Every day there is the exaggerated slurping of my mother drinking her coffee. She occupies a small table by the wall that is overrun with knickknacks, sticky placemats, and unopened mail centered on the table where napkins should be.
“Morning, Mom,” I say as I bend down to kiss her cheek.
“I heard you on the phone last night,” she says. She slouches there in a navy sweat suit, frizzy bangs, and a careless ponytail as if my father just left last week and not nine years ago.
“Mmm hmmm,” I say slowly.
The kitchen is cramped; two people fit uncomfortably here.
“I’m sorry, mom. Boy trouble, the usual,” I say in an overly peppy voice.
She shakes her head at me. “It’s not fine, Xaviera. Not fine at all. You’re too much like your father.”
The refrigerator is crowded with memories and magnets. Tacky fruit magnets hold up pictures of me in elementary school, me in Puerto Rico with my grandmother the last time I saw her, and a picture of me and my parents when I was younger.
I turn away from her. It’s not an insult like she thinks.
“You three are really going? Steve asks with a mouthful of broccoli. “What if she chops your titties off?” The rest of the kids around the lunch table bust out laughing.
“Shut up, Steve. What do you know about Santería?” I say.
That’s the problem with these Whitney School kids, all this education and you’d think they’d be less apt to make stupid ass comments. Me and Melo are the only ones from Spanish Harlem here and as much as they sweat us for being from there, it doesn’t stop them from lapsing into their privilege. And hanging around them so much, me and Melo sometimes participate. Melo more than me because she enjoys all this rich shit, but every day I have to go back home and smack myself back into reality.
My new boyfriend, Anthony, makes fun of me. Hey, little princess, you want some tea? Is your chauffeur waiting for you? He goes to public school and is just some guy from around the way. And sometimes I fear that he might look at me in my black sweater, with “The Whitney School” scripted in pink over my heart, and think that I’ll walk down these streets one day and see him as something else, or as nothing at all. Like the ones before him.
Ever since I’ve been at the Whitney School, I’ve had nothing but dating problems. Back in junior high school, all a boy had to be was cute and dress nice. Now, I’m looking for a boy that’s smart, likes the things I do, and is going to go to college some day. But I don’t go out with any guys from the Whitney School. Most of them are white and the few black guys here just seem corny. It’s enough that I’ve made friends and that I play on the lacrosse team. I’m starting my third year, but at first, it was hard here. Me and Melo didn’t even bother trying to make friends with anybody; we figured they would just be stuck up. But Tania and a couple of other girls who were in our classes were nice to us a few weeks into our first semester here.
Tania, who is a Park Avenue girl all the way, is making the trek uptown with us today to the botánica. Even though she’s Puerto Rican, I know she’s never been to East Harlem before and I’m sure that she’ll sit here tomorrow during fifth period lunch and regale them with stories of the big bad ghetto. But she wanted to come when she heard we were going, in fact insisted. She says she has problems too.
I’ve known Melo since we were in the third grade and even then boys would turn away from their marbles to sit by her during recess. But now, some boy, Chris, a transfer student, won’t give her the time of day so she’s bugging out, hence her sojourn with me to the botánica. But to me and the majority of the world Melo is through and through exquisite. She doesn’t realize that she is one of those girls that 99% of the time will never be alone. And Tania, no matter what, is vivacious; her laughter can be heard across the school cafeteria. In the end, if she doesn’t have a boy, she has herself.
And me? I come from a long line of spinsters. On looks, sure we could get a man, but there must be something in our hearts that sends out signals. Like a snake ready to strike. So I have boyfriend after boyfriend. Anybody else would have been branded with a big “S” on her school uniform, but my strength emanates and they don’t. They find weaker ones to brand.
On this long line I want to be a shining star, different from my mother. I want that pounding of the heart that I’m sure somebody promised me when I was young. Some neighbor, male or female; family friend; doctor or nurse--not knowing my family’s charred history--must have pulled up my pigtails and looked at my open face and said right into my ear: “Someday some man is going to be lucky.” And I took that to mean that I would be lucky too. Symbiosis.
