New cover for my first young adult novel jesus freakz + buddha punx. It’s like the 3rd cover since it came out many moons ago. Might be the best representation of it. At least it’s a real picture of Jersey City.
Anywho. It’s still available in all e-formats and in paper. You can read a big ol’ chunk below if you want. Who knows…
jesus freakz + buddha punx
Copyright 2011 M. E. Purfield
WHAT I SHOULD BE LOOKING AT
The Devil glares at me, tugs her midriff denim jacket, and places her hands on her hips. “What are you looking at, bitch?”
I turn away and stare at the Garden Apartments across the street. I wait and hope that Zenaida Cepeta (aka the Devil) grows bored, satisfied with embarrassing me in front of the school and the world. But then she shoves the back of my shoulder. I turn around.
“I’m talkin’ to you,” Zenaida says. She stands with Tamika Williams and Mary McKay on either side of her. All three girls are in the same class as me, but way taller. “You deaf or somethin’? I said what you lookin’ at?”
I press my binder and books close to my pounding heart. I know that she already knows the answer to the question. I was looking at her kiss Tommy Quinn by the bus stop in front of the school gate. I couldn’t help myself. For just a quick moment, I imagined that he was kissing me.
“Maybe she’s checkin’ out your clothes,” Tamika says. “Look at hers. Dresses like some kind of Amish bitch or something.”
“She ain’t Amish. Freaky Jesus Freak,” Mary says. “Isn’t that what they call you?”
Tamika and Mary laugh.
“You like to look at me, Jesus Freak? Huh?” Zenaida asks.
I search for help. All the kids are either smiling with anticipation of a fight or too scared to move.
Zenaida pushes my shoulder again and then knocks the books from my hands. The binder hits the sidewalk and the pages blow away with the winter wind.
“You like the show, huh?” she asks.
“I…I wasn’t…” I say.
“Why you getting all up in my shit? You pata or somethin’?”
“Lesbiana? You get off on my shit?”
I open my mouth, look her in the eye, and gasp. I know little Spanish, but I know what lesbiana means.
“No,” I say. “What?”
“Better be careful, Zenny,” Tamika says. “God might strike you down with lightnin’.”
“Or maybe you hot for my man?”
I study the ground, hoping to hide the truth from my eyes. It doesn’t work.
Zenaida punches me in the face.
I grab my stinging eye. My brain flashes black and white.
She grabs my hair and punches me in the head a few more times. When she releases me, I fall to the sidewalk and lean against the metal school gate.
“Where’s the lightnin’? Thought you were special, freak?” Zenaida looks up at the clear sky. “You see any lightnin’?”
“Nope,” Tamika says.
“Nada,” Mary says.
All three of them laugh.
“Keep your eyes to yourself,” Zenaida says.
They walk away.
I sit on the ground, whimper, and keep my face covered. I’m afraid to let it go, afraid it will fall apart. I had never been punched, never been in any kind of fight. I tap my nose to see if it’s bleeding or broken; all I find is mucus. I should stand up and go home, but I don’t want to face all the strange and staring eyes. I don’t want to see the world. I pray to Jesus to give me strength, to help me.
“Hey, you okay?”
I look up. A black girl with straight, red-streaked hair looks down at me. She holds my binder and schoolbooks. She smiles, but not in a vindictive way. This wave of compassion radiates from her.
“I think I got all the pages back,” she says. “But you might want to walk down Newark just in case.”
I grab the gate and pull myself up. I show my hands to the girl. She passes me the books.
“You sure you’re okay?” she asks.
I nod. If I speak I know I will cry.
“Okay,” the girl says. “I’m Miggy by the way. You need help getting home?”
I try to smile a thank you, but I’m sure it comes out funny. I shake my head and then start to walk home.
“Bye,” the black girl says.
“Bye,” I say back, but regret it because by the time I turn the corner the sobs come out.
TAKING A PUNCH LIKE GRANDMA
I run to my grandmother’s third floor walk-up apartment. I rush through the door, drop my books on the couch, and call for Grandma Donna. She isn’t home.
I lock myself in the small bathroom and check out my face. The reflection in the mirror makes me gasp. The skin around my blood shot eye and cheekbone has turned purple. I release a sob, cover my mouth, and sit on the edge of the tub.
“Please, Jesus. Help me be strong.”
I then realize that my face could be worse. My nose could be broken and my vision blurry. I could have lost consciousness on the street. I might have been mugged or kidnapped and used for pornography – or even raped.
“You’re okay,” I say. “Thank you, Jesus.”
I turn on the cold water and wash my face. Feeling stronger, I walk to my tiny bedroom at the back of the apartment. I change out of my school clothes and into a long, ankle-length black skirt and a blue long sleeve blouse. As I fasten the top button, I hear the apartment door close.
Smiling, Grandma Donna approaches the doorway of the bedroom. She’s wearing jeans and her favorite blue flannel shirt and her gray, thick hair is cut short. Mom used to say that her mother always looked like a tomboy, even way before Grandpa Jake met her in Ireland. I used to worry that I would look like one too, that it would to skip a generation. It didn’t. I am as girly as my mother was in her life.
“Jaysus,” she says. “What happened?” She places her palms on my cheeks and inspects my face. “Are you in pain?”
“No. Not too much.”
“Lay down. I’ll get you some ice.”
