Starring, Written & Directed
by Maria A. Ibarra
Director of Empanada & Miss America: A Mexicanito Fairy's Tale
TICKETS AVAILABLE NOW
All performances start at 8pm
Scars is a compilation of video documentation, journal entries, poemas, canciones, cuentos y maldiciones.
Through narrative and movement, Scars shares the dreams, childhood memories and adult experiences of one warrior’s cancer survival journey.“
The ultimate discovery in this cathartic journey is that inside, we all possess the spirit that moves us to get back up, to lift ourselves from darkness and find true love.” - Maria A. Ibarra
This year in August, “Si Dios Quiere”, will mark my 10-year cancer free remission. I, like many others, am a warrior, a survivor, a fighter in this health war for the self.
What I have discovered in these past ten years is that somehow or other, we are all survivors.
My story begins like this…
At the end of my junior year in college, right around the time of finals, as I grew more and more exhausted, my skin began to break out in rough red blotches around my face and neck, which the school doctor linked to stress. Although my extreme fatigue and breakout seemed unusual, I believed what the doctor said. After all, it is not unlikely in a society like ours, to work ourselves to the point of breakdown. I do confess that my junior year had been filled with reckless behavior, unforgivable choices and that I had grown very distant from my family, not visiting or calling, often leaving my poor mother wondering how I was doing. Truth is, I was definitely stressed. I was working constantly, sleeping little, eating terribly and deeply depressed. I had dug myself into a terrible dark hole. Had considered dropping out of school and had lost respect and love for myself. I was lonely. I was isolated. I was lost.
A day or two after the “stress” diagnosis I had an incident with my cat Dedos, who in a fit of anger scratched my forearm as I tried to pet him. He, too, noticed how distant I was. He was mad. He missed my company. The scratch marks were imprinted immediately, like scars, they refused to heal. More than a week went by and the scratch marks were still present. My ex-boyfriend, at the time, suggested “I should get that looked at.” I agreed. “Maybe it’s cat scratch fever!” he joked and we laughed as he drove me to a Centro del Barrio Clinic on the Southside of town where I knew people like me with no health insurance would be seen. He dropped me off and asked me to call him when I was done.
At the clinic, after filling out pages of paperwork I anxiously played the sit and wait game. I had contemplated leaving when they finally called my name. I exhaled a breath of relief. You see, I had my first rehearsal for a summer student production later that day and I was really looking forward to it. I was finally attempting to get out of my “funk’ so I did not want to miss it or be late. First, a nurse took my vitals and then I got to wait again in a small sterile room. It was rather gloomy despite its white walls. After some more waiting time a friendly woman with gentle eyes that reminded me of my 6th grade coach walked in, chart in one hand, the other reaching out as she introduced herself, “Hi, I’m Doctor Alonzo,” she said, her eyes immediately fixated on my face. “So you have some scratches that won’t heal?” Before I could even answer, her hands touched the sides of my neck, “has your neck always been this thick?” I didn’t know how to take that question. I guess I had not ever noticed. I knew I had gained some college fat, those “freshmen fifteen” never left and the thickness of my neck seemed natural to me. “I am going to order a blood test, okay? ” her head nodded up and down with an earnest voice. “Okay” I answered. I had been Jedi mind tricked. In reality I didn’t want to get stuck. She turned around and left. Almost immediately a nurse walked in.
I followed her into what I call the “vampire room”, the room with blue chairs with armrests where blood is drawn. I sat in a chair twice my size. I felt little. “What arm would you like me to use?” she asked. “None” I wanted to say, but instead I said “whichever.” She drew from my right, the same arm with the scratches. I watched as mi sangre roja-morada filled the clear vial like a red potion. She slipped in a marked bag with my name on it and escorted me back to the room. I began to wonder what they would find in my blood. Would they find traces of rave nights or hints of descarada? Would they see the shame and toxins of past mistakes? I wondered. The thoughts flashing through my mind were jolted with the quick opening of the door. Dr. Alonzo walked to face in front of me. “I am unsure of the results and would like to have a few more tests done. You will need to go into the University Hospital. They can see you today in the emergency room. Did you drive here?” Her voice was stern. “No” I nodded. “Can you get a ride? It is very important that you go today. That you go now.” She sounded so rigid, eerily motherly. “Yes.” I knew by the look on her face that this was serious. I just didn’t know to what extent. What I did know is that I could not spend another second in that crowded clinic.
