miércoles, 16 de enero de 2019

My Hair Story

It was midday when I arrived at a very acclaimed stylist in some middle-class mall in suburby Caracas. My aunt had made the appointment for me weeks in advance, so they were ready and waiting to see me. As soon as I sat in the chair, a hairdresser started applying some unidentified substance to my scalp. Mirtha had yellow-bleached hair and fingernails that had to make her daily life just a tiny bit harder. She was slow and thorough,  letting the gooey chemical take charge of my scalp and then settle for about an hour. Its smell was thick and pungent, burning my nose and my skin as it took over.

After washing it off, Mirtha plugged in the heating iron. She ran a towel through my hair as she waited for the magical utensil to heat up enough. It was then that she proceeded to comb my humid hair with it. Strain by strain, slow and thorough, I felt the vapor burning my ears and my scalp and my face. When I complained, she laughed it off, didn’t even dignify my reaction with a reply. This went on for at least a couple of hours. I was 14 years old.


Whoever met me as a baby would probably be surprised to see how much hair I turned out to have. Until the age of two, my hair resembled that of a balding man who hadn’t given up just yet.

My mom resorted to every method in the book to announce her baby was, indeed, a little girl. A collection of rotating pink Velcro bows were usually the ones who did the job. Sturdy and solemn, always up to the task; the ribbon holding up its part of the bargaining while the Velcro held for dear life to my three standing hairs. I was also introduced to headbands: pink cute elastics that let the world know not only is your baby a girl, she also has an impeccable sense of style.

Mama was convinced that if she took me to the hairdresser enough times, my hair would eventually start growing. So around every full moon —when farmers and stylists believed hair grew the healthiest— she took me to the hairdresser so he could take care of my almost-bald baby head. Mama would then sit on the chair with baby me on her legs, her thick straight brown hair to her shoulders, her mauve lipstick hinting a smile as the man trimmed my ends. He was always hopeful as if his reputation depended on it; as if my future success depended on it.

It was only as I grew into a toddler that my hair decided to join me. When I was three, it evolved into the haircut of a divorcée who was trying to spice up her life with a pixie cut, following Ellen’s footsteps.

I was the only one of my cousins who didn’t have long hair. Valeria —only five months and 30 days older than me— had a luscious mane, bangs and all. I swear bangs were the only thing my toddler heart desired. Bangs and long hair that would move with the wind like in the movies, or like in those photoshoots people do in front of fans.

My curls started forming around that time; slowly at first and then all together. They were thick and tight and brown and bright. They didn’t look like anyone else’s. Not my mom or my aunts or my grandma, who all had very straight hair. After waiting patiently for years for my turn at awesome hair, I was stuck now with curls that proved me different. After wanting so desperately to have hair that’d make me fit in, I’d managed to stand out even more.

Straightening it was always encouraged. During Holidays and special occasions, a visit to the salon was almost a guarantee for every female member of my family. The appointment would be made days in advance and it was a trip to look forward to. Their nails would be trimmed and painted in bright colors as their already-straight hairs were blow dried and ironed; as if the static added by the heat and the extra products were the style every female in the world should have strived for.

I caved into it as I craved to be more like them. I was hesitant at first, but the compliments would flood every time, so I’d end up going along with it.

“You look so pretty with straight hair. You should do it more often”, grandma said as she squeezed my hand after a successful hair-frying session.
“Oh, but it hurt” I complained.
“If you do it all the time, your hair might stay straight forever…”
“You think so?”
“Maybe… Do you want some plátano horneado?”
“Yes, please. With cheese,” and that’d be all any of us said about it.

It didn’t stay straight forever, though. Most of the times it didn’t stay straight for over a couple of days. Under the unforgiving tropical humidity, my hair would fight its way out of its rigid prison and surrender to its curls sooner than my family could finish snapping pictures.

The process wasn’t a walk in the park either. My tiny ass would be seated for forty minutes in some salon chair as an expert combed my hair over and over: big round brush in one hand, blowdryer in the other. My eyes clenched and my ears turned red as the hot air scared any wave out of my scalp. “Do you want the ends inside in or out?” they would ask; the logical answer being out —like Sandy before John Travolta corrupted her in Grease— because that’s how pretty hair was supposed to look.

The salon was only half of the process. To maintain my style and fight humidity, Grandma would sit me down before bed and fix my hair to my scalp; a task that required a lot of patience and even more bobby pins. She called it la vuelta, or the turn, which meant my hair would go all around my head until it was nice and flat.

