Written by Gracie Gregick |

It was through the immense pain in my heart that I, myself, came face to face with the Gods. Once before, they descended to our people as messengers; promising land if we left the security of our home in the North. We wandered dispossessed until one of our men found, perched on a nopal, a great eagle with a serpent in its beak. It was exactly what the prophecy had described, but the base of the cactus was submerged in the center of a wide lake. Even the boldest of our Mexica men fell to their knees at the sight. “How will we settle here?”, said one of the devastated men. Surrounding the lake in every direction were other ruthless groups that would soon attack us for our trespasses. Necalli, a typically overlooked member of our tribe, took the first steps towards the water’s edge and to everyone’s surprise he leaped in and swam toward the cactus. Our only choice was to follow him. At the center of the lake was the soggy stretch of land supporting the roots of the cactus. In the valley of today’s Mexico City, on the surface of this unforgiving water, is where we made our home. No enemy would dare to cross our shores or our people. Each morning we went to work sculpting the soil beneath our feet. Sweat dripping carelessly from our faces. We worshiped the Sun God for giving us the light of day. Soon enough, we were growing crops in the shallow lake beds and building on the islands we created.  

My name is Yaretzi, and I was a princess of sorts to this collection of islands we named Tenochtitlan. Our city was still so young and so was I. Necalli, the boy who brought us to the promised land, reappeared in my life. We shared corn with our feet at the water’s edge. The water was always so warm on my toes, but still refreshing in the scorching heat that hugged us. He was the water, warming me, and the sun holding me tight. He was everything I had come to love on earth and even beyond it. We became close, Necalli and I. I began to think that it was Tlaloc, our God of water and fertility, that brought us together. I still do. The day came that my father questioned me about marriage, however, and I needed to forget my friend. I knew that I would be unceremoniously paired up to a man and wed within the year. What I didn’t know was that I had already allowed myself to choose.  

I was introduced to Milintica, one of the respected warriors that hunted aside my father. He was quiet and looked upon my body with a frigid stare. I did not want to marry him, but I understood that I had to try. We sat eating a small feast prepared to unite us. The meal consisted of rice and beans, and it reminded me of my mother’s cooking. The more comfortable he became around me, the more charming he was. I had decided things were going well, and he gave me a kiss before I retreated to my residence for rest. There was a pause and an unsettling grimace replaced the small warmth I saw in his face. He left without saying anything more.  

It was still early in the night when my father woke me from my sleep with his frantic footsteps. He explained to me, with penetrating disappointment, that Milintica would no longer marry me because he could tell that my heart was already claimed by another. No matter how many times I told him that this wasn’t true, my father narrowed down my social interests to Necalli.  I had just sentenced my best friend to death and my city to shame with one silly falter in my heart. Even so, I was prepared to exile myself, with my love, in order to take the burden off my people. I went out into the night and found Necalli asleep peacefully in his residence. I woke him up cautiously, so I wouldn’t cause alarm. We swam only halfway across the lake when I could hear the city come back to life. Hundreds of torches were flashing, warning. The first flame flickered on the water, reflecting light onto their wooden canoes. We had only just started our race through the moonlit jungle, and they were already trailing so close behind us. Every leaf we pushed aside was covered in chilled dew drops. The water would come back in our faces as if to try and slow us down. And every stick that snapped behind our heels kept us running faster. All of a sudden, we looked up to find two massive temples of limestone towering over us. The abandoned city looked like promise. But in that moment, Necalli tripped on one of the stones and hit his head on another. I stopped running, cursed to watch him bleed out. In the last seconds of his life, he gazed upwards and saw my father cut my heart from my chest. I dropped beside my love, beneath my dripping heart that was offered up to the heavens. We both died there at the entrance to the remarkable city and the Gods came to take us away. My father stepped aside in embarrassment as they rejected the heart and helped us off the ground. The city, which became a second home to the Mexicas, was later named Teotihuacan or “The place where Gods are born”. And Necalli and I have lived among the Gods in the afterlife ever since.