Juana García



Juana’s experience as an undocumented immigrant in the United States was the inspiration for "Melting in Water", as well as a manuscript she recently completed called “First-Generation: Reflections on Immigration, Stereotypes, and Healing.” Find her on Facebook (www.facebook.com/jgblogger),  Twitter (www.twitter.com/jgblogger86),  and Instagram (www.instagram.com/therealjgblogger86)

Melting in Water

I like to take hot baths as hot as I can stand them. Baths so hot, I could burn off the skin that covers my bones and see what’s hiding underneath. It only burns for a minute, and after, I can feel my skin melting away, along with the shame, doubt, and fear.

I close my eyes, the tears falling slow and steady. As the mask falls away, the water turns murky, and I remember.
         I remember the way I curled up like a snail in the car at my mother’s feet, making myself invisible underneath the glove box, in front of the passenger seat. I remember walking through the big glass doors and crossing under the metal detector, like a portal between two worlds. I remember sitting in uncomfortable chairs, waiting for our turn, chewing on my nails to take the edge off. I remember the man with the gun taking my hand, squeezing my finger tight as he pushed my fingers into the ink and pressed them down onto a little square where the squiggly lines betrayed my timidness. Over and over and over. Each one of my fingers and thumbs, and then my whole hand.

When they called us to the office, the woman behind the desk said, “You’ll have to come back. The laws are different now, we need more.” More money, more time away from school and work, more humiliation. As if the shame of needing a piece of paper to be considered a human being weren’t enough to ask us to carry.

In my stomach lives an ache I cannot name. In my heart lives a sadness I can’t explain away. On my skin, I carry everyone's burdens. I carry the worry, the rage, the desperation, but I don’t know where they all come from or why I am their keeper. Nobody tells me anything. They think I am too young to know. But I have always known. It’s just that no one thought I needed to talk about it.

In the bath, my body still hides, but my heart can be free. The water doesn’t ask me to stuff things down. She will not ask me to be strong. As the heat soaks into my skin, I feel safe. Water holds me in her gentle embrace, tells me everything will be okay, and reminds me to just breathe.

When I breathe, I breathe away the pain. I breathe away the heartache. Exhale the bad. I ask the water what I did to make them hate me, but she doesn’t have an answer. She tells me I am beautiful and perfect. How can I believe her when everybody tells me my native tongue is bad, when they look at me like I’m an alien from outer space? When they say, “People who speak Spanish are uneducated liars and cheaters.”

When they follow me around at the store, I want to scream to them, “I’m just like you!” But I am too little and my voice too quiet.

In the water, I cry. Quietly, so nobody hears me and I don’t have to say what I feel, because the tears make me feel even more shame. I’m supposed to be strong, and strong people don’t cry. Strong people don’t feel so bad about themselves, and they don’t get angry. Strong people can hold all the nasty things people say--like “go back to your country” and “you’re all criminals and rapists”--and smile politely while their hearts break like a glass vase crashing to the floor.

I wait for the day when I can stop being strong. When I can breathe. Inhale the good. When I can know my worth. Be secure and know for sure I am a human being. I wait for the day when I can hold that piece of paper and turn my back on all of them, the day I can run away and the nasty words can’t catch me anymore. I wait for the day when I don’t have to hold these burdens anymore, the day when they don’t stick to my skin like a mask with a life of its own.

When the day finally comes, I hold that piece of paper in my hand and don’t feel any different. The promise I would be “real” after that piece of paper came in the mail turns out to be false. I wonder what I can do to be real. What I have to say or do. Who I have to be for them to see me. I wonder when I can stop hiding, when the “real” me will show up and shove aside the fearful, tiny girl who huddles in the fetal position, hoping to stay invisible so they don’t send her back alone and hopeless.

I dip my head under the water, and for a minute, I think of drowning.

I take too long in the bath, and a knock on the door brings me back to the world where I have to wear the mask. “I’ll be out in a minute!”

Someday, I think, I’ll go so far away, I will forget to feel ashamed. I will burn the mask of shame in my backyard.

In the bath, I read a book about a girl named Esperanza, who lives in a house she is ashamed to claim as hers. Her greatest wish is a house of her own. Someday, she says, she will have a house she can be proud to own.

In the book, they tell her that when she leaves, she has to remember to come back for the ones she left behind.

As the water drains from the tub, I make myself a promise.

When I take off the mask, I will come back. I will come back for all the others.

© The Acentos Review 2017