For la vuelta to work I had to sleep in it; dozens of tiny metal pins pressed against my head as I tried to rest. What a joyous day I would have the next morning, though, right after I removed the artillery to unravel my newborn straight and shiny hair. “Wasn’t it worth it?”, my grandma would ask. I was never convinced on the answer.

Every time I complained of pain, mama would announce, “Remember what the misses say: para ser bella, hay que ver estrellas.”

“The ones in the sky, mami?” I’d ask.
“Little stars from pain, hiji,” mama would clarify. In a country where female beauty was considered the ultimate goal, pain was only a small price to pay.


Venezuela has made a name of itself as the world’s powerhouse for pageant queens, and with good reason: we’re the proud holders of 19 international beauty pageant crowns. The pageant isn’t only a way to showcase the world how our society seems to prefer beauty over intellect, it’s a modern Venezuelan staple: followed and adored by millions year-round. It is also a catapult to the entertainment and modeling industry, which means every major product is backed by a set of fake white teeth and a shiny plastic crown.

Not only did the Miss Venezuela create ridiculously unrealistic beauty expectations, but it also made beauty procedures a blooming industry ready to squeeze any cash people were willing to give away. “There’s no need to be ugly anymore” the thousands of ads would yell from papers and screens every day, “for a small fee, you can be a Miss too.”

The average contestant goes through at least four basics: breast and butt augmentation, liposuction, and rhinoplasty. They’ll also need to weight no more than a hundred pounds —is there such a thing as skinny enough?— so if diets and exercise don’t help, a medical professional will recommend the girls to sew plastic mesh to their tongues. That way they will only be able to eat liquids which translates to skinniness, which translates to beauty, of course.

Heavy eyeshadow and contouring touch up whatever plastic surgery couldn’t. Their hair is the cherry on top of the misogynistic pie: long, luscious and wavy —which is the least you could expect after hours of blow drying, ironing, and adding extensions. Rarely will organizers let natural hair make an appearance, it is too much of a reminder that the European features they fiercely defend are nothing more than a facade; a scam that can only survive in a controlled environment.

“Can I be a Miss, mami?”
“If you grow to be six feet, maybe”
“Oh…” the thought of missing out on such a great opportunity made my six-year-old heart uneasy.
“We can do your hair like the misses, though.” I would oblige every time.

Keeping my curls healthy and my scalp pain-free began to feel like a battle. Combing my hair became my grandma’s favorite request, “bai, mi amor, echáte una peinaíta” —like combing dry curls had ever made anything better. The only solution that satisfied her ended with me in ponytails or braids or buns. Having my hair down was automatically classified as messy and needed to be corrected no matter what.

It was during those times that Sedal became the shampoo everyone wanted; “el shampoo de las Misses,” the campaign announced in a bright yellow font. Underneath, a before and after pic of a lion winked at passersby from a billboard adorning the highway. The before featured a lion with sad eyes and a big mane. The after pic, meanwhile, had a smiley lion, proud about the trip he’d made to the salon right before his photo shoot. His mane had been tamed through some shady chemical process and was now silky and tame, ends facing the sky and all. The message was clear: the smiley lion was the goal, the tameness had to be achieved no matter what.

I wondered what the lion thought about his new looks. I wondered if he’d question his nature and natural beauty. If he had decided to change his mane on his own or if someone had pressured him to make some money out of it. I wondered if the decision was his at all or if, like the misses, he was willing to do whatever it took to be universally applauded as beautiful.

In my Catholic private school, my hair continued being out of place. My classmates weren’t the problem, though, the indiscreet staff was the real issue. Graciela, our middle school Vice Principal, was a tall bulky woman with long black hair whose tips pointed outside and became unruly when exposed to humidity; the biggest teller of a blowdry.

It was early in the morning, right after prayer, and I was following my grade to the classroom. I had washed my hair only hours before and my curls were exploring their regained freedom when our eyes met. “Sofia, you look like a lion!” Graciela yelled from the other side of the hallway, half a smile on her face. “The before or after pic?” I thought but didn’t ask. Misses were never compared to lions, maybe to a Maltese or an Afghan Hound. Even a Yorkshire, tiny and cute, with straight flowy hair.

