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Authors: Gabby Rivera

Juliet Takes a Breath

BOOK: Juliet Takes a Breath
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Juliet Takes a Breath
© 2016 by Gabby Rivera


All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, without permission in writing from the publisher.


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.


For more information contact:

Riverdale Avenue Books

5676 Riverdale Avenue

Riverdale, NY 10471.


Design by

Cover art by Cristy C. Road


Digital 978-1-62601-250-9

Print 978-1-62601-251-6


First Edition January 2016


Praise for this ground-breaking first novel


Inga Muscio
, author of


“Even if Holden Caulfield was born in the Bronx in the 1980s, he could never be this awesome.”



Riese Bernard,
CEO of


“Rivera cuts your heart right open with the most original young lesbian character I've read in years, seamlessly weaving together racial politics, awkward teenage romance and a queer coming-of-age that manages to both center on and transcend the identities it represents.


So tender, so real, so crazy-beautiful and earnest and honest and everything you've ever wanted in a queer coming-of-age story but could never find until now.”





Glendaliz Camacho


“Gabby Rivera's gift is for wry humor and pages that pulsate with oh so much heart. Her prose is a friend that lovingly and confidently envelops you and shows you through the beautiful struggle of a young queer Latina from the Bronx.


Rivera vividly conveys Juliet Palante's journey—away from the familiarity of home to the newness of Portland and inward to her Self—as she seeks love, acceptance, and her place in the world.”



Kristin Russo
Everyone is Gay


Juliet Takes A Breath
is an absolute necessity in a landscape that often erases the strength, importance, and very existence of queer, feminist women of color. There are far too many young people who aren't given the opportunity to witness the nuanced journeys of characters who look, think, or identify like themselves. For this reason, and many others, I am endlessly thankful for this beautifully crafted story and the critical conversations that it will inspire around intersections of sexuality, feminism, race, and gender.”




For Christina Elena Santiago aka Nena


We will always be homegirls coming up in the Bronx on the hunt for 32 flavors and then some.


This book is also dedicated to all the round brown girls who are told they aren't enough, who move in the world uncertain if there's room for their bodies, selves, and hearts.


Take all the room you need, camarada.


Make no apologies. Fight hard. Love on each other.


You are a miracle.



Palante * Pa'lante



Puerto Rican slang, also used in Latin America and other parts of the Caribbean.


Contraction of “para adelante” meaning to
move forward.


A call out into the world for our people to always keep it moving










Dear Harlowe,


Hi, my name is Juliet Palante. I've been reading your book
Raging Flower: Empowering Your Pussy by Empowering Your Mind
. No lie, I started reading it so that I could make people uncomfortable on the subway. I especially enjoyed whipping it out during impromptu sermons given by old sour-faced men on the #2 train. It amused me to watch men confront the word pussy in a context outside of their control; you know, like in bright pink letters on the cover of some girl's paperback book.

My grandma calls me la sin vergüenza, the one without shame. She's right. I'm always in it for the laughs. But now I'm writing to you because this book of yours, this magical labia manifesto, has become my Bible. It's definitely a reading from the book of white lady feminism and yet, there are moments where I see my round, brown ass in your words. I wanted more of that, Harlowe, more representation, more acknowledgement, more room to breathe the same air as you. “We are all women. We are all of the womb. It is in that essence of the moon that we share sisterhood”—that's you. You wrote that and I highlighted it, wondering if that was true. If you don't know my life and my struggle, can we be sisters?

Can a badass white lady like you make room for me? Should I stand next to you and take that space? Or do I need to just push you out of the way? Claim it myself now so that one day we'll be able to share this earth, this block, these deep breaths?

I hope it's okay that I say this to you. I don't mean any disrespect, but if you can question the patriarchy, then I can question you. I think. I don't really know how this feminism stuff works anyway. I've only taken one Women's Studies class and that was legit because a cute girl on my floor signed up for it. This girl made me lose my train of thought. I wanted to watch her eat strawberries and make her a mix tape. So I signed up for the class and then she became my girlfriend. But please don't ask me about anything that happened in that class afterwards because love is an acid trip.

Feminism. I'm new to it. The word still sounds weird and wrong. Too white, too structured, too foreign: something I can't claim. I wish there was another word for it. Maybe I need to make one up. My mom's totally a feminist but she never uses that word. She molds my little brother's breakfast eggs into Ninja Turtles and pays all the bills in the house. She's this lady that never sleeps because she's working on a Master's Degree while raising my little brother and me and pretty much balancing the rhythm of an entire family on her shoulders. That's a feminist, right? But my mom still irons my Dad's socks. So what do you call that woman? You know, besides Mom.

