The story that I have here, a moment where I had a deep experience, was when I traveled to Texas from Mexico when I was 20 years old. I don’t know if you have ever heard of a small town called Piedras Negras in Mexico? That is where we crossed. This was an experience I will never forget because of the moment I crossed the Rio Grande River with the rest of my companions and I was the only one that didn’t know how to swim. When we arrived in Piedras Negras, they didn’t tell us how we were going to the cross the river, nothing. We were trying to figure out the right opportunity to cross so we waited until it was dark to cross. If you cross during the day, they are going to see you, La Migra.
We didn’t bother to ask the Coyote how we were going to cross the river; we assumed we were going to use an inflatable boat. The Coyote only told us to bring our things and go to the river. Before we got into the river, we put all our things into a plastic bag. We put all of our shoes, shirts, and clothing, everything into that bag. I felt really scared in the river; it was so dark that I couldn’t see the rest of my group. I had no idea where I was going and was sure that I was lost and had nowhere to go. It was too late to turn back, I didn’t know how to return back to my own town and everyone was leaving without me. I was scared that I was going to get robbed by Mexican drug cartels or dealers who usually hang around the river if I turned back alone. That’s what they usually do, they see someone alone and force them to give up all their money and belongings, so I jumped in the river to avoid all of that. I was really scared, but I had to go with the rest of the guys. I didn’t even know how to swim, I thought I would drown if I crossed. By the time we were in the middle of the river the current was so strong that it took one of the guys under the water, he was trying to fight back but the current swept his plastic bag away. He was screaming for help because he couldn’t get back up. He was drowning. Thank god we were there to help and nothing terrible happened.
The reason I wanted to cross into Texas was because I wanted to reach Houston. After crossing, the closest town, La Pryor, was about a three day walk from the river. Everyone who crosses the river tries to reach La Pryor. It is the closest place to get picked up by someone. My companions and I had to walk for about three nights until we got to the town. On the second day of walking, we ran into a group of wild pigs. They started chasing us and tried to bite us. Luckily there were small trees around and we climbed those to avoid getting hurt. Once we arrived, we had to wait an additional three days for someone to come get us and take us to our destination. One of my companions had family living in Houston who was going to get us. Unfortunately, immigration highway patrol found us before we could leave. Everyone who was waiting there was caught. Some of us tried running but were found. The immigration officer pulled us over to the side with this white Chevy and was really aggressive. He came out pointing a gun to the head of one of the guys that was with us. The officer dared him to run again and began cursing at him and yelling at him “why did you run?!” the guy responded back saying he thought it would be easy to run off. They took all of us to jail, but we were only there for one night and were let go, back into Mexico. I felt really bad for the man with the gun pointed at his head; they falsely accused him of being the Coyote and sentenced him to six months in prison. We told the officers before that he wasn’t the Coyote, he was with us since we crossed the river, we all came together into this town, but they didn’t listen to us. They kept him there to complete his six months.
One often hears in their part of town in Mexico, what money is worth in the United States, and it’s a lot better than what you make in Mexico. The salary is much better, you have the opportunity to send money back into Mexico, you can do a lot of things here in the U.S that you can’t in Mexico. You know that you need money to get the opportunities to do the things that you want. If you want to buy property like a house, the money I was making in Mexico wasn’t enough. In Mexico, a U.S. dollar worth there is about 20 pesos.. If you send money from the U.S to Mexico, it’s worth a lot of money. I’m sending money back to my family to help them out. The salary you make in Mexico for 5 days of work you can make here in the U.S. in about a day. That is why everyone wants to come here.
Interview with Manuel
While the hospital bracelets still look fresh against my weary skin, my mother asks me what it feels like to be bipolar.
This is a type of coming out of the closet I will always resent.
I want to tell her the best parts first so I tell her
it's magic carpets when you fall in love,
music in the body electric hymns expelling even through fingertips, just how spacious big can be
how much I get to love her.
With horror in her eyes she leans in and asks:
“That's the manic part right?!”
For those of us forced to share our most beautiful features under glass,
imagined ourselves museum exhibits grateful for the patrons
even while they wear us down,
for synapse delayed reactors
with wide vision and big feelings,
when someone asks you what it feels like to be bipolar
make sure they have room enough for your answer.
See, my mother wasn’t ready for the details,
how the first time I fell in love I held him so close
I could see all his secrets,
watched his brother force his mouth open
for secret kisses in secret places,
watched him harden his shell ritualistically.
See, mysticism and intuition do not always detour to avoid hell.
Mama, are you sure you’re ready?
It’s a lot to understand what good friends I’ve made with suffering,
how I fall down the beanstalk so often
I’ve now mastered hard soil landings.
Do you want to know my secrets?
How when my co-worker says to me:
“I don’t even know how to lie”
I don’t even know what she means.
Do you remember what it was when I was just your little girl?
The fiercest part of your spirit amplified.
Do you remember talking with friends taking guesses at what I might become
a doctor, a lawyer, a minister . . .
me dancing all the while pretending not to hear the compliments.
See, being bipolar is just like that but there are no compliments.
It’s watching circles of your kin postulate your future’s limitations and pretending not to hear.
I cannot help that my father’s liquids hiss and froth with yours like baking soda and vinegar,
nor that I am that bitter tasting explosion.
I love you big,
unbalanced through both sides of this closet door.
I will never know if you will understand what it feels like to be bipolar,
but I have always prayed that you would die remembering
what it was to love someone crazy.
*Poem written and copyright by Jasmine Schlafke