By Brenda L. Velasco Garlic Milk Cures the Soul -- The world is going absolutely 'dicoulous.' For me, to go 'dicoulous means to go insane, to go lower then you could ever go. It's an expression I made up as a child. Actually, I managed to convince myself that my loving parents were the ones going 'dicoulous, because of the ridiculous thing they wanted me to do. The very thought of it made me wonder if my entire family were indeed a little "loco" to say the least! This form of "dicoulousness" began the day Papa finally got a long awaited letter from Abuelita, my grandmother in Mexico. I felt a little appalled, even humiliated at the fact that my parents told her all about my problems at school; how their once perfect daughter wanted to drop out because she had few friends, had poor grades and most of all was being picked on by practically every kid in the entire Yakima Valley! (Well, really just a handful from the freshman class at my high school). With problems like those, who wouldn't want to drop out of school? I guess that's why they wrote to Abuelita, out of desperation to see what advice or words of wisdom she could give them on controlling their basket case of a daughter. Her answer to my problems: "GARLIC MILK!" "She's possessed!" Abuelita wrote. "I went to the curandero-the spiritual healer-here in our village who knows everything about the bad spirits that linger over our family...Yes... they've found her, poor little thing. They've taken control of her mind. That's why she's acting that way. She radiates negative energy...that's why nobody likes her." "People do like me!" I protested. "Just not a lot..." I couldn't believe my own precious Abuelita had the nerve to go see some crazy curandero to give me advice on how to improve my life. Who would of ever thought of giving a teenage girl with acne and a whole lot of other social problems, GARLIC MILK of all things to help make it all better? If the man had any brains at all he would have known that I was suffering from the trials and tribulations of adolescence. NO spirits, NO possession... just hormones and attitudes... and a bunch of nasty kids I happened to go to school with! Papa read on, ignoring my intense facial expressions which screamed with disapproval. "Caballito Blanco and his brother Venadito Caf & eacute;- (Little White Horse and Little Brown Deer) say that the only way to get the bad spirits out is to take some garlic, boil it in milk and make her drink it for seven days straight. Only then will she be all right and want to go to school again." "What!?" I screamed. Perhaps I did not hear him correctly. Did Abuelita just say I should drink GARLIC MILK for seven days straight? "No!" I cried. "NO! NO! NO! I'm not going to do it!" Mama and Papa stared at me with an excruciating look of concern and anger. "Juanita, hijita, it's for your own good!" Papa said sternly, hitting the letter with his finger. "Abuelita knows best, and if Caballito Blanco says it's what you need to do to get better, then you'll do it!" I shook my head and got up from my chair, shoving it aside angrily. "You're actually going to take advice from a man called LITTLE WHITE HORSE? Do you know how ridiculous that sounds! Garlic milk is not going to help me, nothing will! No! I'm not going to do it!" I knew they were more 'dicoulous then I had thought. "Juanita!" Mama said coming forward as if to give me a hug. "They are curanderos... great spiritual healers with secret ties to the ancient world of our indigenous people...they know what they're talking about. Abuelita says they cured Abuelito (Grandpa) from a terrible ailment in his eyes. Remember, he could hardly see? They said it was a bad spirit that made him sick, and now he's better! This will help you get better too... it will cure your soul!" I looked up at the crucifix hanging above the kitchen table, wondering if my parents really knew what they were talking about. We had always been a good devoted Catholic family, renouncing anything that sounded occult. But ever since my dear grandmother, Papa's mother, befriended those spiritual healers, everything changed before my eyes. My family was not the same. "MOM! I'm not sick! I'm not possessed and I'm not drinking garlic milk!" I cried. "I can't believe YOU believe all this dark magic nonsense!" With that I ran outside and broke out in tears as I reached the front gate of our little home. "Juanita! Juanita! Come back inside!" My father demanded. But I ignored him and stared out into the street.
