600 Bagby 8A Waco, TX 76706
My legs are too skinny, and everyone knows it. My parents call me Bonita, but I’m ugly to everyone else. I tell myself I am ugly and so do they. My parents are from Mexico; I tell everyone I was born here. They can’t really speak gringo like me, so they don’t understand everything about this Texas, not like I do. We moved here when I was eleven, so I have had plenty of time to learn everything I need to about how things are in Texas.
My parents are proud to be from Chihuahua, but I am not. How can I be proud of a place named after the world’s smallest dog? They shiver and cry tears more than babies. We now live in the Little Mexico section of town where all the other wetbacks live. My Papa hates that word, but I tell him it is true. We came across to find a better life, and I guess we did. At least these white people have jobs to give us.
But my teeth are crooked. That is one big thing here in Texas; almost everyone has straight, white teeth, even most of the gringos who shop at the garage sales like my mama get braces when they are young. Have you seen those people who have two or three sets of fangs growing out of their gums? I mean the ones with stacked teeth, with teeth you only see when something is really funny and they can’t help it and sometimes smile too big. When they remember, their lips come back together and they hope you didn’t notice that they just might be vampires. I am one of those people. That is why I laugh with my lips pulled tight over my stained teeth. I know it is obvious that I am covering them, but at least the others will realize that I know I have this problem. Hopefully, they will be nice and not talk about it in the locker room later when I am not around.
I run long distance races and cross-country for my school. I like running practice since I am faster than the rest of my team. Sometimes I like to get really far ahead of everyone else. Coach likes this; he says I will run at state before I know it if I practice hard every day. But mostly, I just like being out in front of my teammates. This way, I can be alone and think about things and be better than them at the same time. They cannot see my teeth or make fun of me when they are behind me, eating my dust. I love this about running.
Sometimes we run along the farm-to-market roads that run between the endless cotton fields of the panhandle. Papa works with others who live near us in Little Mexico almost every day of the summer in one of these fields. He’s there during track season, spraying the Johnson grass that grows between the baby cotton plants. He’s still there in late August and early September, chopping weeds out in the gringo cotton fields, his sharpened hoe knocking down the one-legged careless weeds, jerking their shallow roots from the red dirt. Sometimes we run by the fields where he is working. He always waves to me; I see him out of the corner of my eye. If I am far enough ahead of the other girls, I will wave back and smile at him.
“Corre rápido, mi Bonita pequeña,” he yells to me as I pass. If the other girls can see me, I will ignore him and tell him I didn’t hear him when I get home for supper. They do not know my Papa, and they will not judge him for working in the fields for their fathers. He is a good father, and I will protect him from them, even though he does not understand why I do not wave back sometimes.
I do not like to wear the little running shorts, but sometimes the sweatpants are too hot to run in since summer lasts for nine months in this part of Texas. I always put my sweatpants back on before I go inside because we have a rule against wearing shorts in the building, especially since I am an aide in the principal’s office in fifth period right after practice. I think it is a good rule. Mr. Wright, the principal, says I can take off my sweatpants if I want since he knows I just came from practice and we don’t have time to take a shower. His secretary, Mrs. Hackett, is at lunch this period, so sometimes, it is just me and him in the office. Mr. Wright is a nice man. He personally requested that I work for him this year even though I had never really talked to him. When I asked him, why me, he said he saw me run last year and knew I was I hard worker. I know he does not judge my legs, so I will usually take off my sweatpants for the period, or at least until the sweating stops. I try my best to please Mr. Wright because he is so nice to me. I answer the phone, make copies, type up teacher memos, and get his mail for him.
“Can I have your email address?” he asks me one day when we are alone.
“Yes sir,” I say, wondering why Mr. Wright would want my email address.
“It’s this darn block scheduling. Since you only come in a couple times a week, there are things I need to tell you that I don’t always get to,” he says. I work for him on Tuesday-Thursday only. He says he might need to get a hold of me on the days I don’t work. Mr. Wright says he will need me to know things in case he is in a meeting during the period I work, or if he is out of town and needs to tell me something important while he is gone. These all sound like good reasons to me, so I give it to him. I would have done it even if he did not have good reasons. He is the principal, and he is handsome.
A couple of weeks later, Mr. Wright sends me email. It is dated from Saturday, but I do not have a computer at home, so I do not see it until Monday’s Word Processing class when I check my emails from the weekend. He tells me something about a meeting he will be in tomorrow, asks me how the track meet went this weekend; other stuff like that. He says he used to be a coach, so track runners are important to him.
I imagine him sitting at his computer at home, typing this email. In my head, he looks a little like Antonio Banderas in Interview with the Vampire that came on TBS this weekend. All the girls think Mr. Wright is very handsome, especially to be over thirty. I bet they would be jealous that I was getting email from a good man like him.
I decide to show my best friend Adriana Mendoza, but not until Mr. Wright sends me a few more emails, just in case he says something really nice about me. Adriana is a cheerleader. All the boys drool over her, and I know I look even uglier when I am standing next to her. But she is a good friend. Her mother is the cheerleading sponsor and teaches English to the kids who recently came from Mexico. Sometimes in the evenings, she helps the kids’ parents who are not around English all the time like their kids are. She teaches them the laws of the United States and how to keep from being sent back to Mexico.
Mr. Wright starts sending me emails once or twice a week. Most of the emails say things he wants me to do or asks me questions about my homework or track. Mr. Wright tells me it isn’t necessary to let anyone know that he emails me. I like to keep secrets, but I like to share them even more. His emails are like precious pearls to me; each one is a treasure. How can he expect me to hide my jewels in a box? I would like to put them on a necklace and wear them around for the whole world to see what this man gives me. I tell him I don’t show anyone, and I don’t, except for Adriana. No other boy ever gives me attention except for fat, stinky Pedro, and he is two years younger. All Pedro gives me are Chup-a-Chups and little roses he draws for me in art class. These are nice things, but Pedro is no Mr. Wright, and he doesn’t know English very well. I tell him I will only speak to him if he talks to me in English. He is getting better, but Pedro is not good enough quite yet.
