Psychosis and Black-Eyed Dreams
Sophia E. Terazawa
A stain on the right lens of my glasses looks like Princess Kaguya of the moon floating in the iris. I take them off. Someone must have put her there, I think. My father had shown me a photograph of her once. She used to be a parachute in the sky. Pale. A dandelion seed in her own night.
“Is she watching over me now, papa?”
“Yes,” he says. And I become happy.
When my father finds me in front of the television at two in the morning, he slaps me so hard that the glasses fly off my face.
“What are you doing, huh? Why are you looking at me like that? What is your PROBLEM?!”
The illness angers my father. He does not know why I watch television at two in the morning. I stare him down. No explanation. No answer.
He slaps me so hard that it sends me into lunar orbit.
“Papa, can you tell the story again? The one about the lonely princess?”
“Yes,” he says. And I adore him whole. Whole.
Before the eclipse, my father follows me outside with a flashlight and two sets of binoculars. “Mite goran,” he says. But what is there to see in this Texas sky? We are not here. Nobody wants us here. Just Lowe’s and a flowering pear tree. Mami sits inside balancing the checkbook. She pays for my hospitalizations and specialists and therapists. She subtracts, subtracts, all the while wondering how her eldest daughter went wrong.
“This not broken family,” she cries. I know, Mami. My collapse is not your fault.
In plain speak, psychosis is like falling down a burning rope. Mental illness while Mongoloid and Slanted, while Colonized, while Colonized, while Colonized, is a choking and ecstatic affair. I pick my nose. It starts to bleed. The smell is fatty and metal, cold like pork in the morning. Mami also makes Cháo Gà to flush out the demons. Cold pork and cold rice soup, it washes the stomach clean. Clean stomach, clean mind.
What happens when the oppressed becomes consumer, becomes radical? The refugee, a new symbol for good work ethic or model minority mutiny? What happens when the ground trembles and my mouth gapes into the whitest kind of scream this cold-blooded country has ever known?
How should the Asian American woman express her rage, if she is only gazed upon? Negated? Mirrored?
“You seem like a sweet girl,” says a co-worker years later at my fourth temp job. She stands in my cubicle, and I stare at her blankly, willing her to go away. Go away. “Your face is so sweet.”
Am I to be your specter? Your pale? Your death mask? Is my rage made invisible so dreaded because there is not enough racist imagination in this white patriarchal system to foresee a Slanted, Black-Eyed Horror? Divide first. Shoot later. Listen to the screams of the colonized masses and make a Venn diagram.
When I was little, another little girl said that my smile was creepy. Why? I was just smiling.
“When your face is squinty like that, I can’t see your eyes,” she explained. “It creeps me out.”
What else creeps you out? My silence. My unflinching face. My skin yellow. My skin brown. Opium den. My men. Sleeping and Staring. Black hair, greasy. Sneaky, sneaky. My forked tongue and curses.
What else creeps you out? My silence. “The Silence” that only the silenced yellow and brown sisters know how to make with collective, unflinching faces in the direction of one white woman, one white man. And these good, innocent folk “feel uncomfortable, feel threatened.” Silence is my napalm. Silence is my napalm. Silence is my napalm!!!
Throughout my childhood, Mami buys a new palm tree over and over again, but it keeps shriveling up by March. She stands over the pitiful thing with a hose. “Maybe more water. This guy,” she says. Maybe Mami brings the monsoon to Dallas. “Hey guy! Maybe don’t die this time, o-KAY?”
I watch her walk around the lawn. She drags the hose behind her and leaves it there in the grass. Water runs. It makes a lake. I see everything through a bedroom window. The room is empty. It has always been empty. My brother was supposed to sleep here, except I never met him. He has died so many times before. I see everything through this coffin empty window. My mother goes inside, and the hose, she leaves it there in the grass. It looks like a snake running water. It makes a lake. My father will be home in a few hours to turn off the faucet and wind up the snake. He won’t say anything about the water bill in April.
In Honors Chemistry, my nose bleeds again. It pours like Sông Cái after rain. Sông Cái can mean Red River. It can also mean Mother River. I saw it once from the inside of a moving van. The tour guide explained Sông Cái to my mother, but she already knew of such memories, so they had talked about other things in Vietnamese. To me and my sister, the tour guide explained, “This is Red River” and nothing more. I wonder if he was ashamed of me, too.
In Honors Chemistry, I pick my nose until it bleeds all over the black lab table. Susie Choi freaks out and says that I may have a medical condition. I freak out and say, “Really?”
At the nurse’s office, I am told to pinch and lean forward. My fingers are crusted with blood, as I add the next dry piece of gauze. The nurse says that I have “such a sweet face.” I pinch harder.
I drop out of school after my first psychotic break. Mami wants to assure everyone that it is just the temporary stress of academics. I quit after-school S.A.T. group tutoring. I quit after-school S.A.T. private tutoring. I quit after-school Algebra tutoring. I quit after-school Language Reasoning tutoring. I quit after-school Swim Team. My mother convinces my violin teacher to conduct lessons in the privacy of our home on Mondays. I convince my father to take me out of Japanese school. My sister chimes in.
“If Sophia gets Saturdays off, I want to quit Japanese, too!”
My father takes us both out of Japanese school. Mami wants to assure him that this is also temporary.
Yet the haunting does not stop. Ghosts visit white suburbia. They always come. I am on Native land. As long as I live in the United States, I am on Native land. There are phantoms at every traffic light. Neighborhood Watch patrols for boys in hoodies, and my mother fidgets when I rattle the chains between race and money.
“Don’t talk about the Americans like that.”
“What do you mean ‘the Americans?’ We are American,” retorts my father.
“You know what Mami means,” says Mami. “Whites peoples.” She whispers these words, whites peoples, as though naming demons. Do not address them too loudly. They might hear you and come bargaining for your soul. Ha. Ha. Ha.
“But this is the White man’s house,” I say. This land is blood money. The entire system is blood money. No, Mami, we did not “make it.” We are only living the Hollow-Eyed Dreams. It only sees red and nothing else. No, Mami, we did not “make it.” We are only the rubber plantations made domestic, a battle tank in the parking lot. Push the cart. We’ve got new diapers, turkey, and a soda machine.
I watch the color drain from the spines of my sisters and brothers. Their eyes are black, but almost blue. Souls bruised and bleached. Yes, grab success by the water buffalo’s horns and make our martyred immigrant mothers proud.
Meanwhile, I can barely hold a job. It hurts too much to perform sanity among ghosts, to be this far from grace. My sense of time runs forward, then backward. Perhaps one day I will be able to put blood to paper more clearly, but for now I just hear voices. They shout questions and force me to write this. What does it mean to save face? What does it mean to HAVE NO FACE?
SOPHIA E. TERAZAWA is a poet and performer of Vietnamese-Japanese descent. She currently lives in Kolkata, India. www.sophiaterazawa.com