by Alicia Margarita Olivo


My grandparents look at me from the other side of the phone screen. They tell me they love me. I love them, too, but how do I say, “How can you love me if you don’t even know me,” without breaking their hearts?

I smile and wave.

The phone call she’s on abruptly ends, and my mother curses out loud. She asks him to purchase a calling card at the corner store, which isn’t at a corner store but rather midway down the street, nestled in between apartment complexes on its left and right and across from a small cluster houses I was envious for up until I learned that I was never going to have that. My father puts on his jacket and says he’ll be back soon. I dread having to talk to my family on the other side of the phone, the other side of the border.

My parents take an hour and a half to pick me up from school. They don’t know where I am, much less know the language required to ask for me. Luckily, you can spend the whole day in my hometown without speaking English. They berate me when they find me sitting on a bench on the side of my intermediate school, where students’ parents’ cars ride to pick us up. I get a phone that slides open right after. It’s red.

The first thing I do when I get home is not transfer the contacts from my father’s phone, to make sure I know my parents’ numbers, nor those of my friends who have long had their own flip phones to get confiscated in class. No. I stand by the television in the room that I share with my sister, wait for the perfect Disney Channel music video to come on, and record.

My ringtones from then have only gotten more obnoxious.

A battered white play telephone sits in the toy trunk in my younger sister’s bedroom. It was mine, but the majority of our toys were kept in that clear plastic bin with a broken lid. The very much real phone my family bought at the Big Lots! rests heavy in my right hand as I lay down on the floor. I hold up the piece of paper my friend from down the road had scrawled her number on. We were finally on summer break, and I didn’t think I would be able to visit her. She writes down her number after I tell her that I’m not sure if I can give out my family’s, and asks me to call her.

I sigh, and type in the number for the seventh time. Exasperated, the person on the line tells me for the seventh time that no one by my friend’s name lives there. They hang up. I stare at the numbers some more. I start dialing the same number again, unable to do much other than what I’ve been told. Perhaps if I believed hard enough, the numbers would be right this time.

My father stops me before going to my room, holds out his cell phone to me. “Tu abuelo quiere hablar contigo,” he says. I shakily breathe and I take the phone. I can only cardboard answers (“Dios te bendiga, mija.” “Gracias, a ti también.”) when all my mind can think is, who are you, why are you so far, why can’t I reach you.

Several friendships are ended through a single text. I’m not sure what to feel, other than the pure static that has been stuck in my brain since I started college. Unable to do much more than anything else, I went through the motions of my day. Showered, ate, did homework, smiled and cracked a joke in class.

After all, I’d been told that I would be the first in my family to graduate high school, and first to graduate from college. It’s what I had to do.

I look at my phone. Just more emails. More social media notifications from celebrities who will never care for people like my family.

My right ear itches, and I scratch it. I stare.

I pick up the phone.


Alicia Margarita Olivo: scientist turned theatre geek / sociologist. aspiring writer. tragically uninformed in pop culture (to the point she keeps the wikipedia app on her phone open at all times), but can name what her favorite band did off the top of her head if you pick a year between 1982 and the present year. @aliciamargaritx on twitter