MARIA

My parents named me Blue for the sky they stared at while holding hands on a hill. When people meet me for the fist time they call me “Balloo,” because they can’t just call someone a color of the rainbow. So I tell them to practice by saying, “red, white, and….”

Maria had her own name for me, after we started dating last year in the 9th grade. It was a pet name.  She was the fist girl I was really crazy about, so she could call me whatever she wanted. She was, like.... I was blown away by her face, her laugh, and how she would let me flirt with her and never get mad.

Well, some time in February, Maria was helping me with Algebra in her bedroom. She sat on the floor, back to “the Bed.” She was telling me that X is really a number, only you don’t know what that number is, so you use a letter instead. I had to say how stupid that was. And she said that you can’t change the laws of the universe, blah, blah, blah—until I zoned out and she elbowed me to wake me up, and put her hand on my neck, and shook my head.

She called me by the name that I hated but had to live with. It made me feel like a kid, but it also made me want to kiss her again. She was a real Italian beauty with long pitch-black hair, big brown anime eyes, and teeth so white they could light up a football field. It had been a whole year since that first and only kiss. I forgot what it was like, and never found out what came after.

“Why did we break up?” I asked.

Stupid question. She looked up at me and then down at the book. “Blue, you need to get this done. We have twenty minutes to do twelve problems.” She wrote some numbers and letters down on paper. It looked like gobbledygook.

“Math is pointless,” I said.

“Mmm hmm.”

“Oh, man! I liked you so much.”

Maria tossed her pencil in the air like it was all over.

“What?” I asked.

“Blue, you wanted to have sex on our second date.”

“When was that?”

“Ok. We met in September, and you tried to impregnate me on Halloween. And then when I said no, you stalked me on the phone." 

She made me laugh, but I didn’t want to. “Quit making fun of me! That’s not how it went.”

“I’m sorry. Seriously, you were not very romantic. But we are friends now, and I still think you are really cute.”

“No, you don’t.”

“See? That’s the problem. You see me as a goddess…” and she whispered the last word.

“You are a goddess.”

“No. I’m just Maria. I don’t sit in the clouds sprinkling glitter down on people! 

“Shit, Maria. You drove me crazy.”

“You can't swear in my house.”

“You drove me crazy.”

“You were crazy. You were sex-crazy. That’s why we broke up.”

“Shit!”

“Blue!”

“I don’t understand females.”

“Boy, that’s for sure,” she said. End of conversation.

I wanted to be her boyfriend again, because last year I really didn’t know what I was doing. The way we broke up was part of my bad luck. She says she still has a bruise on her boob from when I “attacked” her.

We were on the big fluffy couch in her basement watching TV in the dark. She was looking at the screen and I was watching her face light up, and go dark, and light up again. When it turned green, I kissed her. Then my stupid hand shot up and karate-chopped her boob. She was like: “Get off me and get the fuck out of my house!” I never saw her so mad. I mean, she dropped an F-bomb right under a picture of the Virgin Mary.

Anyway, X was still X with five minutes to go. “You’re a tease,” I said, and she punched me in the arm.

*****

That year my life changed. For good or bad, it’s hard to say. One day you think you are this one kind of person, who does what he wants and knows who his friends are. I mean, you don’t even think about these things. The next day you don’t recognize yourself or your life. It’s like, you don’t know how you got to this new place, so you start to question who you are. And when that happens? You’re messed up.

A week later, me and my peeps—Svetlana (or Lana), Maria, and Troy—were hanging out at the end of the cafeteria by the hall. Anthony was in line at the other end, to get more fries. “Lana” told Maria about all the beautiful places to see in Ukraine. Troy talked about his uncle’s car repair shop. And Jason walked by.

Jason is about 5' 8" and strong. His muscles are tight and his neck is thick and he walks like he has springs in his shoes. His head is perfect for a jock--you can see the curved line from his chin to his ear. His hair is real short and blonde and brushed forward, and he has a flat nose like a Roman gladiator that comes in a straight line from his forehead. His lips are big and curved, like a girl's, and his eyes are set behind a uni-brow. When he isn't laughing he looks pissed off. He is kind of odd looking, but I never questioned why girls liked him.

