Christina could not have known that she would leave her little weekly soiree with needed assistance. However, sitting there in the cozy living room with sparse wall decor and the chatter of festive friendly strangers listening to Bob Seger, she somehow knew this wouldn’t last. This wasn’t her scene. She didn’t live through years of experiences with these people as they all had. She never even saw them outside this house. She was an outsider that had come in from the cold Midwestern winter.
Initially Christina had been brought to these Monday night parties by her then boyfriend Kevin. She’s not sure how she got the nerve to keep coming back alone after they had broken up but whatever it was, it felt like a new freedom. She was very shy and always a fish out of water at social functions. Beer helped. It helped a lot actually. And weed kept the beer from becoming a problem. It was just the right balance of nerve with restraint if she could get the levels correct, which was tricky. Roger and Beth, an older but in reality most likely not out of their 20’s, married couple, hosted these gatherings in their tiny white Cape Cod on the West side of town. They both held jobs that made this odd night selection perfect for them and chances were everyone was usually free to come. They liked Christina she supposed or didn’t know what to make of her enough not to like her but regardless, they made her feel welcome. And in turn the crowd of longtime friends accepted her into the fold.
She always dressed up just enough to be presentable without looking like she was trying too hard. These were more down-home, working class types. She didn’t want them to think she was showing off. She certainly didn’t come from money, but she held a good job and lived with her parents, so all money went to her clothes, car and music. Despite her insecurities, she always held a natural flair for the dramatic in regards to dress. But the main goal was to fit in because she liked it here.
The group played records during the night, trading off rights to pick. People would gather around, holding the albums as though they were longtime friends, flipping them over to announce their favorite song or calling your attention to a specific musician. It was common to tell stories. Some told of live shows they attended or what made a track special. Christina was a big music lover so this was like finding a new church. Mainly the men would talk and run the selections but the women would respond from the adjoining room when their highlighted tracks played with excited howls and raising of beers in the air. They were all so enthusiastic about the bands they followed. Christina wanted to go with them in their fervor but would eventually learn that this music didn’t touch her the same. However, it was enough to witness their passion, to be a part of this creative exchange.
They were southern rock lovers, some of the outlaw kind. Lynyrd Skynyrd, Black Oak Arkansas, Molly Hatchet, 38 Special. Christina knew and liked these bands but failed to connect fully to their vibe. But this was the sound of her hometown and she struggled to make it fit.
You called yourself Spanish in the 70s Midwest if you wanted any chance to make friends. And even though her family owned a tell-tale Mexican Restaurant, it was fairly easy for a light skinned girl to pass as they called it. Most guys were open to any girl but that often didn’t stop them from reciting off color jokes in her presence. It would be considered too bold to object in those days. Most minorities were expected to take it and not be offended. The mere fact that you were allowed in should be enough. Passing meant you never mentioned your differences and to the best of your abilities, you assimilated.
But she was different in so many ways. Her brothers and sisters listened to psychedelic rock and leaned more towards experimental music. They also loved R&B, deep soul, and Motown. She herself came from the Elton John and Carol King, singer-songwriter camp, then onto Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith. Effeminate rockers were considered fags and your support for them was questioned. Her parents played Ranchera music which is very similar to country and although she didn’t speak Spanish they would describe the songs that were often about scorned love or patriotism. It wasn’t just the music, she imagined her mother and father and her own upbringing was quite distinct from theirs just by the way they spoke, the words they chose and what they spoke about. Who she believed she was fell somewhere outside of her parents and between her siblings and them. But no matter how she saw herself, at that time, perception was everything, and it wasn’t going to be as easy as she thought to separate from her foundation.
Mostly she would just sit and listen but discussing music was an area she could be herself, confident in her opinions. She could tell some guys were taken aback but some were happy to hear an honest female point of view. Still, she was careful to give it sparingly. It was a bonus there was no sexual tension as most were either in happy couples or individuals like her just looking to have fun on slow nights. Until of course, that all changed. One night the front door opened and the wind blew in this tall thin blonde gorgeous boy, looking far too much like the famous lead singer of Christina’s favorite group. He had the same dimpled smile and golden curly long locks. He began coming regularly, always came alone and there was a difference about him. He had no harsh edge. He laughed a lot and his presence was like sunshine. Christina was secretly thrilled just to have him around. She kept pinching herself that anyone like this could possibly be accessible in this often bleak factory town. It was the dead of winter when everyone tended to look grey and pale. But his cheeks were flushed and she noticed his movements were more animated and joyful. Maybe he was an outsider too!
Christina found it more and more impossible not to seek out his glances from across the living room into the kitchen where he was always surrounded. His smile was always big in return. Eventually they exchanged a few words, and if they didn’t connect would make sure to shyly say hi and goodbye complete with extended bright stares. And just like with this outlaw rocker bunch, that was enough for her. She really couldn’t imagine herself dating him so grins and mutual admiration would do just fine. But one night, out of the clear blue he asked her for a ride home which she very happily obliged. Surprisingly, he lived pretty far away so there was time to chat about small things and they laughed some. She thought she was nervous but noticed he seemed even more awkward. He kept looking over at her and away as if she was some kind of forbidden fruit. He had a giggle that was infectious and she looked over to see his reflection in the passenger window as he grinned shaking his head. When they finally arrived it turned out he lived in a deluxe trailer park, probably the first she’d seen of it’s kind. These were double-wide with landscaping and porches, a gated community. He thanked her for the ride and sweetly kissed her before leaving in a rush. It was fast but the kiss was real, on the lips with gentle tongue, not crude. It was a perfect night straight out of Teen Dream Magazine, she deducted as she smiled all the way home. It was respectful and thoughtful, not like these neanderthals from her high school, she thought.
