Never Leonardo Enough
Before she convinced me to try praying to her Catholic god and stop sacrificing garden slugs to stop the neighborhood from flooding, Anna and I played plastic dollar store recorders off-key to a pantheon of goddesses invented out of art book nudes. Secretly poring over the glossy pages, Anna identified breasts that she wanted to grow into, while I found elbow-to-hip angles that curled into uncontainable waists that I longed to touch in the flesh. Some of the images reminded me of Anna’s mom Doris. She was tall enough to tower over most men who whistled at her and loud enough to remind them that they wouldn’t like her calling them like a pack of dogs. They usually bolstered her point, muttering “Bitch,” and retreating behind the corner store to gossip, thumb and pointers fondling toothpicks lodged between tobacco-stained teeth. I wondered if I made Doris uncomfortable the way they did, staying in the kitchen to watch her breasts ripple over underwire bras as she put a rusted tray of cinnamon sweet cookie dough in the oven, while Anna went searching for magazine photos of Leonardo DiCaprio.
I tried on a nightgown discarded by Anna’s mom as my friend stared at a picture of the heartthrob torn out of a magazine. He was blonde, like me. Pulling my hair back in her mirror, I longed to see an angelically boyish man willing to sacrifice his life to save the woman that he loved, freezing to death in Atlantic waters. I was disappointed to see a seven-year-old girl in a nightgown looking back at me. The frilly collar would have handsomely accentuated Leonardo’s cheekbones, but my jawline was rounded, undeveloped. And the last waters my family had crossed were Caribbean and Pacific. I envisioned Anna’s porch as the Titanic’s top deck, deceptively conducive to luxuriating in the smoky scent of redwood bark and in fact so rotten that a previous renter fell through the boards trying to do just that. I aspired to be a lovely man in a silky nightgown who could stop water from stealing at least one life, even if his own was disposable.
After sneaking into Doris’ bathroom to borrow a honey blonde eyebrow pencil, I let Anna smear a cartoonish mustache in my upper lip sweat. “You look too girly otherwise, like one of the bad guys.” She lay down on the sheets and I wiggled on top of her, smelling her mother’s cigarettes and imagining her hips with my hands. When I called Doris to the room to see the tableau, she pushed the door frame, turning away. "You don't think she'll tell my parents." And that's when I ran away with Anna, imagining a glittering path to a cul-de-sac house like in the neighborhoods where we trick-or-treated, where the adults didn’t answer the doors drunk on Halloween.
We never got out of the canyon, out of the flood plain. Being able to drive wouldn’t have helped our escape because most of the cars in the neighborhood were broken down most of the time. Anna and I climbed out of her bedroom window, blowing our recorders out of sync, fingers not yet trained to block air the right way, slid down the old laundry chute alongside the house and curled our bodies in a burnt tree stump for a few minutes until Anna’s mom found our letter: “We ran away. Don’t think that you will ever find us.” Since this happened at least twice a week, she was, in fact, able to find us.
We followed Doris back inside, recorders dangling at our sides, and as I watched a freckle twitch where her upper arm met her back, I realized that those art book nudes were all pale like her, a paleness her daughter wouldn’t grow into, an unattainable requirement to being worthy of oil pastel immortality. The Salvation Army radio was turned up in Anna’s room, playing “My Heart Will Go On,” and she danced next to me with an invisible body more masculine than mine would ever be, Leonardo DiCaprio’s cut-out magazine face tacked to the wall and fraying at the edges in front of her. I squealed into my recorder, calling to the goddesses that out-dimension canonical art, the ones that looked like Anna before the priests shellacked them whiter, the ones who started out as the bad guys, just another word for irreducible, unbreakable
Jenny Irizary grew up in a cabin in the woods along Northern California's Russian River, the only Swede-Rican for miles. She holds a B.A. in Ethnic Studies and an M.A. in literature from Mills College.