The Bug

Ana, if there’s any hesitation, any at all, then u know it’s not good news. You just know, u know. There should be no hesitation, he says. Easy for him to say. He’s not the one shaking in her shoes. A slow cold sweat down the side of my temple. I swear if my hands don’t stop shaking, I’m gonna have to sit on them. You know what’s the worst part of being nervous? The helplessness. You can’t do a lot to control it. You talk to yourself, you scream at yourself, you pray for yourself. Wishing desperately for calmness to come, long for bodily control. You know when you’re in bed in the late Fall and you suddenly feel that first winter chill? You jump out of bed to grab your heavy blanket and the warmness that comes with it – safe, encompassing, delicious. That’s what I was silently praying for – calmness, control, warmness. Instead, I was sitting there shaking – hands, feet, chest. So cold. So uncontrollable. You’re gonna be fine, Ana. Look at you. You’re gonna be fine. I look over to him and wish I could believe him. Wish that I could be as certain as he was. I smile. Telling him with my forced lips that I appreciated him, the pep talk, his belief in me. I lose myself in that moment for a second. Buzz, Buzz, Buzz, Buzz. I snap out my trance – where r u? The text reads. Almost dere, I respond.

You can drop me off right there. Yeah, this is fine. Thank you. I say. Remember Ana, no… yea yea I got it. Thanks. Heart starts pounding. You know that second before you start dropping on a rollercoaster – that very first drop. All your organs jump to your throat, your eyes widen, your jaw clenches, you hold your breath. Yeap, that’s exactly how I felt. Breathe. On 3. 1… 2… 3… I get out the car and start walking. My heart pounds harder with every beat, my breath shorter with every inhale. I has to use every ounce of concentration to makes sure my legs didn’t buckle under me. Left, Right, Left, Right. Keep your legs under you, Ana. You’re almost there… Hey, hey.

I sit Indian style in front of him. Me on the table, he on a chair in front of me. What did you want to talk about? He asks with a tone of confusion in his voice. Everything ok? I nod and look at him first for the first time. He’s under the weather – fighting a cold. In his sweats, hair with the pillow marks imprinted on his waves, glasses on, eyes a little glossy. I feel bad getting him out of bed, a bed I’m intimately familiar with. But if I don’t do it now, I’ll never do it. I, clear my throat, I… I have to tell you something. Heart pounding, hands folded in front of me to stop them from shaking. What is it? Pound, pound, pound. My heart wont stop. You would think I was running a sprint. I, I, I really care about you, I whisper. And I want to be more that what we are. Oh, he looks down. Suddenly sitting up in the chair. There it was – the hesitation.

Punch – buggy!!! Ahhhhh, what the fuck!! That hurt!! Why you gotta punch me so hard?? Grimacing, fuck that hurt! That’s how you feel when someone gets you good when you’re playing that stupid game. Arm throbbing. A pain that shoots out your arm like a firework. Your arm, your elbow, your fingers all feeling a surge of painful electricity. Fuck that hurts. You rub the spot of the punch trying to massage the pain away. A firework of hurt. That’s how my chest felt at that very moment. Like someone was playing Punch Buggy and punched me right in the middle of my chest. The sudden, unexpected pain. The pain started in the center and within microseconds was shooting out in every direction – heart, stomach, back. Everywhere. A firework had just exploded in my body. He didn’t have to say it, I already knew. My body was already reacting. It took every fiber in my self for me to keep it together. To hold that Indian style in place.

I’m not ready. It’s not what I want. He said the words. Put his head down. I look up. Fighting my tear ducts, they were on the verge of mutiny. And I saw it. A bug. A bug on the wall, doing nothing but staring at us. I dig in my pocket and take out my phone. Snap, snap, snap. What are you doing, Ana? I’m taking a bio class and we’re studying bugs. My professor will wanna see this, I respond. That’s what I wanted him to believe but in reality, I concentrated on that bug so I didn’t cry. I needed my eyes to focus. I needed my tears to not betray me. Not in front of him. I look back at him. The knot in my throat grows tighter – strangling me from within. The bug stunt did the trick. I was able to gain some strength in those 15 seconds. I understand. You don’t have to explain. I jump off the table. My eyes begin to water. There they come. Fuck!! I kissed him on the lips and walked away. Out the building, out the squad, out into the night. Beautiful Spring night. A little moisture in the air. Fresh air. Trees blooming. A night full of life. The moonlight lit my path and I walked and walked and walked. I can’t say many thoughts ran thru my head. Not one, actually. I just walked and walked. Hoping that with every step the throbbing in my chest would be easier to bear and the knot in my throat would loosen. Left, Right, Left, Right. Into the night.

