“The giants of old San Juan grabbed the boys by the ankles and swung them to smash open the piñatas. With the boys out of the way, the girls calmly gathered the candy.”
In January of 1975 nine-year-old Maria Santana of Gravesend Brooklyn copied the beginning of a story into a pink notebook. It was a perfect start to her first week in PS 206 and her writing career. If she was a show-off like Diego the Gilipollasita she would have recited it in front of dumb St. Edmunds and the ridiculous playground on Mermaid Street from outside the fences.
Maybe her cracking her knee into Ronald Perez’s mushy nose was not so much an accident like she claimed, but how was it her fault if he fell from the top of the jungle gym? The opposite of shame there, as the kids just laugh about Maria Queen of the Hill, Ronald’s blubbering, “my nose, my knee,” and his smelly grandfather chasing her around the swings and cement tables of laughing men and dominos. That ancient man was slow and quit chasing, and pulled Ronald by the hair to the hydrant to wash the blood from a new white Sunday shirt yelling, “men don’t cry like little girls… your grandmother will make you pay for this shirt.” The grandmother should grab them both by the ankles and smash them about. The Community Center could ban Maria, but so what, she didn’t need to ever go to stoopid Mermaid Street playground ever again, even with the round jungle gym that was perfect for like ten different games, five that she invented.
Her piñata story spoke to deeper truths like Mr. Golden the new English teacher explained to her and all the stoopids in class. Maria’s story would ask important questions like “what if there were no boys fighting like wild pigs?” She saw over and over in slow motion the wise giants smashing them all into piñatas, and every so often missing and walloping them against walls or on hardwood floors. Rather than screaming with her elbows out, she would walk calmly to pick up the candy. God should have made the world like that. Instead, his story asks questions of us like “what would you do if the floor was piled with candy and there were 20 screaming boys trying to grab it up?” Maria figured the answer had to be to get as much as you could carry, or you could build and defend a huge pile till you yelled for a big cousin like Esmerelda to help you carry it off. She probably did hear the teachers say to make a safe space for Marisol that one time at St. Edmunds, but it didn’t register good because the boys were yelling and jostling her before the idiot red and yellow camel with the big smile broke and she just went loco. If there were no boys, she would have listened better and wouldn’t have gotten expelled for knocking Marisol’s wheelchair over when everyone started scrambling. She felt bad about not going back to help Mrs. Ortiz or say sorry, but it seemed the grown-ups had that part covered and Marisol wasn’t a cry baby like Ronald.
Carlos sat with Maria in the PS 206 cafeteria because he was from the block and said they needed to keep their guard up as Mr. Golden and many of these kids didn’t believe in Jesus. Carlos’ father said the Jews were wily like snakes. Maria said, “well, I speak snake, like Eve, while you so stoopid you would walk around naked, too dumb to eat a damn apple of knowledge and don’t even know your ugly thing is swinging around and even the monkeys are laughing at you, Pendejo.”
“Maria so demonio, spiritually defenseless since they kicked you out of St. Edmunds. The priests won’t help you… no exorcisms for you as your soul rips away… nada.”
Maria didn’t admit it out loud but Carlos made good points, so she challenged Mr. Golden on why he didn’t believe in Jesus. He said school was not the place to argue different religions one vs another, and that Brooklyn had people of every nationality who mostly get along together if no one throws a discord apple. He listed out like ten worse places where everyone was killing everyone like Ireland where Christians kill different kinds of Christians. He said there were many truths in the world and you had to use your mind to figure out what it all meant, as wherever you go the only sure thing is your own mind goes to.
Maria added to the first two lines over the next few weeks with the “narrative elements” like Mr. Golden taught. She handed in a thousand-word story and the next day he took her aside because she got a 98 which was the highest score. She asked why if it was so good it was not a 100 and he said that no one gets a 100 on a real test, and a 98 meant the work was criticized properly, and in her story the first two lines needed more blending in with the rest of the work. Still, it had artistic merit because it didn’t just start out with, “My name is Maria Santana and I am nine and live on Mermaid Avenue,” and list out facts in chronological order. Maria looked at the paper, “A-98, huh?”
Mr. Golden said, “Harness your super-powers into figuring out Maria Santana truths and write about them in your voice and you might grow into a famous writer.”
“Oh, believe you me… famous… everyone at St. Edmunds and Mermaid playground is going to know The Demonio got an A-98.”