Shall I describe the rug? It’s nothing really. More the positioning as it covered the entryway into my grandmother’s house. Just like any rug, since it was under the feet of thousands of visitors if not more, not that we were just a big Mexican family, but because my grandmother welcomed nearly everyone in the neighborhood, if not the town, to her humble abode whenever she could. Considering the run-down neighborhood, that’s saying something.
If she had a philosophy, or merely a belief about gatherings, it was “the more the merrier.” Singing and dancing, playing the guitar, even badly, were nearly a requirement. With beer and whiskey flowing, the frivolity lasted well into the mornings. Major events were not limited to weddings and funerals, but even to distant uncle whose visits came only one time a year, if that.
Each man, woman and child trod over the rug, which despite the traffic seemed not to move. It had occurred to me in my quiet nature that no one really knew what was under that rug. I know what your thinking, or at least some of you, that there may have been damage to floor boards, merely unsightly dents caused by the high heels and boots of revelers, being hidden. Or, there might have only been the dust that was prone to gather in the lonely house, one of a few within the half undeveloped block, where a dirt road was the only way to get to it. On dry days, the dust took awhile to settle, and on hot days and windows open, it was better to sit outside with a cool can of generic soda. I got used to the crunchy, gritty swallows.
The sights around the house were as mysterious, including the edge of town which I often dismissed as a wide open field of nothingness, almost as if one could walk deep into the field and reach a point of no-return. They said it was a cornfield, but I don’t remember a single stalk. One day, my brothers did walk deeper into the neighborhood, no longer recognizing the homes along the way, talking amongst ourselves, searching for clues or familiar faces, and wondering if we’d find something different upon our return. To this day, I don’t know how we got back. I do know that I looked for a park, or what remained of one, a subtle playground, overgrown weeds, with barely a teeter-totter, rusted swing set, and a broken merry-go-round that still turned, but in a lopsided manner.
The days would turn to dark, but that didn’t keep my brothers and I from playing with our cousins. Going to the park, it always seemed to me we went a different way each time like it was alive and kept on moving in some multi-dimensional space. Yet, we’d find it just the same, and wonder about this mystery only for a few minutes after we regained the ground beneath us. Then, we’d pursue other games, soldiers in war; tag that led to ripped shirts and grass-stained knees; hide and seek which ended up falling apart because of the darkness, and of course, cheating; but the ultimate thrill was getting the merry-go-round going so fast that the children standing around us seemed to disappear in a blur, and the spinning top itself seemed to lift off the ground like a space ship. Oftentimes, I almost felt like throwing up.
Arguments ensued over who would be Captain Kirk, or Spock, or the cranky Dr. McCoy, or Mr. Scott, poor imitations of his brogue. If there were no girls, my pansy cousin got the nod to play Lt. Uhura. We didn’t know until later, he liked to dress in girls clothes and play with dolls, and had no objections to acting girly.
Then we were called into the house, long after the sparse street lights came on. Remember, it was a poor neighborhood. I saw the rug, and the feeling gnawed at me. I didn’t want to get in trouble for sneaking a look. I might find out that grandma used it to cover a mound of dust. Wouldn’t that be embarrassing? Plus, it wasn’t my place to move anything in her house, and wouldn’t it seem even more strange if I should come right out and ask her. I was shy enough. I mean painfully shy. On top of everything, I’d never live down the ribbing I might take from brothers. I was called stupid for enough of the things I did already.
Even then, though, I knew I was an odd child, the way my mind worked, seeking out the rare aspects of life, and why there was always a book in my hand. For instance, why we had to wear shoes. To me, feet should touch the ground. But for that night, upon my uncle’s return home, and while he and others enjoyed the chicken mole, enchiladas, beer and whiskey, more than enough for our gathering, I waited near the entrance, watching as the comings and goings settled into more even patterns. As there were more goings, and people hugged, waved good-bye, wobbled and staggered over the rug into the dark night, as each family left, the house emptied; everyone, even the dogs came out to bid farewell.
Maybe I should have left well enough alone. As the house spit out the inhabitants, and I stood as the sole occupier, as though a sentinel between the citadel and the attackers, I knelt down feeling a burning sensation travel from my legs up through the core of my body, as though what I had planned might be punishable beyond my own imagination, my nervous system overstepping bounds. The urge was too great. I had to, if you know what I mean. There wasn’t anything else I could do, except to reach to the edge of the rug, listening to the prolonged goodbyes outside, which fell to murmurs, then silence. My family could never run out of things to say.
My small 8-year-old fingers lifted the rug, just barely, seeing what I thought was a line of shadow created by the intense light on the ceiling. It wasn’t. The line was much more distinct; it had a sharper edge to it. But I shook my head just the same. As I peered down, through where the floor should have been, I saw my first glimpse of the universe. I peeled back more of the rug to get a better look, my heart beating out of my chest. I thought I could see it ripple through my shirt.
The vastness stunned me. I wanted to get off my knees to stand up, and take the whole rug away. There were stars everywhere, the colors wonderous, flowing in the distant galaxies, beings and upon beings that filled the gaps as small dots in what appeared to be ships against the backdrop of something so indescribably breath-taking. Even the moon seemed ordinary.
And just when I thought I could reach through to that part of the universe, and feel the reality of it, like I could leave my grandmother’s house in an instant and be gone forever, my brothers came tumbling back into the house, stomping down on the rug, the part that had not moved from the entryway, and my small fingers with it. No apologies. The portal had closed, and I was so near to falling in. They had hurdled me as though I was not even there. I fell back on my butt and out of the way, along with the dust.
If only they could see, I thought to myself. If only they could have witnessed the grand theatre of it all, the perfect orchestra, myriad forms, the face of God. I could never get my head wrapped around it. But I was resigned to knowing. My family would never change. And, they would never believe.