By: Karen Gonzalez-Videla
Out of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most —Mark Twain
I first lost my mind when I woke up March of 2011 and tip-toed to my parents’ bedroom. My three-year-old sister was already cuddled in between Mom’s white nightgown and Dad’s faded blue T-Shirt when my older sister and I crawled into the unmade bed sheets. I smiled. I had only two weeks left in the United States, and I couldn’t wait to see which amusement park my parents had decided to take us to. Mom stared at me. I’m sure she stared at my sisters too, but the time she stared at me always felt like the longest. Her lips moved until they made it clear that we wouldn’t step in Argentina again. I don’t think I understood the severity of it back then, because all I could worry about was the Barbie dolls I had left behind.
Or maybe I first lost my mind the day before driving to the city, boarding a plane, and leaving Argentina. At eleven years old, you’re not supposed to hate a vacation to a first-world country, even if it’s too far away from the backyard where you brought your friends over for your tenth birthday and spent the day throwing each other into a pool and eating asado. At eleven years old, you’re not supposed to climb the tree at the back of the patio with a book in your hand so you can pretend to be reading instead of crying. You’re not supposed to miss a place before you leave it, before you know you’re going to leave it, even if for a short while.
Maybe I lost it when I walked out of science class on a Monday afternoon and stumbled upon a crowded middle school bus ramp. All I could see was a row of yellow blocks with faint numbers and creatures my size that must have been students trying to go home. I wanted to go home. I walked to an older woman and tried: “bus… where?” Her expression looked blank, like a cardboard cereal box before it gets imprinted with designs and colors that children can understand. I tried again: “Estoy perdida…where bus?”
Or that time I stayed back after fourth period helping my sixth-grade teacher. She wanted to meet my parents and tell them how proud she was of me, how shocked she was that I had only arrived in the country five months ago and could already communicate better than those who’d been here for years. I think I lost my mind when she asked me what my father’s job was. I giggled and told her I could not remember, because I would have rather looked stupid than admit he wasn’t a lawyer, or a surgeon, or a businessman.
Or it could have been that night I woke up at two in the morning because my head pounded as if it had its own heartbeat. I jumped off the bed faster than I should have, and my vision tunneled. I leaned against the wall for ten seconds. I threw cold water on my head three, four, five times and tried to keep sleeping. But the heartbeat inside my brain kept pounding and pounding and pounding. So, I tiptoed to my parents’ bedroom; Mom always had ibuprofen or Advil or something she’d give me that I would swallow without questioning. But the door was open, and she wasn’t there. Maybe I lost my mind the next morning, when Dad told me she had spent the night sweeping and mopping the floor of the Church nearby. I tilted my head and frowned: How could a former doctor find no other job besides polishing the floor of a place she didn’t even go to?
Or perhaps it was that time a teacher laughed at me for not understanding the simple task of standing in my alphabetical place in a line of thirty students. The other students laughed along, hopelessly trying to fit into a class that was leaving me behind. I swallowed a sob and walked into the classroom. They were still laughing. I sat down. They were still laughing. I lasted three days in that class.
Maybe it was when I became so fascinated with English grammar that I spent hours and hours perfecting a language that was not my own. My English teacher finished reading the five-page story I had handed to her, took off her glasses, and told me my vocabulary was better than that of native speakers. Her words adhered to my skin, and I became so obsessed with the unrolling of my Rs that I decided to become a writer. But I was surrounded by American authors and I started to believe that to be a successful writer, I needed to alter my last name.
Or maybe I lost my mind first year of High School as my Algebra teacher passed back last week’s tests. Mine was the only one she didn’t place face-down on the desk. She smiled at me before I shifted my eyesight to the big ninety and the “great job!” written on the upper right corner of the paper. I frowned and wondered what I’d done wrong. The school day ended, and I locked myself in a bathroom stall, where I cried because some American boy in the class scored two points higher than me. I spent the rest of my day memorizing the Algebra textbook because I wanted to show that boy that I was the Hispanic prodigy child his family refused to believe in.
Maybe I lost it that time a friend asked to come to my house, and I came up with no less than five excuses for why she shouldn’t. I was afraid that she would see the cockroach I had found in the bathroom and failed to kill last night. I was afraid that she would laugh at the bunk bed I shared with my sister. I was afraid that my parents’ accents would be too strong for her. I was afraid that my two worlds did not match, could not match, would never match.
Or maybe I truly lost my mind on November 8th many years later. Names did not exist on election day. People were nothing but the sounds coming from their tongues as they chose their new family: The Democrats or the Republicans. I spent the whole day staring at the map of the country that consumed the TV. My eyes could barely focus on the blue, the red, the blue, the red. I bit my lips for so long that a friend suggested I change the channel. I tried. Or I did. But every channel was the same ocean of red and blue and I couldn’t stand it any longer. I went to bed. I think I lost my mind when I woke up and saw Mom’s face. Immigrants had lost. We had lost.
Or it might have happened a week later, when I tried to focus on French adverbs but overheard whispers from the boys behind me that sounded too close to “get out” and “my land.” Or when I heard them laughing. Or when I couldn’t take it any longer, turned around, and glared at them. Or when they apologized, and I kept staring. Or when they apologized, and I didn’t forgive them.
Maybe it happened somewhere in between college essays and interviews, convincing myself that merit was enough to overrule my un-American-ness. I sat on my desk and smiled at the acceptance letter I held in my hands. I started to believe that I could have a future in this country. Two weeks later, I sat on the same desk and held a letter from the same university. I opened it. I read it four times before I understood that the university had no interest in my education: the full-tuition scholarship I had earned was removed on the basis that I didn’t deserve the merits of this country, on the basis that I would never succeed as much as the Americans who had scored lower than me on every standardized exam. I spent the rest of senior year skipping lunches to read and re-read my college applications and make sure no one would ever reject me again.
I think I might have truly lost it, my mind, when everything turned out well, when Mom called me with news from the lawyer. The shock, the joy—they were too much. So much that I only remember whispering “Al fin. Al fin, al fin, al fin.” I also remember the calls—so many “congratulations” and I couldn’t understand what I was being congratulated for: For being allowed to stay in a place I already called home? Eso no tiene sentido, I thought. And yet I accepted their congratulations.
I guess I lost my mind in the process. I boarded a plane and I lost a part of it; I heard I was staying in the U.S. and I lost another part; I tried to speak a language that wasn’t my own and I lost yet another part. I must have lost my mind somewhere along the years—no one who hasn’t lost her mind can stare at a country that didn’t want her and love it; no one who hasn’t lost her mind can be given the option of going back to the place where she learned to bike, to swim, to run, to fly, and say, “No. I’d rather stay in the place where I suffered.”
Karen Gonzalez-Videla is an undergraduate student at the University of South Florida. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and Creative Writing, and she loves combining these two passions in her fiction. Although she writes about a variety of subjects, she focuses mostly on the immigrant experience and the exploration of one’s womanhood. She was born in Argentina but has lived in Tampa, Florida for the last nine years. She’s ninety-nine percent sure that she has spent all that time reading, writing, and wondering why she even writes.