She never mentioned the truck. When I was younger and I begged her to tell me the story again and again, she never told me about being transported in a truck along with twenty or thirty other people. She didn't tell me how she was probably gasping for air, how her body was engulfed in a feverous sweat, how her dress stuck to her like a second skin. She hadn't mentioned the cries of newborns, the phlegmy coughs of overworked fathers, the prayers of abuelitas on beaded rosaries. She never once broke the illusion of her infinite and weightless flight.
My mami, Valentina Monarca Paz, was without a doubt a monarch. She migrated to the United States on a spring breeze when she was twenty and I was only a few days old. She was so sure that she would be able to make a life for us there. She was so sure that I would grow my own wings soon enough and be able to make my way to her. So sure in fact, that she named me Mariposa the day I was born.
Abuelita had of course warned her against it, told her that it would make me too flighty, unstable. That I wouldn't find my way back to her, instead that I would always be looking for a new direction to fly in. That my heart would belong to the wind and my body to the earth, and that she would never get me back. And in a way, she was right. I haven't seen mami since that day, but it was not because I had learned how to fly, rather it was because I still hadn't. I was beginning to doubt if I ever would at that point.
But every night mami told me that butterflies had no keeper, that they had the freedom to cross imaginary borders and painted divisions. She would tell me the story of her flight, of the wind beneath her painted wings, and the beauty of the landscape below her. She retold it so many times that I felt as if I were right there with her, gliding alongside her. And just like that my colorless world came to life. I saw lush greens and vibrant pinks and yellows. The sky was a blue I had never seen before, but had only read about in the textbooks we were given in school. The sun shone brightly, its rays warming my back. Her hand was in mine, and all that mattered was that we were finally together.
And when I came back to reality I realized that I was here and she was there, and that my body had never been in flight and that my head had never been in the clouds. But still I asked her if I could ever do what she had done. If I could take flight. If I could ever go home to her. If the borders and divisions and 1,410 miles between us would ever be as easily conquered by me as they were by the namesake she had given me. I asked her if I could ever be a butterfly just like her.
She told me I already was. She told me this as if it were a mantra, every single night before we hung up the phone she would whisper, "Buenas noches mi Mariposa. My beautiful butterfly."
And one day, well one day I finally believed her. I packed up my bag and grabbed all of the savings I had made working nights and weekends at tio's little bodega and told Chela that it was time. Chela, whom abuelita had told me to stay away from again and again, had told me that when it was time that she would make sure that I would get to California in one piece, as long as I had the four thousand dollars in cash.
As she counted the money before me with her gold covered fingers, her long lacquered nails glinted in the flourescent lighting. I felt hyper aware of everything around me. Her lips kinked into that shark like smile, and she held out a hand before me, taking my cold hand in her obscenely warm one, "Mija, the truck leaves tonight. You're ready, right?"
"Yes." She nodded "It's now or never, Mari. The next truck doesn't come until next month, it'll be too hot by then."
I felt dizzy, I had packed my bag and cleared out my room, but the reality of the fact hadn't hit me yet. I couldn't imagine leaving everything behind, as black and white as it may have been. Abuelita was still here, so was tio and tia. Everything was in my pueblito, but at the same time it wasn't.
"Que dios te bendiga, mi amor." Chela gave me a blessing, placing her hand upon my cheek, "And God speed."
I'm not naive, I'm truly not. But my mami never mentioned the truck. She never talked about how she had made it, what she had gone through, how she became the woman she is now and how the journey had changed her. All I knew was that Valentina Monarca Paz was a monarch, and that now, I was going to be one too.
"We're almost there. Ya vamos a llegar." Said a man who sat by the door.
Mothers began sobbing and the abuelitas’ prayers became louder. My heart began beating furiously. Slowly the heat dissipated, and the voices around me began disappearing. The truck began to slow, and as it came to a halt and jolted us forward, it felt as if something within me began to change. As if this truck was my chrysalis and the moment they opened that door I would emerge a mariposa.
My mami never mentioned the truck, but I guess she didn't have to. Once you taste the freedom of flight, you don’t remember anything else. You don’t remember the fear, the anxiety, the utter panic. All you remember is your wings beating for the first time.
“Ya vengo mami, I’m almost home.” I whispered as they opened the doors.
Painted divisions and closed borders, we are above them. We are butterflies. We are monarchs. And perhaps best of all, we are going home.