At the nightclub, you and your friends are standing by the bar telling jokes about Mexicans, taking turns wearing a sombrero. I am watching you do this. My friends are dancing and trying to get me to ignore you.
In a few moments, I will frown, clench my jaw, crack my neck. I will walk Mexicanly toward you. I will want my friends to think that I’m going to fight you. I will want them to think that it’s the tequila making me do this, that it’s the machismo. I will want them to think that I’m going to throw the first punch.
But the truth is, I won’t fight you. Instead, I will say anything to make you want to hit me. I will send you telepathic messages like: punch me back across the border, even though I’m not from across the border.
Then I will genuflect. I will lift the sombrero from your head and place it on my own. I will take your white fist in both of my hands, close my eyes, and knock your knuckles gently against my forehead. I will pray to you: O Señor, pégueme, te pido.
But I already know you won’t hit me. Instead, you will pull your hand from out of my grip and take one step back. Your friends will close ranks behind you, and you will raise a pointed finger at me and say: I don’t want to see your face anymore.
So before I walk Mexicanly toward you, before I drain the last of my tequila and slam the glass upside-down on a nearby table, before my friend cups my cheek in her hand and tries to meet my eyes and tell me that we can just leave, I will have already torn my face off.
You will have to hit me then. The least you can do is hit me.
I’m going to tell you a story at the risk of being called a magical realist.
When me and my sister were kids, our parents would always take us to a restaurant called La Mariposa. Our parents were friends with one of the waiters there named Nacho. I don’t remember much about Nacho, or how he knew my parents, but I remember he always brought us free sodas and maybe a free appetizer whenever he was working.
So on my sister’s eleventh birthday, when we went to La Mariposa for dinner, Nacho brought out her favorite dessert, chocolate lava cake, on the house. He and the other waiters sang her “Las Mañanitas” and ended with: happy birthday to you happy birthday to you happy birthday panchita happy birthday to you. My sister was embarrassed and happy and we all clapped. But she took just one bite of the cake and started choking. Before my dad could jump out of his seat to give her the Heimlich, my sister reached into her mouth and pulled something out. She dropped it on the tablecloth, next to the empty basket of chips, and started breathing normally again.
At first I thought it looked like a spring roll from the Vietnamese restaurant next door, and I wondered how she could’ve been choking on a spring roll if we hadn’t been there in at least a few weeks. Then I saw what it actually was—a translucent cocoon with an orange and black butterfly inside. I remember the butterfly was the same color as the butterfly on the big La Mariposa sign outside the restaurant. We were all staring at the thing, and then my sister made noises like she was maybe about to vomit. She reached into her mouth again and pulled out another cocoon. Then two more. Then another.
I know what you’re thinking, but this went on, with all of us and Nacho and the waiters and the other diners watching, until there were so many cocoons and they were coming out so fast that my sister ran out of places on the table for them and had to just let them fall to the floor. Then, one by one, the cocoons started wiggling, and the butterflies pulled themselves out. A few minutes later, the restaurant was full of butterflies. I remember being surprised at how loud they were. I’d never thought of butterfly wings as loud. We were all covering our ears and keeping our heads down, too stunned to leave, brushing them off when they landed in our hair. Nacho and the waiters had to try and chase them out the front door with brooms.
Nothing like that ever happened again though, and pretty soon the restaurant closed down and we all sort of forgot about the whole thing. Or we pretend we forgot anyway. Whenever I fly back home to visit my sister and my parents for the holidays, we never talk about that birthday at La Mariposa.
I’ve only ever told this story a few times, and I know my sister doesn’t like me telling it to people. Honestly I don’t like telling it either, any more than she does. I can hear myself as I’m telling it to you, and I hate the way I sound, and I hate why you think I’m telling you in the first place. But it’s about time me and my family at least admit that this shit really happened. We can’t just pretend like my sister didn’t pull hundreds of butterflies out of her mouth in a restaurant on her birthday, as much as we might like to.
So my face is like this because the other night I went to the bar after work to meet up with some friends I hadn’t seen in a while but I got there before them so I found an empty spot at the bar to wait and I asked the bartender for a glass of water while I thought about what I wanted to drink when they got there and it was cinco de mayo but I didn’t realize it until I got to the bar and saw the drink specials and anyway after a few minutes I got a text message from my friend saying that hey they’re gonna be a little late so I decided to go ahead and get a drink in the meantime and asked for a Manhattan and the guy sitting next to me he orders an Old Fashioned and that gets us talking about whiskey so then I introduced myself and he does the same and then the drinks came and we got to chatting and after a little while we wound up talking about eye color for some reason and then all of a sudden this guy he swivels on his stool to face me and asks what color I thought his eyes were and I said that they looked grayish green to me and he says that no they’re just plain green-green and I said Oh I don’t know they look kind of gray to me and he says Well they look greener whenever I wear green and I said that I didn’t believe him and he says O.K. watch I’ll show you and so then he grabs his emerald green scarf from where he had it draped across the back of his chair and puts it right next to his cheek and sure enough his eyes looked a little greener than they did before so then what I did next was this: I slammed my face against the bar and pressed my cheek to the wooden surface and looked up at him and said what do you think do I look browner to you and before he could say anything I leaned back in my stool and slammed my face again harder this time and I looked up again and said listen I really want to look browner do I look browner to you and he said Jesus Christ and then I slammed my face a couple more times and felt my nose break and repeated the question and then he said Stop stop what the fuck are you doing and I said Isn’t it obvious and rubbed my cheek against the bloody bar top and then he said Why are you doing this man all I said was my eyes are green and so then I reared my head back again and pointed to my bloody nose and the bruises already blooming under my eyes and said What makes you think that any of this has to do with your eyes or with causality and I was about to slam my face once more for the road but by that time the bartender finally called the door guy over to have me thrown out but not before I grabbed somebody’s Negra Modelo from in front of them and held it to my cheek and licked the blood away from my upper lip and shouted what about now how about now what about now?