I’ll never forget when a coworker returned from vacation to Puerto Rico and said, “I can’t believe they exist in such poverty. They have so little and yet still possess so much joy, it felt like they were rich,” describing a place so unfamiliar to me it was as if I’d never been.
In writing this flash I wanted to disrupt the narrative that those living in places with disproportionate strain possess some kind of magical quality that enables them to enjoy their circumstances. To me, the assessment that people in Puerto Rico or other underresourced communities overcome their struggles via superhuman gratitude and perspective reduces their humanness. I wanted to illustrate how the people in my family are people: flawed, beautiful, sorrowful, with weird laughs and mental illnesses and complicated relationships with one another. I wanted to represent the reality of their difficulties while also depicting their fierce love for where they live, which are two unrelated, simultaneous truths.
As Marco’s cousin, observing him mentally struggle without adequate resources in a place he loves so much produces a particularly salient tension for me. This moment in the car with him struck me as it was happening because it felt both exhilarating and terrifying, and in that way it reminded me of how I feel as I witness Marco’s life. I chose to focus on the imagery of wind not only because it was a present physical sense in the car but also because I felt it would adequately capture this thrill and danger. Wind can destroy and take life, as it did in Hurricane Maria, but wind can also uplift, waft a breeze, and fill lungs. In this flash, I associated wind with both immeasurable delight and monumental strife to parallel Marco’s risky yet euphoric existence.
I can’t seem to close this note without adding that as I write this, it is eight months since this scene with Marco in the car, and less than forty-eight hours since he was admitted to the hospital unconscious (not as a result of self-harm). Marco does not have health insurance. I am still so far away.
I know that when he’s fully conscious and able to speak, the first thing he’ll tell us is some ridiculous joke.
AMANDA WHITEHURST lives in Nashville, Tennessee. She earned a BA in Sociology from William & Mary and an MSW from Columbia University. Most recently, her flash “I Could’ve Been Your Reflection” won first place in Exposition Review’s Flash 405 multigenre competition. Find her on Twitter at @mandawhitehurst.