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Authors: Rita Williams-Garcia

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BOOK: Jumped
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11
Honking Like a Goose
LETICIA

“N
O, NO
, L
ETEESEEYA
. Do not pronounce the
s
.

“No, no, Leteeseeya. Do not pronounce the
t
.

“No, no, Leteeseeya. Say
aun
,
aun
,
aun
. Feel it! Way back in the throat and out of the nose. Not
anh
.
Aun!

“Repeat after me, Leteeseeya:
aun
,
aun
,
aun
.”

I can't believe it. I can't believe it. Madame LeCoeur has me honking like a goose in the middle of this classroom.

“These vowels are too hard, Madame LeCoeur.”

She scrunches her nose, hating the way I say her name.

“LeCoeur.
Oer
, like
cour
age. Not like liquor store.”

“Okay,” I say. “Then I want Leticia, like Leticia, not like Leteeseeya. That's three syllables—like, one, two, three—so we're even.”

I was hoping that was enough for her to be fed up and transfer me out of her class. Instead she goes back to the vowels and says, “We use everything for the French language: lungs, nose, lips, tongue, teeth, throat. Everything. You have to feel this deep, Leteeseeya. You have to work hard for this. Again.
Aun
,
aun
,
aun
.”

Her bony hands are on my throat and I can't believe this is happening. Minimum effort doesn't work with Madame LeCoeur. Giving my one answer turns into another episode of “No, no, Leteeseeya.” Madame LeCoeur is supposed to say, “
Merci
, Mademoiselle Leteeseeya. Sit back and take notes, Mademoiselle Leteeseeya.” Not “Sit here and honk like a goose.” The Haitians in the class are all tuned in to the show. They're all cracking up and speaking Creole, which makes Madame LeCoeur call out, “Silence,
s'il vous plaît
!”

If the sophomore band can play “What a Wonderful World” with the clarinets squeaking and the trumpets blasting out of tune, why can't I get through these vowels the best way I know how? Why do I have to be singled out, all eyes on Leticia? Why must French be so hard?

 

It's not my fault Spanish is overcrowded and Señora Roberts doesn't want one more face to look at. It's not my
fault I didn't fix my schedule when I got it in the mail. By the time I opened it, the deadline for changes had passed and there was nothing I could do. Honestly I thought it was the usual “Here's your class schedule, Leticia. Good to go” letter. How was I supposed to know it said, “Look here, Miss Leticia Moore. If you want Spanish, you better speak up. And by the way, you know you have to repeat geometry, right? You know you failed, right? You know you got to get here forty-five minutes early while everyone else squeezes the last five minutes out the snooze alarm. You know you gotta sit with Miss Palenka and the rest of the repeaters.”

Well, I have a solution to this entire situation. Take the Puerto Rican kids, the Dominicans, the Mexicans, the Colombians, and the Ecuadorians out of Spanish and give them two periods of English as their foreign language. They don't need more Spanish. They
hablan con mucho gusto
already.

I took Spanish I and II. I can conjugate the
ar
and the
er
verbs. I can answer in the positive and in the negative, in the present and past tenses. I can roll the double
r
's and halfway work that tilde. I can break out what they saying at the corner bodega when I pass by.
Fat ass
sounds the same in every language. It's how they say it. Since they like that fat ass, I know they're saying it in a good way. I
have a shot at not only passing Spanish, but of getting an 80 or higher as long as it doesn't get too tricky.

Let's face it. French isn't anything but a trick. Not one word is said the way it's spelled, or you have to dig way back into your throat or your nose to say it. That's why the French were afraid of the Germans. They knew the Germans were coming to change their language. Have you heard German?
Achtung
, baby. Sounds rough, right? Not that I'd want to take German, but I can see why Germany was through with France. France thought she was cute with all her invisible consonants and invisible lines, and Germany was trying to keep things real.

12
Write Naked
TRINA

I
LIKE THIS CLASS
.

I like Ms. Bauer.

I like how we usually start with journal entries before we open
The Grapes of Wrath
.

This morning I'm not liking this class so much. For the first time, I draw a blank. Blank page. Blank me. It doesn't happen often. In fact, it happens never, so I don't know how to be. Silent. Still. Waiting.
Nada.
Blank. Damn.