A month before, in gym class, when I couldn’t catch or throw the battle-ball (but was really good at getting it to bounce off my leg, my back, and my face), he told me he could help me weight-train. I didn’t know if he was serious or not, and we didn’t move in any of the circles that were naturally occurring. It sounded cool that I could have a jock friend, but he said it in front of the class and I was humiliated. That’s what gym is for.

Anyway, I almost said hi as he walked by, but he was on a mission. He was wearing dark blue jeans and a red sweater that showed all his muscles. Jason always wore clothes that fit him. He walked over to his girlfriend, Rachel, and leaned on the table with both hands, whispering something in her ear. It reminded me of how loud the cafeteria is. Rachel nodded with a serious look. Then I noticed his butt. It was so round, it reminded me of some boobs. I wondered if it would feel like boobs or not.

He left Rachel and came right back to walk out. This time I said, “Hey Jason!” He stopped in his tracks and looked poker-faced at me. My friends looked up at once to see which Jason this was and were disappointed. But he didn’t notice them, and came over to shake my hand like it was connected to a slot machine. I didn’t know what to say, so I asked him if he wanted to lift weights.

Lana laughed out loud. She loves to make fun of me. “Blue needs some beef on his bones,” she said in her accent, fudging another American expression. Jason looked at her like he never heard of Russia before. “Like Troy,” she said and goosed him. Troy’s a big guy, but he let out this girly yelp that made us laugh.

Then Maria said, “I’m trying to picture Blue’s head on Troy’s body,” and everyone cracked up for real. Lana almost fell out of her chair. I was laughing just because everyone else was—except Jason. He gave me his number and disappeared.

“Oh, now you want to work out!” said Troy. He had his arm around Maria’s shoulder and she was leaning her head on his. Anthony came back with his fries and wanted to know if we made fun of Jason.

“They were pretending I had muscles,” I said.

“Ahhh,” said Anthony, smiling really big. In a split second he dropped the smile and did a serious face. To make a joke--or I guess, to make a point. “So, what did that chump say to you?”

“Nothing. He’s gonna show me how to work out.”

Anthony looked at me like I lost my marbles. “You are aware that he’s an asshole, right?”

“You know Blue,” said Lana. “He must be friends with every body.”

“Whatever floats your boat,” said Anthony looking at his fries. “He’s going out with Rachel, right? She gives me the creeps. She’s always staring at me like I did something wrong.” 

“She’s probably racist,” said Troy, taking the chance to stir things up.

“Maybe she actually likes you,” said Maria. Her eyes got big and goofy.

“She’s got a weird way of showing it,” he said, giving her the look back. “She always says hi, but when I try to be friendly she starts to squirm.”

“Maybe she likes you and she’s racist.” Troy acted like he solved the whole thing.

“Wott?” Said Lana, breaking the sound barrier. Everyone looked at each other like Troy was nuts. Troy pretended to be innocent, while Anthony, Maria, and Lana were yelling at him.

When they all shut up, I said to Anthony, “If she likes you, then what’s she doing with Jason?”

Maria looked over her shoulder at Rachel to find a clue. With her hair tied up, Maria’s neck looked so fine—long and thin. I thought of kissing it, but didn’t think I ever would. I thought of touching it with my rough hands and it didn’t seem right.

Then Jason’s neck came into my mind. I wondered if I could put my hands around it. I pictured him on top of Maria, on the lunch table. I tried to imagine how they would do it. Would she stare in boredom at his mean football face. I didn’t like thinking of Maria like that, but it got me going anyway.

Then my brain switched to total daydream: Jason is benching weights. He looks mad and his skin is red and hot, like it is during gym. He notices me standing there. He puts his weights down, walks slowly towards me, and punches me in the face.

What a shitty daydream. The bell rang, and the depression came. Back to reality. I said bye to my peeps and slept through History.

*****

That Saturday, I went to Jason’s house. It was 6 p.m., windy-cold, and the sun was gone. His younger brother let me in and I went downstairs. Jason was in red basketball shorts with no shirt and looked like he had been working out for an hour. His body was puffy and red even in the cold basement.

