I wake up to a pounding heart that spells out fear in the rhythm of its beats. I’m curled up beneath the blankets on my bed, clutching myself, protecting my body from what’s soon to come. My eyes flutter open, my vision focuses on the picture on my nightstand. My parents and brother and sister, smiling and laughing and posing in front of the pyramids of Teotihuacan, surrounded by the green beauty of Mexico. I want to caress it; I want to burn it. It’s the only picture from our last trip there.
I hear rustling behind me. A yawn, a stretch, a moment of silence. A sigh. I can feel her staring at me, but I don’t turn around.
“You don’t know who you’ll become,” says Luna, after a moment.
I avoid turning to face her. “I don’t know who I am now,” I say.
She shakes her head and rolls over. It was an argument that we had had many days, mornings and nights, but our relationship was struggling even before I decided to do this. Today would be the last day we would have it, one way or another.
I stare at the ceiling silently until she sighs again and leaves our bed.
When the first superhuman appeared, the world became obsessed. Here was the first person who could read and alter minds. Governments tried recruiting her. Scientists tried to study her, replicate her powers. Nerds thought they would get the first real superhero. Everyone wanted to control and direct her power. Instead, she kept the job she had always had, and the world got something very different and very much mundane: The first therapist with 100% effectiveness rate.
And anyone who tried to tell her differently found themselves forgetting why they were there.
It isn’t until I hear Luna turn on the shower that I shuffle out of bed. I get dressed. I make breakfast. I go through the motions of the everyday, silent and indifferent, the only difference today being the burning nervousness in my stomach, which I avoid. I avoid thinking too much, or feeling too much. I avoid being in my body, or seeing it in the mirror. The color of my skin, my lips, my nose; the reminders are too painful. Instead, I get ready for just another day, for the last time.
The subway is crowded on the way to work. I make myself small and avoid eye contact, feeling both seen and invisible. My fingers fidget with my jacket and I see a colorful subway ad about her. Her, the telepath, she who changed the world in the tiniest way. At some point, she realized therapy was too slow, too inefficient. That she could change minds directly, alter and cut and take the suffering away. She became a surgeon, removing painful memories like the cancerous cell they had become, rotting the person from the inside out with grief. She removed entire people from memory, and gone was the trauma that came from them, the brain replacing the gaps automatically. Soon the waitlist to see her was thousands of people long, and I lost hope that she would ever see me.
I only got in because of the strangeness of my request.
Shouting brings me back to the moment. My eyes refocus on the subway. The shouting comes from a burly man standing above a woman and her young son. Don’t speak that here, you don’t speak that here, he shouts. He slaps the metal pole after each word, spit coming out of his mouth. Fucking terrorists, he shouts. The crowd seems oblivious to what is happening. The woman and her son hold each other close, eyes wide in fear. She reminds me of my mom, the day we found out about the war. The woman’s eyes flicker towards me, noticing my skin, my lips, my nose and
I lower my eyes to the ground until I reach my stop.
Work is the blur it always is. I grab and hold and hammer and cut. The process is arduous and violent, even though we are creating something stable and beautiful; and I like using my hands for work, it takes me out of my head. Around me, my coworkers sing and laugh in hushed, forbidden whispers, hoping the sound of construction stops our language from floating into the wrong ears. The sun slowly trances its path through the sky to the rhythmic sounds of metal against metal. By the end of the day I feel exhausted and grateful.
We’re in the locker room putting our tools away when complete silence befalls the coworkers around me. The hairs on my neck stand in fear as I turn around from my locker. Their gazes are on me, their faces an ocean of emotion. My friend Carlos steps forward, his hands holding a cake with candles. My heart can’t calm down, but I smile too. Tres leches is my favorite cake.
“Before you forget it,” he says, speaking in forced English.
My voice drops down to a whisper. “Gracias,” I say. It would’ve felt wrong to say it any other way.
We eat cake and joke and laugh, until it’s time to say goodbye, my pounding heart leading every step of the way. Good luck, everyone says as we walk out. See you tomorrow, says Carlos with sad eyes.
I walk the sunset lit path towards the clinic. Heavy clouds decorate the horizon, making it seem like mountains made of orange and purple cotton candy watching over me. I feel a pang of nostalgia and guilt, remembering the mountains that looked over me back home. Knowing I would soon forget. My phone buzzes in my pocket, startling me. My shaky hand grabs it and raises it to my ear.
“Miguel,” my mom says.
“Ma,” I say. I press my lips against each other, knowing what’s coming next.
“I love you,” she says instead. Not trying to undo my decision since the first time I made it.
I break down. “Me too,” I cry.
I know she wants to say that she is heartbroken too, that there are other ways to deal with it. I know it. Instead, she says, “We’ll wait for you at home with Luna, your dad and siblings and I.”
“Okay,” I say. “See you soon.” It’s all I could manage to say without breaking down even more.
I hang up as the clinic looms in front of me. Two lines of people, ones begging to go in, ones begging for it to stop, line the sides of the steel and glass building. I look at my feet and walk in, ignoring them. The assistant nods me by and I guide myself through the maze of sterile white hallways, walking to the cadence of my jagged breaths. I stand in front of the last doorway, willing my hand to stop shaking.
I open the door.
She sits behind her desk, her eyes closed. I feel naked, stripped of everything that protects me as she enters my mind. It feels like being touched gently by cold hands.
“Welcome,” she says in my head, opening her eyes and nodding to the empty chair.
I nod and sit. I wring my hands out. I want to pull my hair out. I want to scream. I want to run away. I want to get it over with. I want to not be me.
She knows all of this already.
She nods and smiles in understanding. “I’ve never removed an entire country before,” she says. “It might take a while. Your mind will fill in the gaps though, there is nothing to worry about. The memories and pain will be gone.”
Memories flood my brain. The victorious election and the hope that came with it. The resentment of a divided country, used as a weapon. The anger, the hate, the scapegoat. The scapegoat. Us. The coup. The promises made on blood. The war, the fear. Fleeing, because we were lucky. The bomb. Everything I had known, destroyed.
She sees all of this. She holds it in herself, sharing it with me.
“Are you sure you want to do it?” she asks, out loud, taking me out of my thoughts.
I close my eyes and wonder how my brain will replace the gaps left behind an entire cultural identity, an entire country, removed.
Santiago is a therapist mainly working with Latinx immigrants in New York City. Originally from Mexico, he is passionate about weaving culture and identity, mental health, and social justice into all his stories; as well as Spanish, his native language. He lives in the intersection of magic realism, existential wonder, and whimsical self-reflection; but you can also find him running between coffee shops while battling the second draft of a novel, or writing poetry for strangers at Central Park. His work has been published in Litro Magazine USA, Literally Stories, and is forthcoming in Stray Books’s Pulp Kings Series, and was longlisted for Voyage Young Adult Literary Journal’s 2020 short story award.