The cult of suffering. Or maybe it’s just me…
Nine long weeks had pased since I had ventured away from the homestead. I had been envisioning a day trip to a large waterfall a few hours away, including a short forested hike and hand made ice cream afterwards. Soft, green-blue, watery refreshment, after the anguished existence that the last several months had offered up. A hand full of kids and babies with whooping cough will show you what you’re made of, that’s for sure.
However, a secondary, less glamorous excursion presented itself before the waterfall trip logistics worked themselves out, so I decided to go for it. The dog was going to the low cost spay-neuter clinic in the city and there was the possibility of vegetable shopping while we waited, meaning I could choose my own groceries rather than write up a list and see what mysteries returned… Also, four of the five kids would stay at abuela’s house! Sounded good enough to me.
As typical, we woke up early and I began the long process of washing kids, combing hair and clothes changing. We fed animals, drank coffee and ate quesadillas before piling into the borrowed truck with diaper bags and shopping bags and empty propane tanks to fill. With everyone finally settled, V turned the key… But the engine didn’t start. He tried again and nothing. I should have known in that moment that it wasn’t the day for me to take a trip, and part of me did know… But I didn’t listen to that little voice like I should have. Instead, we got into a little argument about who should have been watching the kids, or locked the doors, so they couldn’t play with the lights- or whatever mysterious problem stopped the truck. Eventually, the engine started, and we left our rancho in a trail of dust and exhaust.
The kids were dropped off with money to buy candies, the gas tank got a little drink and soon we were on the two lane highway, competing for asphalt with combi’s and donkeys and furniture trucks, as we sped towards the city.
We drove through the centro and out the other side. Down a long winding hill and through barrios I had never seen before. We entered a small village called San Pancho and began looking for the addresses. None of the house numbers made sense so we stopped to ask a cab driver where to find the place we were headed to. We passed stone walls that had been built around trees that the trees later grew over and around, a giant church with a cobblestone courtyard and many ramshackle houses with tropical flowers growing in front. It was the typical brightly colored chaos that makes up the cities here in Michoacan. We made many wrong turns and got a full tour of San Pancho before finding our destination. If it hadn’t been for the nice young man in front who waved us in, we would have driven right past.
This was not a clinic in any sense of the word. There was no sign and there were no other business establishments nearby. This was a mid construction, abandoned brick house! Not at all what I was expecting, but I should know better than to expect anything by now…. We took our number, paid the small fee, and entered.
The room was dim and glowing red. It took my eyes some time to adjust, and I realized that there was red plastic covering the large holes where the windows should have been. There was no overhead lighting, so it was just the bright, sunlight filtering in through the colored plastic. The perimeter of the large brick and concrete room was lined with flattened cardboard boxes, similar to a homeless encampment. There were sleeping dogs and a few cats, wrapped up in blankets, with their human counterparts sitting on plastic folding chair above them, focused on their smart phones. The air was thick and smelled like animals. The room was quiet, then occasionally punctuated by a loud buzzing sound that I later determined was the shaver. Every so often, a doctor type dressed in scrubs with gloves and a surgical mask would enter the room through the plastic covered doorway on the other side, carrying an unconscious animal by the arms and legs. The animal would take it’s place on the cardboard, with the others, and the doctor would disappear again. It was surreal and hard to focus, so I left V inside with the dog and sought relief outside in the sweltering ninety degree sun.
The makeshift waiting area was tarped and held a circle of more folding chairs. There was a nervous woman crocheting and a man smoking, so I decided to walk around instead. I headed around the side of the building to see if I could get a better view of the city. To my surprise, I ended up with a full, uninterrupted view of the animal surgeries, as the operating room did not have any window coverings. That was startling and somewhat disturbing, so I hurried around the side of the building away from the open windows. I found some fruit trees around the back and picked a few limas. I was so thirsty and hadn’t thought to bring anything, I assumed we would drop the dog off then shop and return. Not so. We had to wait with the animal.
So here I was, picking citrus fruits in an abandoned lot in San Pancho, with the baby on my back. The blistering sun left me feeling parched, so I set off in search of a tienda, down cobblestone streets in a village that was brand new to me, alone. I definitely felt vulnerable, so I told myself I wouldn’t go any further than the big church we had passed. I found a woman selling horchata, but she couldn’t tell me for sure whether or not her agua fresca was made with filtered water.. I decided not to take a chance and walked a little further to a small snack store that sold bottled water. I made my purchase and walked back to the abandoned house, aka veterinary clinic.
I cautiously entered the strange room that seemed much fuller now. A wave of I don’t know what, threatened to knock me over. This place had felt strange before, but now it felt sticky and thick and oppressive, with something else that I couldn’t quite pinpoint. I saw V sitting in the corner, with our dog layed out on a piece of cardboard, watching his smartphone, just like the others. I made my way over there with Orinoco sleeping in the backpack, and my bottle of water.
I was sweating in the enclosed heat and became aware of my encroaching claustrophobia. I looked around the room, through the fuzzy red light, and felt myself shift into another space. The bottom dropped out and I realized all at once, that this is the place where the life force of creation goes to die. Where fertility ends forever. The red room of suffering, disembodied sleep and animal instinct sprawled out on cardboard like bodies after a war. The hushed voices, shallow breath and empty skins made my stomach turn. I wanted to vomit. Not from the heat, or the smell of so many animals, but from the void that pressed up against me in the humidity. The empty vessel that waited, the loss of nature, the human desire to cut and shape the other. It was all so surreal. The low burgundy light that came from tropical sunshine streaming through the magenta plastic sheeting covering the large, unfinished windows. Like blood everywhere. As if I were swimming in it, in this abandoned construction place of flying souls. The scene was beyond me, completely delirious.
For months, I have been praying for relief. A cool deep green water to wash these months of struggle out and down, refill myself with vibrant lifeforce energy to fill the gaps and fractures that have made me so brittle. When I was finally granted permissions to access the spaces outside of my own isolation and suffering, I was trapped in an even greater suffering, a suffering shrouded in dark red unconsciousness and uprooted wandering. I had no choice but to stay present and witness this. I did not leave and go buy fresh fruits and vegetables. I sat on a rock wall in the stifiling heat, savoring drops of water from a plastic single use bottle… A far cry from the waterfall I had been dreaming of for so long. In fact, it occured to me that this place was exactly the opposite of the waterfall. It was more of what I had been experiencing only intensified and deeply delusional.
The dog took her sweet time returning to consciousness. Like many others, she slept for nearly two hours before coming to. I let go of my vegetable shopping as the heat of the afternoon stole any fragments of my remaining energy. I was drained and shocked out by the time we found the truck again. We wound our way back through strange narrow streets, passed the city and stopped at the propane filling station. We were starving. We stopped for tacos on the way home. Neither of us spoke, we simply ate and drove to abuela’s house to pick up the kids. To say that I was disappointed would have been an understatement…..
The waterfall is still on my short list, but for now, we are still without a vehicle. Or money to throw at an adventure. So I am back to the monotony of sweeping and washing and diapers, on land in the middle of nowhere, with the strange memory of the red room of unconscious suffering…. And how this has attached itself to the unravelling of self, I cannot begin to describe here. Let me just say that there is a reason that this waking dreamspace presented itself to me at this time…..