May 7, 2021
Write a story that doesn’t use unhappiness as its narrative catalyst. That is to say, write a happy story, one that is textured, interesting, not overly sentimental, but that is at its core, a happy story, however, you choose to imagine that.
It took me a minute to see her waving frantically in the crowd, a cardboard sign with my name in her hand. She knew how much I hated that, and that’s why I smiled—because she'd wanted to make sure that the first thing I felt when I saw her was annoyed. But, instead, I was grateful and happy that she still remembered even the smallest detail of our time together. LOUE MAGOO, in her firm, all-caps handwriting. The first time we had met, in the dining hall in college, we had reached for the same tray. Silly as we both were, we took a couple of minutes trying to convince each other, with little hand gestures and nods, that it was okay if the other had it, we could both have the next tray.
“Okay, I’ll have it,” she'd finally said, “but only if you tell me your name.”
“Louise,” I'd said, blushing a bit. “But you can call me Loue. You need to spell it with an E in the end, though, because I’m a girl.”
“I see that,” she'd smiled. “Loue, Loue, Loue Magoo.”
The singsonging of her voice still melts in my ear every time I remember our first encounter. The beginning. Somehow, whatever the reason, I knew right then and there that this simple moment would define the next four years of my life. I guess I’m one of the few lucky people who know they're living a special moment right when it’s happening.
I ran to her arms and hugged her like never before, with the longing of the years, with the immediacy of yesterday, as if we hadn’t been apart for more than a few hours, a day or two maybe, instead of six years. It was almost as if she was coming back from England after summer break, when I’d go pick her up at the airport with sunflowers, wine waiting for us back at the apartment. And she hadn’t changed a bit, either, her hair was still wavy, long below her shoulders, auburn, like she used to call it. But she had let it grow out, I knew that because I had seen her pictures of a couple of years ago, and she had a sharp blonde bob cut. I remember thinking she looked nothing like the Mara I knew, and even though I never told her, she’d probably sensed it.
Me, too, I had tried my best to hide the passage of time. My hair was natural once again, the way she liked it, how it used to be when she’d run her fingers through it at night. I made some effort to put back on the few pounds I lost after Leo died early last year. I didn’t want her to see me and think that life had treated me badly while we were apart. Well, first because it hadn’t, but also because it would be admitting to the fact that time itself had passed and, with that, that we inevitably had changed and that maybe, just maybe, we weren’t the same two people who had said good-bye at JFK that Friday in August.
“I can’t believe you’re finally here!” She hugged me again. “Oh my God, you haven’t changed one bit.”
“Neither have you," I lied.
“Welcome to London,” she grabbed my hands in hers. “You’ll see, we'll have a great time! I planned a lot of fun activities, and I’m going to take you in the second floor of the red buses, remember? Like you always wanted.”
So she remembered that, too. I felt my cheeks burning in embarrassment. One night, as we watched a movie set in her hometown, I told Mara that I’d always wanted to ride one of those red buses. “On the top floor, of course,” I added, “because otherwise it doesn’t make any difference.” She laughed sweetly, but for years to come I’d question if she’d laughed out of pity. We were so different, after all. She was the sophisticated British girl, trust fund baby, and I was the DACA girl, trying my best to make my parents’ hardships and struggles worth it. It was doomed before it even started, but even things that are meant to end can bring with them endless happiness.
“I’m sorry about Leo,” she said, as we walked towards the subway.
“It’s okay, I guess,” I lied, again. I wanted to talk about it to someone, to her, but at the same time I didn’t want to talk about it at all.
“How’s your mum holding up?”
“She’s doing well, you know, her life’s just a constant ode to grief and pain. And I guess it doesn’t help that I’m the one who’s left.”
Mara rolled her eyes, and I felt a flutter. She always thought I was so dramatic, and even that I had missed. I smiled because maybe she hadn’t changed after all, and neither had I.
When Mami had made the five-hour drive from Miami to Tampa to visit, we'd made sure to hide everything as best we could. Mara would stay in our room and I would move a couple of things to the spare room. We would offer Mami the sofa that turned into a bed and then, when I was sure that she was sleeping, I’d slip back into our room. Except that mami had different plans. The whole week that she was there, Mami requested to sleep in my bed. “Mi espalda mija,” she had said, “está bien mala. No aguanto el sofá.” But her back had always hurt, ever since I could remember, ever since she had taken extra shifts cleaning houses and then at the warehouse to make ends meet after Papa had died. She did what she had to to make sure Leo and I would be okay, and that my aunts wouldn’t follow through on their threats and send us to Haiti with Louise, Papa’s mom.
Mami had always been suspicious. They say that mothers know everything, and I guess so did mine. There was a glimpse of hope for her, I believe, when at fifteen one of her comadres from Church told her that I had lost my virginity to one of tía Maribel’s sons. Mami didn’t know that it was Juanjo, who was almost twice my age. She also didn’t know that he had tricked me into going to his place promising me I would get to see his newborn. She also didn’t know that it had happened because my tía, much like Mami, was concerned that I seemed un poco muy interesada en las mujeres. Maribel thought her son could help me understand how good it was to be with a man. Sometimes, though, in one of those sleepless nights I’d usually have, it’d occur to me that maybe Mami knew and just didn’t say anything, because nothing that could happen to me would ever compare to what would happen to her, if her daughter turned out to be una machorra lesbiana. “Your dad and that stupid name,” she had told me once, in English to make sure it hurt me more. “Louise, what is Louise? It sounds like Luis, nombre de hombre! But you’re not a man, Louise.”
No, mamá, I’m not a man. I knew that already. I’m Loue, Loue, Loue Magoo, and today I’m happy, with the woman I love, and I’m not letting anything get between us again.