Jesus Lopez: Memoir : August 2020

The Witch, The Egg, and the Cure

Imagine that you have asthma. You are ten years old. Your life just started yet every day feels like a step closer to the end. You try to take a deep breath but doing so makes you cough for five minutes. Snacks and foods like Lunchables and Eggo-waffles aren’t as appetizing anymore because even eating feels like your tummy is twisting. You can’t help but be sleepy, considering your lungs are the alarm clock that will decide when it is time to have a coughing attack, with no snooze button in sight. You have an inhaler that feels like a Band-Aid when you scratched your knee, falling off your bike. It practically does nothing. You wake up every morning wondering if today is the day that you can finally breathe again. You can’t remember when the pain started but you just want the torment to be over.

You live in a small community called “La Rosita”. You can’t find it on a map. The landmark is a cake shop and the other is a fire station. It is as close as you can get to Mexico. This is around the time when you felt safe traveling to Mexico without feeling insecure or in danger. You can put one foot on each country if you wanted to. There is only one way in and out of your tiny town. There is no possible way for you to avoid a pothole along the road. It takes about twenty minutes for you to get to the nearest grocery store. It is not difficult to find a mechanic or repairman around every corner.  Your neighbor is a mechanic and loves to barbeque every single weekend. It is a very rural community that your parents decided to move to and still reside in. There weren’t many houses around the area and the environment was a peaceful one, adequate to raise you and your sister.

You have a huge Mexican family that cannot completely fit in the small house your parents have. You are packed like sardines with your sister and a few cousins. You can’t even fart in peace. Your parents do what the doctors told them to, and then some. Nebulizers and inhalers are the best they can afford. You realize that stronger and more effective medicines are reserved for the wealthy. You start to think that if your family had more money, you would have been cured already. However, you are thankful and pray for everything you do have every night with your parents. In the nearby hospital you get looked at, you see many children with asthma in beds. They get the new experimental treatments. You only get an inhaler and the air filters for your nebulizer. At least the new one has zoo animal stickers on it. 

 Your parents would have taken you to a more state of the art facility with newer medicines, but the funds are not there. Due to your asthma treatment, they have resorted to eating either Ramen or rice with beans for every meal of the day. You are happy that at least there is different flavors of ramen and different types of seasoning to put in the rice/beans for flavor. Your parents consider their careers and meals of least importance when it comes to taking care of you. They are more concentrated in your well-being. They would rather be unemployed rather than have you unhealthy. You are happy that they didn’t lose their jobs and that their bosses were understanding of your condition. You even overhear them saying that they would rather have the asthma themselves rather than have you undergo it. You wouldn’t wish asthma on your worst enemy (like that mean bully at school), much less your parents.

Your parents had a busy work schedule before your asthma came out of nowhere. Your father would take four to five months to go pipe-lining in Massachusetts to pay the vast majority of the bills. Your mother was teaching students with special needs but only as a substitute teacher, while she got her credentials to teach full time. You tell them not to worry and that everything will be ok. That was easier said than done. Their attempt to concentrate during their work schedules was futile. They were far too distracted when they clocked into their jobs. You heard that last week, your father almost got someone and himself hurt because he was inattentive when operating a tractor. Your mother’s students noticed something was wrong when they saw her zoning off, staring at a wall for about five minutes. They decide that going to work might not be the best idea. Financially, they don’t have much of a choice. Their minds are always focused on making you better or at least more comfortable. Without their jobs, they would not even be able to afford the nebulizer filters you have. You start to wish that you had more coins in the piggybank you got for Christmas the year before.

