JANICE IN WONDERLAND
(Tales from Mexico)
By Janice Kimball, M.F.A.
I thought it didn’t matter what happened to my body after I was dead. For me, dead is dead. That was before I discovered my cemetery plot was in the wrong neighborhood.
I bought the plot in the old Ajijic Panteon. Teo’s daughter arranged it. It must have taken her a year to get permission from the rest of the family for us to be buried together, as in the eyes of the Catholic Church he was still married to her mother, from whom he had been separated for over 20 years. The three of us walked to the cemetery a few blocks from my studio arm in arm, grandchildren and great grandchildren following. His daughter was excited as she explained that the old cemetery was full, but that she had finally found a plot I could buy. It was in the children’s section.
It was tiny. Would I be buried with my knees up? I joked that I would like to have my feet chopped off instead. The youngest granddaughter’s eyes welled up with tears, so I cooled it. “What do you think?” I asked Teo in Spanish. “It is appropriate that we be buried with other innocents,” he replied.
“Maybe we could all be stacked up here together,” I joked, turning around to address the children. Their eyes lit up. The plot was as good as sold. What does it matter? Dead is dead.
The common Mexican belief is that you are not really dead until there is no one left who remembers you. Spirits live on and often inhabit the bodies of others. To his daughter, death is part of life and she was concerned about ours.
Walking home, I asked her, “If the cemetery is full, what do they do with the extra dead people?”
“They bury them in the new cemetery near La Cristina,” she replied. I could buy a plot there, I assured her. “Nobody wants to be buried there,” she said emphatically. “The spirits there are not happy.” I learned it was a place we would be rarely visited, being too far for the family to walk. Also, it was a cemetery with no ancients to confer with, and it was possible we would not even know our own neighbors.
My faint optimism waned on a following visit when I was told a baby buried in my plot years ago needed to be exhumed and moved in with a neighboring baby. There was some dissention with the other family regarding this “partnership.”
I made more discoveries attending a funeral there a year later. It was for a shirt-tail relative I did not know. I was squashed in with the family that I felt so comfortable with, but moving around I kept bumping into drunks, and I have drunk-man phobia. I wandered off and noticed some empty plots in another part of the cemetery. Teo’s daughter came looking for me. We sat down and talked among the tombstones. “The cemetery is divided up into barrios (neighborhoods),” she explained. “One does not know what goes on in another barrio, and it is very impolite to inquire.”
“Who is the other baby?” I asked.
“He is my husband’s brother,” she replied. I walked over to my tiny plot, nestled between a tequila and a whisky bottle. Dead is dead, that’s for sure—but does anybody know how I can rejoin the Hemlock Society?
(Ed. Note: Janice is the owner of Aztec Studios in West Ajijic. www.mexicoartshow.com/urzua.html)