I was a sophomore. I had an English teacher who I would soon see as somewhat of a hero, a model of the teacher I would someday be to my students. I will call him Fritz. I was one of at least three girls in wrestling; I wasn’t great, but I was learning.
When I received word from the librarians that Ruben Ramirez would be visiting for the Hispanic poetry read in the library, I spoke to each teacher I had individually, pleading my case with them. Fritz, fortunately, saw something in my cause, and agreed to, rather than simply allow me to be absent for the poetry read, take the entire class on the condition that I would be reading a poem. I wasn’t so lucky with the rest of my teachers, although I did get a chance to see Ruben between my 7th and 8th periods, 8th being wrestling, my last class of the day. He pointed at me, and I approached, greeting him with a hug. We were familiar, a new closeness I had only hoped to have.
I did not get out of wrestling, but I did skip changing to haul ass to the library, still damp with my own sweat, and wanting only to have a short discussion with this poet I so loved. I began our conversation by picking up his notebook. “Do remember that you told me I could have this?” I grinned.
He pulled it out of my hand, “I said no such thing.”
“Ah, but you did. You said that if you died, it was mine.”
“Yeah. If I die.”
“I’m holding you to that Mr. Ruben Ramirez.” I said with just the slightest sarcasm in my voice.
We both smiled at each other. Now, I could never figure out why, but this short moment, standing there, smiling at Ruben has never left my memory. No detail of him ever has. As I see it, he was a very significant part of my growing teenage years, and nothing can ever change what he did for me, or to me. Despite anything he might believe of himself, we both impacted each other… but I suppose this is just wishful thinking.
He handed me a small flyer with a skull on it, an invitation to an open mic at what I assumed was, as my Uncle Raymond would call it, a poetry bar. Not only that, but he tempted me with the promise that he would loan me his notebook to read for my leisure, if I attended this poetry open mic. I accepted this offer, attempting to mask my excitement as well as the fact that I would have gone whether he offered his notebook or not. I looked at him, with this look that he would later describe as my “Lolita smile”. I smiled with my eyes as well as my mouth, a smile that begged for his touch, his affection.
But obviously, there was no affection that came with the look I gave him. He hugged me, offered me a piece of the cake the librarians gave him, and before I could answer, he had pushed it into my hands and disappeared.
Now, thinking back on this memory, I realize that there’s so much I did, so much I said that I would later sit in my room and think was stupid. I believed that there was no way I was hiding my age, he could see right through my little charade. I tried to play adulthood like a toddler playing house or mother with dolls and blankets made up into tents. But he knew…
I spent weeks obsessing over my horrid poetry, contemplating my outfit, wondering just what the hell I was going to do when I faced Ruben again. I wouldn’t go alone for fear of not knowing anyone; I would bring my friend Abby. I contemplated every miniscule detail of how I would behave when I was to see Ruben. Looking back now, I suppose it was all just the beginning of how I would continue to behave around him, the opening act to a long and drawn out play of love and tragedy… Curtain up….