I lie on the bed, keep my legs together, and lace my hands over my belly. Grandma comes back in with an ice pack. She sits on the side of the bed and hands me the cold, blue plastic block used to keep sandwiches cool on picnics.
“Please don’t lay like that,” Grandma Donna says. “You remind me of your mother in her coffin.”
“Sorry.” I unlace my hands. One hand takes the ice pack and places it on my eye while the other lays at my side.
I explain to her what happened.
“I’m so sorry, Patty.” She shakes her head. “Bunch of savages in this world”
“It’s not your fault, Grandma.”
“I wanted you to go to a private school.”
“Daddy would die if I went to a Catholic school. Besides, we can’t afford it.”
“I would have helped. Private schools are so much safer.”
“Well, this didn’t happen in school. So please don’t worry.”
“Okay.” She smiles. “Such a brave girl. Can take a punch like her grandmother.”
Grandma cares for me the rest of the day. She offers to bring her television into my room, but I decline. Television repulses me with all its talk shows focusing on weak-willed people. Instead I re-read Corinthians II to relax and then start my homework. Grandma changes my ice pack every half hour and makes my favorite dinner of ravioli and meatballs.
Although I have Grandma Donna, homework, and the Bible to distract me, I still worry about Dad’s possible reaction to the fight. Not that my father is a violent person and would punish me, but because he’s been under a lot of stress since Mom died of breast cancer three years ago. I don’t want to create any more problems for him.
Later that night, I hear Dad come home from work. I’m dozing in bed when he sneaks into the room and kisses the top of my head. He tells me that he loves me, his breath laced with strong mint.
Grandma Donna must not have told him about the fight. Or maybe he wants to save the conversation for the morning and let me rest. I hope he doesn’t know yet. I don’t want him to lose any sleep.
Unfortunately, I do.
SEXUALITY IS PERTINANT TO THE STORY
“Oh, my Jesus,” Dad says.
He sits at the kitchen table. He wears powder blue pajamas under the dark green robe Mom gave him for Christmas many years ago. He holds a cup of coffee over the table. Instead of sipping it, his mouth drops in shock, then disgust.
I stand in my school clothes at the entrance of the kitchen. Today I’m wearing a skirt. I need to wear one, to feel womanly and sophisticated and not like some bruised ghetto thug. Skirts are forbidden in school, but the one I wear goes down to my ankles and is the right shade of tan. If I bend over no one will see my youknowhats.
I shift my weight from foot to foot, not sure if I should look Dad in the eye. He places his coffee down and approaches me. He studies my bruised face, gasps, and then hugs me. He whispers into my ear, “Thank you Jesus for keeping my daughter in this world and not taking her.”
I shrug away, look into his glassy eyes, and give my best smile.
“I’m okay, Daddy. I was just in a fight. She was not going to kill me.”
“A girl did this?”
“A savage one.” Grandma Donna stands at the kitchen counter and prepares a bowl of cereal.
“What is happing to this world where even the girls are acting out the Devil’s violence?”
“Please. I’m fine. It shouldn’t happen again.”
“I should hope not. I’m going to call the police.”
Dad moves to the cordless phone on the wall.
“No.” I step after him. “Please don’t”
I want to tell him that it was my fault that Zenaida beat me up. If I wasn’t staring and having those thoughts about Tommy, she would never have attacked me. But I don’t. I think I’ve been punished enough.
Dad moves away from the phone and hugs me again.
“Okay. Why don’t you sit down and tell me what happened.”
As I eat the bowl of cereal Grandma made, I tell Dad the short version of the fight. I make sure to keep Tommy out of the story.
“You mean she attacked you because you just looked at her?” Dad asks. “That’s crazy.”
“Insane,” Grandma Donna adds from the counter, sipping her coffee.
“Hell is certainly on Earth,” Dad says.
I then ask Dad to change the subject. He agrees and talks about the Godlessness in the bookstore where he works.
“The store needs Jesus,” Dad says. “Those kids need Jesus. Again I had to overhear about their disgusting sex lives and how they take all these drugs and drink. They actually sound happy about it.”
“That’s terrible, Daddy.” I touch his hand from across the table.
“And if that wasn’t enough to deal with, while I was on register some customer ripped me off. He gave me a hundred to pay for his small purchase and when I gave him the change, he said I shortchanged him. I insisted I didn’t. So I did what the manager always tells us to do and I called that homosexual assistant manager up to count my till to see if there was a difference.”
“Wait a second,” Grandma says. “Is the assistant manager’s sexual preference important to the story?”
Dad glares at Grandma. “It will be when I finish it.”
“This ought to be interesting.”
“So I call him up and he counts my register. While he’s counting, the customer, or crook I should say, is whining about why this is happening to him. He just wants to go home to his wife and kids after dealing with a hard days work. I tell the crook that he should be ashamed of himself, trying to spread lies when he knows and God knows he did wrong. I told him how pathetic he was. Then the next thing you know, my homosexual assistant manager gives the crook his change. I couldn’t believe it. The crook smiled and ran out of the store.
“Then my homosexual assistant manager pulls me away from the register and begins reprimanding me on my behavior, how I’m not supposed to be talking to customers like that. Especially when we have a long line of them waiting behind him.”
“That sounds horrible, Daddy.”
“Yeah, horrible,” Grandma says. “Now why is it pertinent that your boss is a homosexual?”
