Thirteen teens on their way to a man-made beach. It is the end of the 2000s. They consider “Return of the Mack” a throwback barbecue tune, “Pony” an old-school love song. Jean shorts are still fashionably acceptable. The New Lots Avenue subway station doesn’t have a seating area. The A train still comes to East New York every fifteen minutes, the C every twenty. These teens once swore only to go as far as Coney Island. But the A train to the Q22 bus to Riis Beach has just been discovered among them. Thirteen teens from IS 392 settle down, nutcrackers in the tops of their bags.
Someone brings a volleyball and a football. The volleyball is left behind. One girl is made fun of for the weakness of her throw, another given props for her uncatchable one. One is sexually desirable, the other strong. Teenage boys put their boners in their waistbands when Vybz Kartel comes on. An American girl teaches a Caribbean girl how to wine. Permed hair prevents over-the-waist play in the water. The light-skin girl with the big afro tousles her curls and tells everyone she’s never had a perm. She dips into the sea as a pair of dark brown eyes look on; the admirer puts her hair up in envy. She’s embarrassed to be wearing a one-piece. “Wait for me,” she says, pulling on her own kinks. “I’m coming in.”
Thirteen teens on a man-made beach roll a few joints and complain about the kinds of bodies in the nude area. The token white boy, who never says nigga, is especially triggered by the whiteness of another man’s ass. He mutters the F-word, “Fuckin’ faggot,” tears the top off a nutcracker, and gulps away.
Two boys will put their toes by the shore as they explain they can’t swim. And someone’s mother will call six times unanswered, promise an ass-whoopin’ to her sprouting son through text. And someone’s braid will fall out on the sand. And these middle schoolers will find a reason to get close. And an older brother will wrap his arms around an underage neckline.
Jordan is unsure what husbands are to do, although she often sees what wives should. Her mother makes dinner, makes sure Jordan makes curfew, makes her clean — and the house is held together by these seams. Her mother is often alone, her mother is often building the home alone, making evening routines out of mere spite and cabinet rummages. Jordan’s father holds no such script. His dances and smiles are enough, pulling a playfulness from her pouts. With him, she hears her own laugh bursting at his banter and she knows he’s the perfect man.
“I didn’t have sex until your father and I were married,” her mother says through her teeth. Jordan wonders how a woman from East New York, Brooklyn, made it out of high school unfucked. She tries to remember pictures of her mother in the tenth grade at Erasmus, her unsmiling face on a floral-patterned couch. Her mother graduated top of her class in 1974. Jordan sees her belting Kirk Franklin’s “Smile” before a CCC church service, a service where Jordan will pretend to sleep. Watching her mother’s head bop to “Shackles” by Mary Mary down Sutter Ave., the age she lost her virginity doesn’t seem so far-fetched. Mother’s a saint.
Her mother is the kind of woman who’d curse if you took too long to put your shoes on. The type of woman who strongly suggests people on the train move out of her way. Her mother drags her to church every Sunday. Jordan’s stomach growls in the congregation like a gumball rolling out from the belly of a machine over the pastor’s voice. Whenever sex is mentioned, her mother elbows her awake. In the summer of 2007, she signs Jordan up for a “God on Sex” youth night. They use the Bible to refute the foolishness of worldly ideas on fornication. This is “the talk.”