Whenever you go to mass you try to sit at the pew that has “New Kids on the Block” carved on the side. You’re not allowed to wear nail polish or colored shoes so these things matter. It matters that someone had a friend watch out for Sister Mario, Watch my back, that kind of thing. A pocket knife scratched fast into the wood and the thought is profound but also, it isn’t. A thing you’d bleed for in the 90’s splinters into dents.
Daily life is excavation, skin cells crusting windows and floors like sediment or cake frosting. You dig to the rough core beneath the carpets but you can only find 80’s teen romance novels covered in soot. The girls on the covers are impossibly wholesome, their creamy fuzzed turtlenecks blending seamlessly into skin.
School will be a big part of it. Some guy at your dad’s favorite bar says, I used to go to that place. The nuns liked to shut me and my brothers in the lockers. It makes you laugh because the lockers open and close together, like jazz hands. What would they have looked like stuffed with children?
There aren’t any words for you yet, there’s no “subculture” or “idiosyncratic.” You believe that words are meaningless and you’re right. The universe for you is a prehistoric cell, oozing DNA from its pockets.
The thing is, you like to hurt people because everyone bruises despite the thick sweatshirts. To make a girl cry you say, My brother thinks you’re a boy. Then you tell everyone that she threw up in that club pool over the summer. You stab a kid in the hand with a pen until he bleeds. Every single time you see your best friend you kick him in the shins.
You’re hardly the first of your kind. You have an art teacher who pushes a child face-first into the schoolyard gravel like the kid’s a plastic toy. Older teenagers like to hurl limes at girls and steal children’s backpacks. A church neighbor hits your friend in the eye with a shard of glass. (Everyone laughs.) You get stabbed with a rusty nail in the gym. (Everyone laughs.)
Not much will happen to you. The world has a single red door, the world has a case of rampantly liberal, Californian stomach flu. The world has only one carnivorous God and your aunt was married inside of him by that pedophilic priest who was either dismissed or arrested, who knows what happens to those men.
You trade music and go out, roughing yourself up. Lots of sweat and obvious English rock bands. A chorus of cloudy diffused matter that echoes the domestic. Some sort of subconscious denial of your physical stagnation, your dull need to please administrators you’ve never met, your dull need to please the only white girl in your class. It’s a bit of a life, you reason.
Not everything is good.. Someone steals a really nice record out of your desk but they leave the cover, the one with the woman clawing her way up a shower wall. There are song titles written on her back in black marker. Who wouldn’t take that? you think and you’re right, it makes no sense.
Last summer your family left couches and cars on the lawn and now your friends think you’re trash. The white girl makes fun of you in science class, There’s nothing to sit on in your house, but you laugh genuinely. Not having couches is cool. Not having heat is cool. Neighbors who illegally supply fried orange wheels to the food carts on East 14th are cool. You build your personality.
You argue with the other kids about plastic bracelets and metal buttons but you forget the big things. The Rolling Stones. Elliott Smith. The Internet. Fucking. Where did you learn? As a child, under the bed, from faceless teachers. They were best when wasted, just totally smashed. They liked to leave you outside of head shops for hours at a time.
It won’t be months until you realize how everything aligns. Kids talking about your mother, a grown man who holds your gaze and says, It’s not all about you, free rides and dollar bills paid for soul–the world shortens itself into electric crackles. Fizzles connect to a Corpus Callosum, biology tacked onto a diagram. You can hardly imagine.
You’ll know, eventually. See, one afternoon he’ll shake you awake screaming, Hit me in the fucking face. He’ll throw your stereo across the room. It will stop working. You won’t be able to explain how this has happened.
Not much can be said; your skull, thick and flooded, will attempt to ground this new information into digestible filth. Conclusion: You’ve always been such a useless, Mexican trash, chess club-loving nerd and the species of useless, Mexican trash, chess club-loving nerd isn’t the type to hit anyone at all, even if they beg for it.
He’ll drive off and you’ll sit on one of the nearly-abandoned couches, the brown leather one that’s squeezed onto the porch. You’ll absorb orange light as it seeps into the afternoon, saddled by the stench of cooking, the residual autumn heat amplifying the yellow tones in your skin.
It’s not a tragedy, for at some point, all human animals learn that evolution has a brain. It’s just that you will no longer think of New Kids on the Block and you will no longer think of the church–you will try to be something more. There are words and phrases you need for this situation, “information super highway,” and “arrested development.” You will not learn fast, but life will continue, yes. The color of your shoes will devolve alongside the color of your voice. You will relearn law and order, the possession ending. The world will be far less English and obvious than you could have ever expected, but it will hold so much discovery. The Rolling Stones. Elliott Smith. The Internet. Fucking. Don’t wait too long, people will say. Alcoholics, the learned tribe. These things can become your life.
You will wait too long. It will be your fault. You will waste years, just years, trying to fix that stereo.
Diana Rae Valenzuela is a life-long resident of Oakland, California
who chooses to write small, fictional stories about the universe. Her
work has appeared in the Cynic, L’Allure Des Mots, and the Olympia,
Washington publication Works in Progress. She currently studies at the
California College of the Arts.