Alessa’s mother left for work at 6 a.m. cada día, not a minute too early and not a segundo too late. Within fifteen minutes, Alessa would let herself out of the one-bedroom apartment they lived in, bolt their splintered front door, and walked herself to the bus stop with mochila in tow, threading against traffic on Slauson Avenue. She watched as carros rushed past and left behind them white trails of smoke and heavy sounds that floated like butterflies into the sky. At the intersection of the busy road, Alessa turned left into a residential area of Commerce City that was soft in comparison to her street and was where her friends from the second grade lived with their families. They didn’t have to take el autobús anywhere.
When she reached the periphery of the sleepy crowd of school children, she joined its atmosphere awkwardly for protection. Judging from the size of the crowd, it was clear she had missed the City bus and wouldn’t be making it to the cafetería before breakfast hours ended. Alessa stood in bashful stillness allowing the seasonal marine layer to blend her into the cluster of small bodies and heavy backpacks.
It creeped-in, the hallow clicking in Alessa’s right knee. In the beginning, the feeling was bothersome the way lint annoys the vision when caught in an eyelash—a gleam here, a twinkle there. But then, the clicking grew into a consistent crack, invisible and burrowed deep in the joint. Each step wore and wore on Alessa. On one of the walks to the bus, she limped and made it all the way to the gathered kids from her school without crying.
The following morning, she missed the school bus by a minute and had to wait alone for the City bus at the corner of Neenah Street and Greenwood Avenue. While she waited, she observed her surroundings, noticing that past the chain-linked fence behind her and beyond a square of newborn grass, there were deep and aged cracks in the driveway. The exterior paint of the house plotted in the corner was deconstructing and piling into tan-colored flakes along the crease between concrete and earth. It made Alessa realize that nature needed humans to care for them and she wondered how she could care for the pain in her knee.
As the weeks progresaron and the ache corroded her spirit, Alessa gave in to el dolor and curled into herself midway down Slauson Avenue. She cried for herself and her rodilla, but mostly lloraba because she didn’t understand why this was happening to her. Cars surged past and roared when they noticed her, but none stopped to help. Their overwhelming attention forced Alessa to retreat home to refuge.
She was concerned for her knee, but there was no one she could ask for help or who would believe her. There was nothing visibly wrong with her knee, no bruise or scrape or broken bone, and the pain she experienced was hard to explicar. Alessa couldn’t call her mamá at work to tell her that she wasn’t fine. It also didn’t seem important enough for 9-1-1. When she returned home and skipped school that first time, she slipped into her cama without changing out of the dark navy school uniform she was wearing and slept for hours.
She made her bed, hung her uniform in the closet, vacuumed the entire apartment, and poured herself some Lucky Charms to have for lunch. The pain was no longer there, and she felt anew after having slept. The hours were marked by the shows she watched—cartoons and PBS shows that aired while she was at school. Alessa honestly enjoyed school because her friends from class were there, even though she didn’t really like Mrs. Benson, their teacher, because she was loud when she became mad.
The following day, the pain was intolerable. Alessa dropped to her knees on the unfinished driveway of their apartment complex. Vanessa, the neighbor from the apartment on the first floor must have heard Alessa descending the staircase because Vanessa rushed to her rescue after Alessa’s rodillas hit gravel. She asked if she was okay and Alessa nodded yes.
“I’m going to be late to school.”
Vanessa let go of Alessa’s arm after she helped her up and watched her walked toward the sidewalk and disappear left. Alessa did not want to miss school, especially because her class was earning their Pizza Hut Book It! certificate that could be cashed-in for an individual-size pizza for finishing the book Wings last week. She had not understood how heavy a burden it was for a kid like Ian, from Wings, to carry a pain that had to be hidden.
Alessa limped the length of two houses before doubling-back, thinking that it was enough time for the neighbor to return to her day and forget all about Alessa.
Time melded into itself—seconds and minutes no longer marked the day in fractions. Instead, Alessa kept track of time by the programs that began at the top of each hour.
She did the dance for her mother on schooldays, and brushed her teeth, combed her hair, changed into her uniform, and packed her workbooks in her mochila. But Alessa knew it was only a prelude, a necessary act to abate the pain that arose with her each morning. She waited for her mother to leave for work, then at 6:15 a.m. stomped down the stucco steps to the first floor to be sure la vecina heard Alessa come down, and then moved slowly in the direction of the bus before folding back midway down Slauson. She imagined she was a Power Ranger on a mission when she creeped back into the apartment complex and carefully scaled the steps to safety. She understood the importance of maintaining the façade, even if no one was watching and knew, to some extent, that she needed to deceive herself too.
