Wait for your sister and your father to leave the apartment. You’ve already told them you’re feeling too sick to go to Jersey to visit that tío who likes to brush your tits whenever he hugs you hello. (She’s getting so smart, he’ll say.) And even though your pops knows you ain’t sick, you told him your very own crampy tía was visiting in a bad way until finally he said, It better be what you say it is, mentirosa.
Clear the huge Bible from the living room shelf. If the boy’s a nerdboy who wears dress shoes with jeans, ram the Bible between the unread cookbooks over the refrigerator. If he’s an artboy who believes in no god but himself, hide the Bible in the oven, inside one of the pots stored there. Make a mental note to get it out before morning or you pops will crucify your ass to kitchen duty for the rest of your life. Take down any embarrassing photos of your young parents floating in a wine glass, and especially the one with ashy-kneed campo kids straddling a donkey. The kids are your half-siblings because whenever your pops visited DR, he did with their mamas what he’ll kill you for trying to do now. Hide the pictures of yourself crowned by four moños in rainbow ribbons. Make sure the bathroom smells like Pine Sol. Pull down you and your sister’s stiff panties from the curtain rod. Toss them in the hamper, even though you scrubbed yours in the crotch with Irish Spring the way your late mother taught you.
Shower, braid, dress. Sit on your father’s Lazy-Boy and watch crap on local cable. If he’s a nerdboy his mother will be bringing him, maybe his very present father. Neither of them want him seeing a girl from the Southside—people still get shot in the Southside—but they’re relieved he’s showing interest in girls and he’ll get his way, as all boys do. If he’s an artboy, you know he’ll at least go down on you.
You typed the directions, so his parents won’t think you’re an airhead. Get up from the Lazy-Boy and check the streets below. Nada. If the boy’s thug, don’t sweat it. He’ll flow over when he gets the munchies. Sometimes he’ll run into his other friends and a whole crowd will show up at your apartment, and even though that means there’ll be other girls with whom he’ll lock himself in the bathroom, it’ll be fun anyway and you’ll wish your father visited your uncle more often. Sometimes the boy won’t come over at all and the next day in school he’ll shrug, smile, lick his lips and you’ll be pendeja enough to want him to come over again.
Wait, and after an hour, run down to the stoop. The neighborhood’s crawling with people. Wave at one of your friends across the street and when she shouts, You still waiting on that asshole? say, Shut the hell up, Nelly.
Run back inside. Blow up his cell and when his girlfriend picks up ask if he’s there. She’ll ask, Who the fu— Hang up. She sounds like a wrestler or a cop, the sort of chick with thick hands, who likes to go around slapping people. Lie down and wait. By the time your belly’s ready to give you real cramps, you hear the buzzer and up he comes.
Hey, you’ll whisper.
Um, he’ll say. My father wants to meet you. He’s got himself adrenalined for naught.
Panic. Flip your braids like the white girls do even though the only thing that can flip your hair is a lava-fueled iron. He won’t look as hot as the papichulo. The local papichulos with slick hair, they’re the ones you want most, right? Usually, the ones who want you are the ones who aren’t from the Southside but want to be, artboys too afraid to come out of the closet or who try to get the gushy stuff by writing gushy poems. If he’s a nerdboy, don’t be surprised if his father is white. Say, Greetings. His pops will say, Ohla, and you’ll see that you scare him, really. He’ll say that the directions were unnecessary because he’s familiar with your vibrant neighborhood, culture, and even though he has the best directions in his hands explain that, actually, you wrote down the wrong exit. Boost his ego.
You have too many choices. If the boy’s a papichulo from around the way, suggest El Amigo for lunch. Order everything in SAT English. Let him correct your enunciation if he’s nerdboy and amaze him if he’s thug. If he’s an artboy, pizza will do. As you walk to the restaurant talk about the block. Artboy or nerdboy won’t need stories about prep school but the other ones might. Supply the story about the wannabe frat boys who buy tanks of nitrous oxide from the chem professors each semester, how they wear T-shirts that read, Say N20 to Drugs, how one day a tank leaked and the whole dorm got a crazy dose of laughing gas. Tell him that whenever students need coke for a snowparty, they ask you for directions to hoods like yours.
