story by Gabby Vignone | photos by Art Meza aka Chicano Soul
I was in 7th grade now; my boobs came in over summer, C cup, lost weight, got taller and found a new love for cholos.
Yovanny was my best friend as far as boys go, had some girl ones too but they come with so many emotions, drama: my boyfriend was flirting with you, that’s my shirt crap! We met at Dixie Canyon Elementary School, in Sherman Oaks California and sat next to each other in Mr. Wong’s class.
I hated those timed multiplication tests. I knew my times tables but I concentrated more on how much time was left than the problems, but I loved Dixie, had my first kiss there; James was his name and we carved a J hearts G into the tree on the playground.
Dixie is where I found out about Bloody Mary…and I’m still scared, so I will not repeat her name again. Sure people think it’s all a hoax, but Martia took me into the bathroom closed the door, turned off the lights, placed her finger on the mirror, said that name three times, and when the lights came back on, I saw blood. All over Martia’s finger, all over the mirror, that was proof enough! And don’t get me started on the stories about La Llorona, once you hear those you will never walk by a creek the same again.
Martia was a bad ass; she got held back a few times and already had boobs. I had something too cause Fernando ran over mid class one day on a dare and grabbed them. It felt so gross, embarrassing and shameful but Yovanny was there for that kind of stuff. Don’t get me wrong he is the same guy who would steal my D.A.R.E stickers and put them in his book, same guy who teased me, stole my Keroppi pen and same guy I helped Martia throw water balloons at, filled with her own piss.I spent a summer without Yovanny, the summer before we started eighth grade and once I saw him get off the La Puente bus and walk into Robert A. Millikan Junior High, I was relieved. He had to be up at 6 a.m. to get from La Puente to there by 8 a.m. (he bumped the Baker boys in the morning on his Walkman so he was entertained).
“You still with Evey, Eve whatever his name is?” he asked me.
Evey was a nice guy we called him that because his real name was real Mexican and real long. He would always give me drawings that looked like they were straight out of Low Rider Magazine. He would color them in and everything, my favorite was the humming bird.
“Naw, I’m gonna break it off with that guy.” I did but Evey didn’t take it well. Yovanny had to handle that situation also.
“Whose gonna be your next boyfriend?”
Jose was from Pacoima; I mean from Pacoima, his older brother jumped him in. Jose was taller than me – that’s important I think – the boy always should be. Luckily, I only stand at 5’4″ so I have tons of options. He had a fade and always came to school in a white t-shirt, jeans, and white K-Swiss…ahh nothing better than a clean pair of white sneakers!
Yovanny and I made our way to Mr. Garden’s class, every girl used to love Mr. Garden’s class. How could you not he was gorgeous, tall, in shape and had a smile that lit up History. I had a report due today on a current event, something we had to get off the nightly news.
Since I lived with Daisy, my babysitter turned Madrina when my mom decided to move to Santa Barbara without me to be with her new-found love, Marvin, the only news I watched was in Spanish.
Daisy came from El Salvador; don’t ever insult her by calling her a Mexican, even though her boyfriend, who also lived in the house, was one. She came to America by sneaking through tunnels with one of her daughters, Tatiana; the others had to stay behind. She told me stories of the tunnels and the crossing, days without guaranteed food and when her daughter had to put on a pair of men’s underwear after getting soaked from the walk.
“Noticias Univision, is where my report is from.” I proceeded to give the entire news report in Spanish.
My report was a success but my wonderful Spanish combined with my poor English grades, due to passing notes about the world ending in 2012, they wanted to put me into ESL.
“Gabby, do you even know what I just said?” screamed my English teacher
“Look, I’m Catholic, and due to my religious beliefs, I figure the world will be over in 2012 anyways so there is no point in anything you just said!”
Yeah, I am a smart ass, don’t know when it started, probably over summer also. Even though Jose was my boyfriend he created a huge problem between me and my friend Ruth. He was always hugging her and I’m the jealous type so I called her out on it. Sucks cause me and her were road dogs, jumping the fence to go steal make up at Longs was one of our weekly traditions, but somewhere between English and school assembly me and her were gonna fight.
“He is just my friend Gabby, I don’t like him,” Ruth giggled as if my confrontation was a joke.
“Nope, friends don’t flirt, you’re my friend, shit shoulda been off limits regardless,” I insisted.
I didn’t want to fight Ruth, she was a good friend beside the few over-friendly hugs. She didn’t want Jose she just wanted attention. But I was about the only girl at this school that hadn’t been in a fight yet. I guess I just wanted it to happen already, and now I had a fight reason.
“OK bitch, but I’m going to beat your ass and I’m not going to stop just cause we’re friends,” Ruth stated confidently.