I walked out of that room with my head spinning trying to stay calm. There was a line at the phone, so I decided I would walk to the nearest payphone, which was half a block away. My plan was to call my parents since they lived close to the clinic. More thoughts flashed through my mind as I walked. What were they looking for? What did they see? I wondered what they had found in my blood. I thought about how badly I had been treating my body. I wondered if the doctor knew. I even wondered, what if I was HIV positive? Or what if I had been cursed. When I reached the payphone I practiced speaking calmly as to not alarm my parents. I inserted the coins and after the first ring my sister picked up. “Where are you?” she immediately asked. “I’m at the payphone.” “Where?” she insisted. “Right here across the dollar store.” I didn’t understand why she sounded so concerned. “Mom and dad are on their way to get you. They called from the clinic to tell them you needed to go get some tests done. Are you okay?” her voice was trying not to quiver. “I think so” my voice attempting to stay strong. My parents pulled up in the large gray van right before break down. “They are here. Call you later,” I told my sis.
“Ey, a donde ibas?” grito mamá out the window with a shaky smile. “ Les vine a llamar.” My quivering voice tried to gain composure as I jumped into the van.“Que paso mija?” pregunto papá. “No se. Tengo que ir al hospital.” I answered. “Si. Nos hablaron de la clinica para avisarnos.” My mom’s eyes looked miedosos. The ride to the hospital was mostly quiet. Our minds loud with wonder. I was upset at the doctor and the clinic for calling my parents. They did not have my permission to do so. I was 22 at the time, an adult, not a minor. I felt disrespected. I couldn’t understand why they called. Those people didn’t know my parents. Don’t know how mamá se pone de nervios. Didn’t know how my parents worry. Perhaps the doctor didn’t trust that I would go. Still, they had no right. “Pos aver que nos dicen mija,” said papá as we arrived.
At the emergency information window they had my name. They were waiting for me. I was immediately escorted to the back. It must be really serious I thought because I went in before patients that had been there since God knows how long, patients with broken bones, uncontrollable pain or bleeding flesh. These are some serious scratch marks, I thought. After taking my blood pressure and temperature and being asked many questions I was asked to stay in a room in the emergency area. My parents were escorted to where I was. The moments after are a scary blur. I remember more blood being drawn and a whole lot of waiting with interrupted moments of all sorts of doctors and students coming and going. Several times the doctors felt my throat. The longer we waited the more my parents and I were filled con dudas. We didn’t know what to expect.
Finally, after a torturous eternity, a team of doctors filed in. It felt like a face off. It was us against them. Yo, la hija y mis quieridos padres que no hablan ingles y ellos the doctors in white with their medical terms. Frankly, I don’t recall who or how they finally said the word cancer. Lymphoma they said. I wanted to crumble. Tried not to break as I translated the news to mamá y papá. “Todo va a estar bien” dijo mamá, as the tears filled papa’s eyes and mine. She has always been the strongest. Dad forced the tears from happening and instead let out a nervous laugh, “Si mija, usted no se apure.” I would be admitted to the ICU. The doctors said they would need to run more tests. “Can I go to my rehearsal first?” I asked. They laughed, “No. You will be admitted today. You will be in the Intensive Care Unit under isolation we need to make sure your rash is not contagious.” I called my school to let them know I would not be at rehearsals. After all, I might be contagious.
Contagious. That’s how I felt when I called my ex-boyfriend who never called me back and I have never seen again, since. Although I felt betrayed, the days and months to come showed me something more significant about life. In those moments when I needed support it was not about those who perhaps in fear turned away, but instead the tremendous love and uplifting I received from friends, classmates, school members, teachers, spiritual groups my community and, of course, my loving familia. I realized I was fortunate and blessed with my beautiful parents, my sisters and great friends who were my rock and the millions of prayers and positive thoughts from everyone including people whom I had never even met that helped me heal. I felt infectious indeed, but did not understand then what is clear to me now. My illness allowed me to be infectious with spirit. Those painful months made me stronger. Through that journey I was able to find the fire within that we all posses in life, that spirit that moves us to get back up, to lift ourselves from darkness and find true love.
I received strong doses of chemotherapy and radiation as I continued my senior year and graduated from the University of the Incarnate Word. I was told I would never bear children. Two years later, after the birth of mijo, Solstiz, I relapsed.
Scars is a compilation of journal entries, video documentation, poemas, canciones, cuentos y maldiciones based on dreams and childhood and adult memories somehow linked to my cancer experiences. For over ten years I had been afraid to remember. Afraid to get emotional all over again about something that seems so long ago. Yet as those other warriors out there know, once we are marked we are marked forever. I no longer want to be afraid.
I thank the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center for inviting me to share. - Maria A. Ibarra
(originally printed in La Voz de Esperanza, July/August 2010)