“Isn’t it obvious? My till was short last night. That so-called man gave the crook the cash. Evil always helps evil. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were both pedophiles.”
“Lord, you’re impossible.” Grandma flinches in disgust. She then takes her coffee and goes to her bedroom.
“‘Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind, it is an abomination’ Leviticus 18:22,” Dad calls out after Grandma.
Dad turns to me.
“Catholics are so ignorant. Even if they just read Genesis they would know that God meant man only to be with woman. What do you think would happen if everyone in the world stuck with having relations with the same sex?”
I shrug. “I’m afraid to answer, Daddy.”
“Life would end. That’s what. How would we reproduce?”
Even if Dad didn’t sound so grave, the idea sounded scary. Life is a gift from God. Why would you want to throw that gift in someone’s face?
After breakfast, I gather my books, put on my coat, and kiss Grandma and Dad goodbye.
“I can walk you to school today if you want. I don’t have to be in until noon,” he says at the closet in the hall.
“Daddy, I’m not ten years old. I should be fine.”
“No, you’re not ten years old. You’re brave like your mother. Praise Jesus.”
I love it when I remind him of Mom, that I can still keep her alive in the world, in my father’s heart.
“Be good,” Dad says.
I leave the apartment and walk to school. Even though I look beaten on the outside, I feel so strong inside.
THREE MORE YEARS OF SICKNESS
Normally I do not attract much attention in school, but today no one can keep their eyes off my bruises. I don’t blame them. I look horrible. But I also find their constant attention surprising. Richard Williams High School is a three-story building with two basements, on top of a hill, and on the border of the Heights. Thousands of kids from many nationalities and religions go to Richard Williams. And not one of them has anything better to do than gawk at my face.
I pass Zenaida and her friends in the hall. She stares right into my eye, smiles, and says, “Nice make up, Jesus Freak.”
I look away and walk on, tensing for another fight.
Zenaida and her friends laugh, paying me no mind.
I figure my body can relax at my locker, but it just tenses up again. Someone taped another drawing to the door. It’s a picture of a girl wearing black pilgrim clothes and hanging on a crucifix. Although the girl’s face looks like me, I would never be caught dead in those clothes.
I pull the picture off, not caring who sees me or it, and switch books for my next class. I’m so sick of this place and I have three more years left to go. How could I possibly survive?
The bell rings and I walk to English class. As I sit down, Mr. Malonzo settles behind his desk and sorts out yesterday’s quizzes. I turn to Tommy Quinn a few aisles away. He leans back in the chair, stares up at the ceiling, and sighs. Is he upset about Zenaida beating me up? I don’t recall him being there. He might not even know about the fight.
After Mr. Malonzo gives my quiz back (I got an A), I place the test in my folder and then turn to Tommy again. He looks right at me. His beautiful pale face is blank of emotion. His clear blue eyes peer through dirty blond bangs. He’s so rough, dangerous, and perfect.
I feel my face flush and my body tingle. I look away and pretend to flip through my textbook. I can feel his staring eyes. I squirm. Why? Because it’s the first time he notices me, or I am upset that it took him this long?
Mr. Malonzo starts talking about sentence diagram breakdown. I don’t have to pretend to look at the book anymore. I put my chin in my hand and my elbow on the desk. I glance over at Tommy and pretend to move a lock of brown hair behind my ear. His head is down and his arms cover his face, probably going to sleep.
I look around the classroom to see if anyone saw what just happened, maybe one of Zenaida’s friends. No one is paying attention, not even to the teacher. I thank Jesus under my breath and focus on what Mr. Malonzo writes on the chalkboard.
I steal glances at Tommy sleeping during the rest of the class. I wish that he would look back up at me just one more time. But I could never be so lucky.
JUST THE USUAL
I enter the apartment and close the door. I’m surprised I didn’t hear the fight out in the hall. I hug the schoolbooks and peek into the kitchen. I can’t see them but I know they’re in there.
“You can be so sick. What is wrong with you?” Grandma Donna asks.
“Oh, look at who is judging me,” Dad says. “You don’t even know what is inside the Bible and you call yourself a religious woman.”
“Bible bible bible. I’m glad my head isn’t deep in His words. I’m sure God doesn’t want me to have tunnel vision instead of a life.”
“Spoken like a true Catholic and nonbeliever.”
“At least I’m responsible, more responsible for Patty than you are.”
“I’m responsible, woman. I take care of my daughter.”
“Then explain today.”
“I don’t need to explain anything to you. It’s none of your business.”
Dad walks into the hall and stops short.
He smiles and approaches me as if nothing is wrong.
I place my books down on the coffee table and spot Grandma looking in from the kitchen. She then disappears.
“What are you doing home, Daddy? Thought you would be at work.”
“Hm? Oh, there was a schedule mix up. I actually have off today.”
“Yes. Yes. Oh. You heard us back there?”
“Just a little.”
“It’s nothing. Just the usual between your Grandmother and I.”
Dad opens the closet door and takes out his coat.
“I’ll be out for bit. Want me to pick you up something?”
“No, I’m fine.”
Dad kisses the top of my head, smiles, and then leaves.
I walk into the kitchen. Grandma stands at the counter and pours hot water from the kettle and into a cup for tea.
“Want some, Patty Girl?”
“No, thank you.” I kiss her cheek. “Everything okay between you and Dad?”