I wish I could tell you that our story ended there. But it doesn’t always end there, does it.

If I’m grateful for one thing that night it was that bug. It saved my dignity. 

No Place Like Home

I’m going to pick you up from Church before the service is over but don’t mention anything. I want to show you something. It’ll be our thing. Hand on my shoulder, looking right into me with his fatherly eyes. Smile so safe it’ll put a priest to shame. I nod my head in blind obedience. Run back to the room and finish getting ready for Church. So excited. Feeling so special. Our own thing. Wow. Just ours. You see, when you grow up without a father, you grow up with a hole in your chest that you carry with you all your life. The emptiness. The longing. Always seeing happy father/daughters and wishing you could switch your life with that little girl. The feeling never leaves you, no matter how deep you bury it. It never does. So to hear this from him meant everything. He’s like a father or the one I wish I had – tall, handsome, with a presence. You can’t fuck with him. No way, no how. He’s a man. He’s a protector.

I anxiously look at my watch every 5 minutes. 10:20, 10:25, 10:30. Why is it that time always slows down when you start paying attention? One of life’s greatest mysteries, I guess. I was 16, full of life and still incredibly naïve. C’mon time!! Ahhhh! Legs shaking. Heart pounding. Couldn’t sit still. Dear Father, full of grace. Praying. Waiting. Praying. Waiting. 10:40. Oh My God! 5 minutes to go! I start to sweat. That excited, I’m about to jump out of my skin sweat. Put your hands on your armpit and they’re literally wet sweat. Ahhh! I didn’t care. I was too excited to care, to think. Legs shaking. Hell, body shaking. 1045, yes!! It’s here. I can go now. I meticulously make my way to the back of the room, slip out door, head to the exit. I stopped only for a slight second to look at the congregation – so much happiness. So much faith. Real, unadulterated goodness. I smile. I’m gone.

I see the car creeping up the block as I descend the church steps. What could it be? Oh my God. I dunno. I can’t think, I’m so excited. Palms so sweaty I could put Kleenex out of business. The wave. My heart jumped and I run to the car. You know when you’re a kid and it’s the night before Xmas – the joy, the anticipation, the I bet I have the best gifts this year cause Mami played me last year and gave my brother the best gifts. She owes me. It’s my year! Yea, that feeling; that was me. Heart pounding, smile that could light up Broadway. Where we going? I asked. You’ll see, he says. But his tone was different, he sounded so strange, so detached. OK. I look out the window and notice that we’re going back to the house. Hmmmm, maybe whatever he’s giving me is back at the apartment. Good! I can catch the Olympics. His hand to my knee, a squeeze. I look over to him. That look. I know that look. That’s not a fatherly look. It’s the look I get from the corner dudes that call out to me as I uncomfortably try to cover every inch of my body. 16 and growing into myself. Boobs that weren’t there last summer, an ass that to this day gets me more attention than any other part of my body. Changes that I was still managing to like, to understand. We’re going back home, he says. A grin. Piercing green eyes drilling a hole in my chest. Another squeeze. Oh ok, I said.

I knew. That’s when I knew. That’s when it hit me. I leaned down to pretend I was cleaning my shoes. I wanted that hand off me. I wanted my dreams back. Hand off. Cleaning my shoes. I sit back up, hand back on my knee. Sweat down my back, heart pounding. Head screaming – you know what this is. Do something!! Ana, don’t just sit here. Do something!! Back to cleaning my shoes. Think Ana, think. You’re in Jersey. Your Mom is in DR. Think!!! Hand off. Sit back up. Hand on. Squeeze. I swear you could hear my heart beating across the Hudson. I want Mom. I want my Father. Anger. An anger I never felt before. A voice in my head – you’re going to get yourself out of this. Now think!! Deep breath. Hands-shaking, Now, I’m really angry. Car speeding. All green. Hands-shaking. Eyes wide open. Focus on 100. Hand squeezing my knee. Clear summer day. Beautiful skies, warm sun. Cold car. Heart on fire.

Red. I jump out the car. Actually, I run out the car down a one-way street. He couldn’t believe it. I hear the yells behind me. I run. Yes! he can’t come down this street. No tears. Just anger and sweat. I need to get out of sight. I see a driveway, big white SUV. I run behind it. Squat down. I hide. Ok Ana, now what?! You need to get home. I dig my hand in my pocket – $22 dollars. Hey girl!! What are you doing? Get off my driveway!! I’m calling the cops!!” The voice came from the front of the car. I don’t blame her. She didn’t know me. Shit. Go Ana, go!! But what if he sees you? What if he’s driving down the block right now?! Just run Ana, run! I ran.

