Sad Girl, 1992
Ursula Villarreal-Moura

The very first time your parents allow you to go out by yourself two cholas almost kick your ass. You are thirteen and have agreed to meet a boy for a matinee movie. The two of you see Chaplin in black and white, share a tub of popcorn, and kiss in the dark. The boy's face is crusted with infected pimples, but you are willing to close your eyes because being independent for half a day is a victory.

After the film, you part ways with your date and exit the mall. Your parents instructed you to wait at the bus-stop bench. You sit, squinting under the sun when a Chicana like yourself approaches. Her hands are deep in the pockets of the khakis that she paired with a buttoned white polo and black Converse sneakers. She is wearing her school uniform, you figure, on a weekend. Her obvious red lipstick and bandana then signal to you that you're face to face with a chola. She is a mere two accessories away from being full blown, from signaling terror.

She side-eyes you before saying, "You see my friend over there?"

Ten feet away is a similarly dressed chola yielding a kitchen knife.

"She thinks you were looking at her funny," she says.

Your first fear is your teeth, but they may jump you in unison, gut you, or razorblade your face. Years ago, you naively assumed you'd escaped the barrio, but the barrio returned to find you. At this moment, it is inconsequential that you now attend a private school on a merit scholarship.

"Nah," you say. "I wasn't looking at nobody."

Your use of a double negative is deliberate, a type of Hail Mary.

"You sure, sad girl?" your bully asks, tilting her head.

You nod. The cholas exchange a conspiratorial glance then nod with a synchronicity you will remember forever. This gesture means you get to keep your original face and that your dentist will never be part of this equation. It will haunt you that you were chosen and spared for no good reason.

When you finally escape into your New England college dream, you regard the memory of that afternoon like a fossil, examining its vertebrae. For your birthday, you treat yourself to a 14-karat gold nameplate necklace, gold oversized bamboo hoops, and dragon blood lipstick. From the neck up, you pattern yourself after your tormentors, thrilled by your transformation and struck by how very long it's been since you were a sad girl.

Ursula Villarreal-Moura is from San Antonio. She has work in or coming from The Normal School, matchbook, Nashville Review and others.

Read her postcard.

Detail of photo on main page courtesy of osbornb.

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