After Huck’s cold, almost too well performed speech on videochat, I joined my parents for a bland dinner of mashed potatoes and vegetables baked into a pie. They asked what was wrong and I told them, my face twisted in confusion. How did everything change so quickly? And why did I have to feel completely responsible?
“Come on, don’t let him distract you. Things are going so great for you right now,” my Mother said. It was the first time they mentioned writing school in a positive.
“I know, I just thought he was different,” I said.
“How different could he be? He has a dick, doesn’t he?” she said, slapping my arm and trying to get me to laugh. Her mouth hung open, waiting for a cackle to make its appearance.
“♪ ♫ And…always look on the bright side of life… Always look on the light side of life ♪ ♫ … Come on, Dad!” my Mother sang. The song was “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” from MONTY PYTHON’S Life of Brian.
My Dad restrained his smile, though it was peaking around his mouth, “Give a whistle”
“♪ ♫ And…always look on the bright side of life… Always look on the light side of life…♪ ♫,” they sang in unison. Standing over me, they sang and laughed and I forced a little chuckle. That was a good moment.
The next day at lunch, I would sit at the table thinking about Huck, trying to redirect my focus to school but hurting. I just sat there feeling blindsided. My Mother sat across from me, “My poor [StarFire], why do you have to be insane? Its such a heartbreak.”
“I am not insane, I am heartbroken,” I said.
“Oh stop it. Drop it now,” she said. That was pretty much my Mother growing up. If I was hurt, I had an hour window of sympathy and support before being told to get over it. Oddly, I feel as though I may take longer to get over things than most people, despite my parents tactics to push my emotional turmoil to a finish.
You may wonder why I would agree to move in with my parents, knowing the tensions and eccentricities would drive me completely nuts? It was a last resort. There was a lot I wanted to do; I wanted to move out of Sylmar and Dora’s one-room, flooded piece of shit apartment, I wanted to go to France and see the Cannes Film Festival, I wanted to attend this Creative Writing Program but I had no resources and three dogs. Really, it is just the three dogs.
If I didn’t have them, I could have couch surfed, put my things in storage and drifted around the world. I would probably be in a French guy’s villa, sipping coffee and sunbathing in a dress or sleeping in on Venice beach with friends- only worrying about where to put my car to avoid a parking ticket every day. If you go further back, I would be living with Abe. These dogs were a responsibility I accepted a long time ago, they have stood by me and loved me for the last few years through all of it- the broken hearts, the lost jobs, the moves, the dreams . . . all of it. They are my constant. And if I were to give them up, I could easily step off a cliff into darkness. If I had no one, I would just have myself, and that bitch is my worst enemy.
Moving home was not a light decision. My parents pushed for it, thinking I needed rescue from Los Angeles and could settle back in Washington. That is never what I wanted, but my Therapist in LA told me this would be a fine opportunity to re-introduce myself as an adult to my parents. I also thought, this would be the last time I would really have a chance to get to know them and spend time together before they died. Both my parents are in their late-60s and in good health for that age, but with their constant traveling and shifting about the west coast, and my life constantly being thrown to the wind, who knows where we will be next year.
After France, I didn’t think anything could cut me down again. Not Huck. Not my parents. I was the highest I had ever been.
But, life there in Carson with my parents made me restless. The house was small, and though my parents were hard of hearing, I could hear their conversations, the scratching, the scraping of every last pea off my father’s dish, the TV would be on mute for half an hour or more and suddenly the volume would be explode out of the TV set like gunfire. This made it difficult to read. And write. And sleep. After a few days, I would start taking walks.
“Getting restless, huh?” my Father said.
“I gotta get out of here,” I said.
“Now you know how we feel,” my mother said, keeping her eyes down on her book. She complains about living here and she complains about living in Arizona for the other half of the year. I don’t know if I have ever seen my Mother happy.
I took walks around the neighborhood, walking along all the fenced in land with my iPod, bought cigarettes and sometimes a pint of Fosters then hovered in the bushes getting in a smoke or five before heading back to the house. I was having trouble shaking the idea of Huck fucking another girl. I thought I could be progressive and liberal, maybe rethink all the rules of a relationship. Someone like Huck would make another trip alone to France feel possible, with a significant other back home. He could mess around with the girls in his college town, getting drunk at his bar and complimenting his quirky oh-so-sophisticated style and I could fly away through another fantasy, and more men. Maybe at the end, we could meet and have an understanding.
That didn’t work. I felt betrayed. I felt like the bond was trashed for a one-night stand and he allowed another woman in a space we created, one I thought he would honor for at least a few weeks. I was jealous and bored and stuck in this Godforsaken town with no friends, no confidants and two parents who didn’t want to hear about how I was used by another man . . . again. “Sex is not love,” my Mother would say as I was walking into the house, in front of her. I swallowed. Was it all really that fundamentally basic? Was it just sex and I got carried away?