I didn’t have what it took to be a Miss, then, at least Graciela didn’t think so. What I wanted was only a side note. My hair was not my own and my opinion didn’t matter: popular consensus had agreed they knew beautiful, and beautiful was something else. According to this woman I wasn’t a Yorkshire, I was a lion. One that needed to be domesticated.

I swallowed my pride and hid my blue Nokia in my sweater sleeve to text my mom. “Graciela said I looked like a lion,” I sent it and dried the tears on my cheeks before anyone else noticed.

“I love your curls!” mama said that night, as she ran her fingers through my hair, my head resting on her legs.
“I wish it was straight like yours...” I lamented.
“You can have both whenever you want. That’s way better.”
We both stayed quiet for a minute.
“I’m sorry Graciela was mean to you, hiji. I’ll go to school tomorrow and talk to her.” The rude adult never apologized, but she didn’t dare to repeat the joke either.

That’s how I spent the rest of middle school with my hair in a ponytail. I would straighten my bangs and tie everything else up. My baby hairs never seemed to cooperate, popping out from different places, refusing to stay stuck to my scalp the way pretty hair was supposed to look. I started growing it out because long hair, I was told, was heavier and weight turned curls into waves.

It was during that time that I did my first straightening treatment. The process was tedious and painful, leaving my scalp full of open wounds that would heal over the next month; these were the stars mama had been talking about. My hair became wavy after that, flowy enough that my fingers had no trouble picking the scabs that the treatment had left. This is what people kept insisting I should do to myself over and over. This is what they wanted: for me to suffer silently in a salon chair for hours so that I would look like the version they wanted of me. I never went back.

It wasn’t that pain what bothered me the most, but how alone I felt in my battle. I was the only one rooting for my natural hair. I didn’t understand how what was labeled as “the best version of myself” made everyone happy but me. If the lion felt any way about it, I’m sure he would have agreed.

I chopped off most of it after I graduated high school, and the reign of the curls officially began. I learned to ignore rude comments and give sassy answers to inappropriate questions. As I started college, the people around me seemed way more worried about calculus and physics than about my hair journey. For the first time, I made friendships that didn’t seem superfluous or circumstantial.

“Do you notice anything different?” I asked both to my study group and to no one in particular an early Spring afternoon, bored after hours of doing homework together.
“The fact that trigonometry is killing us slowly?” Rafa replied.
“How we’ve been trying to figure this out for hours with no success?” Manu joined in.
“Is your hair shorter?” Isa had nailed it.

I found their lack of attention to be a blessing I hadn’t had the opportunity of enjoying before. It was then that I was able to separate myself from the stares. I finally started letting go of the pressure of other people’s expectations. I ended up switching careers, but it was that academic environment that allowed me to think of myself as so much more than a full head of hair.

I only wish the tiny version of me could’ve learned this earlier. I wish she would have known her hair isn’t curly due to dryness or lack of care. That she doesn’t need chemicals to be prettier, but more importantly, that her hair does not define her.

jueves, 1 de noviembre de 2018

The Unsung Immigrant Ballad

The recent ICE raids have left me trying to decide what infuriates me the most: It could be, perhaps, the millions of taxpaying dollars that are put to use in such ridiculous shows of force; the government version of taking their dick out for the world to see. “I warned you, didn’t I?” they say, “now you give me no choice but to fuck you with it”. It’s absurd they think they’ve stumbled into a new concept. After all, the American government is used to fucking immigrants on the daily.

Let’s take Iowa, for example. During the Postville raid of 2008, one of the biggest packing companies in the country lost almost all of their employees. Around 400 of them arrested, over 300 convicted for identity theft and document fraud. Their trials were fast and unfair; most of them were assigned lawyers with no previous experience on immigration law. Shackled at their feet and hands. Kicked while on the ground. Treated like an infestation that’s ruined a good crop. Like the food that reached the table of these ICE officials was never touched by an illegal immigrant. Like the economy of that small town didn’t depend on their presence.

Take the jobs now, why don’t you? Truth is they never wanted them in the first place. Truth is that anyone who lives in the country legally goes above and beyond to avoid those work environments. Truth is Eduardo and Jorge and Alicia were paid way under minimum wage. They were forbidden to take bathroom breaks. The owner even threatened them with physical violence more than once. Yet they continued to show up at work every day. Tolerated it every day. Sucked big ol’ America’s dick every single day of their lives. Not only that, they did it with contempt. Show me an American who’ll go to those extremes to keep a job. I dare you. I double fucking dare you.

