Santeria Green Juice
by Savannah Sobrevilla
There’s nothing more bone-chilling, more horrifying, more get-me-out-of-here than realizing something you had with someone was not real. The sudden descent of questions like—
-Have I always been vulnerable to delusion?
-Should I be expecting more delusions?
-What else have I been making up?
-Like, have I romanticized everything, or is this just an aberration?
-More importantly, is there any inkling of truth to the delusion?
—can be overwhelming.
For this variety of existential q’s, q’s of the heart, q's that have plagued the human race for millennia, you can only seek answers from a non-human. Or rather, a Special Human that is a vessel for non-human-to-human counseling. That Special Human is often a bruja.
A bruja is a gifted vessel, versed in the Afro-Caribbean hybrid of Yoruba and Catholic practices, Santeria. People go to her for answers when reality feels unreal—but if you don’t like what she has to say, don’t take it out on her. She’s just the messenger.
My mom always had a rotation of different brujas since it was common for them to go back to Cuba for months at a time, and she needed to know that one would always be available. I had a hard time warming up to any of the brujas in her rotation because they would sometimes tell her things about me and my future when I wasn’t in the room. My mom would return deeply upset over a betrayal of some sort perpetrated by either my sister or me. A betrayal that would take place anywhere from five minutes to 32 years from the reading, but the feelings were felt in real-time.
In retrospect, they were probably trying to break it to her that she had produced not one but two lady-loving girls and that when we’d tell her, it would feel like the ultimate perfidy. And it did, but she’s cool now. (A few years ago, she bought my then-girlfriend and me matching pride t-shirts from J Crew type of cool.)
Either way, much like church, we wouldn’t visit the brujas when we were thriving, only when something had gone terribly awry or had been terribly awry for some time. When my mom got her readings, I’d typically wait in the car or around the outside part of whatever storefront, kicking rocks and fantasizing about my teachers and bright future as a dolphin trainer at the Miami Seaquarium. However, this essay is about the time she was in such a state, she forgot to leave me in the car and brought me in with her.
It’s 2009. We are at a pharmacy off of Bird Road (40th St); it’s the part of Miami where the road signs switch from English to English and Spanish to just Spanish. The pharmacy in question sells everything from cigars and vitamins to “Louis Vuittons that fell off of a truck and Elsa’s cousin, Tito, found” and, naturally, potions.
After approaching the counter and asking for a Señor Domingo, we’re led to a room behind the register. The room is narrow, has two folding chairs and an old lady with skinny legs blasting static-ridden bachata on a tiny radio. Venetian blinds that look like they haven’t been touched since Hurricane Andrew ravaged Miami in 1992 give the room a pristinely ransacked feel. There’s a little vanity with a single rose in a vase and one of those standing fans with ribbons attached to the exterior so that, while you’re suffocating in the unforgiving humidity of Southern Florida, you could be reassured that your fan was at least trying to work. My mom’s handbag has too many keychains, old receipts, coins, sewing kits, shoplifted goods, and sour gummy worms in there than Michael Kors could have ever prepared for. As we settle in, it makes its usual clanking sigh that harmonizes with all of our sighs.
“Me mando Suleyka,” she says.
(Translation: Suleyka sent me.)
“Como te llamas?” the old lady with skinny legs asks over the festive white noise.
(Translation: What’s your name?)
She’s wearing a bata de casa, has chin hairs, and smiles at me forgivingly like she knows that I know that my mom is off her rocker.
My mom gives her name, and the old lady with skinny legs reaches into the little vanity behind her. The fan ribbons are right next to me, but I feel nothing beyond the sensation of hot human breath. I am annoyed and restless but cautiously entertained by the camp of it all. With the swift and confident movements of someone who knows exactly what my mom needs, the old lady with skinny legs produces a square glass container. It is clear and has a white acetate cap, but the fluid is green like absinthe. On it is a pink sticker with a picture of a saint.
“En la noche vas a prender unas velas y tomarte una ducha. Cuando estés limpia, te lavas con esto por todo el cuerpo. En unos días, él parara de pensar en ella y pensara solo en ti.”
(Translation: Tonight, you’re going to light some candles and take a shower. When you’re clean, you’re going to lather your whole body with this. In a few days, he will stop thinking about her and think only of you.)
