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Reminiscing on Hopefulness and Heat

Reminiscing on Hopefulness and Heat photo

March 2016

It is Sunday and outside the window, it is snowing. Concrete and brick roofs are steadily being layered with powder, each snowflake building upon the one that came before in a way that seems to Juan strangely democratic. They accumulate, by now so numerous that they have congealed into a mass more powerful, more monumental than any one individually.

Juan remembers how he first learned about snow in elementary school. He spends a few moments rooting around in his head, past visions of times that refuse to leave his consciousness whenever unearthed, dodging sounds of tear gas canister screams, running past doors bulging with beaten bodies, limbs still young and limber despite decay. Finally, he reaches a foggy wisp of a thing and lets it curl its smoky tendrils around his brain, slowly sketching out the primary colors and unashamed laughter of Colegio Esdras. Juan allows himself to sink into the memory, inhabiting his eight-year-old body. The teacher at the front of the room is holding up a laminated poster of the Swiss Alps. Juan’s classmates murmur, small bodies glistening with that constant layer of sweat that lingers in the Latin tropics, eyes wide as they take in a natural phenomenon they will only see if they climb the peaks of Pico Bolivar. As if through a distorted microphone, Juan hears his teacher’s voice. Her speech fades in and out but one phrase comes through more clearly than the others. “The beautiful thing about snow, niños, is that every single snowflake is unique. None is like the other.”

Señorita Perez’s voice fades quickly until Juan can only hear the masticated outlines of sentences, then words, then letters. The classroom disappears, primary colors to monochrome to the dirt gray of Queens slush. Señorita Perez’s remarks float behind his eyes. Every snowflake unique. None like the other. Juan stares at the banks collecting on the sidewalk in front of his window and struggles to find the individuality in each flake. As he watches, eyes squinted in an effort to pick out any distinguishing ridge, he wonders how he is different from them. Five months ago, he was Juan Morales, 24 years old and beloved legal aid of Maria Corina Machado, the only opposition leader whose hands were still clean. Individuality was his, despite the never-ending cacophony of state propaganda that wove “individual” and “state” together so tightly it was nearly impossible to tell them apart. Five months ago, Juan had no time to stare out of windows. Five months ago, his life was frenzied race from car to door, eyes trained at all times on Maria Corina and their guards, ears accustomed to picking out the quick whoosh of a bottle leaving the hand of a colectivo member just in time to dodge its trajectory. He accesses this memory with detachment, brown eyes unmoving from the snow that has picked up outside. A part of his brain tells him this might be his first blizzard in the United States. He ignores it in favor of living in December 6, 2015.

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No haze surrounds his recollection of that day. The muted blues and eggshell creams that always made him a bit uneasy take no time to paint the sides of his brain, as they did the walls of an apartment he spent too many hours in. Juan is sitting on that well-worn couch, crammed close to four others. Maria Corina is standing, having refused a seat the first three times they offered. Too many nerves, she had said. I have to get rid of them somehow. The sound of a newscaster rattling off too quickly streams out in a tinny tone from the desktop computer perched on a table at the front of the room. It is the only source of noise in a group of people whose usual camaraderie and impassioned discourse bubbled together in good-hearted symphonies halted only by Maria Corina’s conductor baton of a voice. Now, however, the only audible noises are the laptop news anchor and Juan’s sharp inhales at the announcement of another state polling place closing. There were only a few districts left to count, including the Capital district, and the MUD, Venezuela’s primary opposition coalition, was neck and neck with the government’s party. 24 years of life in a Venezuela overrun by the Bolivarian Revolution’s obsession with corruption and power had taught Juan never to count on something until it was in his hands. Even so, this was the closest the opposition had come to a majority in the National Assembly in his entire lifetime. Just as Juan’s fist clenched with the surety that his house of hope would come crumbling down, another district’s polls closed and the little blue rectangle that was the MUD’s seats inched forward.

A phantom smile lingers around the edge of Juan’s mouth as he hears the roar of his colleagues at the unlikely victory that day. Despite Maria Corina not being allowed to run this time around, she had been ecstatic.

This is where it starts Juan. Vamos con todo.

Only five months ago.

He comes to, eyes re-focusing and face hardening when white fills his vision and not the green-brown-yellow hue of home. The snow is falling harder now.

Five months. Not even half a year has passed and already he feels like the snow bank. His sun-beaten face, an unfamiliar pale derivation now under the restricted winter sun, seems to him to blur with the faces of others he is surrounded by. The five other men he shares this one-bedroom with become the Colombians and Puerto Ricans and Mexicans he stands next to all day, lifting heavy boxes of flowers in a below freezing warehouse, become the Dominican family who own the bodega across the street become him.

Juan stares at the snow a little longer, trying to remember why he started.

He doesn’t.

— Contributing writer Carla E. Troconis' column, "Ni Aquí Ni Allá," fictionalizes political developments in Venezuela from the past year through the eyes of the diaspora.

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