She drains the teabag and throws it out. Her eyes focus on her actions. “Yes. Fine.” She starts on the sugar. “Just the usual.”
“Okay,” I say. “I’m going to do my homework.”
I walk to my bedroom and wonder what just went on. Why were they lying to me?
THE PERFECT DAUGHTER?
After Grandma Donna leaves for Saint Joe’s Church, Dad and I clear the kitchen table and wash the breakfast dishes. When we finish, I walk to my bedroom to change for church.
“Patty, I’d like a moment with you, please.”
I stop and turn to Dad. “Okay.”
“In the living room.”
I follow him inside and sit on the unmade sofa bed where he sleeps.
“Is everything okay?”
Dad opens the closet door and reaches inside on the floor. “Everything is fine. I just want to give you something.”
I have no idea what he could want to give me. My birthday isn’t until the summer and Christmas is long gone.
Dad carries out a large cardboard box and places it on the floor in front of me. He sits down at my side. He has the biggest smile on his face.
I pull up the flaps. The box is filled with dresses.
“I’ve been saving these in storage for you since we, um, I lost the house.”
I pull one out and recognize it.
“These are Mom’s church dresses?”
“Yes. I thought, since you are turning into a woman now, you would want to have them. They should fit you, I think.”
“Oh, Daddy. I love them.”
I hold the dress to my nose. Mom’s scent lingers in the fibers.
“I remember how envious you were of them. I also remember how she always planned to pass them on when you are of age.”
“She always looked so beautiful in them.”
“Now you can make them beautiful. You remind me so much of her. I’m so blessed to have you.”
I place the dress in the box and hug him.
“Than you so much.”
“Thank you for being the perfect daughter.”
I wipe the tears off my cheeks. I’m not crying because of what he said, but for the way I lied to him the other day about the fight, for not telling him the truth about Tommy Quinn.
“Oh, and if you find my winter coat, would you please let me know,” Dad asks. “So strange how it disappeared when we moved here.”
Knowing what I need to do today, I carry the box to my room where I try to decide which dress to wear.
BASKING IN LOVE
The Church of Clear Water is a few blocks from our apartment. Although it is a Pentecostal church, it is not an order of Oneness. Dad was skeptical of taking me there our first time. He couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that someone didn’t believe that God is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; He is all and not of separate forms like the Catholics believe. But there isn’t a Oneness Pentecostal Church in Jersey City, at least none that we know of yet. So even though Dad doesn’t like the congregation, he still connects with God during the sermons.
The congregation is a wide mix of people. There are black, white, Philippine, Japanese, and Spanish and they range from the low to high class. Sometimes it’s strange to see Mr. Spalla, who is a Vice President at a bank, embrace Mr. Jungmann who is unemployed and on welfare with a sickly wife who can never make it to church.
Most of the congregation has sinned hard before they were born again. I heard a lot of stories during the confession part of the worship about their past drug use, adventures in prostitution, and violence towards others. Dad never had a past like that; neither did my mother. I always feel lucky about that fact.
The church is a two level red brick building nestled between an abandoned deli with a For Sale sign in the window and a check-cashing place. Unfortunately, the church doesn’t have a parking lot.
Most of the congregation who come from somewhere outside Jersey City drive around the block to find a parking spot on the street, often dodging a lot of signs dictating zones.
Going to church is now my most favorite part of the week. Not only do I get to be with my father and feel God in me, but I also get to dress up and be closer to my mother. I can’t wait for the warmer weather so I can wear the summer dresses; they’re the most beautiful.
Dad and I sit on the back bench. People greet us and stare at my beaten eye. No one asks about it, though. I’m a little uncomfortable, but then I start to feel the presence of the Lord and I feel right at home.
The room is huge, managing to hold over a hundred people. Wooden picnic benches form two rows with an aisle down the middle. A podium stands at the front of the room for Pastor Buck to rest his Bible on. I have yet to see him use it. When he goes into his readings of Genesis, Exodus, or Psalm, he just looks at us and recites the Word, wandering around the congregation and making eye and physical contact with us, never glancing down at the open Bible.
A band sets up on one side of the room towards the front. There is an old compact piano on wheels, an acoustic guitar, a trumpet, a saxophone, and a snare drum. Members from the congregation play the instruments, but they never had a lesson, as far as I know. In a way it doesn’t matter, once you have God in you, everything comes out beautiful.
Pastor Buck approaches the podium. He smiles. He wears the sharpest used suit I had ever seen on a man. Whatever money Pastor Buck collects from the congregation, he gives back to the community and the church. He loves to brag about how he keeps a day job at a distribution warehouse in Secaucus, unlike his contemporaries who make their living off the congregation’s money.
For the next hour Pastor Buck leads us in worship through song. We start of with The Comforter Has Come. It’s one of my favorites. It gets my blood going, and I’m not the only one who feels that way. The congregation tumbles into the song, so into the love of God that they’re jumping up and down and singing. Some fall to the floor and bang their hands along with the beat on the dirty wood. Some shake and shimmy as their eyes roll to the back of their heads, getting ready to take the Lord into them. And some scream out in tongues where God takes complete control of their body and speaks to us.
And I’m with them. I’m a part of the worship, the love, and the happiness. I sweat and dance and swing my body and arms. And as I sing the refrain of the song-
The Comforter has come, the comforter has come!