Tania keeps giggling at everything she reads. We try to ignore her even though we have matching uniforms on and it’s obvious to anyone that we’re together. We should have brought her tomorrow, Friday, when we can wear what we want to school. The moment we’ve been waiting for, or rather dreading, arrives. She calls me and Melo over to her from across the store. She hasn’t taken into account, either, that the store is the size of my living room.
“Oh, my god. Xaviera! Melo! Come look at this. It says that to get a man you have to go to the mountains. Take ALL your clothes off. Mix some menstrual blood with rat feces and smear it on you!”
The customer at the counter makes a point of rolling her eyes at us. We navigate our way toward Tania trying not to break the ceramic statues of Jesus and Santa Barbara that seem to follow our every move. We reach Tania and try to remain serious, but as always she infects us. Lizard tongues for love. Lettuce and hair to get rid of your enemies. Milk and honey to solve your money problems. We giggle and gasp with her until Doña Serrano, the woman behind the counter, finally comes over.
Women dressed like her are the kind we make fun of in the halls of the Whitney School. Bright blue leggings and an oversized yellow T-shirt with a company’s logo barely legible. “Alex’s Autos. Springfield, MA.” And I wonder how many arms poked out of that shirt to travel here, to a botánica in the middle of Spanish Harlem. 116th and Lexington.
“Te puedo ayudar? she asks.
I understand her, but I edge Tania towards the front, just in case. Even though Tania is from the wrong side of the tracks—Me and Melo’s code for the rich kids at the Whitney School—she probably speaks Spanish better than all the people who live in East Harlem.
In the meantime, I try to get my courage up. Think about how I first met Anthony. It was four months ago at the Puerto Rican Day Parade festival. Melo pointed him out saying, “That’s the one. That’s the one you usually like.” I laughed, but his look was familiar. Curly black hair, wearing the latest gear. We kept looking at him and his boys until he finally noticed. He brought me an alcapurria and a coke. Anthony was the first boy from my neighborhood who told me he wanted to go to college since I’ve been at the Whitney School, so, naturally, I swooned.
I pray that this woman speaks English. I step up and say: “Love spells,” even though I know it’s probably not right to call them that.
She looks us over and smiles. She reminds me of my grandmother. And not in some superficial way where all old people look alike. But she really does look like her. Caramel skin that is still taut but makes you feel like it’s wrong. That it would be far more attractive and true to this person’s nature if it were crinkled and creased. And she has the same short white afro.
“What kind of spell are you looking for? Do you want him to love you more? Less? Do you want to use him and then throw him away? Do you just want his attention…?” she asks.
“Well I want my boyfriend to stay with me and fall in love,” I say.
“But you’re la hija de Changó,” she fires at me. Then pointing to Melo. “Yemaya.” Then Tania. “Oshún. You three must make all the boys melt.”
That’s what she called me. La hija de Changó. My grandmother first, now her. I don’t know much about Santería--my mother’s keeping her knowledge on the hush hush--but I hope that this woman is for real and will show us something.
“So, you’re all alive I see. And you, Park Avenue Princess, I see you didn’t get robbed,” Steve says the next day at lunch.
“Steve, one day I’m going to bring your white ass home with me and drop you in the middle of East Harlem with no cab money to get out,” I say.
Steve speaks and sprays. He always talks with his mouth full. “Latino boys love me, which is more than I can say for you and Melo. So, I’m sure I can find a way out.” He swipes at the ketchup running down his chin. “Anyway, back to Tania, how was it?”
I wait for Tania to sell us out and talk about how nasty she thought our neighborhood was, but she surprises me.
“It was fine, Steve,” she shrugs her shoulder. “It was just a normal New York neighborhood. Nothing scary about it.”
Melo smiles at me. Tania sees the neighborhood the way me and Melo have always seen it. Tall stone buildings, worn sidewalks, and intermittent graffiti that is just regular to us.
“Well what did you get? How does it work? Steve asks.
