to see as “Truths” (for me) in the months since Rafa’s death. I now live with the lessons that came to me during that precious time as guiding principles. One of them has to do with the mystery and miracle of life itself.
After the doctor’s office, I asked my midwife to drop Yeyo and I off at my parents’ hotel. My mom and dad had come to Oaxaca from Salt Lake City for the birth. Once we had delivered the devastating news, we sat stunned on the uncomfortable couches in their condo-style hotel room. I think it was then that my wise husband said, “We have to remember that this little baby was a miracle. His very existence has no medical explanation.” Followed by: “And why he died is a mystery. It’s something we will never understand.”