"Falling Down in Sleep" by Canan.
© Please do not reproduce without artist's permission.
by Amir Tarsha
What remains an astonishing fact is that satellites, which seem to lazily float in the ethereal darkness, are not floating at all. They are perpetually falling toward the Earth, but never actually crash into LA or London because the earth curves away, in the nick of time. It’s physics. Look it up.
This reminds me of my auntie Maria. Through the eyes of a passive observer, the trajectory of her life might appear to be one of constant descent: Maria’s only son, my cousin Gabriel, arriving unexpectedly (after a latex Trojan™ opened up like the wooden horse), a double mastectomy at 33 (prudent prophylaxis given her genotype and family history), and then Gabriel choosing to live in sin with...she can’t bear to say his name.
But even with all that, Maria seemed to stay afloat. She was still very much present at my sister’s quinceañera in March, buzzing around, squeezing and kissing cheeks, snapping pictures for her “family yearbook.” She still volunteered at the medical center and still lit a desperate candle every Sunday at church. To have found her husband, though, hanging like cured chorizo from the ceiling fan? A week after that, she couldn’t get out of bed — her legs and arms suddenly stopped working. Dr. Moreno, our family doctor, made a house call later that same night.
Moreno is a good doctor. He is also a prick. When I dislocated my shoulder last summer, he said, “Just relax big guy, I’ll reset it on the count of five. Close your eyes.” I felt the bone lurch back into place on “two.”
Maria hadn't left our guest bedroom since the funeral. When he walked into it, Moreno said in Spanish, “Poor thing, I’m terribly sorry for your loss. Now stand up.” He leaned over to my ear and whispered, “Conversion disorder (trastorno de conversión),” then winked.
Maria moaned, “I can’t! I’ll fall! I’m dying!” She told Moreno that her heart was a rotting chamber of maggots.
Moreno went out to his car and came back with a wheelchair. He instructed us to lift her into it. Maria was lighter than she looked. When she was sitting comfortably and had stopped crying, the doctor did something strange. Out of his inner white coat pocket, he pulled a lurid purple-paisley necktie and wrapped it tight around Maria’s eyes, blindfolding her. Maria clawed at the fabric. He calmed her saying, “Just relax. I want you to take a deep breath, and slowly count backwards from thirty.”
As she counted, Moreno quietly wheeled my tía through the kitchen. Then out to the backyard, into the cool spring air. And then, without a word of warning, as Maria whispered “six,” he pushed her straight into our pool.
Maria, still upright in the chair, sunk like a rock.
Moreno took off his Rolex.
Maria’s chair, with her still in it, hit the bottom of the deep end.
Moreno slid off his Ferragamos.
Maria wasn’t moving.
Moreno nonchalantly dipped his toes in the water.
My father stood there frozen with his mouth wide open.
An eternity passes. The planets have time to realign, scatter, then line up again. New species evolve. Monuments crumble. Nascent galaxies grow old and die.
Maria surfaced, gasping. She rose up flailing, cursing every God, every pagan spirit, screaming words she had never dared utter in her life. My baby sister was jumping up and down in her footie pajamas, my father was vigorously shaking Moreno’s hand with both of his, and my mother was on her stomach, reaching out to Maria.
Me? I was staring into the black mirror of the deep end and the image that reflected back — a pastel moon, the scorched map of the sky, and the blinking of satellites, which like all of us, are hanging on for their dear lives.
Amir Tarsha is an M.D. candidate, with a focus in psychiatry, at the University of Miami. He received an M.S. in bioethics from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and a B.S. in psychology & liberal arts from the UW-Madison. His writing has been featured in Columbia’s Journal of Narrative Medicine, JGIM, The NewerYork, Psychoanalytical Perspectives, and thickjam. It is also forthcoming in Chiron Review.