She turned 22 on November 19, and I remember this because we were born exactly one month apart in the same year. It was one of the first things we learned about each other, what drew us closer right away. We lived near each other, took the same route to school, and both loved books. Obviously, we had to be friends.
The second time Yolanda sees Mari, they actually interact. Mari walks in late to class, listening to music with earbuds in until she’s forced to stop by the teacher. Since she’s new to the class, she has to share a textbook with a classmate until she gets her own. The teacher tells her to sit next to Yolanda, which annoys Mari but incites a hint of excitement from Yolanda. When Yolanda notes that they’re neighbors, bringing their tables together and placing her textbook in between them, Mari abrasively asks if that means she owes her something, proceeding to tell her she looks like a little fly and calls her a “pinche mosquita“.
Eventually, they come to an agreement after a janitor finds them in the same bathroom where Mari is smoking weed. The janitor accuses them both, but Mari takes the fall and is the one sent to the principal’s office. Later in their neighborhood, Yolanda thanks Mari for not getting her in trouble, since it would kill her perfect record. Mari discloses her meeting in the principal’s office, revealing that she was told it’d be best if she were to just drop out and get her GED. Yolanda, taken back by this, says she shouldn’t because of college. This inspires her to propose they have study sessions together.
Such a simple exchange leads to a deep bond between the girls. They take trips to the local arcade, obsessively trying to win a clearly rigged game. They go on bike rides and visit each other’s houses to do homework. Stumbling upon an abandoned warehouse, the girls make it their own. On a dusty window of a broken car, Mari writes with her finger: ” Mosquita y Mari. Fuck the rest.”
She had Mari’s rebelliousness, attitude, and confidence. In the high school hierarchy, she was much more popular than I was and had a lot more friends. Because I was too scared, she performed her daring acts with the other friends she had, which would later be reported to me on a bus ride to school in the morning. Talking to adult men on the internet, hanging around downtown Manhattan while her parents thought she was at a friend’s house, and smoking weed, she wasn’t afraid of anything. I was afraid of everything.
She was also capable of being very mean, and I think a part of her knew that and used it to her advantage. She would make nonchalant criticisms of my style, calling it basic while hers was bold. She once whispered with a guy we knew and laughed with him, purposefully excluding me. When I asked her what they were talking about, she said the guy was joking about my yellow teeth. I was hurt but didn’t show it. The conversation topic quickly changed to YouTubers we liked, and we never mentioned my teeth again.
No matter how mature we seemed, we really were just girls. We’d take long walks on the narrow sidewalk bordering the highway that led to our neighborhood, making up scenarios about the people we’d pass. The woman in the car is coming back from a secret affair. The man walking ahead of us has a cigarette addiction. We’d go on swings and see who could go the highest (most of the time, it was me). In a long-gone video, we lip-synced to Britney Spears and horribly danced in her family’s sala, our childish behavior recorded by a phone balanced on her sofa. On our way to school one day, we found a key on the ground. We imagined it held all the secrets to the universe (this was probably inspired by Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, one of my favorite books I introduced her to). Despite everything that happened, I’d like to believe these moments were genuine.
One of the things I struggle with the most with my autism is alexithymia, which is difficulty in identifying and expressing emotions. She didn’t know that I was autistic because I didn’t know I was autistic. My parents knew from when I was two years old that I was autistic, and after numerous doctor appointments, I was recommended to get examined. The examination never happened because I’d end up in special ed and, in my parents’ view, life would’ve been “too hard.” Besides years of speech therapy, my parents asserted that they raised me “like everyone else” for my benefit.
I wouldn’t start to realize my neurodivergency until over a year ago, when my therapist asked if I was autistic upon our first meeting. It was ridiculous. In my mind, I couldn’t possibly be autistic because I would have known. Plus, I didn’t realize that autism in women, especially women of color, looks different than it does in white boys, who are the foundation of most autism knowledge and research. I called my mom while sitting on my dorm bed, expecting her to agree with how crazy the possibility sounded. Instead, she told me the truth.