It seemed like an eternity but I found a bodega. Run in, out of breath, sweating, angry, shaking. I need a cab!!! Girl, what’s wrong with you?? What’s wrong? Chubby Puerto Rican clerk asks me. I need a cab!! I yell back. Deep breath. I need a cab. Can you please call me a cab? Where you going? Washington Heights. Longest 15 minutes of my life. The cab is here little girl.

190th and Broadway. Go, please go. You wouldn’t believe me, shit, I wouldn’t believe myself if I didn’t lived thru it, but this fucking cab breaks down on the highway. I shit you not. 10 minutes from the GW Bridge and a cloud of smoke. Engine screaming. Just my luck. Poor Indian guy gives me back $5. I got into the cab as soon as I could and threw all my money at the poor guy. Just take me home I said. But God is good, always. The car found the strength to get me to the bus stop right before the GW. I get out. Still angry, mind racing, feeling completely vulnerable out in the open. I’m sorry, he says. I’m really sorry. It’s ok. I can make it from here. I hid behind a large man at the stop. Poor bloat, didn’t even notice me. I just hid and waited. The bus. Yes, it’s here.

All passengers off, please. I look up from my seat and make my way out. A little calmer, a sense of relief. No tears. Just Anger. I’m home.

I made it home.

Protect your daughters even from those who claim to love them. 

I never asked her. I shouldve asked.

This is a real story. It happened 6 years ago. I had a dream about it last night for the first time ever. It still haunts me.

**************************************************************************

I remember that night clear as day. It was around 11:30 pm and I was sitting in my car on a Bronx corner under the 6 train. Palms sweating, breathing a little heavy. “Calm down” I told myself. “You need the money and all you’re doing is driving around, come on calm down.” $150 for 3 hours, not a bad deal. $150 dollars….

Then I spotted her –barely 5 feet tall, dark caramel complexion, big booty and maybe 23 years old- just like me. A nervous smile. A hard swallow. Next thing I know she’s in my car. Hi, Hey. And we were on our way. At first it was awkward, scary. She looks just like me, how dangerous could she be? So I started talking. Trying desperately to break the ice and feel more comfortable in my own car/my own space. So we got to talking- music, food, regular conversation. Never discussing why two kids were on their way to Staten Island from the Bronx to fulfill a date, to take care of business. So we talked then we stopped and then we talked some more. Traffic on the BQE. I mean when is there no traffic on the BQE? 15 years I’ve been driving and I still hit traffic every single time. The absolute worst.

We get there. I stopped the car. Look over to her. She looks at me and I see it for the first time- the sadness. Sadness deeper than my own. Real sadness, not over a boy or love or damn I’m under paid and work like a dog sadness. But genuine sadness. I see the real world, you will never understand this sadness. She grins slightly. One of those-  I’ve been here enough to know that you’re scared shitless grins. I’ll be right back she says. She’s gone. And there I am sitting in a middle class suburb with white picket fences, manicured lawns and perfectly clean streets. Paradise to a kid from the hood.

Look to my right and she is walking slowly to the back of the house- slow, with a purpose, head down, numb. I turned on the radio trying to quiet the thoughts in my head. Is she ok? What if we get caught? What if a cop car decides to stop next to me and ask me what I was doing? I mean how often do you see a young Spanish kid waiting outside a house in a car at 1:00 am on Wednesday in the “burbs”?  “Stay Calm Ana, stay calm.”  I lowered my seat. “Great”. This will make me less suspicious. Sweat drops down my forehead. Woosah Woosah.  How selfish of me, only thinking of myself.  How this would affect me. Shit, I gotta be at work tomorrow. Imagine I get arrested. Shit. God forbid I lose my job. My mom would be so embarrassed. The shame.

15 minutes, 20 minutes, 25 minute… the door wakes me from my suffocating self-panic.  The screaming in my head suddenly coming to a complete stop. You ok? I asked. He was rough. I’m bleeding. I need to change she says. We sat there in silence from S.I to the Bronx. It was too late for our next appointment so we just drove and drove and drove. I dropped her off, got my money and went home.

I lay in bed eyes wide open. I never asked her why she did this, why she put herself through this. I never asked her name. Not once. Never asked. I still wonder why I didn’t. I wish I could tell you that I said something to save her, to enlighten her,  to make her see that she’s more than this. That her value is far beyond money. But I didn’t. I said nothing. I did nothing.

All I carry with me is what she told me in the car -> You’re one of the lucky ones.

Get inside my head, you might like it.