My mom agrees, thanks her profusely but discretely (which, at that point, feels like a jab at my perceptiveness), and tells me to pick something from the store. I choose a Sonic video game. She buys some votive candles to use for her shower—the kind that Tumblr and Orange Is The New Black popularized in a hipster way—and later that night, a confused miasma of black licorice spreads throughout the house.
My sister and I are too busy fighting over who will get to play Sonic next to give it much thought, but to this day, the smell of black licorice fills me with the muted feeling that something isn’t right.
The reason I never gelled with the brujas runs deeper than them gossiping with the spirits and my mom about my sapphic future. Visiting the brujas was a reliable index of when her romantic shortcomings had hit their limit. A desperation so intense, only a Cuban witch off of 40th St could remedy it. The problem was, these remedies never lasted, or actually, they never worked in the exact way my mom hoped they would.
For example, my stepdad might have stopped thinking about the woman he was seeing at the time and perhaps only thought about my mom after she lathered herself in that potion, but just because you’re always on someone’s mind doesn’t mean they love you.
In other words: it’s cosmic semantics. You say, “I hope he stays in love with me forever,” the spirits say, “inescapable codependency.” Like, tomato, tomahto vibes.
As the spirits would have it, it’s 12 years later, and I fully understand my mom’s frantic search for answers to those existential q’s.
It’s the kind of emptiness nothing material could fill. Not food, not work, not looking hot, not sex, or drugs or even the people you think you love but instead gobble up like a drunken girl chasing a can of Pringles thinking, “This will fix everything.” It never does. None of it is satisfying. It’s an emptiness so existential, you consult a religion and culture that you, respectively, don’t believe in and don’t pertain to, in the complete hungry hope that someone who simply wasn’t meant for you will step up and nourish you when, really, they’re just a can of Pringles.
And no one can live off just Pringles.
But it’d be nice if it was possible, no? Never having to evolve and face doctor’s appointments, colonoscopies, and IBS. Just Pringles, all the time. You take a green juice the next day, pretend nothing happened, and act surprised when your tummy hurts.
It’d be nice to bottle the endlessness you feel in the first moments of passion, call it love, and keep it forever. But it’s ultimately not sustainable. And it’s not up to the brujas to fix anyone’s emotional digestive tract to accommodate a lifetime of infatuation.
The green juice doesn’t fix the many actions that led to you feeling like crap. The bruja can give you a little something, but she can’t undo what it took to get you on a folding chair in a pseudo-pharmacy off of Bird Road, taking potions you don’t know much about.
Yet, I understand my mom as I’m prone to infatuations and always have been (reference: young me fantasizing about my teachers). I’ve had my heart broken by more near-strangers than people I’ve actually dated. There’s something about taking someone you barely know but was nice to you, barfing all of your hopes and desires on to them, and watching them fulfill exactly none of them, that just energizes a person with the misguided hope that the next near-stranger will fill that hole and seal it for good. I’d love to know what it is that keeps me from learning that lesson, but I just haven’t figured it out yet. It’s the kind of question one would take to a therapist first and a bruja second, but the former doesn’t have that answer, and the latter has bigger issues to deal with than my reverie-fueled immaturity.
What I’m starting to realize, however, is that love is probably most definitely maintenance.
In the beginning, sure, it’s like the can of Pringles you inhale at the end of a night spent dancing—thoughtless, hedonistic, delicious, manic almost. You’re like, “Oh my god. Why would I eat anything else when Pringles are so goddamn perfect right now.” But as it progresses, you need more boring (nourishing) foods—of the quinoakaleapplecidervinegar ilk—because otherwise, you’ll become anemic. For something to last, you have to let go of the high, assume that it will come back every so often but know that it won’t be there constantly, and be mostly okay with that truth. It’s swapping the Pringles for a superfood bowl and overnight oats but indulging in them every once in a while. It’s not using the brujas as a spiritual green juice that will magically spare you the consequences of your strange actions.
It’s growing up.
And, well, there’s nothing spookier than that.
Savannah (or Sav) Sobrevilla (she/her) was born and raised in none other than the 305. She studied nowhere and lives in the Lower East Side while daylighting as a fashion person. Her writing is exactly at the intersection of colorful horniness, sarcasm, spicy melancholy, and Spanglish. You can almost always find her pounding oat lattes and trying to keep it together.