I had a shot before I came over, but it didn’t do anything. I barely knew Jason and wondered where I got the guts to talk to him at school, much less come over. I did not need to be friends with everyone; I just wanted to see what he was all about.

Jason’s basement was full of circular weights in different sizes, short and long bars for the weights, a couple benches, a huge mirror, and five trophies. The biggest trophy was for wrestling. It looked like a shiny model skyscraper. On top of it, a silver man slouched with outstretched hands, ready to grab at someone. I wanted that trophy like you want something you know you can’t have.

I sure wanted to be as strong as he was. Jason’s muscles were so tight, they left lines of shadow where one stretched over the other in a pattern of bulges. A hundred muscles wrapped around his body: from a dense chest, over rounded shoulders, down his back, around to this stomach, and into his shorts. It made me think of the nurse’s anatomy poster of a man with no skin, covered in red meat. Jason built up all those muscles to make the body hard and protect the guts and bones.

I took off my jeans and had on my long swimming shorts. I kept my T-shirt on for a while, cuz I was cold and skinny. Jason showed me how to do curls, flys, and the bench press. I wanted to focus on my chest and arms, but he told me that would make me built on top and a stick figure on the bottom. So I did leg-lifts sitting down and leg-lifts backwards on my stomach.

After I lifted for a while, my nerves were cut in half. He waited until we were finished to tell me that tomorrow I would be sore all over. “Then I will call in sick and say I can’t move,” I said. Jason laughed really loud for two seconds, and I wasn’t sure if it was at the joke or at me.

“Now, I’m going to show you some wrestling moves,” he said.

“Okay….”

“You don’t talk much, do you?” I had no answer for that. “Ok, hop on the mat.”

I started on all fours with him behind me, pushed up against me—smooth white body and hairy blonde armpits. His cold, wet body felt like a steak slapped on my back.

Then I became a human pretzel. In about ten seconds I was spun around, coiled in a headlock, and pinned on the floor. All I could do was wail my arms in the air and bang my right heel on the ground.

After two minutes of trying to push this eight-legged spider off of me, I gave up. But Jason didn’t let go. When I stopped struggling, he tightened the hold even more. It felt like trying to breathe under a rock. But my body somehow fit there, and my mind stopped for once. I wasn’t bored, or annoyed, or looking for the next thing, just relaxed for a complete second--a super long second.

My vision clouded and I drifted away. Jason let me out of the hold and bent over me while the blood rushed back into my lips and fingers. He left and came back with some water. It took me a couple minutes to get up.

“You never wrestled before, huh?” he said, as he straightened up the weights and wiped himself off. I got the clue it was time to leave.

*****

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I went right over Maria’s house, five blocks away. I was frozen by the time I got there. Maria let me in and asked what’s wrong.

“Nothing. Um, just thought I would stop by.” She looked like she didn’t understand but didn’t want to know, either. I took off my coat, scarf and gloves.

All of a sudden she looked different—standing there impatiently, holding a shirt. She was so small. Maybe too skinny or too weak. I didn’t want to kiss her.

But, still, there was no question about the power of the the Maria-ness. “Can I sleep over?” I asked.

“No.”

“Can I take a nap?”

“Um. OK. If you are good. I am just ironing my goddess clothes.” We walked through the house and up the stairs to her room.

“Don’t’ worry,” I mumbled. “I am exhausted. And I know we are not right for each other.” I climbed into her bed, curled up, and shut my eyes, trying not to think about friends and enemies

“Blue, I was going to put you in the family room.”

“OK,” I said, but I didn’t move. I needed to be close to her, to fall asleep in her room while she did whatever.

“You don’t listen,” she said. She put a blanket over me—even my head—like she was covering a dead body. I would fall asleep and die if she wanted me to.

The iron hissed. The water inside sloshed around as it turned to steam to help flatten the perfect clothes she wore. Water easily changes form. Does it ever resist?

“Goodnight, Maria,” I said and waited for a reply.

Ten seconds. Then she sighed. “Goodnight, Little Boy Blue.”