I don’t know if dreams really mean anything more than what we want them to mean. Maybe that’s enough. It’s possible that somewhere in the years leading up to the earthquake that woke the volcano I had heard someone speak of it and that’s why it came to me in dreams long before it was reported in the news. The need to fully explain or understand those things was abandoned when I realized there was a good chance I wouldn’t know what to do with the meaning if by some miracle it came to me.
I sat up in the bed to remind myself it was only a dream. My mom said prayers to try and rid me of the nightmares. She did a limpia on me and called my grandma in California to see what else might help. I heard her say that the doctor told her they didn’t know why my legs kept hurting and that I was probably making it up. After much consultation with aunts, ladies from work and neighbors, it was decided that the nightmares were the result of susto— I must have been startled so bad the experience was still stuck inside me.
At the last visit my mom asked the doctor if he had any idea where I had learned to convincingly fake a fever so good it required the school nurse to call work so she could pick me up twice that week. The doctor assured my mother it was common for children to get growing pains and it would soon pass. It would take years of increasing pain and a visit to the place life meets what comes next to find a name for one of my demons, an auto immune disease. Lupus. I didn’t know the words you were supposed to use to pray. The few times we went to church it was in Spanish but I only recognized a few of the words. At night I would mumble words that sounded like the ones I heard people saying as they knelt in prayer. It was neither Spanish nor English but I knew God would understand my request. I wanted him to know I wished to stop growing that instant.
My mom told my aunts about the old lady and old man in my dreams that were always sitting on the inside of the volcano on a ledge. They both sat with their knees pulled to their chest. I sat crisscrossed near the old lady. I wasn’t afraid and it wasn’t hot. Besides, I knew I would only be in the volcano for a short time. I would wake up at the same time each night for eight days in a row. Freedom and sleep were mine for ten days each month. I always started in the volcano but always made it out. I could do things in my dreams I couldn’t do in real life. I swam like a fish and even drove my mom’s car.
It was winter and the temperature of the little space we inhabited varied in temperature. My mom told us that where we used to live it never got this cold and I wished we were there. The warmest space– a small room used as kitchen and living room could best be described as cold. The second warmest room was very cold and the third room, the bathroom, required you to wear your jacket if you wanted to make it out alive without frostbite. I was six years old and disliked soap and water almost as much as I hated sitting on a cold toilet seat. I had mastered the art of the fake cough. I had to use it sparingly and could never directly call attention to it or my mom would figure out it was faked to get out of going to school. I didn’t have snow boots and on the days the snow was high enough there was no way I would get to school with dry feet. My mom came up with a solution, plastic bags wrapped around our shoes held into place over the bottom of our pant legs with a rubber band so the bottom of our pants would stay dry too. She looked tired as she fashioned the last grocery bag leg warmer contraption around the last of us. She didn’t get put on the list to stay over an extra four hours that shift and got there just as I was herding the cry babies out the door on the march to school. I was extra happy thinking I had escaped the grocery bag torture. I didn’t mind wet shoes and pants. They would dry in no time. The cry babies didn’t know what was good for them and were happy when my mom whipped out the large ball of grocery bags she saved under the kitchen sink. They were shorter than I was and the snow reached heights that made it look like they peed themselves. I wouldn’t let that opportunity go to waste if they didn’t behave on the walk to school. I would threaten to tell the other kids that would join us on the walk that they had peed if they slowed us down or started fighting with each other. In the 10 minutes it took for us to get our protective gear on the tattlers told my mom that they asked me to put the “moon boots” on them but I told them they were not moon boots, they were just dumb plastic bags and we didn’t have any. They asked my mom if dumb was a bad word because they thought it was but I told them it was not.
My first trick or treating night without my mom trailing us came only after weeks of explaining that I was grown up enough to bang on stranger’s doors demanding candy on my own. If my choice of costume didn’t convey my maturity enough, I don’t know what would have. The only sequins on me that Halloween would be on the old shop glove I used as the base for my Michael Jackson sparkle glove. I was grown. I wore her down but only after she and several other moms strictly narrowed down the Halloween candy circuit to radius of a few blocks from home. “Stay close” they said as the small mob of sticky handed ghosts and princesses made their way down the street led by the best looking Michael Jackson the small town of Quincy had ever seen.
