“When we were twelve, we taught ourselves to fly.”
—John Murillo, from “Renegades of Funk”
“All of us girls, now women.”
—T Kira Madden, from “The Feels of Love”
That winter, we watched New York Undercover on group phone calls, Boogie and China and Flaca and Shorty and me, all of us on the party line, screaming at the TV when Malik Yoba, Michael DeLorenzo, and Lauren Vélez took off down the street chasing some drug dealer. We watched Janet and Pac fall in love in Poetic Justice, and we all wanted to be Janet, scribbling poems on the margins of our textbooks, strutting into school in baggy jeans and combat boots. We watched The X-Files, imagined ourselves solving paranormal mysteries, having alien babies, turning into monsters. We speculated about the size of Mulder’s dick. We felt the warmth of that place between our legs and there was nothing monstrous or strange about it.
We measured out our life in songs, singing as we put on eyeliner in front of the mirror, as we passed each other in the halls at school, as we waited for the bus across from Normandy Park. We belted out Mariah’s version of “I’ll Be There” in Boogie’s mother’s car. We broke into fits of spontaneous booty shaking as we walked along West Avenue, when a car drove by blasting “Shake Whatcha Mama Gave Ya,” as we rode the escalator in Aventura Mall. We knew all the lyrics to every single DJ Uncle Al song—“Mix it Up,” and “Hoes In This House,” and “Bass Is Gonna Blow Your Mind.” Uncle Al, who was known all over Miami for promoting nonviolence and peace in the hood, but was shot and killed outside his house in Allapattah. We dogged each other to “It’s Your Birthday” while hanging from the monkey bars, lightning in our limbs, while drinking orange sodas at Miami Subs, while tagging the handball courts. Everywhere Boogie, China, Flaca, Shorty, Jaqui.
That spring, we paid tecatos at 7-Eleven to get us bottles of Strawberry Cisco, took the bus to the all ages clubs, Pac Jam, and Sugar Hill, and Bootleggers, where they sold no alcohol but everybody smoked weed. We passed the blunt across the dance floor, all of us sweaty and smiling. Onstage in the club, older girls dusted with baby powder shook and shook their asses, flashing us, girls booing, boys screaming, cheering, fists in the air. We smiled nervously, recognizing some of the girls we knew from school, two years ahead of us, three years ahead of us. Our friends’ cousin, a girl my brother dated once. One day that spring we heard about one of those girls, saw her face on the news, about how she and her best friend were found floating in Biscayne Bay, strangled, tied together. Their school pictures all over our TV’s for days, for weeks, their story on the front page of The Sun Sentinel with the headline, “They Were Inseparable Friends—And They Were Slain Together.” We remembered their dancing, speculated about the who, the how, the why. We talked about how they were so young, had so much life left to live, as if we knew anything about life and living it. We knew nothing but what eyes could see.
That summer, on the last day of school, me and Shorty cut out after lunch, headed to the beach for National Skip Day, the two of us in Daisy Dukes and chancletas, our curly hair wild and frizzy and sun-streaked. At the South Pointe Pier, high school kids in bathing suits and shades, seeing each other’s bodies for the first time. When a fight broke out, one dude holding the other underwater, arms swinging wildly, we ran toward the shore to see it. When he was finally able to get free, none of us saw it coming: the walk back to his car, the gun pulled from his glove box. We lost each other in the madness, Shorty running down the shoreline, and me, heading for the water. Later that night, we would watch ourselves on the news, all those teenagers loose on the beach, on the pier, no parents anywhere, the faraway spray of whitecaps breaking.
Just weeks later, we were back on that beach, me and Shorty, knocking back Olde E with some dudes we’d just met. The sun on our faces, bikinis under oversized t-shirts, we walked a couple blocks to their place. And once we were there, fifteen and sixteen and in a stranger’s apartment, Playero’s “Underground” on the radio, it was so clear, so easy to see. How they separated us, knew exactly what to say. Shorty in the bathroom, me in the living room, the bottle, half empty, on the floor. How I never thought to ask how old he was—old enough to buy alcohol, to have his own apartment. How he ripped my bathing suit, the banging on the bathroom door, his hand over my mouth, the music so loud. How I pushed back, kicking, reaching for the ashtray, the remote, anything, until finally, the bottle, and I was Shorty and Shorty was me and we were every girl, we had not been alone, all of us in that apartment, in that bathroom, all of us breathing, alive, lightning in our limbs, banging on that door for minutes, hours, a lifetime, and for a moment I thought it was possible that I could lose her, that I could be one of those girls.
It was the same the next summer, and the summer after that: we went right back to drinking, smoking, fighting, dancing dancing dancing, running away. We wanted to be seen, finally, to exist in the lives we’d mapped out for ourselves. We wanted more than noise—we wanted everything. We were ordinary girls, but we would’ve given anything to be monsters. We weren’t creatures or aliens or women in disguise, but girls. We were girls.
We knew nothing but what eyes could see. From John Murillo’s “Renegades of Funk.”
Lightning in our limbs. From John Murillo’s “Renegades of Funk.”
All of us. From T Kira Madden’s “The Feels of Love.”
Jaquira Díaz is a 2016-18 Kenyon Review Fellow and recipient of two Pushcart Prizes, an Elizabeth George Foundation Grant, and fellowships from the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing and The MacDowell Colony. Her work appears in The Best American Essays 2016, Rolling Stone, the Guardian, and the FADER. This summer, she’ll be a Writer in Residence at Summer Literary Seminars Georgia.