Are You Awake?

My mother and my uncle’s wife pretended to like each other. But they were so terrible at hiding their mutual loathing, that I never understood why they didn’t stop the farce and tell each other to go to hell. Or, at least, they should’ve had the decency to slap each other around until their ill-camouflaged glares bled some meaning into the world.

We traveled to the city to visit with my aunt and uncle every year. I had a love-hate relationship with the trip. My uncle was a fun military man, who always had a story for me. I was in awe of him and his white uniform. But his wife annoyed me. I wasn’t crazy about the fact that she would make my mother and I sleep on a plastic-covered couch in the living room. I wouldn’t have minded the floor. But she always said that she was afraid that “the kid would pee” on her carpet. The kid was almost a prepubescent!

The last time we visited my aunt and uncle was a somber affair for almost everyone involved. Except for me, I was a bundle of jolliness—my uncle was in the hospital, so I would get to spend some time with him without having to sleep on his wife’s horrid couch.

All the happiness was ripped out of my heart, when we got to the hospital and a doctor told me that I could not stand too close to my uncle. “He is very sick,” she said to my mother. “And her allergies,” I had a skin disease that blessed me with a childhood covered in oozing sores… I have no idea why they called it allergies, “her allergies make her vulnerable.”

“But… can I talk to him?” I began to cry. Not because of what the doctor said, but because my mother was trying to hide sobs behind her hands—few things are scarier to a kid than the sight of a grown up crying. “He’s supposed to tell me about the time he ate his boots.” All of my uncle’s stories were like that.

“You can speak to him from the side of the bed, okay?” The doctor squeezed my shoulder. I looked at the floor and bit my lip, so that she wouldn’t notice that she had just touched a particularly angry sore.

In front of my uncle’s hospital room, my mother helped me put on gloves and a facemask. “Don’t bother him,” she told me. “He can’t talk too much. You’ll say goodbye and wait for me outside.”

I didn’t say anything, just followed her into the room, and almost retched when the hot and thick scent of decay ripped through my nose and gut.

My uncle’s wife sat in a metal chair by the door, her arms crossed, her eyes red. She stood up to kiss my mother on the cheek. They began a whispered argument, and I walked closer to my uncle’s tiny bed.

His face was yellowish and swollen. “Tío?” I said, but his eyes remained closed as tightly as his cracked lips. I leaned on the mattress, and whispered a little louder, “Tío, are you awake?”

I’m not exactly sure what happened next. But my mother was dragging me out of the room. I couldn’t breathe. And my breakfast had hurled itself from my stomach to the front of my dress.

The bus trip home was a confused dream, a nightmare that wouldn’t be fooled by open eyes. I didn’t talk to my mother. She hadn’t spoken to me when she helped clean my dress. But through the stink-soaked veil of my nightmare world, my ears heard my mother tell another passenger about maggots eating my uncle’s back, and about how “The bitch that tricked him into marrying her was to blame for the rot.”

the wee notes…
– I’m almost sure that this was one of the experiences that nudged me towards joining the military—I really wanted to know what sort of circumstances could make a girl eat her own boots.
– Linked to Prompt Nights: “To travel is to take a journey into Yourself,” Sanaa said. “Life is a long road on a short journey during which we gather a bundle of good and bad” that can “break us or make us stronger. In the end it’s we who decide the outcome, and let the wings of fate take us where they may.”

My Colorful Dream, by Magaly Ohika“My Colorful Dream”, by Magaly Ohika
(find more of her wonderful work on her Etsy shop: The Itsy Bitsy Spill)

43 thoughts on “Are You Awake?

  1. “Or, at least, they should’ve had the decency to slap each other around” … I love this. 🙂

    “I had a skin disease that blessed me with a childhood covered in oozing sores” … You poor baby. 🙁

    “few things are scarier to a kid than the sight of a grown up crying” … So true. It makes things hard for a mommy, forcing herself not to have/express emotions.

    “He’s supposed to tell me about the time he ate his boots.” … Love this!

    “and almost retched when the hot and thick scent of decay ripped through my nose and gut” … Yikes. That must have been terrifying.

    “Tío?” … This warms my heart. I miss hearing everyone speak Spanish, especially with affection. (I’m from Texas, so it should be my second language. But it’s not.)

    “a nightmare that wouldn’t be fooled by open eyes” … That’s fantastic. This is my favorite part. … Damn, the whole rest of that paragraph, actually. WOW.

    I can’t tell you how much more I love you, seeing that you called your own work “wonderful.” It absolutely is, but too many people don’t think much of themselves. That’s why I’m so drawn to you. You think/know you’re awesome, and you’re not afraid to express that.

    • And about the almost retching, I don’t remember being scared… just very confused, and angry. I don’t think I had realized just how sick he was before that day. It was a bit of shock. I wonder if I felt cheated–I’m sure I was told about how serious his state was before we visited the hospital, but you know that the mind of child can be very, very, very selective…

  2. Oh wow, this is so powerful. All these people’s fears and judgements crowding in on a soul slipping away. My childhood was so “clean” compared to yours, but I don’t know what that means.

  3. The last part made my eyes bug out… I think I may have told u how I never liked my MIL.. her control over those close was unbearable… anyway all the years she was alive I thought I was the only one that wasn’t crazy about her.. I tolerated her for obvious reasons… When she passed, I learned how others felt the same about her as I did.. can u imagine the look on my face? All those years no one spoke up and after she was gone, everything surfaced… Makes me wonder why we are so afraid to speak our minds… What would she do to us? get angry?, cry?-which she could do at a drop of the hat… I just feel justified knowing what I felt was logical.