It was a sunny warm April day and the blue sky made the hills of the surrounding Yakima Valley actually look pretty. Still not even the desert sun could help me feel better. The neighbors across the street were blaring their music from a stereo inside. The bass echoed throughout the entire block and it gave me a bigger headache. They were playing some typical country Mexican "conjunto" music complete with accordions and guitars. "Juanita, come back inside!" Mama cried out from the kitchen window. "You're gong to catch a cold." "No!" I answered, watching as the two little kids from across the street kicked a soccer ball around in their yard. "Not until you promise me I won't have to drink ...gar...that stuff!" There was silence, at least coming from our home, and I knew Mama was not going to give in to my pouting. "Let her go." I heard papa say to my relief. That's when I opened the fence door and headed out towards the sidewalk. I took in a deep breath, trying hard to calm down. The last thing I needed was for the neighbors to see that I was crying. Our neighborhood had a lot of "chismosos" -- gossipers -- who loved to make a big deal out of nothing. The music from our neighbor across the street followed me all the way to the corner. I passed by all the small A-frame houses on our street-all which had wired fences surrounding them and most likely had a pit bull, bull dog or some other vicious animal running around barking at the anyone who passed by. Either that or there were little kids... lots of little kids screaming out in English and Spanish oblivious to the fact that the street was not a playground. It would had bothered me on any other given day, but not now, not when I just found out my family thought I was possessed and wanted to force me to drink garlic milk. Why me? I wanted to cry out as I turned the corner onto Lincoln Street. Our city wasn't a very big place, yet the street always had traffic, lots of it, mostly cars blaring that same type of music my neighbors were playing. It formed a sort of nightmarish symphony that made my ears hurt. Why me! I thought again, crossing my arms in frustration and ignoring a car that honked at me. Was I really that bad, that my own family thought some evil spirit had possessed me, causing all my problems to happen?
Things weren't always bad for me. I had a nice loving family, Papa worked for a fruit packaging warehouse and Mama stayed home with my three year old brother. We didn't have a lot of money, but I was always happy. I loved school and got along great with the kids at school. Then things changed once I left middle school and headed up to the high school. I never did anything wrong. As far as I was concerned I was just like most of the other kids at Johnson High School, except maybe a little shy, maybe even a little too skinny. But one day, Tuffy Jean Olsen caught me looking at her boyfriend and everything went down hill from there. She and her friends decided to make me a target (they didn't call her Tuffy for nothing.) My locker got broken into, her "followers" would yell out terrible things as I walked by. I was pushed, shoved, even spit at once. I was an emotional wreck and hated going to school. Still regardless of the problems I faced, I knew that it was not caused by some evil spirit. I continued walking down Lincoln Street, looking straight ahead at the silhouette of our church up head. "Garlic milk!" I whispered shaking my head, staring at the church, hoping for some sort of sign that God was on my side. Garlic milk to cure my soul! They can't make me do it! They just can't! I thought. I was positive Father Joe, our parish priest would make my parents do double penance if he knew what they were up to. Unfortunately, he was out on a retreat. I needed to find a way out of this situation on my own, to convince my parents and grandma I was not possessed, that I was really a normal teenager. How I hated that man, Mr. Little White Horse! He was the one going 'dicoulous! He was the crazy one! I continued walking with no destination in mind. When I reached 6th Avenue, I saw Charlie Garza on the side of the street washing his father's car. He was in my grade, a tall, good looking boy with a crew cut and tiny little mustache that barely made a line on his lip. Charlie and I met back in the first grade and were somewhat friends. He was smart and loved to give teachers a hard time but he was well liked, especially among the girls. I watched as he dipped his hand into the bucket of dirty soapy water and pulled out an old ragged cloth. He then threw it on the car, wiping the dirt away, unaware that I was walking up behind him. "Hey Charlie." I said as he put the cloth back into the bucket and greeted me with a smile. "Well, well, if it's not Juanita Vasquez. Watcha up to?" He asked. "Nothing much, just taking a walk." I said, tossing my long brown hair back, and noticing his little brother peeking out from the living room window. "Hey, sorry to hear about your locker. Hope you didn't loose anything important!" He said taking another rag out and continuing on with his business. "Just my ten page essay for English class. The one I worked all night for!" I said rather sarcastically. It still mad me so mad somebody had done that to me. "Teacher says I might be able to get at least a "C" if I hand it in Monday." "That's messed up." Charlie said shaking his head. "I'll live, I guess." Was my only answer. I