“Right Now!” I murmured to myself – My eyes snapped open to scan my bedroom. Feeling a mix of fear and anticipation, I immediately knew he was with me. His smell was rancid… putrid, what can only be described as a concoction of spoilage and what I imagine a decomposing body must smell like. His smell almost always preceded him, and even after his departure, the nearly palpable heaviness of his odor remained.

 In that instant, I could hear him dragging along the old, weathered planks of my bedroom floor. Slithering and contorting. I held my breath, paralyzed as his cold, dead weight began its agonizing ascension up my body, finally resting on my chest. Unable to take in more than a scant breath, I whispered desperate prayers, pleading for him to vanish.  He sat, his murky silhouette engulfing the light that would ordinarily bathe my California King bed each morning.  

Inconceivably, his gaze bore right through me despite his having no distinct facial features. I knew from past experiences that attempting to flee was futile, so instead, I squeezed my eyes shut. I willed my body to move vigorously. I tried to wiggle my toes, turn my head, anything, all the while chanting, “This too shall pass away, this too shall pass away.” Gradually, the oppressive dread began to recede.

I opened my eyes to an overwhelming sense of sorrow. Jumping out of bed, I let out a whimper of defeat. I had forgotten about Dread, and this morning’s episode couldn’t have come at a worse time. Today, October 21st, is the day of my Abuela’s passing. Although I guess in hindsight, I should’ve expected to see him today. After all, my Abuela was the first adult in my life to openly discuss our family’s curse. She was the one to impart to my sisters and me the incantation to banish Him.  “Esto también pasará,” she’d say, and like magic, eventually it worked. 

Dread visited us all – my sisters, mother, abuela, and me. Even more terrifying is that none of us have ever seen his face, and though there are slight variations in each of our recollections, we all recognize his smell. My youngest sister calls him the boogie man, and my mom refers to him as “it.” I named him Dread. He is rarely mentioned outside of the occasional small talk to check in with one another. From what I have gathered, things were not always so hushed over the years. 

Years ago, my Abuela sought help from doctors, the church, and anyone she thought she could help. Everyone dismissed her for years, and she narrowly avoided a permanent stay at the local nut house. Eventually, she would come to recognize her experience as sleep paralysis. At least, that’s what the doctors call it now. She, however, had always said that it had to have been sent to her by her estranged sister, Mary. She left our family under what my family calls “mysterious circumstances” and was long suspected of dabbling in the occult before my mother was born.  Thankfully, I never had the pleasure of meeting creepy, dear Aunt Mary. 

Regardless, my Abuela felt responsible and did all she could to help us cope. We never needed to ask if Dread had visited someone the night before; it was made clear by the extra attention they received from Abuela the morning after. She’d comfort us with pan de Mallorca and eggs and stare at us from across the table, seemingly longing to say what she could not find the words to articulate. I distinctly remember thinking she looked so helpless. Even as a 9-year-old girl, I remember feeling bad for her, wanting to lend her my voice and take away her pain. In hindsight, she didn’t need my little voice, though none of us needed to say anything. We all knew we understood; as twisted as it sounds, it gave us a sense of camaraderie. 

My abuela loved us so much that before she passed in ’14, she would orchestrate monthly girls’ days for my sisters and me. Over breakfast, she would reveal our surprise destination, and my siblings and I would begin to bicker about who got to go first and who would sit in the front seat for the ride to our excursion. On those nights at the end of a fun-filled and carefree day, she would make her rounds to each of our beds, and as she tucked us in, she’d whisper, “I love you, Mija. Remember, Esto también pasará.”  She took away the pan de Mallorca recipe, laughter, warmth, and our cherished girls’ days with her passing. Over the next nine years, Dread’s visits would gradually dwindle; I’d grown to Imagine that it was Abuela watching over us from heaven.

Today, however, was different; not only was this the first time I had seen Dread in recent years, but on this October 21st, instead of being engulfed in hopelessness, horrified, or wondering why Dread was back, I find myself pondering life’s transient nature. Just as Abuela’s wisdom echoes in my mind during hardships: “Esto también pasará.”  Most recently, even in moments of euphoria, her voice persists and reminds me of life’s impermanence. Her words accompany me on life’s journey and remind me that this too shall pass like the looming darkness of Dreads gone by and a grandmother’s comforting embrace.

Written by Vang Harris

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