In one scene, during an outdoor gym class, the girls sit near each other on the bleachers. They joke around about their hideous blue gym shorts and writings they’ve discovered in their secret hideout, which leads to Mari getting on top of Yolanda. They wrestle, laugh. As Yolanda straddles Mari and they stare deeply into each other’s eyes, their peers watch the pair with suspicion. To make the whole ordeal lighter, Mari blows in Yolanda’s face, hits her with a “gotcha,” and quickly gets off of her.
In another scene, the girls are at Yolanda’s house. It’s cold, so Yolanda gets under a blanket on her couch in her family’s sala. It’s not enough, so she asks Mari to lay down next to her. There’s a pause before she agrees and goes under. They talk about college and their futures. They have no idea what’s to come, but Yolanda is confident they’ll go to the same college together. Their faces and bodies are close to one another, and it’s relaxing and natural and simply is. Yolanda and Mari take a nap and, after they wake up, Yolanda finds her hand on Mari’s bare stomach. She gently caresses it, slowly but with so much care and affection. None of them say a word. The scene is interrupted by Yolanda’s parents, whose arrival causes Yolanda and Mari to jump as far away from each other as possible. Their bodies go stiff, and Yolanda sheepishly says they were studying before Mari abruptly says goodbye to everyone and leaves.
Yolanda wants to talk about what happened. Mari takes it as an offense, claiming there’s nothing to talk about. Yolanda’s “tripping” and making things weird. But things are already weird.
I’ve had similar moments to these. On one of our bus rides together after school, she and I sat next to each other on one of those double-seats MTA public transportation vehicles usually have. I don’t remember what we were talking about.
Our faces, suddenly, close together. She’s looking at me, and I’m looking at her, and nothing else matters. Her hand is on my thigh and, while I’m iffy with physical touch, I enjoy that it’s happening, and I let it continue.
Would something have happened if my stop didn’t come shortly after? Who knows.
On a scorching summer day, we’re sitting on a blanket, on the grass, in the park. It was a last-minute plan, and I begged my father for train fare since our student MetroCards don’t work during the summertime. She wants to take pictures of me, and I’m totally against it at first because of all my insecurities.
“I’m not photogenic”, I say, suddenly flooded with intrusive thoughts of how pretty and photogenic she is compared to me. I turn my gaze away from hers in hopes she doesn’t notice my feelings of inferiority. The action ends up futile, since she forces us to make eye contact, firmly stating that I’m beautiful. My body’s suddenly hotter, and my heart races as she snaps shots of me.
After the photoshoot, she smiles as she shows me the pictures she took. I still don’t completely believe I’m beautiful, but I must be close to it if she says I am. We’re hungry, and she leaves me to get dollar pizza slices for us while I sit in our secluded spot in the park, overwhelmed and confused. There is a tension that is never freed.
While Yolanda and Mari never talk or overtly think about the possibility of being queer, she and I openly talked about our queer identities. I’ve known I was queer since 11 years old and told her at the end of our freshman year. She knew she was queer after becoming official with a mutual friend of ours in junior year. I was always shocked by how easy it was for her. She got the girl she liked and told everybody. I discovered my queerness from being attracted to an unattainable straight girl, and my first impulse was to hide and drown in shame.
She and I never talked about “us.” Maybe I’m looking too much into it and she never thought of the private moments between us as intimate. Maybe she’ll one day stumble upon this essay, laugh at how pathetic and dumb I am for misinterpreting our relationship. There are a lot of things between us that are blurry to me now, largely because of the fickle, fragile nature of memory. Some memories, intentionally or unintentionally, slip through the cracks. Others are like shapeshifting beasts that twist to fit my current way of processing.
When I was finally diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder a month ago, I was asked by the neuropsychologist how I felt. “I don’t know,wp_postsI said. I can’t understand my feelings in the moment. But I felt a tightness, a liminal space between repression and release. It was heavy. When I left my appointment, freshly diagnosed, I crossed the threshold of release and sobbed.
