The story of La Llorona was such a frightening part of my childhood that she still haunts me today. I remember lying in my bed, shaking with fear knowing that if I uttered a peep or made the least bit of noise La Llorona would mistake me for one of her drowned children and take me away to my death in the river. My mother didn’t care that our nearest river was miles away; she had grown up with this old Mexican fairy tale and she was going to pass it on to us, river or no river.
Mom taught us that La Llorona (Spanish for the weeping woman) wanders the rivers of the southwest in her long flowing, white gown searching for children to drag to a watery grave just as she had her own many years ago. Why she drowned her own children was never really clear to me. Some say it was because she desired the love of a man who would not love her back because she had children. She put her children into the river to earn the favor of this man and she mourns that fateful decision to this day. Her curse is to spend eternity wandering the shores of our rivers searching for her lost children. Why she preys on kids today was never explained to me.
Mom used the fear of La Llorona to threaten and control my brothers and me. She could make us stop crying in a heartbeat by telling us that La Llorona would hear our crying and take us away.
All of that is long past and I hadn’t given La Llorona a moment’s thought -- until recently. Something happened that I can’t explain. Here’s my story. I’ll let you figure it out; I can’t.
Bob, my husband of almost 50 years, and I were driving back from Denver to our home in Deming, NM. We stopped in Socorro to tour the old Spanish colonial cathedral and spend the night. We enjoyed exploring the old church very much and found a comfortable motel on the outskirts of town near the river. The girl at the desk recommended a Mexican restaurant with good food and a small mariachi band. The band held our attention way too late into the evening and well into our fourth … or was it fifth … margarita.
We climbed into bed without needing our books to lull us to sleep. Bob was already snoring when I finally dozed off. It seemed as if we’d only been in bed a few minutes when I was awakened by what sounded like a cat screeching outside of our room. I covered my head with my pillow to block out the sound but that didn’t work. Finally, I rose, slipped on my slippers, and went to the terrace door to chase that damn cat away. I didn’t have my contacts in so you can question what I saw a few feet away from our bedroom door. Squinting through my near-sightedness I saw a tall, thin woman with her long black hair blowing in the gentle breeze gesturing to me.
I was afraid to unlatch the door but somehow I felt compelled to. I opened the door and took a couple of steps toward this ghostly creature, then froze, too frightened to speak. She spoke in low throaty Spanish, “Senora, you must help me. Please help me find my boys. Come, they can’t be that far away.” She turned and grabbed my arm with her cold bony fingers as if she wanted to lead me. I followed her.
We hurried north along the west bank of the Rio Grande, me at a jog and her with her eyes glued to the river. Every so often she would stop, drop my hand, face the water and yell through cupped hands, “Miguel, Juan, Miguel.” When no answer came she would grab my hand and continue to hurry along. I’m not used to running, let alone in my slippers. Finally, I had to stop and catch my breath. She stopped with me and I stood there panting while she scanned the river in the bright moonlight. I stepped on something sharp, bent down and picked up a crucifix. I examined it in the moonlight. It looked old. My ghostly companion turned and grabbed my new-found treasure from my hand. She held the crucifix to her heart and began to wail in that mournful screech that my mother had described so many years ago.
“Mi Dios, mi Dios, this is Miguel’s cross! I gave it to him for his last birthday. Come they can’t be too far away.” She thrust the cross back in my hand, turned and disappeared into the brush.
Exhausted and terrified I turned and bolted back to the motel. I heard her haunting voice again, as she screamed for her sons one more time while I climbed the riverbank to my room. The door was still ajar. I slipped into bed next to my sleeping husband and fell into a troubled sleep.
I woke early the next morning not knowing what to think about last night. Did I dream about meeting La Llorona, did this setting along the Rio Grande trigger my old childhood memories, or did my imagination run amok from too much tequila? It was then that I uncurled my left hand and a dusty mud-caked crucifix fell to the floor.
©2009 by Bob Rockwell