An Excerpt from “Ordinary Girls”

Jaquira Díaz

We started talking about dying long before the first woman jumped. What our parents would do once we were gone. What Mr. Nuñez, the assistant principal at Nautilus Middle School, would say about us on the morning announcements, how many of our friends would cry right there on the spot. The songs they would dedicate to us on Power 96 so that all of Miami Beach could mourn us—Boyz II Men’s “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday,” D.R.S.’s “Gangsta Lean.” Who would go to our funerals—boys who’d broken our hearts, boys whose hearts we’d broken.

She was a French woman, the first jumper, that’s what people said. She didn’t live in Southgate Towers—Papi’s high-rise apartment complex, where he also worked as a security guard—but her boyfriend did. According to the boyfriend’s neighbors, they’d been having problems—she drank a lot, he drank a lot, they fought. That night, the neighbors told Papi, she’d been banging on the door for a while, calling the boyfriend’s name when he wouldn’t open. My father was in the security booth outside the lobby when he started getting calls from some of the Southgate residents. They thought they’d heard a crash, something falling from the sky, the air-conditioning unit on the roof maybe. Or maybe someone had flung something heavy off their balcony. Nobody had expected it to be a person, least of all my father.

• •

Our planning started way before the French woman jumped, during a four-month stint living with my mother in Normandy Isle, across the street from Normandy Park. One day after school, Boogie and I were on the swings, rocking back and forth, digging our sneakers into the dirt and kicking off. We talked about how we’d do it, imagined we could make it look like a tragic accident. We’d get hit by a Metro bus while crossing the street, which would be easy since nobody expected a girl to just step in front of a bus in the middle of the afternoon. The park would be alive with people—ballers on the courts, kids on the merry-go-round, boys riding their bikes on the sidewalk, hood rats on the corner waiting for who knows what. We’d smoke one last stolen cigarette, flick the butt before we jumped the fence out of the park. Then we’d take care of it, the business of dying.

Some girls took sleeping pills and then called 911, or slit their wrists the wrong way and waited to be found in the bathtub. But we didn’t want to be like those ordinary girls. We wanted to be throttled, mangled, thrown. We wanted the violence. We wanted something we could never come back from.

Ordinary girls didn’t drive their parents’ cars off the Fifth Street Bridge into Biscayne Bay, or jump off the back of a pickup in the middle of I-95, or set themselves on fire. Ordinary girls didn’t fall from the sky.

We spent most afternoons that way, in the park, smoking my mother’s cigarettes, drinking her beer. Sometimes we paid the neighborhood tecatos to get us bottles of strawberry Cisco, or Mad Dog 20/20, or St. Ides Special Brew. Occasionally Kilo, my boyfriend, and his cousin Papo, would show up with a bag of Krypto and smoke us out. We’d lie on the bunk beds, listen to DJ Laz’s power mix, and laugh our asses off. Until the effect wore off and we were ourselves again—reckless, and unafraid, and pissed off at our parents for not caring that we spent most of our time on the streets or drunk or high, for being deadbeats and scutterheads. But it wasn’t just our parents. We were pissed off at the whole fucking world—our teachers, the principal, the school security, the D.A.R.E. cop. All those people, they just didn’t get that there was no way in hell we could care about homework, or getting to school on time—or at all—when our parents were on drugs or getting stabbed, and we were getting arrested or jumped or worse. Only three months before, Mikey, Kilo’s best friend, had been killed in a drive-by shooting.

. . .

Read the rest of this essay in the Kenyon Review Nov/Dec 2015 issue, on sale now!

Back to top ↑

Sign up for Our Email Newsletter