I was Pure Innocence for like nine weeks. But no one knew I was there. Like, “Hello, girl overboard!”, floatin’ in cyberspace. I checked my Web page like everyday, and no one ever visited it. All aroun’ the computerlab there’s the hum, lightfast click an’ loud mouthbursts of kids at computers. An’ I stare all dumb at my screen, no sound comin’ outta my world. All this quiet bugged my nerves.
A lotta Seventh Graders get nicknames from their Websites. Sittin’ on my right is Chief Justice. His page is all exposin’ enemies of mankind he thinks should burn in hell. The teacher told him to choose a new topic, but he goes, “No way, look at this picture! That’s all the heads of tobacco companies swearing to tell the truth and sayin’ cigarettes aren’t bad for you. You think they’re not goin’ to hell? Justice must be served!” Now he’s searchin’ for pictures of the guy who started Pokemon. “That’s addiction for little kids!”
Sittin’ on my left is Fatimus: his site is all collectin’ information on appearances of the Virgin Mary. Fatimus is odd: he’s really named after a Pope nobody ever heard of who only ruled a month, an’ he carries his schoolbooks in a backpack with one of those airport roller-drag things attached. His mother picks him up in a van with a bumper sticker that goes,”I brake for Marian apparitions.”
“Mary’s in Georgia now. Last month she was in Florida at a shopping mall.”
“That’s a peach!” goes Chief Justice. He like barks out everything.
“The image on the peach.”
Fatimus is like totally, “It’s Mary!”
“This is a freakin’ moldy peach and you’re a moron!”
An’ I’m like screamin’, “Stop it! Just stop! I can’t stand you two always fighting!”
“But he’s a moron! Case closed!”
I needed a new seat in the computer lab. An’ maybe a new identity. I’m all beatin’ my brain for days. Then one night at home I’m studyin’ with my headphones on. I turn the page of my Social Studies book, this chapter on the Renaissance, an’ I see a picture of Raphael’s angels. My headphone’s all blastin’ a rap ’bout a drive-by shooting. “We jus’ tryna put out da fire, but flames gettin’ higha, flames gettin’ higha.” An’ Raphael’s angels, they’re lookin’ kinda concerned, like they feel those flames rise, an’ their eyes are rolled up, lookin’ overhead, like, Any help here? Sure, Michael the Archangel drove Lucifer outta heaven, but it ain’t settled yet. That ol’ devil’s still bangin’ 24/7. An’ where’s that war bein’ fought? On a strippa turf stretchin’ ‘tween heaven an’ hell.
So next day I go to my Web page and change the whole thing. I scanned an’ pasted together all holy pictures, like Vatican art, an’ put in this audio track with songs of the street. Like, I got two versions of the truth, y’know? I got church truth an’ street truth, an’ they’ve always been separate for alls I know, so what’s the deal if you put ’em together? What’s the true truth, y’know?
An’ I had a new identity: Pure Innocence was gone. I was Angelfire. I kep’ it a secret from ev’ryone, ’til I could be sure people would log on. I di’n’t want anyone to know if I bombed out again, ‘specially teachers.
Then, like a week later, I’m in the lab after school an’ my page is hot. I got like eighty visitors, an’ comments like, “Angelfire rocks!” So I’m thinkin’, Okay, wha’do I do next to keep it current? Then my screen gets interrupted: “You have an urgent message from Workstation Beetle.” My screen freezes, an’ this pop-up balloon goes “Please stand by.” All the terminals have pictures of animals pasted on the computer. I’m workin’ at Giraffe, I can see Cougar, Grizzly, an’ Hedgehog, an’ I’m tryna remember where Beetle is. Who in the room is sending me a message?
Then on my screen comes a painting of Isaac, from the Old Testament, tied up like for sacrifice. Abraham, his father, is standin’ over him with a knife, an’ the Angel who’s gonna grab Abraham’s hand is a few feet off. So I’m lookin’ at this image, an’ I hear music start to play. It’s got no bass. There’s like no beat, just some singer mumblin’, all low an’ mournful. The voice is hoarse, like choked with the pain of ev’ry guy who ever missed his chance in life. An’ I know who it is, but I can’t think…. The title an’ lyrics start scrollin’ up on the margin so I can read along. It’s called Balboa Park.
The song’s ’bout a park in San Diego where Mexican boys who crossed the border illegally would get money from men who abuse them. Like, yuk, right? But the picture with it got me to thinkin’, maybe Isaac’s tied up in Balboa Park, but he’s gonna be safe, cuz the angel grabs Abraham’s hands, huh? An’ now I’m feelin’ sad an’ all messed up, cuz if there really was an angel back then, why can’t there be angels now to stop men from hurtin’ those boys?
