rating: +22+x

The air is heavy.

I didn’t understand the phrase before.

People say it in a sacred place.

A place of tragedy.

A place of death.

I didn’t understand the phrase, the weight it carries.

I stand in an abandoned churchyard in El Cibao.

I understand.

The old, crumbled building looms just before me, the stone angels and Latin inscriptions serving as more of a deterrent than a comfort.

There is a phrase inscribed on many particularly patriotic churches that were built in or survived the forties, a reminder and a warning in one.

“Dios en cielo, Trujillo en tierra“

God in the heavens. Trujillo on earth.

Not a man, not a god, but a force of nature. The very foundation of the lives of millions, the foundation of the deaths of hundreds of thousands. Trujillo permeates into the very earth I stand on, his miasma crawling up my back and burrowing into my every pore.

The night air swirls and something else clings to my skin along with the sweat and humidity. I can feel it collect in my flesh, in my hair, down my throat, and into my lungs. Like tiny fingers tearing me apart from the inside. My breathing becomes labored.

“Can’t you feel it?”

I can.

I tell the man beside me as much.

The hollow pain in my chest all but brings me to my knees as I struggle to speak.

“What happened here?”

He turns to me, wild black hair shifting and flowing in the midnight breeze as he finally looks in my direction. His glazed-over eyes shift and flitter as he purses his lips, thinking.

“I…don’t know.”

“It hurts.”

We are inches apart.

He feels so feverish.

“Listen,” he whispers to me, hot breath against my cheek, “Tell me what you hear.”

I listen. I strain my ears until the ringing makes me cry out in pain, makes me hunch over and sob.

My nose touches the dirt.

I hear the church bells ringing.

The feeling brewing in my chest expands until it’s suffocating me, until I’m screaming, until there is silence.

I understand.

The silence is broken by a soft voice. slowly, imperceptibly, one becomes many.

I hear hundreds of thousands of them. The very essence of them has sunken into to earth that was everything to them in life. The land that fed them, clothed them, gave them shelter, and life now holds them in its desperate clutches.

Hands cup my cheeks, the barest whisper of touch accompanied by a question.

"What do they say?"

Women, men, children, elderly, sick, they all scream in my mind, begging, wailing, vocalizing incomprehensibly.

But… The cries fade as quieter, more purposeful voices cover them.


Don't let us fade

Don't let them forget

I won't, I can't, I can't forget them.

We can't.

In the end, a hand grasps mine and silence falls upon us both.

The man embraces me, wet cheeks meeting my shoulder as we grieve.

We understand.

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