There is always an aunt or uncle that comes to see your condition and suggests another home remedy. You feel that they should keep their opinions and ideas to themselves. The highly-recommended remedies they try on you are a hookworm, raw fish, and a full glass of salted water. You find them disgusting but you don’t have much of a choice in consuming them. Remembering the name of every last person coming into your room is pointless but you do it anyway out of respect. You know that the vast majority of visiting family members will only be seen on special occasions.  You have your uncle Juan, Lencho, Baldo, together with your aunt Erica, Maria, your grandpa Audencio, and your grandma Olinda come out of nowhere. You enjoy the initial increase of attention. Eventually after the twentieth relative that comes into your room, you want to “shoo” them away or start charging a few bucks for every hour they are around you. You can’t help but overhear every other relative bring up the word “Vicks”. There are already cabinets full of them all over the house but they bring more just in case. Ninety percent of your family tells your parents to put “Vicks” all over your body because apparently, it cures cancer somewhere.

It is when your fever gets worse, that your parents start to grow desperate. They send for a famous witch arrives from central Mexico. Although your parents couldn’t afford her personally, they had their connections. She came over because she owes your grandmother a favor from decades ago. They greet her like she’s a celebrity and thank her a hundred times for coming over to see you. Your eyes widen when you see all of her equipment. It was like she was setting up a movie studio. You were just waiting for someone to yell, “Lights, Camera, Action”. You can’t help but eyeball her long black hair, her long robe, her long crusty nails, and her bag of colorful potions.  You first lay on a wooden table. She ignites some bitter scented candles in a circle around you. She grabs a branch, brushes it all over your body while chanting a ritual and dancing to an eerie tune. She goes around the table over and over again until she tires herself out. You can barely contain laughter witnessing this dance but must remain still and serious because she is just trying to help. This dance looks like something you would find in a cartoon. Bugs Bunny and SpongeBob would have a run for their money if this woman were put on T.V. Maybe she already had her own channel.

When the witch leaves, your grandma decides to grab an egg to have her attempt at curing you. She looks at you like she brought the “big guns”. There is no doubt in her mind that she has the antidote in her hands.  She too brushes the egg throughout your whole body while reciting the “Virgin Mary” prayer. The egg itself starts to cook with your body temperature. Surprisingly, you can hear it simmering. When she cracks it open and pours it into a glass, she claims it is the biggest “evil eye” she has ever seen. Your grandma tells the whole family to touch you on the forehead because the quickest way to rid the evil eye is to find the person who intentionally or unintentionally caused the evil eye to emerge in the first place. The malevolent glare from the yolk looks like an eyeball, veins and spider webs roaming to the top of the glass. She grabs another egg, cracks it into a bowl, and places it under your bed where it begins to cook without any clear explanation. You shrug because this remedy was once used to cure a cold you had. The egg however, was unable to absorb what inhabited in your lungs. You start to wonder if a bigger egg, maybe an ostrich egg, would be a more suitable and powerful option. The temperature of the room should have not been enough to make the egg whiten but it looks ready to eat.  You feel a little bit better that it gives you a little appetite for the eggs you were just rubbed with. When you ask if you can eat it with some condiments, you get the death stare from your grandma and parents. 

You just don’t believe that these remedies are making a difference and don’t believe in the superstitions, but your family insists that you honor and respect them because they worked well on your ancestors. Your mother and grandmother still use the egg cure for small illnesses like the flu, the common cold, and some serious headaches, but will not try to cure life threatening diseases anymore. It is as if they know the extent of their powers.

The doctors continue to conduct examinations on your body but the analysis can only reach the extent of what your parents can afford. Their pockets aren’t very deep despite the cutbacks they have done. The doctor does the typical “breathe in, breathe out” procedure with the stethoscope. He says that they sound rusty and give you a contraption to deeply inhale and exhale into. Your parents use their last amount of cash in their life savings to produce decent quality images on an X-Ray/MRI. They put a scan of healthy lungs next to a scan of yours to compare. They are cloudy and not looking much better.  It feels like every time you hear the word doctor, you hear the “Cha-Ching” sound from an old cash register. You feel like you are part of the game “Operation” when they have you lay down for x-rays and put your lungs to the test. You just hope that it is not game-over for your lungs.

You appreciate that your parents are not keeping you in the dark and let you hear what the doctors have to say. Some of the doctors insist that you should step outside or tell you to play in the waiting area. You are upset when they try to push you out of the room as if you were too young to hear what is happening to you. Your parents won’t let you leave saying that you have to hear this. The doctor states that your lungs are in the roughest shape he has seen since he diagnosed you. He gives your parents some new medication pills and states that you should not give up hope. He asks your parents to sit down before he reveals that although there is a high probability of your survival, the asthma could be part of you for the rest of your life. Your mother tears up as your father embraces both of you with a hug. He soothingly whispers that he loves you both. You start to think that if love and hugs could cure asthma, this world would be a better place.

Your parents lose morale with the news and every day for the rest of the week. They become quite introverted and reserved. They would typically go to flea markets or movie theatres but now can’t seem to enjoy them. They barely eat anything and have lost noticeable amounts of weight.  They have little interest in their daily routine and you cannot believe that they decide to skip the “Santa Rosa de Lima” Catholic church service. The whole church is worried about them and even invite the whole community to pray for you and your parents. They are unable to concentrate on anything so they sit on the sofa and watch T.V. while keeping an eye on you. They can’t sleep because of your continuous coughing. They visit you at every hour of the night, alternating every few hours. You can see their shadows because of the night light plugged in the hallway.  It feels like they are one step away from depression. Maybe they already are depressed. You insist for them to go to dinner or maybe even a movie to try and cheer them up. You know they need something to distract them but they refuse to leave your side for more than a half hour at a time. They won’t even let you see cartoons without their supervision. You know that they really care about you but just want a little space to breathe, literally. You start to think that even if you wanted to play hide and seek, you would be the worst player because the cough would give you away.

More and more remedies are recommended to your parents. They start to incorporate a monthly diet that consists of lamb, rice, dried mango, and spinach for you. You are convinced that they would rub poo all over your head if someone suggested it. Just when you think all the possibilities have been pursued, the persistence of your parents surprises you. It is at this point that you realize that they will not stop until you are well because the phrase “giving up” is not in their dictionary. They also won’t let it be in yours. The sheer thought of accepting the asthma will never cross the minds of your mom and dad. This is not the life they planned for you and they won’t let this illness reign supreme in your body. You obviously don’t want them to give up on you but you also don’t want them to keep controlling everything you do and everything you eat. You start to feel that your sister is not getting any attention from your parents. You feel that they should concentrate on her as much as they do on you. You sometimes wish your sister would have something physically wrong for the sake of taking some attention off of you. Then you then regret ever wishing harm on family.  Sometimes, you just want to eat something because you want to and not because it is the new remedy for asthma. 

One week later, you sit in the living room awaiting the next treatment while watching Spider Man, hoping it will at least be entertaining. This one happens to come in all fours and a tail. They name him Spike, like the dog on the cartoon “Rugrats” that you used to watch all the time. It was a gift from an old friend of your mom’s. You are happy that your parents didn’t spend any money on this dog. You feel that if he was in the adoption center, he would have stayed there forever. You feel like they should have been paid to take him. It is the ugliest thing you have ever seen and now you have mandatory playtime with it. You never had any pets in the past so you don’t know what to do with it. You start playing fetch with him with a squeaky chew toy and then it barks. The next second, it is begging for you to scratch its stomach. There is only so many belly scratches you can give to a dog before you just don’t want to anymore. Two hours in the backyard start to feel like forever and you would rather play with your toys or watching T.V. instead.  You start to question how this messy, yappy, rat looking animal is supposed to cure you.  If anything, you wonder if it has a contagious disease with that face of his. He could have easily been contracted for the “Yo Quiero Taco Bell” commercial.

The puppy is more than happy to have your mandatory affection because it probably had no attention from anyone else before with its complexion. The constant need for attention creates an uplifting mood and it finally feels like someone cares to be with you that doesn’t know about your condition. You start to think that maybe it does know that there is something wrong with you but just doesn’t care. It feels good to know that this particular animal is not treating you any differently for being sick. You don’t think it can have any prejudice. It’s just not in its nature. 

