What I don’t remember
Elmer from Soyapango
I’ve been told a million times how we arrived to Los Angeles de mojados, as wetbacks. My mom narrates the story as if it was tattooed in her brain. I was 7 years old and she’s always telling people how I must have hit my head because I can’t remember. Recently I’ve been thinking that maybe it has to do with the way she remembers how things happened. I told a friend at a party that I think her words blocked my way of recalling how I experienced arriving to the U.S.
I started piecing this idea together when I began realizing that my heart raises faster upon hearing certain sounds and noises. Like when I listened to Los Bukis’s song Navidad sin ti. The first time I got drunk as a teenager it was listening to it over and over. I was overwhelmed with a sense of loss en el pecho que pensaba que me iba a morir. My friends made fun of me afterwards because they thought a boy had broken my heart or something. Cantaba con una pasión que hasta yo me sorprendí.
That song was popular right around the time we left El Salvador. It was around November and it played in every bus, tortillería, in the street, everywhere. So my ears knew when we took the first bus going to Guatemala. And it’s funny because my mom doesn’t include that song in her way of telling the story.
According to her, my sister and I slept all the way through el camino largo. Truth is that I never sleep in moving vehicles. In fact, I have to take a pill because I get nauseous, especially if there are hills and curves. When I ride a car I stare out the window as if every fragment that passes by is something I want to remember. I have a way of focusing into details, like shapes of clouds, birds, color of stones, garbage, if people are wearing old or new shoes, and if the air is still.
When I was in grade 9, I remember asking my Geography teacher if I could hold the globe. I knew places that were printed in Mexico that I had never seen before. I felt a burning sensation in my face. That’s how I know now that my mom or los coyotes must have said those names on our way para los Estados or the people who were also traveling with us.
I chose to go to college in a place that was by a river. The first time I visited the campus I stared at the body of water as if it was inviting me to swim in it. My mother mentions everything in her historia except how we cross el Río Grande and let me tell you something, it’s called grande for a reason. That ain’t no charco. She limits herself to saying que lo cruzamos y ya.
When I returned to El Salvador after getting los papeles, I traced steps of the day we left in November. And I just couldn’t recall much. What I was certain of were my feelings. I felt fear, anger, sadness, and the urge to hide under my bed that my grandmother had kept after all these years.