Tania looks at me, and I speak up. After all, my grandmother and my father knew all about Santeria. “First, the woman, Doña Serrano, told us we were daughters of certain orishas. Meaning we have the characteristics of these gods and they protect us too. My orisha is Changó. He’s a warrior and kind of a player. ”
“Uh huh,” Steve says rolling his eyes.
“You asked Steve. Then she told us to buy candles and pray to our saints. So we did. But I also bought a book about the history of the religion.”
“Ok, but do you think it will work?” he asks.
“Well, when you fall in love with me Steve, you can let me know,” Tania says and the rest of us start laughing.
“Ok, that’s when we know everything has gone a little haywire,” he says.
As we leave lunch period, I think about how far me and Melo have come. I realize how comfortable we are here now. I had never been real sure about Tania before. I had never met a Puerto Rican like her, one with money, and she talks just like the white girls at the Whitney School and she looks white. Me and Melo have been to her house plenty of times, but we’ve never invited her over to ours. Not even yesterday. But now, I imagine it’s something we could do.
Since I’ve been at the Whitney School, my guidance counselor, Ms. Kennedy, has been on me to do well in my classes and take advantage of the education I’m getting. This is my guidance counselor from the program me and Melo are in. The program gets smart kids from certain neighborhoods to go to these rich kids’ schools. Ms. Kennedy grew up in Harlem, went to a boarding school and was one of the few black students there, so she thought it was a good idea for me and Melo to go to the Whitney School together. So we could have each other’s backs. Thank God for Melo. Without her, I would feel completely lost. But me and Melo are lucky in that we got to stay in the City and didn’t have to go to boarding school like some of the other kids in our program.
Ms. Kennedy has been like my academic mother, the one that looks out for me in terms of school stuff, and she likes to sometimes give me regular mom advice too. She says that once I get to college I can meet a boy on my level, that I shouldn’t waste my time with these boys from my neighborhood, that they aren’t going anywhere. What has happened with every guy that I’ve met since being at the Whitney School is that we’ve just had little in common. Like with all the boys before Anthony, things started to go badly between me and him. I try to talk to him about the things that interest me, art, lacrosse but he doesn’t get any of that stuff and he just stopped trying. The only thing we can agree on is hip-hop.
But I still see things in Anthony that other people don’t.
I’ve been studying for the PSAT’s, so I’ve used that as an excuse to stay away from Anthony. I told him it would just be a few intense weeks where I would have to be on lockdown. While this is all true, I’m also giving my mini-Santeria time to work. My mother refuses to answer any of my questions about Santeria, and the closest I came to learning about it was when I was thirteen. I begged my mother to send me to PR after I got accepted into the Whitney School.
“She’s older now. I don’t know.” I overheard my mother hesitating on the phone while talking to my Tía Chucha in PR.
My tía won her over, though.
When I was in PR, my grandmother, who hadn’t seen me since I was six, examined me, held me by the shoulders, and finally said, “Tu eres la hija de Changó.”
“Mai, you’re going to scare her, and you know what Carmen said,” my Tía Chucha cried out.
“What? What does that mean?” I whined. It was clear my tía and grandmother had big mouths, and I was excited at the prospect of all these family secrets tumbling from them. But with a quickness they got as tight-lipped as my mother.
I could see the relief on my mother’s face when I got back home the following week. She was in a talkative mood as she helped me unpack, so I thought I would try again. “Can I ask you about abuela being a Santera?”
My mother freaked out. “You didn’t see anything, did you? Your Tia Chucha told me mami doesn’t do that anymore.”
“No, they wouldn’t tell me anything. It just slipped out one day. Someone said something about it.”
My mother took a long breath and shook her head, “I just don’t like to talk about that.”
“Why? Did you see something?”
“Yeah, yeah, I did.”
I let my questions sit in the air in the hopes that she would answer a few of them.
My mother started to pick at the crusted stains on her sweatshirt. “I used to see my mother do the consultas. The women were in so much pain because of love and the men were so desperate for money. It was just sad.”
