AN: I wrote this as part of the StandUpforKatalina fundraiser.
I was never planning on publishing it.
Katalina died this morning. She was surrounded by her family. She was comfortable and knew she was loved.
Instead of crying (Well...in addition to crying) I'm posting this in her memory. She was a beautiful woman and I feel blessed to have known her.
When I asked Katalina what she wanted…she said she enjoyed 'Culture Shock' because it was based on a true story. I wrote this for her, using some of her own words. There is nothing to say that will make things better…but perhaps a bit of peace will come from my words.
"Edward, will you please get the phone? Embry put toothpaste in Elizabeth's hair and I need to get it out before it dries!" Bella yelled from the top of the stairs. I sighed, pushing away from the desk and my half-finished paper on the fertility rituals of the Mayans. It was due in to National Geographic by the end of the week, and at the rate I was going, it was going to take a miracle to get it there. My freelancing research career afforded me plenty of time to spend at home with my family, but it also had a few drawbacks.
Like finding time to work on the days I actually had to work.
Dodging a toddler on roller skates who was using the hallway as a skate park, I finally managed to snag the ringing phone off the kitchen counter.
"Edward…" The voice on the other end of the staticy connection was so very familiar; it nearly brought tears to my eyes.
"Davi," I rasped, the harmonious tone of his accent instantly transporting me right back to Venezuela.
"Edward…it's your mother."
"Are you sure you don't want us to go with you? The kids and I will do whatever you want," Bella whispered against my neck as we stood outside airport security.
"No. I need to go alone and do this," I sighed, squeezing her that much harder. Our four kids were wrapped around my legs, their doleful eyes looking up at me through their tears.
"I love you," I said, leaning back so I could kiss her. I knew she wanted to come and support me, but I needed to know she and the kids were safe while I traveled through the depths of the jungle. "Call my dad if you need help. You know he'll make Alice come over and help."
"Oh yeah, like she'd be any help. Her new iPhone was delivered yesterday," Bella giggled through her tears. With one last hug to everyone, I sped through security and boarded my plane for Caracas.
The closer I got, the more my heart hurt.
It had only been a year since I'd been down to see my mother and our extended family. When we left to return to the States after our visit, everyone had been fine. But as I made my way through customs and caught sight of Davi, it felt as if an eternity had passed. His dark hair was streaked with gray, his broad shoulders hunched as if he were carrying the weight of the world.
"Is it that bad?" I asked, my eyes filling with tears as he patted me gently on the back.
"I am glad you are here, my friend." His answer did little to calm my fears.
The second flight and the bumpy boat ride seemed endless. Night was rapidly descending, but I'd be damned if I'd spend another night away from my mother. Davi led the way through the thick jungle, his torch fending off the dark and predators that were looking for an easy meal. By the time I saw the light of the fire in the middle of the shabono, I had fallen into a sprint. I avoided Yamet's searching hands, needing to see our mother before I could even think about speaking to my half brother.
"Edward! They have her over here," Davi called, bringing me skidding to a halt. I turned and looked at him as he pointed to a dark corner. I felt sick as I slowly walked over to the pallet set against the wall. Looking down at my mother, I was all at once the little boy who was left behind when his mother returned to her native land. I was the young man, searching for a strong female role model. I was the man who ignored everyone to go traipsing into the jungle to find the woman who had given birth to me. And I was a father, who couldn't imagine my children having to face the eventuality of their parents' death.
"Mom?" I whispered, feeling guilty that I was waking her, but unable to stop myself. I needed answers, and she was the only one who could give them to me.
"Edward…so happy you here," she rasped, rolling over on her thin pallet and reaching for my hand. Though I had seen her just a year ago, she looked as if decades had passed. She was thin and pale, her hair hung limply around her face. Her smile, which had always lit up her face, was pained.
"What's wrong?" I asked, kneeling down next to her and taking her cool hand in mine.
"Dying" she sighed, making me fall over backward onto my ass.
"No," I grunted, unable to believe her words. She smirked, reaching her hand out to brush the hair off my forehead.
"Always so stubborn," she said, "go sleep. Talk tomorrow."
I brought my knees up to my chest, my butt going numb from the hard ground, but unable to move.
I'd just found her. I couldn't lose her already.
The next morning dawned rainy and ominous. I'd slept curled next to my mother's pallet, unable to bring myself to go any further away. Her breathing frightened me; her inhalations were shallow and sporadic. I knew I needed to go find Davi, but it felt as if my time with my mother was counting down, a timer rolling away above my head.
I rolled over quickly, sitting up with my hands fluttering impotently over my mother's still form. Oh God, what was happening? I helped her sit up, holding her as she retched into the dirt beside her blankets.
"Please…what's going on?" I moaned as she collapsed against me. She looked up at me, her eyes vague.
"Dying," she repeated again.
"But how…" I sighed, unable to believe what she was telling me. This wasn't happening.
"Edward, I know," she said vehemently.
She slowly pushed herself up, refusing to accept my help as she made her way out to relieve herself. Davi joined me as I stood outside the shabono, waiting for her to return.
"The Shaman has already been to see her, Edward. There is nothing he can do. The hekuru inside her is too strong. The spirit is consuming her soul and there is nothing to be done. She wanted to see you before she…"
"No! I'll take her back home. It's probably something they can fix!" I yelled, unembarrassed by the tears that were falling down my face. I couldn't accept this. My mother would not go quietly into the night.
"Edward, talk to your mother. This is the way of things," Davi said quietly, his hand on my arm.
I looked up at him, but his face was blurry through my tears.
How could I let her go?