wondered if he had ever heard about garlic milk, but was not about to ask him straightforward. "Hey Charlie, can I ask you something?" I asked as his little brother was pulled away from the window by an unseen person. " What?" He answered. "Are your parents, are they into that spiritual healing stuff...you know, like curanderos?" Charlie gave out a laugh. "No!" He answered soaping up the car even more. "It's a buncha superstition. My aunt believes in that thought, then again she's kinda weird. Always nagging at us to do crazy things with herbs. Why do you want to know?" "Nothing." I said looking down, embarrassed I had even brought it up. "Just curious." Charlie shook his head still laughing as he continued to wash his car. "Just curious, huh?" He said. "Don't tell me your mama and papa are getting into that stuff?" I then backed away shyly. The last thing I wanted to do was explain to Charlie why I asked the question in the first place. I then realized the sun would soon be setting and it would be unsafe to be walking around Lincoln Street at night. "No... No..." I said nervously. "I was... just curious. I better go, see you at school" I could feel a knot in my stomach at the very mention of the word school. "Hang in there chica." Charlie answered rather sympathetically. I gave him a smile, and then turned around. I liked Charlie, maybe more then I was willing to show, but with everything that was going on in my life, he was the last thing on my mind. I really did not want to go back home and face the awful reality that my parents were going to give ma a long painful lecture about running out on their "important" conversation. The only place I could go was my best friend Laura's house. But she lived on the other side of town. So home I went, and sure enough a lecture was waiting for me. My family has gone 'dicoulous! I thought before I fell asleep. There was not other explanation.
You could have imagined the horror I felt when I got home from school the following day to find my mother unpacking groceries. What's so horrific about that, you may ask? Well what my dear Mama was unpacking included several pounds of garlic and two large gallons of milk! The exorcism is just around the corner! I thought, heading straight to my room. After the day I had, dealing with my parents' idiotic pagan influenced ideas was the last thing on my mind. Orlando Lopez threw my backpack across the cafeteria during lunch, Barry Harris spent the entire math period trying to jam a pencil into a my back, and to make matters worse I was put on Tuffy's volleyball team during phys ed, with tragic results. I kept missing the ball and left the class with a bruised arm-caused by Tuffy's fist, not the ball. I closed my bedroom door and sat down at my desk, looking outside at the desert hill, my heart heavy with despair. I wanted so much for my nightmare to end. "Well... you know, I plan to make the remedy tonight." Mama said during dinner. Remedy? I couldn't believe she was now calling it a remedy! It was typical of Mama, though, trying to make something awful sound somewhat presentable. "I told you, I'm not going to drink that stuff!" I answered, getting up from my chair and putting my plate in the sink angrily. "Oh Juanita, just try it... you never know it just might work. Caballito Blanco says..."
I then covered my ears with my hands and started humming very loud. The last thing I wanted to do was hear anything more about the crazy curandero in Mexico who put me in a situation I was not going to get out of. "Juanita! Juanita.. if you could just listen!" Mama pleaded. Then, as if fate were against me, my Tia (Aunt) Margarita, Papa's sister in Mexico, the only one in our family with access to a telephone called right at that moment to make sure we had received Abuelita's letter. Of course Papa told her how I refused to drink the garlic milk as the wonderful and ever holy Little White Horse Man had ordered. "It's the Spirits." I could hear Tia Margarita telling my father. "They're telling her not to do it. It's their way of protecting themselves because once the garlic reaches her system, they'll vanquish. Caballito Blanco foresaw this...that's how I know." My entire family was completely 'dicoulous! They were crazy and I was convinced that if Spirits were possessing anyone, it was them, not me! "Juanita." Papa said while holding the phone in his hand. "Tia Margarita says it's vital that you drink the milk. Caballito Blanco says it will only get worse if you don't." "How can it get worse!" I mumbled as my little brother Andres stuffed a huge spoonful of rice in his mouth, making a mess. "Juana, I didn't want to mention this... but we do have a sort of bad spirit lingering over our family. You see, your great grandfather... well... he killed a brujo... a sorcerer when he was a young man... and your great grandmother... she beat up a witch who wanted to take your grandpa when he was just a baby... So you see, they're trying to get revenge." I covered my face with my hands, longing so much to scream! Never was I so upset, so angry, so embarrassed to be a member of this family. The curandero influence made them so annoying and down right 'dicoulous! Even going to school was beginning to sound better then coming home. Fortunately for me, Mama was too tired after dinner to make the garlic milk. Andres was being difficult, to my delight. But I had the feeling the delay was only for the night.