The images moved in color at mesmerizing speeds, their brilliance augmented by the sleek 32-inch display. Alessa sat crossed legged on the couch in front of the tele with a bowl of cereal propped on the armrest. All the muebles and pictures in the living room were arranged as if they orbited around the televisión. Even mamá’s sewing machine was angled so that when she sat to work on the weekends, she could watch her shows without obstruction. La sala told visitors that Alessa and her mother shared it and spent time there together. But the living room, as was the kitchen, were thoughtfully staged with props and décor to complete the allusion of a home.
None of the items in their apartment, not even the blessed image of the Virgen de Guadalupe with two guardian angels floating behind the virgin’s shoulders had ever spoken to Alessa as deeply as the television did those days. Eventually Alessa’s mother would hear from administration about Alessa’s two-week absence from school. Why it took anyone that long to notice was surprising, even to Alessa, but that fateful day would only float in her mind for a second before she hastily swatted it away. She knew that the longer her truancy stretched, the greater her punishment would be. But Alessa had already mastered the art of enduring painful consequences that she was almost immune to the palpable fear that accompanied them. Immune only to the extent that Alessa was aware that consequences for actions existed, but they did not deter her behavior, at least not then while under the tele’s influence.
They read a story at school about a girl who had cried over things that didn’t really matter—superficial things like not going to Disneyland on Saturday but Sunday. In the story, this girl had cried so much that she ultimately ran out of tears. And when one of her close parientes died—Alessa couldn’t remember if the brother or mother or father had died—the girl from the story could not cry for her dead relative and was full of sadness. It was only a story, yes, but Alessa had been raised superstitious and feared that if she cried over small things—like not being liked by her peers—that her eyes would dry-out, and she’d never be able to express her sadness over big things like love or death. She had been threatened before by her mother many times: “No llores, or I’ll give you a reason to cry.” And so, Alessa learned not to cry and to grip onto her hopelessness, even when her heart hurt for good reason, unlike the girl from the story who had cried over inconsequential or materialistic things.
The days alone with the moving pictures and the adventurous, heroic or romantic characters—just Alessa and the t.v.—were a bitter dream. She felt too grown for Barney & Friends but there was a girl on the show named Gianna that Alessa felt an attraction toward. Not a romantic attraction, but one of fascination and jealousy. Alessa wished that she could be Gianna’s friend and be Gianna, all at the same time, a feeling that wasn’t new to her. And when she closed her eyes, Alessa felt like she was Gianna, singing on the other side of the screen, with Barney and their friends. As Gianna, Alessa was confident and had talent; she mattered and was admired. But when she opened her eyes and walked to the bedroom and found her own reflection framed by the oval mirror hanging over her mom’s honey-brown six-drawer bureau, she was sadly disappointed. Her chubby face had not slimmed, and her hair was not long or brown.
Arthur and the Rugrats helped Alessa forget who she was not and helped olvidar that she was alone en el mundo. They came after Barnie and they accompanied her through the hours that left the morning and glided into lunch. She found herself in the fantasy that was the life of crawling babies, small voices, and metamorphic adventures. Alessa’s heart swelled with yearning at the end of each episode when the disembodied arms of the rugrats’ parents swooped them away. She didn’t hold memories of her days in pañales, but she hoped that her babysitter had been someone who had wanted to love and protect her as if she was hers. In those hours, Alessa belonged to caricature parents and siblings and friends. The bulbous world fit snug inside the white walls that were the living room of their one-bedroom departamento in Commerce City. Alessa dreamed soundly awake in its balmy swaddle.
She rode the days like a rollercoaster—frenzied and unnerved. The trip’s single passenger cart escalated lush and charming hills and then plunged deep into valleys of salty lakes and bitter winds, día tras día. The highs were always worth the lows, she told herself. But the lows were really low. Still, she did not cry and abated the acerbic taste of reality with another show.
The masquerade, the one for the outside world, had stopped some time ago. Alessa no longer made the effort to descend the staircase in the mornings for the neighbor’s sake or feign to be running to catch the school bus for the cars sitting in traffic. She rose each morning with her mamá and convinced her with her movements that she was going to school. As soon as the lipstick-red Nissan Maxima her mother drove left the carport and merged into Slauson Avenue, Alessa rushed to enliven the apartment with the soaring melodies of showtunes. Even the commercials that popularized the latest toys and muñecas were an important chorus.
