In today’s edition of featured nonfiction—curated by our own Carolyn Quimby—we present an excerpt from Jaquira Díaz’s memoir, Ordinary Girls, out today from Algonquin Books.
Here’s what our own Nick Moran had to say about the book in the Second Half Preview:
In her debut memoir, Jaquira Díaz mines her experiences growing up in Puerto Rico and Miami, grappling with traumas both personal and international, and over time converts them into something approaching hope and self-assurance. For years, Díaz has dazzled in shorter formats—stories, essays, etc.—and her entrée into longer lengths is very welcome.
One August afternoon, the year we started high school, I met Cheito. I was coming back from the beach with Boogie, walking barefoot on the scorching sidewalk because someone had stolen all my shit while I was in the water, including my chancletas. Boogie still had her sandals, her towel, her lipstick half melted in her backpack. But I had nothing except my shorts and bikini top—what I’d been wearing while swimming. I was trying to look cool while tiptoeing my ass all the way home when a blue Datsun stopped across the street.
“You need a ride?” the driver called out.
Boogie smiled. “It’s your lucky day, girl.”
I checked out the car, the Puerto Rican flag hanging from the car’s mirror, counted two boys. I looked down at my burning feet. “Fuck it.”
We crossed the street, and the boy riding shotgun moved to the back. Before Boogie could slide in and take his place, the driver pointed at me, looked me in the eyes. “Sit up front with me,” he said.
Boogie sat in the back with his friend. I sat up front, checking him out. He had a dark tan, a low fade, hazel eyes that looked almost green in the sunlight. He kept smiling at me, confident—he was fine and he knew it. I was suspicious of his every move. I didn’t smile back. “I’m going to Ninth and West Avenue,” I said.
“No problem.” He was quiet for a minute, then said, “My name’s Cheito, by the way.”
“Jaqui,” I said, “and that’s Boogie.” I had already decided that I wouldn’t make conversation with them, but giving them our names didn’t seem like a big deal.
“Where you from?” he asked.
“Make a left on Fifth Street,” I said.
He approached the light on Fifth. I sat back and ignored his question.
“Why you gotta be so rude, girl?” Boogie said. “She’s Puerto Rican, and I’m Cuban.”
“I was born in Caguas,” Cheito said to me, “and my mom’s family’s from San Lorenzo. What about you? Were you born on the island?”
“Oh! So you like Tito Rojas? He’s from Humacao.” He turned up the volume on his radio, which was playing Tito Rojas’s “Condéname a tu amor.”
I smiled. “I love him. And Pedro Conga. But not a lot of people know about Pedro.”
He looked sideways at me. “You dance salsa?”
“Claro que si. It’s in the contract.”
Boogie tapped my seat. “What do you mean? What contract?”
Cheito looked back at her. “You don’t know about that. You’re Cuban.”
I smiled at him, then turned to her. “The Boricua Contract.”
She rolled her eyes. “Dumbass.”
Cheito and I both laughed, and he headed north on West Avenue toward my building, the windows down, the wind slapping at my face and hair.
When we pulled up to Southgate Towers a minute later, I opened the door, got out of the car quickly.
“Hold up!” Cheito said. “Can I call you?”
I shut the door, then leaned down and looked into the car. He seemed friendly enough. He’d given us a ride. He handed me a Taco Bell napkin, and I scribbled my phone number on it.
He shook his head. “Que mala,” he said. “I can’t believe you were just gonna walk away without giving me your number.”
I handed it to him. “How do you know it’s not fake?”
In the backseat, Boogie was still talking to his friend.
“I’m a call you and find out,” Cheito said.
He called two days later and we talked for hours. We talked about Puerto Rico, about Puerto Rican food, Puerto Rican music. He told me about growing up in Hialeah and summers in Caguas and San Lorenzo. I told him about Humacao, Fajardo, Luquillo, about Miami Beach. We both raved about our abuelas, who’d raised us. We shared stories about our fathers, both mujeriegos, all the women they’d betrayed. We compared stories about our mothers, both of them hurt by the men they’d married. We played our favorite songs for each other. We listened to each other breathing on the line when we ran out of shit to talk about. At around 3:00 a.m., we started falling asleep on the line, but didn’t get off until the sun rose, then agreed to talk again the next day.
The next day he picked me up and we went to the beach by the Fontainebleau Hilton. We swam in the ocean together, diving headfirst into the waves, racing each other underwater. He never let me win. When I got tired, he let me hang onto his shoulders.
In the water, he picked me up, lifted me until he was looking up at me, and I wrapped my legs around his waist. He was strong, I realized, much stronger than I’d thought. From the muscles in his arms, shoulders, and back, I could tell he lifted weights. He was two years older than me, and six feet tall, and didn’t seem like a boy, but he also wasn’t a man. He was funny as hell, and always asked what I wanted, and I liked every single thing about him. In the water, with my legs wrapped around his waist, I kissed him. Just a quick, soft kiss on the lips.
We’d kiss again when he dropped me off that night. I’d take my time reaching for the door handle, and then he’d lean over, ask, “Can I kiss you good night?”
I’d ride the elevator all the way up to our apartment on the eighth floor, the taste of his kiss on my lips, and I would know, don’t ask me how, that some day I would marry that boy.
Published courtesy of Algonquin Books.