Where did all the angels go? Back to the sky? Into the fire? An’ I think of the singer’s name: Springsteen. An’ there’s only one person I know listens to him. An’ I remember the dang Beetle is right behind me! I turn aroun’ an’ there’s my homeroom teacher, Mr. Tirconnel. So, I’m swallowin’, thinkin’ Chill, girl. An’ I’m all, “How’d you know?”
“It’s my job to know what goes on in the lab.”
“You think it’s okay?”
Mr. Turk, that’s what we call him mostly, rubs the corners of his eyes. “I can’t say I like a lot of your music. But what you’re doing is truthful. It’s about where you live and go to school. Halfway between heaven and hell. You hear the angels singing. You smell the fires burning. Problem is, no one ever stays in one place. You’re drawn to one side or the other.”
An’ he lifts up his eyebrow, an’ smiles like he knows ev’rythin’. “Which direction are you headed, Angelfire?”
“Shut up!” Geez, now I’m all hella mad. Why did it hurt to be called outloud the name I chose for myself? “It’s just a thing to do, okay? It doesn’t mean anythin’.” I liked Mr. Turk okay, but I wouldn’t talk to him anymore then. I di’n’t like grownups catchin’ me bein’ myself.
By now, like if you care, you might want to know where I live. The name of the town is St. Denis. It’s on the San Francisco Bay, not the rich North Bay, but the more industrial part. The town’s mostly Filipino, like me, an’ Spanish, y’know, Mexican, Central American. Not too much Black or White, but some. It’s not like a big city with all big apartment buildings, but mostly real small houses close together. There’s some parks an’ playgrounds, the biggest is Serra Park overlooking the water. That’s kinda cool. An’ there’s lotsa freeways that cut through town an’ kinda carve up the neighborhoods.
I go to school at Mission St. Denis, we call it Mission D. That’s our church, too. It’s a kinda small Catholic school, K-8, an’ there’s a girls’ high school attached sorta. That’s St. Rosalie’s. Mission D is right in the middle of the Waterfront District, which is part nice, but part rundown, an’ there’s some gangs aroun’. There’s a Filipino gang, Piranha 981, an’ there’s a Spanish gang, or Latino, whatever, LocoLobos. It’s mostly public school kids in the gangs. Like in Mission D, they’ll throw you out if you’re in a gang. But it’s not like all public kids are gangmembers. I know lotsa publics who are okay, but most of my friends go to Catholic school, cuz that’s just how it is.
Anyway, Mission D’s in the middle of all this. An’ sometimes in the neighborhoods there’s some shootings. Not a lot, cuz the gangs, they’re not tied in with the major Cali street gangs. The St. Denis gangs are just local, but they can still be trouble.
So, it’s okay where I live. School’s okay, cuz we got some good teachers like Mr. Turk an’ Sister Carol. I got good friends, like Nessie, she lives next door an’ she’s in my class. An’ we got good computers an’ stuff. An’ we can play basketball, volleyball, whatever, in the yard. The gym got smashed by an earthquake longtime ago. An’ I serve Mass. That’s okay, I guess. It’s hard to talk ’bout why I do it, but it’s good. I’m almost finished with Seventh Grade. It’s like weird to be gettin’ so old. Things look different, an’ you start to think ’bout things. Man, thinkin’ can mess up your head.
Last Sunday there was a picnic for altar servers at Serra Park. It started with a Mass in the morning, then all games an’ races an’ stuff, an’ like food all day long. I ate a lot an’ I ran aroun’ crazy doin’ all different races, an’ my stomach, Ugh!, so I’m like, Later! I walk up the hill where you can look out over the water, an’ it’s like, the sun, it’s gettin’ low, but it’s shinin’ right on the hills ‘cross the Bay, an’ they’re totally gold. An’ the water is like gold, too. An’ ev’rythin’ is warm an’ still. Then over my shoulder, down the hill, I hear this car, stereo jammin’ bass hard thumpin’ like a weapon in your face, an’ then there’s pop! pop! pop! an’ screechin’ tires all burnin’ away. I’m tryna see what happened, an’ I look at our picnic, an’ all the kids wanna run down the road to see wassup.
An’ ol’ Father Yury, he’s tryna hold these kids back, an’ he’s strong for an old guy, but he’s strainin’, an’ I wonder how long he can hold ’em. How long can he keep ’em high on the hill, when they wanna see wha’s down with the bangers?
There’s a police siren now, far ‘way. Then an ambulance. Kids are kinda standin’ aroun’. Whatever happened is all the way at the bottom of the park, an’ we can’t see. Father Yury’s all like, “Dis duss not concairn us!” An’ I’m spinnin’ aroun’ in my head, seein’ the gold hills, an’ the factory chimneys, I smell the church barbecue an’ maybe the burnt rubber from the low-rider tires. An’ this is where I live. Halfway between heaven an’ hell. Which direction are you headed, Angelfire?