Biographical Non-Fiction posted October 2, 2016

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What would you do if you only had ten months to live?

Playa de los Muertos

by Sis Cat

“Andre, I need you to hold my purse.”

On our last full day in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, my cousin, Gina Dawson, decided to parasail. Her friend, Rhodessa, had returned to San Francisco the day before, and Gina’s other friend, Rob, my partner, lounged poolside with his own friend. That left me holding Gina’s bag in a foreign city.        

We meandered around cobblestone streets and browsed market stalls in search of a cambio for Gina to exchange her dollars into pesos. My knowledge that she would never come this way again heightened everything about that walk. Telephone lines hung papel picado, the paper doilies fluttering in the Banderas Bay breeze. Street food vendors crafted aromas that wafted through streets. Television sets blasted soccer matches. I experienced things through Gina's senses and absorbed them to remember her.                                  

Parasails launched from Playa de los Muertos, so named because the Mayans had buried their dead on the beach for thousands of years. Those who died noble deaths began their journey to Heaven from these sands. Archaeologists had long ago exhumed and moved the bones and pottery to museums, transforming the cemetery into a beach for sunbathers and volleyball players.

“Andre, I need you to take a lot of pictures of me to document this.”                                         
Gina instructed me on her second purpose for me to hold her purse—to witness that she parasailed. Some people would not believe she did it unless they saw the video. I resolved to film her air dance.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      
Two Mexican descendants of Mayans strapped a yellow bikini-clad Gina into an orange life vest and a black, seat-like harness that trailed a web of ropes. A celestial cord connected the parachute to the motorboat. The boat zoomed. The parachute unfurled. Gina rose above Playa de los Muertos—a human kite. Seagulls flew past. My iPhone snapped pictures and filmed. Gina is going on a test flight of Heaven.
Gina flew through the air so long, zipping back and forth above the bay, I stopped filming. I resumed when she approached land. The striped white, yellow, red, and blue parachute grew larger, and the dangled dot beneath it grew to a figure. Four men raced along the beach to catch her. My iPhone camera joggled as I ran to capture the moment men untangled her from the web of ropes and greeted her return to earth. She laughed a laugh such as I have never heard before. She said, “Oh my, that was wonderful! Oh my, that was wonderful, Andre!” She pumped her hands into the air. Ocean waves crashed behind her. My video stopped.     
The confluence of air, sea, and earth captivated my imagination. I said, “You looked like Bo Derek!”                    

Gina’s face contorted. “What?”
“You look like a black goddess coming down to earth, like a black Botticelli’s Birth of Venus."
Gina gave me this look. “You’re crazy. I'm just Gina.”                                                                  
But I knew the vision I saw. I later read a Rwandan myth in which the Daughter of the Sun descended a large spider web to earth to become the Bride of Man. I said no more about my vision. We left Playa de los Muertos and our last day in Puerto Vallarta together.
Since Gina’s transitioned from this world to the next, I often daydreamed that she and I returned to Playa de los Muertos. In my dream, the two of us walk the beach. She stops. My mind reverses the parasailing film I shot of her. Instead of Gina landing on the beach, she ascends without aid of parachute or motorboat. She rises from the sand like a released yellow balloon. I could neither stop nor join her journey. “Don’t worry,” she calls down to me, “I’ll be fine.”         
I focus on her smile for assurance. She rises into the blue air above Bandaras Bay until she becomes a speck. I wait and shout, “Gina, the ride’s over now! You can come down.”
But Gina rises until I am unable to see her anymore.
Gina is not coming down. She is going on the ride of her life.                                   
Our Gina had parachuted into our lives for a little while. She loved, helped, fed, comforted, and entertained all she could.
Nuestra diosa morena (our brown-skinned goddess), our dea ex machina (goddess from a machine), had returned to the womb of the universe and rejoined her ancestors. Gina, know and understand our deep love, affection and pride for you. Have a pleasant journey.


Story of the Month contest entry


I read "Playa de los Muertos" at the memorial service for my cousin, Gina Dawson, on September 29, 2014 in San Francisco. Most people tell multiple stories in their eulogies for loved ones. I told one story which my cousin had staged for me to tell about her when she was gone. In the months leading up to her cancer death, she coached my storytelling. I adapted my eulogy for FanStory.

iPhone footage of my cousin's "test flight" of heaven on December 11, 2013. We played the film at her memorial service.

Image courtesy of Google.

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