Ruth was only 13 and already had red hair dyed out of a box; she got into a scene in one of Bone Thugs n Harmony’s videos ’cause she lived around the block from where they filmed, and above all, Ruth had been in lots of fights. Fights with her sisters, fights with her brothers, fights at elementary, fights with random girls who looked at her wrong, and well I hadn’t ever gotten in a fight. Maybe Ruth wasn’t a good choice but damn. So I told Ruth I didn’t care and we weren’t friends. What next, I’m starting the fight but I don’t know how.
“Alright stay back here then when everyone walks to assembly,” she said directing the fight location.
We were sneaky usually we would have done something like this for fun but nope once every one was gone I took a right hook to the face. There was no ready set go. Ruth kept punching me and punching me, it was nothing like the movies – this shit hurt. Do I swing back? I was still in shock, Ruth’s punching me cause I made her. I dropped to the floor losing one black Puma as I fell down.
My shoe wasn’t the only shoe issue; Ruth’s was coming straight towards my face.
Bam! One kick. I felt something in my jaw move. I tried to pull myself up but this bitch wasn’t taking it easy at all, the ho was trying to kill me! As I grasped to find a way up without meeting up with her shoe, I heard someone running.
“Get the fuck off of her Ruth.”
It was Martia; turns out throwing those pee balloons paid off. Martia was already 15 and a chola, something Ruth was trying to impersonate still, you didn’t choose a gang they chose you and I’m sure after this ass kicking she would have a few offers.
Ruth stopped, Martia pulled me up, it was over. Nah, nothing is ever over. Martia told Ruth to start moving and that Mr. Garden was looking for us at assembly. We should just walk in slow and say we had girl problems in the bathroom. We both started walking past the bungalows and towards the assembly. Martia grabbed my shirt and held me back without causing a scene.
I looked at her and said thank you. She looked at me and said, “Nobody knows I helped, keep it like that and don’t think this is over. You want to fight every day of seventh grade?”
What was she talking about? I did my fight, I was done right? I stood there with a blank face, bloody lip and bruised jaw.
“You’re so stupid. You’re bad right? You needed to start a fight for no reason with a girl who can fuckin’ fight, well guess what? When the story that you got your ass beat goes around, any other chick trying to prove herself is gonna’ fight you.”
What the hell was she talking about? Once you started you couldn’t stop and who were these girls? Everyone liked me, I had no popularity issues.
“Mensa I’m telling you bitches gonna run up on you! You’re gonna walk in assembly looking like that. Ruth will be smiling and the whole school’s gonna see you. Here’s what’s gonna happen: I’m gonna walk fast ahead, Ruth is gonna hit the drinking fountain before you, you run up behind her and slam her head in that shit. She needs a bruise.”
Smash Ruth’s head into the drinking fountain? Damn, why did I pick Ruth? I still wasn’t even mad at her and she just beat the crap outta me. Fuck, but if Martia was right I was gonna go through this every day till I learned to fight.
We got closer to the assembly hall and I could hear everyone still yelling and talking. We could sneak in without everyone turning back and looking. Ruth was coming up on the drinking fountain. No she’s too far… Fuck it, I’ll fight, she doesn’t deserve this shit. Oww my fucking jaw, the pain kicked in. Fuck that, fuck her…she kicked my head! Who does that, who kicks someone’s head?
Martia knows what she’s talking about, I need to listen. Ruth was about to take the turn in the sidewalk that led to the assembly, it was now or never.
I looked at the crusty, rusty metal fountains; I wouldn’t even drink out of them when I was thirsty. They were held together by a ceramic dish underneath. Why do they want to catch that water? Who’s appreciating the shit that didn’t make it into somebody’s mouth?
I started walking faster. Fuck her, she deserves it. I was only a few feet away. I grabbed that pretty red hair she was too young to have.
“Kick me? Really, bitch? Fuck you!”
I pulled her head back and then pushed it forward into the drinking fountain.
“Stop!” It was Mr. Garden – he caught us. “You two are friends what the hell are you doing, I don’t even want to know, just get over it and go sit and listen to assembly, there’s two seats right there in the middle.”
We walked in except it was different with Ruth, she wasn’t walking as confident anymore, she realized that yeah she beat me up, but I came back.
Martia was right. Everyone turned back and looked, they knew something happened. Of course, the seats were right next to each other and Jose was a row behind us. Yovanny was all the way across the fake path, that only became a path because of how the teachers set up the chairs, but he looked at me. He wasn’t happy,he didn’t want me to fight Ruth.
Ruth and I sat down next to each other. How did people already know half the story? I heard them talking so I said fuck it; I turned around looked at the row behind me.
“Yeah we fought; not over you Jose, you were just an excuse I used. And yeah, I got my ass beat but guess what? I’m crazy enough to still get up and…” before I could finish Ruth said, “You did fine for your first fight. Fuck, can we be friends again?”
One of Jose’s friends who wasn’t even in our class had some gum andpassed it up to me.
“Chew that let’s see.”
