Floridian White Paint by Victoria Alvarez

I’ve been doused in white paint my whole life. The paint has been chipped and peeled but Winter Park, Florida has nice upkeep. Painters with gallons of off-white stroked their brushes over my plump bottom lip. Spray painted my dark hair until it was stick straight, burning its natural curl into something more beautiful: more recognizable. I have scrubbed, scratched, picked, and ripped the fragile paint residue—but it’s no use.

My skin was stained an eggshell white.

In the mornings before Catholic school, I gargled with bleach—it affected my speech. I could roll my Rs but my tongue remained stiff. My eyes were sprayed with milk, hosing down my perfect vision into something they thought was more clear. I cried tears of white. I painted my nails with whiteout, bit and nibbled the cuticles. My ears remained unaffected but grew accustomed to their words of privilege. My white clothes were longer than the others, my curves were too shameful. They wanted to structure me like their white picket fences.

Tampa was the home I thought about when they called me spic. When they said my hair was too frizzy. When the boys named Chad and Asher really liked my personality but preferred Michelle and Stacy—they liked what they knew. It was better than the descendants of Smith and Johnson who called me fat for my ass, but nothing bothered me more than the teachers holding rosaries sending me to the office for having the same skirt length as the other blonde girls. But, then again, who could blame them? I stood out.

But I was clean in Tampa. I wore my skin with pride.

Two hours away and I was safe. My people bathed and sponged my body as they watched the drain drink their paint. My skin glowed as the sun caressed its natural tone. I coughed up Clorox.

I could breathe.

Their tan hands massaged my scalp— shampooed, conditioned, and gelled my curly brown hair—as soon as the curls air dried, their familiar words told me I was beautiful. I missed their words; I wished my tongue was still as flexible. My perfect hearing mocked my pale tongue as their tan faces laughed at my poor grammar. My tongue grew stiff, my mouth drooled, dripping white in response to their loving words. My clothes were tailored to my body. My brown eyes saw another life filled with color.

Victoria Alvarez is a recent graduate from Rollins College and is pursuing her education by getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She currently lives in Orlando, Florida. Her work appears in The Odyssey, Rollins's Sanspur, and Brushing, the art and literary journal of Rollins College.