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.
Its just doubt, which along with my anal-retentive
tendencies, is my worst attribute. Its fine. Its just that today seemed so
difficult, so seemingly pointless, that I wonder if I havent 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 Id 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 wasnt 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
Ive 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 its a subtle "Im 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?"
"Whats your favorate (sic) memory?"
"What do you want to be?"
"Whats your worst experience?"
We mumbled a few niceties to each other
as we finished our food. When it was over, and wed 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 Ginas mother, a Mexican woman from Chiapas. Ginas favorite memory is going back
to Mexico to visit her grandmother four years ago. Shes not sure what she wants to
be. Her answer was, "I want to create something. Maybe inspire people, something. I
And to the last, she answered, "Im 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 wasnt
interested. I was panicking.
"Gina, what should I know about you? I mean, starting
off?" I asked.
"I thought youd ask really personal
stuff," she said. "Like when I lost my virginity or if Ive ever killed
anyone." She laughed, throaty and deep.
I smiled, uncertain if it was an invitation for me to dig
"You asked me what the worst thing thats ever
happened to me is," Gina said. "You didnt ask what the worst thing
Ive ever done is. I cant 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, whats the
worst thing youve 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. Shes switched majors three times and
isnt sure what she wants to do.
I told her I would find a time to see her tomorrow, but
inside I was panicking, thinking Id better find some other way to do this. Inane
talk isnt going to get me inside her head, much less let me catch any glimpses of
what her life is really about. I wont 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 Im giving you the
Readers Digest Condensed Novel of it), "I was worried about this because I was
worried what youd write about me. No matter how good you are a writer, you still
wont know me completely. So how can you write something and expect it to say who I
"But," she continued, "what you write is
what you see, and parts of that must be what other people see in me, so thats at
least part of who I am. I cant be afraid of that. I can change, if I want, but I
cant 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. "Its who I am. So, shit. Time to be
I nodded. We talked a bit more. Classes, past shit jobs,
past shit boyfriends. I dont know her yet. Maybe I wont know her in three
months. But it may not be a disaster.
Its a start.
Somewhere in this tonight, weve started..