Winter Raccoon 

It was the witching hour, in the dead of winter. I was playing cards with Yolanda and Angie, two of my cousins from Ohio, and my mom when our nightmare began. It started with the sound of sharp blades cutting through fabric, and a cold breeze entering the room. Being the only one with my back towards the sound, my fear was suspended in the unknown. I saw the faces of my family, their eyes widened, their faces pale. I heard nothing but the fear that invaded our home. Pangs of terror soared through my skin each time I heard the sounds of steel breaking through. As my family pushed away from the kitchen table and ran towards the opposite end of the house, all I heard were the screams. My cousins plead with my mom, “Tia! Please! Oh, God! What is it?” My mom pleading for my father to wake up, “Juan! Juan! Something is in our home! Oh, God! Juan!”

As I turned towards the sound, I saw three long, jagged cuts in the material covering the fireplace. I moved closer to inspect what was on the other side until I was hunched over staring directly into another set of eyes. The cold winter air wrapped around my throat, suffocating my fear, I couldn’t scream or cry for help. I slowly took a step back, then another, and another, I am now huddled in a corner with the rest of my family, and horrific realization that my father was still asleep in the next room.

Before I could grab hold of my mom, I heard another tear shredding the fabric in two. A wolf-like figure jumped out of the fire place. It wore a mask and had claws like daggers. A long black stripe ran from its head to its tail, and the tail – a striped thick bush of fur, this creature with its demonic shape and hissing noises leapt from the fireplace and into my mom’s vanity room. “Is that a ra-ra-raccoon?” my cousin echoed in the distance.

If my mom was scared moments before, she is now terrified, horrified, petrified, scarified knowing that this devilish imp has locked itself inside this tiny room. Inside this 4 by 8 inch fortress was the fountain of youth. As a child I remember seeing my mom transform from her day to night look with the application of a darker lip or eye. I remember sitting on the granite countertop and dreaming of the day that I would be able to have my very own perfumes, make-up, cleansers, nail polishes, oils, myrrh, and frankincense. “JUAN!!!!!!” she cried. Finally, my father, half-dressed and completely disoriented, bolted out of the bedroom and into the living room to save the day. Before he could finish tying his robe, my mother yelled at him, “It’s a raccoon! A raccoon has locked itself in my vanity!”

As if our winter evening wasn’t chaotic enough, from the vanity room, we heard sounds of drawers and cabinets opening and slamming shut, plastic containers hitting the floor and walls. The raccoon, clearly demon-possessed, sounded as if it was crawling on the ceiling. I was starting to believe the sounds could not possibly come from one raccoon alone but thirty, fifty, a hundred, a hundred-thousand legions of them. Whether it was one or a hell’s gate, it was clear that my mom’s cosmetic collection, and the fountain of youth itself, was being violated by a godless animal.

We each inched closer towards the sound, until we found ourselves standing in the living room in a silent fear at the many deaths my mom was experiencing in this moment. There was nothing we could say to comfort her or to undo the victimization of my mom’s Clinique, Mary Kay, Estee Lauder, Lancôme, and Elizabeth Arden collection. Nothing!

My mom, in tears, seems so fragile in that moment. Seeing her lost in the memories of her free-gift-with-purchase sprees, her buy-one-get-one-free frenzies, her twenty-five-percent-off excursions. It was all for not. With each clanging and crashing of beauty essentials and each screeching and scratching of the room itself, this creature from hell had violated my mother’s very essence. “Oh, my God! This isn’t happening! Juan! Myyyyyyyyy make-up!” she wailed in anguish. In this moment, I came to realize how precious life truly is. Such a profound sense of clarity, yet I felt so helpless.

Suddenly, there was silence. The house went quiet. My father, in a single bound leapt to the back door by the fireplace and swung it open. His robe moving in one solid stride seemed to lift him into the air. “Stand back,” my father said as he puffed out his chest. He opened the door to the vanity and before we could react, the raccoon – knowing he is no match for my father and his house shoes – ran towards the back door and disappeared into the midnight air.

But the vanity…

I still do not have the words to explain the devastation that winter raccoon caused. It is a sight I can never unsee, and a moment I will never forget.

© 2016 Cyndi Piña, All Rights Reserved

Messy Rooms

“What a cute little girl,” she says wishing that she could somehow lay claim to the tiny five-year old child with big brown eyes and long brown hair.

“Hi!” says the five year old with a smile from ear to ear as she leans into her admirer to give a kiss.

“What a precious child, look at how sweet you are. Where is your mommy? Who do you belong to?”

