When the earth began to shake, suddenly nothing was important: not the outfit I planned to wear on my birthday in a week, not the question of how to live through the awkward stages of growing out my hair, not the man who had just made me cry approximately 24 hours before.

When the earth began to shake, every dog in the neighborhood barked. I didn’t hear one human voice. Did you sleep through it? Did you not wake up in time to worry for your life? I sat up, naked in my bed, my heart pounding. Am I the only one that felt this? Did I just dream that shit? Maybe all across Río Piedras, everyone sat up in their beds at 1:34 am and watched their flower vases shake, their mouths stuck in silent “o”s, filled with unasked “what ifs.”

If this were the one, would I have time to get clothes on before I ran out of my house? Perhaps I should start sleeping with pajamas on, just in case shit goes down during the night, I can at least run out of my house without worry that I’ll get stared at. Or maybe I shouldn’t live in fear. I sleep naked. Come what may.

The night before, I thought about dying. I thought about whether or not I fit into this place (or any place, for that matter). I sobbed, sitting on the floor, head in my hands. All this over a simple stupid question: where the fuck do I go?

It all began in the Puerto Rico trench. A crack in the ocean floor where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea. How apt. This is where the problem started: where the United States meets Almost the United States. How easy it is to cross that ocean of ambiguity. A simple plane ride: three hours, a little turbulence, a prayer or two, free pretzels and tomato juice and there you are. Luís Muñoz Marín International Airport, sweating your balls off and hoping your luggage is not abandoned in someplace random like Milwaukee, or Charlotte, or Fresno.

The trench is more than 8000 miles deep. It is the boundary between the North American Plate and the Caribbean Plate. The latter wants to move to the west while the former moves to the east. And so they clash. And volcanoes erupt under the sea. And earthquakes shake Puerto Ricans awake at 1:30 in the morning. I think of it like an allegory for colonialism. It works quietly, underneath our feet, without us knowing, all the time, shaping our world and we don’t even feel it until, perhaps, it pushes too hard and it stirs us out of our (american) dreams.

When I was younger, one of my favorite hiding spots was the crack between my bed and the wall. Sometimes when playing with my little sister, who was still a baby at that time, I would pretend there was a monster in the crack and it was pulling me down with it. I would scream for her to help me and she would just sit there and cry. Then I would pop up again and hug her and say, “everything’s okay. I’m here.” And she would hug me and then we would play something else.

There is no monster in the Puerto Rico trench. No. The monsters are in plain site.

If I fell in the space where the US officially stops but doesn’t, I would take everything with me. Grab everything and put it in my pockets as I am sucked down to the bottom of the ocean, things I surely won’t need but want anyway: helicopters, bats (grab em in mid-flight), skyscrapers, highways, great big trees covered in birds nests, colored pencils, fire, homeless dogs, a pair of sequined sneakers, bicycles, a boyfriend, a shoebox, matches, magazines, horses, octopuses, whales, and squids. Falling into a space so dark and undefined, my pockets heavy with all the shit I have stolen but am entitled to, I reach the bottom of the trench, the epicenter, right square in between acá y allá. I unpack my pockets and make my home.

It is when we are shaken that we realize we are no different than them. A few points higher on the Richter scale and we would be dead bodies trapped under cement, dead bodies cut in half by fallen steel twisted into knots by an angry earth, dead bodies forgotten by the very government that is supposed to protect us. Isn’t the United States super heroic afterall? Haven’t they figured out how to stop plate tectonics and keep us safe from the evils of the earth? A few points higher on the Richter scale and in thirty seconds or less we would have finally understood that there is no God. A few points higher on the Richter scale and maybe we would stop using the word “haitiano” as an insult because in the aerial shots of the rubble that used to be our homes, one wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between what happened here on May 16, 2010 and what happened there on January 12, 2010.

We all believe in God and the United States until the Earth teaches us not to.


Meesha Brown said...
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raquel said...

damn...colonialism has kept puerto rico in this twisted childhood faze. we are a 200 year old toddler.

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