This third assignment was entitled A Fish Out of Water. The task was to write a scene depicting a character out of their comfort zone. With three pages being our max, it was a particular challenge deciding on something that would allow me to establish a normal before shattering it for my character.
I chose to continue with my character from assignment1.
“Yougonnadogreat,”mydad says from the stove, his Spanish accent extra thick as he works on his English. “Just act like you’re reading for us.”
”I know,” I say, checking one more time to make sure I have everything: notebook, lip gloss, wallet, water. “I’ll be fine.”
I think I will, anyway. It’s easy to say with him looking so proud and confident in me. But I know when I get there, step up to the mic, open my mouth… I’ll freeze. Like I do with every assignment I’ve ever had to present.
“As long as those lenses stay in, she’ll be fine,” my mother calls from the living room where she’s watching some novela. My sister and I had loved them as kids, but now only Ximena still watched with her. I was “too American” now, they said.
She just wouldn’t let it go, that time I cleaned my glasses on the train a week ago. But things were really blurry.
“Nati, why would you say that,” my dad asks switching back to Spanish, and stretching his arm out awkwardly as he turns away from the stove but continues stirring. “She has enough to worry about.”
I’d been holding it together… sort of. But when he says that, my brain goes crazy. I went from trying not to think about anything, to overthinking everything. Of course I have a lot to worry about. That’s why I don’t want them to come tonight. If I stutter over my words. Or forget a line and have to go flipping through my notebook to find it. Or if my lenses really do fall out and, because I’m clumsy af, I step on them instead of picking it up, I don’t want any of them to be there for that. Especially my mother who would never let me live it down.
“Oh my God,” my sister says, bouncing down the stairs and into the kitchen. Her dark brown hair is twisted into a crown, like mine, except neater. She’s definitely going out. And I should definitely head back upstairs and fix my hair. It’s a high school open mic, maybe a messy bun would be better. “You write like a, I don’t know, someone who writes well. They won’t care about how you sound just what you wrote. Picture them in their underwear. That’s supposed to help, right? Bye mami, papi, I’ll see you later.”
“Where are you going,” my mother asks, as Ximena squeezes past where I’m standing by the table and the wall.
“Out.” She says. “Good luck.”
“Ximena, where–” But she’s gone before my mother can finish her name.
“You have to go.” My dad says to me, glancing at the black and white clock with the penguin face that matches the rest of the penguin themed stuff in the kitchen. My mom has a thing for penguins. None of us know why. “Stop stalling.”
“You’re right.” I say with a sigh and head toward the living room and the front door on the other side of it. “Bye papi.”
He leaves the stove to kiss my cheek and wish me good luck.
“I still don’t know why you don’t want us to come.” My mother mutters as I pass her and my baby brother, Santiago where they relax on the couch.
“It’s your first day off in a while.” I say. “You should enjoy the time at home.”
“Ah-huh.” My mother says. “I won’t judge you.”
“I know.” I lie, putting on my shoes. “You guys can come to the next one.”
“Okay.” She says, and for a sec, I think she looks upset. Or disappointed? But then her show comes back from the commercial break, and she turns the volume up. “Good luck. I don’t know how you manage to be so quiet with the family you come from, but you got it inside you.”
“Thanks.” I tell her, the surprise written on my face in neon sharpie. Then I’m heading out the door, locking up, and walking the fifteen minutes to school. Taking the bus would put me there too soon. And my heart’s not ready for that with how hard it’s pounding.
When I get there, I get pulled along in a group of at least fifteen kids all headed to the auditorium. Which is almost full. Five hundred chairs. And people still coming in.
Aren’t things like this uncool? An open mic for the literary magazine? How did so many of them hear about it? I hadn’t known it was a thing until my English teacher told me she’d submitted my piece a month ago, and that I should go to the celebratory open mic. It wasn’t till today that I found out she’d also signed me up to read.
“Hey girl.” I jump when I realize that my best friend, Jalissa’s talking to me. “You okay?”
“Yeah, fine. I’m fine. Why do you ask?”
“Because your hands are shaking.”
I look down at my hands, shaking slightly as I hold my bag to my chest.
“Oh,” I say. “I guess they are.”
“You should sit,” she says. “And calm down.”
“Yeah, okay.” I say. “Right.”
Is it possible for your brain to short circuit? Because mine is. Right now.
So many voices, and faces. And this is coming from among them. When I’m on stage, staring out at it all”’
“Breath.” Lissa says, shaking me a little. “You need water?”
“I have some.”
“Then drink it. And relax, it’s starting.”
I sit through five poems–beautifully read, one song, I wish I could sing, and a spoken word piece. Really? Right before mine? A piece with all that flare and fire and now they’re calling my name. And Lissa’s wishing me good luck. And everyone is staring as I walk up there.
“Um.” I say, then jump a little at my voice being amplified. Is that reY how I sound? “Okay, so, um, I’m going to be reading a poem.” I close my eyes. Then open them, what am I doing? I have to read. I mean, I think I know it by heart but”’
“You’re gonna be fine!” Someone shouts. A stranger. Why are they being encouraging.
My heart’s pounding in my chest, throat… my whole body. But I can’t just stand here. So I clear my throat and open my mouth.