I used to run long distance when I was in middle school. I wore gold and green to represent my school. I was not a formidable opponent. I was very skinny. I was barely a person, but I was. It hurt to run. It stung my muscles and my lungs. Organs bounced behind the flesh. My lungs ached to be rooted into another body. Snot and saliva spilled out of me every time I ran. I was salty skin and flailing limbs. I was a clumsy concoction of hormonal fluctuations and nerves. My attempt at inhaling air was a battle of pace and inability to understand what my body really wanted. I wanted to breathe in deep enough to fall into myself like a glittering galaxy. I wanted to launch myself into the sky. On my own two feet, with the unmistakable body given to me.
After sprinting and stomping into the earth for miles and miles, I fell into bed thinking of my lungs encased in paper mâché, hardening as I woke up. I prayed to the constellations to help me build up my body’s adaptation to intensity. I wasn’t very fast, but there was always something inside my head demanding I know how to run away.
I ran away once because Mamá forgot to pick me up from school. This was not the first time I watched the sun falling and the stars sparkling at me while I waited in front of the school. I picked at the drying yellow grass and stuck them on my tongue. I let the grass curl and spit the pieces up at the dark sky while I waited. I kept a mental reminder to get a watch. Get a watch. Get a watch. Maybe listening to the ticks of second after second could soothe me. The inevitable movement of time could help me move on. Run. Run. Run.
That morning, Mamá drove me to school. There were weeks and even months when she could not wake up to give me a ride to school. There were times when she told me not to be a brat and stay in bed. She held my shoulders down and looked me in the eye, as though she were begging some sort of holy request. The temptation in my legs was to bolt. I could be lightning or neon streaks across the sky if only my legs launched out of my bed when I was too scared. I tried. I tried to run. She grabbed me by the rim of my t-shirt once and dragged me back into the apartment. My knees scraped into pinks and reds flowing down my shins. Once, I tried to catch one of the yellow buses, but I was too late. Mamá slapped me with the full force of her tattooed arm and accused me of running away. Another time, she cut off all of my hair and told me not to doubt her power. I never did, I only doubted her ability to nurture me when she realized her mistakes. I looked into the mirror and reminded myself I don’t brush my hair anyway. Hair grows back. The hair she threw away will fly into the sky. Those are the parts of my head strong enough to escape. The parts she cuts out and throws out.
I called my school “Tangerine Elementary” because it was brighter than any fruit I ever peeled and ate. I used to smell the paint on the walls and convince my nasal passages we were breathing in citrus. Tangerine Elementary’s mascot was the fiery sun. Every kid in the school voted for a new mascot and I penciled in the sun onto my ballot because according to my science teacher, the sun would envelop the earth in no time. Then, there was the Enemy school. Enemy as a concept, not as a reality. Their mascot on the west side of town was the moon. I don’t know why they picked the moon. I don’t know what their science teachers say about the moon’s final defining moment. I waited, with my body still, in the spot where Mamá always waved me down. Sometimes her hair embraced curlers. Sometimes she wore her pajamas. The ones with hummingbirds frozen into the fabric. She always tapped three puny honks from the silver Sentra with the taped up side mirrors. She always shouted at me to hurry so I knew to be ready to run.
Yellow buses lifted children and took them home. Cars ventured out of the parking lot. I counted them and watched them leave, one by one. Shiny metal orbs wandering back home. When the parking lot was empty, I hopped into each spot without touching the yellow lines until I realized I was alone. It was me and the wind and Tangerine Elementary. I scrambled and ran around the school building and pounded on windows. I cupped my hands around my mouth and yelled “HELLO” into the cracks of doors. I yelled “HELLO” in high pitched voices and somber voices. All the doors of Tangerine Elementary were locked so I started walking into the nearest neighborhood.
Even now, my sense of direction is non-existent. I let my legs lead me until I ran into a kid from class. She was the girl who peed her pants while we took our final math test in third grade. I watched the urine flow over the brim of her chair and then trickle onto the linoleum floor. I told her not to worry, I had done it once too. This is not the only memory I carried with her in it. She was speckled with freckles and she taught me how to shoot a basketball. She wore light up shoes on Fridays and asked me if I went to church on Mondays.
She waved to me and asked me about my day.
“I’m running away.”
She asked me from what.
I told her, “I am running away from the planet. I am running away from the earth.”
Her voice was small, but she asked me this with no hesitation,
“Do you want a hug?”
I shook my head, signaling a “no” and looked away.
She shrugged and told me to wait a moment. She ran in and out of her blue house then handed me a pack of ramen and bottled water. She even gave me a Capri Sun with her name written on it in permanent marker.
“This is for your long journey.”
She sent me a Vulcan salute and I reciprocated. I bowed at her and continued walking until the sun set. I let my legs turn into jelly. I let my legs become so stiff and sore when Mamá found me in the middle of a residential street, she could only pick me up into her arms and say nothing.
Rios de La Luz's series, Liminal Bruja is a blend of fiction and nonfiction inspired by her life as a queer brown woman and proudly claiming the space her body exists in as she navigates under white supremacist patriarchy. She is the author of The Pulse Between Dimensions and The Desert via Ladybox Books. Her debut novella, Itzá, is forthcoming via Broken River Books in September. Liminal Bruja is a 6-month series on Corporeal Clamor. Her website is: riosdelaluz.wordpress.com