Waking up on the Day of the Dead

Matthew Mercia, that is your name. Remembering it usually isn't a challenge when you wake up, but today it is. Everything is a challenge today. Your body feels stiff, cold, and unresponsive; darkness is all you can see; claustrophobia has an intense grip on your mind. With great difficulty, you can move an arm. That means you haven't died--but it feels like you have.

Sitting up is more of a challenge. Struggling for a moment you manage to break loose from whatever is holding you down and accomplish your petty goal. Your nose tingles as the distinct smell of the flower of the dead--Mexican marigolds--becomes pungent. Your mother is obsessed with the flowers. She keeps the essential oils infusing in the house constantly, and plants them in spades around both the house and Grandpa's grave.

Usually, it is manageable except for in the fall. Although your Mexican heritage is more of an inconvenient skin coloring and convenient dinner influence to you; for your mother, it is a deeply rooted set of traditions and superstitions. She believes in planting the flowers so she has plenty of gifts for her late father in early November--on the day of the dead. Not that the dead care, they can not return to life. Everyone knows that death is the end, you may become nutrients for the grass, but you can't just come back and walk the earth in spirit-form. That is just ignorance that your mother will never shake.

Standing up you vow to rip up her marigolds; the day of the dead has already passed this year. You certainly do not celebrate it, but it is the weekend after Halloween--a much better holiday where you can at least satisfy your sweet tooth. Although your friends refused to go with you, some even ridiculed you for being too old to participate in a child-like event at fifteen, you made out like a bandit. While your parents were participating in the All Souls Procession, you ended a wonderful holiday gorging yourself with assorted sweets.

After that, your memory is admittedly fuzzy. Did you fall asleep on the couch again? Regardless the darkness is driving you mad. Searching for the light switch proves to be difficult. Your bedroom is not how you remember it; rather, it is only two feet from wall to wall on either side of you. The other two walls you can touch at the same time if you lay on your back with your feet on one and your arms stretched above your head to touch the other--perhaps eight feet in total.

There is no door you can find; however, you do discover that there seems to be a ledge 6 feet above your head that you can reach. This ledge is cooler than the box you find yourself in, and as you pull your head up to it the darkness vanishes. Appearing before you is the sun of another beautifully mild evening in Arizona and a field of marigolds.

You immediately recognize that you are roughly six feet from your grandfather's grave in the small local Tucson graveyard near your house. Heartbreaking sobs draw your attention to the end of the hole you found yourself in where your mother is kneeling in the dirt. Staring at her crying breaks your heart like it always does when you visit grandpa's grave the morning of the day of the dead. Your father stands behind her quietly, rubbing her shoulders with his large hands.

That is when you realize they are not in front of your grandfathers grave. Wide-eyed you turn around completely; behind you is a fresh gravestone with your name on it--dated from your birthday to November second of this year. The world starts spinning and you fixate on your name etched in stone among your other dead relatives.

"We should go, honey," your father says softly, still rubbing your mother's shoulders.

Your mother continues to weep, but replies, "A year, my baby has been gone for a whole year!"

"I know, honey, I know. We will celebrate them in the All Souls Procession tonight. You can make Matthew chicken enchiladas, he would like that"--with that your dad ushers your mother out of the graveyard; she only pauses to lay marigolds on your grandfather's grave on the way out.