Authors: Rita Williams-Garcia
For the memory of my father,
James Jasper “Russell” Williams,
who gave me my first pair of boxing gloves
Â Â Zero Period
Â Â Stretch, Roll, and Go
Â Â Killing Time
Â Â On Speed Dial
Â Â H-o-t C-h-i-c-k
Â Â Social Interaction
Â Â Imaginary or Not
Â Â Polypeptide Jam
Â Â All About the Angle
Â Â Think Cold War Russia
Â Â Honking Like a Goose
Â Â Write Naked
Â Â Get Involved
Â Â End of Song
Â Â Turn It Around
Â Â Like a Dead Saint
Â Â Damaged
Â Â All-Ball Girl
Â Â Slamming on the Brakes
Â Â You're Going Down
Â Â Break Me Off a Piece
Â Â It's On
Â Â Boy-girls
Â Â Girl Fights
Â Â Hey
Â Â Ignore
Â Â Bing, Bang, Boom
Â Â Truth in Art
Â Â A Worthless Treaty
Â Â Duncan, Bench
Â Â Girl Most Secretly
Â Â Band Practice at Three
Â Â Jumped
Â Â Artist to Artist
Â Â Celebrity
. You got that right. Fail one math test and you're up before the first chirp of day. Up before streetlights turn off and sun rays shoot through the blinds. Fail one math test and you're stepping over a snow-covered homeless lump to get to the stop, shiver, and wait for the city bus to pull up to your boots.
None of this had to happen to me. None of it. Having to set and wrap my hair at 8:00
instead of 10:00. Making Celina wake me because my alleged alarm clock won't do what it's supposed to do when it's supposed to do it. Getting dressed in the dark because a hundred watts are too hard on my eyes at 5:45.
If not for those missing thirteen points, my mornings would be calm, not chaotic. A 52 on the final and they wouldn't pass me. They couldn't scrape up a point here, half a point there to make up the thirteen. They
SHOW ALL WORK
in the test booklet, so I did that. I showed them my sides, my angles, line BEC bisecting line DEF. I did my part. What was the sense of showing all that work if they had no intention of doing their part? The missing thirteen are there in the booklet. Had they dug deep enough, they would have found them. I would have passed.
Mr. Jiang knows he doesn't want to see my face this spring semester. I aggravated him fall semester like he aggravated me. This was all on him. He should have done the right thing for both our sakes and passed me along to Geometry II with Miss DeBarge.
Why Bridgette or Bernie didn't handle things immediately, I can't understand. Neither took time off from their jobs to confront Mr. Jiang or strike a deal with the guidance counselor. No. They just let Jiang fail me. Bridgette shook her head and Bernie dipped his biscuit into the gravy but no one gave Leticia a second thought when all they had to do was show up. Speak up. Do what they were supposed to do.
Anabel Winkler's grandmother loved her. Anabel's grandmother talked to the guidance counselor and fixed things so Anabel could attend summer school after this semester. That's why Anabel is still wrapped up tight in her Hello Kitty comforter crunching Z cookies.
If someone loved me, I'd be turning over in the warmth and safety of my queen-size bed. But no one thought to open the envelope addressed to the parents of Leticia Moore that offered the choice between summer school and rising at an ungodly, unsafe hour in the chill of near night. I know the school sent the letter. The school's very good about mailing letters to the house, and Bridgette and Bernie are usually pretty good about reading them and following up with the “talking to.” Bridgette and Bernie knew to look out for the letter from the guidance counselor's office. They knew it was coming. They signed the blue booklet with the big 52 on the cover under
Parental Signature Mandatory.
But when the guidance counselor sent it, and the postman delivered it, the parents of Leticia Corinthia Moore, aka Bridgette and Bernie, didn't bother to open the envelope. They just fed it to the recycling bin like it was a bill. That's right. My do-not-pass-go card was recycled into toilet paper and Starbucks napkins, not doing anybody a bit of good.
