Taking a little break to prepare for the chaos that is the holiday season. Here’s a little story I wrote over 10 years ago. As much as I’d love to update it, I kept it in it’s raw form. Hope you likey…
“She is so disgusting! I can’t stand it!”
“She’s not disgusting. You’re just jealous.”
If he can say Tamika is not disgusting, he should have asked her out by now. He’s wasted enough of his life putting her on a pedestal. I wish her imperfections were as obvious to him as they are to me. Where do I begin? She wears too much makeup. The goop on her eyelashes always makes them stick to her pitch-black crispy bangs. There is absolutely nothing hidden under all that compacted dust on her face that makes her special. I’ve watched her picking at her nail polish for the past four months now. Her shallow eyes cross and focus for five minutes on each finger while little red polish flakes scatter about her elbows. As I watched her I couldn’t help but laugh. It came out as a low snort from my throat. Her eyes uncrossed immediately and glared at me. With quick thinking, I turned to my friend Vinia and punched her in the arm.
“That is so stupid!” I said, pretending I was involved in conversation with her.
“You’re stupid,” she said rubbing her arm and returned to her drawing. When I looked over, Tamika had returned to her nails.
Although I’ve never seen Tamika’s boyfriend, I just know it’s some 35-year-old man with a wife and kid. She’s always been the type that thrives on unusual relationships with older guys. Nothing about her has ever been ordinary. Her boobs and butt are huge compared to her pouch of a belly. Her lips are pouty because she lip-lines them about a quarter of an inch around her actual mouth. If I look real close, I can see where her real thin lips begin. Her voice and language are part Spanglish and part valley girl. She says things like, “No me gusta chicks that wear zapatos de hightops, they look so stupid,” as if the mixing of languages makes her snide comments harder to translate. On the brink of a new decade and making the painstaking transition from junior high school to high school, she was able to replenish her wardrobe without sacrificing her position on the popularity chart. She successfully made the switch from tight red dresses to the innocent catholic school plaid skirt look complete with a pair of kinky, knee high, white socks. She was the epitome of public school fashion. It took time, patience, and a lot of makeup for her to get where she was today. In my opinion, she owed a lot of gratitude to her chest.
Back in junior high she was the first girl you thought of when someone said “big boobs.” Her tight dresses gift-wrapped around her chest distracted kids and teachers alike. At least once a day I would overhear kids exchanging an update on what she came to school in. Boys would snicker and girls would scoff. Her best friend since elementary school, Lupita, wore tight spandex dresses too, but showed no sign of big boob potential. Two twelve-year-olds dressed like eighteen, they shifted across the campus, one wearing white and one wearing black. Two ‘cha-chas’ wiggling into the minds of boys everywhere. Their sticky netted hair rising a foot above their heads. The color of their lips was darker than their fingernails. I never figured how they made it out of their houses dressed to sell sex.
Our last year of junior high, Lupita turned in her spaghetti straps, daisy dukes, and padded bras. She came the first day of eighth grade wearing a white T-shirt, black pants (literally ready to fall off if it weren’t for the white cotton belt around her waist), and a spanking clean Raider’s hat. By 9:15, she was sent home to change her clothes. The school was buzzing with the news of the school’s first attack on gang related attire. I first heard Lupita was sent out of her first period class and sat in the front office until her mom picked her up. By the end of the day, the story had expanded. The telephone game spread contagiously from mouth to ear. Someone even went so far as to say she was sent home because she pulled out a knife on some guy behind the girl’s gym. No one really believed it, but we couldn’t really be sure.
A few girls surrounded Tamika in fourth period that day inquiring about her best friend’s behavior. She claimed she didn’t know why her ‘ex-best friend’ was trying to be a gang member, but it had something to do with dating a ‘chivato’ from El Rancho High School. I bet she didn’t even know what chivato meant. She pronounced it like some people say burrito, burrido. I didn’t know what a chivato was either, I still don’t, but I wouldn’t repeat it if I didn’t even know how to say it.
When I repeated it to my best friend, Rosendo, he said, “What the hell does chibato mean?”
“The hell if I know. But, I think it has something to do with being a gang member.”
He shook his head in confusion, “I still don’t understand what the Raiders have to do with gangs. We can’t wear anything good to school because of all this gang stuff.”
“I know. What they need to do is tell girls like Tamika to go home for wearing slutty dresses!” I said confidently.
Rosendo shook his head some more, this time with a smile on his face.
