Chapter Nineteen

Trying to figure out who I am.

Three months after what I would now remember as the most awesome day of my life-okay, besides Duran and all, I considered it a great day-I stood up on a podium in front of my whole class, ready to give a speech. The valedictorian speech, might I add.

Believe me, as much as I had not really cared about being valedictorian 3 months ago, over time it had slowly dawned on me that yes indeed, I wanted to be valedictorian! A few days after I went back to school, my Chemistry teacher practically forced the title upon me, but hey, I didn't care. Harvard, which had already accepted me way back in the fall, decided that they liked Valedictorians even more than 4.2 GPA kids, and they gave me a half-scholarship. Not that I needed it, my parents being money-bags and all, but it was nice to know I was so highly wanted.

Why, might you ask, had I been out of school in the first place? Well, when Jesse took me home, my mother made a fuss and just had to take me to the hospital. It turns out that she hadn't, in fact, taken me to the hospital the first time. Dr. Tom Cruise had been truthful when saying the ambulance went and got me. Dr. Cruise though, was pretty excited to see me the next time I came into the hospital. Not exciting as in romantic longing or anything. Oh no, he was just excited to see me so he could peg me and my mom for insurance and a place to foot the bill.

We took that graciously and all of a sudden I was on the operating table, with Dr. Cruise over my leg, digging around in it until he removed a bullet. He didn't even have to gas me because it was too numb by then.

And, as I healed and went back to school, I learned that Jesse was a pretty cool guy. Our relationship wasn't the same as it had been with Duran and me, but it was still pretty hot. I figure you can't duplicate the relationship that you lost your virginity in. But hey, that's just fine with me. Which, by the way, I'm never talking so openly about sex ever again in my life. It's too humiliating to remember how stupid I sounded now.

Anyway, so there I was, standing on the podium, in this godforsaken piece of red cloth they called a gown and sweating under my hat because there was no breeze on June 21st. Never has, and never will there be a breeze. It's just how it goes. I was about to address my class.

A class that I had never gotten to know. And probably never would now. But see, I had gotten to know more than my class by now. I had learned all about people in the real world. I had witnessed things that 67 percent of the population will never see.

And so I poured my heart and soul into that freaking speech, giving examples of how we had all grown up in our lives, whether it be in or out of school.

Because the thing is, we all grow up-eventually. For some guys I know, well, it'll take them quite some time. But for others, we grow up. And when we do, we enjoy the fact that we have.

We'll grow up, buy our fancy houses or clothes, and maybe cry sometimes when we go into debt. But in the end we will overall be happy with our lives if we try hard enough.

After a grueling 10 minutes of trying to preach to my class that we just had to chug along no matter how hard it got to make it in the world, I was applauded and sat back down next to Jesse, who held my hand until we went up to get our diplomas.

Unfortunately, our school has this terrible policy that doesn't allow us to throw our hats, so we just had to shuffle out of the school's courtyard in a sulky manner. But I immediately went to my parents, did the whole hug and kiss and I'm-so-proud-of-you thing. My mom said they had a present for me, which of course, I already knew it, was my nice own Mercedes Benz. I needed a car, they reasoned, because I was gonna be across the country and who knew what kind of weather I'd have to tromp through in Massachusetts. So, not to whine or anything, but why hadn't I gotten a car earlier when I totally would have needed it?

What was up with that?


Once upon a time, there was this girl named Jimena, who happened to be me. I lived in a sort of unfair way, but some people call it ghetto fabulous. I also had this nice little vendetta against this one guy who had killed my best friend. But I let that one slide, out of humane understanding. I mean, you can't kill someone just because they killed somebody else. Because then aren't you just like them?

For the record, I was very sociable. But not at school. Nuh-uh. School was somewhere that I never messed around at. Nope, never talked to a soul. Until I met this anonymous hottie at a party one night, who happened to go to my school. Then it all changed for me. After a bout of abuse and lots of crying because my ex-boyfriend cheated on me, in my face, I've come to terms with all of it.

