THE SEVENTH CHAKRA
At first glance, Yessi thought the boy was a pile of laundry, somebody’s whites amassed and thrown out the window, the result of a lover’s quarrel. Mornings in the apartment were a blur—she made coffee before anything else—but still, she knew there was something there on the other side of the sliding glass doors. While the coffee brewed, she went to the bathroom and put her contacts in, washed her face, twisted her long hair into a bun. When she returned to the kitchen, she glanced outside again and that’s when she really saw it, or rather, him. Yessi knew how the body moved and how the body broke, that no tendons could stretch so far, that limbs were not meant to twist like dough.
For the past seventh months, she’d been teaching yoga every day at a studio on Key Biscayne, traveling to clients’ houses for private classes, leading free workshops in parks, and, one time, regrettably, in a clothing store in Dadeland Mall. She told herself it was temporary, that soon she’d get the experience and reputation to charge more and work less. She just needed to be patient and stay connected. This is also what she told her boyfriend, Ricardo, a lawyer from Buenos Aires. They’d dated for five years now—one in Austin and four in Miami—and lived in ONE TRUE PLACE, a high-rise apartment near Key Biscayne Nature Preserve. Floor to ceiling windows, white leather couches, a gigantic island kitchen and The American Dream, all paid for by Ricardo. Yessi contributed nothing, and while he said it didn’t bother him, it bothered her immensely.
She didn’t come from money like Ricardo did. Hers was a family of teachers and food service, of summer jobs and Goodwill clothes. Hers was a family of shared bedrooms and timed showers and not bringing people home because that meant sharing food they did not have to spare. Yessi was smart, though; she got scholarships and grants to go to any school she wanted. She did her first two years at Austin Community College, then transferred to University of Miami because Ricardo got a job in the city.
When she met Ricardo she was working in her father’s choripán truck; she thought he was just another white boy. Only when he spoke did the porteño come out, the chiming quality of his Spanish both familiar and unsettling. Her parents had grown up in Buenos Aires but had left decades ago, way before she was born. She only knew the country through their stories, their food, their music. She knew the country by what, and whom, they’d left behind, memories passed down during rare moments of vulnerability—while drinking maté with her father or praying with her mother. She knew of Gus through the picture on the nightstand by her mother’s side of the bed, their first-born from another lifetime.
The body was exposed to the February sun, a perfect Miami day in the upper sixties, the sort of weather that made northerners sick with envy. For a few minutes, Yessi stayed in the kitchen by the coffee machine, staring and not wanting to believe. He was right in front of their dining room window and she wondered how long he’d been there, or if she should call the police. She thought about calling Ricardo, who was on a business trip in Nicaragua where he represented the owners of a clothing factory who were also huge Ortega supporters.
Once, at dinner, she’d asked him why he still represented them when it was known that Ortega had been ordering police to kill protestors and anyone else deemed anti-government. He’d looked up from across the kitchen table and put down his forkful of lamb.
“Do you like living here? Or would you rather move to Overtown?”
Overtown had been the site of race riots in the eighties, and before that, was known as Colored Town. Ricardo was implying that she might want to live in a crack den. Sometimes he said things with cruel implications, but when she challenged him, he feigned ignorance. She attributed it to the lawyer in him, the lawyer in his father and grandfather, all of them in possession of a strange brand of synthetic innocence until proven guilty. And yet, after so many years with the same person, Yessi found it difficult to remember who she was and how to name her current reality: a gift? a trap? an escape?
Ricardo had only met her family a handful of times, though she saw his parents constantly; they owned a condo close by and were the ones who suggested they move to ONE TRUE PLACE. Every couple of weeks they stopped by for dinner, and on those occasions Ricardo brought home items he thought were ‘so Yessi’—a lace dress, a velvet skirt, a string of pearls—things that cost more than she made in a full week of teaching. She’d gotten into the habit of only wearing yoga clothes, the tights and sports bras, open-backed shirts and sandals. In his clothes, she felt like a doll controlled by a ghost. Ghosts were what her sister called white people, what she’d called Ricardo when she first met him years ago. When he’d excused himself to go to the bathroom, she’d made a face, leaned over and whispered, you into the dead now, boluda?
Yessi thought that yoga would balance her, that enrolling in a Yoga Teacher Training course would give her clarity, get her back to her center. For four long months she’d learned all about the eight paths of Yoga, the sutras, chakras, subtle energy bodies, mantras, asanas, meditation, prana. She was immersed in a world totally unlike Texas with its culture of meat and guns, motorcycles and football, rednecks and tailgating. Her family was not directly involved in any of that, but constantly surrounded by it, much like an aura, much like the barbed wire that kept their kind separated from the million dollar ranches of hill country. Their kind was dulce de leche on Sundays, Carlos Gardel on Saturday nights, maté in the kitchen after school—the water so hot it made the insides of her lips tender.
