Clínica Tikal ~ Vanessa Blakeslee

I had never heard of Clínica Tikal and probably never would if not for my annual visit to my abuela and cousins in Guatemala. I had just finished training at the Paul Mitchell School in New York. While I looked forward to spending time in my parents’ homeland and already had many cherished memories of vacations there throughout childhood, this particular trip felt different from the beginning. My cousinscalled me La Americana so often that after a few days it started to play on me like a tired joke; the houses of my abuela and relatives which on previous visits I had embraced as rústica now struck me as grubby and poor. I strolled through the village watching out for the chickens and the goats, but my mind’s eye drifted back to New York and the career I hoped to have as a top hair stylist, working backstage at the fashion shows and earning an income that I had once only dreamed about.

A week after my arrival, I paid a visit to Doña Emilia. For as long as I could remember, she had been close friends with my abuela, and years later I was to find out, a distant prima. When I was little, she had struck me as an object of both fear and ridicule, with her many chickenswhich ran around her yard. Some even wandered and clucked inside her house, scratching the dirt floor and pecking at fallen kernels of corn. But mostly, I was afraid of her filmy, blind eyes, each one staring off in a different direction. A visit to Doña Emilia was all but required in coming back to the village, both a family obligation and a spiritual rite-of-passage. Her clairvoyance had made her famous throughout the tiny country, and travelers journeyed from as far away asMexico andCosta Rica to seek her predictions. She had warned a former president not to ride in a certain black car because she saw his death, but he ignored her warning. Two weeks later they pried his body out of the front seat of the car, the assassin’s bullet through his brain and his blood on the road. Nineteen years old, I didn’t have much to fear of what she might tell me. And because Doña Emilia never charged (she claimed that clairvoyants who did had impure intentions) I didn’t have any money to lose by visiting with her. So I made the appointment.

On the afternoon of our meeting I sat on Doña Emilia’s porch in a homemade rocking chair strung together from old wire hangers and plastic twine. The inside of her house—concrete block with a dirt floor and tin roof—stunk of strong coffee, chicken droppings and the tamales that she baked over an open fire and peddled on the street. A few years ago I would have thought nothing of the way she lived, and perhaps laughed at her as she chanted under her breath, shuffling down the street with her hamper of tamales. But now I held my breath as she traced her rough hands over my face so that I didn’t smell her body odor. Then she pressed her thumb just above the bridge of my nose, on my forehead. For a long moment afterward, we sat in silence. She had never taken so long to read me before; from the time I was thirteen, she had always rattled off the boys I should avoid by the time her hands left my face.

“What’s wrong?” I finally blurted out. “Am I going to die?”

This seemed to amuse her; she cracked a wide grin of grey teeth. “Not right away,” she said. “But you have a quiste”—a cyst—“on your ovary.”

“Is it dangerous?”

“If you don’t remove this quiste it will keep growing,” she said. “And you won’t be able to have children.”

This slapped me hard, for I had always seen myself having several children.

“I want you to go to a clinic,” she said. “It’s far from here, but very good. You will have to take a bus.”

“But I have no money for a special clinic,” I said. “Why can’t I go to a doctor nearby, or inGuatemala City?” Even as I said this, my thoughts raced ahead toNew York. I would be back in less than two weeks and could see a doctor there.

“This clinic is free,” she said. As if to make sure she reached up and touched my forehead once again, between the brows. And then her hand drifted down to my right side, and she touched a spot on my lower abdomen where I guessed my ovary, and el quiste, must be. “But you must remove the cyst now, before you go back to theUnited States. It’s growing fast.”

Questions flooded my mind, but I felt unable to ask her any of them. How could she see inside me, and it seemed, read my thoughts? I had experienced no pain, no blood, no sign of anything wrong with my body. Yet I believed Doña Emilia because I knew all the stories from my family members about her predictions turning out to be right—in one way or another. She had predicted my mother having twins and my parents’ divorce before they had even married. When I was a little girl, she had seen me as a young woman in a city with snow on the sidewalks and tall silver buildings reaching to a grey sky. Yet how could a clinic which Doña Emilia called the best, afford to give free medical care? This was a question I did dare to ask.

“Your care will cost nothing, but you must tell no one where you are going,” she said. “Bring nothing but your pajamas. You will stay at the clinic for several days.”

I didn’t like this at all. “Nadie? Am I supposed to lie?” I asked. “Not even tell mi abuela?”