The next day I arrived home from another rough day at school to find my Mama stirring something up on the stove. I thought she was making soup, because it smelled garlicky. But then it hit me... yes the smell and the revolting realization that Mama was in the process of making the infamous garlic milk! "Hola Juanita" Mama said, as I stood by the door, petrified to even look at what was cooking in the stove top. "Hi." I managed to squeak out. That's when Mama moved away from the stove and I managed to catch a glimpse at what was brewing away in the pot. It looked white and unless it was cream of mushroom soup, I knew I was in trouble. "What's that?" I asked nervously. Mama turned around and smiled. "Come and see for yourself." I could hear the bad horror movie music in my had as slowly, very slowly I walked towards the stove. My heart was pounding, head spinning, palms sweaty and fidgety. This was it, the day of atonement, the day when Caballito Blanco would win and the spirits inside of me would come dashing out in fear. Yeah, right! Mama kept on smiling as I looked into the pot. I covered my mouth in disgust, then closed my eyes, for there was a pot full of milk, and swimming around in it were about seven little garlic cloves. The milk didn't even look white, it was a sort of yellowish creamy color, the most disgusting I had ever seen. Next to the stove on the counter were more little unpeeled garlic cloves, waiting to their turn to take a dip in the milk. Mama then came forward and to my surprise took one of the garlic cloves and tossed it into the pot with the others. Then she grabbed a wooden spoon and began stirring it gently. For a moment I thought I was looking into a black witches' cauldron. "Garlic milk just for you." Mama said. "It needs to boil a little longer...at least those are Caballito Blanco's instructions. Then it needs to cool just a tad before you drink it." I backed away, practically in tears and walked out of the kitchen. "I'm not going to do it!" I cried out. "I've told you millions and millions of times. I'm not going to do it!"
There is a point in a teenagers' life that regardless what you say and do, parents always win in the end. All the temper tantrums, door slammings and pouts in the world won't save you. The next thing I knew, I found myself loosing the battle of the Garlic Milk. So there I stood in the kitchen holding the glass of warm yellow disgusting "dicoulous" milk in my hand as Mama and Papa watched closely. It smelled terrible and I wondered how I was going to do this. "Drop it," a voice in my head said. Did I dare? I knew I could tell Mama it was an accident, that it slipped from my hands. "Just do it, just drop it." The voice said again. It was so tempting, so much an option to get out of this situation. "Come on Juanita, just drink it, rapido, rapido... fast... don't think about it." Mama said impatiently. All eyes were on me, even little Andres watched with interest from his booster seat. I stared at the glass, noticing Mama had strained the milk to take the garlic out. "What if I just eat the garlics that were in the milk? Would that count?" I asked desperately. "No." Mama said. "Caballito Blanco said you had to drink the milk. Drink it Juanita!" I hated Caballito Blanco, I was sure of that and decided right there and there if I should ever meet this elusive man during our next trip to Mexico, I would force him to drink garlic milk. The man was down right as 'dicoulous as they got, the biggest in the entire world! I also knew that if I didn't drink this disgusting stuff, Mama and Papa would harass me forever until I did, and I would never stop hearing about Caballito Blanco. "Father Joe would think this is crazy!" I cried out. Mama and Papa looked at each other, almost as though the very name of Father Joe gave them shivers. It was probably the first time they had ever thought about what their beloved priest thought. "He's out of town. And I'm sure he would probably want what's best for you." Mama said nervously. "Just drink it." Slowly I lifted the glass to my lips, hands shaking, heart racing. With the other hand I plugged my nose, hoping it would help diminish the taste. As the glass touched my lips, I let the milk fall into my mouth, rolling