Get out of line. Go back.
I couldn’t hear the others—if they said anything at all. I struggled to make out forms and faces in the dim light that peopled the blackness now with row upon row of assembled figures whose numbers built crowds filling the blackness with a finite infinity of spirits. I wasn’t sure I could see them at all. They were ignoring me.
Except for that message. Go back. I did not know the voice.
I knew them, however. The ancestors. I’d seen them before, that day they’d gathered in the shadows of my mother’s hospital room. Her shallow breaths and motionless form filling my awareness with a different pain. That day the antepasados told me take her home with me, give her a final year of respite and peace.
Today I could not escape the pain burning through me, sending me past the edge of awareness out of the light and into that blackness so total I did not know was I crawling, flying, standing still? But I knew They were out there, and whether I was in a tunnel, a cloud, a concrete nothingness, I persisted toward them.
I expected to see my Dad and my Mom, and groups of gente I didn’t know but instantly recognized as familia. Dimly, the figures began to emerge from blackness. I glimpsed seated and standing souls where there had been none. Groups of little kids played silently around family circles. I ached to hang in the Mora branches and listen to that group of adults telling stories. A face smiled in laughter, a palm slapped a lap as the group shared their favorite jokes.
There wasn’t enough light. I pulled and pushed and clawed my way toward them but made no advance. I began to thirst for light.
My fingers lifted a heavy drape and the ancestors disappeared. The sounds of my distraught familia now gathered around me in the ICU emerged from blackness and cried for illumination. I wanted my family in this world to hear the message I brought.
I had no voice. I was crying for light.
One of the men recognized what my fingers were doing. “He’s spelling Morse Code! From the Army a long time ago. Look!”
I tapped three times. “S” he said. I held up a finger, that’s right it was screaming. I tapped short and long, but no one recognized ‘A’. Dah-dah-dit. Dit.
One of the women said, “is he dyslexic? He’s making letters in the air backwards!” They read the letters together:
I wanted to scream what the ancestors told me on the other side. We would have to begin again.
“Sage,” I whispered and after a few seconds they heard it.
I’d been told to get out of line and return to my people in this world. My people in this room in Huntington hospital, my precious grandchildren in their beds who did not know they’d almost lost grampa. Now we will come together and start again, and I will tell them.
I had died but been turned away by the ancestors.
I’ve been hospitalized for 12 days now, and will remain here another week. When I finally get back home, we will gather outside and I will tell them. We buried Pete and Helen with sage; as my grandmother would have said they were the last of our tribe.
We begin again. We will gather, burn sage, and tell stories. In my ears I’ll remember the voice, “mi’jo, go back.”
Now an extended recuperation begins. I'll read a lot, write a lot, remember all this.
Western medicine is a marvel. Not just the technology and medicines, the people. Wondrously caring gente attending to sickness throughout the night. Incredibly smart, all the top students in their classes showing how their teachers were right: these are top notch scientists and care-givers, the best our modern culture creates. So many immigrants.
Still, el cucui--the spirit world--looms large in gente with traditional experiences and values. Without the antepasados to keep me here with their powerful medicine, I wouldn't be able to tell you more.