My jaw was fucked. I couldn’t even move it and this guy wants to punk me on it. You’re a guy, you’re my man’s friend, why are you doing any of this? Well that’s what I thought but I didn’t say it. I already gave my speech and honestly my jaw hurt bad, I was holding back tears, didn’t want to be a cry baby.
Ruth grabbed the gum ripped it in half, put one half in her mouth and handed me the other. I put that gum in my mouth too and me and Ruth turned back around together. It was that easy, we were friends again. Jose, however was done; what a sissy lala, you just let that happen really. I looked bad, you look bad.
The assembly was done time for lunch. I caught Yovanny up on the fight as we walked towards the cafeteria. Well that’s what they called it but a cafeteria is what we had in elementary, it had walls and tables – this was windows with bars that you had to order from. Food at Dixie was free, came on a tray and had three parts with either juice or milk. Here you had to order everything separate and buy your drink out of a machine. Which meant walking by the pigs. Why did we have cops on campus? They really just stand by the soda machine…Hello? I just got my head bashed in and they had no idea. I ordered blue razz, like always, I fucking loved it which was weird because I wasn’t big on candy. Raspberries aren’t blue but I fucked with some blue razz. Maybe because they tasted like life. You didn’t know if it would be sweet, sour or a mixture of both but you knew either way you were going to like it. I sat down at the yellow metal table half under the covering half not. I hated the sun so I always sat on the darker side.
I got no food, I couldn’t chew. Fuck how was I gonna hide this from Daisy? We actually had family dinners where people sat and talked at the table.
“And here she comes, Ruth with Lupe,” Yovanny said.
Lupe was cool, she always told everyone we were cousins. We weren’t, we looked nothing alike. But she was chill and her house looked like mine, twin beds in the living room. She introduced me to Selena, she was obsessed with Selena Quintanilla; she had every poster, every song, every T-shirt but wouldn’t bring any of it to school. She was dark and fat and I don’t think Lupe wanted people to have more to tease her about.
Jose was walking with an extra stride and I thought, hmm maybe no more skinny guys. Once the wind hit those baggy pants and shaped his legs they were less than half the size of mine. Gross, shouldn’t men be big, strong and protective? Yeah, he was none of those things. He walked right up to me and kneeled down next to the yellow bench. “Gabby will you marry me?” He pulled out a gold ring from his pocket, “My mom gave it to me so I could ask.”
Was his mom on crack? “Jose you know we’re 13 right?”
“So my cousin got married at 15. If we love each other we can do it.”
“Your cousin lives in Mex it’s different, and no I don’t even wanna be your fucking girlfriend cause you’re a sissy.”
I grabbed the ring out of his hand and chucked it into the sea of other tables. He jumped up.
“Gabby you bitch! What the fuck? My mom gave me that.”
Well, guess who was a gentleman, who wasn’t skinny or scared and protected the women in his life? Yovanny. He already didn’t like Jose, who knows why. Then there was the assembly shit, he was too far away to say anything about and now this. I wasn’t sure if Yovanny was going to laugh at him or punch him.
He started with laughing; he was funny, a freaking class clown, even making jokes when confronting people, “I don’t give a flying fuck.”
That was his thing, flying fuck. It just started in seventh grade. He must have heard it somewhere. Oh well, it was different and that’s what Yo prided himself on, he didn’t blend in with the white t-shirts and jeans. He didn’t want to be a cholo, which was everybody else’s 7th grade goal. Yeah, he had a white T-shirt but he would wear a button up or bomber jacket over it.
Well, I fought Ruth and now Yovanny was gonna fight Jose. Was he crazy? By the end of the day we would both have had our asses kicked. He was doing it for me…well, or maybe just because he couldn’t stand the guy but I like to think because of me. Boys, yeah they don’t plan as well as girls, too much anger. They just walked right over to the grass area we walk around at P.E., we all followed. Crap, well if he gets his ass beat I still love him, he still loved me. He always did no matter what stupid shit I created.
Yovanny wasn’t an evil person, he could have hurt Jose bad but he didn’t he stopped the fight after he was wining. I was just happy my fight wasn’t on display for everyone to see like theirs was.
Yo wrapped up the fight, Jose didn’t argue, he laughed at him of course not out of meanness just out of the need to entertain.
“Leave Gabby alone and don’t ever call a woman a bitch in front of me again.”
Yeah, me and Jose, we were done. Me and Yovanny were still just friends. Like a boy worth liking? Not yet, besides who said the kid liked me? We met when I was fat, flat, and tied my tie-dyed shirts through a bedazzled hoop. Yovanny would forever be my best friend, always having my back even in the times we were apart.
- Gabby Vignone is a writer from Ventura, California. You can reach her on Instagram at venenosa_del_barrio
- Art Meza is a photographer in Los Angeles. You can purchase his work at ChicanoSoul.net