warmly onto my tongue. I immediately wanted to gag, for it was disgusting, all the tastes of warm milk with the addition of strong... strong garlic. Imagine eating a piece of garlic bread and then taking a spoonful of vanilla ice cream, only ten times worse. I felt so nauseous, I spit it out and gagged. "I can't do this!" I said breaking out in tears, wiping my mouth. "Please Mama don't make me do this!" But I knew I could not get out of it. It was sheer courage that helped me drink that first glass and afterwards I ran to the bathroom, but Mama caught me. "No! You are not going to throw up. Don't you dare think about it. It won't work if you do!" And so it was that I drank the first of seven glasses of garlic milk to help clean my soul from the awful spirits of witches that were causing all of my problems at school. I couldn't believe I had given in to THEM...the 'dicoulous ones, the authorities in my life who thought they had me completely figured out. The taste of garlic lingered in my mouth, even after brushing my teeth ten times. I was positive it was emanating from my skin. If the garlic didn't scare the spirits away, it certainly scared everyone else around me away. The following day at school, people gave me stranger looks then they had before. Even my best friend Laura asked me what I had eaten for dinner. I could not tell her what my mother had made me do. The worst happened when Charlie, tall, dark, handsome Charlie Garza along with Orlando Lopez and J. J. Benavides passed by me right before lunchtime. At the same time, Tuffy, Barry and their friends were coming down the same hallway. They of course noticed the fact that I reeked of garlic and used it to their advantage. "Hold your noses... there's a skunk in the school!" Tuffy yelled out, pinching her nose, staring right at me. Orlando and J. J. laughed hysterically and added on some other rude comments. Charlie, however, looked at me with sympathy as I leaned against the wall, ready to burst into tears. "Leave her alone!" He snapped at his friends who of course didn't pay attention to him. Then he turned around, whispered "sorry" and winked at me. While I was touched that Charlie had stood up for me, I was so embarrassed he had witnessed that terrible moment. If only Caballito Blanco knew that his wonderful remedy was making things worse for me! God only knows how I got through the day, but Mama didn't seem to have much sympathy when I got home. "You're going to keep drinking it until the seven days are over. You can't expect it to work over night." I wished my family hadn't gotten so influenced by the curanderos. I missed my old simple traditional Catholic family. In fact, I missed the life I had before I entered high school.
That night, I prayed for the first time in a long time. "Papa Dios, (Father God) Help me... please help me. My entire family thinks I'm possessed and the kids at school are getting worse. Please, don't let Mama and Papa make me drink garlic milk again. Prove to them that I am not being influenced by bad spirits. Make things better for me. Let me know I'm not going 'dicoulous.' Gracias, Amen."
By the following Monday, I had finished drinking the garlic milk and now the waiting began. We waited... and waited... and waited... for any sign of change in my attitude, the way I was treated at school. The big question remained, would the garlic milk work? Would the Spirits leave me alone? Was Caballito Blanco really and truly loco? Even though I didn't believe I was possessed, deep inside my heart sparked the tiniest bit of hope that maybe, just maybe things would truly get better. I was fed up with all the abuse, the poking, the shoving and spitting. I wanted my old life back. I began praying more and more, tempted to go tell Father Joe that my parents had been mingling in the spiritual practices of curanderos. My parents wrote to Abuelita, giving her updates on my progress. I could just imagine her and Caballito Blanco sitting there rooting for me as if I were a soccer game, egging the bad spirits to go away. Things weren't getting better though. After all of the torture of drinking that awful garlic milk I felt just the same, if not worse and the kids at school were still bothering me. I still wanted to drop out.