The only thing her parents ever wanted was for her to be happy, which, in a way, was its own subtle pressure. They wanted her to find someone nice and have kids and live next door so they could play with their ñietos and teach them about the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, the gauchos and tangueros. And it’s not that she didn’t want that, or that she didn’t love them, but sometimes, especially when her sister’s knees pressed into her ribs in the bed they shared until she was fifteen, she felt the invisible, smothering weight of Gus, each inhale attached to the past.
Yessi decided to investigate, to make sure she wasn’t having a vision, as her mother sometimes claimed to have. She moved slowly across the white carpet of the living room and past the marble dining table, then pressed her forehead to the glass. The boy had blonde, almost white hair. The boy wore nothing. No shirt, no pants, no boxers. No rings, bracelets, or watch. How far had he fallen? Or, how far had he jumped? Logically, her brain understood the pool of blood beneath his head, the facts of gravity and inertia, the frailty of bones. But it wasn’t until her memories connected it to her own life, her own brother and the smash of that city bus, that she ran back to the kitchen, bent her head over the sink and vomited.
The scream confirmed it. It came from above but was loud enough that Yessi could hear it from the first floor and soon after, two adults she presumed were the parents came rushing into view behind the glass. The mother bent at the waist like a broken cat tail, the weight of grief, the father covered his face. A few minutes later, two officers appeared. For some reason, even after an hour, even after the mother passed out and the father had to carry her away in his arms, they did not cover the body. Hidden in the bathroom, Yessi crouched on the toilet seat and peered out through the small window, watching the officers talk on her patio. They asked questions and took notes when the father came back. He kept glancing up, then down, swaying from side to side as if he too might faint.
Early on in the training, they got into pairs. Yessi was with Liz, a quiet woman from Wyoming who had shared little about herself except that she was in sales and had a poodle. They’d been working on the subtle energy body and were instructed to take turns lying flat on their backs on the floor of the yoga studio while the other passed their hands over their bodies, trying to feel each chakra. Yessi passed her hands over Liz and felt nothing, but lied and said she felt a warm pulse over the fourth chakra, the heart. When she lay down for Liz, eyes closed, she heard the woman suck in her breath a few times, and when their teacher told them to stop, Yessi opened her eyes and was surprised to see Liz crying. I felt it here, she pointed to Yessi’s throat, and here, she pointed at her crown. I thought this was all bullshit, she whispered. When Yessi asked what it felt like exactly, Liz looked down at her palms. Like throbbing. No, she shook her head, like burning.
For months Yessi had felt nothing. Everyone else in her class saw colors, felt tingles, had visions of spirit animals doing weird things like making herbal tea or playing the violin. For months she struggled even with the most basic poses, the ardho mukha svasana, down dog, the vrkasana, tree pose, the ananda balasana, happy baby. She had no balance and no strength, while everyone else seemed to move like ballerinas, holding poses with grace and not a drop of sweat. With each practice and work shop she felt more like a failure, embarrassed at the three thousand dollars she’d borrowed from Ricardo to take the course. Her only relief came in savasana, corpse pose. In death she felt most relaxed, most weightless. In death, she was closest to him.
She kept the lights off out of respect. Before the police left, they put up caution tape, but the body was still visible. At around nine, a knock came. She opened the door to the two officers who asked to come inside. They explained what had happened, the fall from the seventh floor to her patio, and apologized for the inconvenience, but they had to ask her some questions, had to use her patio for a while longer. While one of them covered the body, finally, the other slipped her a card for a trauma hotline. In case you need to talk. When she asked about the mother, the man shook his head. Not a good thing to wake up to.
After they left, Yessi drank a glass of water, then another. She pulled out her phone.
“Hija. Is everything okay?”
She glanced at the cloth-covered body. “I miss you.”
“We miss you too. Why don’t you and Ricardo come visit?”
“He travels a lot, you know that.”
“Then you come. Come spend time at home.”
She thought of the blue house and small yard she’d seen photos of. The dog, Mafalda, who dug up all of her mother’s red carnations.
“Do you ever see him?”
A pause. “What’s wrong, mija? You never talk about him.”
“Do you ever wonder if he did it on purpose?”
“No.” Firm, angry. “And neither should you. He was trying to save Mafalda.”
“But what if she was trying to save him?”
“You should pray, hija. I’m worried about you. It’s not good to be alone with that bad energy—I can feel it through the phone and it’s dark, too dark. Do you have any candles?”
Yessi nodded and went to the cupboard for the candle with the image of Jesus on it that she’d gotten from a botánica and hidden behind the spices. She lit it, placed it on the counter, and kneeled. She put her mother on speaker phone and took a long deep breath, brought her palms to her heart center and began to pray with her mother, who, thousands of miles away, was also on her knees, she was sure.
Part of the training required them to practice on friends or family. Yessi asked Ricardo to help her, expecting him to be too busy, but to her surprise, he agreed. She set up a mat for him on the patio, in the exact spot where the boy would one day land. Ricardo was quite flexible, able to pop up into a wheel with little effort, his jugular exposed to her, and heart open to the sky. As she led him through various standing and sitting poses, twists and bends, she saw him visibly soften and when she adjusted him, moving him deeper into a pose, she remembered what had attracted her to him in the first place.