Contrary to popular belief, these immigrants won’t just vanish once they’re kicked out. Their bodies won’t turn to dust as their souls ascend to Mexican heaven —God forbid they take the American one as well! Their reality, in fact, is much grimmer. Now they’ll be condemned to countries where they weren’t safe to begin with, countries that stopped being home. Hostile lands that kicked their children out with no mercy, only to be used and abused by a land that wants them as nothing more than labor force. All because George and Mike and Donny decided they were intruders. Usurpers of a land that had already been stolen. 

“They’d be more useful back where they came from,” they think —but never say. They know people just like the ones they’re deporting populate every single American-runned sweatshop across the globe… Sorry, should I call them entrepreneurial endeavors instead? Is that a better euphemism? Like it wasn’t a truth universally acknowledged how their fast fashion and modern technology is made by tiny little hands in developing countries. After all, you know how the old saying goes, “Designed in California; made someplace with shitty work laws and cheap employees.”

That’s what the government thinks of them. Nothing more. They’re usable but disposable. Easily replaceable. They’d kick the entire immigrant population if they had a chance. That’s why we raise hell. That’s why we speak up. That’s why we tell them to suck their own giant dick back.

sábado, 27 de octubre de 2018

The Ignored American Immigrant

Laura usually gets described as loud. Not by herself, of course, nor by the people who love her, but by casual bystanders. Passersby in the subway who’ll try to ignore her as she cries, or snaps her fingers, or laughs to herself.

She tries to let it go, Laura, but it doesn’t always work out. The holidays, the special days, and the not-so-special ones. She tunes it out, like a blister on the back of the heel from standing all day; or like a chronic back pain from sleeping in the couch because there’s no comfort anywhere else.

It builds up until it hurts in places that weren’t known to her before. Not unfamiliar but dismissed; ignored because they were considered unimportant. Like the cold metal chairs where we sat down to have pastries once a week; the ones that were bought after a 90's remodel in an effort to make the bakery look fancier. Or the sidewalk on the way back home, the one that lost a battle with a tree and roots claimed as their own. Growing out of it, regaining the place that had been theirs to begin with. She sits in the subway and longs for it all as I hold her hand.

It’s a different sort of pain. Dreamlike, almost; a scene from a movie that we saw as kids but forgot long ago. Unable to recall if it actually happened or if it was just an embellished memory. It strikes her when she looks for her grandma’s brooch, only to remember it was left in a drawer thousands of miles away along with a life that’s not hers to live anymore. Or when she tries to find comfort food, only to realize these concepts didn’t migrate with her.

She’s grown the habit of staring at people on the streets, but her favorite is this one woman who kept showing up on our block. Her hair was fastened at the bottom of her neck, perfectly combed and decorated by a pair of glasses she used on her head instead. “She looks just like Gloria,” Laura says, “with her long blue uniform skirt and short-sleeved impeccably-white shirts. With her carmine lipstick and a smile that held every answer.” She sighs but doesn’t continue.

Except it isn’t her. Laura doesn’t know where her second-grade teacher is. She won’t find her either. Gloria and her school uniform will have to settle forever in her memory, along with all the people she once loved but will never see again.

One day she’ll realize how much she’s given up, and it’ll feel like tiny parts of her were removed. Now she’ll be missing an ear, and a gasp, and a heart next to hers. She’ll cry. Many times. But it will never feel like enough. The tears will be the most logical response to the loss her body has gone through. She’ll accept it as a part of her life and welcome it like a distant relative who kept warning they’d visit.

I’ll tell her to be patient, that maybe one day we’ll settle and feel at home again. Laura will know I don’t mean it. She’ll know I’m only trying to make her feel better. She’ll still smile at me, though. One of those small smiles that holds no answers but isn’t ready to give up just yet.

sábado, 1 de septiembre de 2018

House Plants

The apartment was always clean. No, not clean, spotless. Every day my nana would swipe and mop the floors, clean the toilets and desinfect the kitchen. There were also monthly cleanings scheduled: to vacuum the furniture, wipe the windows, wax the floors, to deep clean doors, cabinets, and walls. We lived in the city, so dust was an ever-present enemy: always around but never welcomed. 

If Nana was away or on vacation, mom would do it herself. She’d change into her home attire; a t-shirt, a pair of shorts, some bobby pins to hold her bangs, and her adored beige heeled flip-flops. She’d turn on the radio and dedicate her Saturday afternoon to making sure the house looked nice. Even if we didn’t have any plans. Even if no one was visiting. There was something about cleanliness that made my mother feel at peace. 