The Holy Ghost from heav’n, the Father’s promise giv’n
O spread the tidings ‘round wherever man is found
The comforter has come!
-the world spins. The congregation’s singing grows even louder and, for some reason, the only instrument I hear is the off key saxophone. The sweat plasters the hair to my scalp. I keep singing, but the words don’t sound like the lyrics. I have no idea what I’m saying. And I don’t care. I am beautiful. I am light. My legs collapse from under me. I lift off the floor. The world flashes black and white until I pass out. The last thing I remember is Dad catching me in his arms.
When I wake up, I’m sitting on the bench. Dad has his arm around my shoulder, holding me up. He smiles and sings. He looks so proud. My heart swells. I smile back and then stand to join the congregation for the next song.
Usually we sing and dance for an hour, but today we go over. No one minds.
When Pastor Buck signals the band to stop, some people keep singing, so into God, God so into them. The ones who stop sit, wait, and catch their breath.
After we settled down, Pastor Buck opens his Bible and preaches the Word. During the sermon, I cheer along with the rest of the congregation, shouting Praise Jesus. I’m so happy. I don’t want to keep quiet. I want the world to know how happy I am. They are all too glad to hear me, as I am glad to hear them.
Pastor Buck finishes and walks to the chair against the wall. The congregation falls silent in the hot and humid room. He crosses his legs, places the Bible on his lap, and waits.
The first man stands. He looks around to make sure that he is not cutting in front of anyone and then walks up to the podium. He’s a good ten years younger than my father, heavy and balding.
His face looks tired and his eyes are sad.
The man introduces himself as Mr. Bradley Kriegel. He talks about his deaf son. One unsupervised day last year at a schoolmate’s home, Mr. Kriegel’s four-year-old son lost his hearing. The doctors believed it was from lead poisoning. They had no hope of the boy regaining his hearing. But Mr. Kriegel had hope. He has God. With a few friends, neighbors, and family members, he formed a prayer group to pray around his son three nights a week.
Then one night while they were praying around the boy, the child shouted Praise Jesus and Amen. The boy heard them! Though not loud and clear, he did hear them. The boy, through the grace and power of God, started to regain his hearing.
As the congregation shouts their praises to Jesus, Mr. Kriegel leaves the podium. He dries his eyes and sits back down at his spot at the bench.
Before the next person can stand, I rush to the podium. The voices lower. All eyes are on me. My heart races.
I introduce myself and tell them where I go to school. I confess that I was looking at Tommy Quinn in an impure way and how this sin has led to Zenaida’s attack. The Devil’s control has led me to pain and suffering. Tears drip down my cheeks and my legs weaken. I reveal the pain in my soul and the fear that I could have died right there on the street and I would never see my father and Grandmother again. But then God came down in the form of a girl. He sent this girl to me. The girl (God) helped me up and brought me back to my feet.
The congregation follows my every word and cheers praise. The congregation’s love – God’s love – strikes me like a tidal wave. I try to stand and dry my tears, holding on the podium for balance.
Pastor Buck comes up beside me and places his hand on my eye. I fall to my knees, feeling the righteous power of God through his hand.
“Please, God. Come down and take the mark of the Devil off this girl’s beautiful eye.”
Tingles run under my eyelid.
He takes his hand away. I feel someone pick me up by my arms. It’s Dad. He ushers me back to the bench. He cries and shouts his praise along with the others. We sit back down. The band starts up another song, and we bask in the love.
God, do I love church.
STILL A LITTLE PUNISHMENT
The Galloways approach us from down the sidewalk. They look so cute dressed to match in new wool winter coats, suits, and skirts. I admire how Mrs. Galloway holds Victoria’s hand as they catch up to Mr. Galloway.
“I’m surprised you’re not staying around for the congregational mixer,” Mr. Galloway says, catching his breath.
I am, too. I thought for sure Dad would be interested in mixing with other Christians instead of the Godless employees at the bookstore.
“We have some important matters to take care of.”
I look at him. What could be so important about going home and doing nothing?
“That’s too bad.”
Mrs. Galloway’s painted lips frown. “I was wondering how you and Patricia are adapting to Jersey City. It has been a few months since you joined our church, right?”
“We’re doing fine. Patty had a bad experience, but God has seen her through it.”
“You poor thing.”
She smiles so sweet.
“I had never heard anything so terrible,” Victoria says.
“Praise Jesus, for watching out for you.”
“Was there something in particular you wanted to ask about?” Dad looks around the neighborhood. For a way out?
“Yes. The wife and I wanted to invite you over for dinner tonight.”
I smile. “That would be…”
“No. I’m afraid we can’t,” Dad says. “Like I said earlier, we have a previous engagement.”
“Oh, that’s too bad.” Mr. Galloway looks down at his shoes. “Victoria could have spent some time with Patricia while we adults get to know each other. You’re sixteen Patricia?”
“This year I will be, sir.”
“Victoria just turned last month,” Mrs. Galloway says. “And my sister plans on dropping by. I don’t think you’ve met her. She doesn’t go to this church. But she is a good Christian woman.”
“Perhaps another time?”
“Perhaps,” Dad says. “We’ll let you know.”
The Galloways smile. I can see the disappointment in their eyes. Victoria and I share an apologetic look.
“Please do,” Mr. Galloway says.
“Good day,” Dad says.