“Tell them you are going toTikal,” she answered. “That you want to see the ruins there. Then no one will bother you with questions. All you have to pay is the bus fare.”

I said nothing, just considered how expensive a surgery like this would be in New York; I was not working yet and had no medical insurance. And here was this modern clinic probably run by the Red Cross or one of the many Christian charities throughout Latin America. I could get this tumor removed now, free and clear. “Gracias, Doña,” I said. I leaned over and kissed her on both cheeks. She gave me a card with the name of the facility, Clínica Tikal. But I grew skeptical again when I noticed no phone number listed on the card, just the physical directions. I wasn’t about to ride a stinky bus across el campo for six hours for nothing, risk losing my purse to banditos at the likely chance of a roadside robbery, just to have to turn around and go back. I held out the card and said, “Where’s the phone number? Don’t I need to make an appointment?”

Doña Emilia climbed to her feet and shooed a hand over the card. “Do you think the poor Indians who need treatment pick up a phone? You just show up, híja.” Then she disappeared into her hut. I stood there for a moment, staring at the card. When I peered through the doorway Doña Emilia was crouched over a bucket, drawing out the water inside with a teacup and splashing it over her arms. She chanted something under her breath as she did this, her cleansing ritual which she performed after every reading before she moved on to another task. She wouldn’t even come to the door to sell a single tamale until she had finished.

At my grandmother’s house, I packed a canvas bag with my pajamas as instructed by Doña Emilia, plus a few personal items. When I approached my abuela and asked where I could buy a ticket for the bus to Tikal and El Remate, which was the name of the pueblo nearest the clinic, she took the card from my hand. My grandmother turned the card over, even though she couldn’t read. “I’m going to see the famous ruins,” I said, hoping she didn’t pick up the waver in my voice. I was prepared for her to ask questions, but she didn’t. I had just returned from Doña Emilia’s, after all, and who knew what the clairvoyant had said? A meeting with such a powerful seer remained a secretunless the visitor wanted to divulge Doña’s findings. And many didn’t.

I purchased the ticket at the corner store and the next morning, boarded the bus crowded with gringo backpackers and the rest who looked like me: the high cheekbones, slanted eyes, wide foreheads. Only my skin had turned the color of pale corn; I had moved to New York as a child and lived there ever since. I could pass for either, and this I cherished like a hand protects the flame of a match in the wind. As the bus bumped up and down the roads and swerved to avoid los campesinos and their cattle, I probed my lower abdomen in the spot where Doña Emilia had touched me. But even when I pressed hard, I felt no pain in the area. I started to wonder if I had acted too quickly. I was beginning to have doubts about hopping on this bus for a surgery six hours away, with no family nearby and no phone service in case I needed to call for somebody. Perhaps I should have made an appointment first with a doctor in Guatemala City to make sure that Doña Emilia had been right about the quiste growing so fast and needing to come out now. Had I been that homesick forGuatemala that I’d lost the savvy reasoning and worldliness which I’d gained inNew York? But too late now. I edged over as close as I could to the open window and set my eyes on the mountains. The terrain now appeared completely unfamiliar to me. I had never before traveled to this part ofGuatemala—Petén, the province which borderedMexico.

El Remate, I discovered, was as far north that I could travel by bus. The limestone ruins of Tikal, one of the largest cities of the ancient Mayan civilization, lay within the rainforest in a national park. I had never been to that part of Guatemala before and wondered if my mission at the clinic would permit me to explore the World Heritage site; I knew only a few facts from my guidebook which I had forgotten in my hurry. The Tikal National Park was located sixty-four kilometers from where the bus dropped me off. To get closer to the ruins themselves, I would need to go by one of the smaller tourist vans. In El Remate, I showed the card and the locals shook their heads at me. Then I remembered how few of them could read. I asked a shop owner. Clínica Tikal, he said, was not as far away as the ruins but on the edge of the national park, several kilometers walk outside of town. He instructed me to look for the sign on the side of the road and follow the dirt lane back into the jungle.

By the time I hiked to the hand-painted wooden sign with an arrow pointing the way to a driveway lined with dried cattle dung, I almost wanted to give up. My throat ached for water, and my temples throbbed with a headache from the bus’s diesel fumes. Why wasn’t this clinic centrally located, in El Remate where locals and travelers both could have easy access to medical care? Unless it was one of these new holistic heath centers—but no, only gringos with dollars had access to such places. Then another terrible thought occurred to me. What if this clinic had been established in such a remote place in order to care for los indios with terrible diseases—like tuberculosis and cholera?