I knew he liked her, but I never understood why. She lacked a sense of humor and only laughed when someone fell or tripped or dropped something. I watched her laugh one time at this kid who stumbled on his way up to the front of the room during science class. She turned around to laugh with a friend who sat behind her, and when her mouth opened, I could see this piece of lipstick stuck to her tooth. The other girl didn’t say a word about it. Rosendo and I sat in the row next to the two girls so he perked up immediately when she turned around. I snickered softly at the chunk on her white teeth.
“Boy, did you see Tamika in class today?” I said hugging my folder as we walked to our next class.
I continued, “Did you see that chunk of crap stuck on her teeth? Man, I almost laughed out loud.”
He said nothing, just kept that stupid grin on his face, and shook his head.
As the weather got colder, one would expect Tamika to wear pants or leggings. But no, she started coming to school wearing short skirts with tight long sleeve sweaters that exaggerated her breast side even more. She wore a black leather coat with every ensemble and when she got cold, she would take it off and lay it over her pale aloe scented legs. Her hair was bigger than ever and swayed back and forth when the wind blew. She got her hair to be so big that it was almost transparent in some areas. It was this massive net. I looked anxiously to see if anything would ever get caught in it, little frightened bugs, or maybe some leaves or lint. I would fantasize about how my gum could ‘accidentally’ end up in that scary nest. She arrived at school each day in a white beat down Oldsmobile. Her wannabe cholo boyfriend would drop her off on his way to work. It was nauseating. I got stuck behind them once when my grandmother was dropping me off and we waited forever while they made out goodbye. It was disgusting. She was disgusting.
She was fascinating though, the way she had Rosendo worshiping her every move. He was the absolute opposite of the evil Hispanic temptress. He got A’s and B’s, she got C’s and D’s. He had red-brown hair, some brown freckles, and a meek little smile. She had a chalky face, sticky black hair, and big maroon lips. He wore jeans and T-shirts with surfing characters on them and she wore just enough material to stay in school. I’m sure Rosendo wasn’t the only boy envisioning his turn on the Tamika-go-round, although I know she preferred mature high school boys at the time. Her arrogant essence was evidently too strong to tarnish. Girls despised her existence, but never once did she retort to their rumors. Whatever was said about her we believed because she never once justified herself to us. She was too good. It was as if she desired the popularity at any cost.
Seeing as it was my last year of junior high, I decided to finally let go of the fascinating, obnoxious, undesirable, yet desirable creature that was Tamika. I vowed to offer her my best friend, Rosendo, and be on my way, so I would never again have to smell the Aqua Net in her hair and study the foundation that ended abruptly under her chin. I was prepared to say farewell to her ceaseless existence in my science class. I pictured my high school popularity rising as her impetuous whoring gained less positive attention. My dear friend Rosendo would hopefully spend one day with her and find that she had not one marble rolling around in that poofy head of hers. It was an imaginary world I lived in, but it made sense that good things came to those who wait and I had been waiting a long time.
Just as her loud presence began to fade with the new school year jitters, her career as a junior high vamp rocketed. It is so clear in my mind, the day she redeemed her fame. With the fall weather in effect, an early morning smog-fog hovered above the school roofs at 7:30 in the morning. I sat in my grandmother’s blue Chevy Nova waiting behind four other cars that made up the assembly line of expelling bright young minds into the gates of junior high misery. The cars would accelerate and release a kid or two. Accelerate, release, accelerate, and release. Dropping us off was as mechanical as trying to breathe the valley air. As the blue boat pulled into port and approached the chain link fence entrance, a stillness came over the air. My grandmother and I froze as we observed the car in front of us began to bounce from side to side. In seconds, our blue Chevy would catch drift of the rolling earth and follow suit. The creaking from the wheels on their axles became audible inside the Nova as clear as the sound of white caps snapping into the bow of a small ship. As the tires began to jump and rock on the concrete, I grabbed on to the silver handle of the door and my eyes shifted over to the hallways of the school. Kids who were leaning on the walls and walking to their first period seconds ago seemed to dance unsteadily on the grey cement. Some grabbed on to each other to keep from falling. Others tripped into the brick walls of the buildings. What had started with the car in front of us could be seen as an invisible wave travelling through the parking lot and then on to the school. It was as if an unknown force, causing them to scream and run, was attacking the kids. With my body tense and my back pressed into the vinyl seat, I slowly rolled my eyes back over to my grandmother. She was grasping the wheel attempting to settle the car. Her grey eyes grew larger behind her glasses as she released her commentary: “OH SHIT!” I laughed nervously as the car finally returned to its motionless idle. It was the first one of my life, but had I guessed it on a game show I’d be rich. An earthquake had just hit Whittier County. We were baffled.
“That was…” I whispered.