Her house projects were multiple and varied, but her favorite by far was her plants. She kept them at a corner of the apartment that was breezy and sunny at all the right moments. It was her own personal garden: Jade, Aloe, and Calla Lilies were her favorites. She’d water them and replant them, talk to them and take care of them when they were sick. Can you believe plants get sick? They’d look sad and droopy, their leaves scattered across the floor. She’d nurse them back to health in ways that were a mystery to me. They’d be grateful and grow white sturdy flowers just for her, filling the house with the fresh aroma of life. 

Pets were never welcomed, though. Mom liked animals, but only from afar. I protested many times, but the conversations quickly turned into discussions and then into out-of-the-question topics: no point in bringing them up and starting a fight I knew was already lost. I only understood years later it was them she was trying to protect. Her babies would have been chewed, their stems broken, their dirt messy on the floor. She would’ve never let that happen. 

I remember watching her, admiring her even; unable to understand their connection. Trying to grasp how something my bratty-self found so dull brought her so much joy. I learned to give them space and respected them as members of the household. As members of our home. Mom, Nana, las niñas, and myself. A modern and mismatched version of Little Women; her the matriarch, us orbiting around her. Dazzled by her spirit. Thankful just to be there. 

I never did learn her tricks myself. I never did ask the right questions when she was still around, but I’ve tried to recreate her little corner with resilient plants: two Cacti, a Jade (I think), and an Aloe (of course). So far all of them are still alive. I wish I could take credit for it but I’m pretty sure this is also her doing —nursing us back to health, taking care of us from the great beyond.

jueves, 16 de agosto de 2018

Stray

I worked in that store for longer than anyone had expected when I first applied. Five years just last month. I mean, yeah, it wasn’t a big deal but it paid the bills. Things just changed after dad died. Plans stopped making sense. Nothing ever stuck; business school, moving abroad, or that origami store project. None of them lasted. 

So I accepted that was my life now. I accepted I’d never get married, have kids, or a house of my own. I accepted that maybe I wasn’t born for  it. That was Javi’s life, not mine. It was Javier the one who made it. The one who had it all: the wife, the job, the house, and the wisdom. Dad would’ve been proud. 

That’s why I woke up early every day. That’s why I pretended to shower for five minutes before giving up and putting on the worn out khaki uniform. That’s why I jump started my car that morning and drove to the same place to stack shoes and books. That’s why I fantasized about quitting in the most absurd of ways... but settling wasn’t so terrible after all. 

After work, I’d drive back home. Every day, except for Thursdays when I’d drive to Javi’s for dinner. He’d rarely visit, made me go to him instead. “If only you welcomed order into your life,” he’d say. He loved pretending to be a grown up now, home-ownership and all. Kept acting like Design and Home just interviewed him, when it was Lore who did everything around the house.

It was a little family tradition, that weekly dinner thing. Mom thought it’d make us closer —love each other more or something— and we went with it. It was at Javi’s place either way, so all I needed to do was show up. We weren’t always in the best terms, but we got along. Sometimes he’d give me a weird fatherly look, like the one you’d give a toddler who got lost in the park. He’d try to give me money and all. “I can pay for my own rent,” I’d roll my eyes but accepted on occasion. 

Nothing was exceptional about that Thursday. I survived the day with a couple of Lunchables and made sure to grab some cheap wine before I left —to look put together at dinner, of course. I drove there purely through muscle memory. Maybe that was the ideal estate, you know? Being so absorbed into one's self, everything else seemed irrelevant.

I was only a few blocks away when I spotted the weirdest kitten in the street. He had half an ear cut off, hair scruffy and in chunks, and looked at me with big sad eyes. Without giving it much thought, I stopped to grab it and positioned it softly in the passenger seat. I made one last turn and parked right outside Javi's house. Cat in one hand and wine in the other, I got out and knocked on the door. Lorena was the one to greet me.

“Come in, Fer! How are you?” She stopped talking and realized the content of my hands. “Is that a kitten you’re holding?” She asked.
“I found her and she looks like she needs some help,” I replied.
She inspected the kitten from afar. “I might have some of Marbles’ vitamins left, if you wanna take them,” she said.
“Could you? That’d be great.”
“Good. You’re finally here. I’m starving!” said Javi, as he approached us. 
“This cat cannot come in. No way,” he said as soon as he understood what was happening.
“Don’t listen to him. It’s fine,” said Lore. I was causing trouble. I could tell, but I didn’t mind. I held out a smile and pretended to ignore their argument.
“But she could get Marbles sick!” Javi replied.
“She’ll stay in the backyard and Fer will take her after dinner,” she said.

