by Damari Marichal and Alejandra Almada
“Hey, how are you? Are we still doing the play today?” - Kelly
“Hey, Kelly…. I’m alright. And yeah of course. I’ll see you later.” - Maria
“Listen, I want to apologize about last night. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that. It wasn’t cool. You’re my best friend and I care about you more than anything. I don’t want things to be weird between us… Please forgive me?” - Kelly
“Let’s just pretend nothing happened, OK? I don’t want to talk about it...” - Mari
“Hurry up and get in the car,” Marcos said, as he yanked my arm in frustration. The hostility in his voice was not unusual in the least. He always had these random bursts when something upset him, and I didn’t need to be told twice that he still wasn’t over not being invited to yesterday’s party. Only those who were part of the showcase could go, so there was nothing I could do to get Marcos an invite. He wouldn’t have liked it anyway since all we did was rehearse our lines and party a little afterwards. As I sat down in his 2008 Chevrolet Silverado pick-up truck and buckled-up, I braced myself. The uncomfortable ten-minute ride home became an eternity with all the tension in the air, so I decided to spark a conversation in hopes his mood might lighten up.
“Don’t forget about the Hispanic heritage month showcase after school today, by the way. Although you’re not participating in it directly, you can still wear your zarape either way! Help me represent our people, hermano,” at that point I patted his arm to check if he was listening to me. His muscles were tight and unforgiving, stressed. I continued, “I mean, I do have to head back earlier to get my hair done... at least an hour ahead because of how long it is, but the show for sure starts at four. Just so you can drag Mamá out of the house on time.” We were almost to the house when Marcos abruptly stopped the car and pulled over to the side of the road, taking me by surprise.
“What’s the matter? Pasó algo en la escuela hoy?” I asked him, reaching my arms to embrace him fully now that the car was stopped.
“Que si me pasó algo en la escuela.. Maria, de veras! You can’t be serious. Te tengo una pregunta: me ves cara de payaso? I didn’t say anything yesterday because I couldn’t believe it. Vamos hermanita, confess!” He said, and slammed his right fist on the steering wheel. I noticed how red his face turned. He was livid.
I was having heart palpitations, and after a deep breath to calm my nerves, I turned to face him. “De que estás hablando? Is this about last night? You aren’t part of the showcase so you couldn’t go. We went over this yesterday!”
He remained undeterred. His eyes proclaimed the thought that I was still playing stupid.
“Maria Jose!” He began, and nothing good could possibly follow the invocation of my middle name. “I caught you and Kelly kissing at the party last night,” as the words left his mouth, mine opened in disbelief. He continued, “I passed by last night to see if you needed a ride home, instead I saw you drinking and with Kelly all over you. Now I understand why Kelly wanted to play a male role in your little skit. Eres una vergüenza.”
“Marcos, hermano, por favor... We were drunk. I don’t even want to talk about it, okay? I just want to pretend it never happened. I wasn’t thinking straight, and -” as I spoke, I could feel myself losing control of the situation. Tears rolled down my cheek and I shivered. I feared above all other things that he would tell our mother.
Content with his intervention, Marcos turned away from me, checked his mirrors, and pulled back into the road.
“You know something, Maria? They say that when people get drunk, their true nature is revealed,” he said as if in afterthought, but I didn’t speak another word. It was best to not add fuel to a fire.
By the time we arrived at the house, I was no longer crying and Marcos was too collected for my taste. I went along with it, acting as if nothing was wrong. My mother was sitting outside on the porch waiting for us, dressed to watch me perform today. As we got closer, she stood up and we kissed before entering the house. Marcos was the last one to enter, and in a smooth motion, he shut and locked the door. I turned to look at him and his grin scared me. Then, I saw my mother with a pair of scissors in her hand, certain and menacing.
“Como quieres hacer esto, Mamá?” my brother asked calmly.
“Agárrala mijo, con cuidado,” she answered sternly. Before I had a chance to even react to what was happening, Marcos grabbed me and held my hands behind my back. He was always the favorite, and mom usually took his side in any argument.
“Marcos, suéltame! You both need to stop!” I shrieked. I tried to free myself from his grip, but it was too strong. My efforts were futile. He tightened his grip until he hurt me.
“Mija, tu sabes que te quiero muchisimo. I will always love you, regardless of what decisions you make for the rest of your life. But this decision, esta estupida idea que tienes sobre Kelly en tu cabeza, this I cannot support. It is not real. Kelly doesn’t understand the values that you were raised with, and a life with a woman could never fulfill you. Tu sabes que tengo razón.”
“Mami, dile que me suelte... I was drunk! It was a mistake,” I heard myself beg.
