ANABEL MIST DOES NOT EXIST
Every time I’ve introduced myself to anyone, I’ve lied.
“Hi, my name is Anabel.” Lie.
“I’m twelve years old.” Lie.
“I just moved here from the West Coast.” Lie.
“My birthday is in March, my dad lives in Europe, and my mom’s name is Margo.”
All lies. A whole lifetime of lies.
The truth is I don’t know my real name. I’m not sure exactly how old I am, and I’m not from the West Coast. At least, I don’t think I am. My birthday changes with the seasons, I have no idea who my father is or where he lives, or if he’s even alive, and my Mom’s had so many different identities I couldn’t even begin to list them all.
Mom says it’s better this way. Safer. “Better safe than sorry,” she always says. But she won’t tell me why.
Sometimes at night when I can’t sleep, I stare at the ceiling and try to think back to when I was really little, my earliest memories. I’m like a detective looking for clues, but all I have to go on are flashes of recollection so short it’s like I’m clicking through channels and only stopping on each show long enough to hear a line or two. Not enough dialogue to actually tell me anything.
Last year in fifth grade health Mrs. Jimenez began a lesson on self-discovery. She said, “Girls, you’re pre-teens now, and it’s time you learn the truth: The next ten years will not be easy. Life will be full of ups and downs. You’ll be growing up and figuring out who you really are. It’s a very important time in the life of a young woman.”
I started to cry, which was not unusual for me, but it was beyond embarrassing, and of course Mrs. Jimenez noticed right away. Her eyes met mine and she opened her mouth, but what she planned to say I never did find out, because at that moment Sofia Mejia raised her hand and, without waiting to be called on, asked, “Are we gonna learn about sex now?”
That distracted everyone, including Mrs. Jimenez who got very red-faced, and by the time the lunch bell rang I’d managed to pull myself together.
That was a Friday. Two nights later I was sound asleep, dreaming about a big city building with lots of stairs, when Mom shook me awake.
“Audrey, the Bad Men are coming!” she said. “I packed up everything.
Get dressed. We don’t have much time.”
A week later, Mrs. Jimenez was over a thousand miles away.
And my name wasn’t Audrey anymore.
It happens as I’m exiting the bathroom.
One second, I’m upright and walking fine; the next, I’m on my hands and knees on the floor. I don’t hear my jeans rip, but I sure feel it.
I can’t believe I tripped over my own shoelaces like some clumsy first grader. I move into a sitting position and bend my right knee so I can re-tie my laces. Then I take a second to glare at my scabbed-up kneecap, poking through the large hole.
“You couldn’t have survived just a few more hours?” I whisper to my Salvation Army jeans because I know that they did this on purpose, just to embarrass me.
“What’s the matter, Anabel?” someone asks. I don’t have to look up to know that it’s Her Majesty, Lola Jean Wright, Queen of Sixth Grade. Of course she would be the one to stumble upon me, kneeling in the hall, jeans all torn up, tears in my eyes.
“Nothing,” I say, but she kneels down beside me and pats my shoulder like we’re friends.
“Aww, you poor thing! Just look at your pants. Don’t worry, it’s not like anybody will really notice. It’s the last day of school, and besides, no one cares what you look like! So don’t cry. There now. Feel better?”
I just stare at her. I never know what to say to Lola Jean. Lola Jean, with her expensive skinny jeans and perfectly-fitted tee-shirt. Lola Jean, with her curly hair pulled into the world’s neatest ponytail. Lola Jean, with teeth that would make Miss America jealous. How do I talk to someone like that?
“Hello, Anabel? Are you awake?” she knocks on my exposed kneecap and giggles.
I open my mouth to say something, anything, but nothing comes out.
Her Majesty stands up and nudges me with the toe of her white and silver flat. “Come on, up we go. You’re fine. It’s not a big deal, Anabel. No one looks at you.”
She makes me want to scream.
“Go away, Lola Jean,” I say finally, but of course she just stands there giving me this pitying look. Maybe if I close my eyes, she’ll disappear.
“Tell you what? Consuela, my maid, said the other day that she needs to get rid of some of her daughters’ old clothes that don’t fit anymore. She could bring them to a thrift store, but why don’t I just have her drop them off at your house? That’ll save you and your mom a trip! Plus, then you guys don’t have to use all your welfare money to buy clothes. What do you say?”
“We’re not on welfare,” I say, but Lola Jean just laughs.
“Of course you’re not.” She winks at me like we’ve got a secret. For one wild moment I really want to bite her leg. I’m still crouched down; I could do it.
“We don’t need your maid’s old clothes,” I insist. “We’re fine.” With that, I do what I always do: stand up, turn around, and walk away.
“Let me know if you change your mind!” she calls after me. I bite my lip to keep from crying. If she hears me crying she will never let me forget it, the way she hasn’t let me forget the day I got a bloody nose in gym because I tripped over my own feet and fell flat on my face during a game of basketball. “Are you sure you don’t want to stay after school with me one day?” she asks all the time. “I can teach you to dribble so you won’t embarrass yourself again!”
Lucky for me, when I round the corner I almost walk right into the only person in sixth grade who thinks I’m fine just the way I am: Mei-Zhen Wu.
“Hey Anabel! What’s wrong?” M.Z. asks.
“The usual. My jeans ripped, then Lola Jean busted on me, but in that way she does where it sounds like she’s Mother Theresa if you tell a teacher about it, you know?”
“Who’s Mother Theresa?”
“This nun who worked with lepers in India,” I explain.
“Oh. Well hey, maybe Lola Jean will work with lepers someday and end up losing her nose. Does it make me a bad person to say I’d laugh at her?"
“Yeah, kinda,” I say, smiling at her, but I know M.Z.’s just kidding… mostly.