Her word was final. I followed her through the living room and the window panels. I deposited frightened Cat on the floor and headed back inside. 

Dinner wasn't exceptional. Lorena wasn't the greatest cook but it was better than anything I’d make. She was nice enough, Lore. She wasn't particularly good at anything, though; average looking –almost mundane– with spongy long curly hair that fell carelessly on her shoulders. She tried playing housewife and sometimes succeeded. She spent her days working one of those boring bank jobs, where all she did was count money that would never be hers. 

They loved each other, though. I could tell in the way Javi always assisted her in the kitchen; or how she always made sure his pockets were inside his pants and not sticking out like that of a child's. They were in synch, almost like siblings, one would say. Or like an elderly couple that’s been together for too long and learned to ignore each other instead.

“You’re  into cats now, huh?” Javi asked.
“It seemed like she needed help,” I replied.
“You do know that pets are a responsibility, right?” He said. “You gotta pay for the food and the sand and… oh that vet bill is gonna be through the roof!”
“Thank you for the unsolicited advice, Mr. Cat Expert, sir. I’ll keep it in mind,” I said with a smirk.
“Take some of Marbles food and please don’t kill the poor thing”
"So... how's everything at work?" Lore had found a way of making things better yet again.
"You know, lots of people, lots of stuff to sell. Nothing new," I replied.
"What happened to that online poker tournament you’d mention?" Javi asked.
I sucked, I thought. 
"Being a professional gambler sounded depressing," I said. Which was also true.

Javi started talking about baseball or the stars or his job. I barely heard them on the background; like a car radio during a long road trip, only receiving interference. I couldn’t listen anymore and they knew it. They were used to changing topics and leaving me behind. I never tried to catch up.

Javi was repairing the sink, so it was Lore who walked me to the door.

“Give this to her every morning. It should make her feel better,” she said, as she handed me a little bag.
“Thanks, Lore”
“And remember to take her to the vet as soon as you can.”
“I will,” I promised her.
"Are you sure you're ok?"
"Yeah, yeah. Don't worry"

She hugged me tightly, as if it was the last time we would ever see each other.

"Take care," she said.
I drove back sweating and sick to my stomach. Nameless Cat had been fed and was now asleep in the passenger seat. Did she do it on purpose? No, that couldn't be. That could never happen. 

I bathed Smuthy Cat as Lore had instructed and showed her her new home. So what if it was a rushed rushed decision? Everything would be fine. Javi was overreacting, as he usually did. 

“He thinks he knows everything about animals because he’s around one, but he never even looks at it,” I confessed to Listening Cat. “Plus, animals are highly recommended for people with depression... not that I am, but it can’t hurt.”

I couldn't fall asleep that night. I kept trying to remember every detail about dinner. The wine made my memory fussy but I hadn’t imagined it. Suddenly, it hit me like a cat in the face: I loved her. I loved her manly clothes, and how she talked about the same movies, and how her nails were always red and a bit uneven. And how she always cared... but it was pointless, wasn’t it?

I imagined dozens of scenarios where I confessed my love and we ran away together. We’d leave town and settle somewhere in the West Coast; far enough to run away from Javi, but close enough so we could keep in touch once he forgave us. I imagined our kids, running around and playing with Sister Cat, sporting their mom's wild curly dark hair and their dad's constant fear for life. They would never be sad. No, I would never let that happen... but it was pointless, wasn't it? 

I wondered if it was worth fighting for. I was tired, you know? Filled with a sadness so profound, it exhausted me. It had been tiring me for years; preying silently, waiting to eat me slowly from the inside out. It never rested, but rotted every intention of improvement instead. I spent the rest of the night shifting between joyous optimism and overbearing anguish.

For the first time in those despised years, I didn't get up for work. I stayed in bed with Sleepy Cat and pretended it was only the both of us. Abandoned and lonely and hopeless. We’d found a place to hide from the world, and hiding was what we would do. My phone rang a couple of times —my boss, maybe— but I didn't bother. I lay in bed instead of having breakfast, or pretending to shower, or driving. I lay in bed instead of reordering boxes, ignoring customers, or getting ready for close. I lay in bed and the world around me stood still.

