Your mom admits to you that you have some… supernatural blood running through your veins. But she doesn’t remember what kind, cause she was kinda a hoe.
my mom is a sex worker.
this is something i don’t talk about. i’m not embarrassed about it - my mother is a bright, intelligent person putting her three kids through private school - but holy shit i hate the way people talk about sex workers. back when “your mama” jokes were a thing, i once ground my teeth so hard that i cracked one. opening a bloody mouth and saying “shut the fuck up” worked better than i expected.
sometimes people find out about it. holy shit is your mom a hoe? that word, spat like a knifeblade. hoe, tramp, slut, skank, loose, cheap. everyone seems so happy to identify her. cut into
her side. nobody ever says that shit about the people she sees. nobody ever calls her clients bad things. only her, the lady who works twelve hours for us, who has no insurance, who has no protection but her own wits, who knows how to dance in heels and how to seriously coupon and finance and work. god, i hate the word “hoe”. har, har. your mom was kinda a hoe.
har, har. your laughter is a broken bone.
stacy is puckering her lips in the mirror in shock-red lipstick. her hair is blonde and curled. her face is so white-white-white. fair. “so, like?” outside of the bathroom, the club is pounding, “is it true?”
I lean against the sink. my arms are crossed. i toss my own hair out of my face. i am pretending i am nonchalant. “yeah, i mean, i guess.”
“so you, like, don’t even know who your father is?” as she fixes her eyeliner, her lips quirk in that way. har har, you
r mom was Kinda A Hoe.
stacy doesn’t know about the sex work. stacy only knows: “so like all three of you have different dads?” she asks.
“there’s all kinds of families, stacy,” Lena says. Lena, who is gorgeous and has been my friend since we were five and is the only person in our friend group who Knows The Truth and has the most amazing silky black hair and wonderful beautiful eyes and this kind, kind voice. and i might be in love with her. but okay.
“yes, lenaaaa, we know you’re the voice of social justice and activism,” stacy drawls, “i’m just teasing.” when lena does not seem Too Amused by Stacy, stacy rolls her eyes. “Let’s just, like. go drink. jee-zus.”
stacy swings out of the bathroom. lena and i look at each other. i drop my eyes first. then there’s this silence in which i hear: har har. your mama was kind of a whore.
p>family, i’m afraid, is kind of a big thing in spanish families. sometimes, this is annoying. suffocating.
more often it meant my mother was there to tuck me in, to tend my fevers, to feed me, to tell teachers off for overstepping. her favorite thing was telling stories. she was always “still working” on a fairytale book she wanted to publish for children.
she tested the stories out at bedtime, always made them about great-great-great grandmas for us so we could feel a family that we didn’t have in the states. here, with just-us-four, our lives expanded over the sides of the bed to include great women. never men.
these women - now our women - could grow plants, could turn tides, could call storms. some were scary, some were plain, some were funny, some were awful. they were power-hungry pirates, long-living fairy queens, destroyers of nations, peaceful rulers with plenty.
this was the best of family. the four of us crowded ar
ound my mom and her words, smooth, aching, full of love.
but sometimes, sometimes. when mom was at work and it was just us, i felt it.
i felt like our family was a joke. because who knew, after all, who my dad was.
“you’re hungover,” says Roja.
“i am not,” i say.
“you’re hungover,” repeats Azul, louder. i flinch at the headache their words create. they give me a grin the size of a planet.
“i’m not hungover,” i plead.
“mom, she’s hungover,” the two say, in almost-unison.
my mother is moving quickly. she always is, i think. all of my memories of her are a windstorm. powerful. real. taking care of things so effortlessly.
she puts food in front of us, fixes the orange table cloth under the plates, shifts our chairs, takes her place. folds her hands so we all say grace, even though azul and roja are making faces trying to ge
t us all to laugh.
“amen,” says our mother, and we all dutifully repeat it, even though all of us have a touch-and-go relationship with he-whom-rules-the-universe-and-all-things.
the thing about spanish tables is that they’re rarely quiet. you’re holding an individual conversation with each person, and then there’s also a few conversations that happen between the whole group that you can reference at any point. all conversations happen at once so you’re always kind-of-yelling.
so when mom says, “there’s bad news” between second helpings and is-there-dessert, when we all get silent: it means something.
her lips barely move. “they’re shutting down the websites,” she says, “i’m losing my streams.”
we stare at her. her hands, so delicate, so hard working, are folded into church roofs. her head is bent. “i’m going to try a
nd find other cam work, but,” she takes a deep breath, “i just wanted you to know. i might be going back to… other things.”
“the streets, ma?” roja, first born, suddenly turns too-serious. loses her light. a shadow is over her eyes. “ma, i can go back to working at johnny’s.”
“i’ll go back into food service,” i blurt.
“i can do haircuts for money,” azul talks over me, their hands searching, and then we’re all talking, quickly, desperately, offering time and money and anything we can think of.
mom holds up her hand. and then one at a time, she shoots us down. “no johnny’s,” she says, “he was trying to recruit you into gangs, and not in this house.” she turns to me. “you had too many allergic reactions. over my dead body will my girl die because i couldn’t afford to keep h
er out of work.” and then to azul. “azul. we’re going to find you work where they don’t misgender you. but not that.”
mama takes a deep breath. “you’re all too young anyway.” she puts her hand down. “this,” she says, “this is my thing.”
and then it is quiet at a spanish table, and it feels suffocating.
people always say: oh, if i drop out of school, i’ll just be a stripper. i’ve seen the blisters on her feet, i’ve seen the tips, i’ve seen the shit she puts up with. it’s not “drop out of school and just become a stripper.” it’s much, much harder.
my mother never brought clients home. her job, for a long time, felt normal to me. lots of people had mothers that worked late shifts. that came home tired and kind of cranky. we lived good. not just rice and beans. how was i supposed to know “being a hoe” was a bad thing.
i asked her once, what i was going to be when i grew up. if i’d be a hoe too. her back straightened.
she said i came from a long, thin line of people. all who fought their way to this land. who only had one child, maybe two. she said all three of us were miracles. that we were all a mix of our own personalities. that we all would see our strengths, our weakn
esses. that we could only grow as people. that azul had healing and rojo, light. and that i, middle child, was a growing star, would one day bloom. that one day we’d wake up, and we’d know who we were meant to be. who we are.
she talked about our long line of ancestors. these mythical creatures, full of mystery.
