Virgencita, maybe you been busy, but I still believe in you. I know you have to listen to everybody, but I believe more than a lot of people. Definitely more than Graciela, and she got a bicycle for her tenth birthday. I wasn’t there, but Natalie told me it was new and not the ugly, on-sale color nobody wants, but pink with sparkle streamers. Everybody at the party got to ride. You know because you must see everything from heaven.
So you heard what that stupid Sister Grace said today in front of the whole fourth grade when we was all in the library. She was talking about that story we had to read, and Peter Davey asked what the word ghetto means. Sister said it’s the bad part of town, where the projects are. People on welfare and drugs live in the projects, so the ghetto is dangerous.
I wanted to tell her we’re not on welfare. The only crack lady in my building is the one on the fifth floor, whose baby fell out the window. It landed on the community garden, but it’s just dirt where the dogs pee, so the baby died. Mami said, “Ese pobre angelito,” so I think maybe he’s with all the other angels and you in heaven.
But I didn’t say anything because then the whole class would look at me bad. They think Sister Grace knows everything because she’s the librarian, but she doesn’t know. I looked at your picture on the wall between the two windows, Virgencita, and I believed you would make her take it back, or say there’s nice people in the projects. Maybe you didn’t hear me because Sister Grace yelled at me for looking out the window. I didn’t tell her I was praying to you because the class would laugh at me again, and it was private anyways.
I said I didn’t feel good at lunch. You know I really didn’t, so it wasn’t a lie. I didn’t want to find out if no one wanted to sit with me. I snuck my sandwich in my pocket, and ate it in the bathroom. It’s okay because I went to the handicap stall nobody uses, so it’s not nasty. But I got mad when I walked home because NO BICYCLE RIDING is painted on the sidewalks around the projects. Mami and Papi wouldn’t let me ride a bike anyways because some titeres might take it like they took Mrs. Ramo’s pocketbook right in front of our building.
So Virgencita, maybe you could make things better because I really believe in you. I do good in school, and try not to make trouble for Mami and Papi, and do almost everything they say. I don’t want to be greedy and take too many turns, so it’s okay for you to listen to Papi when he prays to you. He believes in you maybe more than me because every day he says a lot “¡Ave Maria purisima!”
So Virgencita, maybe your pure, purest heart can make it so Papi hits the number. Then we can have the house he promises Mami. Then they would stop fighting because Mami would believe him. I’d believe him, too. He’d buy me a bicycle, brand new, and I could ride anywhere I want. Oh pure, purest Mary, holy mother, can’t you talk to God and make it all come true because I ask so nice?
La Virgencita spoke to me today. It’s true. I had to tell somebody, and I know my husband B won’t believe me. Please don’t give me that look. It really happened, this morning, in my bedroom, as I was getting ready for my run.
My Virgencita medallion felt stuck to the dresser when I tried to pick it up. I thought maybe Jack glued the medallion to the dresser to mess with me. I tried to peel it off, and suddenly it glowed. No joke. I thought I was dreaming, like maybe I hadn’t really gotten out of bed and was still sleeping. That’s when she spoke to me. Don’t laugh. This is very serious. La Virgencita said she’s tired of taking care of me. I couldn’t believe it. I know that’s her job as the Holy Mother. I went to Catholic school, remember? Here’s how it went down.
“Mi’ja,” she said because she is the Holy Mother and can be that confiada, you know. “We need to talk.”
“Virgencita, is it really you?”
“Really Nancy, listen to yourself. Does that question make sense?”
I wanted to point out that religious medallions don’t glow and talk to me in the mornings, but being cheeky to La Virgencita is likely a mortal sin. I’m sure she must have the power to read my mind, so I’ve been destined for hell long before today.
“I’m sorry, Virgencita. Um, thank you for visiting? It’s an honor, right? I mean, it must be important if you want to tell me something in person.”
“Yes mi’jita, it is very important, and probably not what you want to hear, but you have to listen very carefully.”
I nodded, waited and heard nothing. Her lips didn’t seem to move, but I wasn’t sure because the medallion is about the size of a quarter so it was hard to see those teeny tiny lips. I leaned closer, then almost fell back on my ass because she appeared in the mirror. Yes, it washer. Like I don’t know what I look like? It wasn’t me wearing a veil and flowing robes with rays of light behind me. Stop laughing or you’ll miss what I’m about to tell you. La Virgencita quit on me and that’s not funny.
She said I never let her rest. I get out of bed at the crack of dawn to go running and she needs to keep a constant eye on me. In the city, she has to guard me when I cross the six-lane boulevard or I trespass through construction zones or startle drug dealers and buyers in that alley I use as a short cut.
“Why can’t you just do laps around the track?” she asked. “It’s safer, and the surface is easier on your knees. You’re not getting younger, you know.”
“Hey! I’m not doing bad for my age. And the track is boring.”
That’s when she said my morning runs drain her energy and patience. The extra guardian angels assigned to watch over me gave up last week, and I pushed Saint Sebastian’s endurance beyond its limits. La Virgencita couldn’t dedicate so much time and resources to just me, so I was on my own.
“Mira Virgencita, no disrespect, but maybe you wouldn’t have to quit me if you managed your time better. I mean, the time you waste appearing on a grilled cheese sandwich or a tree trunk in West New York could be spent taking care of me.”
The mirror darkened and I had no problem seeing La Virgencita’s frown. I apologized real fast.
“And Nancy, you don’t appreciate me when I am with you.”
“Virgencita, how can you say that? The medallion is with me at all times.”
“I know. I’m with you on every morning run, either stuck in your sports bra or, worse, the inner pocket of your running shorts.” “It’s that bad?” I asked.
“Si mi’ja. What is it that you and your friend call it?”
“You mean swamp ass?”
“Exactly. Swamp ass. Every morning.”
She had a point. That was no way to treat the Blessed Mother, but the thought of leaving the house without her scared me. I asked her to reconsider. I promised to be more considerate and treat her better, but she was firm in her decision. I cried. That’s right, I did. I looked at her in the mirror and she was so beautiful. I told her I was willing to beg her never to leave me.
“Ay mi’jita, you’re a smart girl. Too smart to rely so much on a piece of metal with my image. You know you can leave the medallion at home, and never really be alone.”
And she smiled like she believed in me. ¿Te imaginas eso? La Virgencita looked at me like she had faith in me. I felt calmer. Then she said she had to go.
“Will I ever see you again, Virgencita?” I asked as her image faded in the mirror.
“I’m always around if you look carefully. You know, grilled cheese sandwiches and tree bark.”
She winked before she disappeared completely. Then it was just me in the mirror, with my bed head, puffy eyes, and running tank and shorts. The medallion came off the dresser when I picked it up. I took another look at myself, patted down my hair, put the medallion in a drawer, and left for my morning run.
-- Nancy Méndez-Booth was born and raised in Queens, New York. After receiving her BA from Amherst College, Nancy moved temporarily to New Jersey and completed an MA at Rutgers University. Nineteen years later, she’s still in Jersey, returned to Rutgers Newark, and completed an MFA. During those in-between years, Nancy worked as a copywriter and editor, taught in corporate and academic settings, completed seven marathons, and learned to drive. Nancy’s work has appeared in phat’titude literary magazine, Jersey City magazine, Philadelphia Stories, and she is a frequent featured blogger on mamapedia.com. Nancy blogs weekly at http://www.nancymendezbooth.com. Nancy teaches writing, Latina/o literature and cultural studies in the New York City metropolitan area. She lives in Jersey City with her husband, John, an ardent supporter of her pre-dawn writing and running.