They Tore Out the Flowers
My father’s last words to me were “Catalina, estás llena de gracia, comparte tu espíritu.” Or, “Catalina you are full of grace, share your spirit.” He wrote these in the form of a letter right before the government assassinated him in conspiracy of association with the liberation front. He died in no one’s arms, but was miraculously returned to my family days later. When life was at its weakest we had no running water, no electricity, but what I always carried with me was art. Art mends souls, but most importantly, it whispers stories. In a world where apocalypse was reality, painting was my shield and weapon. I shared my spirit, as my father’s last words asked of me, by reaching my hands out wide and telling the tales of those who couldn’t. My padre, he wasn’t just a number, he was a miracle. The light that shined through him guided so many people and brought hope into times of great sorrow. He preached through the gospel, he outwardly opposed the oppression caused by the war, and he loved deeply. He worshipped our país, and when his body arrived, our pueblo mourned. But now, the war is over, and we are once again “free." Our country remains naturally bountiful and beautiful, but depression has hit ever harder. Still, I paint.
Imagine a scape filled with shades of lime and moss. Hughes of cerulean and turquoise.
These colors are cultural, they matter. They create the narrative of our country. Our values are guided by beauty formed naturally. We create color. From the stitched fabrics of our attire to our food. So when I paint, I do the same. I want everything I do to be guided by the love, the passion, my father once had for this place. The government tore out the flowers, but they cannot get rid of the roots. They are sprouting all among us as we rebuild slowly.
I wander the streets of San Salvador when I’m done work at the panaderia. The sun shines as I make my way through the aisles of clothes, fresh fruit, and toys. I adore the loudness and banter of the stall owners. The gossip and goings of life filled with laughter and intrigue. Pick-up trucks speed by, many with farm workers leaning over the railings. The streets barely wide enough to allow them, yet the drivers seem to race with confidence. Although it’s clear that conflict has made its impact, our buildings remain colorful, like the spirits of those who live within them. Children race past me and stray dogs wag their tails in hopes of getting morsels from my bags. I make a stop at a produce booth and examine the varied fruits and vegetables on sale. Fresh guava. I can’t resist. I exchange my loose coins for one and my smile grows thinking of the flavors on my tongue. I leave the market space and make my way to the bus. I will go home, but first I will sit by the water and paint the ocean. I will paint the sun as it sets, and I will absorb every ounce of joy it brings me. Then I will return to San Rafael where my mother will be waiting, most likely impatient.
When I finally get home, my mother, is as always, waiting. Yet something is different. She appears enthused. She’s setting the table for dinner and music is playing through her radio. As she lays out plates, she twirls from chair to chair in perfect rhythm and hums quietly, her eyes closed as to take in the harmonies. When she sees me she exclaims “Catalina I have the most wonderful news! Your tío in Los Angeles has made room for us and he wants us to come and live with him. Imagine, Catalina, The City of Angels. A fresh start for you, me, and Rafael. Better schools, you can go to college! We will be with family once more!”
I could see the tears welling up in her eyes. Her fists clench and rise towards her face and then drop, finger tips flared out, as she takes a deep sigh. I have no idea how to react. I’m in near shock. Los Angeles? This was our home. This was papa’s paradise. How could we leave him? I start to shake my head in disbelief but my madre grabs my hands. “No, Catalina, don’t say no, this is everything. Think about our future. Think about Rafael.” I pull my hands away, folding my arms inward and turning my head towards the floor. I walk back out the door. My happiness from the day now diminished to dust. I sit down on a bench. Looking toward the moon, tears are released. “Papa I miss you every day. How can I leave this place?” My shoulders become hunched and I pull my knees in, wrapping my arms around them tightly, head pushing into them. Hoping that maybe, I can disappear. I remain there quietly, contemplating what I should do. How could I stay if my family goes? But how could I leave knowing papa will be here?
The night has crawled its way into my palms before I take a deep breath and walk back into our home. Mama and Rafael are sitting at the table. The foods’ aromas have wafted into my nose and I’m overcome by my hunger. My mother smiles up at me and gestures to the open seat, where a plate has been prepared for me. I eat in silence as my little brother talks about his day. His energy is whimsical and even though his childhood was spent under fire, he still has so much youthful magic that remains in his soul. After dinner is finished, I go to my room where I sit with a pencil and begin to write. I decide to write a letter to my padre. I will visit him tomorrow. Sitting with him has never failed to help resolve an issue.
When I’m done, I go to bed and close my eyes. I find my tiredness quickly and drift into sleep. When I wake, It’s early in the day and the heat has not peaked. The cool breeze rushes through me as I make my way to our Iglesia where the cemetery is. I find papa’s stone where I sit and read the note. After, I intertwine my fingers, clasp my hands together, and pray. When I open my eyes, something is different. There is fog around the entire space, so thick you can no longer see the greenery or light of day. I turn around in confusion trying to figure out what happened, but then I feel a tap on my back. My shoulders go up in shock, but as I turn around, I am greeted by a familiar face. My papa. The dirt and blood once covering his lifeless skin have disappeared. I grab hold quickly as to not pass up even a second of time. I burrow my face into his chest and squeeze tightly. This is all I can ever ask for. He pulls me off slightly after a minute and looks me in the eyes.
“Catalina, you are everything I could have wanted from a daughter and more. You are getting so old, how has the time passed?”
“It’s been two years, Papa.”
“I know my sweet, and I see you growing every day. Don’t think that I’m not still watching.”
“Then you know that mama-”
“Wants to move to Los Angeles? I’m aware mi amor.”
“But how can I ever leave this place. This is my heart and soul. This is the only place where I can find you in every step I take, every picture I paint.”
Papa smiles deeply at me. His warmth radiating around us like a home.
“Catalina, do not fear losing me or El Salvador. What did I say to you before I left earth?”
“To share my spirit papa. But-”
“To share. How do we share better than through our stories. You can take your stories with you, even when leaving home. And you my dear, you have the gift of telling stories through hand and brush. You can’t let your stories go untold. Yet here, you remain among those who already know them. Isn’t it time that more people hear what you have to say?”
“I guess, but how can I leave you?”
“Sweetheart look to the sky and tell me what you see.”
I look upwards and see the clouds parting. I see the sun beaming down and feel the warmth that was once radiating from my father now beating down on me. When I go to look back he has gone and I am back in front of his grave. No fog, but still the wonder. I fall to my knees and touch the earth below me. My letter is gone but flowers begin to grow. The wonders of god. The wonders of El Salvador.
I pick myself up and I give one last glance, before starting for the path that leads back through the village to home. I know that my madre will be waiting.