At last I rounded the bend and Clínica Tikal came into view: half a dozen concrete block buildings like any other common structure in Latin America. Children laughed and kicked a soccer ball to one another in the dust. I climbed the concrete steps of the building marked Oficina, counting how many indios rested in rockers underneath the porches of the outbuildings. Twenty, maybe more.

Inside the office a girl who must have been my age sat behind a desk. A small fan blew the loose hair away from her face. I told her that Doña Emilia had sent me, and I needed a surgery to remove a cyst from my ovary. After I completed a few simple forms, she said that I must be tired and hungry if I had come from so far away, nearly Guatemala City. She motioned for me to follow her.

She led me to one of the outbuildings and a plain, private room with a cot and two windows facing the banana trees outside. A few minutes later, I was sipping from a cracked coconut and eating slices of fresh mango. I felt much better. I asked about seeing the doctor, and she told me that I would have to wait until tomorrow.

The sun had still not set when I changed into my pajamas and crawled into bed. As evening descended, I noticed the silence. I heard none of the sounds which usually filled doctors’ offices and hospitals—no quick footsteps, no crying outbursts, no odor of disinfectant or sickness. I smelled only the fresh scent of the jungle following the afternoon’s rain shower. But nothing else struck me as remarkable about the place. Why had Doña Emilia insisted that it was the best? Because it was free? I had seen no fancy equipment on the walk past the buildings to my room, just cabinas with patients reclined on their beds or in chairs. I made a mental note to ask the doctor just which aide organization funded Clínca Tikal.


Then I fell asleep, exhausted from the bus and the sun. I dreamed strange dreams—that I was climbing the ruins ofTikal, which I had only seen in photos or on TV. The doctor wanted to perform the operation at night, on the roof of one of the temples, so that I could see the spectacular stars. The sky gleamed more thanManhattanlit up at night, more spectacular than anything I’d ever seen before. I reached out to touch them above me, and then the operation ended. Only I didn’t want to come down from the temple. “You will have three children,” the doctor told me, but he wasn’t the doctor anymore. He was Doña Emilia, the moon reflecting in the clouds of her eyes. Then she reached out and clasped her hands over my face.

Morning and a breakfast tray of arepas and fruit greeted me. On the edge of my bed sat the man I supposed must be my doctor, peeling and eating a banana.    


He wore no scrubs and seemed like an ordinary middle-aged Latino man, slight of build, his small ears half-hidden by dark hair in need of a trim. Dressed in jeans and a collared shirt, he didn’t appear like a doctor; then again I wasn’t quite sure how a doctor in a clínica rustica was supposed to look. But I liked the way he sat there, one knee crossed over the other, one hand clasped on the top of the knee, eating the wild banana which he’d probably picked off of the tree outside, without a care in the world. When he finished, he tossed the peel out the open window. “So Doña Emilia sent you?” he asked, more of a statement than a question. “What did she tell you about us?”

“Not much,” I replied. “Just that you are the best place for surgery inGuatemala. I hope she’s right.” I rearranged the pillows and propped up higher in the bed, adding, “My backside is killing me from that bus trip.”

He smiled. “I like your sense of humor,” he said.

“I just want this quiste out,” I replied. “If she’s right about it existing at all.”

He instructed me to lie flat on my back while he felt around my lower abdomen. He concluded that Doña Emilia had been correct to send me here, and not a moment too soon. If I hadn’t felt pain yet I would likely be doubled-over in a few days, unless he removed the cyst. Then he proceeded to instruct me about the procedure.

“We do things differently here than anywhere else, certainly anyplace you’d go in the States,” he said. “For instance, all the medicines and remedies we give to our patients are from the surrounding forests, everything natural—as the rest of the so-called medical establishments have yet to discover. And we don’t use anesthesia.”

I sat forward, clutching the top of the light blanket which covered me up to my waist. “But I don’t want to be awake while you cut me open,” I said. I thought ofTikal, and how the film reenactments I’d seen of the Mayans showed them cutting out the beating hearts of their enemies.

“Please don’t worry,” he said. “You’ll be awake, but you’ll feel no pain. That I promise you. We have other methods.” Finished and apparently satisfied with his probing, he resumed his seat at the foot of my bed. Then he cautioned me about the recovery period. While this surgery produced minimal scarring and posed the least risk for damaging the ovary, the procedure required that I take extreme caution with myself for six to eight months afterward. When I asked why, the doctor explained that with a standard operation to remove an ovarian cyst after ten days, I would be almost fully recovered. But this surgery worked differently. I would need to behave as if I had just been operated on for at least six months—no heavy lifting or working out of any kind.

