None of us remembers a time before her. She had with her three spirits we could not see or feel or imagine; they were with her, the shaman said, to protect her.
“Shall I send them away?”
“Only if they are ready.”
“They are. Finally.”
I AM WRITING in front of the church—parked here in the first rays of morning sun—that, many years ago, my abuelita and I would attend, every day for morning mass. Most days we would make the short pilgrimage, five blocks on foot, where I would sit by her side, impatient, lost in the Spanish voices, their whispered and fervent cadence like a trance, a portal to some communion that neither of us could see but understood nonetheless. Her home on the edge of town bordered an irrigation ditch I would play in as a boy; it flowed east, out of Antonito, toward the distant Sangre de Cristo range, toward the farms of barley, alfalfa, and potatoes. Spring and summer were times of joy; autumn a respite from the endless chinook winds of spring and the incessant mosquitoes of summer.
Winters are always difficult. Days like today, mid-January, made our walk more difficult. The morning sun would do little to warm our bodies as we made our daily journey to receive the body and the blood, to commune with our ancestors, those silent and those heard in the prayers we recited from memory—custom and a grace we sometimes mistake for survival. That is why I am writing, for the ancestors, the kin who carry us, lead us, follow us, linger just beyond the visible so that someday they may guide us to the home we hold in our hearts but have not visited for some time.
That is why I am writing, for the ancestors, the kin who carry us, lead us, follow us, linger just beyond the visible so that someday they may guide us to the home we hold in our hearts but have not visited for some time.
The tecatos are walking by. It is cold out, eight below zero as the sun barely creeps over the Sangre de Cristo. They are moving quickly, not from the cold but for their morning fix at the drug house on Eleventh Street. Two days prior there was a blizzard, winds at sixty miles an hour, and the snow blew horizontal to the Earth. Twin calves were born in the bosque. Such a birth is rare. Both of the newborns perished in the blizzard.
This, too, is why I am writing.
So much is about faith and survival here at eight thousand feet. Last night, it was twenty below. I don’t wish to oversimplify things. For instance, I am not sure I remember how to write anything that is good, but something makes me seek the silence and resolana of my vehicle outside the church where years ago my abuelita would pray, perhaps to the same ancestors who now watch over me and my family. Here, I am with my family, their spirit; their eternal parts make their way toward me in a procession of voices, and together we write this, me their conduit of past struggles and occasional triumphs.
The road in front of the church leads to the drug house on Eleventh, where every morning—in the thinnest slivers of dawn and the most impenetrable of cold—the emaciated tecatos make their way for their morning fix. Later, the day will warm to twenty-three degrees and the sunlight on snow will shimmer. The sunken eyes of the hopeless will make their way back toward their own homes; theirs is a darkness and desolation deeper than abandoned wells. Their despair is not a different loss than the others on display here in my hometown, pieces of all of us sold in desperation and necessity. I sometimes pray that one day we will all not be left landless, without possessions, on foot.
I am called to write about kin. I cannot help but think that what I am really being asked to consider is not kin but protectors. Here is another prayer. That my ancient protectors stay with me until it is safe for them to leave, their work done, lessons bestowed upon me and those they follow or guide out of faith, protective love, and eternal hope.
None of us remembers a time before her. She, the tiny child, with a presence that fills rooms, sent to us para sanar corazones heridos, sent to erase time—the faint and fading markers of sadness etched into our memory—the time before you, dear child of ancient and potent medicine who was sent to heal us.
Our daughter came to live with us on April 1, 2012, readopted from her previous home, a chamber of literal hunger, abuse, and pain. We knew instantly, the day we first met her, that we would love her forever. We knew, immediately, that she was indomitable. Her body was so tiny; the family that endeavored to break her used food as their tool of choice, the absence of which left her, despite having lived in the United States for over two years, without growing an inch or gaining a pound, all while the others in the family thrived, ate well. For some reason they tried to break her, first her will and then her body. She was so diminutive, five years old yet uncowered. None of us remembers a time before her. She, the tiny child, with a presence that fills rooms, sent to us para sanar corazones heridos, sent to erase time—the faint and fading markers of sadness etched into our memory—the time before you, dear child of ancient and potent medicine who was sent to heal us.
Her protectors followed her to Antonito. They crossed oceans with her. They lived beside her, guided her, there in that house that looked east from a high hill, overlooking Denver and Golden to the east. Perhaps it was the hands of her ancient kin, their voices guiding her—telling her where to hoard the crust of bread, where to hide dog food and crackers to eat later when the hunger was beyond what many can or will ever imagine. There were three of them, spirit protectors, that must have told her when no one was looking so she could steal bits of food from the plates of her so-called family.
This, then, is kin. Kin, not of blood necessarily but of time, of longing, of human necessity—and these, all of them, these spirits, are your family, the word upon the soul’s ear that is made kin.
These addicts moving north on River Street, toward Eleventh, where are their kin? Have they stopped arriving? Protecting? What losses, forces of assimilation, ache, keep them at bay? Why do some kin haunt and others heal? These are the questions. Why I write.
My daughter’s kin were sent to her some six hundred centuries before. I believe this.