About Me

My photo
MCG, a Chicana feminist, for sure, teaches community college English

Monday, December 31, 2012


         Whenever you ask your stepdad for a ride to town, he tells you to get a ride with Paul, his friend who’s been coming over a lot lately after work or on the weekends to drink beer. They work construction together. Your stepdad is a carpenter, a good one. You don’t like Paul. You only want a ride from your stepdad in his truck with his beer cans on the floor. You ask again. Your stepdad tells you that Paul’s driving to town soon and that you can get a ride from him. Why can’t you just wait?
         “I can give you a ride,” Paul says nodding hopefully, his stubby fingers wrapped around a sweaty can of Budweiser.
         You don’t say anything and decide to start walking before stupid, ugly, drunk Paul decides to leave and sees you walking down the road and tries to pick you up, tries to give you a ride. It’s summertime and you have a few hours of sunlight left to use up on getting out of the house. You’re bored. You need a soda, something cold. You’re tired of listening for Randy and Al’s Oldsmobile at the end of the driveway and thinking about Al coming up your driveway in dusty jeans, his long strides, and cool, slow gait.
         You don’t know why your step dad doesn’t get it. He’s a pretty smart guy even if he has started liking Ronald Regan, the cowboy president who wants your mom off welfare, who called her a ‘welfare queen.’ So we got tired of living off of lentils and blocks of government cheese and she let her boyfriend move in and started dealing too to make a little more money on the side. We are finally not just barely making it. We have a washing machine and a dryer. We don’t have to hang clothes on the clothesline anymore or take extra care shaking the stiff jeans extra hard when taking them down from the line to get the earwigs off. You’ve been stung by one those bastards a couple of times.
         You look at the sky a lot because it’s big and blue and beautiful. You wish that you could see over the mountains. You see yourself in your mind, one tiny person at the bottom of a valley, surrounded by tall, tall mountains, no way out.
         Even your boyfriend Al doesn’t like him, doesn’t trust him, has seen the way Paul looks at you up and down out of the corner of his eye. You go to your room whenever Paul’s around, but when Al’s there you don’t have to. Al shoots him dirty looks and encourages you to sit with him somewhere in the yard, but you know Paul is putting ideas in your stepdad’s head, asking questions about you and Al that your stepdad doesn’t want to answer.
         It’s crazy having to protect yourself like this all the time, from just a feeling, a bad feeling in your stomach. If it weren’t for Al, you’d think that you were seeing things, that you were making it up, that it was all in your head. But you’ve been on that ride before, someone else’s truck, hands, fingers, your skinny little girl legs.
         You want to scream at your step dad, scream at him right in front of Paul. “I don’t want his ride. Don’t you get it! Don’t you fucking get it!”
         But you don’t. You don’t scream. You want to, but you don’t.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Collecting Boyfriends

        One summer, I collected boyfriends. I was fifteen and dating three guys all at the same time. Al was my Mexican-American boyfriend, Toby was my punk rock boyfriend, and Mike was my San Diego, skateboarding boy friend. Al, who was older, never told me his actual age because all the pot he smoked made him paranoid about statutory rape. Toby and I were both marching band nerds. We both played the drums. Mike spent the summers in Soulsbyville, a tiny spec of a town wedged between Tuolumne and Sonora, even smaller than Tuolumne. His parents were divorced, and he spent the school year living with his mom in San Diego. Mike must have dated Mexican girls in San Diego, or wanted to because he was more comfortable with me in public and otherwise than any guy I had dated.
         Alphonso Garcia, or Al was tall with washboard abs, long dark hair, and big brown eyes and long eyelashes that women always commented on. That I met Al through my mom was not lost on me. He and Randy would come over and hang around the house visiting with Mom and getting high. Al tried to ignore me at first -- tried to stay focused on sampling the product, but I found ways to get his attention. I wore catholic-school girl skirts or camouflage shorts with men’s see-through-white undershirts, cut so they'd bare my mid-drift. My shoulders, arms, and legs were defined from playing drums and twice as dark than usual from the sun. I was inexperienced, and Al knew it, liked that about me. Not quite a virgin -- someone had to show me the way, and he knew the way. But he vacillated between keeping things all business and acting his age. He didn’t want to fuck things up with my mom, and he knew my step-dad Donnie was uneasy when he and Les were around.
