Greetings Santa Muerte,
It is so, that always when I return from holiday I fall into this funk, this depression—this war with myself. People say it is the post holiday blues, but I know what it is. It is guilt. The audacity of me to enjoy life, to frolic, despite my best friend being lost to me and not able to enjoy the goodness of life with me, like we once did. The guilt of men and woman far away at war being slaughtered like cattle. My own mother tells me in her hard way, I am being too sensitive, to hard on myself. Mother Death, am I too sensitive to feel this way? Mother death, can you tell me what is war?
I think often about that afternoon alone in Condesa, in the Distrito Federal, recently suffering the loss of my friend to her own war and trying to enjoy the beauty of the city in spite of my grief. The labyrinth grounds of El Bosque Chapultepec drew me out of my own thoughts, and for the first time since her suicide, of correspondence between my soul and hers, I felt calm. Or at least I did while I was outside.
The hike up the walls of Castle Chapultepec was a fifteen-minute uphill plod that left me panting like a lost cow. That castle really is magnificent. Even before you walk through the teeth of the white porticos and stand surrounded by murals of combat and nationhood, the castle’s colonial geometry has an authority. “Now you’ll walk down the colonnade,” she said to me, “here is our independence. Here is war.”
There was war, according to Siquieros. Inside the air-conditioned halls scenes of cavalry and farmers stood meters tall above me, each face distinct and solemn. They are memorials to the dead. Then, the inescapable thoughts alighted. I will be left with only my memories. I did not say goodbye as I meant to. I felt individual hairs shift as a bead of sweat ran down my head. A young soldier is painted on the domed ceiling, his face greying as he drifts down toward you, into death.
This is where I should have prayed to you, I should have said, “Mother Death, what is war? Where is my best friend, my love? Touch me, help me understand.” But I did not pray, did not ask, or maybe I could not, but in any case I chose to freeze and convince myself that everything will be alright. I was breaking, though. I could hear the crackle of my heart like pieces of already shattered glass being stepped on. Come to think of it, it was my soul. It was my soul, Mother death, being crunched under the weight of love. Love is so heavy like death don’t you think, Mother? How do you collect souls, are they in pieces or are they whole?
I wonder if you have ever experience your mind getting the better of you. It must be exhausting to be not only death, but to be the Santa Muerte, the Mother Death. You are the Queen of death, and the mother of all darkness that is alive in the world. Prostitutes light candles for you as often as Zeta infantry, as often as mothers worry for their sons working the late shift picking up garbage. What do you think about war?
I wonder if you were the silent third party to so many great conversations of history. Just as the Devil of Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita stood on a Jerusalem balcony the day of the crucifixion of Jesus, and noticed Pontius Pilate’s dislike for the smell of rosewater. Did you take refuge from the blanching sun at Kurukshetra inside Arjuna’s chariot? Did you hear Krisna give the Prince the most dangerous divine secret that has ever been told?
“Nought better can betide a martial soul than lawful war; happy the warrior to whom comes joy of battle–comes, as now, glorious and fair, unsought; opening for him a gateway unto heav’n.”
I imagine that you remember Krishna telling Arjuna that some wars are righteous. I imagine that you remember me just saying it will be okay. If you could appear to me, just a little while and tell me how death feels about all this. I know that isn’t how this works; I just pray and wait. But I don’t know what war is, only that it spreads, everywhere. I know what death is, but I cannot comprehend.
Were you there? Was I there to battle with her? I remember her saying that she reaches out for you in the weeping night. I remember me just saying it will be okay, will all work out. I remember the doctor telling her “next time you’re going to die.”
Next time? How did he know that there would be a next time? I know now that there is always a next time, the next compulsion toward violence, another war–another dark vein that comes awake. A wicked thought that sinks its teeth into minds. Is that you? I know that, strictly speaking, war isn’t your domain, that you don’t do the killing, rather that you watch over everyone who lives with death near-by. Has every generation of humanity been as fixed as this one on vindication through violence?
Probably yes, right? Probably more. Probably the thrill of looking into your eyes is like the feeling of being thrown, blurry and blood slack, from the passenger door of a truck. I remember reading that the Peshmerga forces in Iraq and Syria were being met with young men who wanted to fight, but they’d never seen war. “We’re babysitting them,” an anonymous soldier told the BBC. “They’ve only seen war on an X-box.”
To my mind, the war the Peshmerga fight is just. ISIS are/were raping six year old Yazida girls and beating pregnant women until they miscarry to display racial dominance. Mass graves have been found to contain entire villages.
Dear Santa Muerte, beautiful Mother Death, skeleton with my mother’s dark, luxuriant hair, let me beg you. My best friend is gone to me totally, casualty of her own war, casualty of my cowardice. I cannot be real to her anymore. She is in that next place. Here, her memories are starting to tumble away into the night like dissipating cigarette smoke. I am the civilian, the friend that abandoned my post. I need you to help me. I need you to watch over her. Lay a path of black roses before her that leads her to safety. Let each flower turn to ashes as she passes by, let it burn and each small life lift a burden from her shoulders, from my shoulders.
I suppose all that I can see from where I am is war in the anthropocene. I see images of death, of sniper nests and sandbags on twitter. Home-made “war-films” of men on either side standing with each foot on the bodies of the enemy face down in the sand like water skies. I am possessed. I watch it all, I look to see if there is some trace of you, of her. In my silliness I look for some fleeting snippet of evidence carried to me in binary that she is by your side, safe. What a far cry from the memorialized, sensuous figures of Siquieros’ War of Independence. I see vines of disembodied heads, cutaways to likes of pick-up trucks with heavy artillery bolted into beds. Images of young women carrying RPG’s with the hashtag “#realfeminism.” It is chaos. It is ethnic violence. It is genocide. It is war. It is an invitation. It is the creation of the human race. Come, Mother Death, collect these images of pure violence and destruction of life. Put them in a montage; find an aesthetic parallel between these men and the freedom fighters of the past. How can we live in a world in which a boy from Nottingham invokes the image of Che Guevara or Nelson Mandela in hopes of recruiting for the task of joining ISIS?
I wish I could say this is an offering that I could worship you wholly as she did, that I could see the world as a warrior sees it. But I cannot. I can see the beauty of Goya’s dark paintings, left in secret on the walls of his own home, horror and beauty contiguous. But I cannot worship this drive to death, this entity that threatens to take from me the most sacred thing I have yet known. I could feel her over me, within me. In the deepest parts of my mind I hear her. She wonders why I did not war with her. Tell her, I felt fear. Undefined fear. Tell her I was cowardice, and did not understand she was at war.