4. Marina and Ginny Confront

Marina marched into the classroom ready to take Ginny on. She walked through the tables to the front of the room where the two black spinning blackboards were scrawled with white chalk. After her tears came the rage. It was sitting in her chest, a stick of dynamite about to ignite. She was not good at talking straight to anybody and when she did it she pissed them off, berated them the way her mother had berated her.
But this was a literacy class and they were reading the world for truths.
“Literacy is for taking charge of our lives. I’m proud of you that you are using words to fight for power in this class.”
She saw Ginny sink into her seat alongside Lula's in the table closest to the door, where she always sat. Lula looked up, her square, transparent face rigid with terror. They’d guessed what was coming. Marina looked around and saw everyone had. Claraberta rose from her front seat and looked at each of her classmates. She screamed, “Words are for telling the truth to people’s face.” Marina was speechless for a moment. Here was someone standing up for her, not just in secret, Claraberta taking charge, taking on Ginny in front of the entire class.
Claraberta walked over on her six inch heels to Ginny’s seat, opened her notebook, and grabbed the signed petition slipped between the pages. She shoved the paper into Ginny's hand. “Here. Read it out loud. If you can read.”
Now a chorus erupted from the whole group, “Read it out loud. Read it out loud. Read it to her face.”
Ginny looked at the table, shuffled her feet under her chair. She liked to instigate and gossip but she didn’t like to be shown up. The chorus of 'read it out loud' rose and some students stomped their feet and banged on the tables. Ginny looked up. Marina felt pity for her terror. “Would you like somebody else to read it for you?” She offered this to all the students too afraid to read their writing out loud. Or had someone else written the petition for Ginny? Claraberta grabbed the crumpled stack of stapled sheets from Ginny’s hand and gave it to Marina. She scanned the handwritten words.
Miss Marina is indisnt. We want a moral ticher she respex the Lord.
The signatures were few: on top was Merce Salas, the cook who fixed the meals for the Day Care Center on the first floor of Centro Libre. The other two names were the volunteer kitchen assistants from the church across the street. The three names under that Marina didn’t know, but they were all Johnsons like Ginny, mothers, sisters or aunts. Lula's name could only be there because Ginny confused or scared her. Other than Ginny and Lula none of the other women in the class had signed.
She handed the papers back to Ginny.
“I want to say one very important thing about literacy.” She looked at each woman. They were all looking at her, even Ginny. “This is exactly what reading and writing is for. To set down what you believe and try to get action around it. This is why we have this class and I am actually proud of Ginny for taking action about something she believed in.”
Ginny had her confused look. Am I being played? Is this the way this is supposed to go? Is what's happening a good thing or a bad thing? Marina handed her the papers. “Go ahead and read this. Stand up and be proud of what you wrote.” Ginny rose. She was short and square. She held the papers and mumbled, stumbling over the word indecent. Marina half expected her to run out the door but she sat down.
“If you feel this way was there any other thing you might have done?” Marina waved her hand in a circle. “What do you think? When you disagree with what I do, when you disagree with a story the group has written, when you feel what I’ve written doesn’t fairly represent what you believe, what else can you do?”
Claraberta spoke first. “What I do is I come and tell you. We’re here to tell each other what we really think. That’s what this program is for. You tell us over and over. We have our thoughts. We have our voice. We have different minds. We’re here to speak them.”
Marina nodded. “But that can be very hard to do.”
She wrote on the board. “What are we afraid will happen if we speak when we disagree?”
Lula stood up. “We can be beaten .”
Claraberta called out, “Nobody’s going to beat me.”
“Sometimes you can’t stop them.” Lula said. She held out her scarred hand. “This is from when my Aunt poured hot water on my hands because I sassed her.”
Dora nodded. “Speaking the truth when she disagreed got Tomasa Monte killed.”
“You want to clean your house first before you bring in the neighbors,” Claraberta said. “Why did you have to go gossiping to Mrs. Mitchell and May in the kitchen, giving them our stories to read? They're the biggest gossips in the place. Those two women in the kitchen gotta know pastors are the biggest sinners, always got their hands under somebody’s skirt.”
Lula rose again. She spoke softly and rarely and when she did the others got quiet so that they could hear. “Can we make this into a story?”
“That story you gave them was about made up people. The one you you got us into is real. The story of us.” Claraberta stood and faced Lula. “We got to clean up this mess we made. We gotta work this one out. We gotta make a new ground rule.”
Marina walked over to the list of ground rules on the side blackboard. There weren’t too many. Listen with respect. Everyone gets to talk. Make I statements not You statements.