She was majoring in Chemistry at Austin Community College, studying for a test in the choripán truck, when he’d stepped up to order. Ricardo with his thick, black hair and soft, unworked skin, his love of Cortázar and Borges, which, at the time, she’d found romantic, whereas now, after reading much of both of their work, considered them outdated and tepid. But he took her away. Away from the grief, the void that followed her family from Buenos Aires to Austin, from a lifetime she had never been a part of. Ricardo was a new start. Ricardo was, for a time, Samadhi.
Yessi cancelled all of her classes and privates for the day. It was shock, she knew it was, shock over the poor boy and his parents, his possible depression or mania, or bullying, or maybe a twisted internet hoax that got kids to do things like jump off of buildings. She thought of the first body she ever saw—her abuela’s wrapped in black lace, eyes lined in blue—and the body her parents never described. Closed casket, that one. Too much mess. These were things that she had avoided thinking about for years, but now it had all been activated, lit up from within, starting at the bowl of her pelvis and up through her crown. If it wasn’t for this building, if it weren’t for Ricardo, she would not be in this situation at all.
Yessi felt true compassion and love for the boy, but also, anger. Anger that it had taken her this long to feel anything so strongly in her own body, that it took death to make her feel more alive. Just then Ricardo called her from the Managua airport; she answered and tried to listen to him complain about the heat, the delays due to tanks in the streets. How maybe she was right when she said he shouldn’t do business with them anymore because they were incompetent and going the way of Venezuela. Yessi looked at the phone. That’s not what I said. She placed her free hand at her throat and clutched her mala beads. That’s not what I said.
She hung up on Ricardo. She could leave the apartment if she wanted to. But she didn’t. Even though she didn’t know the boy, it wouldn’t be right to leave him alone. Yessi stepped through the sliding glass door, which the officers had left open. Slowly, she lowered herself to the floor, sitting in lotus position next to the boy’s head, careful not to touch the blood. She brought her right hand to hover over his crown and began to chant japa, repeating the mantra she’d been given during her teacher training while running her mala beads between the thumb and forefinger of her left hand.
Time passed, though she couldn’t say how much, and then, something happened: she saw her emotional body; more specifically, she saw joy, a swirl of green and pink, and then, a bridge from her heart to the clouds above. She smelled her mother’s facturas, butter folded into pastry dough, saw her father’s thick hand pushing mortar to pestle, grinding parsley for chimichurri, heard her sister’s laugh, a sound like tiny Green Jays, and then she felt a shimmering, colorless, formless figure move beneath her hair follicles and travel down her spinal column through the soft inner core of her vertebral discs. Pulsating sensations traveled up her arms to her chest, throat, third eye, and out the top of her head like a beam of light, and then her body was no longer hers.
It was the boy’s, it was her abuela’s, it was Gus’s, and then there was no separation at all—they were all one. And they remembered something that their instructor had said early on in the training about surrender, about letting go of who you are and what you think you know, and so they did, floating up and over the buildings of Key Biscayne, over the city of Miami, over Florida, over the planet, and then they were in space, residing in light and lightlessness, existence and nonexistence, all of it beyond life and death, beyond any meaning to comprehend or grasp; it simply was. For a few moments, or several lifetimes, they were there and they knew everything.
When Yessi came back, her cheeks were wet. She wept openly for a few minutes, but she felt no pain. Not until she heard the voices of the officers coming—she assumed—to get the boy, did she think to open her eyes, did she think of calling her mother.
She had so much to say.
Your writer crush: Ross Gay, Natalie Diaz, Adrian Matejka, Beverly Tan Murray. I’m in love with so many authors, it’s actually a little sad. Or, maybe it’s not sad, but wonderful. Can it be both?
Favorite lyric: “Gracias a la vida, que me ha dado tanto // Me ha dado el sonido y el abecedario,” from Violeta Parra’s “Gracias a la Vida.” The whole song makes me want to cry and dance all at once and reminds me of living in Patagonia. Also, Violeta Parra is another author I’m in love with.
Sweetest thing: My cat, Oscar, waking me up in the morning, then falling asleep on a pillow next to me.
Your rituals (writing or not): Meditating when I wake up, gratitude journaling, long walks, making playlists for current book projects, texting with my best friend.
Favorite space to write: My balcony. Even though it’s hot and humid and mosquito heaven in Miami right now, it brings me joy to be out there with my plants and watch people live their lives as I imagine what their lives are like. Better than tv!
Best book nobody talks about: Bluets by Maggie Nelson. Or maybe they do talk about it, and I wasn’t listening! The Book of Delights by Ross Gay (this should be required reading for every human being…also, he talks about Bluets. He gets it.). And The Language of Emotions by Karla McLaren. Hear me out on this one: growing up, nobody ever talked to me about emotions and what they were trying to tell me. I thought being sad and angry and depressed were emotions to repress and that I should always be happy (poor, misguided me!). And it’s only now that I’m realizing, thanks to this book, that emotions, all of them, are gifts. And that makes me a better writer. And person.