Claudia looked me straight in the eyes before clinking her glass against mine, “Cheers, hoe! I’m so proud of you! But you have to go see Mirella! Promise me you’ll call her. You need protection, don’t be stupid.” For weeks, she’d been bugging me to give her curandera a call before I left the country. I had never been to one before, I never had the need to, but it was different this time, something just didn’t feel right.
In just short of 2 months, I would be flying solo to Peru for my first writers residency. Normally, my anxiety levels would be eating at my insides and turning me into jelly, yet, I felt nothing. No fear, no anxiety, just pure apathy. I was more worried about my apartment and the fact that I couldn’t find anyone to cat sit while I was gone. I should have been fretting over the butterflies in my stomach and counting down the days before I flew to a foreign country alone, I didn’t know a single person in Peru. I should have been shitting my pants and waking up in my piss every night out of anxiety, I should have been crying tears of joy! Instead, I spent every day indifferently counting down the days till I left. Claudia was right. I needed to see Mirella, I had nothing to lose. She gave me her phone number and I called her the next day when I wasn’t so drunk.
“Hola Mirella? Habla Nicole, soy amiga de Claudia.”
“Hola Nicole, digame, que necesitas.”
7 days later, I pulled into Mirella’s driveway. It was 5am and the sun still hadn’t come up. For the first time since my quinceneara, I was dressed in all white, just like she had instructed. I brought an extra set of white clothes, 7 pennies I’d carried in my wallet since the day we spoke on the phone, a piece of paper with three wishes, and a watermelon. “Don’t tell anyone what you wrote down. Don’t tell me and don’t show me when you see me,” She instructed. I obliged. I’d never done anything like this before so I followed every instruction precariously. I didn’t know what to expect, but I felt heavy and dismal. Was this safe magic? I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but I trusted Claudia’s judgement and I needed something, anything to snap me out of my apathy.
I phoned Mirella to let her know I was parked outside of her apartment and she came down to meet me. She too wore all white and showed me to her car. She looked nothing like I’d expected, yet I knew I shouldn’t have expected anything.
“Leave your car here, I’ll drive us to where Yemoja says we need to go. Do you have what I asked you to bring?”
“Yes.” I said patting my bag of extra clothes. I pulled the watermelon out to show her.
“Ay dios, that’s a big one, I said bring a small one.”
“Oh. Sorry, I didn’t know how big or small I should get.”
“Está bien, it’ll work.” We got into her car and drove off into the still sleeping city. We hadn’t even started yet and I already felt like I fucked up.
We sat in silence the first few miles. I felt like a scared child and my heart was heavy with burden, but I couldn’t explain why. I couldn’t even find the words to begin a conversation with her either. “What do I say to her? Can she read my thoughts? My energy? Can she feel my distress?” Because if she was any good at what she does, she would have been able to read that I was in no way comfortable. In all honesty, I felt fearful, and of what, I couldn’t even begin to tell you.
We stopped at a red light and the smell of cigarette smoke began to fill the car. I looked over to see if she’d lit a cigarette but she kept both hands on the steering wheel. I peeked over my shoulder behind her seat and down at the center console, but I didn’t see any cigarette boxes, lighters or matches. It didn’t appear that she was a smoker. I looked outside the foggy passenger window to see if any of the cars next to us had any smokers when I realized all of our windows were rolled up and there were in fact, no cars next to us. It was 5am in the middle of December and we had the heater on full blast. She sniffed at the air, “Was your mother a smoker?” She turned and asked me.
“No. Well, when my brother and I were much younger, she used to smoke a lot, but she stopped when we were still really young.”
As we sat there waiting for the light to turn green, I thought about how I used to flush my moms Marlboro Lights down the toilet and how mad she used to get when I would break her cigarettes in half before putting them back into their little gold and white box. Just a prime example of my passive aggressive adolescent assholery — reminding her I was not a fan of her cigarettes or of how they made her smell. I must have been 7 or 9. She used to smoke cigarettes when we’d drive around in her white convertible Mercury Capri. There was the one rare time she got drunk with me and my brothers and smoked a cigarette in front of us. I hadn’t seen her smoke in over 10 years.
“Your mother is a smoker. She’s here with us right now.” Mirella turned and smiled at me. “She wants you to know she’s glad you’re doing this. It’s time. Ya era tiempo. You’ve been holding onto her for too long now. She needs you to let go and let her rest in peace.”
I was in complete shock, I’d only briefly mentioned to Mirella over the phone that my mother had passed away. In fact, I had spent more time explaining to her in explicit details about where I was currently at in my life career wise, and that I was going to leave the country for an artists residency. I told her that I needed clarity from whatever was blocking me, and for protection during my travels. Her message to me about my mother caught me off guard and before I knew it, the tears began to roll down my face as we drove down PCH in the unusually thick morning fog.
“Yemoja, por favor, dígame donde voy. No puedo ver. Donde nos quieres?” She asked out loud as she rubbed at her windows to clear away the morning dew. I began to feel a little more comfortable talking to her, and I started to ask her questions about her work. She explained to me how she became a curandera. She told me about her powers and how they chose her, not the other way around. “So, when you meet someone, can you read them right away, or does it take you time to figure them out?” I innocently asked her. She turned to look me in the eyes and said, “Your eyes tell me everything.” She paused. “I can tell you’re very lonely and insecure, but you have no reason to be. You have a hard time loving men and you have a really hard time falling in love. You don’t trust very easily or at all. You have built a big wall for yourself when there is no need. Your eyes are sad.” I turned away as even more tears began to fall down my cheeks. I felt stripped naked. Either she’s really good or I’m too fucking obvious – I thought to myself.
When suddenly, I began to smell the putrid smell of manure. “Oh. My. God. Please don’t tell me I stepped in dog shit before getting into her car.” I thought to myself. It was so dark when I met her, it was totally possible I’d stepped into some when we met outside of her apartment. I tried to discreetly look at the bottom of my huaraches.
“This never happens. There’s so much fog.” She said, distracted.
The smell of manure brought me back to Hanford, the city where my mom moved us to when I started the 8th grade. The city she died in. In the early fall and winter mornings, and right after the sunsets, the thick Central California fog would begin to roll in through the valley. It would come in so thick, you couldn’t even see your neighbors house across the street (if you had any). It would blanket the streets so that the only thing you could make out were blurry balls of light from the lampposts. It’s crisp mist would sting your eyes if you weren’t used to it – I never was. We even had Foggy Day Schedule at all the local schools, when it rolled in too thick, delaying school bus routes from the countryside. I told Mirella about the Hanford fog and the dairy farms. I told her about the crop field that surrounded our house and how the early mornings would smell like an aromatic mixture of morning dew and fresh manure. I eventually learned to love that smell and to this day, miss it regularly. Sometimes I get the sudden urge to make the 3 hour trek to Hanford just to smell home again, but the painful memories that city holds for me always keeps me from going back there.
“Ahh. Es tu mama. You don’t have to be afraid. She’s here with us. This is going to be very good for you. Te lo prometo. Whatever negative feelings you have been feeling will be gone when we’re done today. And remember everything that I tell you, because I will not remember. It’s not meant for me to remember, it is for you.”
To be continued….