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The After Effects of Red Poison

The thing that people don’t know about losing your voice is that it is a long process.

La Gringa Pelirroja was known all across Foxglove elementary school for her ability to steal the voices of children. Like a poisonous flower, she would drive in her prey by being nice to them in the first day, if she liked you enough she will even invite you for lunch but then you would do something wrong: use a boy’s shirt if you were seen as girl, pronounced words wrong and stutter, or having too much wonder in your eyes when it wasn’t needed.

At least that was what I think she saw in me that made her steal my voice, I’ve never asked her.

Sunflower middle school doesn’t have a Gringa Pelirroja, there are people with curly hair but the only red hair is a messy dye. However my voice still hasn’t come back.

Here is the thing about Foxglove Elementary School, silenced children are normal. Kids would pray at the beginning of the school year to not fall prey to La Gringa Pelirroja and others like here and then shun who did.

No one would talk to the outcasts, not even between themselves. Rather they would fight between each other in free periods for a chance to get back their voices.

But it rarely worked.

That is why I jump when in my first day of class, the girl that sits in front of me asks me:

“Do you like comics?” Pointing at my America Chavez personalized book covers.

Not “Can I borrow your pencil?” or “What class is next?” or “Give me your book, be nice, and I might return it.”

I nod.

“Nice! My favorite superhero is Robin but I think Jubilee is the prettiest!”

I want to ask which Robin is her favorite and does she like the x-men or the teen titans more, but I can’t. La Gringa Pelirroja’s ghost of a hand is closing in on my throat. I try to write the questions but as I open my book I see her face mid-laughing as she read my diary my parents bought for my birthday- does that have a lock that doesn’t work- and my hand starts shaking so hard the pencil falls.

The thing that people don’t know about losing your voice is that it is a long process.

A pattern of boo’s, or worse, no acknowledgement when your enter the room, giggles and murmured insults when participating in class, 30 minutes of a loneliness made of cold thick fog that end with La Gringa Pelirroja examining you in a way that see you naked and an invisible secret injury that goes back with you to home.

Then one day you wake up and it feels like someone has stolen your words overnight even if you can trace back how your greeting became lower and smaller.

Winter vacations are drawing nearer and I still don’t have any friends. As I suspected, the girl that talked to me the first day grew tired of me and now is laughing with her group of friends from the other side of the room. She still says good morning to me, though.

I know I am disappointing my fathers. They don’t ask for good grades - I’ve always had them- they just ask for a day when I bring someone home and they finally have an excuse to cook pastel de platáno instead of tostones.

Sometimes I wish one of my classmates could see me with them, slicing up platano macho as my dad fries it and papá sings Amparito to us. To show them that I’m fun, behind my silence there is a world of personality that makes my papá laugh every time I interpret the part in which the singer realizes the woman he was in love with didn't love him back and left for Cartagena.

I don’t know where La Gringa Pelirroja is now. Sometimes at night I wish that in whichever school she is, she meets a witch that steals her voice, like she stole mine. Sometimes at night I dream of myself stealing it as I comb through her pretty red locks, like Úrsula did to Ariel.

La Gringa Pelirroja was good. She made you forget there was ever something lovely, something brilliant in you. She will hide your pearls in the sand, leaving you to wonder why anyone would like an empty shell as a friend.

“Hey, aren’t they one of your friends from school?” Says dad knowing very well I don’t have any friends.

He’s talking about Jubilee. Of course, Jubilee isn’t her name but she always has a yellow leather jacket on, the same as her.

My dad waves at them and I feel my throat closing and my vocal cords curling with shame and panic.

Jubilee and her mom wave back and then my dad is making us walk from the ticket line to where they are waiting to buy popcorn.

“Coco!” Jubilee says and I want to ask her how she knows to call me that instead of Socorro -how they teacher say my name- until I remember the note I slip into her jacket pocket that said to please call me Coco.

“You also stayed home for vacations?” She says in unisense with her mother.

I nod as my dad says:

“Vacations are for relaxation and traveling is so very stressful, and expensive.”

“Right! Now you see love, we aren’t the only ones,” says Jubilee’s mother.

We all are going to see the same movie. My papá catches up to us, coming back from parking the car. Both of them talk my way into seating next to Jubilee. The Nightmare Before Christmas isn’t that scary but it is still nice when Jubilee gets scared and clutches my hand with all her might.

The thing about friendships is that there isn’t an official moment when two people agree to become friends, unlike with boyfriends or husbands. There is no anniversary either. So I don’t know if Jubilee and I become friends when she asks if I would like to eat lunch with their group when we go back to school.

“Did the cat eat your tongue?” One of Jubilee’s friends asks.

My breathing quickens and I try to push some words through my teeth.

The thing about me, about this silence, is not that I can’t talk but rather moving my tongue against my palate takes as much energy from me as trying to push the biggest rock on earth up to the Mountain Everest.

“Don’t be silly,” says Jubilee, “A witch stole their voice. Like in the comics.”

And maybe it is in that moment when we become friends.

La Gringa Pelirroja was allowed to steal the voices of the children at Foxglove’s Elementary School for 4 years without any consequences.

Even when your parents found you in the middle of a panic attack at our graduation recital because La Gringa Pelirroja had ruined your costume, they couldn’t do much more than make sure you never had to see her again.

There is no justice to be served, unlike the comics there is no resolution, no evil defeated. Afterall Ariel is the one that gets the happy ending as Úrsula is struck by lightning and swallowed by the sea.

I give my New Teen Titans collection of comic books to Jubilee for her birthday. I have been spending lunch hour with her and her group for the last 2 months and even if Jubilee is the only one to ever talk to me, even if I still can’t speak, it is nice, not having to eat alone.

“Happy Birthday,” I say. It comes out like little puffs of air and it leaves me tired for the rest of the day but it was worth it.

Foxglove Elementary School has these days where they will celebrate the birthdays of all the kids whose birthday fell that month. So, if you were a silent kid, you would get celebrated by association, though no one would say happy birthday directly to you.

A week after Jubilee’s birthday she comes and gives me a couple of comics from the New X-men run.

“Happy Birthday Coco.” She says.

“Thanks.” I say with a watery breath.

Unlike other kids like her, La Gringa Pelirroja never gave back someone’s voice. But I can fight back for it, and she will feel it, wherever she is. Maybe I am reading the situation wrong and I’m Ariel while she’s Úrsula. Or maybe I will rewrite the movie and give Úrsula her happy ending -I always like her more.

It doesn’t matter. The thing about comics is that two different endings can co-exist together.


Ari Ochoa Petzold (they/xe), is a writer in process that likes dancing to old music and history, one of their goals in mind is to bring to the world stories about the human condition told through the intersectionality of being queer and latine. Find more of xyr work in the Sea Glass Magazine, Graveyard Zine, #Enbylife, Hooligan Mag and at Instagram in @Ari_gibberish.


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