MY LIFE IN THE PLAYBOY MANSION
Our home Apa
As my mother's cervix ripened; the rains continued to fall. The cinderblock foundation of our home settled as the baby's head dropped into position. The rainwater penetrated deep into the soil of the mountainside until the mountain itself liquefied.
When my mother's water broke so did the mountains.
As my sister slid through the birth canal the earth flowed like a river on top of our home. Mud and earth covered our windows blocking the grey morning light. I could no longer hear the roosters crowing, or the dogs barking, or the oompah oompah of the neighbor's radio. I never knew quiet until that moment. The only noise was from the hiss of the propane stove that boiled the water. The only light was from the stove, an orange tinged blue light, like from a ring of candles. In our home, buried underneath the mud, my sister was stillborn and my mother dying.
My father, who had delivered me nine years earlier in the same room, panicked. "Run! Get help!" he screamed. His voice was a thud, absorbed by the thick dampness of the walls. The door bulged inward on the verge of release. I was rooted in place staring at my father, "there is no place to run too." I said.
I heard the sound of shovels. My mother, with the grey baby on her chest, exhaled her last breath between clenched teeth.
"Turn off the stove, Horacio, or we will suffocate," my father said as he pulled a thin sheet over the bodies.
The sound of the shovels stopped for a moment and then started up again. Then stopped. We waited for them to start again. We waited in the dark silence. We waited. They did not start again.
"Candelas," my father whispered, "her name is Candelas Isabell Morales Gutierrez. Candelas for the light that she was born into and Isabell for her mother."
I too had named my sister. A secret name. I had secret names for everything. Everything.
In the dark I tried to picture where familiar things were in our home. I reached out a hand and felt the leg of a wooden chair. This was the chair my mother sat in to spin wool. It's secret name was Gira. I knew the table where we eat, mida, was above me. And my bed, mimo, to the left would still have my backpack, chuchi, on it. I soon oriented myself in the room. I gave a secret name to the situation we were in. I wondered how the sheet that covered my mother and sister felt about it's morbid responsibility.
Gasca, the valiant wooden door showed amazing strength as it held back the tons of mud and earth. Gasca creaked uncomfortably as it pleaded to the hinges to hang in there.
"Where are those damn shovels?" Gasca asked. "I can't hold much longer."
The furnishings, unable to move, encouraged him to hang in there.
The side of the house that faced the mountain buckled. "I wish I could have been stronger," it apologized as a window shattered releasing the mud, roots and leaves that covered the television and small lace covered table.
Still groping in the dark for familiar things I perched up on the balls of my feet as the floor began to fill with muddy water.
Our home, Apa, filled with mud.
The little paca
Apa’s furnishings, animated by the intrusive flow of mud and earth, coordinated and conspired to protect me. Mida the table, knocked on her side, boxed me in with her legs as we were pushed toward the far wall of our home. Mimo, my bed, separated from her frame, tumbled on top of Mida creating a roof. The two golden velvet chairs that my mother and father sat in to watch TV flanked the sides and the thin white sheet that covered my mother and sister abandoned its post and covered the makeshift structure like a thin skin.
I am here father! I shouted, I am safe in here, mi apacita, my little home. My voice sounded as if I were yelling under water.
I reached out to find familiar things but I found none only the cold balled fist of my baby sister. She too had been pushed in to my little home.
In the dark I waited to hear my father’s voice, the sound of shovels, or see the light of day. The only noise I heard was the gritty rasp of the apacita moving slowly down the mountain in the thick flow of mud and earth.
A neighbor girl Theresa, who my father called a marimacho, a girl who plays like a boy, kept a large snake in a chicken wire cage behind her house. One day, while I watched, she feed the snake a rodent. The little paca seemed hypnotized by the snake as it allowed itself to be eaten head first. My smirk of detattachment that I wore to impress Theresa, was a ruse to hide my true feelings of horror. I could see the little paca struggling inside the gullet of the snake, its legs kicking frantically. I gave the paca my eyes so I could see what it saw. I put myself into the paca and felt the breath being squeezed out of me. Knowing I was sensitive Theresa stared at me seeing if I would pass out or cry. I just stood there staring, never dropping my smirk.
“Let’s go throw rocks at dogs,” she suggested finally.
Devising another ruse I told her I had chores to do. My arms and legs swung wild and free as I ran home.