“What did abuela do, exactly?”
“Ceremonies. She would do the ceremonies. Orishas would come and take over your body. Whenever they wanted.” My mother got quiet.
Then, in a soft, sad voice she said, “I hated the next morning. Having to clean up all that blood from animals sacrificed the night before.”
I pressed her for more information but she closed the suitcase and the conversation.
As she left the room, she said in a firmer voice, “I left Puerto Rico as soon as I could because of that. Your grandmother was pissed. Said I would let our family traditions die. But the truest thing she said was because your father had been initiated as el hijo de Changó, and I hadn’t been initiated, he’d have all the power and I’d have none.”
I don’t know how to build an altar, but I clear off a corner of my desk and place on it a picture of me and Anthony, the candle, and a picture of my mother when she was 17. It’s black and white so it doesn’t capture the prettiness of blue seas and pink houses. She sits on a horse in the middle of Arecibo, the town where she was born in Puerto Rico. There is a car coming towards her in the background, but she smiles for the camera with glorious brown hair at her side. Tia Chucha told me that I looked just like my mom when she was my age. I love how audacious my mother looks in this picture. It’s in my room now because my mother got tired of me always digging through her photos to find it, so she just gave it to me one day. From this picture, I know that she imagined a different life for herself. That even though she may not have had grandiose plans for her life, never dreamed of being somebody important or rich, she did not imagine the life that she has for herself now. She never wears make-up. She never tries to be the pretty girl captured in this picture. She’s quiet. When she comes home from work, she sits in the living room and watches T.V. Her life revolves around herself. I sometimes come in and watch in silence with her. I like being with her because I think that if I am present, even if I am quiet, maybe she can remember, remember how she used to be.
“Changó has three girlfriends, well one is his wife, Oba, Oshún, and Oya” I tell Tania and Melo.
“Yup, that sounds like you,” Melo adds.
“Shut up,” I respond. I’ve invited them for a sleepover because I was finally able to fix up my room. I’ve always envied Tania’s room. It’s like one you see in movies. There’s a bedskirt, ruffled pillowcases, and an intricate beaded duvet that covers a down comforter. I couldn’t afford all that, but I was able to save enough money to buy a bed in a bag set. It’s not the same quality, but everything finally matches and it’s not a hodge podge of pilled blankets and thin sheets.
“Three? Does he have a favorite?” Tania asks.
“His favorite is Oya, she’s the most like him; she also rules lightning. But he’s married to Oba, but I think Oshún loves him the most. She’s always doing this illmatic shit to get his attention,” I say.
“For real? Like what?” Melo asks.
“Well, she got Oba to cut off her ears and serve them in a soup to Changó. Oshún told her it would make Changó stay.”
“Dammnnn. I guess that does sound like you,” Melo says to Tania.
“I would never be that mean,” Tania says innocently.
“Wait a minute, hold up, Oshún is the goddess of love, right? Why can’t she keep Changó? Melo asks.
I put my index finger up in the air, take a long look at my book, but I can’t find an answer to that question.
I am super excited to take Anthony with me to the Ritzy, our annual fall ball at the Ritz-Carlton. Plus, I haven’t seen him in weeks. Me and Melo have never gone, but this year we were determined to go, so we saved up all summer long. He’s excited to go with me. This is the first time he’s seeing my other world. I’ve told him about what the people are like at the Whitney School, but there is a big difference in me telling him and him seeing it for himself.
As soon as we sit down, Tania comes over and says, “Quick, what does ‘sycophant’ mean?”
In unison, me, Melo, Chris and Steve say, “Boot-licker.”
“I’m glad everyone has been studying,” Tania says.
We are all taking the PSAT’s next month, so that’s all we have been talking about at school. Every time we see each other, it’s pop quiz time. I hope Anthony doesn’t think it’s retarded.
“Yeah, too much,” Steve says. “I hate all this pressure. Tomorrow morning I still have to meet with my Kaplan tutor. I tried to get out of it but my parents wouldn’t let me.”
