Judas and Icarus

Myriam Gurba

My first touch came from a white man’s spanking.

My first crush was my white neighbor Josh.

My first friend, my best friend, was white, too.

We met in kindergarten, and I loved her when I was five, I loved her when I was six, I loved her when I was seven, I loved her when I was eight, I loved her when I was nine, I loved her when I was ten, I loved her when I was eleven, I loved her when I was twelve, and I loved her when I was thirteen. I have loved her up till now, and I have loved her in the future.

She once smoked crack on accident. She thought it was heroin.

⁄ ⁄

Sometimes, I imagine Krakow filled with quaint Polish crack houses

⁄ ⁄

The white girl who smoked crack on accident is named Ida.

We met in kindergarten at Montessori school. I didn’t like her immediately. She was too much like me. A cunt. A free thinker. A roamer.

Montessori school is great if you’re a liberated person. It’s a great place to be if you’re obstinate and don’t appreciate being told what to say, think, feel, or do. Montessori school is private and everything in it is child size. I hung out in this miniature world for two years, and every school day I got to choose what I wanted to do with myself. If I wanted to sit in a beanbag paging through a thesaurus for hours, I could. If I wanted to show picture books to our school pet, a bored corn snake named Ivan, I could. I could hunch over long division problems, break-ing down numbers till it was time for recess or lunch. At lunch, I lolled beneath our playground ginkgo tree, collecting leaves and unsurreptitiously smelling my fingers.

Montessori school ruined me for normal school and life in general.

It made me only want to do things I care about or am curious about. Which is really hard if you have to live in reality.

Ida and I migrated to public school for second grade. Our parents didn’t like how our Montessori school got increasingly traditional as the grades got higher, so they figured they’d just stick us in normal school anyway.

We were assigned to the same class, and it was there that our love really began to flourish. We recognized our own selves in the other. We recognized ourselves as refugees. We were both new to the land of raising your hand to go to the bathroom.

This was a trickier culture.

But still cool.

Second grade mirrored Montessori. We couldn’t roam the school, but we could roam the room. I could talk and ramble as a much as I had to. Nobody told me to shut up or wrote my name on the board for being bad. My teacher, peers, and classroom pets tolerated my garrulousness. I sat beside Ida.

We read books together.

Third grade came and changed everything.

Our teacher, Mrs. De Leon, expected us to stay in our desks. We had to raise our hands for permission to stroll to the pencil sharpener, a fne place to fart. An amateurish painting of the night sky hung by our class-room door. I often stared at it and thought, “I’ve seen better.” I later saw that painting of the night sky in a collection of works by van Gogh.

Thanks to Montessori, and genetics, I didn’t know how to be quiet. I felt compelled in a way that itched and burned to turn everything in my head into spoken word. I had to give my words to somebody, and I did, I gave them to everyone, and Mrs. De Leon did not approve. I talked without raising my hand, and she wrote my name on the board. She put check marks next to it as I talked more. She moved me from desk to desk to desk. She sat me beside introverts and recent arrivals from Sinaloa. Her changes of venue did nothing to quiet me. The shy became my audience. I got through to the Mexicans. I told them tall tales and discussed American current events with them . . . in Spanish.

Ida and I spent recesses in the baseball dugout. This was in the south-east corner of the grassy field we jogged or walked laps around for pe. Bees buzzed in it. Frogs died in it. A chain-link fence ringed the feld and the backyards of tract homes pressed against one edge while a manmade pine forest grew along another. Pine needles formed a carpet that made crispy noises as our Velcro shoes crept.

Ida and I sat on the dugout’s wooden bench, imagining. Three other girls, Emiko, Madi, and Espie, joined us in our mental adventures. We spent so much time in that dugout making a sport of imagining that our minds melded. We formed a community. One day, I said, “This is a club.” It felt good to be in a club. During club, we told stories, harvested clover, killed bees, invented fantasylands inspired by Dungeons and Dragons, and developed rituals. We sacrificed snails and stuck their meat on Ritz crackers. Ida dared me, “Eat it.”