I wave and say goodbye as Dad leads me down the street. When we turn the corner I ask, “Dad, what do we have to do that is so important?”
“Then why not go over to their house for dinner tonight? The Galloways seem nice. I wouldn’t mind getting to know Victoria.”
“Do you really feel a proper punishment for your impure thoughts would be to make friends and
have a good time?”
My face flushes and tingles. “No, father. But…I would like to spend time with Victoria. You know I don’t have any friends here.”
He stops and looks at me. “Patricia. I have spoken. We are not going there. We will go home and you will spend the evening with yourself and think more about how your actions will affect your soul.”
Seeing the cold look in his eye, I nod my head and say, “Sorry.”
“Apology accepted,” he says. “But so you know. I am also proud that you confessed to God.”
I attempt a smile.
Dad takes my hand and we walk home. We don’t say anything to each other the rest of the way.
I enter my room as soon as we get home from church. I don’t feel like studying or reading the bible. Instead I turn on the radio to an oldies R&B station and place the big box of dresses on the bed. I take out each one and hold them up to my body while standing in front of the long mirror attached to the closet door. Most of them look like they would fit me now.
I hang the dresses in the closet and empty out the box. As I pick it up to flatten it out, I feel a weight inside. A shoebox sits at the bottom. I take the box out and place the bigger box on the floor.
With the shoebox on my lap, I open the lid to find envelopes. Each one appears to have been mailed and opened with the same name written on the return address. Jamie Collette. For some reason none of them were mailed to our old house. Most of them are addressed to mom’s office at the mental health clinic in Red Bank where she used to work.
I pick one envelope out and open the letter.
February 28, 2008
Again, I’m so sorry that you have to go through this alone. I hope, by now, you have told Lawrence, or at least Patty. They are strong. I’m sure
they will be able to handle the news. As much as your husband doesn’t like me, he does love you. Ha ha.
He is strong. Well, stronger now than when you met him. I’m sure he won’t go over the edge again.
Besides, it may all be for nothing. The doctors believe that you caught it early, that it doesn’t appear to be spreading. The treatments could kill the cancer before it can spread. Also, there are other options. Don’t give up your faith in God.
I just wish I could be there for you.
We’ve been friends too long not be there for each other.
I know it’s hard for you to take calls at work with your patients and all, and I know I can’t call you at home. So please please please don’t hesitate to call me if you need me even if it’s to cry.
I double-check the date on the letter. Mom and Dad didn’t tell me about the cancer until June of that year, right after school ended. When I asked how long they knew, Dad told me since April.
I was so mad at them for not telling me sooner. But now it seems she had it since February, maybe even before. And who is this Jamie woman that knew about it before Dad.
Someone knocks at my door. My heart racing, I fold up the letter and stuff it back into the box.
Grandma pops her head in.
“Dinner is ready.”
I smile at her and place the box on the bed.
“Are you eating with us tonight?”
“If Dad says I can.”
“When I told him I would get you, he didn’t object. So I hope you will join us. I don’t think I can handle eating alone with your father.”
I follow her to the kitchen table. Dad smiles at me from his chair. I sit at the table and then Dad leads us into grace.
Silence fills the room as we eat.
My brain races with questions. I want to ask Dad about Jamie Collette. Who is she? How come I’ve never heard of or seen her all my life if they were life long friends? But the letter was clear that Dad didn’t like Jamie. He’s already mad at me for my impure thoughts about Tommy Quinn. Questions about Jamie Collette may upset him even more.
I look up at him. Dad smiles. I smile back.
We finish dinner in silence.
WHY DOES SHE HAVE TO BE SO WEIRD LOOKING?
The lunch bell rings. I leave Geometry and walk to my locker. As the school evacuates, I switch books, gathering the ones I need for Environmental Science, and then walk outside. The cafeteria isn’t in the same building as the rest of the school. About twenty years ago they built another structure on the edge of the hill just overlooking the exits for the Holland Tunnel and Hoboken. The school also uses the building as a gym in the winter.
So when my Mom went to school here they had to leave the building for lunch. A majority of the kids still do. They go to the neighborhood stores where they eat at the pizza place, the Chinese takeout, or maybe McDonalds; some even go home for lunch. Then there’s the other ten percent of the kids, like myself, who stay behind and eat in the cafeteria. Even though there’s a small group we managed to fill most of the folded open tables positioned around the glossy gym floor.
After I pay for the hamburger, corn, soggy fries, and milk, I walk to the back table. I share it with a group of nerdy freshman boys of different nationalities: Indian, Philippine, white, and black. They talk loud and immaturely about video games and what they saw on television the night before. Lucky for me they leave me alone.
As I eat my lunch, I review my notes for a test
in Environmental Science class.
“What’s good, mommi?”
I look up from my notebook at the black girl from the other day, the one God sent me. She smiles bright and wears khaki pants, red Doc Martins, and a long sleeve green shirt with a black t-shirt over it. A yellow drawing of a weird cartoon character and the word Descendents is printed on T-shirt. She holds a small carton of milk and leans in to check out my face.
“Damn. That don’t look good. You in any pain?”
I look down and squirm. I felt fine most of the day, almost forgetting about my wounds.
“Um, no. Not that much.”
The black girl places a knee on the seat across from me and leans down.
“Well, it could have been worse.” She sips her milk. “I’ve seen Zenny fuck up some poor girl so bad that the girl went to the hospital. Think she cracked her skull or some shit like that.”