Mr. Wright always responds to my emails on the same day I send them. We are getting closer, I can feel it. He never says anything about the emails when I am working, not even when we are alone. I ask him one day why we can’t talk about these things in real life.
“Check your email,” is all he says, then flashes me that big, bright smile. I smile back, showing him my teeth, even the extra ones. I only smile this way at him, knowing he doesn’t care about my vampire teeth.
I check my email in the library. Mr. Wright says it is better to talk through emails instead of out loud since someone might hear us. He says if we can keep our friendship a secret, it will last longer. I want to be friends with Mr. Wright, so I try to honor his wishes. I do print out my emails and take them over to Adriana’s though, because I have to tell someone, and she knows how to keep a secret. I keep them in a notebook at Adriana’s because I can’t take them home. Papa would be suspicious if he found out about the emails. Sometimes they get a little spicy, or at least, I pretend they do.
I send Mr. Wright an email about how I feel ugly today, how my legs are skinny, how I’m taller than most of the boys even though the health teacher says they should have caught up to me by now. He writes back, saying I have low self-esteem. He says I am not ugly. He says my legs are long and slender, but very toned and getting more muscular. He has watched them develop as the weeks go by. He says I am a late bloomer, and in a couple of years, all the shorter girls will be jealous because older boys will be after me. I write him back to say he is so nice and send him a blushing smiley face.
The next day is Thursday, so I go to Mr. Wright’s office. Mrs. Hackett is there, so I ask her what I can do to help. She gives me papers to copy and put in all the teacher’s boxes. The phone rings, and Mrs. Hackett turns around to answer the phone. I am leaning on the counter and I glance back over my shoulder through the door of Mr. Wright’s office. He pretends to whistle at me and gives me the thumbs up. I have on my running shorts today. I flash him my big smile and watch him as he scribbles something down on a sheet of paper, then holds it up for me to see. “Check your email,” it says.
I stop by the library to check it before I take the copies to the teacher’s lounge. The email says Mr. Wright thinks I am adding muscle “at a tremendous rate,” and he wants to measure around my calves and thighs to make sure. He says he wants to do it on Tuesday because it is the last day of school for the year and he won’t be able to track my progress during the break. He says he will want to measure again when school starts next year to see how much progress I make over the summer. Adriana is with me. I let her read it. Her eyes get big as she takes a deep breathe and lets the air escape through her puffed out lips. “This is getting spooky, Esperanza,” she says.
“You really think so?” I ask. “Maybe he is joking. Maybe he is just being nice.”
“Maybe he is a nasty pervert,” Adriana whispers.
“He can’t be” I say. “Mr. Wright always smiles at me and tells me nice things.” Adriana shakes her head.
“Mr. Wright is married, and he should not want to touch you or anyone else. We should tell my mom,” she says.
“No,” I say, thinking Adriana might finally be jealous of me. “Besides, he probably doesn’t mean anything by it. But just in case, I will tell him no, then we will see if he gets mad.” Adriana still looks unconvinced.
“Okay, but if he says anything else, I will see what my mom thinks,” she says. I think for a minute, then tell Adriana this sounds good. Then I email him back to say I don’t think it is a good idea for Mr. Wright to measure me. No one has ever touched my legs and I am nervous. I hope he still likes me after this. I don’t go back to the office that day.
After school, I go over to Adriana’s and check my email again. I cannot wait until Monday to check it because I have to see if Mr. Wright will be mad or not. The little envelope has his name by it, so I click it open. The email scares me. It says:
Bonita, you don’t have to let me measure your legs, but I assure you it will only take a second. You can even wear your sweatpants if you want. However, if you don’t cooperate, I could tell someone about your parents. I could call the border patrol and have them take your parents away. Whatever you decide, please do not tell anyone about this email. You are beautiful.
I think maybe Mr. Wright is bluffing, but Adriana thinks he is serious. “I will show my mama the emails after supper and see what she thinks,” Adriana says. “Mom will know what to do.” I walk the rest of the way home. I am still happy Mr. Wright sees good things in me, but I cannot let him take away Mama and Papa. Adriana is smarter than me, and I am glad she likes to help.
The phone rings tonight at supper, and I answer it, hoping for Adriana’s voice. Mrs. Mendoza is on the line, and asks for Papa. His face turns angry red; he knows. He looks at me with a sadness in his wrinkles, but he says nothing as he hangs up and walks out the door.
Now it is my junior year. I don’t work in the principal’s office anymore. Mr. Wright is gone now; he had to resign because of me. I have not heard from him since last May. I tried out for cheerleader this year and made the varsity squad. I still run every day; I did even during the summer, and my legs are not so skinny anymore. I wave to Papa every day we run by the fields, whether I am winning or not.
Papa tells me after a football game one night that someone saw Mr. Wright there, sitting in the bleachers on the visitor side. Papa told Mr. Jones, the superintendent, and he had my old principal escorted out of the stadium. Mr. Jones got the police and the new principal Mr. Forehand to do it. Mr. Jones said he could not do it since he and Mr. Wright had been such good friends. Mr. Wright told them he just came to watch the football game, but I like to think he came to see me. I imagine him, sitting in some sort of disguise, with binoculars in his hand, focusing on me. I don’t think anyone goes to our games now to watch the team since we lose every Friday. They come to see my legs.