Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I Was Always a Less Than Average Sprinter

My hair pokes out in every direction, like little baby Medusa snakes. Curls pop out from under the iron fist of bobby pins and weasel their way through my ponytail holder. Today, short bursts of hair stick straight out above my ears, and as I watch the ground for remnants of tree trunks that serve to trip me, or shattered beer bottles that prey on my feet, I can see that in my shadow that my head has turned into a distorted Mickey Mouse outline. Had I any silverscreen ambititions, I'd be pounding pavement in Hollywood, but instead I find myself here, trying to keep my balance on the sandy path as I briskly stride up to Julieta's house. Nearly two months ago, I was in her neighborhood visiting the patient of another activist. She was like a raisin, this patient, a once vibrant grape who'd shone with the light of her youth, but has since lost all strength and light, and I swear I saw it extinguished when I gazed into her deep almond eyes. We promised to get her to the hospital, to arrange transport from the Provincial Hospital's coordinator and get her a CD4 test, some ARVs and get her back to living again. What happened? Life carried on without her. It's easy to lose sight of those who have no voice. But then on Friday, I was told about another of our patients who had died. He was a feeble, gentle old man, who should not have been referred to as elderly at all. Indeed he was younger than anyone in the States who ever received AARP applications in the mail. But he fell through the cracks of an already overloaded and under-resourced system, and when we finally got him on medication again, it was too late. So today I find myself marching up to Julieta's house with the gusto of a veteran volunteer, who last year at this time wouldn't dare brave the bairro alone but now has the mark of someone who's had enough of a world where nothing is fair. Mama Julieta perches herself on the straw mat below me, breasts flailing about in her nightgown as she pounds grains of rice with the mortar and pestle. I remind her about this patient, the Pale Girl of whose state we lamented back in April and whose almond eyes haunted me after Friday's news. I ask her where the girl's activist is and what we can do to move this process along. I ask and I insist and I suggest and I huff and I puff and then I realize who I'm talking to. A hearty woman who has no qualms about screaming all morning at her philandering husband, yes, but also a woman who looks up at me with something so painfully familiar: the eyes of a light struggling to keep itself lit. I glanced at her mud house and her dwindling waist draped in a pre-colonial capulana. She has many burdens. "Nothing is ever as it seems, Sara, you know this and you've learned this time and again," I thought to myself. No one abandoned this girl. No one got lazy. Life carried on without her because it had to. I gathered my things and sheepishly said farewell while making my way out of the gate, where I found myself struggling to keep my balance on the sandy path. Dodging tree trunks and beer bottles, I was a tributary through the junk, my thoughts trickling past me, contemplative and helpless about the State of the World once again. But as I walked away, there was clapping, thunderous stomping, screaming, shrieking, laughter and whistling flooding out of the primary school and into my tiny stream. I kept walking; the circles of kids under shady mango trees performing the equivalents of "London Bridge" or the "Hokey Pokey" added to the sensational frenetic energy all around me. My droopy posture didn't become ameliorated nor my senses invigorated. "See? Life goes on with or without us, Sara." Oh. So I kept on walking, but slightly faster, because maybe if I picked up the pace a bit, I could catch up with Life.

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