At night in my bed I would torture myself with the thoughts of what that little paca must have been feeling as it was forced down the dark, constricting tunnel in the gullet of the snake. On those nights my sheets weighed a ton and I could not take deep enough breaths. On those nights my mind contemplated infinity, eternal life, the after death that never comes, like the endless journey of that little paca if the snakes tail was stuck in its own mouth. Eternal digestion.
In my apacita I panicked and flailed my arms and legs. I screamed and cried.
Horacio, I heard my father say, blow out the candle or you will suffocate.
Like the TV being turned off I fell asleep. For how long I slept I do not know, but when I awoke I was very, very far from home.
Nessa the soul thief
The mudslide slid far, far down the valley depositing me and a collection of uniquely Mexican offal on the shore of the Pacific Ocean. My exposed apacita, was steamy in the tropical humidity. Pushing aside the mattress roof I saw the sun muted through the filter of the tightly stretched sheet. Poking the thin membrane of sheet with my index finger I tested its tensile strength. The sheet stretched and eventually tore. I parted the sheet with my hands and gasped on a breath of fresh air. My head, soaked with sweat and caked with mud pushed through the thin gash of my apacita. I squeezed my shoulders out and my body quickly followed. Like a fish I flopped on top of the mud mound that carried me so far from home.
It took no time for the seabirds to find me. Cautiously they approached craning their necks, poking at pieces of trash that were stuck in the mud. I could not move my arms or legs, they felt like skin sacks filled with jelly. As the blood began to find my extremities I felt as if I were rolling in a cactus patch. Eventually I balled my fists and wiggled my toes.
Cepillos, chiclets, dulces…
From down the beach the song was sung in a passionless cadence over and over.
Cepillos, chiclets, dulces… Cepillos, chiclets, dulce…
A small, barefoot girl, dressed in a long black skirt embroidered with brightly colored thread, a ruffled blouse and a brightly colored shall shuffled slowly down the beach carrying a tray filled brushes, gum, and various candies around her neck. The sun glinted off her silver front tooth as she continued her song.
Cepillos, chiclets, dulces…
A black curtain of rain clouds darkened the sky behind her as the sun continued to shine on her face. She sang as she approached the littered mud pile.
Her song, a dirge, frightened me. Her shuffling walk never varied. Slowly she approached. Forcing my limbs to cooperate I perched unsteadily on the edge of my submerged apacita.
When she reached the base of the mud pile I expected her to put down her tray and climb the mound, but she did not. She shuffled up the steep sides, defying laws of inertia, never breaking cadence with her song or her shuffle.
Cepillos, chiclets, dulces…
Within seconds she stood in front of me. Sheets of lighting flashed on the distant horizon above the ocean.
She pushed the tray of treats in front of me as an offer, her silver tooth flashing.
“I have nothing,” my words leaked out.
“Nada?” she asked, craning her head as if she were a seabird ready to stab a freshly hatched sea turtle whose shell had yet to harden as it blindly ambled down the beach toward the ocean.
“Nothing,” I repeated.
“Friend, that is simply not true. You do have something.” The wind blew her straight black hair in front of her face.
I smelled the burnt acrid scent of coffee.
“I have nothing” I lied.
Like a shining nugget of gold left on the floor my soul was exposed and unprotected. She reached toward it.
I fell backward into my apacita.
As if the wind had picked her up she rose above me and then slowly descended into my little home her hand stretched out like a talon plucking a rodent from the ground.
I rolled over and clasped the small balled fist of my baby sister. I took her in my arms and embraced her. The soul thief reaching for my golden soul put her hand into my sister instead.
Lighting flashed and the wind howled. A powerful rain began to fall. The soul thief released a howl that drowned out the brewing tempest. She recoiled violently as if kicked in the chest by a giant. Her scream reached a furied pitch when she hit the bottom of the mud pile. Crumpled at the base of the mound she forced her fist into her mouth and began to consume herself. Within moments she had masticated her entire body and the tray of brushes, gum and candy. All that remained was a small bag of roasted coffee beans and the silver tooth.
Gently I placed my sister in the bottom of the apacita as it filled with rain and mud. I covered her with the tattered sheet. She was buried in the mud pile.
I too had named my sister. A secret name, I have secret names for everything. Everything. My sister’s secret name is Poa, my savior.
