Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Legend of La Llorona

I am deeply fascinated by ghost stories.  It's all about allowing yourself that healthy dose of fear, that suspenseful moment where your pulse is racing and every tiny sound suddenly becomes menacing.  There's something universal about the way we tell ghost stories.  You turn off all the lights except for a candle or a flashlight, you sit in a close circle, huddled together to keep out the evil spirits (or just to get some moral support from your friends) and in your best "spooky" voice you whisper a story about death. 

This past week I was given an assignment in a class I'm taking called "Directing New Work."  We were to bring in an "experiment"--some sort of theatrical experience we've been meaning to try but have never really gotten the opportunity to attempt.  So this Tuesday, on the day of my presentation, I asked the class to gather in a circle on the stage, turned off all the lights in the theatre (except for a flashlight I grabbed from the glove compartment of my car), and told a ghost story.  Before I came to class, I carefully planned out what I would say.  I wrote down the results and, while it's really best to hear this sort of thing told in a properly creepy tone of voice in a properly creeky room, I thought I'd post the results here so that wherever you are, you can enjoy a good ghost story.  Just do me a favor.  Before you read this, turn out the lights.

 The Legend of La Llorona
     There are as many different versions of La Llorona's life and death as there are people who claim to have seen her.  Some claim she was the innocent victim of a man's betrayal.  Some claim she was a harlot who seduced and killed her lover and then drowned her children.  There is only one detail on which these various stories agree:  Her name was Maria.  This is just one version of Maria's story, but it is the version that was told to me by someone who truly believes this woman existed and that her ghost still roams the earth.
     Maria was a young woman from a small pueblo in Mexico, but her beauty was a legend that spread far past the edges of the village.  Men traveled miles and miles just to court her, but to all of them, Maria would say, “My heart belongs to another.”  You see, when Maria was young, her father had hosted a wealthy man from the city.  Maria fell in love with him in the short days he stayed in her house and no other man could measure up to his handsome looks and worldly conversation.  Maria spent her days pining for the man she had met so long ago, and though her friends told her he would never return, she couldn’t help dream of him.
     Perhaps the stars shone down on Maria, perhaps it was the devil bringing temptation, but whatever forces were at work, one starstruck day, the man of Maria’s dreams returned to the village to stay at her father’s house.  He became captivated by Maria's beauty (as so often happens in stories such as these) and remained in the village to court her.  In a year’s time, Maria bore him a child, a young son.  She was so overjoyed by the perfect child, she turned a deaf ear to her family’s horror and the town’s condemnation.   Maria expected that her suitor would ask her to marry him, now that she had borne him a son, but days went by and he said nothing.  Finally, one day he disappeared and even Maria’s friends whispered that he had gone to the city, never to return. 
    Time passed and Maria raised her son as best she could, but it was a constant struggle for her, and she never forgot or forgave her lover for abandoning her.  One twilight, Maria was wandering on the bank of the river that ran through her pueblo, her young son in her arms, when she heard the sound of an approaching carriage.  She felt a deep shudder, like a premonition, running through her body as she stepped closer to the road to see who it might be. 
    The horses’ hooves never faltered, the carriage's wheels never caught on the rocks or the potholes in the country road, passing Maria by as if she were already a ghost, standing invisible by the side of the road.  Maria’s heart broke to pieces as she watched her former suitor ride past, holding his new wife’s hand.  He never spared Maria a second glance.
    Maria fell into a wild rage, motivated by hate and fed by grief.  In her anger and sadness she threw her son into the river.  The child was far to young to swim, and by the time Maria realized what she had done, he had already disappeared, carried away by the strong current. Maria cried “Ay mi hijo, mi hijo” and her sobs were heard around the world.
    No one is really certain what happened next.  Some say Maria killed herself, throwing herself into the river that claimed her child.  Some say nature itself killed her, dissolving the bank beneath her feet and tumbling her into the river.  Still others claim that Maria stood staring at the churning water for days, weeks, and months refusing to eat, drink or sleep until she wasted away and became a spirit.  And today, at twilight, you can see her wandering the banks of the rivers of the world, looking for her child. 

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