“Damn, I’m skipping tomorrow. I’ll be too sleepy to pay attention. But I feel guilty too,” Chris says.
“I heard that years ago, the teachers arranged for someone to come into the school on the Thursday after the Ritzy, to make up for the missed session tomorrow, since so many of us don’t go,” Melo says.
“I wonder why they don’t do that anymore. That would be super helpful,” Tania says.
“Anthony, are you taking the PSAT’s too?” Steve asks him.
“Not that I know of. Is that a city-wide exam? Xaviera’s been talking about it, but I just thought it was something y’all were doing,” Anthony says without looking directly at Steve.
Chris looks down at his plate, Steve rolls his eyes at Melo, and Tania is trying to hold in her laughter. My face starts to prickle. I start to feel waves in my stomach rolling over and over again, then falling away. I don’t want to look at him, so I stare at the students dancing to “I Will Always Love You.” Oshún is the goddess of love and marriage. When a woman wants a man she consults Oshún. She should buy an image of Oshún in her Catholic form, Our Lady of La Caridad del Cobre. Buy a yellow candle. Place a picture of the man she wants on a small plate and pour honey over it. Oshún has an arsenal of herbs, vegetables, and magic that will always make a man succumb to a woman’s desire.
Yet Oshún cannot keep the man she wants.
I find that remarkable.
If she fails herself, what of the rest of us?
I imagine Anthony at the Puerto Rican Day Parade festival. I taste the alcapurria. See his smile.
When I look at Anthony again, I will that shame away.
When I get home from the Ritzy, I sit in front of my altar and think about my grandmother. I hadn’t seen her in years when she died. I wish that I had spent more time with her to see what this gift actually is, to see if I have it. I like thinking about how there is this one thing in the world that could set me, us, apart from other families. But it’s just been cut off, and I wonder how my mother had the power to break away from our family and not from other things. Because it seems to me that loving my father has been the more detrimental choice. Even though she was the one that broke up with him, she’s never really left him.
A few weeks after the Ritzy, Anthony takes me to his mother’s birthday party so I can meet his family. Everyone is going to be there, his mother, his three sisters, and a bunch of cousins. I make sure to look really pretty and be extra nice to his mother. I even say the couple of words that I know in Spanish to her. Anthony walks me around the room and introduces me to everyone. He seems so excited to have me there, and I think back to the first day we met. He tells everyone how I go to some fancy school, and I like how proud he seems of me. Then his cousin Angela from the Bronx has a stank face before she even meets me. She has red lipstick on, blond highlights in the front of her hair and weighs at least 300 pounds. She has gold doorknockers with “Angie” written on them, and I know she’s going to be trouble before she even opens her mouth.
“So you’re Anthony’s new girl,” she says.
“Yeah,” I respond in my most stank East Harlem voice.
She sucks her teeth at me and is like, “You talk funny. Where you from?”
“I’m from across the street.”
“Oh, I thought you might be from Park Ave or something. Why do you sound like a white girl?”
I hate. Hate. When people tell me I sound like a white girl. This is the moment I always dread. Ever since I have been to the Whitney School, it’s like everyone I meet knows I have gone through some life change and this is the inevitable outcome. I try to calm myself down as I am surrounded by Anthony’s family and I don’t want to be a bitch, but at this point Anthony starts laughing.
“Yup, you do sound like a white girl. I was trying to figure that out this whole time,” he says.
“I don’t sound like a white girl. I’m just educated.” Now that shuts them both up and they both start mad-grilling me and I am pissed. I look at Anthony and I feel like an asshole and like he just spit on me, all at the same time. And I’m not sure what I should feel more. Never before have I put up the educational differences between me and Anthony, at least not to him. And now I think that it might be true, what Ms. Kennedy said, that you can never go back and the moment I walked through the doors of the Whitney School things would never be the same again.