I nodded. The whole thing seemed to make perfect sense and at the same time, struck me as odd. What kind of surgical method could be so delicate? Lasers, I thought. That must be what he was going to use. No anesthesia, a fine procedure, minimal scarring. My face flushed, and I felt almost silly for not realizing this sooner.

“So I will need your consent in order to go ahead tomorrow,” he said. “Any more questions?”

“I guess not,” I said. The nurse came by with a tray of green plantains and papaya. The doctor waved goodbye and disappeared out the door. Not until I had finished most of the papaya did it hit me that I had forgotten to ask the name of the aide organization in charge of the clinic, nor had I signed a consent form. So there would be no record of my surgery here. I had even forgotten to ask the doctor his name.


For the rest of the day, I dozed and explored the premises. I wished I had brought a book, and there was nothing to read on the property. So I watched the Indian children kick their soccer ball with their tiny brown feet through the mud, and studied the other patients who rested on chairs outside. None of them were hooked up to IVs or anything you would see at a typical medical facility. But once in awhile, nurses (or so I guessed, since they wore no uniforms) brought around trays with boiling water, mugs and loose tea in jars, or tall glasses of dark juice, thick with pulp. The patients seemed to rest more than anything. I heard no cries of pain or bedside grief coming from any of the rooms or buildings. What was this place, Clínica Tikal?

Then I wondered if the man I’d spoken with earlier was one of those fake doctors I’d seen exposed on cable TV shows, the kind of snake oil salesman who scammed their living from sick people in the Philippines and Africa, but in Latin America, too—so-called doctors who hid a chicken liver in the palm of one hand and kneaded a patient’s abdomen with the other, then pretended to pull out a diseased organ from the flesh. But then, why wouldn’t the clinic charge? And the doctor, whoever he was, had struck me as warm, congenial—he had spoken while maintaining eye contact. So the possibility of a hoax didn’t seem to add up, either. (In fact, it seemed more likely to me that I’d find a hoax in the “modern medical establishment,” since such a system was set up to profit off patients). I didn’t get the impression that this doctor had been preoccupied with making his new BMW payment while he’d spoken with me, unlike doctors I had gone to inNew York.

When the children sailed the soccer ball in my direction, I jumped up and joined them. They squealed and played a game of keep-away with the ball, me stuck in the middle, their little chests heaving and brows glistening with sweat. “You don’t seem very sick,” I asked one little boy during a lull. “What’s the name of your doctor?” But the boy just stared up at me blankly before running away. A gigantic kapok tree extended over the middle of the yard, and howler monkeys lumbered over head. I approached one child after another, but each refused to speak. Instead, the mood of the game turned. As I headed for the ball, a little girl stuck out her foot to trip me and I stumbled to regain my balance. Only after I sank into the rocker underneath the porch that I considered how I must appear to these children. Despite my Guatemalan features, nothing else about me belonged here. The way I walked, my salon-treated hair and nails, my Calvin Klein jeans told the world I was a gringa. I loved the frenzied, melting energy ofNew York. I had always thought ofGuatemala a place I could return and slip back into an easier pace of life. But on this visit I felt unsettled for the first time, caught between two worlds.

The burst of activity reminded me of the doctor’s warning the day before. No heavy lifting or physical activity for six months. Did this mean I would be prevented from styling hair? I pictured the long hours standing, the quick changes backstage at fashion shows. Would I not even be able to wield a hair dryer? I scolded myself for not asking the doctor more questions when given the opportunity. Now I wasn’t sure what I might be giving up by having the surgery here. For how many days would I remain at this clinic, exactly? I probably wouldn’t get to see the ruins atTikalafter all, unless I went that afternoon.

To my right a wrinkled woman sat in a rocker, weaving a brightly colored bag. “How far to the ruins ofTikal?” I asked her.

“It is too far,” she said, without looking up.

“If I walk to the road, could I find a van to take me there today?”

She shifted in her rocker, but her hands didn’t stop moving. “So many people like you come here just to visitTikal,” she said. “But there is nothing to see there.”


