When someone adopts they have to reach their hand into a rotting cave and pray to any sort of God that they grab onto you and only you. Like any natural birth, I came with the slime of my mother stuck onto me. For my tenth birthday, I asked my adoptive parents for pictures of this mother, Flora Vasquez. The lawyer who facilitated my adoption went up into the hills of San Lorenzo, Guatemala to hunt Flora down. They sent me a compiled photo album filled with pictures of this woman. I thought seeing Flora would bring me peace.
In them, she stands barefoot on the scorched back roads of San Lorenzo. Her body looks waterlogged, like drowning victims who stretch into blue balloons. All the stretching makes her skin crack into reptilian patterns.
Flora looks dead. The way Americans see dead people.
In Mayan culture we give a lot of power to our deceased. Families sometimes choose to bury bodies in a flexed position so they can fight their way through the Otherworld, a terrain mixed with a little bit of Heaven and a little bit of Hell — where anything can jump out at you. We look into the moon whenever we want a conversation with our ancestors. But in America, death is a cracked egg on a cool stovetop.
In late August 1993, three months into my life, the country was still three years shy of a final cease-fire in a 40-year, U.S backed civil war against Flora’s people —– my people. That August, my adoptive mother arrived in Guatemala City. I still see her as my Christian godsend, sent to deliver me from this war boiling over. The two of us spent most of our time hidden away in a locked hotel room beneath the northern hills.
The government thought these hills could act as sound barriers against the noisiness of massacres. They wanted the rest of Guatemala to remain ripe and unbruised to the rumblings in the hills. But Mayans settled here because each hill was pocked with dozens of caves. A thousand hollowed out and moistened portals to the Otherworld. These caves do not absorb sounds. Instead, they sing.
My adoptive mother heard these apocalyptic whispers only miles from the city’s center. “I just wanted to get you home.” She smiles now when telling me this, because I’m safe from the rising steam of Guatemala.
When we finally headed for Washington D.C., my mom took pictures of me sitting in her lap. I am frozen in a toothless laugh. Below us, my other mother makes her way back into the northern hills of San Lorenzo. She disappears from me for a decade and turns to look into the eyes of a screaming god. I wonder if this mother thinks of my birth in the form of a Mayan death. I carry on with a knife in hand, stabbing my way through the Otherworld as she and the rest of my people rot.
Flora haunts me. My own American ghost.
~ Marissa Kurtz
Marissa Kurtz is a senior English major with a Media and Cultural Studies minor at Macalester College. Adopted from Guatemala as an infant, her transnational and transracial adoptee identity often propels the direction of her writing and thinking.