Mami moves around the house, like an obsessed squirrel. Only instead of hoarding nuts, she’s hiding Papi’s bullets and guns and moving the furniture in front of the peg-board wall displaying his collection of knives. With the green recliner creating a barricade in front of the bayonets and machetes, she stops in the hallway and stands there, not moving but not quite still either. Like she’s part of a cadre of soldiers on the battlefield nervously staring each other down, waiting for the signal that sets chaos into motion. Only whatever enemy she is facing, it’s not visible on the field.
I stay out of reach, unable to tell from her mood exactly which side of the field she thinks I’m on today. From the living room, I watch her as she stares at the front door, mutters under her breath, speaks quickly but quietly. I struggle to make sense of what she is mumbling and am not sure if I can’t understand because of the speed at which the words are strung together or because they’re in a language that is neither English nor Spanish. I am captivated by this foreignness and don’t notice the small jar in her hand until she takes a step towards the door, unscrews the cap. Speaking slightly louder, she begins to dip her hand into the jar and run her fingers along the door. As if it were a jar of finger paints, she dips in and swipes repeatedly. First across the door, leaving a slightly darker line, and then vertically. I can make out some words now as she does this: demon, devil, keep out, protect. When she finishes, there is a slight scent of roses, like the entrance to St. James Cathedral.
My gaze shifts from her to the faintly darker lines forming a cross on the door and then to the furniture obstacle she has set up in the family room. The urge to run, to seek my sanctuary, to shimmy up the flagpole and flatten myself against the still warm gritty tiles on the roof, fills my body and my brain. Before I can formulate a plan to get out undetected, I hear the Thunderbird pulling into the driveway.
Papi is home early. Mamí runs to their bedroom, closes the door. I hear the click of the lock and then the sound of something scraping across the floor then thudding against the door. Like the metal folding stool/chair combo being wedged under the knob. As I hear my father’s heavy footsteps at the door, the sound of his keys does not fill me with the usual sense of safety. The room fills with the strangeness of the ritual I just witnessed and the palpable fear left in my mother’s wake. I quell the surge of panic long enough to command movement into my legs. As the door opens, I tuck myself into the space between the red velvet couch and the wall.
My father never sees me as he storms into the house, heads directly toward the blockaded knife collection. The scraping sound of furniture being moved is followed by his voice rattling throughout the house as he pounds each step to their bedroom door. Afraid to move, I hear but do not see as the door is broken, the yelling intensifies, the sound of sirens approaches the house. I do not know where he goes, only that he does so quickly.
Later, I would stand in their bedroom and stare at the bits of drywall on the floor beneath holes the size of stool legs in the ceiling. And at the machete stuck in the wall opposite the door. Mamita would later say that she ducked at just the right moment.
I never found out what catalyst sparked the events of that night. All the arguments, the nights of fury, the sirens compress into one night that I try fruitlessly to untangle. As if it matters. As if it could ever be explained or justified. As if the facts would make it all fit into some compartment in my brain and allow me to become unafraid of anger and loud voices.
The one thing I do know was that the holy water had not stopped the demons from tearing through our home that night. Or any other night.