“What is the rule this time?” Why don’t you all work in small groups and come up with your rule, then have your scribe write it down.
Marina walked around the room sitting with each of the four work groups in turn. When they were busy thinking and writing Marina loved them best. When they found their minds in a space she had created she felt like a hen wing, a better mother to them than to her own child.
While they worked she took some minutes to water the avocado and mango plants Claraberta had planted from seeds and put on the back window sill. She turned them, they bent to the light. From where she stood by the window she watched Ginny argue with Lula, slap the table with her flat hand. Whether or not she’d lose her in the class she wasn’t sure. Sometimes she wished she’d go away. She reached for her journal.
“Why am I afraid to speak the truth when I disagree?”
In my family you wouldn’t live if you did. There was the official rule of Papi and the unofficial beatings upheld rule of Mami. There was no room for me to speak. Did I speak the truth to Ginny now? Did I tell her, ‘Do you know how much you hurt me? How much I wanted to hurt you back. Beat you up?’” Even now I can feel my childhood terror vibrating through me.
She could feel the migraine piercing her right temple but made herself call the group together and ask who wanted to read aloud their rule.

Marina stood in the crowded train clinging to the balance pole, barely able to open her eyes. The metal roar shuddered through her. She wanted to stop the cascade of images from the confrontation in her class. She shuddered thinking of Ginny attacking her behind her back then going silent when she was confronted by the others. The pain in her eye aimed to stop the cascade of images from the dream she never let herself remember,the nightmare version of the moment she managed never to remember except after the dream. Hanging on the balance pole, pain piercing her right temple, she remembered. Last night she had the dream.
The dream memory had first come to her that morning as she marble rolled her way to work, just as she passed the high wall of the police headquarters, one of the spots in the City she thought of as ‘real’, so that she had made her mind focus instead on the red brick wall of the police cuartel and across from it the cast iron buildings that she read once were abundant in Old Town in Ventura, the historic center of the Capital. It so happened this morning was a sunny one, already the clouds were burnt off and when she looked up at the almost blue sky and the memory again flooded her with a terror so intense she had to stop and steady herself, she forced it away. She stopped. There was one particular brick, brimmed with soot and chipped, that she preferred to the other bricks. She stood and stared at her brick. She set off for work again. It was then the migraine began, a migraine fueled and fanned all morning by Ginny's attack.
And now as she stood on the train hanging on to the balance pole just as the boys had stood the day she lost them, she couldn't stop the memory. She felt herself become the boys, small, hanging for balance on the pole in the shuddering train. She filled with their terror, she saw through their eyes how Marina and Julia were torn away from them by the surging crowd that pushed its way to the platform. She shuddered. Tears poured from her eyes. Dear Machi how scared had he been? He was just five years old when she and Julia left him and David behind on the train on the way to the Grito Day Parade, when they failed to hold onto them, protect them from the force of the crowd bursting onto the platform, when they let the crowd tear them from their children.
This time the images became unstoppable like the noise and pain. In the recurring dream she was always on the platform, horror movie dark, the train doors had just closed. She stood there powerless, helpless, guilty. Through the glass panes of the train doors she saw the two boys screaming. Machi and David. She'd scream at him to find and pull the emergency chord. But he couldn't hear her. Then the train was gone, the track was empty. The terror woke her.
The dream she must never remember was of the memory she dare not go to of the moment she could never undo when she and Julia lost the boys on the train on the way to the Island Day Parade. Hanging onto the subway pole, eyes closed, it struck her that the dream was also about her death. She would die,leave her son, and his life would go on to places where she could not help him. Not long after losing him on the train, as she got him ready for sleep, Machi first asked her about death, about her own possible death. She invented the Machimbili stories. The little boy traveled through space in a ship made out of his mother’s love. Her love would sheathe him, shield him, when she was gone. Did she believe this? To what war ravaged, impoverished, under water, denuded, sci fi, dystopic world would that train take her son?
