I SAY MY NAME AGAIN AND AGAIN UNTIL IT FEELS SOLID
When I was a girl, the spirits called me to the tracks
dig, they said. They buried us, here.
They called and called but I could not find them.
They are there,
along the train tracks at 71st and Central Park.
They do terrible things to our bodies here.
I did not tell people I could sense spirits,
I worried they would call me a liar, lock me away.
I did not know what to do
about the spirits trapped in doorways,
remnants of secrets I didn’t know
Memory and forgetting are at war with each other,
my chest, my head, and yes,
the things I imagine doing with my hands.
I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes,
feeling the things that are too painful during the day.
I think about taking a train, visiting ghosts.
I drink a glass of water.
Go back to bed.
Memory expands and contracts like breath.
My grandmother once told me that when something bad happens to you, when something scares you, a piece of you gets left behind. Your soul splinters and you need to be called back to yourself.
I imagined a part of me floating in the trees like a plastic bag near where a dog had chased me earlier that day.
She rubbed alcohol with epazote on my back and called my name in my ear.
You were 16 and he was an English teacher obsessed with you. He convinced your boyfriend to drop out of high school to get him out of the way. You are not sure if he convinced him to break up with you too. You were a teenager with a history of depression that had gone to the guidance counselor because you were suicidal. You are feeling pain in your stomach as you write this. When he called you about the break up, you said you were fine but he insisted you were suicidal. You were not suicidal but you knew no one would believe you. He insisted on seeing you to make sure you were fine. You were scared they would hospitalize you away this time. You felt you had to prove you were not suicidal.
The perfect victim is a Latina teenager with a history of mental illness whose parents are undocumented and unlikely to go to the police. She will try to protect her family even when they can’t or won’t protect her.
I once drank a whole bottle of tequila when he left me alone in his apartment hoping that it would kill me and he’d have to explain why my body was in his apartment. As I lay there, naked, feeling like I was dying, I realized that unless I called the cops before I died, he’d just dump my body somewhere. My family might never know what happened to me. I made myself throw up. I didn’t want to call the cops.
When I went to college, a man got me drunk on tequila and raped me. The man who began raping me in high school tried to hire someone to kill the man who raped me in college. The day after my rape, still vomiting tequila, I had to talk one rapist out of killing the other. If I knew he had killed someone, I never would have been able to get away.
It seemed so easy for him to kill that it still terrifies me.
If I am ever found dead, even after all these years, start with him.
Teens go missing in the neighborhood where I grew up. Pretty teens that the cops say ran away. I know that sometimes men will grab girls and try to drag them into cars. I know this from girls who got away. I know this from being followed myself. I share the articles about the girls: what they were last wearing, their pictures, quotes from their worried mothers. There is an impulse in me to collect these articles, to archive them, to remember, as though holding onto something can bring them back. Most of the girls have brown eyes. As I get older, I go from thinking that they could have been me to thinking that they could have been my daughter. It scares me to think of having a daughter.
I went to Hubbard High School on the Southwest Side of Chicago. The Greyhound was our mascot. I was on the Debate Team. The librarian was our coach.
It is possible to remember other things.
There is an eyeglass store with a giant statue of a Native American bolted to the roof near that school on the corner of 63rd and Pulaski. It used to be a cigar store, but now the statue wears glasses and an eye exam chart on his chest. White people I meet who grew up in the area mention the statue fondly. Down the street, there is a Mexican restaurant called El Indio with a caricature of a chubby smiling Native American. We are supposed to think of this sign fondly as well, like La India Maria.
This casual violence of the adults contrasts with the violence expected of the children who are made to walk through metal detectors on their way to class.
It strikes me now that the world “children” feels strange, but that’s what we were.
Even if they never let us feel that way.
Fifteen percent of Latina teens in the U.S. attempt suicide. Professionals think it has to do with issues of assimilation or factors unique to Latino culture. Professionals do not think they are racist.
Latinas are at the mercy of the racism and sexism of two cultures at once. The mothers who give speeches about crushed flowers and losing value. The mostly white teachers who will decide you are a slut. So, sometimes, when you are young, you do not tell anyone because you don’t want to be called a liar, because you don’t want to be locked up.
One day a professional I am seeing that I have told all of this to will insist that I am not discriminated against and that my talking about racism is a sign I have not grown up.
One day she confuses my name with that of her other Latina patient.
[ Anon ]
If my name was known, that meant I could be found. Men who were violent to me looked for me afterwards, to revisit. One wanted to tell me he had grown and was a better person now that he found god. Another one, a writer, who now teaches at Columbia College was looking for writing material. My body was not enough, they came for my spirit – to violate it and tell themselves they found a saint and a muse. The other one just came to watch me read, to let me know he hadn’t gone away.
I spent years too scared to read in public.
If my name was announced for an event, that meant I could be found.
My stomach feels better as I write this.
I say my name again and again until it feels solid.
Sometimes ghosts follow you,
turn corners and walk in your front door with you.
Sometimes ghosts will try
to make their way into your flesh.
I still don’t know what to do but I am learning.
I light sage and tell them to float away on the smoke.
I draw a circle of salt around my bed.
It is painful to bring soul and body together again.
I wake up to decades worth of pain all at once,
my fingers curling and uncurling in spasms.
I dream that a fetus slides out of me,
and that I am soaked in blood up to my chest.
I struggle to breathe as I grieve
for this child that never was.
I realize I am grieving for myself.
Jennifer Patiño is a writer and library science student living in Chicago. She has been published in Gozamos, Dicen Que Dicen, South Loop Review and has performed at Palabra Pura for the Guild Complex, the Chicago Humanities Festival through the Chicago Latino Writer’s Initiative, and “She Says Therefore She Is” for contratiempo. For the past six years she has also been writing and editing for Sixty Inches From Center, an arts publication/archive hybrid.