“Escúchame bien,” she said then, pulling hard at my scalp and raising my eyes to her own, “Kelly no te puede amar. She never will. Not only as a gringa, but as a woman as well. Ella solo te puede querer, y vas a ver, hay veces en que eso no es suficiente.” Her grip never softened as she spoke to my brother, “Marcos lower her head,” she demanded. As he did what he was told, my mother tugged my hair while my body bent at the guillotine. I could still see the sharp scissors in her hands.
“Mamá, por favor no! Marcos please let go! Not my hair. At least let me do the show with my hair.” My pleads were in vain. I felt the blades slicing my hair in two cuts, one to take the bulk, another for some form of style. Through my tear-filled eyes, I could see my hair fall in tresses onto the floor. My brother released me as soon as it was over, but I didn’t move from the floor. I couldn’t believe the damage it left in my soul.
It took me a while, but I made it to school around the time I had originally planned. My head felt simultaneously lighter and heavier than before. Everyone was shocked that I decided to get a haircut at the very last minute. I didn’t want anyone to know the truth, so I made up an excuse that almost convinced even me.
Around fifteen minutes to curtain, I changed into my Aztec attire. La Malinche would be harder to play without a curtain of hair swinging behind me, but at least my big brown eyes and flawless accent would help me do her justice. Kelly appeared in the dressing room soon after I finished tying my huaraches. The wig she was wearing was a little big on her head, almost covering her ears, and the hat that completed the ensemble was not much better. She was playing the most infamous of the Spanish conquistadores that invaded Mexico in 1519: Hernan Cortés. The irony of our characters didn’t escape me then, as her blue eyes met mine and centuries of history repeated itself. Here we were again, the conquistador and the conquered.
“Hey Maria, what happened to your hair?” She sounded both amazed and horrified.
“Oh, it’s a long story. Don’t worry about it,” I still felt awkward about the whole kiss situation, but I was trying for the most part to act like nothing had happened. She probably was too. As always, I neglected how well Kelly knew me and how she understood my emotions when most of the time they puzzled me. She reached for my arm and just like that, I felt myself getting emotional again. My eyes watered, proving I still had tears left to cry.
“Did something happen at home earlier?”
“I just argued with Marcos and my mom, you know, the usual,” Kelly’s eyes opened wide although she’d heard the same story a thousand times and her hand began making soothing motions on my arm. Before she could ask anything else, I gathered a deep breath and continued, “He saw us at the party and told her. They did this to my hair.”
“Oh my god, Maria. I’m so sorry,” her makeshift metal armor pushed against the simple cloth of my huipil. “Listen, we can leave if you want,” she whispered in my ear, “We can go get something to eat and talk about it.”
I shook my head and pushed her away kindly. God knows I would have stayed in that hug for a year if we didn’t have somewhere to be in less than five minutes.
“No, Kelly, really, it’s fine. I want to do the skit. You want to do the skit. We rehearsed a lot. Besides, you look nice,” I said, and she blushed. “Let’s just get this over with.” I walked towards the hairstylist that was waiting for me, while feeling Kelly’s eyes on me until I disappeared backstage. I didn’t have much hair to work with; all I got was a quick brush and trim with decorative flowers arranged all around the crown of my head. Happy for the first time in hours, I waited behind the curtains along with everyone else. Everyone except Kelly.
“Okay guys, everyone get into your positions. We start in 2 minutes,” our drama teacher shouted. I moved to the sidelines of the main stage while the kids doing the opening number got into their spots. It was then that Kelly reappeared with something dramatically different about her.
“Kelly! What happened to your hair?” I sounded amazed and horrified, but all Kelly did was smile.
“Since you looked so nice with short hair, I decided to cut my hair too.” I noticed the pair of scissors hanging from her hand as she placed them inside a forgotten box. “Besides, the wig was a No-Go,” she said, extending an unspoken invitation by removing her hat for me to run my fingers through her hair.
Seeing I was frozen, she took my hand and moved it through her locks. The golden tufts of hair were no less amazing than the tresses I could vaguely recall pulling on the night before at the party, or the playful curls she used to have when we first met many years ago as kids. The start of the first act of the night snapped me out of my haze.
“Kelly, though I admire what you did, we are supposed to go onstage in a minute and portray a love story between a Mexican woman and a Spanish man. With these haircuts we’ll look like two lesbians playing at romance...” I said, letting the ideas I heard my mom say before echo out of my own mouth, “they’ll heckle us, or worse, they’ll laugh.”
Kelly’s hands were cold as they reached for my chin, lifting it gently to look into her eyes. I knew then with far more clarity than ever before the extent of what I could feel for her, and perhaps what she might feel for me. Her expression broke me with its tenderness, short hair highlighting the perfect slope of her nose. “It won’t matter if we’re there together. Aren’t we allowed to love too?” she said, looking at me with complete seriousness.
“Okay, Kelly and Maria, get into your positions!” Our drama instructor bellowed, and with that, hand in hand, we took the stage and waited for the curtain to open.
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