         Toby had braces and wore eyeliner. He was skinny, and he always brushed his teeth before we went out to smoke cloves and hang out at the Europa diner with Amelie, Sammie, Cindy his sister, and whomever else we could fit in Amelie’s car. Toby liked me but he was shy, and I probably came on too strong, getting drunk and kissing him when all he wanted to do was press his leg against mine in the car or under the table at the diner. The wealthier, prettier, trendy girls liked Toby too -- I felt I had to work extra hard to keep him interested, and I got the impression that he both liked and worried about my being Mexican. Even though he was a year younger and Sandy’s younger brother, I felt the most insecure about my looks when I was around him.
         Mike wore plaid board shorts and sex wax t-shirts. He told me I was beautiful as he rubbed his hand down my thigh, his skin light in comparison with mine even though he was a rather tan San Diego boy. We spent a lot of time rubbing up against one another in our bathing suits and otherwise at the Tuolumne pool, at the river where I took him skinny dipping for the first time, and in his dad’s bed. His dad told him that he was glad that he had found someone to spend time with while he was at work, and my job being shut down mid-way through that first summer made spending the day together possible. For the first week after the summer program for school-age kids had shut down, I continued getting rides to work from my step-dad. Mike would wait there for me with his skateboard, and after pressing me against the gym wall, pushing his body against mine, and kissing me soft then hard, he’d flip his bangs out of his blue eyes, grab me by the hand, and we’d half-skate, both of us on his board, half walk to his dad’s house where we’d spend the rest of the day alone.
         Since my mom sat around the house and smoked pot all day, I didn’t bring a lot of friends home, certainly not boyfriends. Al knew all that; he was on the inside, and so when my younger sister who I shared the attic bedroom with wasn’t around and my step dad was still at work, he’d sneak up the ladder to find me, his heavy boots on each two-by-four step giving him way every time. He’d sit down on my bed, a box spring and mattress on the floor, and lean back, his arms over his head, the back of his head in his hands, and his daddy long legs splayed in out in front of him, his knees forming pointy angles. His dingy white t-shirt always rose up as he leaned back exposing his stomach -- muscular and brown. I couldn’t keep my eyes off his bare stomach. Still early in the relationship, I reached out and slid my hand up under his shirt. I could feel goose bumps rise up over his skin. He closed his eyes for a second. Then he grabbed my hand, stopping it before it slid any lower.
         “Jail bait, that’s what you are. Jail bait,” he said, holding my hand under his shirt in place and smiling. He had a fantastic smile.
         I kept my hand where it was and climbed on top of him, straddling him, pinning him down to my bed and leaning my face close to his.
         “Don’t worry, no one here wants the cops around,” I said breathing hard into his ear. He smelled earthy and sweaty, and I could feel his heart beating under his shirt. I didn’t care that he was older, or a high school drop out, or laying low growing pot in the foothills –- his black hair, brown eyes, and dark skin didn’t look out of place on mine. I felt him warm and hard under my thigh. I licked the skin under his ear, pushing his hair back. His large hands gripped my thighs, pulling me toward him hard.
         Toby was shy. He liked me, but I had to pursue him. He was only fourteen. I was just getting to know his older sister Sandy who was a year older when Toby caught my eye. The Summerville High and Sonora High bands had a couple of joint events every year. He played the trumpet, drums, and bass guitar and he looked like his sister Sandy who was one of my first girl crushes. I liked that he was younger and shy. I remember really seeing him for the first time behind a drum at Sonora High. He had an earring in his ear and he was wearing eyeliner, pegged pants, and an open, button-down, plaid shirt with a grey t-shirt underneath it. He sort of took my breath away, a band geek and punk kid all in one. His favorite record was Social Distortion's Mommy's Little Monster, a record that we all listened to over and over. He didn’t talk much, and when he did it was about music or his father, also a musician who had toured with a variety of bands when he was younger and who died suddenly a short time later, devastating the entire family and the rest of us too because his parents had still been married after many years and had still been totally in love.
         I mostly hung out with Toby in crowd with all our other friends -- it felt better that way. We’d sneak glances at each other and sneak off and kiss for a bit, but I was careful not to steal all of his innocence all at once. When I first met Mike that summer I invited him to the river with a group of friends, that included Toby and a bunch of others from Sonora, so he could make some friends. We had a favorite spot down under an old railroad bridge in Sonora just off of Tuolumne Road.  It had a waterfall and a couple of deep pools and level places to wade with wine coolers in hand. Toby was into me that day, pulling me into the water and kissing me like I was his. I could see Mike watching us from where he sat alone on a nearby rock. I had invited him so he could make some friends since he was only in town for the summer, not sure if Toby was coming or not or if he did if we were even really together. Toby and I were standing in a pool of water just above the bar of sand where everyone else was hanging around, and he was holding me around the waist and kissing my neck -- something that I had wanted, been wanting for months, and it felt good, but I could barely feel anything, not with Mike and his sad blue eyes so close by.