Splayed in front of the television, Alessa consumed the make-believe. The smallness of her life absorbed all the colors, the storylines, the characters, their emotions, and their powers like a thirsty and insatiable black hole.
Afternoons were hardest. When the television breathed the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers into color, Alessa knew school hours had been spent and her mother would be home soon. She ravaged the plot and stopped to savor the decisive moment that summoned the chosen older kids to morph into the Power Rangers and thrive with their mighty potential. The world was lucky to have them. She pocked as much feeling as she could to feed on during the night and clung to the day’s developments, eager to find out would happen next.
One thing was certain: Alessa was the Pink Ranger, and the Pink Ranger was her. Time away from the screen only strengthened this belief and Alessa was sure that it was time to begin the extraordinary existence meant for her.
She jumps on the couch and feels the soft corduroy ridges of the sofá’s cushions under her bare feet. Her heart begins to race. Alessa is here and in algún otro lugar. Then a deserted landscape and the image of Zordon’s hideout flashes on the screen, golden and safe like an oasis in an unknown place in California’s desierto. Inside Command Center, Zordon asks Alpha 5 to summon the Power Rangers. The world is at risk once more.
The five Rangers, in their plainclothes, hear Zordon’s alarm. Each one going about their teenage lives, finds a safe lugar to retrieve their Power Morpher to deploy their gifted Dino Charge. Go, go Power Rangers!
Alessa thrusts her Power Morpher forward with both hands, like a shield, and calls out “Teradactil!”, after Zack invokes the Mastodon. The rest of the Rangers follow and once their metamorphosis is complete, they are swept into teleport by Alpha 5 and travel across the earth like comets, identifiable only by the color of their dust tail: black, pink, red, blue, and yellow. Alessa closes her eyes and feels the wind coursing through her being. Go, go Power Rangers! She glides freely and mightily, defying the laws she’s learned in school about energy and moving bodies.
Alessa jumps off the couch and when she lands on the carpet, she takes the Pink Ranger’s signature defense pose, a type of martial arts stance she only mimics but knows nothing about. Her clothes haven’t changed; she’s not wearing the Pink Ranger’s leotard and no helmet to protect her.
She pulls from her back jean pocket the very real Power Morpher and is more forceful in her calling of her Dino Power. Nothing changes. Her words swirl in the small spaces of the apartment and move toward the open winds and float toward the clouds to join the highway sounds. Alessa hurts inside and stomps out of anger where she stands to feel something worth crying for, knowing full well the downstairs neighbor will hear her. But she doesn’t care. Maybe if she tries hard enough, Alessa won’t be in this day anymore. She cries one more time: “Teradactil!” And jumps off the couch again. But she’s still there and every attempt she’s made to morph has been fútil. There’s no teleporting, no running from the day’s expiring hours or her mother’s arrival.
Alessa falls on her knees, surrendering to the weight of her bones. Her fingers curl into the carpet and she tries to rip the synthetic fibers like blades of grass from the school playground. Alessa cries. No, she sobs and mourns for herself. That day, she discovered that she wanted so much to escape this life. She cried for herself, for all the times she had been told she was ugly, called a molestia, teased at school. The tele, her tether to sanity; the shows her only friends. She crawled to the t.v. and encased it with her body, feeling its warm plastic rear and smooth glassy pantalla. Alessa held on to the televisión until her doughy chest and arms became numb. She pressed her face to the side of the telly’s box and felt its welcome. Without a warning, Alessa’s body became one with the TV and it began to swallow her face and arms, slowly, into its plastic-forming granules. Alessa was not afraid and held on tighter to the force pulling her in. Her chest and belly followed her arms and face. Inside the television was colorful blackness. The rodillas that had haunted Alessa were absorbed next, then her bare feet, and lastly her toes. Dentro, Alessa felt unbroken, perfect. The apartment lost Alessa and what it held were the remnants of the day: marshmallow Lucky Charms forgotten at the bottom of a cereal bowl; socks that had been carelessly tossed on the carpet; bedroom pillows stacked to one side of the couch; and on the coffee table, an unfinished juice box with its bent white straw, pointing toward la tele.
Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash