Anahí Herrera

solo un sueño



Anahí was born and raised in Arizona, and is the daughter of Mexican immigrants. She is an undergraduate at Arizona State University studying English with a concentration in Creative Writing. She was the Nonfiction Editor for Superstition Review’s Issue 22, and is the current Fiction Editor for Lux Undergraduate Creative Review, a student-run literary magazine funded by Barrett, The Honors College. Anahí’s writing explores her identity as a Mexican-American woman, what it means to be Latinx in this day and age, and how we are molded by our intersecting identities. It’s Anahí’s dream to pursue a passionate life of writing, book editing, and prose experimentation with film. 

Social media:

IG: @ixmelancholia

uno. El barrio. My home. Your home. A home but not a home for our parents, who greatly miss their pueblos—Meoqui, Guadalajara, Hermosillo... These homes, but not homes, are dilapidated apartments where the rent is cheap, and the living conditions are cheaper. We have to flush our toilets twice before anything goes down, and the windows only open halfway, cracked when our mothers are toasting chiles. The boilers stopped working, so we have to boil our water on the stove, mix it with the cold, and pour it over our heads with an old piece of Tupperware. There is no grass, only dirt. And the youngest kick a semi-deflated basketball around, huaraches the color of a dirty mop. I share a room with my older brother, Osmel, and my younger sister, Angela. We have bunkbeds, which we have drawn all over with crayons. I share my bed with Angela, who kicks me in the face when she sleeps. Since he’s the oldest and the only boy, Osmel gets his own bed—the top bunk. I feel like I’m suffocating. It isn’t fair.


dos. Ximena, what do you want to be when you grow up? you ask me. I shrug, ashamed I do not know. I’m surprised you decide to talk to me. I am ten, and you are fifteen after all. You are a woman now. We all watched from our plastic white chairs as your papa slipped on those pretty heels and slow danced with you. Well, I want to be a pilot, you say with a twinkle in your eyes. My own bug out when you say this, and you laugh. I love the way it washes over me, tumbling down my body. Don’t tell anyone. They wouldn’t understand. You do though—right? You are looking at me, expecting me to say, Yes, I do understand. But really, I do not. I’m embarrassed I do not know, but I nod my head anyways.


tres. I’m sitting cross-legged on a big flat rock, flipping through my coloring book. I’ve run out of pages to color, so I admire my work instead. Ernesto, a skinny boy my age, comes barreling toward me on his bike. His wheels screech as he stops on the sidewalk five feet away. The skid marks look like black smudges of paint. Ernesto sticks his tongue out at me, kicks dirt into my face. I scream and drop my coloring book. You look like a boy. I start to cry as I rub my eyes. Ugly ugly ugly! he chants. I cannot seem to respond; the words are stuck in my throat. There is a lump I cannot swallow. Que pinches faches! I hear you scream. Get away from her you disgusting frijol! I hear the sounds of Ernesto scrambling away, cackling like a madman. I’m sobbing now, my head bent over, shaking as you pull me into your arms. Don’t listen to him, Ximena. I think you’re beautiful. He’s an ugly little shit.


 cuatro. Ximena Ximena Ximena. My mama clicks her tongue as she yanks at my hair with a brush. She’s disappointed I do not like to wear dresses or go to church. Qué voy a hacer contigo? she sighs. My ponytail is so tight, I’m afraid to move my face. Mama assembles us into a line, surveying her work. She smiles when she’s satisfied. She wants everyone to know that her children are beautiful, clean, and perfect. We walk to the church since it’s only four blocks away. Sunday service starts at ten o’clock sharp, and we’re always there thirty minutes early. You enter two minutes before the service starts. Everyone turns around to look at you. I think you’re beautiful, slender and glowing. But I can hear your parents gasp. You’re wearing a short strapless dress, and you’re smiling. My heart flutters because I think you’re so brave. There’s shuffling and hushed whispers as your papa grabs you by the arm and steers you out the doors. You look back, searching. When you see me you wink. The whole congregation can hear him as he screams, Somos gente decente!


cinco. We watch as María has a baby. Then Angelica. Then Juana. You laugh under your breath when they aren’t looking. Mensas. They want to be grownups, but don’t know a thing about it! I laugh with you. Mensas for sure, I say. You are seventeen and I am twelve. I know nothing about love and sex. Ximena, you say as you turn toward me, don’t you ever feel pressured to do anything you don’t want to do. If a boy tells you he loves you, and then asks you to have sex with him—don’t do it. Unless you know you love him back. I nod, the pit of my stomach twisting into knots. There is a seriousness to your voice and face that frightens me. Don’t be like these other girls—protect yourself. I’m not sure what you mean by that. But I shake my head vigorously. Protect myself, I echo.


seis. It’s Osmel’s birthday. He’s finally eighteen. He whispers to me, Ximena, guess what? He raises his eyebrows. What? I whisper back. He looks over at mama, who is arranging tamales on the table. I got into Stanford. My mouth is an O. Stanford is his dream. I do not have mine yet. I’m only twelve, but I feel like my time will run out soon. Mama’s dream is for him to stay here with us, and California is so far away. He places a finger to his lips. Don’t tell her, he warns. I won’t, I reply, grinning from ear to ear. He lowers his voice, says, But we can tell— I’m so excited, I cannot contain it. She’ll be so happy! But I have to wait until it’s night time, when everyone is cloaked in the shadows, and Osmel can tell his secrets without trouble. You dance with Osmel by the fire. I try to tell myself to get up and dance, but I know Ernesto will laugh at me and call me ugly. I watch as Osmel leans in to whisper into your ear. Your eyes widen, and you hug him. You look over at me and jab a finger toward him, as if saying, Can you believe it? Next year it will be your turn. Suddenly, I am sad.


siete. I make myself smaller so that my mother can make more room for her anger. I can’t understand why she can’t be happy. Osmel is off doing great things, and he calls often. California is everything I hoped it to be, he gushes one day. I’ll have to save some money, so you can come and visit me. Ximena, you would love it. I’m so happy for him, studying medicine. He says he wants to help our people—those who can’t afford to go to the doctor. I tell you everything he tells me, and you smile. But soon, I grow bitter at my mother. Why isn’t she happy for him? I ask. Osmel was the man of the house and now he’s gone, you respond. She feels abandoned, Ximena. But you’re right—she should be happy. He’s doing something he loves, and he’s also doing it for you guys. You wrap an arm around me, and I lean my head onto your shoulder. Sometimes you have to follow what your heart wants, and that’s okay. I want you to know that it’s okay. It’s not selfish at all. You begin to stroke my hair. It’s okay to put yourself first, Ximena, she continues. Sometimes the life you’re in isn’t the one for you—and that’s okay. I want you to know that. There’s something off about the way you talk.


ocho. It’s the day before your eighteenth birthday. And you’re gone. Your mother comes screaming at our door, pounding until my mother opens it. No lo puedo creer, Milagros! No lo puedo creer! she screams. Que pinche malagradecida! You’ve packed all your clothes and left. You didn’t even say goodbye. Sí esta muchacha regresa con su Domingo siete—Dios mio! Dame fuerzas. Your mother faints right on our living room floor. Ay! Mama yelps. Mami, she says to me, agarra el alcohol. She’s talking to me, but I can only think of how you’ve left me. Ximena, vamos! I stare at your mother for a few seconds, and then I go and grab the rubbing alcohol and some cotton swabs. Mama douses one and sticks it under your mother’s nose. She does this a few times until she begins to regain consciousness. When she opens her eyes, she begins to sob. Mama hugs her and tells her that everything will be alright. She doesn’t believe it. I don’t either.


nueve. I throw my coloring books out, but not before marking them in black. They look like deep gashes. Ugly. Broken.


diez. His name is Diego. He tells me I’m beautiful, but I don’t believe him. He kisses me in the trunk of his dad’s car for thirty-seven seconds. I know because I was counting, hoping it would end. I just sit there and let him work his tongue into my mouth, blowing his hot breath in and out. It’s wet and sloppy, and I have to wipe my lips after it’s done. He tries to make conversation, but I just want to go home and sleep. It’s one in the morning and we have school tomorrow. Ximena, I really like you. He smiles at me and reaches for my hand. I inch my hand away and slide off the trunk. Goodnight, I say, not looking back. I am sixteen, and I am trying to protect myself.


once. The phone wakes us up at midnight. Mama swears under her breath as Angela and I trail into the living room after her, rubbing our eyes. We sit on the couch, and Angela leans her head onto my shoulder. I stroke her hair and watch as she closes her eyes. Mama screams. We’re both startled. No no no no—no puede ser! she moans into the receiver, falling to her knees. Tears are streaming down her face, her mouth contorting in the most unnatural way. For a moment, there’s no sound. It’s as if someone’s hit the mute button on the tv. There’s a sinking feeling in my stomach. Angela rushes to mama and wraps her arms around her neck as she regains oxygen and wails once more. I stay where I’m at, paralyzed. Todo esta bien, mami, Angela croons. But I know nothing’s fine. Osmel is dead. And she doesn’t even need to say it.  