On July 12th, my prince charming and I left in my brand new wheels-a shiny Mercedes Benz-to go cross-country. It was as far as possible from a life I was willing to leave behind. We figured leaving so early would give us enough time to settle in on the other coast, and get some preppy clothes.

I mean, we couldn't possibly scare that coast enough with our stylish clothing, but you know, we did have to fit in eventually. It was time to go with Tommy Hilfigure and Ralph Lauren's Polo club now.

We had all our stuff that wasn't being shipped there in the back of the car, and were heading off.

To new lives. To a place where gangs like the Bloods and the Sueños did not exist. Well, okay, if they did, we wouldn't be a part of them anyway. Oh no, this was a total revolutionizing event for us. Evolving, even.

My prince charming…he wasn't the coolest. I mean, he can even admit to that. But come on! He was a surfing god, and he was hot.

And most importantly-just a bit more important than him being a hot Greek God-, he had stuck by me this whole time, and I hadn't even asked him. In fact, I had practically encouraged him in all ways to get lost!

But he had been clever enough to know that my words weren't what I meant. I mean, if I had actually meant them, I think his ass would have been busted up by now, don't you agree?

The day before we left, my mentor of a lifetime pulled up into my driveway in his hot El Camino and got out to see me. I of course, was totally happy to see Lupe, because I hadn't seen him for a while.

Turns out he had been busy back in New York with a few matters of business, and he was thinking on going back over there. He wanted to know when I could come out there.

Lupe had been the only one of my friends that I had kept out of my old pack-with the exception of Cinna, JJ, and Bon-and I was so happy to be around him again. He was pretty surprised to know I was going out East anyway.

He was even more surprised when he learned I was giving up The Life. But after a great deal of thought, he began to consider it as well. You know, a total turn-around for your life.

But now that we were on the road to an ending that practically screamed 'Happily Ever After', I had to reminisce. I mean, you can't just let go of things that shape your life so drastically.

I learned from all this, probably only one or two things. For one, if you're gonna be a tough gangster girl like me, you have to keep your karma in check after a while. Otherwise, it'll catch up to you.

And last but not least, I learned that you gotta learn to love whoever backs you up. Even if you totally despise them at first, you have to. I mean, if they're the only ones rooting for you, you have to give them credit.

Because look at Jesse. I constantly pushed him away, but I think somewhere deep down I was happy to have somebody nagging me all the time. Seriously, when he puts his arms around me and hugs me tight to his solid chest-hm, I love how that sounds-I completely forget why I never wanted to know him at all. He seriously was the only one who actually cared how I got out of my own mess alive.

And for that, I thanked him dearly.

Oh, one other thing I did learn.

In your toughest moments, don't resort to kicking your enemy's ass. Naw, that's what you do after another step.

No, what you have to do first is to breathe. Take a deep breath and give yourself a reason why you're gonna kick their ass. It always makes you feel like you've got a better idea of why you were always right in the first place.


It was only when we had gotten on the highway when Jesse's hand found mine for the first time in a while. He held onto my hand tightly, as if letting go was the last thing he had on his mind.

"Do you have to go straight to work when we get there?" I asked him suddenly. I grinned slyly and looked out to the highway.

"Sort of." He replied. "Why? You want me to play hooky?" I shrugged.

"You could tell him you're dead," I began, "And then we can go back to bed."

As suggestive as it sounded, it was sweet. Jesse knew it was, too.

"Tell him I'm dead…what a concept." He laughed. "Where'd you get that from?"

A flashback of Christy and I way back in Elementary school came to mind. We had played hooky, and called the school saying we were dead. It worked-until the school called our parents.

I looked at Jesse and shook the depressing feeling I got when I thought about Christy. Taking a very deep breath, I explained.

"Oh, it's just this thing my friends and I used to do…"


But you can't jump the track; we're like cars on the cable. Life's like an hourglass glued to the table. No one can find the rewind button now, so cradle your head in your hands. And breathe, just breathe. There's a light at each end of this tunnel. You shout because you're just as far in as you'll ever be out. And these mistakes you made, you'll just make them again if you only try turning around. Sing it if you understand, and breathe. Just breathe.