         Mike loved the Rolling Stones. Just before we met, I had lined up a housesitting job. One my high school teachers who lived in town hired me to take care of her chickens, goats, and cats. Mrs. Somerwell and her husband were super intellectual communist hippie types with a big record and book collection that lined the walls of the living room and dining room. I had planned on trying to take Al to their place to keep me company, but he hardly ever left Randy’s side, so I wound up taking Mike instead. Al told me to date other guys because he didn’t want me getting to dependent on him; I was in still in high school and he wanted to keep it that way. Even though he wanted me to see other people, I didn’t tell Al that Mike and I spent a night up there together, listening to Stones tracks the whole time: “Brown Sugar,” “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” Satisfaction” “Paint It Black,” and the song “Angie” over and over again. We put blankets and pillows on the front room floor but we barely slept. Mike had only had done it with one other girl, and I had only done it with Sam that one time and Al only a couple of times at that point, and our fifteen-year-old bodies, cursing with horny hormones needed more. We rolled around under the covers all night, dozing off for short periods of time, one of us waking and reaching for the other -- I’d unwind myself from his arms and pull myself back on top of him where he’s open his eyes all blue and sleepy, and he’d grin, a sign that he was ready to go again.
         “You are so fucking beautiful,” he told me in the morning as the sun was coming up over the hills. He was propped up on an elbow, the other hand tracing my collarbone and down under one breast then over the other.
         I couldn’t help smiling and lowering my eyes.
         “I mean it,” he said, lifting my chin to make eye contact and kiss me soft on the mouth, so I’d believe him -- wouldn’t contradict him or point out a flaw or wish for something that I didn’t or would never possess.
         It was a deliriously hot summer. There were days when I’d get home from work after seeing Mike for an hour or so after my shift and Al and Randy’s car would be in the driveway, and the phone would be ringing, and it would be friend Sammie calling to say that Cindy, and Toby, and John, and Paul wanted to get together. I had gone from being rejected or ignored by all boys at my own high school and not wanting to date any of them anyway and replaying The Smiths in my head over and over, “I am human and need to be loved,” to deciding that I need to make a rule about only sleeping with one guy on any given day and maybe even creating a two day rule, if that was even possible. Seeing Toby less that summer made it easier, and he was the easiest to give up or avoid since he was shy and young and a virgin, and lived in Jamestown. While others may have, I didn’t get all caught up worrying about my reputation, or feeling bad, like I was disrespecting myself. I actually felt pretty damn good. I only worried about getting pregnant. And I mostly only worried about getting pregnant because Al worried about it all the time, but I was on the pill -- had been for about two months. I was taking some precautions.
         Mine and Al’s relationship took off that summer. He brought a strange kind of balance to my life and to my sense of self, and he was a realist, also paranoid and ignorant and frustrating at times. Al knew that I dated other guys, wanted it that way too, and we continued seeing each other for almost two years, but only when he’d show up at my house with Randy to see my mom or conduct business. For a short period one winter when it was too cold to stay in their cabin in the hills, I saw Al nearly every day because he and Randy stayed in a small trailer on the lot behind our house. Randy picked fights with me and with Al because I was coming between them, keeping Al from him, and jeopardizing their operation by risking problems with my step-dad. I knew that Randy was jealous too, not of me, but that it was Al who had a girlfriend this time when he didn't. All the adults in my life, including Randy, said that what I felt for Al wasn’t really love, but they were wrong.
         Toby and I would see each other off and on for about a year or more without ever getting super serious because there didn’t seem to be any point, and we waited until he was fifteen to go all the way. I couldn’t bear to tempt him into anything other than intense kissing sessions and heavy petting which he got rather good at until he was at least fifteen, the age I was when I did it the first time. It happened one night at a big sleepover party at Amelie's house, the same night that we had to get Amelie's grandmother to drive our friend Becky to the hospital because she poisoned herself drinking too much. She was fine in the end, only in terrible trouble with her parents. The next morning, bleary-eyed and jittery, Cindy came out of the room where she had spent the night with her boyfriend, and gave Toby a congratulatory hug.
‘You’re a man now, Toby,” she squealed loud enough for everyone to hear.
