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66# The masks we put on

Updated: Jul 15, 2021

Drops of sweat formed on my temples, cold sweat. The heat wave turned cold. Shivers seized me as my teeth chattered. There was still no pain, only my body temperature going nuts. I crawled out of the bush to feel the sun. Aaaaaaah.

Mama can't know about this. That was the first thought that crossed my mind. She would worry herself sick and be more miserable than I am. How bad is the injury? How long before I can surf again? Shit happens. I had gotten used to it by now. As long as I can laugh, everything will be alright. I gotta keep laughing.

Salva called for a rescue team. Four gentlemen showed up with a stretcher. They carried me on their shoulders, and as they figured out the weight distribution, almost dropped me! I burst to laughter. They were tense at first but loosened up. We had two scary moments but we made it out of the jungle in one piece, an hour and a half later. I needed a doctor, water, and crutches.

Hospitals make me dizzy. Third-world hospitals are often the forefront victim of government neglect and corruption. Around us, every patient was surviving. The sword of Pestilence hung low above their head. The young, the old, the mother, the child, they all waited, dignified in their resilience. The smell of sickness made me nauseous and the heat rush returned. I hopped on one leg to the corner of the room and laid on my back . . . Smile, it will be okay.

By the time they called me, I had recovered my humor and a bit of strength. The doctor was young and cute. She patched me up with bandages and a piece of cardboard. Embarassed, she said it was all they had, then complained that she was unable to cure people because of her government's misallocated resources. I felt sorry for her. They did not have crutches.

Using every support to catch my breath, I hopped back on one leg to the bus. We picked up the rest of the group and went on a quest for crutches. The largest mall of the capital had four pharmacies. We arrived, I jumped on a wheelchair and entered the first pharmacy . . . no crutches. I had toured the entire mall the following hour and even called other pharmacies . . . still no crutches. The injury, the heat, and the constant hopping had worn me out. I returned to the bus defeated. Smile, you have to keep smiling.

On the ride back, my misadventure brought people together. Everyone shared stories of previous injuries and how they happened. More often than not, injuries happened in the most mundane setups. We get injured because we underestimate the task, do not pay enough attention, and bam! We laughed about our stupid injuriesm and laughing with people made things a little lighter.

I coped pretty well with all the shit that had happened over the past few weeks. This time though, it was different. I had no one to blame. I sprained my ankle because I underestimated the hike. Because I was arrogant. Because I was stupid. That realization was boiling up inside. I was angry at myself.

By sunset, my ankle was the size of a tennis ball and started hurting. I needed a long icebath but could find no bucket in La Guitarra. I had the 20L water jug. Half-cut, it could serve for a container for my foot. The plastic was thick but I had the gear for it.

The hotel staff helped me with the task. One guy carried the ice to my room and the other got my knife from the van. It was a beautiful blade, the Kabar USMC. The grip was covered by leather, thick and heavy. The blade, sharp and true. I tried to pierce the bottle but the plastic was too thick. I hugged the bottle with my thighs and stabbed it with two hands. The blade went through. My phone rang, it was Mama. Sound joyful.

Lying to my mom was harder than I thought, it made my burden heavier. I resumed my project and tried to retrieve the blade. It got stuck in the plastic. I grew impatient with every failed attempt, exhausted and pissed off. I choked the bottle with my left arm and pulled the knife with the right. Still stuck. I kneeled on the jug and pulled the blade with both hands, as if extracting Excalibur. The butt of the knife pulled loose and hit me straight in the mouth, a glorious uppercut . . . Then I lost it.

The pain, the fatigue, the helplessness, the blood . . . it was too much for one day. I threw away the knife, grabbed the bottle by the neck and hammered it against the ground, smashing and screaming until my hand went numb. Out of breath and energy, I collapsed on my back and began to sob.

The last blow crushed me, and the crushed ice helped. I reflected on the scene and even laughed at the pathetic picture. But laughter was sour and cynical and not working anymore. That last blow released an avalanche of heavy emotions. Emotions I kept stored for too long. It wasn't loneliness. This was darker and deeply rooted. Something even laughter could not fix. Something I had to figure out.


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