Around mid afternoon, I heard a knock on the door. It was persistent, even after I pretended not to be home. I was forced to get up against every fiber of my being and investigate.

“I saw your car on the parking lot,” said a voice from the other side. Javi’s voice.

I walked, cat in hand, to confront my torturer face to face. 

“What are you doing here, Javi?” I asked as I opened the door.
“They called from the store. They hadn’t heard from you and got worried.” 
“So they called you?”
“I’m your emergency contact,” said Javi irritated.
“Well, I have the flu. Thanks for stopping by, but I got it.”
“Is this about the cat?,” Javi asked.
“Have a safe drive home, Javier.” I said, closing the door.

“Can you believe Javi is trying to come between us?” I asked Thoughtful Cat as we walked back to bed. She meowed at me, understandingly. 
“I know. He can be such an asshole,” I replied.

When the sun rose again on Saturday, insomnia had gotten the best of me. The dark circles under my eyes were almost bright enough to shadow any other feature I might’ve had before. I was not a man anymore, but a shadowed face. Not a man but an entity; oblivious and lost. I grabbed my car keys and Passenger Cat, and closed the door behind me. Muscle memory helped me once more.

Driving gave me much needed clarity, or so I thought. I was ready. I had found it, my source of motivation. I had found her. Who gave a fuck about Javi? He already had the house and the job and the wisdom. It was unfair he also got the girl, and I was going to tell him just that.

"Look, Javi. I love you, ok? You'll always be my brother, but this is what we both want and I have to put our happiness first," I practiced. 

"Take that! You thought you were so great? Well, not anymore you're not!" I switched gears and speeded up to my brother’s house.

I walked to the front door while holding clueless Cat in my arms. Oh, were we ready. We stood there as an an outer force knocked, mere spectators of our own chaotic life.

To our surprise, Lore was the one to open. With those old ragged clothes of hers, and that hair that made her face look like a balloon, and those lips that kept craving moisturizer that never came. What horrible children would she bear. 

“Are you okay?” she asked, as we both cried in her arms.

miércoles, 6 de diciembre de 2017

XV

De la primera vez que me deprimí recuerdo mi fijación por llorar en el piso.
Nunca públicos. Nunca ajenos.
El de la cocina, el de la ducha, el de la oficina.
El de la habitación de hotel, en unas vacaciones navideñas que pasamos un año planeando pero que arruiné con varios episodios de llanto incontrolable.
El predilecto: al lado de mi cama. En posición fetal, con un par de almohadas, lejos de la puerta, escondida del mundo.

Recuerdo sentarme junto a mamá. Mi cabeza en su hombro, su mano quitándome el cabello de la cara. “Me duele el espíritu,” decía. Era lo único que lograba verbalizar. Le costó entender.

Pasé un par de años yendo a terapia una vez al mes. Olvidando tomar antidepresivos que no hacían efecto. Llorando en sitios inesperados por culpa de ataques de pánicos. No recuerdo cuándo se fue o si se fue del todo, pero sí recuerdo cuándo volvió.

Depresión es ser físicamente incapaz de levantarme de la cama.


Es estar convencida de que mi existencia es irrelevante. Que mis esfuerzos no valdrán la pena porque soy promedio y hay gente mucho más competente que yo afuera.

Es saberme miserable incluso en los momentos más felices.
Es cuestionarme las intenciones de las personas que me quieren.
Es la incapacidad absoluta de conectar con el mundo que me rodea. Es aislarme porque no encuentro otra alternativa.

Su reaparación fue lenta pero certera, poco después de que mamá murió. Compatible con mi duelo, los sentí a ambos abrazarme, cubriéndome poco a poco hasta envolverme del todo.

Un montón de manos se encargaron de que las piezas de mi vida resquebrajada permanecieran en su lugar. Un montón de manos me sostuvieron mientras yo pretendía que podía hacerlo. Intoxicada. Distraída. Quebrada.

Ahora las manos ya no están. El hogar se quedó a miles de kilómetros de distancia.
El hogar desapareció. Murió también hace 8 meses.
Ahora las únicas manos responsables de que las piezas no se extravíen son las mías. Mis manos pequeñas e incapaces.

Desde entonces retomé la terapia. Una vez a la semana, esta vez sin pastillas.

