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I Have a Lot of Questions for Women in Old Photos

Seeking guidance from women I wish I knew

Photo: Cheryl Winn-Boujnida on Unsplash

II like those secondhand stores that have piles of used postcards and old family photos of people I don’t know. They’re held in a big box, in a shop near the Bedford stop of the L train in Brooklyn.

Blonde ladies holding newborns who look like a ham or mashed potatoes, even. They wear bell bottoms or mod dresses or stiff dresses with stripes. Sideways hats and curls, or red lipstick and eyebrows that aren’t fashionable anymore. Black and white, gray, and sepia-toned outfits. I like how they pose.

I wish I knew them. I name some of them. Agnes, Bertha, Laurie, Linda, and Sue. I try to find tan ones like me and then give up halfway through. They seem nice.

I wonder if they like the men they’re posing with. I wonder if they don’t mind taking the photos and if they agreed to take them in the first place.

I’m angry sometimes. Angry when relatives say that it’s better to have boys instead of girls. Angry when they asked me why I was outside playing football at 13 years old. Angry when they told me it was disturbing when I said I wanted to move out of my parents house by the end of 2018.

None of the women in these photos look angry. I’m jealous.

I want to know if they like the babies they’re holding. There’s a daycare that my mother owns on the first floor of our house. There are a lot of kids during the 11 a.m. Spanish-speaking mass who just won’t stop crying or eating crackers or throwing things. Mass is ironically the best form of birth control. The priest tells us during a homily that it’s selfish not to have children because the Lord will provide.

I begin looking up IUDs on my phone.

I want to ask him if he’s ever been up at four in the morning with a screaming baby. I wonder if Agnes ever had to do that. I name the curly-haired brunette in the picture Agnes because that was my confirmation name. And she’s holding a baby, and I want to ask her if she had looked forward to kids. She looks happy and it’s comforting.

One of the women wears a flight stewardess uniform. Laurie. Her hair is in a great bun, I make a note of it so that I can try to find a tutorial for buns. I want to know how many flights she’s been on. Can she pronounce the countries’ names correctly, or does she let someone else do it during announcements.

I wonder if she likes plane food. Would she be pissed to find out that I get a bag of blue potato chips and a can of seltzer water on JetBlue these days?

Maybe I should work on a plane.

I told my mother that I wanted to go to Canada with my boyfriend for a few days. She said it would be disgraceful since we’re not married.

I’m 25 years old.

I send out 15 applications to jobs outside of New York City that week. I didn’t get any of them. I wrote “trash” in black ink on my hand. I wonder how many job applications it took for Laurie to get her job. Who did she have to argue with before getting on all of those planes.

My grandmother told me back when she was alive that it was unbecoming for a señorita to be pissed. I wonder if she looked out from the afterlife and shook her head at the blue mug I smashed in a rage this past January. I used to break skin. I don’t know where to put my rage anymore.

Linda looks like a passive aggressive type of mad. Her lipstick is on point even in a black and white photo. She probably polished her mugs and lined them up in a row.

Maybe she let them fall and smiled as the shards spread all over the floor of her kitchen. I hope she did. Then I’m not the only one.

Someone connected to my family killed her husband a long time ago in a fit of rage that she said she can’t remember. He had gotten someone pregnant. He didn’t tell her — a friend did.

They were teachers during Sunday school at their church. Holy examples. The priests called her devout and gentle. She never raised her voice. But she raised her hand in judgment.

I want to know if any of the women in the pile had wanted to do that. To strike back before they could get divorces. Did they think about it when laying down next to someone with a dad bod who snored a little too loud, or rolled over in their sleep.

My aunt says that women can’t say “encojonar.”

It means to be pissed in Caribbean Spanish, but it comes from the word cojones which is a vulgar word for balls and, according to her, men have the privilege of saying it when they’re pissed. Señoritas don’t. I love pronouncing it syllable by syllable.


It’s fun.

Bertha and Sue sit on a bench somewhere behind a sepia-colored house and Sue has a pixie cut with a cigarette in her hand. She looks like she’d swear up a storm. I’m jealous of Bertha and her full hair and her polka-dotted outfit. I want to be her friend. I don’t want to smoke though. Maybe Sue and Bertha will drink rum with me, or white wine.

There’s a motorcycle on a corner and I want one of them to teach me how to ride it. I want to cut my hair into a bob, but I have a potato face. I want to know their opinion about my aspirations, about my choice in haircuts.

I hope they’re angry too.

Thank you so much for reading.

Dedicated to my grandmother, Jesusita.

Native NYer. Freelance writer in The Nation, Teen Vogue, The New York Times, Vice & more. Hire me:

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