Whatever They Told You Not to Be

Natalie Hernandez

La Llorona, La Malinche, La Whatever they told you not to be. Anna says she saw you crying at Lucky's on Friday, and man they believe her. He told your mother he just wanted his family back, and you closed your lips as she told you on the phone what women like you get. Nothing. But nothing would always be better than so many somethings. This is where you were raised. This is where you never wanted to stay. 

 

The day you left, you clutched that red satchel of yours full of things you thought were somethings. A shot glass from Mexico. You'd never been and you didn't drink. You said thanks anyway, thanks Dad. He calls you gringa when you straighten your hair or when you use the word like or that one time you asked for sour cream. Dinner is sniffles. It's watery eyes and burned tongues. It's the risk of choking on misplaced, overlooked, not unintentional chicken bones. And your uncle pretends his nose isn't running, but that's how you know it's good, and you gringa pretend too. Mija is for loved daughters. Blanca. Blanca is for you.

 

So you drink ginger ale at Lucky's, the bar downtown that's open late, the only one. Shoes belong to the liquor waxed floor, and twenty-two year olds belong to numb lips. The bouncer bends your ID back and forth, and he asks you to say your name. It’s the same when you go to the airport and TSA pulls you aside, has you move each limb here and there, pats you down, rolls your hands for residue. They don't make a sound and you the pro don't either. You want a blanca name to match your blanca skin.

 

Anna says what they want to hear. What you wished was true. But you sat down at the bar. You smiled, laughed, and made easy look damn fucking easy. 

 

You know it was him. That it wasn’t some stranger ransacking your second story apartment you barely can afford, so you don’t even bother with the cops. He didn’t take a goddamn thing. It was just a reminder that he could. 

 

If you had a man, if you never left him, this never would’ve happened, because married women don’t get robbed, your mother tells you that night. She doesn’t hang up until you say I love you, and you almost don’t. 

 

There’s kids, Anna says. Kids need a home with a mother and a father. She’s worried, real worried, cause she saw you fall off a bar stool at Lucky’s from all the whiskey you were drinking. And Marco told her you never feed the kids. Nada, but some potato chips every once in a while. Your mother drives four hours to tell you this and check your cupboards and fridge. 

 

That night at Lucky’s, you decide to walk home, and that’s when you hear her. She’s down there off the trail just near the canal. It’s the wind, but you swear you hear all three. It’s morning when a bicyclist breaks your stare and interrupts the story you’ve told yourself all night. When you were eight you stayed out too late at the park playing baseball with the boys who lived down the street. It was dark when you got home, so your father said he wanted to tell you a bedtime story. The first and only one he ever did. At night when it was late, there was a woman to be afraid of, the one who took children, and blamed it all on a man. 

 

Marco never said sorry after his fingers left your neck. You listen to her cry the way your mother used to when your father drank too much. The way you never could. La Llorona, La Malinche, La Whatever they told you not to be.

Natalie Hernandez, a Jewcana (Jewish-Chicana), grew up in the bay area which unfortunately means everything. Her dislike for SoCal is inevitable. Duh. She's surrounded by wine and food snobs, so there's no hope for her in not becoming one. And worst of all she can't shake the habit of inserting hella in every conversation. Currently she's finishing up a degree in English from the University of California Irvine.

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