by Centa Theresa
There I was, on Emersonâ€™s elementary school stairs,
standing on the landing turn between floors, armed
with books, in a blue denim wrap-around skirt,
when out of the blue Leonardo came barging past,
his thick, gnarled black eyebrows, round cheeks trembling
with rage, as he shoved me like I was nothing but in his way.
Next thing I know heâ€™s kicking, kicking me, until my
skirt unraveled from my waist, spiraling away from
my body, like I was a morning bud twisting open
too quickly in the sun, so petal by petal dropping
to the floor, as if daylight had suddenly turned on the flower,
its life surrendered to the ground, all because
when that new kid, that chubby, dark-skinned boy
Leonardo shoved me I shoved him back.
There I was, barelegged on the landing between two stories,
when the bell rang, schoolâ€™s out, air kissing my legs everywhere
as kids filed out of Mrs Hoaglinâ€™s 5th grade class, and came
speeding down the stairs, passing me by on their way when
some jerk calls out, Hey, Philip, you should see your girlfriend now,
just as baby-faced Philip, who I adored but whose affections
lay elsewhere, misplaced, descended the stairs, part smiling,
part smirking at me as he passed, seeing me in my underwear.
Soon after that incident, I figured out how I could invent
a boyfriend to exist in name only. I had my dadâ€™s jeweler-friend,
Byron, make a chain-link ID bracelet, the kind boys gave to girls
when I was in 5th grade, to show she was his.
Since Byron had never seen such a bracelet, I explained how
the letters N-E-L should be thinly inscribed, but he cut clear
through the metal, air gleaming in the spaces like the true
characters they were. I wore the bracelet anyway,
until Melissa figured out my Nel was a fake.
Byron lived alone on a fog-scented beachâ€”
home to rotting birds, shell shards, gull bone,
mounds of tangled, translucent green weed that
Iâ€™d once seen dried and made into horns you could
blow air through and get soundâ€”he lived in a shack,
with plastic tacked over the windows that made
them flap like seagull tongues in the grey Bodega wind.
Nel would be the first in a long line of made-up boyfriends,
unrequited affairs that I must have picked for that very reason.
Something later gave way to stalking lovers who had
rejected me and prowling all-night Adult Video shops.
But those guys I stalked, I didnâ€™t really want. It only seemed
like they had something I needed, or was supposed to have,
that I couldnâ€™t have without them. I never felt what
I was supposed to feel in their arms. I just couldnâ€™t stand being rejected.
And those plastic dolls with their plastic vaginas
in the all night video shopsâ€”thatâ€™s what I learned
to emulate, without knowing Iâ€™d learned it, or when,
so that must have been early. I must have sensed
it was less of a compromise to invent a boyfriend
than to sacrifice my sex in order to have one.
Like a lot of things, it didnâ€™t stick.