The last time I saw Marisol, she gave me a pen with a picture of a man in a Santa suit. The kind you turn upside-down and the clothes disappear and the man ends up naked except for the Santa hat. Sometimes I take the pen out and look at the mans body, but it doesnt make me think sexy thoughts. It just makes me think of Marisol.
Marisol had wavy brown hair, green eyes, and a Colombian accent that I only noticed when she got excited. She was 5-foot-10, 3 inches taller than my Dad and she drove a fading red Datsun with orange and yellow stripes. With her rhinestone bracelets, purple eyeliner and kick-ass tan, Marisol was the sexiest girl at the after-school camp where my mom volunteered. She was 16, same as I am now.
The camp was for kids who got caught getting high or running away or hitting their moms. Mainly they only went there if it was their first time in trouble, but Dad said it was one step away from jail. "You keep Ruth away from there," he told Mom.
Mom just rolled her eyes and left the room. When Dad was around, he and Mom ignored each other. I mean, they said hello, but in a mean way, like they really wanted to say fuck you.
Dad was usually out of town on some supposed business trip, anyway. Marisol said he probably had a girlfriend on the side.
"Why do you think your mother does the camp, Ruth?" she said. Then she lit a cigarette and changed the subject.
I dont know if Marisol was right, but Mom gave up on the camp when she and Dad divorced, traded it in for a green belt in karate. And Dad got a girlfriend right away. A girlfriend like a sitcom Dad's girlfriend. Younger and skinnier than Mom. Guess jeans with zippers at the ankles. Purple eyeliner that I guess seemed new to Dad even though it's not in fashion anymore.
Some kids at the camp, including Marisol, had to pee in a cup every week. Social workers came to pick up the pee. They sat in small offices on these big, puke-green couches, and put the samples in tiny, brown refrigerators, and acted like they were interested in what the kids had to say. Nobody knew which day they would show up, not even my mom.
Once, on pee day, this guy named Eddy, who had a Mohawk and an earring and had been caught having sex with a chubby girl named Valerie in a broom closet, touched my cheek and held out his cup. "Cmon, cutie. Its easy for you," he said. He smelled like Halston cologne, Dads favorite.
But Marisol came around the corner, just as my face was getting hot, and smacked Eddys hand away. "Coño, muchacho," Marisol said. "Pee in your own damn cup and leave the jailbait alone."
She crossed her arms, leaned against the wall and glared at Eddy until he went in the bathroom and locked the door behind him. Then she looked at me. "Better watch yourself, kid," she said. And then she took off down the hall, her spike-heeled boots clicking efficiently.
When Mom was in charge, Marisol got special treatment. If there was pie, she got the biggest piece. If there was music, she had veto power. Maybe because she was smart and sassy, like Mom wanted to be, I don't know, but Marisol eventually charmed her way out of the sports hour as a trade-off for picking me up from school.
Out of nowhere one morning, Mom said Marisol would come for me and I worried all day about my little-girl bobby socks. After the final bell rang, there was Marisol, zipping up in front of the school. She wore dark sunglasses and drew raised eyebrows from the moms waiting in their cream-colored Audis and Lincolns. I was excited about getting picked up by Marisol, but in a nervous way, like when school was cancelled because of the riots or Hurricane David.
The night David was supposed to hit, I lay awake in my bed. I pressed on my eyelids and waited for the windows to shatter, or at least for the Bahama shutters to sail off down the street, but nothing happened. I remember the Miami Herald was on our doorstep the next morning. "Weak David Plays Hopscotch with the Coast," it said. And even though Mom and Dad actually talked to each other and we all ate pancakes and I got to skip school, I was disappointed. All that nervousness, and nothing even happened, except that a tree branch knocked a tile off our roof and my parents had to pay some guy to fix it.
Anyway, the first time Marisol picked me up, she drove right back to camp. "Hi, kid," she said, "your mom said to buckle up."
No seatbelt on her shoulder, so I didn't wear one either.
She squinched up her eyes and turned to face me. "Are you gonna narc if I have a Kool?"
I shrugged to show I was cool, I didnt care. "No way," I said.
She gave me a serious once-over before lighting one. Then she turned on the radio. That Marvin Gaye song, "Sexual Healing," had just come out, and I tried to pretend I knew it even though I was embarrassed when it got to the part that goes, "get up, get up, get up, lets make love tonight." I wasnt even 12 yet. I didnt know anything about sex first-hand.
It turned out "Sexual Healing" was pretty much always on one station or another, and Marisol just flipped the dial until she found it. After a week I knew all the words, and after two I squinched up my eyes and sang along. At the part where he says, "baby, I think Im capsizing," Marisol lowered the volume so I was singing alone. When I turned red and stopped singing, she laughed so hard that she choked out a big cloud of smoke and had to pull over. "You like this song, huh Ruth?" she said, finally.
That was the first time she called me by name.
Then she told me about the way sex really happens, how a mans thing points at you when he wants to have sex with you. And the first time a girl has sex it hurts but after that its OK because your dyke gets broken. "Thats why girls who like each other get called dykes, because no man has ever gone inside them," she said.
