Catalina is a twenty-year-old writer and poet from Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Both her writing and poetry attempt to explore the perspectives of social behavior and the bilateral thought process shared by Latin Americans, particularly Hondurans, as well as dismantle the misconceptions attached to the Latin American community by the media and outer countries.
In the Heaven We Imagined, That’s Where You Are
The newspaper blurred your face out but it still wouldn´t have mattered. You were unrecognizable. With swollen hands, and swollen feet, and pruned-up discolored skin. We knew it was you because you were wearing that baby blue guayabera that your grandfather gifted you on the day you turned sixteen. They found you floating face-down in that river, that clamorous unstoppable force, whose real name we never bothered to learn but that we referred to as Río de Sangre.Three summers ago, we saw it turn blood-red and while the authorities dismissed it as a pipeline leakage, the elders in the town saw it as a presage of the end of times and that´s what we chose to believe. For many families, the world ended that very same year.
I first heard about Moon and his followers while we waited for lunch to be served. It was Sunday and Joel, you had always spent those with us since you were nine. Warm sunlight filtered through every window and open space beneath doors; dust particles seen through the entering sunlight immersed anyone who stopped and stared into an eternal sunshine amid June. The radio in the kitchen was playing loudly, making the local HRN radio jockey´s deep voice resonate through every room within the house.
The presenter spoke of the People´s Republic of China and their new Chairman, of the first American woman in space, and of an Iranian teenager hanged because of her faith. International political and social news broadcasts were usually brushed off by the people in Santa Lucía, it was only understandable. I too would often disregard anything that did not affect me directly. But these were ominous times. Sons were disappearing, the major cities knuckled under military occupation whose allegiance depended on which side had more to offer, and clandestine cemeteries would decorate the inward slopes of mountains that were assumed to remain untouched by men.
“On another note,” the synthetic voice of the radio jockey named Eric continued, “the Honduran Bishops Council have requested aid from the Vatican to halt the proliferation of Sun Myung Moon´s fundamentalist cult. The Catholic Church accuses Moon of attempting to submerge the Honduran people and the remaining Central American nations into civil and religious turmoil.”
I remember my mother´s laughter and my grandfather blaming the governments for allowing Satanic cults to take over the good, Christian nations that remained. I remember the way he would shake his head while he whispered to himself el fin está cerce over and over again. Truth was that the wind carried socialist ideals in its mighty currents and many wore the faces of Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Fidel Castro wherever the sun ceased to shine because most of the nations to the south of the Río Bravo (or Grande) were once singing in red and all they saw was red, and they would think in red and speak in red, the tears they cried were red and the empty graves of their lost and unnamed children remained red; the sky was red, their prayers red, their bibles red, the streets were red, their dreams and nightmares red.
“I heard that they are here to marry as many people as they can and to spread their anti-left-wing propaganda by only approaching the rich. That they are just disguising themselves as a religious group.” I turned to look at your reaction, expectant of your opinion on these foreign men speaking of their messiah and of salvation.
Joel, you were always the smart one. Perpetually impartial and resigned to tolerance. You hated taking sides in general, your comments and viewpoints often leaving whoever you were talking to thoughtful and contemplative. But you had little to say and instead just smiled and shrugged.
“Who knows. They might just come knocking on your door anytime from now.”
Later that week I watched a group of men in white dress shirts and matching ties in different shades of yellow knock on your door and laughed at how often life would just dance and sing in irony. Now I know your father was desperate for redemption. Perhaps because he handled both pain and regret with a beer bottle in his left hand and your mother´s neck in his right; or because he was nothing but the cancerous debris of the forgotten ghost of Colonialism and the coerced faith they left behind when they set sail once they were done pillaging and bleeding the lands dry. I had seen many truth-bringers and false prophets parade through your front door and introduce him to their god and their quixotic tribal entities; your father always searching toward one merciful enough to forgive all the pain he brandished unto others.
They visited you and your family for five weekends straight, I counted. I knew there were many others, but they mattered less to me and never really crossed my mind. It was right after they left once their sixth visit was done that I finally chose to ask you about them for the final time. I had tried asking before, but you would immediately deflect my question and I knew that that meant that you simply did not want to discuss anything related to the men that dragged their papered truths and their papered smiles into our town.
“I don´t know,” you said as your hands ripped off the wildflowers that covered the grass field next to the elementary school where we first met, “I mean, they are giving out great opportunities. It would be a shame not to take them.”
“So, they are not as bad as they say?”
“No,” you shook off the weed from your hands, “they´re worse.”
