The word was a stairwell whisper, a silent slap of lips spied on from green shutters. It looked the same in English or Spanish. Junkie. Yonqui. Greg could fall asleep inside me and still be hard the next morning. Morning? There were mornings. Time swallowed me, spit me out someplace strange. A couch across the street, a bathroom stall, the backseat of a stalled Geo.

You wake up and you want to die. You die and you want hell. You're in heaven and you don't want anything. I slid under a man I didn't know and faked an orgasm before he was even inside me. I ate Cheerios and ignored the weevils. I lapped up my own blood so it wouldn't go to waste. I dreamed about dead men, but they weren't the same as they'd been alive.

Never had a back alley abortion. Never shot up much more than I could take. Never had my life flash before my eyes. Never killed anybody. Sometimes people ask questions and I have customized answers. No, never, ever ever, I wasn't that kind of Yonqui. Junkie, I mean. Fuck guys for smack? I wasn't that kind. Whore? Not me. People I knew. Sex on junk? I wouldn't know.

Depends on who's asking. If nobody's asking, that's when you can be the most truthful. Honesty's a hassle when your tongue does all the work. What a joke. For three months, I laughed on command. The beckon of black eyes. Laugh, bitch. Scream, bitch. Take it. Do it. Hurry up. Shut up. Scream, bitch.

I had names nobody used and two driver's licenses, one for my father's daughter, one for my mother's daughter, but neither was me. I was Bitch, Maria Cynthia, but I was someone else. I was a Cunt with Legs, someone Dead, a Slut. How many names do you have? Do they define you? I was the Corpse Upstairs. And in a hushed slander, I was a Yonqui. So what are you? I am something, anything. I am not someone, anyone. You are Man, I am a Slut. Nice to meet you, now bury yourself in me and I'll bury myself under you. Under this.

No one blames a girl as young as I was. I remember and I toe a line and today that line is religion. I step away and the sky cries with me. Catholicism and its Spanish services have drop-kicked me into a category. I have no heart to accept Jesus into. God's just another man who's given up on me. Such a list I have. And my father was the first. One day we passed a crying man in a doorway. A silver chain revealed him as a Catholic and connect-the-dot holes in his arms revealed him as something my father hated. Some dinero for a good católico. "Yonquis," my father said, shaking his head, frowning, walking past. Such an American, my father. Like he'd never begged from a doorway.

I'm caught between wanting to believe I'm worth something and wanting to be worth nothing. That makes sense to everyone but you. A pack of flashlights with batteries costs $8.  How much do I cost? and this is what I'm thinking in the checkout line at Randall's beside my daughter in her rain slicker with its polka-dot drops of water. We're preparing for a hurricane and I swing two bags of ice into our cart. There are only a few bags left and they're all broken. A stupid metaphor flings itself into my head, that my hope is a busted bag of ice on the day before the storm and it'll have to do. We haul ass across the parking lot, but I lack the necessary foul weather gear.

At home, sirens scream on an orange-lit street. All my life, I've lived on ambulance routes and one-way streets. All my life, I've lived on storm advisories and someone else's choices. If I had the romantic option of suicide, today would be the day. A calm before a storm, the wait for the next rush of rain, the siren's lapse. Then there will be hundred mile-per-hour winds and lawn chairs as projectiles and the spines of great palm trees will bend and I will be the cause.

More stupid metaphors. Dead men and yonquis, may I have this dance? Stay tuned, my fellow Americans, for this is only the preview of a preview.
© 2003 Maria Santos

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