I forgave my parents for not taking me to get diagnosed as a child. They didn’t know how to raise an autistic child and were doing their best. But I don’t think I have forgiven her. I haven’t forgotten about her either. At least once a month, she comes to me in dreams. We’re either adolescent girls again, adults, or one of us is a girl and the other is a woman. Sometimes we ignore each other, sometimes we talk about the things that happened in our friendship that caused it to end, and sometimes we talk like nothing happened.
She and I were both born and raised in The Bronx, New York, in a neighborhood similar to the one in Mosquita y Mari. I didn’t know much of her family’s economic status, but I assumed it was similar to mine. The talks Yolanda receives are the same exact talks I’ve received. My parents never wanted me to work because they believed I should just focus on school. My father would make it known how much he busts his ass to provide a roof over my head, clothes on my back, and food on the table. I needed to work hard not just for a better life, but to also honor the hardships a generation before went through. This mentality was instilled in him through his parents, who immigrated from Puerto Rico to the United States for economic opportunities.
As if we had a clue, she and I had conversations about leaving The Bronx. There were adults in our school that didn’t give a damn about us and gave up on a lot of our peers. “Most of y’all would end up in jail, become parents before the age of 21, or never lead successful lives,” I vividly remember one teacher saying. That pressure, even in our lightest moments, was always lingering. It was constant. It still is.
Yolanda’s and Mari’s friendship takes a solid shift when Yolanda discovers Mari making out with an older man in their secret hideout. Frozen, Yolanda watches in heartbreak before she drops Mari’s geometry test on the floor and runs away. She doesn’t know Mari only did it for money. They stop talking for good, and Yolanda begins hanging out with other peers, drinking, smoking, and flirting with a boy she obviously has zero attraction to. The final scene shows the two girls walking on different sidewalks across from each other. They notice each other, stop, and stare. A small smile appears on each of their faces.
My friendship with her actually ended twice. The first time was our sophomore year, after I missed an important show she and a mutual friend were in to be with a girl I was dating. Months later, I became friends with her again, but my friendship with the other girl never rekindled. The second time our friendship ended was at the end of junior year. She and the girl she was dating were having some petty drama that spread around our small school. Being a stupid 16-year-old, I posted on Snapchat how happy I was to be out of the drama (look, I never claimed to be innocent). Her girlfriend texted and dumped an avalanche of information on me. The person I thought was my friend told everyone how crazy and obsessed I was with her. She told as many people as she could about my hospitalization due to being on the verge of killing myself, adding in a lie that I begged her to live in the mental hospital with me. I was only kept around because, apparently, she was scared of what I’d do. There were other lies, and the craziest one was that I was out to get her friends so I could be the only one close to her.
I couldn’t believe it, but it made sense. It explained why I got a lot of stares, why there were hushed side comments when I passed by. Another struggle with my autism is having trouble reading people, so I never understood what the stares and comments meant. But I knew they were bad, and what I was told cemented that. With trepidation, I confronted her about it. I don’t remember how exactly the conversation went, but I do remember her excessively apologizing. And crying for days on end. And feeling like my heart was too heavy for my chest, on the brink of exploding.
Our entire senior year was spent not being friends. It was hard, especially since we shared most classes. But I got through it, learned how to be “me” without her, and graduated. I grew thicker skin as a defense mechanism, even though it was painful to be in the same room as her five days a week. It was confusing. I relentlessly replayed each memory to look for anything I missed, to understand why everything happened.
There were two times in 2020 when she and I crossed paths. Oddly enough, we walked past each other in the same exact area, in front of a market just six minutes away from my building. Both times, I was out running errands. I have no idea where she was coming from or where she was going. I acted like she wasn’t there and kept walking. All my life, I’ve masked. I was able to perform and push down the terrifying anxiety that bubbled inside me as soon as my eyes met hers.
Now, she and I are nothing but memories. Memories that are sometimes stale, sometimes taut, and a lot of the time porous. I do hope she is okay. But I never want to talk to or see her ever again.
“You miss her,” my partner responded after an influx of text bubbles sent by me.