“Oh, my God.” I gasp.
“Nope. No God in that situation. By the way my name is Miggy. Don’t know if I told you before.”
“Miggy? Yes, I think you did.”
“Yeah. Like piggy.” She smiles again. “You can laugh it was a joke.”
I smile, but I don’t find it funny.
“Well, I just wanted to see how you’re doing.”
“I’m good. Thanks for asking.”
“De nada,” she says. “See ya…what’s your name?”
“Oh. I thought that whole Patty Pilgrim thing was kind of…I don’t know…false.”
“Unfortunately it’s half real. I’m not a pilgrim, though.”
I also want to say that I’m a Christian and ask her if she’s Saved. Instead, I hold back, recalling how my father does that with strangers and how they always look uncomfortable or annoyed.
“Okay. Cool. Lata, Patricia.”
Miggy walks to her table or where ever she came from. I look back down at my notes.
“There’s still, like, ten minutes left for lunch.” Miggy is back, the milk carton gone. “Wanna hang out at our table? It’s really just me and my friend Bodhi.”
I flinch at the name.
Miggy smiles. “No, it’s not his real name. It’s really Carl. I call him Bodhi. He doesn’t mind.”
“Thanks, but I have some notes I have to look over. I have a test next period.”
“Okay. That’s cool. Maybe tomorrow. We’re way over there by the entrance.”
“Thanks. Maybe tomorrow.”
Miggy looks at me like she knows I’m lying. And I am. I’d like to get to know her – the girl God sent me who picked me up to my feet – but she is so weird looking.
“Okay. Lata.” Miggy smiles, then leaves.
I look back at my notes and then up again. Miggy is gone this time. I try to focus on
Environmental Science when the bell rings. “Darn,” I whisper.
I gather my books, leave the cafeteria, and rush to class.
PULLING THE THREAD
I walk down the stone steps and head for the main gate. Kids rush to get to their cars and busses, just as anxious as I am to get home. I pass the stone statue of a lion roaring and hear someone call my name. I turn around and see Miggy standing on the concrete railing of the steps. She holds her hands around her mouth to help carry her voice, but it’s not necessary. The girl’s voice booms just fine.
Seeing she has my attention, Miggy waves and tells me to wait. She hops off the railing and runs in my direction. A boy wearing the same kind of big, black, puffy winter coat as Miggy and the rest of the school keeps pace with her. When they stop in front of me I can see from under the boy’s hood that his head is shaved with a few days of stubble.
“Hey, Patricia,” Miggy says. “What’s good, mommi?”
“I was just going home,” I say.
“This is my friend Bodhi,” Miggy says. “I told you about him, right?”
“I remember,” I say. “Hi.”
Bodhi looks down, showing me the top of his hood. He holds his palm up. I think I hear him say hi.
“Bodhi has to go to work,” Miggy says.
“Yeah. He makes burgers at the McDonalds. I do, too.”
Miggy smiles and stares. I have no idea what to say. I don’t imagine frying burgers to be fun. I then look at Bodhi and hope that he picks up the conversation, but he’s to busy searching for something on his black industrial boots
“So I need someone to hang with,” Miggy says. “How about it?”
“I don’t know.” I try to think of a reason why I can’t hang out with her. Nothing more important comes to mind so I decide to do it. God brought Miggy to me during a bad moment in my life; I should see where this goes no matter how strange she appears. “Okay.”
“Great.” Miggy turns to Bodhi and gives him a hug. “Lata, poppi.”
Bodhi sneaks a flash of eye contact, waves, and then whispers, “Bye.” He walks through the gate and mixes into the crowd of kids.
“I have to go to my place first,” Miggy says. “That cool? I don’t live too far.”
“Cool. Let’s go.”
THINGS NOT SO OBVIOUS
We walk up Palisade Ave towards Highway 139. I spot Zenaida up ahead and stop.
“What’s wrong?” Miggy asks.
Zenaida and Tommy hang out across the street on the bridge before the highway. She presses Tommy to the metal fence as she kisses and gropes him. Zenaida’s friends laugh, talk, and wait for her.
Miggy sees what I see, sputters her lips, and waves me off.
“C’mon. She’s not going to do anything.”
Miggy takes my hand and drags me along. When I catch up to her, she releases me and keeps her eyes focused ahead.
About halfway over the bridge, Zenaida screams something in Spanish. Miggy stops, turns around, and shouts back in Spanish. Aggravation crosses Zenaida’s face and she says something else. Miggy remains calm and Zenaida grows angrier. Their conversation turns into a one sided argument over the passing traffic. Zenaida has to be talking about me. I catch words like ‘Tu amiga’, ‘pata’ and ‘lesbiana’ coming out of her mouth.
And what is Tommy doing? He slouches in boredom, trying to pull Zenaida away from the argument.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Miggy turns her back on her.
Zenaida and Tommy walk towards the school, her crew following behind. We watch them turn the corner.
“Hey, are you checking out Tommy’s ass?”
My eyes widen. I gasp.
“I was not!” How could I when he wears that baggy camouflage jacket over it? “Why? Is that what she was asking about?”
“No. She was just being a pain in the ass. But it was so obvious that you were checking him out.”
I blush and look at the street.
“Anyway,” Miggy says.
She ushers me across the highway when the light turns green.
