The ex-rocket scientist read her story—an in-class writing exercise about childhood betrayal. It was about how, while she was away at camp, her mother put her dog to sleep because she didn’t have the time to take care of it. It wasn’t well written but I still gasped and buried my face in my hands. It had become clear that most of my classmates were damaged people who had shitty parents.
I have an aversion of women who don’t take care of their hair. They scare me. Half of the women in the class are battling frizzy hair and losing. The worst heads belong to an ex-suicidal woman with two inches of white roots and to the woman sitting next to me. Her eyes are smoky and at some point in her life I can tell she must have been much better looking. Her hair is peppered, frizzy and unkempt. I imagine her wearing a dark wig and I decide that, yes, she must have been good looking. She writes her exercises in a small journal. She writes in cursive; in a slant that takes up the whole page corner to corner. It’s her turn to read.
It’s all about how she doesn’t know betrayal because God and Jesus have protected her from it. She goes on and on praising them, her words are fluid and they mask her lies. But she’s not that adept at hiding them. At this point I can feel my body turn cold and hot, cold and hot. The last time I felt like this way I was in a beauty salon in Mexico getting my hair bleached and I wanted to run out screaming. I didn’t and when my grandmother saw me she said in her dog’s voice, “Teresita, they turned you into an albino.”
What am I going to do? I start to tremble from the shivers and hope none of my classmates noticed.
She rambles on about having sex with some boy back in high school and how that was a betrayal of their purity. I catch myself in the act of cringing but it’s too late. I try to picture the face I just made. I feel so trapped. She continues and she talks about her coworkers. Her voice switches from soft to creepy to dark, back and forth as she tells us they are all flawed and how she doesn’t like them and how she pretends to like them and how she eats lunch with them in the break room. Her narrators asks if that’s betrayal. I am filled with fear. I’m not sure if it’s fear of her or fear of what will happen as soon as I start reading my piece. I get cotton mouth and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. She finishes and it’s my turn. I consider making a joke as a preemptive measure, but I decide against it. This is what I wrote:
We were being dunked as a business transaction. I kept on looking at my uncle. He did not approve one bit. He never said so, but I could tell. After months of terrorizing the missionaries with my probing, logical questions I was still made to wear a ridiculous white gown. It was heavy and it covered my whole body, but I felt naked. I betrayed myself and my beliefs for the sake of my family, or rather, I was forced into it and I didn’t put up a fight.
My dad went first and he handled it well. I looked around. All the Mormons in attendance wept, touched by whatever the whole charade meant to them. My mother followed. Mr. Floyd, the bishop, put his hands on her and pushed her down. She was stiff; her resistance was evident all over her face and body. I felt like laughing. She finally went down and when she came back up, water went up her nostrils and she started to choke. It looked awful. I heard my sister’s faint guffaw. I remembered I was a terrible swimmer because I could never get the breathing right. I was next.
It was after my dad lost his money. He was trying to start up a new business. He used to manufacture electronic parts across the border in Mexicali and, naturally, the most logical new business venture for him was an alternative cancer clinic in Juarez. How he hooked up with Mr. Floyd—a Mormon investor—I don’t know. As soon as the business planning started, the missionaries started showing up and spending a lot of time explaining their nonsense. I hated being in that position. I never believed in God and it was never something that was forced on me. My grandmother was a devout catholic but when I told her I didn’t want to go to catechism class anymore because it was a bunch of crap and lies, she responded, “Ok, whatever you want.” I never wanted to be dunked a Mormon.
No one laughed. I don’t know if it was because of the tension we created, or because my frail, quivering voice killed the comedy. When everyone read their piece we took a break. Jesus Lady left the classroom and when I turned to my friend Lucy, she lost it. She told me she almost peed during my reading. I told her I was glad my predicament amused someone.
After the break, it was my turn to read AGAIN, this time our 4-page homework assignment. I wish I had time to recover. My mouth was dry and I was still rattled. I forced myself to relax but I couldn’t because I came to this passage in my piece:
“You? Nothing. We have to raise a lot of money for the goddam nuns,” said Nana, the devout catholic who distrusted priests because they were perverts and nuns because they were sadistic whores.