1998 Scholar Profiles
Elizabeth V. Alicea
Lake Forest Academy
Columbia University School of Law
Creative writing teachers will tell you to write about what you know when you're stuck for subject matter. I know I like candy
I know laughter when its hurts and won’t stop
The give of flesh swelled by the stress of your thumb
Solitude and coffee shops and Hung who liked me
Maybe wantonness or liberation in captivity
I know his childhood birthed of abandonment and his anger fueled by surrender
I know trains
Thinking of you
A love of lying or a lie of loving – that I don’t know
A crush and impulse
I know the luck of God watching over me
Hermeneutics, questions unanswered, answered by questions
I know emergenc-e
I know I like candy and that dentists are expensive which is why I’ve never been, but my sister has perfect teeth, strong and white and she smokes, too, so I’m okay. she eats even more candy than I do. used to send me to the corner store for penny candies – called em Penny’s candy, thought it was cute– filled the brown paper bag, and she wouldn’t even share, but threatened me with the comb wet from my shampooed hair if I didn’t get her jawbreakers and whoppers and long boy coconut. I imagine my father climbing coconut trees in arroyo and with a downward stroke crushing the lactating shells, split for any eye, but I also saw a boy do that in a clip on sesame street so I really don’t know if my imagination is real or fictitious. Marquez thinks it’s real, so I pretend it is too. what’s real is that my mouth aches, my teeth too – in the back cuz I bit hard on a lik-m-stick and it broke into pieces, shards and powder white and I think maybe the pieces weren’t all candy, though – probably get it checked out when public aid sends the medical card. my brother stopped getting s.s.i. for his hyperactive badassness, so my mom says I can’t go school clothes shopping this fall. I’m pissed because it’s her fault for not taking his stupid ass to the doctor to get evaluated like they said she had to and what he really needs isn’t Ritalin at all, just a swift good kick in the ass and a father who tells him what to do not a mother because women aren’t respected when they’re the only ones around. but when women are all together they aren’t looking for respect – they want to eat, and they sure know they can eat – cornbread and sweet pickles and bacon for days, good, but not filling like the candy I used to hide after halloween but didn’t do any good cuz Armando and Penny still found it and if they didn’t then I did, and trying to save anything was just a joke. still is. probably spend that dollar fifty I put away for my train fare to work tomorrow cuz I know I can sweet talk one of the attendants at the subway station, “excuse me, I am so sorry but I left my unlimited metrocard in my wallet which I forgot at work and I come through this station everyday and I know you’re not supposed to do this, but if you let me through then I can go to work and get my card so I won’t do this again…and even if you don’t let me through then I’ll just find that police officer who hangs around here and looks at my ass when I pass by the turnstyle cuz he’ll let me slide and all I’ll have to do is cock my head a little and look confused and easy. Thank you.” But hell, I don’t need to buy nothing really, maybe some jolly ranchers or raisinets…oh shit, I almost forgot about those sourpatch kids at home. so I really don’t need anything. except to go to the dentist and get these cavities filled, at least that’s what I imagine they look like – gray and dark in the creases. ache got so bad I thought about going to the emergency room like we did when we got a cold or pink eye but didn’t have insurance or an emergency, cuz a doctor couldn’t refuse us when we’re inside the doors. always a hustle.
hustlin’ is the easiest game in the world as long as you understand nothin’s worth nothing and that all you got is yourself and that moment right now. then you can spend all the damn money you want to and it don’t even matter that you only have 36 cents somewhere in between the wool and the lining in your coat, plus a couple dollars that your mom keeps rolled up in her bra. cuz holes in pockets can be sewn but you can’t fix a starved kid. I never went hungry. had plenty of ramen noodle chicken soup and fried bologna sandwiches and spaghetti – which I can’t stand, now, won’t eat it – and I wasn’t even embarrassed when I brought my thundercats lunchbox to school with my homemade peanut butter and jelly cracker sandwiches wrapped in foil, everybody wanted some, thought my mom was cool – sold em a quarter each, buy me some flamin’ hot cheetos or chase down the candyman’s truck and get the pop rocks that cost 15 cents less than at the liquor store down the street. yeah, hustlin’ ain’t bad, shit, its a way and you can’t shake it just cuz you got some money in your pocket for now. hell, I’m still lookin for bus transfers on street corners, I’ll even walk for miles like I did to get to class before third period because I missed the school bus again and the CTA wasn’t free except on new year’s eve, when I didn’t have to go to school. Papi was a big hustler. odd jobs and charisma and a long time in a locked bathroom with friends keeps him going. me too. cuz without hustlin’ I wouldn’t have been able to buy my first pair of “You a bad boy now, Nonnie-LOTTOS,” not those X-J 900s from payless, at least not without finding and crushing cans and filling like 6 hefty size black garbage bags and getting $125 from the recycling center. mom didn’t know about that – hustlin’, didn’t want to know…just wanted to make sure that I didn’t hide the pack and a half of cigarettes she smoked everyday, cuz then she’d beat my ass and feel bad for it. she had too much pride which never stopped me, actually, kept me going. never felt small or guilty or cheap like they tried to make you think you should. felt more like a diplomat, no dignitary, no some bigshot baller somebody – confident. taking control. taking what I want when I want it, not an i.o.u. and I feel like God must be watching over me – he does that for good people, you know – cuz I’ve only lost two teeth so far and I’m past twenty five like my mom was when she lost all hers. my sister says it’s my fault cuz I sucked out all she had when I was born even her bones. she scares me when she says I’ll have big floppy breasts that look like I can flip them over my shoulder like my mom’s.
mine, no, my teeth are still mine and my pride too and, shit, I even have a twenty in my pocket and twizzlers in my purse. I’m alright. and kid, if you really knew about hunger then you would know that candy fills you up faster than spaghetti. you can make your own with a little sugar, water and berry-red kool-aid, just set it on your window sill in winter to get cold and hard at least until they turn your electricity back on and you can use your refrigerator again. I’ll tell you, that shit is sweet as hell but it tastes better than anything else because you made it yourself. but don’t forget to share cuz, truthfully, candy’s not all that good for you and you don’t want to lose all your teeth before you’re 25.