She pushed her way further into the subway car closer to the seats, past the burly man blocking her, erased a seconds long image of hacking him with a machete. She hung from the subway bar, leaned her head against her arm and imagined what might happen if she said to the man dozing in the seat beneath where she stood, “I’m going to pass out. Let me sit.” Or hacked him with a machete for being a seat have. Because she had mean thoughts her right temple pierced and radiated to her jaw and to a pinpoint spot on the left of her right eye socket. She prayed to not vomit. She opened her eyes onto the tunnel wall speeding away from her as the train sped forward. The graffiti on the walls streamed, softened by her blurred vision. On the floor of a dark abandoned station platform she saw bundled human forms. That humans lived there brought sudden tears and the tears relieved some of the pressure on her eyes. Were migraines a disorder of crying? The terror over Ginny’s hatred of her had made her want to cry and she hadn't been able to be that vulnerable and humiliated with all the students watching. The train stopped and the man on the seat beneath where she stood pushed past her. She collapsed into the seat and closed her eyes. She smiled at the thought that now she was one of the seat haves she forgot the seat have nots.
Her first migraine had happened when she was around 11 years old, probably hormonal she guessed now. She hadn’t said a word to her parents. She’d lain on her bed, pain piercing that same spot on the left side of her right eye sure she would be blind by morning. It came to her she’d never see her parents again so she got up and defied her Mother’s strict rule enforced by beatings to never stir from bed. She walked to the hallway and stood by the doorway to the living room where her parents couldn’t see her. She took a last look at them sitting in their mimbre rocking chairs watching a half dressed vedette dance a rumba on the tv show Cabaret pa Gozar.
Next morning she could see and the pain was gone and she told them nothing. Maybe she’d made the whole thing up. The headaches came at least once a month from then on and she decided they were caused by the rule she’d made for herself to never have boy love fantasies before going to sleep at night. Boy love dreams about the novios she would one day have had been the best way she could while away the long hours between her bedtime right after dinner and getting sleepy. But then she’d heard Papi say during the saludos after church, to one of the church abuelas, how much he hated little girls with novios. She’d added no boy love dreams to her rules. To protect herself from Mami’s dictatorship she’d constructed one of her own. She wrote out a schedule: rise at six, ready for school fast, homework the moment she got home before she even thought of going downstairs to the park on her skates. The rules she gave herself on baths were secret, she didn't write them down. One day she showered in water with soap. The next day she took a dry bath. She sat in the tub and rubbed her limbs with her hands until she formed little worms of black dirt.
Because it was the prohibition of boy love dreams that caused the migraines she was allowed boy love dreams when she had one. Later in the City her first friend Lizzie bounced her aching temple off her shoulder when Marina let it collapse there on the days when she got a migraine in school from rules, especially the rule to not eat lunch but go to the library to write death poems instead.
She zombied off the train and walked up her old block. David was on the corner with three other boys. She waved. She wanted to ask him, 'why aren’t you in school?,' but didn’t want to be a paramaternal commando. Climbing the stoop to Ori’s home which had once been hers she realized she hadn’t called to tell him she was coming. If she were Ori she’d have changed her locks by now. She pictured him in bed with the girlfriend who was maybe moving in, the one who’d gotten her naked, bizarrely, by offering her a shiatsu massage. Suddenly there Marina had been lying on the floor of her own old living room on a quilt while Liuba moved her hands all over her skin sometimes squeezing her so hard she flinched.
But the house was empty. Ori must be at the paper. His shift changed as befit the rank of
mainstream journalism underling, a rookie, a spic reporter sent out to do ‘color’ stories no pun intended. Ori had been her boss at the party newspaper and she was jealous of his ability to write faster than he could think as if the words sprayed directly from his mind to the page, and now she was jealous that he had a real writing job.
She pretended her job was to do with her being a writer because she was her students’ scribe. This made her think of Ginny. How delighted Marina had been to get those cornrows! She’d always wanted a crown of braids. She thought they would get Hal's attention and although they had failed to do so she enjoyed them, liked to be that person, the woman with the braids. With Ori out of the house she made herself at home on their old bed. Kicked off her shoes, crawled under the quilt that smelled of after shave and sweat. She pretended not to miss her old room, her old life but. Had she made herself sick so she had an excuse to come back?
The minute her head hit the pillow she began to sob. How humiliating that she had misread all the signals. She liked to think of herself as loved by Ginny. She thought of Ginny as belonging to her. She thought Ginny liked her enough to want to bestow a gift of two hours of painstaking hair braiding. She had an epiphany. She thought it was a gift, while Ginny’s mother, and Ginny, had thought this skill was finally going to bring in some money. How easy it would have been for Marina to offer to pay. How could she have been so thoughtless? But the idea never crossed her mind. Now, there seemed to be no way to fix this. She’d forever be the target of Ginny’s campaigns.
After each burst of tears there was a moment of relief, the tightness in her stomach gave way for just a bit. And then the vise on her eye returned. She wrapped the pillow around her head and prayed for sleep.