Day 2.

     Like mixing your favorite Kool-Aid flavor with tequila, or dating the cutest cousin – yes, the idea seems a little intriguing at first, maybe even a little dangerous and cool, but ultimately you feel like a supreme dumbass. Queen Dumbass. Major Dumbass of the Dumbass Light Brigade.
     It’s just doubt, which along with my anal-retentive tendencies, is my worst attribute. It’s fine. It’s just that today seemed so difficult, so seemingly pointless, that I wonder if I haven’t just poured myself a vat of quicksand to swim in.
     I met Gina today at Texadelphia on the Drag a few hours after a history class. She was fifteen minutes late, walking in with her undersized leather backpack slung over a shoulder, her forest of dark curls piling gracefully onto the strap.
     Hunger had made me impatient, so I’d already ordered a Philly cheesesteak and fries even as my brain cried "FAT CONTENT, FAT CONTENT!" smothering the fries in ketchup made warm by the failing summer air conditioning at the ‘dephia. A slathered fry was on its way to my lips when she came though the door.
     The place wasn’t packed – maybe four or five booths were occupied, and it was mostly groups of guys. Skaters and neo-hippies and a shaved head here and there, decked out in t-shirts that have seen too many fade-away washes.
     I’ve got the fry brushing the tang of tomato sauce against my lips and here she comes, black shorts over sculpted, burnished legs. And they all watch. Whether it’s a subtle "I’m just looking at the specials on the board" turn or a full ogle, almost every guy watches her as she comes in, some sandwiches at half mast, dripping cheesesteak grease on the tabletops.
     I gobble the fry and wait.
     Gina orders a Sprite (no Mountain Dew here, she explains, to give her a caffeine boost) and a grilled cheese sandwich, cut in half.
     And so begins the disaster.
     I pulled out a small notebook and look at the few prepared questions I had, assuming the rest would take care of itself in conversation. I was just looking for the basics. Some background, some nuggets of interest about Gina, some things that would tell me, even at this early stage, who she is and what to look for.
     It was so amateur, so high school newspaper. The questions I had written down were:

  • "Where are you from?"

  • "What’s your favorate (sic) memory?"

  • "What do you want to be?"

  • "What’s your worst experience?"

     We mumbled a few niceties to each other as we finished our food. When it was over, and we’d each taken long sips of our respective soft drinks, she looked at me expectantly. There was a long pause where I had no idea what it was I was supposed to be doing or why, and then, like a salmon gasping for air, I reached for the questions.
     She was disinterested. Not evasive, just unintrigued about answering. Vague answers, half-formed, was what she gave me. Her voice, with a slight, and curiously musical Latin accent, spoke in stops and starts.
     Had dad is Colombian. He used to be a pilot, but gave it up when he came to the U.S. with Gina’s mother, a Mexican woman from Chiapas. Gina’s favorite memory is going back to Mexico to visit her grandmother four years ago. She’s not sure what she wants to be. Her answer was, "I want to create something. Maybe inspire people, something. I don’t know."
     And to the last, she answered, "I’m not going to tell you that. Not yet, at least. But one bad thing was when I got hurt really bad in Mexico two years ago. I was in Mexico City and a man pulled a knife on me. He took me to an alley and threw me against a wall. My head hit the wall hard. I was blacking out and then I heard someone yelling. The man turned and ran away and then somebody was helping me up. They scared him off. I had to get stitches."
     She pointed to a faint line of skin near her hairline that was slightly lighter than her creamed coffee skin.
     Gina kept looking away, looking at boys in booths, or catching glimpses of Drag Dwellers as they walked past the front window. She wasn’t interested. I was panicking.
     "Gina, what should I know about you? I mean, starting off?" I asked.
     "I thought you’d ask really personal stuff," she said. "Like when I lost my virginity or if I’ve ever killed anyone." She laughed, throaty and deep.
     I smiled, uncertain if it was an invitation for me to dig deeper.
     "You asked me what the worst thing that’s ever happened to me is," Gina said. "You didn’t ask what the worst thing I’ve ever done is. I can’t control what happens to me, only what I do. The answer to that question would tell you a lot more about me."
     Taking the bait, I asked. "Okay, what’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?"
     "Too late," she said, smiling nastily. "You missed your chance. Be more careful next time."
     We talked more, but the conversation blurred into the mundane, degenerating into the worst of college banter, "So what made you decide to go into [insert name of major/minor here]." Gina got a scholarship for journalism, but lost the taste for it her first semester. She’s switched majors three times and isn’t sure what she wants to do.
     I told her I would find a time to see her tomorrow, but inside I was panicking, thinking I’d better find some other way to do this. Inane talk isn’t going to get me inside her head, much less let me catch any glimpses of what her life is really about. I won’t see get any insight into her existence until I catch her in the midst of it.
     I walked her back to her co-op, envying her a little. Her lithe bounce of movements as she hopped down the steps to the co-op courtyard made me imagine that inside her mind was a vast tropical paradise, free of the stress and anxiety and self-doubt that seem to plague me and my fellow yellows. (More on THAT phenomenon later, as ye shall learn from Yi.)
     Before she went inside and as the sky above us darkened, sucking the worst of the warmth of the day from the air, Gina said an interesting thing.
     She said (and it was long, so I’m giving you the Reader’s Digest Condensed Novel of it), "I was worried about this because I was worried what you’d write about me. No matter how good you are a writer, you still won’t know me completely. So how can you write something and expect it to say who I really am?"
     "But," she continued, "what you write is what you see, and parts of that must be what other people see in me, so that’s at least part of who I am. I can’t be afraid of that. I can change, if I want, but I can’t hate or be afraid of who I am."
     She laughed suddenly, as if remembering something she was unwilling to share.
     "So whatever I do…" Another laugh, springing, I imagined, from the same well. "It’s who I am. So, shit. Time to be honest, huh?"
     I nodded. We talked a bit more. Classes, past shit jobs, past shit boyfriends. I don’t know her yet. Maybe I won’t know her in three months. But it may not be a disaster.
   It’s a start.
     Somewhere in this tonight, we’ve started..