The next day I saw you step into one of those yellow city buses that we used to compare to the cans of peaches we would eat until we could no longer move and would find ourselves being forced to lay on freshly cut grass for hours. As you waved your hand goodbye I realized that alongside you were the sons and daughters of family friends and neighbors and I found myself overflown with a sense of confusion mixed with anger in its naked obsolete form. I saw you disappear and merge with the setting sun down the very same road in which I scraped both of my knees when I was seven, scars still visible.
Joel, while you are not home, I am not home. These men sold you truth and freedom and you took it like a desperate vagabond rummaging through the waste of restaurants and city halls. You were twenty-one years old and you were sent away with promises of the big city and of lands that only a few had roamed in. You left willingly, and I do not blame you. I too comprehended the vortex of this damned town, and country for that matter. Which inhaled dreams and the vision of its inhabitants, which injected them with the cancer of conformity and would metastasize all over their lungs, leaving them breathless; which blistered their skin and carved a pathetic replica of sunspots all over their hands and necks, which leads to nowhere because we come from nowhere and we´re going nowhere. Joel, I know you wanted to see the sunrise in a different land while knowing deep in your heart that the sun was setting in your motherland.
I saw your mother cry and your father´s detached gaze as they sat on one of the benches that faced Santa Lucía´s 18thcentury Catholic church, its pristine white bell towers rising magnanimously among the green foliage of surrounding mountains and hills, and in that very moment I swore to hate them until my hate became an ocean and hate had its currents grab hold of their ankles until they knew what touching rock bottom really felt like.
“What is going to happen to him?” I asked your father.
“He´ll be saved.” He closed his eyes and rubbed his face with his right hand. “They´ll give him a future and he´ll have a chance.”
You were gone for two years and three months, and the things that happened to you remain unclear. I still have questions. Some told me they first took you into a long retreat, time never specified, and you walked out a captured neophyte. I choose not to believe this, Joel. When it came to pretending, you did it as if your life depended on it. It probably did. I heard they took you across this continent and that you walked the vast grasslands of the north and beheld the varied topographies of the south. I heard that this self-proclaimed messiah, this megalomaniac from East Asian territories approached world leaders and broke world records with his mass marriages in local stadiums around the globe. Joel, were you there? And, were you prepared? Did you agree? When he took you into that darkness? Into that precipice with nothing but an unending void to stare at and fall into? Is this why you did what you did?
The fishermen who pulled you out said they found rocks tied to your ankles and wrists. As they searched for anything that could help them identify you, they felt the stones which you had concealed in the deep pockets of beige cargo pants. The article went straight to the point, no sentimentality nor demonstration of despondency in the words used. I understood that you were dead, and I understood that you had most likely dived into our town´s symbol of brutality and potency on your own accord, but I could not understand why you had returned without being acknowledged. I like to think you walked among us before your last moments. That you were able to recall how to act and what to wear so that people wouldn´t notice you and have them rather, see you as one who never left, always stayed. I like to think you went back to your house and stared at it from the outside, imagined it as a home. I like to think you walked to our favorite spot in the park down the road and that you spared a moment of the meager excuse of time you had left to stare at the sky and inhale for the last time this place that although it never molded us, watched us become and develop.
There was no time for arrangements. No time for well-written eulogies or grandiose flower ornaments. I was at my best friend´s funeral and all I could think about was of how fortunate we were to at least have found you. To at least have brought your body home where I was aware it had never really belonged to but would have always gone back to had they given you the chance. No time for depressing hymns sung by the old women we always disliked because they equally disliked us back. No time to remember the names or faces of those that left with you on that warm day of June 1983 just to remain unheard of and unseen.
Strange to think of you now, gone with your hands and your silences. Gone at such a youthful age though that doesn´t matter anymore; you are ageless now. Age is left here with me. You have been released. The river reached the ocean and now you are out in the open. You can now rest in a place as old as the universe, in that place we imagined when we turned eighteen. You are done with this world and done with their god. You are done with that man. Done with me. Rejoice. No more rainy days in the month of April, no more rumors of war, no more tension; no more fear of your father, and no more memory of your mother. No more fear, no wondering, no insecurities. Death is now with you and you have won, Death stopped for you. Joel, I can inform you now that Moon is gone from our land, you could say the Catholics have won. There have been many that say this could have been avoided and mock the ways a human can fall for truths given by others. But I know you didn´t fall for truth, you fell for freedom. Like a wild horse behind a gate, Moon´s men unclipped it and pushed it wide open. You ran. This town was not your haven, it was never yours, you were never truly there. You can now head to end, I believe you know the way.