The Diary of B

by Alexa Rivera

Editor's note: the pieces in our Interregnum 2016 series were originally submitted to the Creative Writing competition as part of Interregnum XII at The King's College. The following piece placed third. It was submitted on behalf of the House of ten Boom.

 

Dear Diary,

We moved into our new house today. Or rather, apartment. It’s Section 8 Housing, because that’s all we can afford right now, especially after Papa’s death. The first time I saw the apartment was the last time I ever wanted to set foot in it. The once-crimson paint had chipped and was now the ever-flattering color of raw chicken. There were a dozen tiny dents in the door as well. Bullet holes, probably, but I tried not to think about that.

The kitchen was cramped and there was no dishwasher, no microwave. The smoke alarm was right above the stove, which was a gas stove, and which only had two settings: Barely Cooking and Practically On Fire. There was no way Mama would be able to cook a meal for four without setting the alarm off. The alarm that none of us could reach because we’re all so short. That’s not a stereotype. It’s just true. Papa, who was the tallest in our family, was only 5’3”.

The bathroom was dimly lit, with a yellowing, flickering light just above the scratched and dirt-stained mirror. There was no curtain for showers. Hot water was extra, so we’d have to take our showers cold. There was a fist-sized hole above the browning toilet. I tried not to think too much about what happened there, either.

I try not to think about too much of anything.

- B

 

Dear Diary,

After throwing out wads of delinquent bills, I found out that I got accepted to that nice school Mama applied to for me. I should be happy about this, right? They have a nice performing arts program, just like I wanted. I’m kinda scared, though. It’s in the real nice part of town and I have to take the bus to get there. I’m scared other kids will think I don’t belong, especially since Mama can’t pay my tuition and especially since Papa, well, you know. By the Lord’s good grace, I got a full scholarship there. But I don’t really belong. I’ll never belong. I pray the Lord will protect me.

- B

 

Dear Diary,

There are so many more choices here than there were at my old school. They have dance classes and theater classes and even songwriting classes. I’m in one of those and it’s called Lyrical Study. Everybody brings in a song each week and we analyze it. We don’t have a car or a radio, so my songs are always the old ones that Mama sings when she’s cleaning. They’re also mostly in Spanish. The other kids think they can understand them since they’ve been in Spanish classes since freshman year, but they’re wrong. They only understand on the most basic levels and more often than not, I have to translate it for them because they’re too lazy to do it. The teacher asked me to try and bring in some English songs next time because she thought it would make it easier for everyone else. No one ever thinks about what’s easier for me except me and Mama.

- B

 

Dear Diary,

How come we only read books by white guys? Europeans aren’t the only ones writing books, you know. There are five other continents out there. Maybe I’ll become a writer myself and show them how it’s done. Maybe I’ll start by writing the school to petition for a world literature class.

- B

 

Dear Diary,

I’ve been frequenting the library a lot lately and reading everything they have (notice that I used the word ‘frequenting’). I’ve been studying all of the classic authors they made us read in English class more closely. I think it’s stupid that they call it English class. You don’t learn English, you just read literature. But anyways, this week I’m reading Emma by Jane Austen. I like the way she writes. I want to write like her.

- B

 

Dear Diary,

My teacher won’t add any more books to the class list, but if I can come up with a book list for the proposed class, I can get it added. I’m going to start with Don Quixote and work my way up from there.

- B

  

Dear Diary,

On the Russian front, I’ve added Anna Karenina and the Fountainhead to the list. From the Middle East, it’s One Thousand and One Nights. I picked that one especially because I believed it influenced many of the writers we focus on in English classes today. As far as Hispanic novels went, it was very hard to choose. These are the stories that are going to represent me as a person and the culture that I come from. I’m rather fond of Esperanza Rising, but it might be too simple for a high school level course.

- B

 

Dear Diary,

I’ve submitted my proposal to the Principal. She says she’ll get back to me about the course’s approval within the week.

- B

 

Dear Diary,

The course will be taught next fall, if she can find someone to teach it. I’m very excited for this opportunity.

- B

 

Dear Diary,

Did you know that Mark Twain’s real name was Samuel Clemens? Maybe I should come up with a cool pen name. A lot of authors like to use their initials. Maybe I’ll do that, too. J. K. Rowling did it because her publisher didn’t want people to know she was a woman. They thought books by a woman wouldn’t sell in that genre. She proved them wrong. I want to be like her and prove everybody wrong.

- B

 

Dear Diary,

I submitted a short story to the school’s literary magazine under the name ‘B.’ It was accepted and everyone is trying to figure out who wrote it. I won’t tell them that it’s me because I think it’s better that they don’t know.

- B

 

Dear Diary,

I’ve submitted several more short stories since then, all anonymous. I’ve written copies of them and sent them out. The originals are in a folder under my bed. I’m going to keep them all together so that I can publish them all one day.

- B

 

Dear Diary,

I’m old enough to work now, so I went out and got myself a real job. I still babysit the neighbors’ kids on the weekends, but at my new job I’ll be making $8 an hour! I’m going to save up to buy myself a computer, so that I don’t have to use the ones in the library no more. Sorry, anymore.

