“Oh, that red hair of hers is no lie.” Michaleen Flynn, from “The Quiet Man”
Kristy Webster-Gonzalez, as you know from previous contests, is a force to be reckoned with. At the crossroads of motherhood, social justice, and literature, she has made quite a home. But, in her brilliant work here, you will see when homes are broken, the pieces are bound to get mixed up and lost. Please enjoy:
If You Were Me
by Kristy Webster-Gonzalez
All our father left us was an unfinished treehouse and a single wide mobile home that smelled of him even years after he disappeared. We were six years old when he left. Neighbor ladies pitied us, “Poor twins,” they’d lament. The Twins. We were never Mateo and Maggie, but The Twins, as if we did not exist separately.
And that is why I still do not know where you end, and I begin.
“Y quien es esta werita? De donde viene? Where her mom is? Se ve bien cochina,” our mother demanded.
We were nine, Dawn, “the little white girl” eight, when she leaned against our fridge, twisting the head on an ugly Barbie doll with matted yellow hair and ink-stained legs. Our faces went red. Though, I knew it did not show on me like it did you, my fair-skinned twin brother for whom the venom in the word “white” spat from our mother’s mouth stung the hardest. We were grateful Dawn didn’t understand Spanish, didn’t know our mother called her dirty.
She was not lying, Dawn was filthy. You could always tell she was a pretty girl underneath all that dirt. She never wore shoes, the bottom of her feet dark as soot. When she smiled, which amazingly she did quite often, you could see a layer of plaque below her gums. Her outfit, more like an everyday costume: blue tank top and a pair of shorts that so small she couldn’t button them. She pulled at her tank top trying to cover the part of her navel left exposed by the absence of fabric. Dawn, who lived in the low-income apartments across the street, was the oldest of four girls, all redheads, all so strikingly white you’d swear they glowed in the dark.
Dawn had a mother and a father. The father injured himself on the job and hadn’t worked since. He was a big, redheaded man, who called us his amigos and asked about our mother. He would say how lucky we were to get to eat Mexican food all the time, even though we had told him several times we were Colombian, not Mexican.
Dawn’s mother had a sickness that made her afraid to leave the house. So, Dawn did all the grocery shopping, kept a “borrowed” grocery cart in our yard until our mom found out.
“No, no we are not going to look like trash!” she yelled at us in front of Dawn.
Our heads bowed, we muttered apologies under our breath, but Dawn didn’t say a word. Her spindly white legs plowed that grocery cart out of our driveway and out of the cul-de-sac like it was a chariot. Her porcelain skin, her crimson hair, the way she drove that cart up the sidewalk but with her head held high, spellbound us to Dawn.
Through the years, we carved important dates into the trunk of the tree that offered us a dilapidated yet cherished refuge from our haunted family home, one that ached like a phantom limb in the absence of our father. But none of these dates stand out like that 4th of July three weeks after our fifteenth birthdays. By then, that twig of a girl with the dirty face cleaned up, revealed beauty, and never again went unnoticed. Dawn wore her flaming red hair in a high ponytail, wore cut off jean shorts and low-cut tops. She curled her lashes, layered black mascara on and painted her nails blue. She giggled at everything any boy said and her only girlfriend was me. In fact, I became her only defense against gaggles of furious pubescent girls she’d done wrong.
“I didn’t know he was with her,” she’d always say. Martha Toller beat Dawn’s ass so badly, even our mama, who never did warm up to Dawn, took pity and patched her up with a first aid kit that’s still around decades later.
Mama gave all sorts of reasons why she did not want us messing with Dawn, but I always knew it was because of you, Mateo. She thought Dawn had the same power over you she had over other boys.
Later, we would nickname Dawn the “Enchantress.” Mama always thought you would fall under Dawn’s wicked spell and do something crazy. You would fight the wrong guy and end up in the hospital, or you would steal something to impress her, or do something else stupid to get yourself thrown in jail, mess up your life for good. You would knock her up, give mama more watered down, pale-faced progeny like our father already had.
“Mucho ojo, eh,” mama would say. Expecting me to keep an eye on you. As if I was powerful enough to disempower the “Enchantress.” As if I could compete with her damage or her magic. She was the fairytale of our lives. She was witch and queen, princess and the evil stepmother, a distraction from a home built on three broken hearts.
We were fifteen when it happened, and it never stopped happening, did it? It started as a dare. And we dared. She asked for the truth, and we truthed. We were reckless enough to believe that night would be one night among thousands, of no consequence, another night like so many in the metamorphosing treehouse as it struggled to keep up with our transformations from children to what we became that night: something brutally in between childhood foolishness and adult reckoning.
Mateo, Dawn is missing. No one has seen her or heard from her in four months. The last time I spoke to her I told her I wished she would disappear, wished I never knew her, wished she had gone the way of her mother. Even our mama is lighting candles and saying prayers. But I have no one to pray to but you. So, light this path for me, brother.
Show me the way.
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Kristy Webster-Gonzalez is a queer, Latinx writer and the author of The Gift of an Imaginary Girl: Coco and Other Stories. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Pacific Lutheran University and a Master’s in Teaching from Heritage University. Her work has appeared in several online journals such as Lunch Ticket, Pithead Chapel, The Feminist Wire, Shark Reef Literary Magazine, Pacifica Literary Review, Shark Reef Literary Magazine, The Molotov Cocktail, Connotation Press, Into the Void, and most recently, in the anthology Two Countries, published by Red Hen Press. Kristy currently teaches English composition and literature at the Yakima Valley College in Grandview, Washington.
“For me, writing is a way to overcome fear, loneliness and to connect with others. In my case, the fear of being judged, of being hurt, of being abandoned, must be met with absolute vulnerability. When others connect with that vulnerability, I know that the voice inside my head that tells me I’m alone, is a lie.” —Kristy Webster-Gonzalez, from 5X5