I could never resist the tangy sourness of cucumbers drowned in lemon juice, Tapatio sauce and salt. Those three ingredients can go on almost anything– popcorn, mango, watermelon, oranges, slices of lemons (yes, lemon juice on lemons), like I said almost anything.
I once tried something I saw one of my aunts do– sprinkle the contents of a packet of lemon Kool-Aid on anything you would add lemon juice and salt to. I had a near death experience and figured I hadn’t been introduced to this potent mix early enough in life to live through another attempt. There would be no more powdered Kool-Aid on my snacks.
It was May and my little brother was recovering from having his appendix removed. The same doctor that told my mom the leg pains and fever that never seemed to leave me that year were a product of my imagination also told my mom that my baby brother kept crying and was inconsolable because he was spoiled. My mom’s reaction was not surprising to me. If I had been allowed to speak while my mom was talking, I would have told him to run. The doctor could not have known that the defeated and tired looking woman who smelled of greasy fries and smoke from the french fry plant she just finished working her fifth 12 hour shift in a row had more fight in her on her worst day than he could ever scrape together in his lifetime. She finished high school and worked as a nursing assistant in California and again in Washington at a place they said crazy people lived. Our school bus would drive by there and kids would whisper that the mean bus driver probably escaped from there. The job didn’t pay enough so she abandoned her dream of going to school and being a nurse like the ones who never had to figure out how they were going to change the diaper of a confused old man who would pull her hair and spit at her because he thought she killed his wife. A real nurse that could sit at a desk even if she wasn’t on break and no one would yell at her and ask if she didn’t have anything better to do. Just as my mom finished telling the doctor what he could do with his professional opinion of my made up swollen joints and fever and her baby’s cries that were now accompanied by fits of wretching, one of those real nurses came rushing in to make sure everyone was ok. In less than 24 hours we would be in California and as my brother lay in the intensive care unit of the same hospital he had been born in, my father was facing the end of the world on his own.
The sky turned black and adults not at church that Sunday morning fell to their knees. It was May 18, 1980. At 8:32 am, Mt. St. Helens, a volcano nearly 300 miles away from our home in Washington had awoken and was at once released from my dreams. “What does it mean?” my mom asked my grandma and other ladies as they quickly changed the channel showing reports of the eruption as me and my cousins came to see if the food was ready. They had no answer and knew it was best to say nothing of the dreams of a little girl that resembled dreams less and less. On that first visit back to California after we moved to Washington I was introduced to these unnaturally large pickles they sold at every corner store. I knew we couldn’t stay there forever and would soon return to my father and the small giant pickleless town. They sat floating in a glass jar that could have easily fit one of the small pigs we used to butcher to celebrate birthdays, baptisms or for the pure love of chicharrones. The lady behind the counter would grab the pickle with tongs and hand the beast to you in a triangle of flimsy wax paper. It was not meant to be a long term storage or transport container– you had better eat that pickle before you made it home. They weren’t the prettiest things around and the longer they were exposed to the open air, the more questionable your choice of the pickle over Boston Baked Beans and Lemon Heads became. Years of unsweetened lemon Kool-Aid sprinkled on almost anything had dulled the senses of my aunt, who was only a few years older than me along with the gang of cousins that joined me in trailing her to the store. I believed her when she said the pickles were the best. They must be, she always got one whenever my grandma gave her spare change. She was tall and beautiful and I wanted to be just like her. My mom loved her youngest sister so much she gave me her name, my middle name. With my quarter on the counter I pointed to the pickles and readied myself for the magical experience I was hoping not only tasted great but also made me grow a few inches over night and straighten out my two front teeth. My aunt had perfect teeth.
I finished that first monster pickle before clearing the front door of the house. “What’s wrong?” my mom asked as I rushed by her to the bathroom with the sourness of 10 packs of bitter Kool-Aid burning everything from my nostril hairs to my tonsils. “Growing pains” I shouted between hurls and a grin over the surprise they would all be marveling over tomorrow when I arose from my beauty sleep surely transformed. When we returned from California all the yards in the trailer park still had a dusty veil of the silky ash. My baby brother alive and dreams of the volcano replaced with a new puzzle. Every two weeks the little ball of plastic bags grew. My dad said winter would come early that year.
Estela, The Dreamer