Pa’ Antonio

by Natalie Dalea

CW: abuse

When you ask me how I’d write about you, it keeps emerging, like tarot. The sun, the sun, the sun.

~

When our friendship evolves from its nascent stages, we’re riding the COTA from downtown Columbus in the middle of a thunderstorm. In the dim bus lights, I first notice the celestial strangeness of your hair; it’s jet black with flecks of grey salted through. You call them your old man hairs to match your bad back and the way you listen to NPR in the shower. I call them stars.

~

When Coyolxauhqui feared her unborn brother would kill her mother in the womb, she tried to cut him out to save her. Instead, he emerged fully formed and tore her into pieces. He became the sun and she, the waxing and waning moon.

~

When you ask me how I’m doing at lunch, I’m wearing a tough façade, a black low-cut shirt, and big, golden earrings. I’m trying to look like the human version of a poison dart frog, and you take the hint. “If you want to talk, I can listen,” you say, so we go for a walk around campus, our twinning sandals scuffing the hot pavement. I’m astounded by how a person who lives on an island can hate the sun so much; you say it’s because Puerto Ricans drive everywhere. We stick to the shady sides of the streets, and I tell you about the boy I lived with who was bad for me. I don’t tell you everything, but you understand enough that you don’t press for more. We’re almost to the Olentangy river when I say it for the first time without oblique references or hedged words, “Two years ago, I lived with an abuser.”

~

When we learned about global warming, scientists defined a new epoch, the Anthropocene. Our art turned the sun into something consumptive, and our leaders decided they’d rather let Earth burn and flood instead of saving her atmosphere.

~

When it’s the fourth of July and we’re tequila-drunk, we stretch out a blanket covered in watermelons in the patch of green between the southern dorms. You ask me how I’d write about you, and I say you have soft eyes. Because I want to show off, I elaborate: soft like the sunrise evaporating haze on the horizon. The light fuzzes the edges into pastels like your long eyelashes blend into your black eyes. You have eyes like someone accustomed to smiling. They crinkle at the corners and this is where I see the lightness.

~

When I lived with the boy who was bad for me, he was the sun. He was so bright, the sun kissed him twice and turned him golden brown. He was so bright, he burned my eyes. So bright he blinded me to what was real and fake and bleached me white so I could be an acceptable target for his rage. I was never the right kind of brown for him, the brown girl who was compliant, the brown girl who never spoke back, the brown girl who upheld loyalty to la raza over other women. He made me scared of my second tongue and the anger it possessed. He made me feel like I couldn’t own it without taking it away from him. The night his rage finally snapped, he took away the brown community I’d built for myself, because how was I supposed to tell any of my Latinx spaces that their golden child hurt me when it was his word over mine? In the game of he-said, she-said, he always won.

~

When I realize love doesn’t need to be a desperate thing, it’s almost 3AM on the fifth of July. We’re still sitting on the watermelon blanket in the middle of this green square, and campus is dead silent. I place my hand in the dirt, and I feel the earth’s pulse, steady as our breathing. If it were the school year, I wouldn’t sit out this open and still in the night, but with my head resting on your thigh, this is the safest I’ve ever felt. The streetlights beam white on the blades of grass surrounding us, so bright it almost looks like day, but in the sky, I still see stars.

~

When you ask me how I’d write about you, it’s this. Brown like the sun-baked clay with a beard growing out like tufts of wild flowers, the indigo bush that grows in the desert. The earth of Mexico even though you’re from the island. When you speak, it is warmer. When you speak, I know you are listening. The sun in the myths is never a good man. Most days it feels like I’d be better off with no sun at all. But you, I spend time with you and think, maybe I can return to it again.

Natalie Dalea is a midwestern mestiza essayist. She has made her home everywhere along I-71, but she is most recently from Columbus, OH, where she graduated from The Ohio State University’s English program. Follow her on Twitter @nmdalea.

Artwork by: Roberto Nickson