Hope that you don’t run into Awilda, the crackhead with the killer mouth. She walks it all over the neighborhood and every now and then the mouth corners itself a victim and tears it to shreds. Awilda, laughing as the victim chokes on her words, its eyes askew like a cat clock’s, embarrassment burning through soft skin. If her mouth hasn’t cornered a victim, she’ll walk behind you and yell, Hey, Petra, lend me that john.
Let her talk. Awilda weighs about ninety pounds but could smoke you if she wanted. At the pizzeria she’ll shuffle away. She sees a cop, and doesn’t want that john again. If the boy’s an artboy, he’ll hiss and say, What human waste. A papichulo would’ve been winking at her the whole time, just because. Either way don’t feel bad about staying shut. Never get cussed out on a first date or that’ll mark the start of things.
Lunch will be chill. You’re too good at talking to people you don’t know. An artboy will tell you that his parents separated after 9/11, will say, Terrorists made people think harder about their raison d’être. Raison d’être will sound like an idea he’d just picked up. Your sister once heard that phrase and said, Sounds like a whole lotta French cheese to me. Repeat this.
Take a bite of your hamburger and say, Must’ve been easy for them.
He will appreciate your irony. He will tell you more. Virgos, he’ll say, treat me real bad. That’s why life’s tough for a Pisces like me. You’ll wonder how he feels about Geminis. Ask. Let him speak circles and when you’re both finished eating stroll back to the block. The skies will be jigsawed. High-rise lofts have made Southside sunsets one of the mysteries of the world. Don’t point this out. Rub his shoulder and say, It’s still early.
Play it off. Pretend to watch TV. Sip some of the Manischewitz your father keeps in the cabinet, which he doesn’t touch anyway. A local papichulo may wear a crucifix around his neck and have a Jesus tattoo but he’ll be quick to finger you. A thugboy, too, has to live on the same block you do, has to deal with keeping up his game. He won’t just chill with you and then go home. He won’t just tongue you and then go home. He might, if he’s way too high, just say no, but that’s rare. Necking won’t be enough. A nerdboy might just get asthma right then. Keep at him. He’ll press a fresh mint in his mouth, stick the wrapper in his pocket, and then shift away from you. You have a brilliant mind, he might say.
Tell him that you love his mind, too, that you love his hands, his eyes, because, in truth, you love them less than you love your own.
He’ll say, I like Latin girls, and even though you don’t speak Latin, say, Veni, vidi, vici. You’ll sound stupid.
You’ll be with him until about eight-thirty and then he’ll want to take a dump. In the bathroom he’ll freestyle and rap the beat against the lip of the sink. Try not to imagine his girl coming to get him, what she’d say if she knew her boy had just lain over you and rapped your name into your ear. While he’s in the bathroom, call Nelly and say, Girl, he never showed. Or just sit back on the Lazy-Boy and sigh.
It always works this way. Never prepare. He’ll always want to mess with you. Let’s do it, he’ll say. The papichulo might lean forward, breaking away from you. He’ll open his arms, say, I’m just too big for you. Roll your eyes as he strokes your hair. I like to talk first, he’ll say. He’ll act like somebody you don’t know. On the block he’s known for his smooth stride, as well-oiled as a racecar’s, but here he’ll worry you. You won’t know what to say.
You’re the kind of bitch I can talk to, he’ll say. Your neighbors will be making calls to Jersey by now, since Nelly’s spread the word. You and my sister, he’ll whisper.
Stay shut. Let him re-button his shirt, let him comb his hair, your want dribbling like tears inside you. When his girlfriend calls then buzzes, let him go with way too little good-byes. He’ll want them. During the next hour the phone will ring. You’ll be tempted to answer. Don’t. Watch the shows you don’t want to watch, the ones your family loves. Don’t go downstairs. Fall asleep. It’ll help. But keep the Bible in its place even if your pops crucifies you.
Previously published in Vandal and Sargasso: The University of Puerto Rico’s Journal of Caribbean Literature, Language, and Culture -Quisqueya: La República Extended (2008-2009, II): 9-12.