- B

 

Dear Diary,

Mama surprised me with a computer for my birthday! It’s nothing fancy, but I love it all the same. She used up all her tax refund money just to get it. I’m gonna spend the rest of the night typing up my stories so that I can send it to a publisher and so that I can make some more money to buy us more nice things. The first thing I’ll buy is a better apartment. There’s a girl at my school who says she doesn’t have to share a bedroom with anyone and that she’s got four bedrooms in her house. Four! And my poor Mama can only afford two. I share a room with her and my brothers share the other. We all share one bathroom. It would be so nice to each have our own rooms, but I don’t even know what I would do with all that space. As much as I hate living in this apartment, I think it brings Mama and I closer together. Some of the kids at my school just have no respect for their parents. They only try to become friends with me if they want to be rebellious. One time this kid even asked me for some weed. I didn’t have any weed, but he was willing to pay a lot, so I came back the next day with a Ziploc full of oregano. That night I took the family out to dinner at Chili’s, my treat.

- B

 

Dear Diary,

I’ll be graduating soon and I’ve got enough stories now to make a book out of. I’m sending it to some publishers next week under the name A.A. Batista. Batista was my father’s name. My mother doesn’t use it anymore, but I do. I haven’t forgotten Papa. I never will.

People used to tell him that he’d never amount to anything and that his art was a waste of time. He didn’t make a lot of money from it, but he didn’t let his family starve. He got another job and spent his free time divided between us and the streets. He used to paint these beautiful murals on the sides of the walls downtown. Right where all the white people worked, and all the people like me lived. I often wondered how they could be so blind.

But Papa made his murals and hung out with his friends that Mama didn’t like.

And one day he was in the wrong place at the wrong time…

And well, you know.

- B

 

Dear Diary,

It’s been a few months since I sent my first manuscript in and still no reply. Hopefully, it’s just a matter of personal taste and not because I’m a terrible writer. I’ve worked so hard. I just wanna be worth something.

- B

 

Dear Diary,

I got my third rejection today. Maybe I really am a terrible writer. I wish they would tell me what I’ve done wrong, so that I know what to improve. Or maybe Mama’s right. Maybe my last name is too Cuban for them? Even if it was, I would never be ashamed of it. I’m not going to change who I am for them because that would mean that they’ve won. I can’t let them win. I have to show them that I’m worth something and that starts with me believing that I have worth.

- B

 

Dear Diary,

After 11 different publishers, someone finally agreed to publish my stories. Maybe I’m not so terrible after all. The royalties look promising, that is, if anyone even buys it. Hopefully, I get my first paycheck soon. The sooner I can move out of this dump, the better. Mama deserves a better home than this. She deserves a nice big kitchen to cook in.

- B

 

Dear Diary,

My first paycheck came. I’ve never seen so many zeroes in my life. I showed Mama and she told me we could go to any restaurant I wanted for dinner. I chose to go to Red Lobster and we all ordered whatever we wanted, without even looking at the price. Is this what financial stability feels like? If so, I like it a lot. I could get used to this.

- B

 

Dear Diary,

All the money has been deposited into my bank account. I wanted to give most of it to Mama, but she insisted that I’d earned it. I’m gonna help her pay for the few remaining months on the lease, and then we’re out of here. I’ve started looking at some houses in the nicer part of town. Some actual honest-to-goodness houses. Maybe we’ll be able to afford one of those four-bedrooms my classmates have told me about. Maybe we’ll even be able to afford five. A room for each of us and then one leftover for guests. We could start having guests over more often. We could have a home that we aren’t ashamed of.

- B

 

Dear Diary,

We went to the cemetery today to put some flowers on Papa’s grave. I told him about all the wonderful things that have happened that he never got to see. And Mama told me something important. She said to me, “And none of those things would have happened the way they did if he was still alive.” She’s right, though, because I never would have written about that awful apartment that we lived in. I never would have written about racism, gang violence, or drugs. I never would have been published in the school paper for speaking out against those things. Or maybe I would have, but I wouldn’t have felt as strongly about it. His death gave me a cause to fight behind. It served as a reminder of how precious one life is. Life can be taken at any moment, so you must constantly ask yourself what you have to show for it. For him, he had his artwork. He hung out with the wrong type of people, sure, but all he ever wanted was to be heard. He knew how important his voice was, so he knew he had to use it. It’s not his fault that some cop didn’t want to listen.

It is in this moment I think of a favorite poem of his: a poem I now hold close to my heart. The famous poem of Dylan Thomas, its last stanza quoted here:

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

I used to wonder what it meant. It used to be just simple words to me, void of any meaning. But now I know there’s something more. Don’t let your light burn out. Don’t let the darkness win. Speak up for what you believe. Don’t be silenced without a fight. I won’t be silenced. Not while I’m alive.

- B

 

Dear Diary,

We moved into our new apartment today. Except actually, it’s a house this time. It’s in the nicer part of town, because that’s all we can afford right now, especially after Papa’s death. The first time I saw the house was the last time I ever wanted to leave it. The once-white paint had been painted over and was now the ever-pleasant color of the sky. There was only one tiny hole in the door: a peephole set to just my height.

The kitchen was large and there was a dishwasher, and a microwave, too. The smoke alarm was off to the side, but still close enough to go off if we needed it to. The stove was electric and had five different burners, each with a wide variety of settings. There was no way Mama would be able to cook a meal for four without running out of space. We had an island in our kitchen now and even a bar to sit at.  

The bathroom was brightly lit, with a bright white light just above the freshly polished mirror. There was a curtain for shower that looked like a scene from the beach. I could pay extra for hot water now, so for the first time today I took a long shower.

I think a lot about who lived here before we did. I think about a lot of things now and turn all of my thoughts into stories.


Thumbnail image by Evelyn Stetzer.