In my dreams I am back at the farm where I was raised. I am back as my current self, not as the 10-year-old child with buckling knees and grass-stained Limited Too t-shirts. The never-ending 15-acre property used to thrill me, running up and down the lanes of avocado trees and yucca roots and chicken coops. I’d roll up the waist on my basketball shorts so I’d have more agility to run, so the ends of the shorts don’t get stuck to my sweaty legs. After 12 pm when the sun gets hot enough the mosquitos back off since your body is coated in a layer of dewy sweat slime.
Everyday my grandfather wakes up before the sun and puts on his best linen shirt, tucks it into his underpants, buttons his khakis, and fastens it with a narrow exotic brown belt. There is a sculpture almost two feet tall of San Lazaro in his closet. He also wears San Lazaro as a charm that dangles from his Cuban Link. When I used to meet him by the chicken coops in the morning with his orange juice and vodka I’d be overwhelmed by the smell of his aftershave.
There was a lot to do. By the time my grandfather was on this third drink, we’d have already collected eggs from the coops, fed all the dogs, plucked out dead possums from the traps we’d left the night before, played a game or two of Domino’s, and he’d have wrung the neck of a chicken so that my grandmother can start plucking it for lunch. Before lunch, we’d guide the chickens out of their coops and into a vast grassy field. The tall grass would stick to my legs, ripe avocados were camouflaged on the ground like Easter eggs, dinosaur-like wasps would fly low to the ground, skimming slowly through the tall grass. My body would call for me to run. In the same way it called me to run down the lanes of vegetation. Perhaps it was a reaction to the abundance. There was no way my legs could scour me through the entire 15-acre plot, but it was always something my body felt compelled to do.
Back at the house I see my grandmother standing over the sink, holding an avocado with one hand, a knife in the other. She stabs the avocado with the cutting edge of the knife and rotates the avocado until it separates in halves. The half with the oval seed clunks onto the cutting board. She stabs the seed to pull it out. She lays the halves on a plate to drown them in olive oil, lime juice, and salt. We always had too many avocados than we knew what to do with. In my peripheral I’d always see my grandmother searching for them on the ground, hunching over to pile them on in her nightdress.
But in this dream I am at the farm as my current self: 33 years old, pregnant with my second, holding hands with my first. In the dream my grandfather is not present, even my subconscious knows he is suffering from the relentlessness of time, he struggles with dementia and doesn’t remember who I am. My grandmother is as she still is, in her nightdress halving avocados over the kitchen sink. It’s just me with my kids out in the grass. My toddler and my fetus baby. My oldest pulls his hand to release himself from my grasp, squirms his body free. His instinct sees the independence that lives amongst the grassy open spaces. Off he goes, like a wobbly penguin, running straight ahead like an arrow.
I watch him run and run and run. The sun is veering somewhere to the left, not as pungent as it was a few hours ago. He’s almost at the same height as the wasps, but they pay no mind to each other. The chickens scatter to get as far away as possible from this wild, reckless thing. They huddle in a corner by the gate, seeing them bunched together their varying colors look like an abstract painting. Everything is always in motion. As he runs he’s learning that this life is right now, not yesterday, not tomorrow. I never want him to lose that.
The past and future never leave you alone. You can forgive a person once you realize they’re just another human trying to get by as the past and future dictates their every move, just like you. To be a good mom, I think, is to understand that my son (and future son) will evolve into the future based on their past. It’s up to me to let that happen, sever our ties as they learn to run faster and faster down open spaces of grass. Maybe they won’t need to forgive the past, to forgive the falseness of self that grows like onion layers on your person over time. But, our kids are right just as they are, right now, at this moment. We never want this moment to dissipate into the air, for us to look back and wonder why time refuses to let up.
Memories follow us into our dreams. I still smell the grass and the mangos and the aftershave. I still attempt to hold my son as he once was, a newborn that fit perfectly on my chest, like a missing puzzle piece. I still remember what it’s like to run simply because that’s what my body told me to do. Sometimes the past pulls me back, making me wish I was still in all of those places. I want to preserve it, seal it with a protective coating, cover it with a dust sheet, make sure it is still a place I can come back to.
But what if you can’t sleep? What if these dreams are nightmares? Stories always change, you know?
What if you’re so scared of reentering that subconscious portal to your past that you sit up against your headboard, wondering if all this memorabilia is pointless, realizing that we all end up in the same place in the end. Memories are just things that we accumulate over time that we bring with us on the ride up towards your god. Yet the ride is much more gracious to some. Fist up to god at the hand you’re dealt. Do you want more for your future? The one that holds you by the neck with the pressure that everything must get better in time? It just has to get better. We don’t need to comply with our fates or justify them. But, our kids are not a bandaid for the times people gave up on us.
As I once ran through this grass, thanks to the coating of childishness and dewy sweat slime, I know my sons will too. They will run through the present and into the future. I have to trust it will treat them well, and if not, I have to trust they will make room for forgiveness. Memories will slowly begin making traction, stacking up like Jenga pieces. But, they will remember the smell of grass and know that this is what the world has brought them. We may not be able to say what abundance looks like but we can certainly describe what it feels like. It’s not feeling guilty for wanting more life. Because we can just run towards it. When they are tired of running and come back for my hand I will remind them that this is abundance. Breathe it in and keep going. Little wobbly penguins shooting out into the world like a rocket.