In honor of the victims of the Tlatelolco massacre, 1972, Mexico City
You see your pale, wrinkled hands folded over a long white rose. You see shadows hovering around you. They are whispering as though you are sleeping, as though they do not want to disturb you. As though they are not about to bury you.
A child shakes you and calls you Abuelo. A woman touches your cheek. My Love, she says. You could have lived a thousand lives, but this is the one you choose. This is the ending you imagine—your body resting in a hand-carved wooden case with the smell of roses in your nostrils and the people you love at your side. This is how you choose to be remembered.
You see your hands braiding rainbow pulseras on the sidewalk. If you sell enough, you will bring tortillas and chicken to your family for dinner. If you sell more, you can buy candy. The day is hot for October. People pour into the plaza. Young men with long hair and women with bead necklaces. They carry signs. They chant. It sounds like a song they have all learned together that you never heard of. You do not stop to listen. You have twenty more pulseras to sell and you don’t have time to linger. The crowds become thicker. It is good for business.
You see your hands dipping into a bag of tamarind. You lick your sticky fingers. It was a profitable day. The sun is already setting but Plaza de las Tres Culturas is still full of people. They press and push into you. You see helicopters circling above. You try to find your way out of the growing crowd but now there are guards everywhere. Men in white uniforms and large rifles, blocking the alleys, even the best shortcuts. You ask where else you can go but none of them respond. You cannot see their faces behind the helmets.
A spark of red ignites the sky. You have never seen a flare before.
You see your hands on the pavement as someone knocks you over. Go home, one of the men in the white uniforms tells you, it’s not safe here for you. People have started running and screaming. You hear loud popping sounds. Someone else tramples on your hand, crushing bone. You will feel the pain later. You have to get up. You have to go home. But you rush with the crowd like driftwood caught in the current in the wrong direction.
You see nothing as your hands cover your eyes. But it is too late. You cannot unsee the bodies on the pavement, strewn about like litter. You never knew blood was so bright.
You see your hands wrapped around a bottle. You drink cheap mezcal until it burns a hole in your throat. You have never been drunk before. You roam the streets. You do not know where you are and nothing looks familiar. You stay up for as long as it takes for the night to pass. You will never sleep again. Sleeping is for those with no fears, those with nothing to wake them in the deep of the night. You have never been so tired. You envy sleepers. The lovers huddled together in their tin shacks, the vegetable seller lying in his wheelbarrow, the drunks sprawled under the bridge. They fall into dreamless oblivion with the flick of their eyelashes and the coil of their warm bodies. You do not want to think about the bodies. You look closer to make sure they are alive. That they are breathing.
You see your hand holding a spoon. You are a young man now but you feel as if the years have been one long shudder. You eat Sunday soup with your parents like every other weekend. You are beginning to taste again. You are learning to sleep a little. Your father asks about your job. Your mother tells you she wants to introduce you to someone. They tell you you must move on. For their sakes, you try.
You see your hand sliding a ring on a woman’s finger. She is all in white, too beautiful. You do not deserve her. The curve of her cheeks, the bright eyes, the moist lips. She whispers into your ear that she loves you. She knows your darkness. She is light. Maybe, with her, you can forget. Maybe, in her arms, you will find true sleep again.
You see your hand pushing a swing. A child laughs as he rockets through the air. He has his mother’s laugh, her bright eyes. You smile at your daughter. She is a portrait of her mother. Love and pride makes your heart ache. Most nights, you don’t dream at all. And when you do, it is of the family you have and the legacy you have created.
You see your hands folded over a long white rose. You are dead in another lifetime. In this memory, the one you are making now, you are not lying in a hand-carved wooden case built for memorable men, for men who leave their name emblazoned in the world.
You are lying in the plaza, looking at the sky.
A helicopter rattles overhead. A dog is licking the blood off the street. Clouds sweep over you like the swirl of ghosts. Maybe they are here for you, and for all the poor souls lying on the street beside you, waiting to be claimed. They reach for you and you hold out your hand.
Nobody wants to die alone.
Your hands are young. There is no ring on your finger. You have never been in love, you realize. There are no wrinkles, either. You have never aged. Time has been stolen from you before you knew time existed.
You are only fourteen. But in your last moments, you could have loved a million times. In your final breath, you could have lived one hundred years. Now you will never live again.