“who knows what you’ll be?” she whispered. “you only have the best of me.”
mama would have killed me if i had taken up smoking, but stacy’s parents ask us to call them by their first name and tell her your body your rules about these things. she’s leaning against the wall. “i’m just, like. if i didn’t know my dad, i’d be like. what am i?” she peers at me. blows out smoke to the side. stacy is obnoxious and sort of terrible, but when she’s out here smoking, she seems sort of vulnerable. always crossing her arms and sulking.
i am too bu
sy staring at lena, who is in the sun, drawing something beautiful in chalk. her hair is so pretty, her hands so smooth. she always signs these works with her chinese name, which is just as smooth. i want to fold her into my mouth.
“how about your blood type?” stacy presses.
i gotta shake myself. “like, what. what i drink for breakfast?”
“yeah, okay.” she rolls her eyes. “i meant, like. if you’re the same as your mom’s or your dad’s. i’m AB because of my parents.”
lena’s mouth twists to the side. “yeah,” she says, “i’m o because of my dad.” the chalk sweeps. it will be destroyed by sprinklers in about an hour, and she knows that.
i shrug. “i don’t know.” when they stare, i offer the only thing i think is normal. “we don’t do blood tests.”
quo; for once, lena looks to be on stacy’s side, “you don’t do blood tests?”
another shrug. “mom said it was like, a religious thing. i don’t know.”
“babe,” lena says, which is a word i’m not allowed to react to, but i do, “where in the bible does it say no blood tests.”
i stammer a reply, but stacy is already talking. “you should go into a clinic,” stacy offers. “do, like, a basic one.”
lena looks at me again. neither of us can figure out if it’s a bad idea or if it’s a good idea and we just hate it because it came from stacy.
the first person who called me a hoe for knee-high stockings got a fork shoved between their first and second fingers. we don’t live in that school district any longer.
my mother told me that strong women were always being chased. that we were called witch, slut,
skank. hoe. she said so what? be a witch. don’t let them crush your magic.
but i didn’t feel very magical. i just felt dirty.
i was nine. isn’t that something.
i fidget in the chair.
“well, this is something you can learn at school,” says the phlebotomist. “it’s a very simple test.”
“yeah,” i say, taking a deep breath, “i just …” might be making a huge mistake, “i just wanted everything checked.”
“i’m o-negative,” she chirps, putting her things together. “universal donor.”
“fun,” i offer, because i don’t know how to respond to that.
she puts the needle in my arm. and everything kind of goes bad.
when i was twelve, i was catcalled from a car. it wasn’t the first time. but they followed me for block after block aft
er block after block like vultures. hunting me, you know? hungry for blood. and when i was breathless and panicked and ran and hid inside a bodega, they chucked a soda cup at the door.
“slut!” they called, before driving off.
i stood inside of that shop with my breath clouding the door and the word banged around in there.
like mother, i thought, like daughter.
and my hands turned into fists.
my mom is leaning over me. for a second, i think i’m still in the chair. my bed feels unfamiliar. she’s sitting on it with me, has me tucked all the way in.
“hi,” she whispers.
“oh my god,” i say, “i think i attacked a phlebotomist.” i try to rise, but her gentle hands push me back down flat. she takes out vapor rub and starts warming it with the tips of her fingers.
“blanca,” she says instead, in a low voice that
means this-isn’t-a-joke, “there’s something you need to know.”
the problem is, when people find out about it, they think the whole “sex worker” thing is why us children exist. that’s not it. we aren’t my mother’s accidents. but always, that assumption. har har, again. your mother was kinda a hoe, and now you exist.
my mother was artificially inseminated. we were purposeful choices.
so how’s that for a twist.
“you know the stories about your abuela and your family,” my mother’s fingers drag vapor rub over my collar bones, even though i don’t need it, “and her country and your country?
i don’t know where this is going. “ma,” i say,
unsure why she’s bringing up her children’s book at a time like this,
“i think i like, hurt somebody. for real. how did i get here, even?”
“your abuela,” my mother pretends she hasn’t heard me, “was called a witch.”
“i know, ma,” i push against her hands, trying to sit up, but she’s got me caught by sitting on my legs. “did i faint, or something?”
“and her mother was called a witch,” my mother continues.
“yeah,” i am too scrambled for this, “in your stories, i know. did i hurt someone, mama?”
my mother holds my hands. rubs vick’s into them. slowly. “everyone from your family,” she whispers, “chased and killed and hunted for being witch. her mother and her children and their mothers before them. on and on and on again.”
“yeah,” i say. “her mother and her mother and her mother.”
quo;and your mother,” she says, so low i barely catch it. her fingers hook under my chin. and gently, gently, she lifts my jaw. locks eyes with me.
“and now,” she says, “it will happen to her children.”
her eyes glow. and i understand in an instant.