There is another story about how Changó went from being a man to being a god. He was killed as a baby. But he was the first child born to the new generation, and on his thirteenth birthday he should have spilled his blood on a tapestry that denoted the birth of a new era of men and leaders. So to honor his lineage, his people made him a god. The Changó in this story is not the young warrior full of braggadocio. Lost from his mother, father, sisters, and from the people who would have taken care of him, and lost from the women who would have loved him, this Changó seems melancholy. He lives the life of an orisha, high in the sky. Not a better life, though, as nothing sticks to him. This one remains lost.
“She called me a white girl! That stupid, fat bitch, called me a white girl. Can you believe that? I wanted to deck her. She’s lucky she’s Anthony’s cousin.”
“It’s mad annoying. I mean I could see where they could call Tania that because she does talk like a white girl, but us...naw, I don’t think so.”
“But what pissed me off was that Anthony just stood there laughing like what Angie had to say was the funniest shit ever. Man, I wanted to punch him too. I mean, I’m his girl.”
“Yeah, well it’s like Ms. Kennedy always says, we can’t be going out with these boys from around here anymore. I mean, sweetie, at the end of the day you’re going to go off to college, hopefully an Ivy League one, and what are you going to do with a guy like Anthony?”
“Well, am I going to go out with some white boys, some corny dudes from our school? That’s not my style and never will be.”
“No, but I think that Ms. Kennedy is right, we will be different people at the end of this, no matter how much you want things to stay the same. Like someone like Chris is cool. You know, someone from the hood, but who at the end of the day will end up in the same place that we will.”
“I hate how everybody treats us like we’re different. It’s like they assume we think we’re better than them and that’s not even the case. I mean we go to school every day and we see how different we are, and then we come home and it’s the same shit.”
“Yeah, I hear that. But when you’re 30 and successful, will any of this matter?”
“Yes, yes it will matter.”
“No, Xaviera. No, it won’t matter. You won’t even remember Anthony.”
I’ve been confused about what I should do about Anthony. I’m not sure if I can make this work. I haven’t seen him in weeks, and I figure it’s only fair to make a decision. He’s called me once since the party. I never called him back and he didn’t try again. But tonight, I decide to go and find him.
I run into him at Jefferson Plaza with Diana and David--two kids I went to junior high school with. I am happy to see them as I haven’t seen them in years. Anthony kisses me and the mix of beer and gum tastes sweet in my mouth. He asks me how my classes are going, if I’ve gotten all my studying done. He continues to drink his 40. He doesn’t mention the whole party thing at all. And in my head I keep making excuses for him; I decide to wait until we are alone to see if there is anything he will say about it. We drink, laugh and bullshit for a while, then Anthony grabs my hand and takes me to the back of the projects.
“So what’s up, you’ve been really busy lately. Is there anything wrong?” he asks.
“No. You know, school’s hard.”
He mumbles, “Okay.” And he leaves it at that.
In my imagination, he would push more, trying to find the truth of the matter. He would know that I was not being completely honest and would know that I want an apology.
“Well, I’ve missed you,” he says.
That makes me smile. He rarely says that anymore. And that makes me feel a whole lot better. He grabs my hand and leans down to kiss me. He shoves his hand in my hair. Runs his hand up and down the front of my shirt. He gasps for air, and then clenches my skirt in his hands and rushes in. My arms wrap around his neck, and I squeeze my eyes shut. I think about the first time we met,…trying to conjure up any happy image,…anything to resuscitate. And I wonder if it is like this before someone dies. I look behind him at the playground me and my cousin Jessy used to play in. My eyes trace the familiar scrawling of the hopscotch squares. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. Where would my rock land now if I threw it?
I walk around the neighborhood for an hour by myself after leaving Anthony. I know what faces me when I go home. On the streets, I have to retain my composure. I can’t cry. I asked Doña Serrano for love, but it’s really me who doesn’t love. I see couples walking down hallways, holding hands, talking about first loves and I don’t love anyone. No boy, ever. I like them, but I never truly feel what I think I am supposed to. For me, there always comes a moment of rupture, a moment where I just can’t look at them the same way. Sure my heart palpitates, but it always seems like I love someone who is never there.
