childhood

Going Blind on Friday the 13th: An Old Puerto Rican South Bronx Urban Myth

While growing up, Good Friday was a somber day in my catholic household. No music. No dancing. Not much television. No meat. The list can go on and on. It was a time for reverence, reflection and prayer. Friday, the 13th, whenever it came about was also a somber day in my highly superstition-driven Hispanic household. Had to be careful where we stepped, where we went, how we opened tin cans even. Every action was a cause for pause and reflection as to whether something could go amiss by engaging in said act. It was at the point that even getting out of bed was cause for concern. We most certainly didn’t want to tempt fate.

 

One Friday the 13th when I was really young (perhaps 7 years old) we actually ventured out of the apartment and walked over five blocks to the apartment of this older couple. As we entered the apartment, I noticed many people standing about looking a bit petrified. I was far too young to figure out on my own what was going on by just looking at their faces. I do remember wondering why in the world would all these people venture out of their homes on Friday the 13th .

 

I held onto my mother’s hand very tightly as we kept going further into the apartment. We then reached the bedroom and in we went. There on the bed where a husband and wife just lying about. At that moment, I had a weird flashback to some magazine photo my mom had saved of some couple named John and Yoko. At that moment, I remember wondering if this couple before me was John and Yoko.  Which it couldn’t be, since John was already dead for several years. So, obviously, it wasn’t but it is amazing what our 7 year old minds can jump to in terms of logic.

 

My mom started speaking to them in Spanish. I tried my best to follow. Eventually I came to understand that the couple couldn’t open their eyes. It wasn’t that they couldn’t see (well, they couldn’t).  It was that their eyelids would not lift open. It was a most bizarre situation. There they were holding hands with closed eyes before us all to see. They were wailing endlessly and asking god for forgiveness. They kept flailing their arms about; clearing the air above their faces.  People would occasionally come over and touch their faces and try to pry their eyes open.  But that was a no-go. Nothing, but nothing seemed to help them open their eyes. They were essentially blind; all happening overnight

 

I kept asking what was wrong with them. All I could see was major eye crust and made me paranoid about morning face cleaning rituals.  But no one could explain the biology or physics of the situation. All they would keep telling me, and anyone else who entered the apartment, was that it was Friday the 13th.  Apparently, that was enough of an explanation. No more needed to be said. Meanwhile, people just kept stopping by and bringing food. Was the thinking that the vitamins therein would help them open their eyes? I don’t recall seeing any carrots on the kitchen counter. Perhaps that would have been a bit too much. My mom eventually had enough of the Friday the 13th conversation and we headed back home.

 

I never found out what happened to that couple thereafter. However, all the kids in a four block radius knew about the couple. Many had in fact gone to see them that day as well.  We talked about it to no end later that day.  We all had chills but couldn’t quite explain why.  I had nightmares about the couple. Not so much about the going blind part. My nightmares consisted of these bunched up faces walking about trying to grab a hold of me. Part of me thinks that whole scene was some elaborate joke to scare us kids into behaving. How so, I am not too sure exactly. I mean, were we to take from that episode that we should never leave the house on Friday the 13th or that if we don’t behave fate will smite us on Friday the 13th (kind of the opposite of Christmas)? I never got a chance to ask my mom before she died about that incident. Thus, it is one of those South Bronx urban myths that still is with those of us who grew up deep in the South Bronx.

 

I never know what to make of Friday the 13th. It kind of snuck up on me this time around.   Now I am at a lost as to what to do today, if anything. I know for sure I will not walk under any ladders today. Why tempt fate twice?

 

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