Dispatch 13 (Oct. 13, 1998)

     The night I left Gina’s, I was kept awake by thoughts of my own, not just of Gina, but of my own life and where it is. If I’m less than contemplative about my own life, it may be because it’s rare that I have earth-shattering experiences worth poring over in my memory. I’ve been in love (I think) and I had adventures in high school and dorming it freshman year just like everyone else. But nothing in my life (at least now) comes close to qualifying as a "drama." I go to class, I doodle in the margins of my notepad when bored. I call home maybe once a week between nine and ten unless it’s Thursday when I know my parents are watching "ER"
     The idea of massive change – something coming in and changing a life profoundly – appeals enormously to me because it hasn’t happened to me yet. I chose my college methodically, weighing all of my options. I didn’t follow a lover across the country or win a jackpot scholarship or work my way through five jobs to get here. I’ll have student loans when I leave here, carrying the burden of my education with me (financially and figuratively) through several years of shitty jobs, I imagine.
     A pregnancy, or even the near-miss of one, is such a huge concept, I don’t know that I can really relate, or even pretend to under the guise of reporter’s observance. I just can’t imagine having so much of your life hanging in the balance in the space of a few days when either you are or you aren’t Something Life-Altering.
     So I stayed awake, wondering about the choices I’ve made and how safe they are in comparison to some of the girls I grew up with: those who dropped our or stayed in school and got married before college and those who did a little pot freshman year and now have names for each bong in their collection. What have I resisted all this time? Falling into what? A boring existence? Maybe I’ve failed in spite of myself. Vigilance has let to abstinence: not of sex or of drugs, but of true living. Living with consequences instead of avoiding the paths that might lead to them entirely. Which is better?
     I went to visit Gina the next morning, my joints aching from a lack of sleep. Her roommate, at home for once, said she’d gone to Harlingen for the weekend to see her family.
     I wondered what might happen between Gina and Juan. Would she even tell him? Was it over between them and if so, would he even know why?
     By Monday, I’d stopped thinking about it, and by Tuesday, I was getting used to a Gina-less frame of mind when she called, asking me to meet her next to the main library. I grabbed a bench and dug back into my copy of "Native Son," when she showed up, all sunglasses and curls.
     "Heather!" she said smiling brightly. She threw up her arms as if she were doing the wave, then hugged me tightly.
     "Hi, Gina. How was your trip?"
     She sat next to me, slinging the strap of her backpack to the corner of the bench’s back. "Oh, it was good. I rested a lot. My grandmother came and took care of me. Everyone thought I had the flu, but she said I had a bad spirit."
     "A bad spirit?" I asked.
     "Un mal espirito," she said. "Like something bad that can infect you from the outside from someone."
     "Like a curse?" I asked.
     "It can be," she said. "But mostly it could be envy or someone saying bad things about you. Maybe someone writing something bad about you."
     She paused, as if for a response, and I had none to give. Gina hasn’t read a journal entry since the first time at the deli, and hasn’t asked. I met her eyes with my own, unashamed of anything that’s been written here.
     "So anyway," she went on, "she said some things to me and performed a cleansing. She kind of lifted all of the bad energy away."
     "So you feel better now?" I asked.
     "Much better," she said. "I’m in the best mood today. I decided we have to take a trip."
     Gina was smiling brightly at me, her eyes nearly glowing. She was facing me, her hips twisting on the bench, and her arms cut the air as she spoke. It had been the first time in a few weeks that I’d seen her this animated.
     "Where would we go?"
     "A road trip, maybe?" she said. "Maybe Dallas, or the Valley or just San Antonio for the day. Just to get out of Austin. What do you think?"
     "When do you want to do this?" I asked.
     "This weekend. Can you go?"
     "Who would we go with?" I asked. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go, so I kept asking questions, figuring one of them would eliminate my ability to take a trip with Gina.
     "Just us," she said. "You’re dying to get to know me right? So let’s take a trip. I don’t feel like you’re really getting who I am."
     "Really?" I said, a little bothered by her lack of faith.
     "You just see me in these extreme moments, when we plan it or when I call you. You still haven’t spent a whole day with me. You don’t even know what I look like when I wake up in the morning," Gina said.
     "I know what you look like when you’re been throwing up all night."
     Gina laughed. "Not the same thing," she said. "I’m more brown and less green when I wake up in the morning. So are you in?"
     I thought about my calendar. No exams for more than a week. A paper due early next week that I was more than halfway through… books that needed to be read but that could be taken along…
     "When do we leave?"
     "Saturday morning. Maybe just for a day," Gina said. "Let’s just get off this campus for a while. I’m tired of seeing all the same faces, aren’t you?
     "I haven’t gotten to meet all thirty or forty or however many thousands of students are here," I said. "At least I don’t know them all on first name."
     "It’s not people, it’s types of people. Don’t you know that?"
     "Types of people," I said. "Like who?"
     Gina looked around and watched people pass for a few seconds. Then she nodded her head toward the library entrance. "See that girl?" she asked.
     The girl in question was wearing an orange bowling shirt, cut-offs and clunky black shoes that looked like low-top combat boots. Her hair, dyed maroon, was cut into a severe bob that lay flat and slick against her scalp. She wore big, black-framed glasses that covered half of her face.
     "That is the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen," Gina said. "And she does it on purpose."
     "Dresses like that?" I asked.
     "This is probably what it is," Gina said. "She might be pretty, or maybe she just looks plain. But probably somebody, some guy, told her she was ugly when she was younger and she believed it."
     "So it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy," I said. "She believes she’s ugly so she dresses that way."
     "That’s not all," Gina said. "It might be that she was plain-looking and no one ever noticed her. But everyone sees her when she dresses like that. It might make her look bad, but at least she gets noticed, right?"
"I guess," I said. I thought about the many mornings I’ve put clothes back into the closet before trying them on because I thought they’d be noticed. My theory on clothes is that unless it’s been proven to look good on me, I’d rather it be as nondescript as possible.

     "There’s so many girls like that here, that make themselves look ugly to get noticed. Isn’t that kind of sick?" Gina asked. "You can’t get noticed by being pretty so you disfigure yourself so people pay attention?"
     "I wouldn’t call it disfigurement," I said. "She can always wear something nice if she wants, or put on a hat or whatever."
     "I can understand if you don’t want to be a model or dress up all the time, but damn, that is so ugly," Gina said. She was starting to giggle. "So ugly!"
     I laughed in spite of myself, ashamed a little. A lot of my friends, the girls I share late-night study pizzas with and go shopping with on those rare occasions wear clunky shoes and dye their hair unnatural colors.
     "So this weekend, right?" Gina said. "You and me, we’ll hit the road and wherever we go, lots of drinking."
     I smiled back at Gina, who still beamed at the world as if she owned it. "I’ll try to keep up."