I can’t remember where we were

–somewhere in Bogota,

after traveling on a bus

destined to find my father

because we had gotten word

he had moved there

and my mother wanted help

getting us to Brazil

or somewhere she had heard

they had found a cure

for polio.

 

I can only imagine now

how difficult it must have been

to board a bus

leading to the unknown

and yet to the well known

fractured relationship

of my parents

while hauling three little girls

who didn’t understand

why we were there or where

we were going.

 

I just remember being there

in the middle of the night

knocking on a convent’s door

because we had nowhere to go,

and we were out in the cold

of Bogota.

 

The nuns felt sorry for us

and let us in

giving us a place to sleep

and a glass of milk.

I remember the smell of church in the air

and hearing my mother pray

between tears.

 

The next morning we woke up

and I was told

my mother was going to go look for my dad

and I was to be a good girl

and stay with the nuns

while she took my sisters with her.

So, I sat there on top of this huge art table

which felt so very high from the ground

almost like an examining table,

and maybe it was because

everything was white,

but maybe convents are meant to look like that,

so I pushed scary hospital thoughts

out of my head.

 

My mom left, and the friendly nuns

went about their day and left me sitting there

saying they would be “right back”.

I guess to a child

time passes like dog years

a few minutes can feel

like forever,

and time that passes slowly

can bring our worst fears to life.

 

And I don’t know

how long it was

that I sat there in that empty white room

on that cold high table

and although I was scared, I was able

to keep my scary thoughts under control.

 

But then

I felt that my own voice that the only voice I heard

and those big empty walls

seemed so hollow

and so able to swallow

me into doubt.

 

I first hummed to myself….and refused

to feed

the monsters in my head.

Then I called softly for someone,

and then I yelled and cried

and screamed

and freaked out because, somehow, I thought

the world had ended and I

was the only person left

alive.

 

To this day I’m not sure why

I felt that way,

But I did,

and that scared the shit out of me,

and I threw myself on the floor

making the dangerous jump

and then crawling desperately,

dragging my body up and down

the empty halls

and yelling in terror and calling for the nuns,

crying for my mom

and wishing to wake up from that nightmare

because at that moment I thought

either everybody was dead,

or I had been just left.

 

I think, maybe,  I had

seen too many disabled kids

being abandoned by parents

who said they’d be right back

only to never return

leaving kids as if they were dogs

hopefully somebody else would want.

I was so afraid

of that.

 

I thought I was going to collapse.

My heart was pounding so fast

and my voice had become hoarse from screaming

at the top of my lungs

only to come to a halt and a complete stop

when I saw the nuns

all in a group like fucking penguins

praying outside,

and although they probably heard me scream

and cry,

they seemed to be in a trance, and I

just sat there

feeling stupid for having thought

everybody had died.

 

Quietly, I crawled back to the big room

and sat under the table drying my tears

and trying to pretend

everything had been cool.

And it was.

My mother came back

with my sisters and my dad

and I was able to tell them

how scary it was

when I thought

the world

had ended,

but I pretended

I had been braver than I had.

 

And I did not confess

that I had also been

so afraid of them not coming back

for me.

I kept that fear to myself without knowing

how fears grow

when we don’t let them go.

 

It took me years to do so

and I’m still learning

that the absence or the silence

of someone we love

is not always about the absence of love.

It’s not always

about being

abandoned.

 

 

–Maria R. Palacios  2017

 

P.S. The nun in the picture IS me.  LOL

 

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