“An earthquake! I think!” my grandmother responded with a shaken smile.
After a few minutes of silence my grandmother spoke, “Do you still want to go to school?” she said uneasily. I was not prepared to answer this and I’ll never know why she made the suggestion. I thought of Rosendo on his way to school from the south side. What was he thinking right now? Was he scared? I answered my grandmother assuredly, “Yes.” She released me through the miserable gates and putted off in a daze.
I approached the school cautiously as if it were the cause of the earth behaving so strangely. I didn’t see anyone I could talk to in the loud yet muffled halls. Girls were crying, streams of dark mascara smeared across their cheeks by the backs of their hands. People stood motionless and confused, some covering their open mouths in shock. As I tried to process the location of my first class, the teachers began herding us like lost sheep out the back gates of the school, past the blacktop, and out to the field. On the way out I saw some kids pointing and saying, “Look! The earthquake cracked the asphalt!” I looked down around me wondering how they could tell when there were so many cracks there in the first place. I had studied them numerous times while waiting to be the last one picked for kickball.
As we started onto the damp, brown-green lawn, small camps began to form. The popular people formed a circle. Guys were comforting their girlfriends, giving them their coats to sit on the grass with. I saw the dorks conversing on where they were when the earthquake hit and how cool it was. I watched as three girls from the gang, Pico Nuevo, headed as far away from the school as they could until the principal spoke through the megaphone saying, “Don’t go too far, we need to take attendance.” The girls stopped, flipped their pee-chees to the ground, and sat on them facing the crowd. One of them was Lupita.
I planted myself in the outer ring of the campgrounds, next to a girl in my first period class, while our teacher, Mr. Myers, attempted to take roll. I barely paid attention. I was looking for Rosendo.
“…Connie Chavez… Jesus Chavez… Enrique Fuentes… Has anyone seen Ricky?”
As I looked around, I noticed students still making their way to the field. Boys had run out from the locker room during the earthquake without their shirts or shoes on and had been standing by the baseball field. A teacher shooed them over to the open grass area. They were snickering.
“… Anthony Montebal… Kathy Perez…”
Rosendo usually got to school a little after me but I had wondered if he turned back because of the earthquake. Maybe it knocked him into the street and he was run over. Maybe nothing happened but he went home to see if his mom and sister were okay. It would be a long walk.
I raised my hand under Mr. Myers nose as he called my name. He scribbled a mark on his attendance sheet. I knew Rosendo’s name would come next. We had first period history class together. Just as Mr. Myers said his first name, I spotted him cutting across the park behind the field. I was so glad to see him I stood up. “There he is Mr. Myers,” I pointed. I grinned from ear to ear happy to know I wouldn’t be out here all alone. My excitement was interrupted by a wave of hushes and I turned around to Mr. Myers for an answer. I was puzzled by his failure to respond to me. His head slowly swiveled toward the school, and his mouth propped open as if he were one of those dummies controlled by a human arm shoved into their backs. Other students around me slowly turned their heads as their friends tapped their shoulders and pointed in the same direction Mr. Myers had focused his attention. I followed the crowd connecting the dots of their eyes to the boys from the gym now finding their circle on the grass behind me. As they settled in their camp, her form came into focus for me. I watched her appear as if she was being presented at her Quinceñera. Here she was, Tamika with the first period gym class. I slowly studied her. She walked shivering with goosebumps on her legs and old bleached hightops on her feet. She wore the black school issued gym shorts we had to buy every year. There was a little white knight on a horse sceenprinted on one of the legs. Her shape filled every space of the shorts magnifying the “Lancer” mascot to a ridiculous size. The P.E. outfit normally came with a green T-shirt that most kids complained was “boogar green.” On this particular day in October, Tamika was not wearing hers. Instead, she had on a towel that was not small enough for a kitchen, and not large enough for a bathroom. It was more like a towel you would wash your car windows with. Because of these towels, by junior high, nothing was private. And here was Tamika holding this towel around her back trying to pull the ends together in front. I could see her white bra from under her elbows. If the bras’ only job was to hold up her boobs, it did a spectacular job but the autumn chill had helped reveal her nipples for the whole pubescent population to gaze upon. Tears filled in her eyes as she struggled to conceal herself with the yellow, brown, orange, definitely not white rag. Her chest was so white and her cleavage was as deep as the boys of North Park Junior High had hoped. Her two amazing boobs tried to peek out from under her forearms and were stubborn as she tried to hug them into hiding.