It is strictly hot-pink ink for the journal entries. My pen is used to rolling across the sheet, right, back to left, right, back to left, moving so fast the tip stays kissing the paper with no letup, no liftoff while I race to the clinker. The closer. The winner. Whatever they call the last line that's so good it makes the room holler “
Oh, shnikies

when you want to say “Oh, shit,” or makes you say “
Deep
” for “double damn.” No curses in Ms. Bauer's class. She says, “There's too many words to only use the same lazy three.” Ms. Bauer keeps a bar of soap for dirty mouths in her desk—
what?
—that's for real.

I always speed-write, rolling along the lines, breathing fast, smiling to myself because my journals are funny and the class is dying to hear me read. Ramón, Josh, Devlin, and them chant “Tree-na, Tree-na” when they catch me writing and giggling. I never disappoint. It's always the “Oh, shnikies.” Never “That's deep,” like when Nilda reads from her journal.

Today the topic on the board is “With ________ I am complete.”

In case you don't know, Ms. Bauer is a Ms. She'll tell you straight up: “Mizzz Bauer.” Don't say Miss, Mrs., or Ma—like you don't call your favorite teacher or your mean teacher ma. You know you do.

Ms. Bauer smiles at the confusion on our faces. Ma says, “Fill the blank line with an item or a personal attribute, like a sense of humor if a sense of humor makes you complete. Maybe it's a person or pet.” She tells us to write without stopping. Write without caring. Write naked.

Who wouldn't laugh at that? Even though Ma got a barbwire tattoo around her wrist and green soap in her top
drawer, nobody is writing. Everyone's riffing on writing naked. Ramón tells Michael and Devlin to put on some clothes. Devlin says, “Trina, you heard: Write naked.” But it's not just me they say it to. Before you know it all the boys are telling all the girls, “Get writing. Get stripped.” Except Nilda. Something must have happened to Nilda because she is like a dead saint and you respect dead saints. Ramón and them don't say “Write naked” to her.

Ms. Bauer is used to us. She doesn't panic, slam the textbook against her desk, or take out the soap. She holds up her right hand and says, “Pens up,” which means “Get serious.”

All silliness stops. Twenty-two hands find pens. A few kids still dig for pens or beg to borrow. I roll my hot-pink pen against my lucky gold chain, waiting for a thought to come.

When we are serious, ready, Ms. Bauer says, “This is private writing.” That means we keep it to ourselves. No sharing. For me that means no “Oh, shnikies.”

 

Five minutes is all the time in the world to spill out what makes Trina the full, completed Trina. Or does she mean if I had fill-in-the-blank I would be complete? I just sit quiet. I stay blank.

When the class is quiet like that, you hear everything. Hard breathing. The clock ticking. It's weird.

Start with the heading. Name, class, and date. I write the title. “With ________ I am complete.”

Although I'm sitting still, there is crazy scribbling around me. I hear the pens tearing up paper. Lines of looping, crossing, dotting. They're off and running like skinny greyhounds gunning the racetrack. They are writing naked.

I play with my lucky gold chain and I remember how lucky I am. That I have talent pouring out of me and I'm always showing them, sharing them. I know why I'm not writing naked: My life is good. I am complete. I don't wake up wishing I had clothes and money. What I have is good. I don't say, “I need more this and I'll be set.” What I have works. I don't want green eyes, blue eyes, hazel eyes. These light brown eyes set me off just right in Picasso perfection—except my eyes aren't painted on my tatas; they're where they belong. It's about the perfection. I'm like art.

I don't look at someone's shoes and say “I want those.” I don't see Malik, the darkest of dark chocolate, all smiles and muscles—
what?
—hugging Natalie and be jealous. Even when Malik licks his lips at me, I don't start drawing our names together and plotting for him. I know
what's up. If Malik and I are supposed to be hugged up down B Corridor we'll get to that. But I don't have that hunger like I have to break open the Mounds bar to get to that coconutty smile. I can't say biting into that would make me complete.

There's no things—no pets, no person—to make me complete. Just Mami. For a little woman Mami is big like a blanket. What? Can I breathe with all that Mami wrapped around me?

When I'm racked up sick and have to stay home with her, we laugh at those stupid women who are 1,000 percent sure that Jerome/Julio/Jethro is the baby's daddy, only to have their faces cracked on live TV, ten million people watching. Keisha/CoCo/Kaitlyn still brings her business to the people and now Jerome/Julio/Jethro's mama is doing her dance around Keisha/CoCo/Kaitlyn's body, wagging her finger while Jerome/Julio/Jethro raises his hands like he's gone platinum at the Garden and Keisha/CoCo/Kaitlyn is down on the ground kicking and crying buckets and saying “I'm so sorry…” because you can't deny the DNA.

