Rip Van Winkle met the fairies in the mountains, drank from their wine and woke up twenty years later, without knowing what happened, with a long white beard and completely out of place. All his friends were gone, his wife was lost to the winds of time, the King had been pushed away and there was a new man in the town that had come to replace him. I read the old story and see myself in it.
The Faeries took me to the United States, to San Francisco, in a tornado of causes and effects that tumbled upon each other like dominos, to a dream that lasted decades and took many strange turns through darkened corridors and foggy afternoons. Now when I come back to El Salvador, I am out of place. Most of my friends are gone or lost and the few that remain are now older responsible men with whom I can barely speak. My wife is lost beyond reach through a series of daring jumps and misty misunderstandings that already fade into watercolor memories.
I am back where I am supposed to belong and yet I don’t belong, and maybe I never did. I am then like a strange ghost that wanders through old abandoned mansions, seeing things that are not there anymore, talking to people that died a long time ago, hoping for things that never happened and never will.
My ghostly nature, as I prepare to embark on a journey to El Salvador once again, can help me or hurt me. I can fade into the whiteness of the walls and simply pass the time, letting my father and the people around me decide what it is I am doing and why I am there. I can do it out of courtesy. I can do it out of kindness. I can do it out of shyness.
Or I can see that I am no longer one of them. I am no longer a Salvadoran human, maybe not a human at all, and so I can make the abrupt choices that others won’t do, I can take risks, I can delve deeply into the areas that are normally left untouched.
It will be my choice. And it will be my choice from moment to moment. I can’t sit and relax for too long or the work will slip right past me, the heat and the sweat and the sleepiness of a house that has stayed the same for thirty years or more will all take over and I will be once again the same Juan Carlos that once was, dripping with sweat on a light brown couch while mosquitoes buzz around my ears and suck blood from my flesh, and then my journey and my work will mean nothing and I will once again pass by the streets and walk to the supermarket and look away when people see me and escape from school and lose my friends and look for new ones in the streets of a lost little neighborhood where I should have never lived.
I thought yesterday of the day when I said to Chris, the Greek man who was my mother’s friend for a brief time: "It may sound corny but I think the friends I have in El Salvador are special." And he responded sharply and clearly: "That is corny." And I never said it again. Now I look back and wonder. Did I make them special because I needed to have close friends? Because my heart opens up to people and welcomes them in, just like it does right now with the ones that are close to me? In other words, as long as I encountered people and made them my friends, would any friend be "special" for me? Would I have clung to them for so many years and even pulled them to the faraway country of my exile? Or was there really something different about Ricardo and Rodney and Tania and all the others?
Going back, I can see other kids discovering the world for the first time. I can see my little nephew reaching out to what, for him, is a brand new world, fresh and just created moments ago, and I can see myself in him and I can only wonder if there behind those innocent brown eyes is me and I can only see what my language can encompass and what I see is fresh and fearsome and chaotic and strange and I can simply reach out for a friend, a true friend, in the midst of the chaos.
As a ghost I can see what is invisible to others but I have to embrace my ability. I have to seek out the side shows, the alleys that lead to places that I haven’t explored, the strange thoughts that live under the everyday conversations, the lost causes, the fervent desires that hide behind buttoned up shirts and neatly pressed long skirts. As a ghost I will hide at the edges of walls, in the cracks left behind by decades of earthquakes. I will watch once again as I meet Dilcia and as I open up to her completely and she opens up to me with the same wild abandon. I will see her with me, walking down El Paseo, kissing in front of El Salvador del Mundo, walking together to my grandma’s apartment, I will see her next to me in her short jeans skirt and I will hear her soft sweet voice telling me that she loves me above all things. I will walk with her once more to the radio and hear for the first time what a terrible father Fanci was and I will believe and not believe and I will see once again that just as she hates him then, she will hate me one day and I will see it so clearly that it will strike fear in me and I will set the vision aside, letting it linger behind my everyday thoughts, waiting for its time to become real. All of it happens now as it happened then.
Somewhere behind the businessman that is Balta is the little kid that told stories of sex and seduction behind a mountain of sand. Somewhere behind the whore that is Laura is the girl that wanted to play with the kids of the neighborhood and somehow cared who won a game of soccer. Somewhere under new houses lies that little empty lot where we played soccer and kickball for so many afternoons. Somewhere other kids still discover their own empty lots and somewhere a kid looks down a girl’s shirt for the first time or watches a girl in tight shorts lying forward so that the shorts run up into her buttocks and even expose some of her hidden underwear. Somewhere a girl finds a boy to love for the first time and writes his name over and over in the notebook where she should be doing her homework and she draws little hearts next to his name. Somewhere a boy waits outside a girl’s school hoping this time the girl will give him a kiss or at least a smile or at least a single look from her eyes which are like fountains of aching pleasure, so distant, so completely beyond reach. Somewhere a boy dances the waltz with a girl he has just met and falls in love with her as his hand touches her naked back for the first time. Somewhere there is a lonely afternoon when the radios play in the distance and the air vibrates with color and a boy’s heart hurts with an intensity that he can’t understand or explain.
As I go back as a ghost, I must not let myself fall once again into sleep and be fooled by the appearance of human life. I am now in this world but I am not of this world. I am here as an observer from a distant star and I am here to explore. That is my work as a ghost and as a ghost I will fulfill it.