So, off to the bushes I would go- one set in the middle of a field across from the lumber mill or a few blocks from my parents house, between someone’s fenced in yard and some wild shrubbery. There I would sit, play the Stones and chain smoke. I was so fucking lonely, sometimes I would talk to a spider crawling up the fence, or greet a ladybug sitting on a leaf nearby. Those little moments had me wondering if I was truly losing my mind already. It was barely even July, and the best conversations I was having were with insects.
On a walk, sometimes an old, sunburned man named Lawrence would follow me on his child’s bike. He was in his 50s, silver hair twisted into a long braid out the back of his baseball hat, and he always wreaked of body odor. He would say “Hello” if I was walking with my Mother, or offer a girl’s bike for me to ride with him. He wore sunglasses all the time, and would speak through a toothy grin. All he was missing was a big lollipop.
“No thank you, we have bikes at home,” my Mother said.
“We do?” I asked.
“Yes. You know, he has never said a word to me before. Never even acknowledged me. We think he is dealing drugs on that bike. Why would a grown man ride a child’s bike?” she grumbled.
“Do you want the local drug dealer to talk to you?” I asked.
“No” she said low in that almost comical voice, gargling the word, “But he never spoke to me before. That really ticks me off!”
This created a stir with my Father, who had me review all the mugshots of local sex offenders in the area, and who would stare out the window through our curtains, watching Lawrence bike back and forth, shaking his head.
The other person who interacted with us was a Vietnam Vet named Roy, who was so drunk everyday his words always slurred through the corner of his mouth. I could never understand what he said. He lived across the street in a rotting RV with a beautiful collie mix named Cody. He would knock on the door, asking for money or help, and my Father would push us back behind the front door and rush out, keeping him away from us, then walk him back to his RV.
My Father was very protective, which felt new. When I was a child, often I would end up in conversations with strangers. In fact, the person who taught me how to play pool was a strange man hanging out in apartment lounge all day long. I was 13, and he became the one who spring-boarded me into one of my favorite past times, not that I remember his name or anything else about him. As I blossomed into a young woman, the vampires suddenly appeared. My Father was absent, working I guess, while I stumbled through dark waters, slowly holding my innocence underwater until it quickly drowned. Maybe it was a version of my innocence, I still chase rainbows and puppy dogs. Maybe that’s what happens to the little girls who are taken into dark basements and apartments with strange men- they lose their physical innocence but are forever stunted with a child’s emotional maturity. You never grow up because you don’t want to leave behind what they took from you, so you drag it behind you like a dirty teddy bear.
My communication with Huck around this time was fairly tame but bitter. I would get buzzed and toss out various, somewhat comical insults about the “cream puffs” of the Midwest or threats that I would never sleep with him again. He managed it gracefully, texting back sometimes amused, sometimes irritated. Each text back felt like an affirmation that there was more between us than a convenient, sexual arrangement. If he tolerated my backhanded comments, maybe he did care. I am not proud of it, but I was in trapped in this holding pattern, trying to figure out if he was real or not- all the while confronting my own identity back home, remembering who I was as a child and reminding myself of who I am now.
There, in a beautiful lawn where time stood still, I spoke with my friend Taylor, one of the Doggie Daycare cohorts who stood by me through some of the worst moments of the last two years. Taylor moved home after his brother killed himself, back to Florida. There he remained, and we spoke on the phone, me standing on the far corner of the yard to get reception, him on a fishing boat somewhere.
“Are you giving this guy a fair shot?” he asked.
“He fucked someone else!” I said, “Granted, we agreed that he could. I just told him not to tell me and then he had to go and be honest with me.”
“Is he worth it?” Taylor asked.
I punched the ground, “I want to kill him. I want to kill him!” I laughed, feeling all the warm pieces of myself flood down my face. “Fuck him.”
“Is he worth it?”
“He made me really happy,” I said.
“Text him you are sorry for saying mean things to him. I bet you $20 within 2 minutes he texts you back.”
“I hate him,” I punched the ground again, kind of laughing but not really, “Ok.”
“2 minutes,” Taylor said.
I texted Huck, “I am sorry I say terrible things . . . “ whatever I texted, it was no more than a sentence, but made me nauseous with each punch into the phone.
Six minutes later, I got a text back from Huck, “I knew you wouldn’t give up.”
I fell down to the ground and sat there, feeling emotional and confused.
“And I got a voicemail from your . . . brother?” he wrote. I love Taylor. He left a voicemail explaining that I didn’t mean to hurt his feelings, I was just so afraid of getting hurt, I am put on the aggressive at any potential threat to my heart.
The sun set. Lawrence biked a circle and went back to his house. Roy crawled back inside his RV. My father fell asleep and my Mother stayed up with a bottle of wine and the puzzle.
And I forgave Huck for hurting me, and tried again.