As she reached the very edge of the campsites, I saw a guy wearing a white shirt and blue jeans hide his face behind his folder and shout, “Trampuda!” Instant laughter came over the crowd. I looked at Tamika fading from red to white and my stomach turned for her. She spun away from the crowd and dropped her head onto her cold knuckles gripping the towel. It was then that I felt I was the only one on her side at this very moment. I surveyed the people on the field. Many were laughing and sharing comments, while others ignored her and kept to their camps. I turned to look for Rosendo and found him approaching the mob with both eyes on her, frowning slightly at her dismay. My stomach dropped. Where were the teachers? Why didn’t she grab her leather jacket? Won’t someone please just give her a damn jacket? I couldn’t decide if I was concerned or annoyed, and as Rosendo finally stood next to me, I prayed for someone to give her a frickin coat, sweater, a larger towel for chrissake.
After what felt like an eternity of watching Rosendo watch her, I couldn’t take it anymore. I whipped my pink windbreaker off and just as I built up the courage to walk over and hand her my own jacket (which probably would have exposed just as much), Lupita brushed through from the back of the crowd. Everyone stopped to watch: the dorks, the snobs, the brains, and the gangsters. Lupita walked boyishly and heavy with her head held high and a determined look on her face. Her hair was down to her waist and braided. I heard she kept it braided on days when she would be involved in ‘jumping’ in a new member. That way, when she fought, her hair would not get in the way. That’s just something I heard a girl say in the bathroom. Lupita wore a white T-shirt, black jeans held on with a black cotton belt, and a new pair of white tennis shoes with a silver swish on each side. Over all that, she wore her oversized mostly white hooded coat with the silver and black Raiders emblem on the back. Her attire was so clean and ironed. She put her hand on Tamika’s shoulder and hushed her quiet sobbing. Lupita took off her coat and wrapped it around her old friend. Here and there in the crowd there was some booing, a “You suck,” and a “Take it off.”
Mr. Myers shook the stare out of his eyes and returned to his roster. Rosendo studied her every move as the two walked through the crowd to the back as Lupita held her arm around Tamika to comfort her. They looked like a couple, Tamika with her pound of make up and Lupita, tough and sharp. They had been great friends at one time. I felt confused with Lupita’s gesture, but I was glad that it was over.
That afternoon, while parents slowly picked up their kids and the field began to empty, we experienced an aftershock that sent the girls, and a couple of boys, into sheer panic attacks. Someone started a rumor that the field light poles looked like they were going to fall, and that sent people shuffling more toward the center of the field. The remaining students on the field booed and said ‘aw man’ when the principal announced on the megaphone that, “The school is undamaged and it will be safe to come to school,” the next day. Rosendo sat next to me ignoring the announcement and glanced over at Tamika every chance he could get without being creepy.
I thought how nice it was to watch her learn about kindness and sensitivity. I felt good about her existence and she suddenly became uninteresting to me. I focused my attention to the groups of people still talking about the day’s natural disaster. The initial earthquake recorded at a magnitude of 5.9 at around 7:42 that morning. Our teachers informed us of what earthquakes were to the best of their knowledge. The radio said the fault was somewhere near downtown L.A. The city of Whittier suffered the most structural damage so I guess that’s why they historically dubbed it the Whittier Narrows Earthquake. Occasionally, I could hear someone say, “Did you feel that? I think it was an aftershock.” Tears would swell up in some girls’ eyes at the suggestion. I shook my head and smiled. They had temporarily forgotten about Tamika, and that was enough to keep me relaxed.
Not much changed about Tamika, this I know. She spent the rest of that year back in her own little world. Kids joked for a couple of weeks and boys stared at her in class. A few nicknames formed, but died by the time we entered high school. She ate up the attention, but never spoke of Lupita saving her that day. Rosendo never said a word about her, and I decided to stay off the subject and point out her shortcomings quietly in my head.
So here I was, a sophomore in high school, graced by her self-centered presence for yet another year. Rosendo and I paused outside my art class to watch her walk out and join her new friends, a group of trampy juniors. She never noticed him. I think he was waiting for something special inside of her that would never come out. No matter how hard I tried, I could only see an ex cha-cha with new tight dresses and a tamed hair do.
“There’s nothing to be jealous of,” I told him. Rosendo shook his head and began walking to our next class. “Hey wait!” I said, following him.
By high school, Earthquakes were familiar to our generation. With each new quake, we would share stories of where we were and what we were doing when previous ones had hit. Each time the soil and rock of Southern California would shake our city, I couldn’t help but end up thinking about the first one I ever felt. I can remember everything about that day, including Tamika. I often wonder if she ever shared her story with anyone, and if she would leave out how she cried and how an old friend had helped her out. I may get the courage to ask her someday.