The next morning, soon after daybreak, the doctor entered my room. Three women and two men accompanied him, and I guessed that they must be his assistants—although I wondered why he needed so many of them for a relatively simple operation. I had stopped questioning the everyday clothes worn by the clinic workers; in three days, I hadn’t spotted a single smock in the place. But as soon as the group entered my room, something shifted both around and within me. It felt somewhat like the feeling after a busy gym class has emptied out or an auditorium after a great performance. This energy pierced me; it was ten times the power of any collective energy that I had felt in the past, and also ten times as still and gentle.

The doctor stood over me, on the side of my body where he was to remove the cyst. He greeted me and introduced the others as his assistants. “In a few moments, you won’t be able to move but this paralysis will only be temporary,” he said. “You will remain awake but relaxed. Do you understand?”

I nodded. I had never felt more awake in my life. The assistants positioned themselves around the sides of my bed. Then a sound filled the room like nothing I had ever heard before. High-pitched, yes, but not a sound which came from a mouth or throat, but from within themselves, like the communication of dolphins. And I could no longer move except for a slight tilt of the head, just enough to look down and watch the doctor part the bed sheet. He folded my loose nightshirt and pants down and back. One of the assistants raised up an empty silver tray. Was that where they were going to deposit the removed cyst?

My body felt heavier and heavier, almost as if I was hovering above everything, and my heart beat as if I were watching the events about to happen to someone else. But then the doctor appeared to pick up an invisible instrument from the silver tray. He hesitated for a moment over the skin of my lower abdomen, his fingers pinched together as if he held a pencil or a razor blade. Then in one swift motion, he flicked his wrist and I felt something cut through my skin. I felt the instrument slide into my body even though I could see nothing in his grasp. I felt no pain, only the instrument prodding around. All this time, the otherworldly sound filled the room and must have echoed throughout the whole complex of buildings, through the jungle, into space. And the sound seemed almost insect-like, perhaps how a plague of descending locusts must sound; I’ll never know for sure.

The procedure only lasted a few minutes, during which I never spotted a drop of blood nor an open cut. The doctor did not hold up a chicken liver like a prize trophy or say anything to me until it was over, when he placed the invisible instrument once again back on the silver tray and asked me how I felt. The tray was partially blocked by the doctor, and I strained for a better view. I thought I spotted something tiny and flesh-toned. “I feel fine,” I told him, then looked again and saw nothing, just the knife. The trilling noise stopped; the assistants stepped back, bowed their heads and filed out the door as silently as they had entered.

As soon as they had departed, the full feeling and mobility of my body returned along with an extreme exhaustion. When I reported this to the doctor, he said my body was repairing itself: “Remember what I told you. Nothing strenuous for at least six months.”

I asked if the cyst had been removed completely, and he said yes. Then I asked about what I’d just heard and seen, and if he and the others were not from this world.

The doctor’s face softened, and from the crinkles at his eyes and mouth I realized he must have been older than I had first thought. He shook his head. “Every one of us is from Flores or El Remate, or one of the other villages nearby,” he said. “But many years ago, our people were visited by advanced beings—wonderful beings.” He went on to explain that the beings had passed along techniques of higher consciousness and healing, knowledge about energy and natural remedies, as well as warnings about the toxic practices of the outside world, including medicine.

Of course, I asked him then that if this were true, why hadn’t these beings shared this knowledge with more of the world—why many more such places didn’t exist.

“They do exist,” he said. “In the most remote places on earth, the areas with the worst poverty and disease. For why would these beings not come to these places first, to those the rest of the world has abandoned so completely? They came to this place because they knew the people would receive them with gratitude and love.” He glanced out the window. Raindrops splashed off of the banana leaves, and somewhere nearby a rooster crowed. “I miss them,” he said.

He left. A few minutes later a nurse entered with some herbal tea, and as I sipped the hot, tart water, I wondered about what I had just seen and heard and felt, how after such a routine surgery I had not expected to feel both stunned with an immeasurable stillness and transformed throughout my whole being. I thought ofNew York City, and how the place now seemed like a nonsensical steel-and-concrete maze that I wasn’t sure I wanted to make my home, yet I knew I would return there in just a few days. The creak of the rocking chairs, the shouts of the kids running, and the thunk of the soccer ball now and then against one of the concrete walls zigzagged in and out of my thoughts. Finally I laid back, listened to the sound of the rain pattering through the jungle and the drone of the insects, and fell asleep.