doce. Where are you? I call into the dark when I’m lying down at night, staring at the bottom of Angela’s bunk. I roll over into my pillow, shaking. Osmel is gone. You’re gone. I begin to cry, low at first, and then it hits me like a hurricane. I’m weeping for everyone. Everything hurts so much, and I wish you were here with me. I tighten the pillow, hoping my cries are muffled. But I hear the bunk creaking as Angela steps down the ladder and slides into bed with me. I feel her warmth and her arms. Our bodies shake as we cry.


trece. Today I’m twenty. And a boy is on top of me. I don’t know his name—I’m just a bit tipsy. What’s my name? Ximena. I can just hear you say it. How you’d inflict the a—ahhh, as if someone were asking you to drag it out. He begins to unbutton my cute top, fingers thick and clumsy. I hate how his hands feel, but I let him undress me. He’s kissing my neck, and all I can think is how awful sex must be. What’s your name? I ask. He chuckles, traces my neck with his index finger. Did you really forget? I don’t answer. Fernando. And yours is Ximena. He bops my nose. I can’t stand him. I shove him off me and gather my clothes. Where are you going? he asks, confused. To celibacy. You’re a disgusting frijol.


catorce. His grave is beautiful. There are always fresh flowers, mostly white roses. Mama says they’re the most fitting, because he was so pure of heart. I hope you’ve visited him. It’s been four years since his death. I wonder if you’ve even heard the news. You probably have, bad news always travels fast and wide. It would have been nice to see you at his funeral… Osmel loved you, and you loved him. But you also loved me, so how could you not visit, not call once? I’m still trying to figure everything out. There are days when I feel so empty. I look at myself in the mirror and ask if I’m alive. When mama calls, I don’t answer. She leaves voicemails, saying she’s worried about me. Really though, she’s worried about being alone. Angela is almost eighteen, and she’ll be leaving soon. Mama should be so lucky, all her kids got into college on scholarship. Sometimes I wonder if you’re alone, or if you’ve already started a family. But you said that that wasn’t you. You had too many things to do, like become a pilot first. But still, I wonder.


quinze. I’ll be graduating from Stanford in a few days. I decided to study psychology, can you believe it? I want to be a therapist one day, help little girls like I was. It’s funny, I’ve walked where he walked, ate where he ate, slept where he slept. Somehow, I’ve never felt closer to him. My cap says, Para ti, Osmel. I’m walking for the both of us, but of course you know that. I transferred and left everyone behind. No one even expected it. Ximena, leaving el barrio? That was unheard of. Everyone boxed me in, tried to chain me down. Remember what you said to me? Sometimes the life you’re in isn’t the one for you—and that’s okay. I hope you remember telling me that. I didn’t understand it very well then, but I do now. I didn’t fit in with their ideals, just like you. But you were so much braver than me. It took me longer, but I did it. I think you’d be proud of me, just like Osmel.


dieciséis. It’s Osmel’s birthday, he would have been thirty today. I’m flying back home to celebrate his life. My flight leaves at six in the morning, but I’ve been here since midnight, wandering. I’m by the bathrooms when I see you. You’ve got a small suitcase rolling behind you, and you’re wearing a black suit trimmed with gold buttons. Valentina! I yell. Valentina! My heart is pounding. I’m trying to get to you through all these people, and I’m so scared I won’t reach you in time. But you stop, you begin to look around. When you told me you wanted to be a pilot all those years ago, I didn’t understand. It took me a while. But I do now. You wanted to get away and be free. You wanted to fly, to be completely unreachable. You didn’t want to be held down by notions that didn’t pertain to you. And here you are, living your dream. Valentina the Pilot. And I can thank you because I lived mine. You continue to crane you neck, brows furrowed. I’m so close. Valentina, it’s me, Ximena! Your head snaps up at my name. You look my way and we lock eyes. It takes a moment, but then your eyes expand, just like a puffer fish. You smile so wide for me, it almost breaks my heart. You start to make your way toward me, arms extending. You are a home without a home. Suddenly, I am ten again and you are holding me in your arms.

© The Acentos Review 2019