Translated by David Auerbach
This hand I’ve been dealt is awfully heavy. In the first place, it’s nearly impossible to compose anything more beautiful than Manuel Ponce’s “Estrellita.” Second, Estrella is the name of my mother and my sister. The third reason is completely irrational.
Three years after I was diagnosed HIV positive, Mami invited me to her home in Mayagüez. She sat me down at the table and asked me, “Son, do you have AIDS?” Staring straight back into her eyes, I lied, “No, Mami, I don’t have AIDS.”
Technically, I wasn’t lying because I hadn’t yet developed full-blown AIDS. The gag order that the nurse had imposed on me when she told me the news still had a powerful effect. I kept my mouth shut.
After Hurricane Maria barreled across Puerto Rico, and after surviving that disaster, my mother was struck by another illness. All of her sisters had already suffered from it, but she hadn’t. But when she opened her front door and saw the death and destruction Maria had left in its wake, her memory was wiped clean in just two weeks. The same thing happened to many elders on the island.
Sometimes I call her, and we talk for hours, but five minutes after hanging up the phone she turns to my sister and asks, “Why hasn’t Ángel called?”
The light of her memories is fading fast. That’s why I can finally write this novel, because if she ever gets around to reading it one day, after five minutes she won’t remember a thing.
My sister, who isn’t a doctor, diagnosed her with Alzheimer’s. One day, the president of the Puerto Rico Spiritualists Association told me Alzheimer’s would bring enlightenment to all Puerto Ricans. I couldn’t agree more.
Although I will spare you the agony of hearing the clinical details of my afflictions in the hospital, I won’t end this novel with the main character dying in bed, like some Simón, el Gran Varón.
When I landed in the hospital, and there was no belief that could sustain me, and I felt that nothing could help me survive the catastrophe, I remembered the woman who had inflicted so much violence on me, recalling the terror I read in her eyes when she badgered me about having AIDS. It was then and there that I promised myself I would never die before she did.
Note: This nonfiction is part of Big Other’s Puerto Rican Writers Folio: A Hauntology