One afternoon, Marisol took a detour by the arcade so she could meet her dealer, Raul, who wore this bright blue jacket and a skinny black tie. Raul gave her a free quarter bag because she gave him head in the parking lot. I didnt know what that meant until Marisol explained it all to me. She said I could watch if I wanted, but I felt weird about it, so I just played Ms. Pac Man even though I almost never even got past Act I.
When Marisol came into the arcade looking for me, Id already used up all my quarters, and I was sitting on the floor, reading, like a geek.
I thought shed laugh at me, but she just said, "No more Ms. Pac Man?"
"Nah, I suck."
"That makes two of us, honey," she said. Then she laughed and all the boys in the arcade looked at her.
I didnt get it, but I laughed because she did.
Afterward, we sat in the parking lot while Marisol smoked a joint, and it was really hot. Its usually like 90 degrees here, anyway, and her car didn't have air conditioning.
While Marisol separated out the seeds from the good stuff, she told me I should have sex before I got my first period so I could see how good it feels without getting pregnant.
"Baby, you cant get pregnant until you get your period," she said.
But I wondered. You have to have an egg inside you before you get your period, and who knows when youll get the first egg. And wouldn't it be harder to find out that youre pregnant if you miss your first period when you dont even know its supposed to happen? So even though I sometimes imagined lying down in my backyard with Johnny R. from church, or one of the boys at the camp, I knew I wouldnt really do it because I was too scared of getting pregnant. Plus, Johnny R. was too shy to really try anything.
Marisol's first time was in Colombia, under her grandmother's dining room table after Christmas dinner. "Everybody else was in the next room," Marisol said, "but I got under the table and got it on with my cousin's friend Raul. What a fox."
"Didn't it make noise?" I asked.
"No, he put his hand over my mouth and it was fast. I've had sex with 20 different guys, Ruth, and every one was different."
Marisol was on the pill, so she could have as much sex as she wanted.
After the day at the arcade, Marisol sometimes pulled off the road behind Frankies Pizza and got high. Then she bought two slices with extra pepperoni and we ate them on the way to camp. "Hides the smell," she explained.
One afternoon, we actually went inside and sat down at a table near the counter. We ate in silence, and I looked out the window at the sign and thought about how bright it looked at night when they turned it on and the little white, neon lights flashed around the word Frankies.
I told Marisol, and she said, "Sounds like a contact high to me."
I didnt know what she meant, but I didnt want to look dumb so I didnt ask. I just laughed and looked at her dangly earrings.
She frowned at me.
I thought maybe I was taking too long with my pizza. "Do we need to go?"
"Nah," she said. Then she ran her fingers through her hair and said, "Do you think Im pretty, querida?"
I just said yes. I didnt tell her how my mouth sometimes got dry, how my breath caught in my throat when the sun turned her eyes into emeralds, shocking next to her deep brown skin.
My own skin was so pale that when I once got sun poisoning on a family vacation at Marco Island, nobody at school could even tell. "I thought you went to the beach," my teacher said. And then this one kid at school called me "ghost girl," so for a while everybody did.
Anyhow, besides Marisols skin and eyes, she had nice boobs. I knew they were nice because she showed me in a Hustler magazine one time how the best ones are round on the bottom but they still stick out, and thats how Marisols were, big but pointy.
Mine were just sprouting then.
"You stand up so straight, like you want to see them bronzed," Marisol said.
The day after we ate at Frankies, Marisol picked me up from school, as always, but we didnt stop for a smoke break. When we got to camp, there was a sign that said "Congratulations, Marisol!" and a cake, and I gathered that it was her last day. Nobody had bothered to tell me.
At the party, Mom gave Marisol a dumb book for teenagers about taking charge of your life. Making It Happen, I think it was called. And some of the guys gave Marisol candy, with their phone numbers attached. I didnt eat any cake, just sat off in a corner and tried to read my history book.
Afterward, Marisol took me out on the baseball field and gave me the pen.
"Heres what a foxy, naked man looks like, Ruth," she told me.
I was curious to see, but when I tipped the pen over I felt sad. A little bit tingly, but mostly just sad. "I guess I won't see you again, right?" I said.
"Of course you will," she promised, pressing me against her chest.
But when she drove off, her long hair streaming out the window like a flag, I knew she wouldnt be back.
I turned 16 the other night, and I made Johnny R. have sex with me on the golf course behind my house. At first he didnt want to do it. "Ruth, youre special," he said, "and I dont want it to be this way."
Like I said, I know him from church, so that's why.
But when I took off my clothes, he shut up and did what I told him. Like Marisol said, it hurt, and when we did it again it hurt less, but after it was over I just felt lonely and it didnt make any difference that Johnny did all the stuff he was supposed to do. He held me close and stroked my hair, and I think he talked about being my boyfriend or maybe marriage, but I honestly dont remember for sure.
I was mostly thinking about Marisol, wondering how come she liked sex so much. Whether she still wore purple eyeliner and smoked Kools. And why sex with Johnny would bring her to mind
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