I popped escargot in my mouth. I chewed and swallowed.

The five of us were having so much fun partying in the dugout that it attracted the stupider sex. Some wandered into our meeting spot.

A boy interrupted me. It asked, “Can we be in your club?” “No,” I answered. “It’s girls only.”

“That’s not fair,” Steve, the boy, protested. He was Mexican and had what are commonly called piercing blue eyes. It happens.

“He’s right,” agreed Emiko. “It’s not fair.”

“OK,” I said. I looked from Emiko to Steve. I stared into his blue eyes with fortitude. “You and your friends can join our club if you climb to the top of this.” I pointed to the chain-link backstop that reached several stories high. “And jump.”

The rational boys in Steve’s group sighed. Those with high levels of t sprinted for the backstop. Their fngers curled around its metal and their tennis shoes slipped in and out of its holes. They moved farther and farther up, and the blowing of whistles made us look across the feld, at the playground. The yard-duty ladies gestured with their arms. The huge-­titted one jogged toward us. Her breasts dog-paddled in her muumuu. She slowed near second base.

“Stop!” she screamed at the climbers. “Get down!”

One climber, Reymundo, in English, king of the worlD, what ­hubris in a name, froze. He dangled. He swiveled his head and looked over his right shoulder, at me. He looked at the yard-duty lady. He blinked. One foot moved after the other as he felt his way back to earth.

Steve clung halfway up the backstop. He stared down at us. He looked at the yard-duty lady. He looked back at the sky. He ­scrambled up.

I hoped Steve would injure himself and die so that I wouldn’t have to let him into my club. That had been my strategy. To give his sex an ­insurmountable initiation. Like the literacy tests given to black folks in the American South before the Voting Rights Act passed.

I was an early-onset feminist.

Steve reached the backstop’s sharply angled crown. He paused. “Don’t you dare!” threatened the yard-duty lady. To a third-grade boy, those words equal please.

Steve’s fingers uncoiled. His white t-shirt flew up. It flapped as he fell. I spied his belly button. Unlike most people’s, his pushed forward into a repugnant outie.

Steve’s feet touched down near home plate. Dirt hardly puffed into the air around his jeans. I’d expected him to shatter or liquefy, but he was feline. He landed fine.

“Fuck,” I thought to myself. “He’s in.”

The yard-duty lady herded us across the baseball diamond, grass, clover, playground sand, blacktop, and cement. We fled into our classroom and sat at our desks. I felt warm in my sweat pants. Our teacher paced the bald carpet. Her gaze zeroed in on Steve. She demanded, “Why did you do that?”

Steve pointed his finger at me. “She told me to,” he said. “So that I could join her club.”

Mrs. De Leon’s gaze fixed upon me. “Is that true?” she asked.

I nodded.

She returned her stern expression to Steve. She asked, “If she told you to jump from a cliff, would you do it?”

“No,” he said.

“Good. You’re suspended.”

I grinned. Mrs. De Leon looked at me, shook her head, and said, “No more club.”

I felt slightly crushed but satisfied. I’d rather have my club destroyed by a strict third-grade teacher than let fucking boys into it.

Myriam Gurba is a queer spoken-word performer, visual artist, and writer from Santa Maria, California. Mean, a “true crime, memoir, ghost story,” is forthcoming from Coffee House Press. She is also the author of Dahlia Season (2007, Manic D) which won the Edmund White Award, Wish You Were Me (2011, Future Tense Books), and Painting Their Portraits in Winter (2015, Manic D). She has toured with Sister Spit and has written for Time, kcet, and The Rumpus. Her work has been exhibited at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach. She lives in California, where she teaches social studies to eighth-graders.

“Judas and Icarus” is printed by permission from Mean (Coffee House Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Myriam Gurba.

Mryiam will be teaching this February as part of Tin House’s 2018 Winter Workshops.