Your book is a refuge from my neighborhood, from my contradictions, from my lack of desire to ever love a man, let alone wash his fucking socks. I don't even wash my own socks. I want to learn more about the wonder of me, the lunar power of my pussy, my vadge, my taquito, that place where all the magic happens. You know, once people are quiet enough to show it reverence. I want to be free. Free like this line:


“A fully realized woman is at all times her true self. No soul crushing secrets or self-imposed burdens of shame, these create toxic imbalance, a spiritual yeast infection if you will. So step out into the fresh air and let that pussy breathe. “


I've got a secret. I think it's going to kill me. Sometimes I hope it does. How do I tell my parents that I'm gay? Gay sounds just as weird as feminist. How do you tell the people that breathed you into existence that you're the opposite of what they want you to be? And I'm supposed to be ashamed of being gay, but now that I've had sex with other girls, I don't feel any shame at all. In fact, it's pretty fucking amazing. So how am I supposed to come out and deal with everyone else's sadness? “Sin Vergüenza Comes Out, Is Banished From Family.” That's the headline. You did this to me. I wasn't gonna come out. I was just gonna be that family member who's gay and no one ever talks about it even though EVERYONE knows they share a bed with their “roommate.” Now everything is different.

How am I supposed to be this honest? I know you're not a Magic 8 Ball. You're just some lady that wrote a book. I fall asleep with that book in my arms because words protect hearts and I've got this ache in my chest that won't go away. I read Raging Flower and now I dream of raised fists and solidarity marches led by matriarchs fueled by café con leche where I can march alongside cigar-smoking doñas and Black Power dykes and all the world's weirdos and no one is left out. And no one is living a lie.

Is that the world you live in? I read that you live in Portland, Oregon. No one I know has ever been there; most people I know have never left the Bronx. I refuse to be that person. The Bronx cannot own me. There isn't enough air to breathe here. I carry an inhaler for those days when I need more than my allotted share. I need a break. I know that the problems in the hood are systemic. I know that my neighborhood is stuck in a sanctioned and fully-funded cycle of poverty, but damn if this place and the people here don't wear me down. Some days it feels like we argue to be louder than the trains that rumble us home. Otherwise our voices will be drowned out and then who will hear us? I'm tired of graffiti being the only way to see someone's mark on the world—the world that consists of this block and maybe the next, nothing further. There aren't even enough trees to absorb the chaos and breathe out some peace.

I'll trade you pancakes for peace. I heard that you're writing another book. I can help with that. Let me be your assistant or protégé or official geek sidekick. I can do all the research. Seriously, some of my best friends are libraries. If there's room in your world for a closeted Puerto Rican baby dyke from the Bronx, you should write me back. Everybody needs a hand, especially when it comes to fighting the good fight.


Punani Power Forever,

Juliet Milagros Palante


P.S. How do you take your coffee? This will help me decide if we're compatible social justice superheroes or not.



Part One

Welcome to the Bronx



1. Wolves, Falcons, and the Bronx


We are born with the power of the moon and the flow of the waves within us. It's only after being commodified for our femaleness that we lose that power. The first step in gaining it back is walking face first into the crashing seas and daring the patriarchy to follow.


Raging Flower: Empowering Your Pussy by Empowering Your Mind

Harlowe Brisbane


* * *


There was always train traffic ahead of us. The delay between the cell-block-grey train car and my red brick house on Matilda Avenue,
mi casa
, was long enough to merit the “Assaulting an MTA officer is a felony” sticker on the wall. Without a heads up, I was sure we'd all be busting heads and windows open on the #2 train to the ends of the earth, A.K.A. the North Bronx. Any wait period that lasted longer than two songs provoked collective teeth-sucking, eye-rolling, and a shared disgust for the state of public transportation. I always wondered what would happen if the white people didn't all get off at 96th street. Would it make my commute home to the hood easier? Would the MTA give any more of damn? Good thing I had a pen, my purple composition notebook, and headphones blasting
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
like it was my j-o-b.

The train was elevated after 149th and 3rd avenue, so for almost one hundred blocks the view of the sky existed only above the train station—but no one ever seemed to look up that far. Past the train, there were clusters of electrical wires and telephone poles that looked ready to burst into flames or fall over from a gust of wind. Past that, if you were still looking—which most people weren't—you'd see the sides of never-ending apartment buildings and project complexes. You'd see windows and fire escapes that flowed into black iron bars blocking entry into people's square box apartments. I'd looked through metal bars my whole entire life just to get a view of the sidewalk and the sunshine. This was my Bronx: the North Bronx, the split between the Bronx and Westchester County, the difference between the South South Bronx and the part of the Bronx that no one ever traveled to.

BOOK: Juliet Takes a Breath
2.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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