Given what the secret stories of shelter children say about the afterlife, it isn’t surprising that Ronnie appeared in his military uniform. There is no Heaven in the stories, though the children believe that dead loved ones might make it to an angels’ encampment hidden in a beautiful jungle somewhere beyond Miami. To ensure that they find it, a fresh green palm leaf (to be used as an entrance ticket) must be dropped on the beloved’s grave.
This bit of folklore became an obsession for eight-year-old Miguel. His father, a Nicaraguan immigrant, worked the overnight shift at a Miami gas station. Miguel always walked down the street by himself to bring his dad a soda right before the child’s bedtime, and they’d chat. Then one night his father was murdered while on the job. Recalls Miguel: “The police say the robbers put lit matches all over him before they killed him.”
Miguel’s mother speaks no English and is illiterate. She was often paid less than two dollars per hour for the temporary jobs she could find in Little Havana (mopping shop floors, washing dishes in restaurants). After her husband’s death, she lost her apartment. No matter where Miguel’s family of three subsequently slept (a church pew, a shelter bed, a sidewalk), his father’s spirit appeared, bloodied and burning all over with tiny flames. Miguel’s teachers would catch him running out of his school in central Miami, his small fists filled with green palm leaves, determined to find his father’s grave. A social worker finally took him to the cemetery, though Miguel refused to offer her any explanation. “I need my daddy to find the fighter angels,” Miguel says from a Salvation Army facility located near Liberty City. “I’ll go there when I’m killed.”
Somehow I missed this 17 year-old piece from the Miami New Times when it ended up going viral last year (according, at least, to its related article) after a posting on Reddit. (The related article also mentions Disney buying the rights to this one with Clive Barker as producer. Barker and Disney, really?) Regardless, this is well worth reading for anyone with a passing interest in urban mythology as well as offering a sort of bleakly bittersweet window on life as a homeless kid in late-90s Miami.