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the girl with the teardrop tattoos

Updated: Jan 6, 2023

I'd never seen her before, but she was in my homeroom class. Freshman year.

The aide brought her, with a yellow note for the teacher, to our class.

"This is Kya," the aide said, "she's new."

Kya leaned against the doorframe, held up a subtle wave, and said, "I'm Kya."

Her voice was deep, like the pounding of an Indigenous drum.

She was Native American. Shorter, thicker, and stronger. She had three comma-shaped teardrop tattoos trailing from her right eye. She walked to the desk right beside mine and chose to place herself there.

Not fully in the desk though, she gave a slouchy shoulder lean, cupping the front of the desk with her hand and her left leg hung off the chair as if she wasn't sure she'd commit to sitting there. Or anywhere.

And there I was in a blue sundress, white sneakers, and my strawberry-blonde hair falling down around my freckled shoulders.

She looked directly at me, scanned me, like, my entire body, and did a little head nod.

I immediately loved her.

The next day, we walked into homeroom at the same time and she pulled her desk over next to mine. My eyes got all big and wide like omg you can't move the desks?! You're gonna get us in trouble!

I didn't say that though, I just let her do it.

She pointed to the iPod sitting on my desk and said, "Can I listen?"

It wouldn't have mattered what she asked for, I would've given it to her.

I took out my headphones, which were a jumbled mess, and began to slowly, meticulously, detangle them.

"For fucks sake," she said, "here." She took my headphones out of my soft hands and began to pull them apart, shaking them every which way and making them untangle faster.

When she finally got them untangled, she gave me one earbud and placed the other in her ear.

She opened my iPod and began scrolling in that circular motion with her thumb through my songs.

She scrolled to 2Pac, then Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, and E-40, and then she paused sat back to get a good look at me, squinted her eyes, and nodded.

She played what she wanted, and I listened. We sat there.

The teacher said she couldn't keep her desk that close to mine.

I got nervous.

"Imma stay right here for right now, Miss Jay, is that okay?"

The teacher chose not to pick that battle and let her stay, she sat like that almost every day. We also had Spanish together, which I was terrible at-- but she, I'd learn, was fluent.

Kya sat behind me, directly behind me. During one of the tests I was sure I was going to fail, she peeked over my shoulder, I thought, to look at my answers.

She was checking my answers for accuracy. She looked around the room, rolled her eyes, and then took my piece of paper off my desk. She corrected a few of them and gave my paper back to me.

That was the highest grade I would ever receive on a Spanish exam.

Kya didn't speak a lot. We didn't speak a lot to each other, we were just there. It was comforting how she gravitated toward me. Like a bodyguard who could be really dangerous, but instead, they're there-- protecting you.

I never knew why she singled me out, but I was grateful that she did. I was quiet; she was loud. I was insecure and she was proud.

And then, one day, she was gone.

I have no idea what happened to Kya.

Never again did she come around.

But I still think of her, the way she carried herself.

She spoke up. She did what she wanted. She led and others followed. She was rough, mysterious, broken, and so beautiful. I didn't need to ask her any questions about herself, her story, or her life, because it was all there-- in the way she looked at me. In the way she forcefully ripped the headphones from my hands, like my softness made her angry and sad-- my innocence a scent carried on a breeze that she could no longer remember. Her innocence had been replaced by teardrop tattoos on the side of her face.

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