My mother's feet were sure as we made our way through the jungle. Her hands grabbed onto tree branches as we passed, fingers caressing the leaves. She wanted to show me her favorite place. I followed dutifully, even though every step was like a dagger in my heart. Why was this happening? Hadn't we suffered enough? My anger vibrated through me, thinking about the unfairness of the situation. My children needed her. I needed her.
"Edward," she whispered, drawing my attention to the sight before us. The trees had thinned out, leaving us in front of an amazing waterfall.
"Wow," I said, awed that I was standing in front of such beauty. My eyes darted around, unable to settle on just one section of the natural majesty.
"I wanted you to see this," she said, her English nearly perfect. I turned my head and looked at her, watching as she settled on a large rock at the edge of the water. I always knew her English was better than she let on.
"Why? Why would you want to bring me down here when there is nothing I can do?" I asked, feeling sad and furious all at the same time.
"I am in a good place and will take what fate has dealt. I've done incredible things in my life, have lived, loved and laughed hard. I've had my share of the dark days, too. Leaving you and your siblings was incredibly difficult, but I made it through. I am strong. I will fight. But I will also respect what the spirits have in store for me." As she stared off into the water, I stared at her. Her strength awed and inspired me. While she was facing death, I was pouting about losing her. How could I be so selfish? She wanted me here to help free her spirit once she was gone, not try and bully her. She had all the help she needed. She had her faith…and I had to respect that.
"When you were little, you always danced. Your little legs would move so fast as you wiggled to the music. I loved watching you." I sniffled quietly as I listened to my mother reminisce about my childhood. She missed so much after she left us in the States, and I knew she regretted it. But she did what was best for her. She would never have been happy with us, but it still hurt sometimes.
"That sounds like David. He is always moving. He even dances when the doorbell rings," I said, laughing as I thought of his little fist pumping, Jersey Shore moves. I taught him that.
"I wish I could have gotten to know them better. But I will live on in them. One day, they will do something amazing and it will be as if a part of me is still alive in the world," she sighed, wrapping her arms around herself. I did the same, because it felt like my heart was trying to bust out of my chest, it hurt so much.
"How can you be so calm about this?" I asked. She turned her head and looked at me.
"How can I not? What will rage or anger do? It will not do anything. You accept the things you cannot change. This is a part of life, Edward." Her words, spoken so calmly left me sobbing and I buried my head in her lap.
"After she is gone, we will take her to the funeral pyre. The screams and cries of her kinsmen will announce her passing as the flames consume her. Then-"
"Stop," I grunted, unable to listen to Davi explain any more of the death ritual. I knew the basics. She would be cremated and then her immediate family would consume a soup made of her ashes. It was a way to assure that her spirit lived on. Just the thought of it made me want to scream. After she was gone, it was forbidden to say her name again. Their rituals, while foreign and confusing to me were vitally important to the Yanomami. I was going to have to play a part in the experience whether I wanted to or not. For my mother.
"Edward," Davi sighed sadly, understanding my struggle, "you need to know what to expect, my friend. You do not want to go into this without knowing what is coming."
"I just…this is happening so fast," I whispered, looking across the shanobo to where my mother was sleeping on her pallet.
"The Shaman feels that it will only be a few days now."
My hands shook as I ran them through my hair. A few days left…
How could I possibly say goodbye?
"I'm…sorry." I held my mother's hand tighter as she struggled to get the words out. She didn't have the strength to get off her pallet anymore and the Shaman had made his last visit.
She would be gone by morning.
"What are you sorry for, mom?" I whispered, leaning closer to her it would be easier to hear.
"Sorry for…leaving you alone. Should have stayed with you," she mumbled, her skin pale and waxy as she struggled through the pain.
"You would have been trapped in a life you hated. You would have been miserable if you stayed," I said with a sad smile, thinking of the stories dad still told about her inability to acclimate to our society. She would never have fit in with the soccer moms and business women. She would have faded away until there was just a shell of the vibrant woman left. Although it was lonely and painful to grow up without a mother, I would have rather had ten lifetimes without her, than knowing she was trapped in a life she detested.
"Loved you…so much. Always…loved you," she rasped as her eyes closed. I put my head down on the bed next to her as she took her last breaths, repeating the words back to her.
"I love you too, Mom."
As I stood in the middle of the large circle, my head and heart were resigned. I was saying goodbye to my mother in the way she wanted. I would not be able to visit a grave and feel close to her, but I would forever have a piece of her with me. Davi moved closer to me, supporting me as the tribesmen lit the logs under my mother's body.
I closed my eyes.
The rituals of this slowly dying culture shocked me, but it was what my mother wanted. She felt her soul couldn't be free while it still inhabited her body. The flames sent heat across the circle, making my face sting as I leaned into Davi's side to stay upright. There were chants and words spoken I didn't understand and through it all I just stood there in a daze.
The mother I had known for such a short time was lost to me. Her absence was devastating.
And now that she was gone, all I wanted to do was go home.
"Do not be a stranger," Davi whispered against my cheek. We stood with our arms wrapped around each other in the Caracas Airport, saying goodbye. I would try my hardest to come back down and visit, but now that my mother was gone, it might not be possible. How could I go back to her people, knowing she wasn't there? I'm sure Davi knew that, which was why he was so reluctant to release me when my flight was called.
"You truly are my brother," I said, wiping the tears from my cheeks. Davi smiled and used his sleeve to clear his own wet cheeks.
"Yes," he replied. I patted him on the back before I bent over and picked up my suitcase. Inside was a hand carved gourd that housed a bit of my mother's ashes. Even though she was now forever lost to me, she had been right…a piece of her would live on in her children and in my children. She had raised us well, guiding us in the short time she was in our lives. Though we would always miss her, knowing we carried a piece of her inside each of us would bring comfort and peace.
Dance into Heaven, Katalina...