I try to ignore the fact that my grandmother no longer remembers my daughter. I try to brush this reality aside long enough to kiss my grandmother on the forehead and brace myself in case today is the day she has forgotten me as well.

“Grandma,” I say softly in her ear as I embrace her hand with my palm, “I am her mother. Remember, Shayne? She is mine.”

My grandmother slowly turns her head towards me trying to understand. “Oh,” she says, “She is yours?”

Sitting in her wheelchair by the receptionist desk of the nursing home along with three other women who hold a similar glassy-eyed appearance, captured by memories lost and muddled in their mind, I feel the distance between her and the moments that exist among us. Shayne knows something is out of place as she repeatedly taps her fingers together and looks my way.

“Why can’t Grandma remember stuff anymore? Is she dying?”

I close my eyes to hold still my heart, carefully explaining to my daughter that Grandma has misplaced her memories; it is like a messy room. It takes a while to find stuff, to figure out where things go, and sometimes things are permanently misplaced somewhere in her mind. Shayne smiled. She understood all about misplaced items in a messy room.

We wheeled my grandmother to the living room, and sat on one of the couches next to her. “This is no way to live, ” Grandma says as she plays with the fringes of her apron. I can see the sadness creep into the corners of her mouth. “If no one in the family is willing to get me out of here, I swear one day soon I will wheel myself out of this place, and fling myself into a ditch. Let’s just get this over with.” She looks towards the glass doors into the distance.

Smiling gently I hold her hand, “So you are gonna’ fling yourself into a ditch, huh?” Her instinct like muscle memory kicks in and our years of quirky humor and banter are quickly reestablished.

She looks at me from the corner of her eyes and creases her lips into a familiar and playful grin. “Guess, I shouldn’t say that too loudly, huh? It is bad enough everyone thinks I am crazy.”

“Are you?” I quickly ask.

With great confidence she nods and says, “Yes.”

I giggle. Her eyes brighten. We had successfully changed the mood hovering over her thoughts.

“Where is your mother?”

“She is on her way.”

“Humph. She barely stays long enough to say hello. And if she does stay, it is because she starts socializing with the other visitors here. She is always busy with those people from church. I told her she should just get a cot and move into the church building.” My grandmother may have forgotten many experiences, but she clung to those toxic memories that fueled her resentment towards my mom.

“La Doña,” as my grandmother renamed my mother. La Doña, the person in charge, the person over you, the person above you, my mother represents all the control my grandmother no longer has. So, it is no surprise that when my mom enters the nursing home the, “fling me in a ditch” feeling settles back into Grandma’s thoughts. Immediately, the tension spreads throughout our visit like a disease. My grandmother’s countenance is now one of anger and frustration.

“Hi, mom!” My mom tells Grandma as she leans in to give her 89 year old mother a kiss. My grandmother does not reply; instead, she looks my way to seek confirmation that her frustration towards my mom is justified.

Like a child, my grandmother starts acting up. She begins using bad words as she describes the miserable existence she now lives. She revisits, for my mom’s benefit, the scheme to throw herself in a ditch. My mother sighs and gives her mom a condescending “okay” as she tries to smile and pretend that my grandmother is not sitting in the middle of this facility using various expletives to drive home the point that she is miserable here.

“I don’t want to be here. I can’t find my clothes, and look at these shoes. Someone came into my room and took all of my stuff. All I can find are these itty bitty pieces of clothing that clearly aren’t mine.”

“Mother,” my mom quickly responds, “I have been washing your clothes for you and putting them back in your closet. All of your clothes are in your room.”

“No! They are not! I am the one who stays here, and I am telling you that clothes are gone! Gone, I say.” I get another glimpse from both my mom and grandmother this time. Both carrying the same expression of frustration, they simultaneously roll their eyes.

“Mother, do you want me to show you where your clothes are?”

“Always. But you never take the time to show me.”

My mother exasperated now, “This will be the third time that we have this conversation, and the third time I show you where your belongings are. Remember, I told you that the drawer farthest to the left belongs to the lady who rooms with you?”

“No. You have never told me this. Never.” My grandmother and mother are both visibly upset, neither willing to bend toward the other.

Shayne and I decide it is time to leave. We kiss them on the cheek and walk towards the glass doors. As I help Shayne into her car seat, I kiss her tiny face and hug her tightly. Shayne’s arms wrap around my neck, and her fingers entangle themselves in my hair. A cool Sunday afternoon breeze wraps around our embraced frames, and I pray that my mother and my grandmother remember where they last placed each other.

© 2009 Cyndi Piña, All Rights Reserved