One Sunday afternoon, we were paid a visit by Father Joe. I don't know why he came, he just did. My parents were even a little shocked and I wondered if maybe some how he had found out what they had done. Perhaps he came to scold them. The two looked nervous, but Father's youthful face was anything but stern. As a matter of fact it was very friendly. "Buenos Dias." He said with a bright smile. "Father, to what do we owe this visit?" Mama asked with a smile. Father Joe walked in as Mama quickly rushed me into the kitchen to get him a glass of water. "Oh, please, I won't stay long." He said, stopping me before I got him the water. "I was just over visiting the Ramirez family down the street. I was hoping to catch you after mass this morning, but you disappeared on me. I'm here to discuss some important matters concerning Juanita." Right away my heart dropped into my stomach. What did I do know? I wondered. Or perhaps he knew about the garlic milk. God must have revealed it to him somehow! "Oh, what kind of matters?" Papa asked curiously. "It's nothing to worry about, I just have an opportunity for her that you might like to hear about, and the sooner the better." Father Joe said as little Andres ran into the room making noises with his toy truck. "Andres...shh...Father Joe is here!" Mama scolded him. But Andres kept on playing and Father only laughed. "It's all right." He said. Papa's face was beaming with curiosity over Father Joe's visit and I could tell he wanted to get it over with. "Now tell us about this opportunity for Juanita." Father Joe looked at me and smiled. "As you know, we just opened our new Catholic high school last year. We are working at recruiting more students. We have excellent teachers and programs and it's small so the students get a lot of one-on-one attention." Mama shook her head and put her hand over her mouth. "If you're implying that we send Juanita over there, you are wasting your time, Father. We can't afford it. There is no way." "I understand." Father said. "But we just established a new scholarship fund through one of our patrons that will make it possible for students with a good academic record to attend Lourdes High School regardless of income. That's what I came here to tell you. I know Juanita has been an excellent student in the past and I'd like to encourage her to apply. I'm sure she would qualify." What Father had to say sparked my interest. I had some friends who had gone to Lourdes and loved it. But while I had been getting good grades in the past, my bad experiences really brought my grades down. "Father, I'm not getting good grades this year," I said shyly, feeling embarrassed about it. Mama and Papa looked at me and a spark of hope flashed in their eyes. "Juanita's had a hard hear, Father." Mama said. "But the semester is not over yet. She still had a chance to bring her grades us." For some reason I felt this visit was not coincidental. I really didn't know how, but Father Joe knew about my problems at the high school. He was trying to help me, even save me from making a stupid mistake as a result of cruel classmates. I had only wished he could have saved me from the 'dicoulousness of drinking garlic milk! "Well Juanita, if you are interested, I will send you an application. I'm sure you can bring up those grades." I felt a load come off my shoulders, smiling at this wonderful suggestion. "I will! I'll work really hard!" I said with great enthusiasm. In fact it was the first time I had felt enthusiastic about anything all year long. Mama and Papa walked Father to the door and I followed after him as he headed towards the sidewalk. "Father, wait." I called out as he unlocked his bike which was chained to our gate. Father Joe had the tendency to ride his bike everywhere. "Thank you for telling me about this opportunity. I really hope I can get in. I guess you might know I've had some problems at Johnson High huh?" "I know things haven't been easy this year, Juanita. Your parents have been very worried. But don't thank me... thank..." "God?" I interrupted. Father laughed and nodded his head. "Yes. You can thank God of course and thank providence." Then he paused for a moment before adding... "and a caring friend who told me about what's been happening and thought you might like this opportunity. Take care, Juanita. I have all the faith in the world you'll get this scholarship." A caring friend? I wondered. What did he mean by that? Who had told him about my problems? He then got on his bike and smiled. "By the way Juanita, don't believe any of those silly stories regarding garlic milk." Father Joe said to my great surprise. With that he took off. He had known! Father Joe had truly known about the garlic milk, but how? Was it God? I pondered a moment as I watched him ride down towards Lincoln Street. Once he reached the corner, another figure on a bike stopped to talk with him. I noticed immediately the figure was none other than Charlie Garza. "Could it had been...Charlie?" I whispered. "But how?" A ray of hope was lighting up my heart once again. Where there was darkness now stood the anticipation that I with the grace of God would probably be going to Lourdes in the fall. The timing seemed so perfect. Then I thought of something that sparked my curiosity. Was this all really the result of the garlic milk? Were the spirits all scared away, giving me the chance to find better and brighter paths? Was it truly a coincidence, or was it like Father Joe said, providence? I had been praying a lot and it made perfect sense. I would still have to endure a few more months of torture at Johnson High School, but I now had a reason to strive hard. Perhaps going to Lourdes wouldn't solve all of my problems, but at least it gave me something to look forward to, a chance to start a new. Charlie Garza turned towards me and waved. I blushed slightly, remembering how he apologized for his awful friends. He knew I reeked of garlic, and the conversation about the curanderos sparked his curiosity. Did he put two and two together? I wondered. Charlie gave me a thumbs up as Father Joe rode away. It had to have been Charlie! I thought, feeling a little quiver in my heart. He began riding this bike towards my house and all I could do was smile. Santa Maria! Perhaps the world is not going 'dicoulous after all!