Joanna C. Valente

There are Three Kinds of Suns

“When you get to town, get some nice dresses. Something especially now, okay?” Baby Girl’s grandfather said this to her while smoking, letting out the fumes in the open window to his left. She was seven years old, the scar on her right knee still white and pearly, even though it happened years ago when she fell off her bike. She never got back on that bike. 

Baby Girl kept repeating the phrase in her head, We don’t walk to the store because Grandpa’s leg is bad. His leg is bad. Baby Girl often repeats words in her head until they don’t sound like words anymore. Brooklyn is all hills when you go up 5th Avenue, so they drive instead. All those miles give her grandfather pain and he’s already in his 70s but his body is really ten years older than that and he thanks the war for that. Grandfather is from Philly, but he moved to Brooklyn to be in the big city and met Baby Girl’s grandmother and they married before the year was out. They had seven children. Two already dead. One shot. 

Baby Girl grew up hearing stories about the family, about people who were dead that she never knew and never will know and how they were the best and kindest and craziest and wore the strangest and prettiest clothes. Grandfather always liked to get her new clothes, so she wouldn’t look like all the other kids, clothes that looked like trash, like garbage clothes as he would say. She didn’t really care about looking different, she just wanted to make him happy. 

Grandfather parks and they step out of the car and he wheezes a little and leans on his cane that Baby Girl got to put some cat stickers on. From a young age, Baby Girl was used to being someone else’s pet, a project to work on. This will take years to undo. It will never be undone. 

Her mother grew up in Bensonhurst, than Bay Ridge. And then Baby Girl was born, in the same house her mother lived in for over 20 years. Grandfather kissed her on her forehead, led her to the store.


Sometimes K holds Baby Girl’s hand or her shoulders or any part of her, so randomly or abruptly that Baby Girl flinches. Every part of her body screams, wants to collapse in at itself. But she doesn’t protest, because isn’t she being the weird one? Shouldn’t she want to be touched? 


When Baby Girl was seventeen, she had a boyfriend who would skip class with her to go to the Silent Barn and set up crust punk shows. He had longer hair than Baby Girl did which her parents didn’t like. Baby Girl liked when he got real quiet while making a playlist for her, when he wrote song lyrics for his band, when he bought her French fries at the diner, when he held her hand at a show. He went to prom with her even though he thought the whole thing was lame. They broke up during their first semester at college. He moved to Montana, overdosed on something that no one would tell her. His parents still keep his Facebook active. 

Sometimes Baby Girl thinks about her first boyfriend, her high school boyfriend, who sounded like Nick Drake—and wonders if he overdosed by accident or killed himself on purpose. Does it matter? Why do families lie about overdoses, as if somehow covering it up changes the outcome? As if it will bring back the dead. Why do people tell stories that our bodies know are untrue? 

I could get into trouble, Baby Girl remembers telling her Nick Drake boyfriend the first time he said they should cut class. She hesitated, but did it anyway. They didn’t get in trouble. Her mom lost the baby she was carrying for eight months in her belly—everything was just falling icicles and men with axes destroying the family room couch. Her dad would mop the floors when the icicles would fall. But they kept falling and he kept mopping. 

The first time Baby Girl held a cell phone, her own cell phone, she was 18. Her parents decided to get her one because she had a boyfriend and while they let her stay out with him a little later, they wanted to make sure she was off doing drugs in a dark alley somewhere. She barely used it at the time, would send the occasional text to her parents, or the good night and good morning to her boyfriend. In college, it was like the internet didn’t even exist. It felt freeing, to understand her body was wireless. Could be damage to everyone. 


The second time Baby Girl had sex, she was 19. He was an adjunct English professor engaged to a woman two states away that she didn’t know about. He put a body suit on her and spanked her until she cried. She loved every minute. He said he would teach her how to give blow jobs every man would love—and he wasn’t wrong. 

She knew he lied, that he was a cheater, that he didn’t really love all the girls, but just wanted to have sex with them. But Baby Girl was tired of basically being a dumb virgin, of having boys and girls reject her, as if her vagina contained some secret covenant inside, as if it were Pandora’s Box. Baby Girl didn’t even care that he wanted to have a lot of sex. She did care about the fact that he didn’t love anyone. 

When George W. Bush is elected, no one in Baby Girl’s family cheers. Her mother is on the couch, crying that she isn’t breastfeeding her baby brother that died. What is a family? Her mother cries, asks this question and over and over again. Her father sits there silently, choosing not to be the savior, choosing not to be part of the story. Choosing to opt out.

Uncle P calls her mother on the phone, sometimes asks to speak to Baby Girl. There is no photo to show what he has done to her body, to any girl’s body. How many girls did he take the consciousness of and replace it with agony, with a dreamslate full of sorrow. How many women has he conquered and colonized with his dick, his greedy hands, his putrid mouth rotting into knives? 

He asks her how school went, if her homework was hard, if she made it to Brighton Beach and thanked the ocean for letting her body swim and fall into the water, be consumed. He asked her if she had any crushes on boys, what their names were, what neighborhoods they lived in, what she wore. All of these questions were innocent on the surface, but even then, Baby Girl knew better, felt the unaltruistic journalistic edge, some kind of agenda. Even then, she knew her mother would call her crazy, then deem every subsequent act crazy, part of her hysteria, part of her over sensitivity. So, she stayed quiet. She grew to like the silence.

Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York, and is the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015), Marys of the Sea (The Operating System, 2017), Xenos (Agape Editions, 2016) and the editor of A Shadow Map: An Anthology by Survivors of Sexual Assault (CCM, 2017). Joanna received a MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College, and is also the founder of Yes, Poetry, a managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine and CCM, as well as an instructor at Brooklyn Poets. Some of their writing has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Brooklyn Magazine, Prelude, Apogee, Spork, The Feminist Wire, BUST, and elsewhere.