         Mike was only in town for a few weeks the summer I collected boyfriends. He went on vacation with his dad near the end of his stay only to return for a couple of days before going back to his mother in San Diego, something that I was almost relieved about because I didn't think I could keep up such a frantic pace though we had a long, teary goodbye on our last date. Chaperoned by his dad, we went to see National Lampoon’s Summer Vacation. Mike’s dad sat away from us nearer to the front of the theater amongst a group of people who laughed at every single one of Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold’s blunders. Mike and I sat in the back kissing the entire time, stopping to wipe away tears, each of us promising the other, not to be true, but that we’d see the other again. And I did see Mike again the next summer after his dad moved to Angels Camp and one time the summer after that though we were never quite able to capture the magic of that first summer, the summer that Al showed me the way, and Toby let me pursue him, and Mike said, “Look at you. You are so fucking beautiful,” the summer I collected boyfriends.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Green Acorns

         It was spring. The acorns on the trees were green and a couple of months from browning in the sun and dropping to the ground. Sometimes while wandering around the yard, watching for Les and Al’s car, I’d find a seedling growing up from the ground, an acorn now growing into a tree.
I was on the pill, had been for almost a whole month. Now I could have Al in just the way I wanted him. My mom and her live-in boyfriend knew it was going to happen, and they weren’t doing anything to stop me. Just like they couldn’t stop me from going to the clinic in Sonora, getting a pelvic exam, and three month’s worth of birth control pills to keep me from winding up like Rachel and Winnie, or even like my own mother. I kept my circle of green pills within a big circle of white pills, with the foil on the back, snug in their little plastic case in my green army bag purse, and the second and third month supply in my underwear drawer in my room with my journal that I sometimes wished my mother would read. 
Getting on the pill had been Amelie’s mom’s idea, and she drove me to my appointment at the clinic at the old hospital building, where my mom went only when she had to deal with welfare business, or to pick up her food stamps because she hadn’t sent in the monthly income report in on time.
         My mom had become increasingly distracted by her habits and her illusion that we were all safe in our small town. I didn’t have to tell her anything and I knew she wouldn’t ask because it was easier pretending not to notice, or being in denial about what I was doing on the weekends in the dark.  She noticed if I got a B instead of an A, but she never said much when I did get A’s; she noticed if I hadn’t done the dishes, but it was as if she was paralyzed to do anything about the fact that I was using sex to get another kind of attention.
         Al came around with Les once or twice a week. I’d stay around the house, poking my head out the front door, every thirty minutes or so, on the days I expected them to show in Les’ white classic Olds. They were friends of my mom’s – some connection of some kind. Al closer to my age than either Les or my mom – eighteen or nineteen, I wasn’t sure, would only say that my being fifteen made me jail bait, a risk he didn’t take lightly. He and Les were growing weed out across the river and were careful not bring too much attention to themselves, which was probably hard. Al was lanky, 6’2 or more, with dark skin, long dark hair, and almond shaped eyes that were often covered by narrow, green or purple-lensed biker glasses. He was a Mexican in a white person’s body -- his dad Mexican like my mom and me, and his mom white. She lived in town with Al’s two Mexican-looking younger sisters. 
         Mom and Les would talk business in the front room with a joint, while Al and I sat in the kitchen, only not at the table where everyone could see us. I’d sit on one counter, and he’d lean on the other across from me, his long legs crossed and his dusty steel-toed boots planted under my bare feet, which dangled from the counter. Sometimes, he’d talk me into making him a quesadilla, but usually we’d just talk in veiled circles about what we both would rather be doing than sitting in my mother’s kitchen – always a variation of the same conversation.
         “You’re gonna get me in trouble.  You should be doing the dishes,” he said, shifting his weight on his elbow.
         “Me?  I’m just sitting here. I can go somewhere else.”
         “Sitting there all wanton and shit,” he’d say looking over the top of his narrow shades.
         “I’m just keeping you company, that’s all,” I said, kicking his thigh with a bare foot, letting it graze down the inside of his leg before pulling away.
         “I’m keeping you company,” he insisted.
         “Oh, you are? Then do something besides just sitting there looking cool.”
         “Like what?” he said, grabbing my foot.
         My breath caught in my throat.
 The radio was on in the front room, and I could hear mom and Les talking.
         “Like, I don’t know; I’ll bet you could think of something,” I said, pushing the sole of my foot deeper into the palm of has large dark hand, finally able to speak
         “I could think of a lot of things,” he said, releasing my foot. “But like I said, “You’re trouble.”
         “Trouble, huh?”
         “Yeah, trouble.”
         “I thought you liked trouble,” I said, sliding off the counter, my legs straddling his feet.
         “I do,” he said, sliding his feet away and straightening up. “But not jail – not that kind of trouble,” he said, putting a hand in his pocket.
         “I see,” I said, stepping in close again. I could smell shampoo lingering in his hair and the earthy smell of soil and new perspiration on his skin.
         “Hey, Al, you ready to go?” Les shouted from the front room.
         “Yeah, man, I’m ready,” he shouted back, not taking his eyes off of me.