One Monarch butterfly in flight is silent. One thousand Monarch butterflies in flight are silent. When one million Monarch butterflies descended from the Sierra Madres and alighted around me I heard flattery. Their dusty wings kissed my skin. Blushing I ascended into the sky enveloped in the red and black cloud of butterflies. As we rose above the shore, back toward the mountains of which I just slid down, they sang a gentle song to me.
Horacio the beautiful
Sees the secret life in beds
Loves the chair
and the hat on his head.
Horacio the beautiful
Who translates insects
Was born unto the world of time
To be reborn in the world of secrets
The monsters know
The monsters know
Will they eat you?
We do not know
We do not know
Despite the gentle caresses of butterfly kisses I shivered at hearing the word monsters. I admit, I do not have a secret word for everything. Monsters are monsters. I feared the monster under the dark stairwell with the drippy skin and sunken eye, the monster on the other side of the door who waits with a machete, or the one under my bed, less a physical thing and more a vapor to be inhaled, or behind the tree blacker than death. A monster is a monster and monsters petrify me.
As the Monarchs peeled away I was lowered onto the dank forest floor of Cloud Mountain. The lower trunks of the tall grey pine trees were wrapped in clumps of old man’s beard moss and grotesque shingles of fungus. The high branches allowed only shafts of light to find the forest floor that was covered by a tapestry of different types of mushrooms and a deep layer of decomposing organic matter.
From the lower branches of the pines hung thousands of neon green cocoons from which sticky Monarch butterflies unfolded and began flying silently beyond the treetops toward the unfiltered sun. Hanging from a thick lower branch of the tallest pine tree hung a cocoon much, much larger than the others. As I watched the large cocoon began to tremble from the movement within. Soon the sack separated introducing a newborn baby that clung to the silky strands of the frayed cocoon.
A breeze whistled through the forest and picked up the baby as she surrendered her grip. Up and up the baby rose above the treetops were she caught soft wind currents surrendering like a leaf in the wind. I could hear her laugh as she rolled around with the butterflies above the trees, soaking in the sun.
Her descent was as gentle as her ascent. As she reentered the realm of pine trees she delicately avoided the braches occasionally allowing the wind to carry her back up again. While a small baby at the treetops, the lower she descended the older she became. By the time she was half way down she had transformed into a striking woman with obsidian hair, powerful arms, golden eyes and skin the color of rich desert soil. The farther down she floated the more silver came into her hair and wisdom into her eyes. By the time she touched the earth, landing as soft as a cat, she was an old women with sagging breasts, and long grey hair, she had thick whiskers on her lip and chin.
I was repulsed by the sight of her naked body. I looked at my feet as she fitted her discarded cocoon as a shall around her shoulders and ran her fingers through her hair tying it into a bun. When I looked up again I recognized the women as Maria Sabina, the shaman of Cloud Mountain.
“You poor sad child”, she said gently offering a knotted brown hand toward me. “I have a gift for you.”
She wrapped me under her shall and held me tight. My tears released in a torrent like the rains that softened the earth around my apa. Maria Sabina, her stretched skin hanging off in folds was soft and warm, she enveloped me completely in her cocoon shall as I cried and convulsed. It was completely dark. Soon I fell asleep.
Maria Sabina was waiting for me in my dreams.
I reached out to take her proffered hand as we tumbled together through the ever-expanding universe.
“Everything is everything,” she said as we lost ourselves between the immense space between the stars.
Here it all was. And in that moment I was not in pain, or sad. I did not know happiness or loss. I, for that, moment was a part of it all.
“Is this the gift?” I asked.
“No, this can not to be given,”
Under the shall Maria Sabina’s skin became taut against her muscles. Her warm breath on my neck smelled of cinnamon and fresh roasted coffee. Wrapping my arms around her tighter I imagined the beautiful brown skinned women who drifted past the middle branches of the great pine tree. Maria Sabina embraced me tighter. Her warm breath on my neck and soft finger on my back awoke a feeling more compelling than anything I had ever felt, more compelling than the universe itself.
Neither fully awake nor asleep I was caught in between the dream world of universal oneness and the physical world of passion and desire.
“Horacio,” The dream Maria Sabina said. “Our gift to you...,”
“...our gift to you is the gift of choice,” whispered the beautiful Maria Sabina under the shall, her soft hands clasping mine.
…and so began my life in the Playboy Mansion.