And after Mami and I have our laugh she feels under my chin and says, “
Bueno
. Getting better.”

But she still doesn't tell you who your father is and what he is.

You still don't know how your own DNA coil is wrapped. You still don't know zip about that missing part of you or where he is.

Mami says he isn't important. And when you see yourself in the mirror and you look good and you have everything going for you, you know she is right. Whoever he is, wherever he is, at least he gave you the best parts.

Then I start to giggle. Two minutes left and the hot-pink ink is rolling. “Can you imagine not looking like this? Not being like this? No. I'm complete. Life is good.” I make sure I write that:
Life is good
.

13
Get Involved
LETICIA

T
HE
PA
CRACKLING FIVE MINUTES
into homeroom means one thing, and the whole class, including Mr. Adelman, knows it. Jessie and Turtle are already out of their seats to dance to fifteen seconds of “Get Up, Get into It, Get Involved.” It's still too early in the day to hear James Brown screaming at you, telling you what you're supposed to do. And it's never the right time to hear Principal Bates coming in on the scream, telling you to be a solid school citizen, show school spirit, and get involved with service activities. Principal Bates is full of ideas on getting our attention, getting attendance up, and getting test scores up. Bridgette and Bernie love Principal Bates's enthusiasm. I wouldn't be surprised if that's Bridgette and Bernie's
Best of James Brown
CD on loan, screaming through the PA.

Even though the music plays for fifteen seconds,
you know it's JB. You can't just shake JB out of your head. From now until the 2:45 bell rings I'll hear JB, the hardest-working man in show bidness—according to Bridgette and Bernie—tell me to get up, get into it, get involved. The school shouldn't be allowed to do that. Mess with your subconscious. Anyway, if my mind goes blank for more than five seconds and I want to daydream about Chem II James, JB is sure to grab the mike, the one right next to my brain's ear, and holler, “Leticia! Get up, get into it, get involved, get involved.”

What Principal Bates should do is find a song called “Mind Your Business.” If people minded their business everything would be straight. Contrary to popular opinion, “minding your business” is a misunderstood term. To mind your business is a good thing. A smart thing. More people should do just that. But tell someone to mind their business and they get hot. Instead, if you listen to what's being said, your response should be “Thank you” when someone says mind your business. They're just freeing your mind. It isn't your concern. You don't have to worry about it. Go on about your business.

Leticia Corinthia Moore is all about her own business. If it concerns Leticia, then Leticia becomes the fact finder. Why? It's a fact about Leticia and therefore it's Leticia's business to know. And by the way, Bea concerns
Leticia, so Jay telling Leticia to mind her own business is void and nullified because what concerns Bea concerns Leticia and vice versa.

Now, what is on Dominique's mind is none of Leticia's business. So if I, Leticia, tap Dominique's broad shoulders and say, “What's going on between you and Trina?” and she says, “Mind your business,” she would be in the right, and I would be in the wrong. Why? Because what's going on between Dominique and Trina don't have anything to do with Leticia Corinthia Moore. It's a Dominique-Trina line, not a Dominique-Trina-Leticia triangle. Why? Because I'm not in it. It's not my business. Therefore, I stay out of it. But if I pull Trina's coat and say, “Trina. You know Dominique?” Trina will a) rustle up what crew she can get, b) cut out and run after lunch, or most likely c) confront Dominique and say, “Leticia said…”

See, it's those two words,
Leticia said,
that cause problems. Because what should Leticia have done in the first place? Minded her own business. Half the turmoil brewing happens because so-and-so didn't do what? Mind her business.

When you get down to it, we don't even know what's on Dominique's mind. Just because she smacks her hand at 7:52 and says she's going to beat that ass doesn't necessarily mean she's going to kick Trina's ass. She might have
been mad at 7:52 then forgot all about it by 8:52 and by 11:52 be smacking her hand declaring a beat-down on the lunch lady.

A whole lot can happen in one hour. How many hours are we in school? Eight? Nine? That's a lot of hours to be hot about trifling nonsense. And isn't that the point? I don't know what any of it's about. I don't know if Dominique is playing or not, and why is that? It's none of my business.

Besides, I have my own crisis to deal with. My own priorities. So I take my own advice and raise my hand to get the pass from Mr. Adelman.

BOOK: Jumped
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