Tragic Habits

We were 9 and 8 and we sat in the living room most afternoons after we ate. The sunlight shone through the window in the most slanted way and sometimes rested on him or me but never both. We liked similar cartoons and watched them religiously each afternoon. The ones with bright colors and funny voices and sponges that spoke and starfishes that laughed along, carelessly. But most importantly, I longed to understand the language they spoke so quickly and would mimic their mouths with my tongue, and hope that I too would speak in the sing-song way that they spoke.

We fellowshipped in the dim light it casted at our feet as the sun began to set like it usually does on these unnaturally short winter days.  We rested our heads on the plastic covered cushions and periodically shifted positions whenever our necks would stick to them. He tried to translate for me what they were joyfully saying, but English translated to English didn’t help me much no matter how slowly, or loudly, or passionately he spoke. So I shook my head, and smiled, and focused on the fact that I had a friend, that he was my friend, and that one day I would understand.

Today was like most days, except for the fact that my secrets got away from me. Part of me wanted it to. It was beginning to feel like too much to carry, and it defined these evening sit-ins. Mama once told me “do not let boys touch you anywhere. It is a sin.” And she waved her finger in the air close to my face and I though that she would touch my nose. That’s why I remember. But what if it wasn’t just a boy? What if he said he was my friend and watch cartoons with me and sat next to me closely? What if I wanted him to, because even though it was uncomfortable and painful at first, I wanted more to be liked and belong to something like used to back home, in the comfort of my native tongue, under the Haitian sun. And what if he was gentle? He said he didn’t mean to hurt me, the first time when I winced, and I believed him. Ok, I’ll admit that didn’t really understand, but his eyes looked sad and he moved slowly and so I let him.

He told me once, during our evening fellowship, that he saw it in a movie. That it was a way to say we were friends and mean it. And that if we kept doing it, we would be even better friends. He told me this after the third time, and he was going for a fourth time, and I said “no” in almost a whisper because he was always doing to me, and I was never doing to him and it didn’t feel like friendship anymore. He told me this, and I stood up because I had to go pee and it started to burn a little. I wanted so  bad to tell Mama to tell him to stop, but she told me it was a sin and I was too ashamed to admit that I sinned with him.

When I got back from the bathroom, I no longer wanted to continue to watch the cartoons. So instead of returning to the position I was in, I decided to go to bed instead. Mama was reading her bible on the side of the bed where the lamp was, and when she saw me, she motioned for me to come lay next to her. She patted the bed gently, and though I felt dirty, I climbed in anyways. I folded into a ball with my back resting against her thigh and let her warmth sooth me. She rubbed my back the way she used to do when I was younger and it was just her and I in our one room house, on a farm, in the countryside, and I didn’t yet know how addicting cartoons were. We were silent, and though the room was still, I felt it fill up with my secrets. “Baby girl” she said, breaching the silence, “how about you watch cartoons with me when you come home tomorrow afternoon? And you can tell me which ones are your favorites.” She was stroking my hair now. I felt moisture gather at the corner of my eyes I no longer wanted a friend and she knew. “Yes Mama” I responded, almost whispering. I was afraid that if I spoke to loudly or quickly she would hear all of the secrets I was trying to choke back and ask me what was wrong with me. So I remained still, and quiet, and thankful that mama got me out of this tragic habit.


(c) Dora Acosta, 2017

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