  4. What a traumatic experience for a child to see a favorite relative in that condition. She should have been prepared by the adults and given a choice. Now, she will always remember this beloved uncle this way. You captured perfectly the horror of the child and the malice presented by the mother and aunt.

    • I don’t think very young children can ever make sense of the sight of a person wasting away. It’s too much.

      And it seems that the answer is yes, there are multiple Magalys… but only one me. 😀

  5. Yes those fond childhood memories of the people we loved. Mine was the time I snuck into the hospital to see my dad for what would be the last time. And the craziness of mentally ill family members dragging me out.

    Too bad you didn’t pee on that woman’s carpet in a corner somewhere. I do believe your Tio would be so proud of you. Did you ever figure out how you could eat your boots? Hugs and love!

  6. How beautifully descriptive this story is from a child’s viewpoint. I am sure each one of us has tales such as this waiting to come out. Curiously eating ones own boots was a well know saying in Britain in WW2 which was appropriate really as food was so short then and there were very few fat people!

  7. Very well written, I can feel the child’s fear… She must have been even more scared because she didn’t understand much about what was going on…

  8. “I didn’t talk to my mother. She hadn’t spoken to me when she helped clean my dress.” I imagine it was one of those times when words cannot convey anything…

  9. Whistles!! ❤💜 This is absolutely incredible writing, Magaly 😀 I was absolutely mesmerized from the beginning to the end. Especially caught by the part where ‘my ears heard my mother tell another passenger about maggots eating my uncle’s back, and about how “The bitch that tricked him into marrying her was to blame for the rot.” made me gasp and wonder what would have happened next! Beautifully executed. Thank you so much for participating at Prompt Nights and for your constant love and support ❤💜

    Lots of love,

  10. Wow, what an experience for a young person or anyone for that matter. You have described it all so well, I could feel her confusion, frustration and shock. Never to be forgotten.

  11. Really like (appreciate) your writing style. You call it dark so I was at first hesitant to read it not wanting to be put in a “dark” mood myself, but after reading your poetry I realized the dark is not a bad, rude, witchy dark. It’s simply the side of life people discard. This story is, to me, real. As real as it gets. I like the way you write about the dark (real/true) side of life.

    • I think there is a lot of misinformation out there, when it comes to witchery… Popular literature and television and some people’s refusal to see beyond their own world view might have something to do with it. To me, witchy means of the earth, to live with the knowledge that all beings are important in the universe, to understand that we aren’t whole if we don’t embrace (and explore in order to make sense of) the dark and light aspects of our souls. When we “discard” the terrible things we experience, when we don’t look behind the dark veil that hides the scary bits of us, we give up our chance at finding balance. And for a witchy soul few things are as important as balance.

      I’ve chosen to explore dark fiction and dark poetry (and share it) because so many others write about the lighter aspects. And I share glimpses of my witchy living–what happens to me from day to day–in hope that those who only know of the “witches” they’ve seen in TV and read in books, written by people who can’t see beyond their own beliefs, have the chance to see that most real life witches are just people.

      Hope that makes a bit of sense. 🙂

    • Goodness, I remember that little girl… You might not be saying this, if you had met her. She was a bit of wild imp. She bit and scratched… and laughed with her entire belly every chance she got. She still does. 😉

  12. This is a very touching story, Magaly. I wish I can give that young child a hug; to witness a loved one fading away is difficult even for adults to handle. I resonated with your story so much as I too, “had a skin disease that blessed me with a childhood covered in [blisters and] sores…” an ‘allergy’ no doctor could tell what it was. Such vivid and well-written memories.💙

    • You, too? Really! Did you wake up stuck to your sheets and dreading having to peel the fabric off your skin? Did you walk around covered in white stuff (my mom and grandma always covered me in some white ointment that was supposed to soothe the itching and keep me from scratching… it never worked, but it keep them happy lol!).

      So strange to learn of another child who went through the same. By the way, these days, the doctors believe that the skin condition was probably related to the bacteria in my stomach and/or the Crohn’s Disease. But I think they are just guessing…

      • Yep! I went through all that; smelly ointments and the rest, and as a result I had few friends as a child. 🙂 My parents spent a lot of money on doctors all over the country trying to find a cure. There was never a cure (only different diagnoses that it might be an allergy, too much exposure to the ‘African’ sun or being overweight) but as I grew older sores disappeared. But I still have faded marks on my legs (sores were mostly on legs) even today. So, yes when I read your story I could relate so much.

        You would think with advanced technologies nowadays, it would be easy to diagnose but no. Sometimes sickness becomes a blessing for we learn to take care of ourselves and health. Good luck again as you start your running exercises…*hugs*

        • I was lucky on the friend bit. Growing up in a farm, it seems kids were not afraid of funny stinks. There is also a slight possibility that I might’ve chased my friends around threatening to smear the goo all over them. They thought it was hysterical.

          I have marks, too… particular any spot I could easily scratch. But they aren’t too bad.

          And I completely agree on the bit about that experience helping us learn to take care of ourselves. and also teaching us that being alone isn’t so bad every now and then (especially when one has a book or two). 🙂

  13. Some memories get stuck no need of gluing.
    Its amazing the way you regurgitated these events of your onward journeying.
    Thanks for the detour and the look back

    much love…

  14. Magaly!!!! What a read! My heart goes out to you! It’s so true, the things we go through in life, will either break us or make us stronger! Big Hugs!
    (I thought the art piece was done by you too!)

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