I remained at Clínica Tikal for another three days. On the long, crowded, nauseating bus ride back I examined the faces of the passengers. How many of them knew about the wonders of Clíncia Tikal, or perhaps the clinic had been around for so long, deep in this remote province of Guatemala, that the locals didn’t consider such medical practices to be wonders at all? In my grandmother’s pueblo, the bustle of daily life startled me back into the world. My abuela arose at dawn and stood for hours, grinding her cornmeal by hand with a roller against a stone slab; the grandchildren, mis primos, darted around and collected eggs; the young aunts and uncles chatted away on cell phones.

My grandmother asked me to describe the ruins ofTikal. She had never traveled beyondGuatemala City. Those she knew who had traveled toTikalhad told her that the ruins must have been made by God. What did I think?

“It’s true,” I said, not wanting to disappoint her or fall into a position where I might feel pressure to tell the truth. “Some things you have to feel and hear to believe, not just see,” I said.

Then she asked, “Where are your pictures?”

I shrugged and said that in my hurry, I’d forgotten my camera. But someday I would go back toTikal, perhaps with my children, and climb the ruins to see the heavens at night, the infinity of other worlds beyond ours.


Six years later, my husband and I were living in southFlorida. I had married an American entrepreneur who owned a sandal-making company which operated small factories throughout Central andSouth America. I had never told anyone about my experience at the jungle clinic, and the memory took its place with the other strange tales of my families’ village, until one day when I went to my doctor’s for a routine exam. I had been married for less than a year and was pregnant with my first child. During the ultrasound, I told the technician, “Can you check my ovaries?”

The technician looked puzzled but complied. I shifted my weight and craned my neck forward to glimpse the screen. I could make out nothing. But a moment later the technician asked, “When did you have surgery on your ovary? You must have had a cyst.”

“A long time ago,” I said. “I was a teenager.” I rested my head against the cool paper sheet. I had thought often of Clínica Tikal, the invisible scalpel and that piercing, unmistakable sound branded forever into my memory. “How could you tell?” I asked. “Does something not look right?”

“Just that whoever performed the surgery did an excellent job,” she answered. “I can barely detect any scarring, it’s so minimal. See?” She pointed out my ovary on screen, and I peered forward once again. “Where did you get this done?” she asked.

“Guatemala,” I said, and rested my head back.

She made a sharp note of surprise in her throat and her eyebrows shot to the sky. Then she proceeded to tell me details of the fetus, and the past fell away.

On the drive home I contemplated the news of the baby—a girl. Alone, part of me was pulled elsewhere—to that jungle compound, the card void of a telephone number, the doctor whose name I didn’t know. I had imagined none of it. Did such a place still exist?

I never found out. While I returned to Guatemalaonce a year to pay my annual visit to my abuela, I didn’t travel to that part of the country again. Sometimes we carry more fears of what we know after an experience than when we blindly set forth to meet it beforehand, and even more so when that experience remains forever inexplicable, haunting and transcendent at the same time.

Yet I visited Doña Emilia every time I came home. Again her readings focused on love, meeting my future husband, and that I was not going to remain in the hair business for long. The only time the subject of my experience came up was at my request. Two years after the surgery, I had worked up the courage to ask her if el quiste had been removed completely—if I would still be able to have children.

She clasped my cheeks in her hands and pressed her crinkled forehead against mine. “Si,” she said. “You are healed completely.”

“Have you ever been there?” I asked.

She spat on the ground, hiked up her dress and settled back into her rocking chair. “Nunca,” she said. “I have no need because I listen.”


Now we live part-time in Escazu, Costa Rica, my husband, three children and me. Our house is one of dozens in a compound, guarded by dim-witted men in blue uniforms who operate the gate and patrol the grounds and do little else. Even though I completed hair school and worked for several years in New York City, as soon as I got married, I stopped. My heart wasn’t in hair and make-up and never had been. I enjoy cheering my sons in their soccer matches on the weekends and pressing tamales with my little girl. My grandmother died three months ago, on the heels of Doña Emilia’s passing, and I do not feel compelled to see the ruins ofTikal.

So I have said goodbye toGuatemala, at least for the next few years.

Only the other night I was washing dishes long after the maids had left. My husband was upstairs, putting the kids to bed. I heard a sound through the open windows and the chorus of insects in the yard. A high-pitched, sonic tone. I crept outside to the deck. The night breeze rustled the leaves of the trees. I saw nothing but the moon and the clouds drifting over the stars overhead, and recalled the doctor’s words—“I miss them.”