Linda es Nicaragua
It never matters how many years have gone by between visits or how nonchalant I am upon arrival, home gets under my skin, rushes like a wild river through my veins, pounds like violent love against my sternum.
Familiarity of surroundings combined with bleary vision from an early flight, I hand over my passport at customs, rush out to the car, sit in a salon chair while my hair is pulled and sprayed and coiffed for a dinner party. Twelve hours later, I wake from the frenzied coma and finally emerge and inhale. I’m in the back seat of a car, window down. It is summer and there is an oven-hot breeze blowing, scattering superfine reddish dust, shaking the palms and madroños. I smell gasoline, blinding sun, firewood burning, and sadness.
There is never a pause between that first inward breath and the throat-gripping melancholy that it jump-starts because the flashbacks stampede, gallop, thunder in too quickly and suddenly: the visits in the ’80s when supermarkets were barren with rationing, Sunday mass at twilight with bats darting in through wrought iron-barred windows, feeling trapped in this place that’s furious and tempestuous and sweltering and raging, like a difficult woman who secretly likes to be roughed around.
Once the initial flames die down, the embers burn with profound longing for the coarse landscape with its smoking slumbering volcanoes, deep lagoons of unfathomable depths and explosions of pumice stones, wide open sky with thickly clustered white clouds, and starry inky nights. Birds cry out loud, piercing, and longing, while long-limbed monkeys wail and screech in fastidious alarm from the trees. There is the thunderous roar of the surf and cheap speakers blasting out music you can’t avoid swaying to. Soul, skin, and tempers dampen with perspiration.
A visit to my grandparents’ home, and clumsy moths flutter in my abdomen. The big house is disheveled, but the roses still bloom gaudily in the atrium garden. I walk into the room I used to sleep in on weekend visits, still painted a furious pink that fights the black-and-white speckled ceramic tile floors. The closet doors are pure ‘70s: gold-feathered Formica. I remember the window unit AC, chill, damp, and wheezing. But right now there is only stale air and the ghost of an uncle who slowly withered away after a stroke, here, on this very bed. I stand in place and close the door behind me even though I’m close to suffocating. It’s only a few seconds before I retrace my steps, running away before the haunting begins.
Outside, my grandmother talks about family; the births, the celebrations, the many deaths. She’s matter-of-fact but looks broken and her eyes are dim. My grandfather is smaller than he used to be, but he still lights up when he talks about still being able to see well and keep a steady hand with a scalpel in his hand—he’s due at the hospital shortly.
We swing back and forth on rocking chairs, drinking freshly squeezed mandarin juice, but it does little to soothe the translucent veil of warm salty sweat simmering on my skin.
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