It's not enough that I have to get up before the world turns and watch newspaper chunks hit the streets and block-long McTrucks unload McFood crates. I'm stuck watching gears of the working world shift just so I can take an “extra help” math class I get no credit for. It's like being in school for free. Like working behind a counter
without getting that five twenty-five an hour. Or five fifty-five. Whatever next-to-nothing they pay kids to dodge french-fry grease. Except you get up, risk your life waiting in the dark to sit through slow-motion Geometry and get no credit. Two periods later you're still repeating Geometry I, still looking at Mr. Jiang's face, and he's still looking at your face. You get nothing for being in “extra help” math before the world turns. For all this chaos you get zero. Period.
I dig down in my bag for my schedule but the lady cop waves me through. She knows my jail sentence and my big face by now. Zero period doesn't miraculously disappear from your schedule. Once a class is stamped in the column that's grayed out for everyone else, you're stuck. You're a zero-period regular and the cops know it and wave you through.
Miss Palenka isn't a full teacher. She's still in college getting her practice on us, probably getting paid zero, and that's about right. But she's nice, wears okay outfits, and takes her time explaining until everyone looks like they got it. For the next twenty-five minutes I'm present, tak
ing notes, breaking down the proofs until ten minutes before the bell rings. By then everyone is arriving, congregating outside, and I can't write another given. To us stuck inside, the milling and laughing sound like a party, and who wants to be inside when the party is going on outside?
I try to sit through it, but how many ways and times can she demonstrate a ninety-degree angle in a right triangle? How many times can she say right triangles can only have one right angle? How many times can she point to the hypotenuse? Right, right, right triangle. I got it. I got it. Please don't say it again. But there she goes, working hard for her zero.
Pen down. I'm done listening to zero for zero. I need to be outside where the dirt is fresh and the gossip is good. I need to catch it all while it's clicking and flashing: what they're wearing, who they're with, and what they're saying. I need to sashay myself within twenty feet of Chem II James and let him get the ball rolling. Can't do that from inside here, so I scribble a bathroom pass right quick and raise my hand.
Can you sign my bathroom pass?
Miss Palenka points to the clock. I have to wait until the bell rings. She's determined to be that firm no-nonsense high school teacher, hip to all the tricks.
I can't hold it, I say. And I'm squeezing my thighs and sliding from one end of the chair to the other. It's a standoff: she's acting tough, and I'm acting my ass off.
The minute her chest collapses and she heaves that sigh, I rush up there and shove the slip of paper under her nose. There is nothing to acting. If you have parents, you're a natural-born actress. I'm out the door like pee is shooting out of me. You know I have my bag with me and I'm not coming back.
I don't run this fast for gym, but the thrill of getting out and being in the mix has got me trotting like a fat cop on foot in a TV chase scene. I get to the nearest stairwell and stop. Not these stairs. They'll lead me too close to the front. Too close to the hall patrols. Instead I go all the way to the back, side stairwell. I'm so happy to be on my way outside, happy to get out of zero period, so happy to be at the top of the stairs. I take one, maybe two steps andâ
Oh my God.
? No two browns alike. Squeeze some red, some yellow, black, vanilla,
into brown and you come up with pretty people.
. Nice and dry. Ready for the gallery.
Mixing comes natural. It just ought to. Not only am I mixed to perfection, I have aptitude for art and colors.
What would that school mural look like without truly, truly yours to add life? The walls would look like the walls at my old school: a couple posters of ash brown Dr. King, Rosa, Malcolm, and the gang to greet you in the morning. But hang my art on the mural, you walk down C Corridor andâ
âBlack History Month, but colorful. Pretty. With a point of view. And that's what I do. Add color, my crazy point of view, andâ
âI make you look twice.
Reds for Malcolmâget it? Harlem Red. My Harriet, stopping traffic in greens and yellows. And my Rosa surrounded by hot pinks and cool pinksâRosa
roses? Don't be ridiculous. What?
Gotta get there before everyone. Show Mr. Sebastian where to put Malcolm, Rosa, Harriet, and Dr. King. Check it: surrealism. “I Have a Dream” that looks like a dream. Mr. Sebastian will go crazy.
Don't get me misunderstood. I don't love being up this early, but for me, no problem. I don't do a lot to look this way. My lucky gold chain hangs around my neck, asleep or awake. A quick shower, a spritz of Passion Pink, my killer outfit laid out ready for me to jump into. I just stretch, roll, and go. Yeah, yeah. Rocking the hot-pink warm-up suit because all eyes will be on me. What? Don't hate because I got it like this. Kisses to Mamiâ
âstill snoozing. Thanks for hooking it up, Mami. I didn't have to come out all gorgeous.
In case you're wondering, that's not conceit. It's just fact. It's like when you see a Picassoâthose colors, those shapes, those crazy mixesâand you hear the music in the paintings, you can't help but say, “That's dope.” When people see me, they see walking art. They pause because the hair is bouncing, the light brown eyes are twinkling without trying, the skin is caramel and crÃ¨me, the galletas
are shaking, the body's untouchable tight. What? They can't help but stare or step up. No milk mami tatas, no big legs, no fatty patty on this rack of perfection. Who needs extras when you can stretch, roll, and go like this?
Whether I glide down the street, across the way, or down the hall. Nothing to weigh me down. If I want to skip like I'm six, I skip. If I want to run like Road Runnerâbeep-beep,
! But I'm not conceited. I'm not cold. I leave the lookers with the famous Trina shaky-shake. You can't catch me, but I give you a little treat and everyone's happy.
I'm a crowd pleaser, custom blended. Half Latina with a little this and a little that. It doesn't matter which what, like it doesn't matter if a girl has a blue eye blinking this way and a green eye blinking that way in a Picasso. It's all about the colors, the mixes, the shapes, the music. Like me. Color. Mix. Shape. Music.
Oh, I've seen it go wrong. I've seen it go totally wrong. Your mother thought she hooked it up, but you come out a Ripley's Believe It or Not! sideshow. Your mother thought you'd have long Hawaiian silky, but you got Brillo puffs. Your mother thought you'd have golden brown skin, Bit-O-Honey skin, vanilla crÃ¨me skin, and surprise: your mother's greasing blotchy red, ashy dull skin. Or your forehead is too damn big, or your nose
don't go with those cheeks, or your lips are too pink for the skin. It can go wrong. Like I say, horribly, horribly wrong.
People always ask, “What are you?” trying to figure out all the mixes. Instead of “I don't know” I say, “One hundred percent Trina.” Go ahead. Ask. How much time, how much money I spend on hair? Answer: next to nil and hardly
. Shampoo, conditioner, blow, and go. What? My hair is like my face, is like my body. Good to go, so why mess with it?
Officer DaCosta can use a shot of joy. She can't be happy, wearing that navy blue uniform every day. No color. No shape. No variety. Don't she wish she could wear this hot-pink joint or something like it? She is navy and black from head to toe. Silver-plated badge, nameplate, white stripes on her sleeves. When she stands you can see her accessories on her belt. Club, cuffs, radio, thick writing pad, space where a gun would go. Wears flat, black cop shoes. Her nails are square and unpainted. No rings. No jewelry. No makeup. Not even gloss.
I arrive just in time to brighten her day. Instead of trouble, I have nothing but prettiness to show her. I peel off Harriet from my tube of painted beauties. You've
never seen Harriet look so good. I gave her a green and yellow dress with matching head scarf instead of that gray you see her wearing in the history books. Makes sense. Camouflage, for hiking in the woods.
“I have my own spot on C Corridor,” I tell Officer DaCosta, “for Black History Month. You should come. Check out the gallery.”
She nods and gives me all the compliments. Creative. Interesting colors. Different. Talented. She doesn't know the artist's language, but that's all right. I translate how she means each word.
To Officer DaCosta I'm a cup of coffee, extra sugar
. Her eyes are open and smiling although she gotta be Officer DaCosta: on the job. With just a little color, a little smile, I've made her day. She nods me and my artwork through.
I have only a few minutes before the halls are flooded. I don't want anyone else to get a sneak peek. Can you imagine all those adoring kids going crazy for my artwork? They might tear the paper or smudge it trying to get a closer look. They'll crowd me and be like “Tree-na, hey.”
I almost can't stand myself. I have that sugar-rush hyper feeling because it's my day. I'm already a standout, but today I'm set to star.
I'm bouncing along, my artwork in hand, and then I ease through these girls where B meets C. “Hey,” I say, though I don't really know them. The boyed-up basketball girl barely moves. The others, her girls, appreciate the hot pink and step aside.
It's okay if they don't speak. I know how it is. They can't all be Trina.