But, I don’t want to be like my mother, weighed down by this love that can’t be fixed, that is always rotten. Or like my father: careless with a human heart. When I leave, it’s usually because of something I can’t name. Something that lets me know that what we are doing is no longer right, no longer good enough. That moment has come with Anthony, even though I tried to stave it off.
I end up by my old elementary school and through the gates I stare at the front steps. The first place I was ever kissed. I remember how that first kiss felt like a starburst, and nothing has sincerely felt like that since.
I muster the courage to go home.
Luckily my mother is not up when I come in. By the time I reach the altar on my desk, a torrent of tears has washed down my face. And I no longer care about what is right or true. I throw myself on my knees in front of my altar. “Please Changó, make me love him. Make him love me. Please Changó don’t let me be all alone in this world. Please Changó….” My words spew out of my mouth faster and faster. “Please Changó….” I don’t want to be alone any more. I beg until the tears fill my mouth. I punch my open hand, and eventually have to put a pillow over my mouth to make sure that I don’t wake my mother up. I bang my head against my mattress, then I lean against my bed until I have the strength to crawl in it. When I do, my mother knocks and comes in.
“What’s going on?” she says softly.
I shake my head because I can’t answer.
“Is it about the boy?” She guesses.
I nod my head.
She comes over and gets in bed with me and pulls my body up against hers. “I know. I know,” she says as she kisses my forehead.
She holds me for a long time before she speaks again. “That picture,” she says as she clearly stares at her photo from Arecibo. “Your father took that picture. He captured me in a way that I never would be again.” She sighs and strokes my hair as my body hiccups against hers.
“Did you ever regret leaving him?” I ask.
My mother puts her chin on the top of my head. “It’s not regret…only because whatever you want the most is probably already gone. I wanted your father like Oshún wants Changó. At the end of the day, that’s why I didn’t want to get initiated,. I didn’t know if I could be like Oshún, if I could resist using all that power for myself. Oshún, whatever she really wants, she doesn’t want it through magic.”
I see Oshún in her abode surrounded by all her accoutrements of magic. I see how she has loved him, danced for him, spread honey on his lips. And I see her stop. That is as far as she goes. Then I know Oshún does not fail herself, she could do anything to win Changó. Instead she chooses to chase, tempt only for so long, and lets him walk away. Because what must be cajoled will never stay and she has never wanted to be the third wife, third love.
I nod my head, and my crying calms down.
When I first read that Changó exchanged the power of divination for the power of dance, I thought it was stupid he would make that trade. But I can see it now. Dancing is a way to connect with people, to touch them, a way to find his way back to a gaggle of bodies in unrest, bodies moving and crushing on top of each other. And maybe Changó is just like the rest of us. He wants to be touched amidst all those shifting bodies, and he wants someone to stop and hold him too, and for just a few minutes in time over and over again, he doesn’t want to feel so lost.
I think about Anthony. I think about it all, and I give each its destiny back.
I start stories with an idea. I don’t plan the whole story out, I don’t start with a character, I start with a small kernel of what the story is about, and this story first started with the idea of a girl going to a botanica because she wants love. As I revise (and revise), I apply more meaning to the story or more meanings inevitably start to surface. Now, “La Hija de Chango” is about how education can separate us from all that we previously knew; how we can feel so lost from our communities, and about how we struggle for love that probably isn’t meant for us.
This story is part of a larger collection I recently finished, Love War Stories. In this collection, many of the girls are trying to figure out what it means to be a woman and what it means to be in love. Clearly, these girls find truths they weren’t ready for.
Ivelisse Rodriguez was born in Arecibo, Puerto Rico and raised in Holyoke, MA. She holds a B.A. in English from Columbia, an MFA in Fiction from Emerson College, and a Ph.D. in English-Creative Writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Ivelisse’s stories have appeared in the Boston Review and Vandal, and one is forthcoming in the Bilingual Review.
She currently lives in Jersey City, NJ and is an Assistant Professor of English at Borough of Manhattan Community College.