“You speak perfect Spanish. I had no idea what you were saying, but you sounded confident.”
She gives me a weird side-glance.
“Did you learn it in grade school?”
“No. I was born speaking Spanish. I learned English in grade school. Mostly by watching T.V.”
“Oh. I thought you’re black.”
Anger crosses her face.
“I mean…I…uh…” With her skin so dark and her hair thick and straight, and her nose wide and flat, I thought she was black. “I just…because…um.”
She then smiles. “I’m fucking with you, mommi. C’mon. Just a few more blocks.”
AWAKE = CRAZY
Miggy lives in a light brown, post-war design brick apartment building a few blocks from Christ Hospital in the Heights. Like most old buildings in Jersey City, it isn’t more than four or five floors and there’s no elevator. I follow Miggy through the glass door, down the wide mini- and multi-colored tiled floor, and to the wide stairs.
“I live on the top floor,” Miggy says. “That okay?”
“Sure,” I say. “It’s fine.”
“You can wait down here if you want?”
I look around. There are four other doors to apartments and a section for the mailboxes by the front entrance and no place to sit. The lights are dim, making it kind of spooky.
“I’ll go up. Unless you don’t want me in your apartment.”
Miggy leans in and sniffs my personal space. “No. You should be alright.”
We walk up the five flights of stairs. All is quiet; our footsteps echo through the halls and my panting becomes noticeable. At the top, I’m out of breath and Miggy is just fine.
She turns and smiles. “If you lived here, the climb would be nothing.”
I nod, my throat too parched to respond.
Miggy shows me into the apartment. She whispers, “My grandmother is asleep. She works nights. So silencio, por favor.”
I nod and stand by the closed door.
The living room is so large that there is not only a couch and a television, but also a bedroom complete with a wooden dresser and closet by the windows. Miggy drops her books on the made bed and kneels on the hardwood floor. She reaches under the mattress and takes out a square vinyl brown bag with a shoulder strap. She places the case on the bed, sits next to it, and pulls out a 35mm camera. She then opens her jacket and slips the camera’s shoulder strap around her neck. She zips up the jacket just high enough to hide the camera.
“Be right back,” Miggy whispers and walks to the back of the apartment.
My eyes wander the room. I notice the wooden crucifix with Jesus hanging over the arch entrance of the living room. The carving and painting are so detailed, realistic. It’s beautiful.
Miggy walks back into the room.
“Wanna leave your books here?”
“Where are we going?”
“The mall? You can come back afterwards.”
“I have to be home by six.”
“I’ll get you home by six.”
I place my books on the coffee table and follow her out. Miggy locks up the apartment, and we walk down the stairs.
“That crucifix is beautiful,” I say.
“The one over the arch.”
“Oh, right. That’s mi abuella’s. I think she got that back home a long time ago. Maybe when she
was a little girl.”
“Oh. So she’s a Christian.”
“And, um, you are too?”
We reach the bottom level and head for the outer door.
“Then what are you? If you don’t mind me asking.”
She opens the door, turns to me, smiles, and says, “I’m awake.”
“C’mon, mommi. Wanna get home by six, right?”
I nod, step out of the apartment building, and realize I might be with a crazy person.
RULES AND CLUBS
I can’t hold it in any longer.
“What do you mean by ‘awake’?” I ask.
Miggy and I sit in the back of a mini Bergen Line bus. Even though I had seen them around town, I have never ridden in one. I was ready to give my money to the driver as soon as we got on but then Miggy told me I didn’t have to pay until we got off. The driver kept his hand out and smiled anyway. Maybe he was expecting a tip before services rendered.
“Awake. As opposed to asleep.”
“Is it some kind of code or slang for something?”
Miggy stops looking out the window and turns to me. “This is important to you?”
I shrug and study the back of the ripped seat. I’m not sure how to answer her. Then I ask, “But you believe in God?”
“Now I’m totally lost.”
“If you don’t believe in God then how did we get here?”
“Not the bus. Here on Earth. Our life.”
“My mother gave birth to me. And before you question that fact, her mother gave birth to her and
her mother before her did the same. And on and on.”
“Yes, but the first man and woman were made by God.”
“Did God give birth?”
“Well, no. God just made man, then woman.”
“Who gave birth to God?”
“No one gave birth to God. What kind of question is that?”
“Now I’m the confused one. God just can’t appear. He had to have been the reaction of a previous cause.”
“There is only one God.”
“Let’s say I do believe in God, but a God that was a reaction of two other beings who gave birth to him. If I say that, then what does that tell you?”
“It tells me that you could be insane.”
Miggy laughs. I don’t know why. I’m being serious.
“Okay,” she says. “Then if I say I believe in God am I part of the club?”
“If you believe in God then you are in His grace and therefore follow His Word as stated in the Bible and will be accepted into heaven.”
“I don’t follow any rule unless they help me move through life and society and are morally and ethically sound.”
“Does God have a rule that states we should pay rent?”
“No. But that isn’t as important as not stealing.”
“Not stealing is important. But if I go through
life not stealing and not paying rent then I will be
miserable and homeless. If I pay my rent and don’t steal, then I will be happy and safe. I know this from experience, so I know it’s true.”
“You’re nuts,” I say. “Forget I said anything.”
“Think about it,” Miggy says. “Our stop is coming, get your dollar ready.”
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Copyright 2011 M. E. Purfield