A couple of weeks pass and the furry thing is starting to grow on you. It surprises you to see how much energy a tiny animal can have, especially when it jumps three times its height and stands on two legs. You even try to teach him a dance and figure out how to make him sit at your command. Sitting is the only thing you were able to teach him but at least it was something.  He doesn’t want to leave you and even sleeps by your side. You, however, need to give him at least a couple showers a day if you want him to sleep on your bed. Fleas never have a chance with this puppy. Sometimes he gets more showers during the day than you ever do. He feels like the little brother you never had. No one has to insist that you play with it anymore, you just happen to want its company now. When you take it to the park, he believes he is your body guard and barks at everything and anything to “protect” you. He barks at anything and everything that seems like a threat. He just does not know how small he is in comparison to the other dogs at the park. He would take on a bull-dog if it would happen get in his way. Keeping him around feels like a breath of fresh air.

It is time to go to the hospital again. This time around, you decide to sit outside the office and not think about the upcoming MRI results. You are not very optimistic and don’t want to see your parents get their hopes crushed like before. As you see through the glass window of the office, the doctors have expressions of shock as they analyze your most recent examination. They keep looking at the MRI results and their eyes widen when they compare them to the ones from the week before. They keep rotating their heads left and right between the two scans in disbelief. Your parents have their mouths wide open for what seems like an eternity. Your mother falls to her knees as your father embraces her. You start to imagine that your end is closer now as they talk to your parents as they start to tear up. It is so hard to see tears run down your parent’s faces that you too want to cry. You show a smile because that is what you are used to doing, even with bad news. You have no idea what fate awaits you as they head in your direction. You start to feel that ignorance might be bliss in this situation. 

Your parents run to your side and squeeze harder than they ever have before. You feel like you are the middle of an ice cream sandwich between them. An ice cream doesn’t sound too bad right about now. You leave the medical center but instead of going home, they take you to the nearest church they can find. It is not Sunday but there happens to be a priest meditating in the front bench. Your parents request his blessing. They pray frantically and encourage you to do the same in front of a very familiar figure you see every Sunday. The priest comes around and places his hands on your head and then proceeds to your parents’ heads. He recites his own personal prayer. He brings the holy water and sprinkles it all over you and your parents like a drizzle. You bring your hands together and pray the prayers you have repeated countless times, but have no idea why you are doing so. You pray for what you have and pray for those who do not have the same “luxuries” and even for those who want to hurt you. Your parents hand you a rosary and you read off a prayer to each bead. This rosary happens to contain fifty-nine beads. After the rosary, ten “Our fathers” and “Holy Mary” prayers are recited before it is time to go. You feel like you have done enough prayers to last you for the rest of the year. You get a feeling however that your parents are just getting started. 

Your parents take you to your favorite place where you can grab fast food and run around with the other kids. It is not the healthiest place to eat but you realize that it doesn’t matter because eating healthy did not stop you from getting asthma in the first place. You feel no regret on biting on a cheese burger and french fries. This time, the kids’ meal has a “Mr. Potato head” toy that winds up and has a crazy hairdo. You take about an hour to tire even after doing twice as many laps around the play area than you are used to and proceed to jump into the ball pit. You can also keep up with the infamous speedy kid around the neighborhood as you play tag with him. You think of “The Lion King” and how the playground is your kingdom now.

It isn’t until you get home that your parents let you know what just happened. You didn’t bother asking before because of the typical bad news. After the good news was revealed this time, you run to hug your Taco Bell looking Chihuahua and he is bewildered by your excitement but he is not complaining. You find it ironic that out of all the remedies, medicines and dances you had to endure, it would be a dog that would make a difference. Now the biggest question you had for your parents was whether you were allowed to keep it even though you were all better. They said dog wasn’t going anywhere and that you better take care of him for a long time.