She looked forward to the next party. That was New Year’s Eve and the house was more full than usual. There were some new people she’d never seen before including one woman in particular who gave her the evil eye all night. That was strange because so far everyone she met had been so friendly. She wore her new knee-high tan leather boots and sparkly earrings hoping she didn’t over do it. As the night went on it looked as though her friend was not coming. She wandered over to the turntable area, off the living room hoping she’d get a chance to pick a record. That’s where her family had their console too and she was happy to note the similar set up. Roger was sitting talking to a few guys but they weren’t exchanging their usual banter about music, more huddled together as if swapping secrets. Roger glanced over at her, something felt wrong. Normally he greeted her with a big smile and raised eyebrows that came up above his thick black eyeglass frames like blinds. Instead it was replaced with the kind of look someone gives you when they have bad news. There was a moment of silence, then they continued on. She bounced around, looking for a conversation to join becoming more aware that everyone was coupled up on this night.
Later, she popped another long neck and decided to grab a seat on the plush, over-sized recliner happily observing the crowd. She hoped the girls didn’t feel her outfit was too showy, not one of them had heels on. Her boots seemed to grow in size as the night went on, standing out suddenly like two giant pedestals. Who was she, Gene Simmons? She thought to herself, laughing a little inside. Sitting down was a good idea but as she did she started to feel more uncomfortable. Roger came up to her shortly after and told her in a calm almost whispering voice that he felt she better be going. She had a hard time understanding him at first because the chatter and music was so loud. She became confused and crushed. Why would he say that? she thought. She immediately scanned her last moves and wondered what she could have possibly done wrong. Good Lord, she thought, Beth! Go to Beth, she’ll tell me. Beth was always very frank and no nonsense. You knew where you stood with her. They sort of ran that place like a bar. Roger was good to Beth’s bad cop. One thing they were clear on is that you don’t mess up in their house.
But she hadn’t messed up! She scanned the room for Beth but before she knew it Roger was already wrangling her along with her coat and purse in his arms. Not one to argue, she shamefully obliged. She put on her coat quickly and walked to the door without saying goodbye to anyone. She could feel an uneasy attention on her as she left, catching odd side stares. Her comfortable buzz now replaced with a sick feeling in her gut. Her thoughts went immediately to her mother who was always warning her of how kids can turn on you when you’re different, meaning when you’re Spanish and for no good reason. How you must always be on your guard. How important it is to be all the more well-mannered and behaved then the next gal. That you’re always one step away from being an enemy of society. That the worst thing is to hand over ammunition to use against you. That people will stick with their own if kind push comes to shove, right or wrong.
Christina took all this to heart because her mother only spoke to say important things. She looked you directly in the eyes down to your soul and back to hers. You immediately got that whatever she was expressing was very true for her. And although Christina liked to brush it off, her experiences throughout the years always revealed much of this truth. Her best friend reassured her that she never thought of Christina as Mexican. Losing her 1st grade best friend because it was announced a doctor confirmed a new students head lice came from ‘the’ Mexican, Christina being the only one of that description but who showed no sign of the parasites. Her high school friend whose mother was so surprised when she squealed in sincere fascination, I didn’t know that Mexicans used silverware! and worse remarks that she blacked out because that’s what you did.
Christina barely got out of the second door and down the small two steps before she was face down on the walkway, held down by what could only be a giant grizzly bear. Time was distorted after that. Moments were magnified, silenced and then sped up. She was being kicked repeatedly in the head. The only noise was from the grunting and rustling at first. Christina tried to protect her face, she couldn’t see her female assailant who was now screaming wild obscenities. You slut, you fucking Spic bitch! After what could have been 2 days or five minutes she was flipped horizontally, like a piece of meat in a pan. She noticed the sparkles in the concrete that matched the wintry landscape. Just like tiny ice crystals, she thought. How clever. And then all the ankles of people standing in the snow came into focus.
It was Roger that pulled the bear off of her. It would be Roger that would pick her up like a washcloth and guide her back to her car, her legs dragging some of the way. Once he got her safely to her vehicle, leaning down holding the door open he continued his role as good cop and read her citation. That thorough ass-kicking was her introduction to Mrs. Plant. He went on to say how they enjoyed having Christina there but it would be best if she did not return. He wished it could be different but that they couldn’t have this sort of thing happen. That they didn’t allow fighting, they weren’t used to that behavior. Beth would never stand for it, he said.
As the car door closed Christina, in shock, could only stay glued against the seat like the end of those human blender rides of the 60’s where the bottom falls out of the floor. What on earth just happened?! She needed time to process these events. The bear was the wife of the beautiful blonde boy who she kissed back unaware of his marital status. That whole group of nice folks that she was so proud of befriending, along with the cops must think this was all her fault. They all just stood there and watched it happen, she realized, as she began hearing the throbbing in her head. She wanted to roll down the window and shout out her innocence but no one would ever hear her. It hurt to move now. They all marched quietly back inside. She would never return to that house or see any of them again. It was impossible to know for sure how she could so quickly become the enemy to an otherwise peaceful group, but sometimes you just do know. One thing was clear, she was guilty of breaking laws given to her by her mother. Her mother would have warned her against taking that boy home, letting her guard down like that, that people would think the worst. She would say going to those parties alone period was inviting trouble. Eventually, Christina would quietly and slowly drive away and later accept her sentence in much the same way.