Flaquita

by Julia Edith Rios

I.

Flaquita is the name given to me because my mother is Flaca and I am fitting of it.

All the other girls in my family get names they do not like: gordis, morena, chapis, cabezona. But I get Flaquita. I get the ideal, inherited from my mother as a gift.

II.

Love in this family is shown by staying in the tin box kitchen for so long, the steam suppresses you into a fever. It’s shown in tamales. In empanadas. In galletas de boda. It’s seen in sugar and dough-covered aprons and hands.

On Christmas when I go to grab one more tamale, Mom tells me to watch out. She says it like the corn husk I’m about to grab is venomous. She follows up by saying I need to be careful not to eat too much.

My cousins are trying hard to be skinnier and it is working. I don’t want to lose my place in this family.

That night as I’m trying to sleep, I turn so my stomach is on the mattress and I can suffocate its screams.

I dream about lying down on the flour-covered table in my Abuela’s kitchen, my back on the base of the cold cast iron of the aplastador, covering my belly with the opposite end, and pressing down on the handle, flattening myself like masa.

III.

A doctor’s visit reveals I have anemia. Really bad anemia. Scaring-my-parents-into-thinking-I’ll almost-get-leukemia anemia.

Dad blames Mom for it, saying I got my picky eating habits from her. She lets me get away with refusing to eat foods I don’t like. They decide I need to have someone else around so I can see them eating all the foods I reject. Foster siblings, they decide.

I was supposed to have a sibling, but on Mom’s birthday, we went to the doctor to find out what she was having and they couldn’t find the heartbeat. We went to Hometown Buffet and I cried into my hot plate of fried chicken. I didn’t feel like eating then either.

My eating habits don’t change when my parents start fostering. I don’t care if the white kids down the hall like cauliflower and tuna and sweet potatoes.

What does change is Mom and Dad start fighting. Then they decide they don’t want to be married anymore. Mom says she thinks they would still be married if it had stayed the three of us.

IV.

Quinceañera means spending money my parents don’t have on a giant dress and a small reception hall to get a mop and broom as a joke because I’m a woman now. It means when summer comes, I can finally wear a two-piece bikini.

At Target, I grab all the bikinis I can find in small sizes until there’s a rainbow of triangle cloths and strings spilling out of my arms on my way to the fitting rooms.

But when I lock myself in and try on the first one, I see my reflection in the full-length mirror and the fluorescent lighting exposes every curve of my body without remorse. My stomach seems to escape out of the material.

I try on bikini after bikini.

Mom hears me crying from the outside and tells me to open the door. She has to crawl underneath it to hold me.

V.

Under blazing Central Valley sun, my exposed legs itchy from sitting on the dry grass outside the school, sweat sticking to my shirt, I wait to hear what spots we will be given on the cheerleading team.

Mom says when she was younger, she flew. Climbed up on the roof of her house, jumped off, and defied gravity. No one believes her but me. I think maybe now I will get the chance to fly, too.

But they make me a front spot instead. They don’t pick me because I’m fat, I tell myself. I don’t deserve the privilege of flying.

And I get kicked in the face over and over and over.

VI.

I buy a black dress for my twenty-first birthday because the model online looks like the beautiful adult I hope midnight will turn me into. I imagine myself sitting at a bar in the dress with my friends, a cold glass of margarita against my fingers as I raise it to my red-stained lips.

When the dress arrives, I tear the package open, begin to strip down, and put the dress on from the kitchen, through the hallway, and into my bedroom. The fabric clings to my body with little room to breathe.

When I see myself in the mirror, the room grows even smaller. I look pregnant.

 I suck my stomach in. Maybe I can spend the night not breathing.

With the exhale comes the tears.

Mom tells me I look beautiful. That I’m crazy. That I should wear the dress.

My first sip of alcohol happens in a T-shirt.

VII.

The mirror reaches from the ceiling to the cold pink tiles. It’s hard to avoid. I wait for the entire bathroom to fill up with steam. I only step back in once I’m sure the mirror will be fogged up completely. Greyed out so I won’t see any part of myself.

If I look down at my stomach, I will feel tempted to grab the scissors from the cabinet. I will pinch my fat between my fingers and put it in between sharp silver. I will want to cut off everything I don’t want.

I keep my head up high. Eyes closed.

VIII.

Arvin is 129 miles away, but Mom knows the truth anyways. Moms always feel their daughters somehow. Or maybe it’s just mine.

Flaquita from Flaca. My rib from hers.

Ya comiste?, she asks me over the phone.

Yes, I say.

But I don’t think she believes me.

Julia Edith Rios is a Chicana writer living in California. She is currently a graduate student working towards her MFA in Creative Writing. Her only plan is to spend the rest of her life writing. You can find her on Twitter @juliaedithrios.

Artwork by: Yehezkiel Gulo