These are the directions.
Here’s your map, your compass, if nothing else, the cracks in your heart will show the way. Let the light shine in to your latitude. Follow the long road, the dirt road, the ditch at the side growing weeds with purple petaled tips. Follow the sway of the hair’s grass. Break her heart, break your face, break it open.
This is How You Lose Her is a how-to manual, a map of the Dominican Republic, and the broken apartments of America. It’s the dirt below the landfill. The sweet rhythm of a girl’s gut when she knows it’s not working, but just can’t end it yet. I’m one of those girls. It’s really not over until the fat lady sings. I hold onto every last little breath of it, nibble at it. This is how you lose your mother, you daughter, your ex-girlfriend over the phone, that girl you did once because she was there and willing to shuffle from her jeans in the middle of the bedroom that your mother decorated when your seven. I am in love with Junot Diaz.
Yunior is a boy I know, well, he’s almost all the boys in my third period. I got them to open a book using Diaz. I got them to laugh at words on the page instead of jokes in the air that are hurtful, or insincere. They wanted to finish the story. Do you know what that means that my students who read on all different grade levels below their own wanted to continue reading the book? It’s to the point of a Christmas miracle. I can’t bow down to Diaz enough that he has created a short story collection that is for every culture, and any age. He’s surpassed the limits of literature. He’s made the poor and the broken open a book and travel through these relationships.
This is How You Lose Her is mostly the story of Yunior who also appears in Drown (which I desperately need to read). These stories make you want to hug the characters, and then shun them from your house. How dare Rafa do that to Mami and Yunior and yet how haggard, how purple the rounds of his eyes must be, how sunken and empty. He’s a brother with cancer who has never done anything impeccable in his life except pull girls onto the couch in his basement and let his little brother listen to their heart beats and hormones. And yet, that is impeccable. Diaz manages to make you want to be Rafa. He’s dying of cancer, half-alive from the chemo and he’s still hot on the block. I loved Rafa because I could feel him on the page.
This is the stitch of a Diaz book. These characters are people you never want to be. Yet, people do this. People in my own small town live solely on food stamps and hope. Boys in my class change girls like they change attitudes. They get rough if someone looks at them wrong. They yell at me if they think I’m not being fair to everyone, if I hold one higher than others, if I don’t allow them to become who they are because I don’t believe in the power of their glow. I always tell them that I’m just here to polish what they’ve already created in themselves. While reading, I could connect any of them to Yunior, these boys full of everything and nothing at the same time. How do they live like this.
This book is the letter I want to write to my students:
It’s okay. Your tough exterior will create cracks in your heart so bloody, and so imbued that no one will ever be able to fix them. You have to have hope to see light. You have to believe in yourself before anyone else can. You have to say sorry sometimes, not use your fists, laugh over something completely ridiculous instead of at someone completely ridiculous. You have to create good intentions and do acts of kindness even if no one is going to be kind to you when you return home in the evenings to a shadow. You have to rely on people, not just anyone, but people who let you make mistakes and repair them. You have to build dreams, not walls. If you do build walls, create a chink to peak through so that when it gets dark and the stars are so high that the walls block their brilliance, you have a hole to make you perfect, because the only way to go from nothing is into something.