My pulse boomed in the room, bouncing off the walls. It felt like my ears were going to explode. My body was ready to dissipate into dirt. I was fed up. I was tired of being an object. A play thing. Here I am at seven. It’s where a lot of my stories begin. My bones ache from exhaustion. The anger burns in my chest. I kick the blue-eyed assaulter in the face. I squirm under the sheets and I fall off the bed. I run to wake up my older cousin and I tell him what’s going on. My exact words: “Luis is touching me where he’s not supposed to.” In El Paso, we live in a small one bedroom apartment. There’s a kitchen and then there’s the bedroom/living room area. Six kids total and two adults. Two beds, one futon, and all of our bodies in this little room. My cousin grabs me and he embraces me. He comforts me in his arms. He doesn’t question me. He tells me to fall asleep in between him and my two other cousins. He becomes my human shield.
In the morning, my amá shakes me awake and asks me to tell her what happened. It’s her and Luis looming over me. I repeat: “Luis is touching me where he’s not supposed to.” She turns to him and asks him if it’s true. He doesn’t say a fucking word. He nods his head “no” and shrugs. My heart felt like it was going to burst out of my chest. I wanted to vomit everything Amá ever fed me out of my speechless mouth. It felt like the wind was kicked out of me. I wanted to turn into water and evaporate into the desert sky. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t. I held it in and I can’t pinpoint when I cried this moment out of my system. I told the truth. A gigantic traumatic truth that was making me feel like I was shrinking. I didn’t feel like a person, as a child, I didn’t feel human. I told a truth that was making me pray selfishly and I wanted god to tell me how someone like this man could exist. I told the truth and I was treated like a mentirosa.
In the same small apartment, I lie to my younger cousin about losing my voice. We’re taking a bath together and I grab at my throat and gasp for air. I whisper to her. I tell her I lost my voice. I tell her to watch out for the spiders in her dreams because they will bite and she will lose her voice too. She cries and I pile baby shampoo into my palm and tell her it’s not that bad.
We move out of the small apartment, into a smaller one, this time no cousins, but Luis is still there. I have to sleep on the same bed as him and sometimes I choose the floor. At school, there’s a cookie dough selling contest. Cookie dough in big plastic tubs. The teacher hands us the forms and more than anything at this point in my life, I want an art set. The one that looks like a plastic suitcase with the colored pencils, markers, and crayons aligned neatly inside. I don’t ask anyone in the apartment complex if they want to buy cookie dough from me, but I forge my little sister’s signature with a pencil. She’s only four, she barely writes, but I take her stubby hand and help her sign for tubs and tubs of cookie dough. I kiss her hands and thank her. When I go into the office to turn in my form, I know the front desk worker sees through my lie, but she takes the paper anyway.
We move again. I’m supposed to wear a red polo shirt and khaki pants to this school but I never do. Instead, I wear faded jeans and a Beauty & the Beast pink tank top with a faux fur jacket. In class, I raise my hand while holding onto my crotch with the other and I jump. I don’t say a word. I raise my hand higher. The teacher calls my name too late. I piss my pants and I pretend not to notice and go to the bathroom to dry the urine off my jeans. When they are dry enough I step into the hall and the principal stops me. Her hair is pretty like snow. She asks me about my amá’s whereabouts. I lie and tell her she’s at work. The principal drives me home that day. She marches through the apartment complex and bangs on the door when I point to it. Amá wakes up and answers the door. There was a conversation about my attendance and my uniform. Why had I missed so many days? I don’t remember if my amá answered her questions, I just know we moved again shortly after.
We move out of Texas and I am now in Colorado. I live with my sister and her boyfriend. Amá stayed in Texas with Luis. One morning on the bus ride home from school, a boy sits next to me and tells me to punch him in the face. I don’t want to. He tells me I need to learn how to defend myself. He shows me how to make a fist and then turn his cheek to me. He tells me to punch him. I say no. He grabs my wrist and pretends to punch himself with my fist. We both get out at the same bus stop and he shouts at me “remember what I taught you.” My sister immediately questions me and I blurt out a story about three bullies at school. I tell her there are three people who are threatening me. She takes it to the principal the next morning and I make up a story. I tell another lie, even though I can’t remember how I told it.
We move back to Texas, into another apartment complex, and Luis is still there. I am older, eight at this point, but my lies get more creative. I lie about catching Leprechauns. I claim to be an expert. I lie about seeing angels to the Jehovah Witnesses who come over and recite stories to me and my sister from a mustard colored book. They told me angels watched everything we did, I just followed along.
At another apartment complex, I lie to a neighbor. I convince her we can turn our bodies into plants. I tell her we can turn into weeping willows and take over the neighborhood with our delicate tiny leaves. Fill the neighborhood until there is nothing but a sea of green. Even if she was gullible, she believed me. She held my hand and closed her eyes with me so we could turn into magnificent seedlings sprouting toward the clouds. She believed me and I was so grateful she thought I was telling the truth.