We all shared Sugarman, the same way we shared things when we were little: Bina’s tee-shirt with the apple in red sequins, Phyllis’s fingernail polish, my white Gogo boots, Tiny’s skateboard that gave us all identical scraped knees. We shared him and we ruined him, just like all those possessions.
His real name was Arturo, but we called him Sugarman, because he was sweet. Sweet to look at, and a sweet boy too: even though he was on the basketball team, and friends with all the assholes. But he’d say sweet things. Not just, “Girl, you look fine,” but also, “I like what you said in class, about that girl who Odysseus chucked like she was garbage. That was cool.”
He made you feel smart. Though a little guilty too, since we were already calling him Sugarman, and planning to junk him just like that girl Calypso.
We were an all-girl Justice League.
Bina had him first. By ninth grade she had the biggest boobs in the class. They were shaped like bells and bounced. Hell, even the three of us liked to play with them. At sleepovers we’d take turns being the boy, “I’m Sugarman now,” kneading those pillowy breasts. Everyone got something out of them but Bina, who said they might as well be elbows, they did nothing for her.
For September and October, 2010, Bina gave Sugarman access to her boobs, and the rest of her. Then she cut him off.
That’s how we planned it. Because that’s what guys did: Odysseus and the rest of them. They stopped dropping by. They stopped calling. They stopped sending the child support, so for weeks all Mom and Benny and I ate were rice and beans.
My turn next. My superpower was reassuring. Easy to cultivate that art if you’re the daughter of a drunk. I knew all about nodding, and massaging a head, except instead of “Poor Mama,” it was, “Oh, that sucks,” and “Taylor sounds like a real tool,” and “Remember you’re better than them.”
And the truth is, he was; that part was true.
I fucked Sugarman too. Then, one day, I said, “You’re so boring.” That was my Supergirl punch to his gut.
Tiny looked like she was twelve but she was all muscle, sinewy and limber as a snake. She’d wrap her legs around a boy and it was like Wonder Woman’s lasso, her grip. She had Sugarman in her thrall, even more than Bina with her magic goddess breasts. The month Sugarman was with Tiny, he’d come to school sweaty and dazed, like he had a fever.
We all had our favorite features of Sugarman.
Bina liked his hands. She said they were so warm and deft, those hands, they almost woke up her sleeping boobs. I loved his eyelashes, me with my practically non-existent, white-girl eyelashes. His were the effect I was after with my mascara wand, but could never achieve. They were thick and pointed like thorns. Tiny said, his fine ass! Phyllis said, his heart. But she didn’t say it in a sentimental way; she said it like she was a voodoo sorceress, and she was going to eat the damn thing.
Phyllis was the one who broke him, that spring. Her power was her eyes: black and bottomless, like those hungry kids on subway posters. Phyllis was hungrier than any of us, even though I was dead sick of beans. She wanted to eat the world.
For two months, every time you saw Phyllis, she was wound around Sugarman. They were like two strands of a churro.
But one morning, we came to school, and Phyllis was wrapped around Donny Atar instead. For a second I thought Donny Atar was Sugarman, I was so used to seeing Phyllis’s hands in the pockets of his black hoodie. No explanation, no warning. When Sugarman got to school, he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He said “Phyllis,” but she just turned and walked away, Donny Atar’s hand in hers. Donny looked back, a little sheepish—he was on the basketball team, too, he and Sugarman were friends, in a way—but Phyllis never did.
We felt sorry for Sugarman, after that. We tried to talk to Phyllis.
But she reminded us of our project. She reminded us that all men are dicks. Men throw women away like empty milk cartons. They don’t send checks, they finger you when they are supposed to be babysitting you, they break your St. Bernard piggy bank and steal your Christmas money. Fuck them all. Sugarman may be sweet now, but just you wait. We were the Amazon Justice League and they were the Menemy. Her eyes were hard and shiny, like the obsidian we looked at in Geology, the rock with the glassy planes.
For a week Sugarman came to school, his long-lashed eyes so red and sad. Phyllis deleted all his texts. Then he disappeared. It was the end of his sophomore year; he was old enough to drop out.
That was four years ago.
Since then, Bina joined the army, which surprised the shit out of us. I get letters from her sometimes, on thin airmail paper. “It’s freaky here,” she writes.
Tiny dropped out of school the end of junior year, when she got pregnant and decided to keep the baby. I still see Tiny, when she can get her mother to watch Jordan. Babies stress me out. Tiny comes to my apartment and we drink tequila.
But Tiny’s gotten weird. She told me a couple of weeks ago that she’s thinking about becoming a man. In some ways that isn’t a surprise; when we were kids, Tiny wouldn’t let anyone call her Tiffany, and she used to pee like a boy, standing up. She said, “I want to get my boobs removed.” I thought, What boobs? She never really had any. When I asked her why, she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and said, “Men have all the power.”
I could see her perspective—she was worn out and skinnier than ever, from looking after Jordan—but I wanted to say, Jesus, Tiny, don’t you remember Sugarman?
Funny: I was the worst student of the four of us. I flunked Algebra, I had to go to summer school. But now I’m the only one going to college. I’m thinking of being a nurse some day: it’s good money and there’s always a need. The trouble is I don’t like the way sick people smell.
Phyllis was the smartest, but she never came back to school after junior year, and stopped answering our calls. It’s heroin. Sometimes on my way to class I see her sitting on the sidewalk on the corner of Capp and 15th, with her eyes half closed and white buds in her ears, some expensive iPod that doesn’t go with her dirty clothes. Once I touched her foot with my foot and said, “Hey, Phyll,” and she looked up and nodded.
But for a second it seemed like she didn’t recognize me.
It was the strangest thing, because for that same second I didn’t recognize Phyllis. This girl I’d known for nearly twelve years, bitter and jagged, and now her eyes were so peaceful. I almost bailed on Organic Chem. I almost stretched out next to her and said, “Give me some of that.”
She was sitting on that pigeon-shit spattered sidewalk like it was a white beach in Bermuda. I wanted to sit on that sand with her and stare at the bright water.
Bina’s uncle Muktar used to give her a jolly rancher every time she saw him, and she’d share it with us. We would taste watermelon but also the insides of each other’s mouths. It was good luck, to be the one who had it melt on your tongue. Sugarman was like that piece of hard red candy. The four of us sucked him until he dissolved.
© Kim Magowan