Julián looks like a Pisces and sounds taller on the phone. He’s the kind of guy who, as a child, would carry raisin boxes in his jean pockets because of his then-undiagnosed non-diabetic hypoglycemia, and would joke that he was “down to two packs a day.”
The coldest winter he ever spent was actually a summer in San Francisco, where he got hypothermia, twice.
When teachers in middle school demand he not chew gum in class, he chews peppermint dental floss, instead. In high school, after learning humans get more oxygen to their brains while standing, he asks his French teacher if he may take his final exam on his feet so he can more readily access his French.
She says, “Non.”
In that same classroom, he learns that his first poetry editor was a white supremacist after she walks in draped in a Nazi flag. That’s the last time he ever saw her, and to this day he has a hard time being vulnerable because he’s afraid others think him subhuman and want him dead even when they’re polite.
The following week, he contracts whooping cough (one-out-of-four people to catch it in a state populated by 1 million). His cheerleader girlfriend breaks up with him. Subconsciously, he attributes the month-and-a-half he spends bedridden to an immune system disturbance after learning his editor was some sort of double-agent he can’t trust.
Julián spends most nights surviving the hunt.
Random people want him dead and natural disasters tend to find where he’s hiding: a potential obstructive sleep apnea symptom where a chronic nightmare disorder has become carnal… lack of oxygen to his brain manifesting in near-death experiences during REM, so he wakes up four to six times every night to take a breath.
His earliest memory is a nightmare he has as a two-year-old where an earthquake strikes and tears the earth apart. He’s left alone, parentless, stuck atop a column of ground… an island surrounded by a canyon at some random Floridian rest stop.
As a three-year-old, a bus runs over his dog Marbella in Colombia. His neighbor disposes of the carcass into the river that runs alongside his home.
When he’s four, Nevado del Ruiz erupts, killing over 23,000 people. The cross atop of the church is the only symbol a town once existed beneath the hardened lava. When he asks his mother where the tragedy occurred, she shows him Armero on a map, then points out the window to “just over that hill.” The distance is so small on the map that he thinks the lava flow is near—only a few streets keeping him from death, even though it is a few hundred kilometers.
The following year, he nearly drowns in a Medellín piscina while taking swim lessons.
As a five-year-old, he watches a horror movie where the ground turns to quicksand and swallows people whole, like flushing unwanted items down a toilet. From that moment forward, he grips the bathroom doorknob as a safety precaution anytime he defecates.
Though born in Medellín, he was conceived in Flushing, Queens, and finds comfort in that connection as he shits.
As an adult, his sister laughs at him because she learns he wouldn’t wipe his own ass until he was 7.
In 2018, against all self-preservation instincts, he vacations on the Big Island of Hawai’i while Kīlauea volcano is in the middle of a months-long eruption. Lava flows destroy over 700 homes. Buried in the sand at the beach, he feels the ground shake and tremble. He’s entrenched in the earth… planted like a potato, helpless.
His nightmares converge.
He wonders if after surviving so many attempts on his life while asleep, if finally forces outside his control have gotten the best of him.
He thinks of his Marbella and assumes nature will, also, lift his own limp body and dispose of it in the water: a punishment for never confirming if she was dead or paralyzed before his neighbor discarded her in the river like trash.
Marbella is Spanish for Sea Beauty, and Julián finds it somewhat comforting that he would die in such a poetic fashion with her in his mind. A full-circle of sorts.
But he survives.
Before emigrating from Colombia, his uncle tells him that to get rid of pimples, “simply insert a pebble into a gum wrapper, twist the sides so the pebble can’t escape, then throw it over your shoulder and don’t see where it lands!” He wonders if such a remedy can also get rid of his nightmares and chronic anxiety.
He continues to search for a cure.
Julián Esteban Torres López (he/him/él) is a neurodivergent + Colombia-born + genreless storyteller, public scholar, and culture architect with Afro-Euro-Indigenous roots. He explores otherness, liminality, and our being-in-the-world with care and nuance via a decolonial prism. As founder of The Nasiona and partner/managing director of Conscious Thrive Consulting, Julián’s work centers liberatory transformation and the creation of liberation-based practices. He’s also a Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions nominee; a finalist for the Trilogy Award in Short Fiction; a winner of Fractured Lit‘s 250-Word Story Contest; author of several books, and his most recent albums—SFUMATO, Hirˌīth(Ē)Ə, and Liminality—are available on most streaming platforms.
Learn more at jetorreslopez.com. Follow him on Twitter + Instagram @je_torres_lopez