Depresión es ser incapaz de apreciar los lugares más impresionantes que haya visitado, o las cosas buenas que me han pasado, o la gente que he conocido. Es también sentirme como una malagradecida al respecto.
Depresión es preguntarme cuántos días podría quedarme en un vagón de metro sin que nadie se diera cuenta.
Es llorar hasta el cansancio sin saber por qué. Hasta que los ojos arden, hasta que respirar por la boca es la única opción. Hasta que la cara se hincha y las uñas dejan marcas en la piel.
En lugares públicos. Frente a extraños. Por cualquier cosa. Por nada en específico pero por todo a la vez. Anhelando consuelo que no termina de llegar.

Es ser incapaz de hilar ideas coherentes. Es tener pesadillas cada vez que duermo. Es escribir un montón de basura. Es dejar de escribir porque los resultados no valdrán la pena. No es romántica ni inspiradora. Es paralizante.

Es la imposibilidad de vocalizarlo todo. Es la falta absoluta de empatía. Es el desánimo. Son las respuestas hirientes para alejar porque no ha de ser compartida. Es la lástima en los ojos de terceros.

Es descuido al punto del asco: prendas de ropa que dejaron de estar limpias hace semanas pero que siguen en rotación, sábanas que deberían haber sido cambiadas, el plato de la cena junto a mi almohada haciéndome compañía mientras duermo. Son las flores que compré hace más de un mes y que siguen en el florero, marchitas, casi podridas, porque no soy capaz de intervenir.

Es no querer despertar en las mañanas. Es que las pequeñas victorias sean no haberme quedado encerrada todo el día. Es hacer todo lo posible por sentirme mejor, intentarlo con todas mis fuerzas, y que igual no sea suficiente. Es no conseguir refugio. Es preferir la nada.

Es la peor versión de mí misma que se niega a permanecer oculta.

Pero por sobre todas las cosas, es un desbalance químico. Es mi cerebro no produciendo suficiente serotonina. Es una predisposición genética. Una condición médica que soy físicamente incapaz de controlar y que no siempre logro sobrellevar. Nunca había logrado hablar públicamente de ella, pero creo que ya es hora.

Me duele el espíritu.

domingo, 8 de octubre de 2017

I've lost things too, Brian

Based on Brian Arundel’s “The Things I’ve Lost”.

I lost my favorite headband at the beach when I was 7. It fell in the sand and proved impossible to retrieve. I haven’t stopped mourning it since. My Lion King shoe and part of my pride in the playground when I was 5. My aunt made me walk with just the other one on, and I cursed all the way back to the car. Or the five-year-old version of that.

My pink transparent glasses I lost at 20. I was doing my makeup while in traffic and bumped the car in front of me. I got out to apologize and forgot I had them on my lap. Both cars were fine, though.

2 mixtapes, my favorite sandals, and a cute bomber jacket were lost in 2012: the year my car got stolen. I’d go and blame myself for leaving so many things inside, but also because I forgot to lock the gear. The police never found the car, so I guess I lost it too.

I lost my faith in god right after mom got sick the third time around. Once a true believer, the notion started to seem absurd to me. It still does. My anxiety over paranormal and horror films, I lost after she died.

Mom’s gold earrings: during prom. She told me I shouldn’t worry, they were meant for me anyway. This only made me more miserable. My stubborn need to stay in Caracas: when I realized I had outgrown everything that had once defined me, but also after mom died. There was no point to it anymore.

My hopeless romanticism was gone at 23, after my first love slept with multiple other people and told me about it in detail. My need for revenge, on the other side, disappeared after he begged me to take him back and I didn’t open the door.

My love for black mascara: after I accepted crying as a possible occurrence in my everyday life, and decided I didn’t want the world to partake in it. My water bottle: at least once a week. It’s an impressive ability I can’t seem to control.

I lost my unfair favoritism towards dogs once I adopted my cat, Ilana, and realized how much better, smarter, and significantly less annoying she was. I also lost my unfair favoritism towards her after she chewed and broke 3 laptop chargers. I still love her more than the average cat, I must say.

My shame towards my anxiety and OCD: about a couple of months ago, when I decided to embrace them instead of defining myself through them. Sometimes it comes back, but not as often as it used to. My love for academia was also lost recently. I don’t think that one will come back, though.

This year I also lost my fears. I suddenly realized that everything I held dear was gone. I had nothing else to lose. The world was no longer an intimidating place.