i first met her when we were kids. she lived above me in our shared duplex. it was right at that age when we were starting to think about ourselves in the 3rd person. one day, on a walk, my older sister said when you grow up you start to get a picture of yourself in your head. it took me longer to get that picture than it took nina.
she walked around with big nails singing radio songs. her nails had thick white tips and sometimes they curled like her mother’s. this was back when i was still biting my nails to the soft parts and sometimes they bled and hurt for days. nina had long straight hair and boobs like a woman. she had darker skin and she was loud. when she played with other girls i got jealous and sat by my window feeling sorry for myself. one day we looked up at the sky when the sun was setting and i saw 3 pink-tipped waves in a row, and i thought i’d die in water. my name meant bitter sea. when nina said my name it sounded like manina. that’s when i knew i could understand myself through her.
we put on shows and i was the director. we had singing contests and her voice hit 3 notes at the same time and my voice hit one note thinly. we played by the shed where the lilacs grew over the trash bins. we buried a box of keepsakes under the window to the basement. when nina ran up her stairs i heard it in my room playing bouncing balls or building a house for barbie’s kid sister. at night they danced to diamond girl and volare. she spoke languages i’ve never even heard of. she knew about boys and girls from her older brother and sister. they all got married before they moved except for nina.
every so often i thought about nina and our awkward goodbye. by then we were in middle school and didn’t talk much. she looked like her older siblings. i still had no idea what i looked like in my head. i wanted to read books and sing radio songs. i knew all the words. i wanted to sing them for nina but she had other older friends. she wore thick gold earrings and kept her hair up with a clip. my hair never stayed. so when we said goodbye i knew it’d be forever.
we moved into a house in the suburbs. it was two floors all to ourselves. there was a radio in each room. each room had windows and i had them all to myself. when i walked around school singing radio songs and painting my nails everyone looked at me like i was crazy. i missed nina. i used words nina used and everyone looked at me like i was somebody else. i had no idea of myself in my head. i wanted to hold my hair up with a clip. i wanted my nail tips to be thick and white. I got tighter jeans than anyone else in my grade. i had no idea about boys. i knew all the words to everything. i missed the way nina was loud. i wanted to be that loud.
i wanted to know myself better through her. manina. still foreign-sounding. a language i’d never even heard before. where did her parents go? what was she doing in high school? i avoided it all and got even quieter. i sang everything to myself. what must i look like to everyone? a white girl. maybe goth. eyeliner now. so many clips i couldn’t count. i kept them on my shirt hems. boys like to play with them. they make mouths out of them. they can make mouths out of anything.
we ride around listening to radio songs. i want thick earrings and bracelets. i want to make sounds where i go. i swear like a motherfucker. i love it. boys love it too but they can’t show it. i learn how to dance like nina used to. i learn how to hit 3 notes in a row. i sing but it’s quiet still. nina and i have lost touch. my name is marina. i wonder where she is.
i see her wearing furs and diamonds. i see her hair is different colors of black and blond like her mom. her siblings are married again. she might be pregnant. but she parties. she buys expensive bags. she’s loud but it sounds like she’s happy. more things and fancier nails. high heel shoes, leopard print everything. eyeliner. lipstick.
i have this idea of her in my head. she likes the finer things. i think of her like i think of my rich doctor or finance friends, who buy expensive watches for their wives. i can’t relate, but i know i knew them once. we’re always still kids and awkward. we’ll always be friends. we had something pure once. like we buried things and remember them. we still love radio songs, the ones from our childhoods. i know every word. it’s muscle memory. white tips and bracelets. boys. our mothers and what they taught us. i still love hip-hop. even though we came from diferent places and spoke diferent languages. i still speak yours now. i know what you mean, i’ve watched you become it all these years. we held each others’ hair and held hands once. your skin felt stronger than mine. your nails were popping off all over our lot. we found hairs in our cushions, long dark hair that smelled pretty. we kept tabs on you every night. diamond girl. cinderella. pocahontas. we both came here from somewhere else. that’s why i’ve always appreciated you, nina. if we can make it here, we made it. you know where your heart is. a buried box in cement. red juice water after playing. that breath we take at the end.