We tell Marisol’s story at sleepovers. We tell it after we play Light as a Feather and call the devil on Angel Valenciano’s cellphone (666-6666) and say Bloody Mary in the mirror three times with the lights off. We sit in the floor in a circle, our knees touching. We turn the lights off.
Marisol was Eva Alcalde’s second cousin. Marisol got pregnant when she was sixteen and died giving birth to the baby. We take turns telling her story. Jasmine says that she looked like an aswang, her pale face and dark hair almost frightening, even before she was dead. Hannah, Justine, and Grace say that she looked normal, just like us, with tight, shining braids and skin that turned an even, clean shade of brown in the summer. Karen says that Marisol’s knees turned inward. Angel says that she was beautiful, with long, dark hair and dark eyes shaped like cashews.
“But,” we said, “We all have dark hair and dark eyes shaped like cashews.”
“And we’re all beautiful!” Angel would reply, smiling big. So corny. On Sundays, she would say the Lord’s Prayer with more fervency than the rest of us, her prayer beads clutched so tightly in her hands that they left little red indents across her wrist.
Marisol’s boyfriend was no good. He drove a motorcycle, he took bets for boxing matches, he did drugs. The bad kind. The up-his-nose kind. He got her pregnant and left her when she didn’t want to have sex anymore. He dated another girl, Elsa Rivera, and got her pregnant too, only they got married. He lives in Portsmouth now.
Marisol gave birth in a McDonald’s bathroom. We told the story a little differently each time. Sometimes, we imagined that she sat down to pee and a baby popped out instead, its skull cracking against the toilet bowl. Marisol fainted and never woke up. Sometimes, we imagined that she had the baby while washing her hands, the blood coming suddenly, the baby sliding all around the floor. We try to picture what the baby looked like. So skinny you could see its spine. So fat that Marisol couldn’t push it out all the way. So perfect that the little girl who found it in the trash thought it was a doll and brought it home to play.
Her cousin Artemio, the manager, found her on the floor and brought her to the hospital where she died later that night still holding her baby/not holding her baby/with the baby’s umbilical cord wrapped around her wrist like Angel’s prayer beads. Her Nanay and Tatay were so ashamed that they moved back to the Philippines. No one heard from them ever again.
We argue about the ending. Some of us think she died of a broken heart. Some of us think she died because she was a Filipina whore. Jasmine thinks Marisol didn’t have a baby at all.
“She probably just pooped too hard and everyone made a big deal out of it. I bet she died of embarrassment,” she says.
But what we were most interested in was the sex. We wanted to know where they did it and how they did it and why they did it. We wanted to know if they kissed first, or if they just had sex right away. We want to know how they kissed. Jasmine is the only one of us who has kissed a boy (Robbie Pineda kissed her at a funeral last summer, his tongue briefly touching hers), and sometimes we ask her how far we should pucker our lips when we kiss. We practice in the mirror and she tells us—too far, too far, just right. Karen says that Marisol and Rick had sex while her parents were at Mass, and they didn’t wear a condom. That’s why she got the baby. Justine says that they did use a condom, only it was expired, and she heard that they didn’t work all the time, anyway. Hannah says that her sister told her they did it in the park. Grace says they did in the graveyard on Halloween while dressed up like ghosts. The baby was cursed from the start. Angel says it was an immaculate conception. She says Marisol and her boyfriend prayed together, that they wanted the baby, and that the baby was a blessing.
“At sixteen?” we ask.
It is the summer after seventh grade. We spend every day that June at the neighborhood pool, wading in the shallow end with girls we know from Sunday school, nice Catholic girls with bad haircuts and bad teeth. We exchange lame bits of gossip—“did you hear that Cheryl’s sister got a belly ring? Did you see Stevie and Sam kissing at Hannah’s birthday party?”—and stare at the high school girls, our older sisters and their friends, who spend all day soaking in the hot tub and flirting at lifeguards with frosted tips. We do not speak to them. At the pool, our sisters are different. They do not yell or roll their eyes or whine about who got the TV remote or do any of the million things that usually annoy us. They do not pay attention to us at all. At the pool, they spread their brown limbs out and flick suntan lotion onto each other’s backs and stick their tongues down the throats of boys whose sweat stains run almost to their waists.
We try to ask our sisters about Marisol. We follow them into public restrooms. We watch them stub their cigarettes out against the wall. We ask them what it all means.
“You’ll understand one day,” they say, but we want to know now. They leave us. We pick their cigarette stubs off the floor, cup them in our hands, and pretend.
We ask our mothers. They tell us to stay mahinin and sweet. They tell us that when they were in high school in the Philippines, boys and girls kept a healthy distance. Maribeth’s aunt had a boyfriend when she was just sixteen, and her parents forced them to get married even though all they did was kiss. Once, Becca’s mom shared an umbrella with a boy, and her mother slapped her so hard that her teeth cut into her cheek and blood pooled on her tongue. Her mother told her to spit it out, but she swallowed it, over and over again. Our mothers tell us to keep ourselves pure. They tell us to pray if we are tempted. They ask us if we want any advice on saying no to boys.
No, no, no, we say. But we cannot ask our mothers our questions. We want to know how it feels inside of you and outside of you and how badly does it hurt? What if Marisol and Rick had used a condom? What about the other kinds of birth control? How many ways can you kiss? What does it feel like to have a boy’s hands on you and around you and do you—
Our mothers tell us that American boys will ask you if you are a virgin and laugh if you say yes and call you a whore if you say no. Our mothers say too many American women are whores, giving themselves away like it’s nothing. Our mothers tell us that Marisol died because she didn’t know how to be good.
“You are Filipinas,” our mothers say. “You should know better. Don’t be like those Americans.”
We don’t say anything. We do our chores and wait for our mothers to smile at us, scrubbing until the tips of our fingers are wrinkled and pink.
DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH