“But it looks like slime,” I say, unsure why anyone would order guacamole.
“C’mon. Don’t be one of those people who won’t try new things,” Esjae says, nudging me to just take a tiny bite of her Supreme Taco. She’s pulled over into the parking lot, for a change. Most of the time, I hold the food in my lap, passing her one limp parcel after another while she drives. But this time, it looks like we’re going to stay here until I budge.
If Esjae doesn’t stop trying to get me to slather my Santa Fe Gordita with that light green chunky crap, I’m gonna scream. Not at her, just at the world. And after that, I’ll eat all five of her Taco Supremes. And lick my fingers. Even if I have to wipe the guacamole off with a disintegrating napkin.
Before I met Esjae, my big brother’s girlfriend, I used to daydream that Lisa Turtle was my big sister. But Esjae’s a real person with a real car, so I don’t think much about Lisa Turtle anymore. Esjae’s teaching me how to make my signature pretty and that it can actually be okay if your clothes don’t match. She’s like a black version of the girl from Clarissa Explains it All. An artist who makes her own rules and wears tons of eyeliner. And Victoria’s Secret Pure Seduction body mist.
I am eleven years old, living smack dab in the middle of Ohio, on the east side of Columbus, in 1998. Which means I know every single word of Brandy and Monica’s “The Boy is Mine,” but I don’t know what an avocado is and neither do my aunties or neighbors. Avocados aren’t sold at the grocery store or pictured in textbooks. Esjae can’t say much about what they are, either. Except that they’re game changers. But I know that new things are not always appetizing or worth changing games for. I watched what happened to Crystal Pepsi.
Growing up in a fast-food test market, I take it for granted that Livingston Avenue, our local drag, is nothing more than a string of gas stations and superb restaurants with drive-thrus. Within one quarter of a mile, there’s Subway, Long John Silver’s, Sisters Fried Chicken, Peking Dynasty Express, McDonald’s, Rax, Mr. Hero, White Castle, Wendy’s, Rally’s, and Taco Bell. All that’s missing is a pizza spot. And Burger King.
Still, I’m as hesitant about the guacamole as Esjae is unconvincing. By not trying the guacamole, I’m letting her down. If I try it, though, I might let myself down. And then the insides of my stomach will let themselves up, into a sticky, smelly mess.
“Geez. How bad could it be?” she asks.
I have no idea. The nastiest food I’ve ever had is coleslaw and I can’t imagine things getting grosser than that. My culinary understanding of the world may be as preteen as my training bra, but some things I know for sure are that:
- Wendy’s costs more than other fast food because they wrap their sandwiches in foil. Source: My dad
- A McDonald’s cheeseburger can be forty years old and still look ‘fresh.’ Source: An exhibit at the Center of Science and Industry.
- Kentucky Fried Chicken had to change its name to KFC because it doesn’t use chicken at all and instead grows featherless, headless, giant chunks of poultry, in a lab. Source: A kid on the playground.
- If you go to Pizza Hut, in person, and pretend like you forgot your BOOK IT! coupon they’ll still let you get a free personal pizza, as long as you can talk about what you read. Source: Self
One of my favorite things about Esjae is that, if I ask her, she’ll take me to get a Biggie Frosty at Wendy’s, a huge Romanburger at Mr. Hero, and a Mexican Pizza at Taco Bell. All in one trip—and she won’t say that it’s too much food for one person or act like she’s in a hurry. She’ll just smile and laugh and be the kind of perfect I hope to be when I grow up.
She reminds me that I love many green foods. Grapes. Green beans. Dill pickles. In other words: my excuse doesn’t hold up.
“It’s like a creamy fruit. Buttery,” Esjae tries, again, to describe what an avocado is to me. This is way over a decade before we carry Google and shiny devices in our pockets, so she’s 100% relying on her own adolescent brain power.
“Buttery fruit? On my taco?” I shrug. Her description does little to alleviate my fears.
“If you don’t try it, I’m never bringing you back to Taco Bell.”
“No—you can’t be for real.”
“I’m playing, but please just try it already.”
Esjae is right, I should try it. If I don’t try this now, I’ll never grow up to be all artsy and laid-back like she is.
“Okay, okay,” I shove a bite of Taco Supreme into my mouth. Mmm! Guac is a dang delight; anything Esjae likes has to be all that and a bag of tortilla chips. My belly sings a song of cheer in response to the citric tang.
“Knew it!” Esjae is elated. She is so chill that she takes me through the drive-thru a second time and lets me reorder my Gorditas, this time with guacamole.
Esjae never brings up that I had been a foolish scaredy-cat, responsible for my own guacamole-denying suffering. Instead she makes it our ritual. She comes by, helps with my homework, and takes me to Taco Bell, where we get guac on everything, even though it costs extra. Sometimes we go to the mall afterwards.
She is the best pretend big sister ever. In two years, when my period starts, she’ll come to the house with a box of tampons, and a bag of Taco Supremes with guacamole. She’ll try to show me how to insert a tampon and be really gentle when I cry. After hours and hours of me not being able to get it in, she’ll make another late-night run to Taco Bell and come back with round two of the same order.
Later, when I am in high school, I’ll tell Esjae that a cute girl told me the guacamole comes out of a squirt gun. Of course Esjae already knew that—she just never told me because she didn’t want to gross me out.
In many more years, I’ll learn that my brother had other girlfriends. And that even when Esjae knew what was up, she’d still come pick me up and take me on these trips. Throughout and after their breakup and reunification and second breakup and well into our adulthoods, she let me remain her kid sister.
Esjae is the best
pretend big sister ever.
sheena d. (@bookofsheena) is a writer based between Brooklyn and South Florida.