Around the time I started getting antsy, living in bumfuck nowhere without a car, my Father felt inspired to give a speech: “The people out here are really not good. They are just different, a different type of people. The way they treat each other, what they do, you don’t want anything to do with them,” he said.
“Aww,” I said, checking my phone for anything.
“No, seriously. Even those high school boys you like. They will change, too. Stay away. And please for our sake, don’t fool around with anyone in this town. It is too small a town and we don’t want anyone in our business,” he said.
“Ok,” I said. I knew as soon as I got my car back, I would rush out to the city of Vancouver, find a bar and hopefully a man to thrust an ego back into me.
“Just focus on your work for now. You don’t need to do anything else,” my Mother said.
“Um, I need more than work in my life,” I said.
“Why?” she asked, dumbfounded.
“Because I am not a spinster, that’s why. I need dancing and life and boys and . . . dancing.”
“Oh, give it a rest,” she said.
For a while I tried to live like a monk, like a drunk monk who didn’t need contact, who didn’t need friends or male attention or to be touched.
It didn’t last long. Inevitably, I became close with my co-workers. There was nothing especially unusual about the people I worked with. The Housemen loved Star Trek. The women were planning camping trips with their kids. The young kids made bad jokes and the old people held the door open for me and nodded every morning.
It is a small town and everyone is in each other’s business but its not a big deal. Gina and one of the Houseman, Gary, live together.
Checking over a Banquet Event Order, “Oh, look, this company sounds like one of the porn sites you like,” Gina said.
“Well, maybe if you pleased me more I wouldn’t have to go elsewhere,” he snapped back.
“Well, if you gave me something to be pleased about, maybe it could come full circle,” she returned.
Two of the younger servers live in a house together. Kelly was kicked out by her Step-Mother after her Father abandoned her. She now shares a room with her best friend, who is cousins with Harry.
While dumping out water glasses and putting them on the dish rack, they argued. “You aren’t doing it right! Why don’t you listen to me?” Kelly scolded.
“I am doing it right, you stupid bitch,” Harry said.
“No, you’re not! Get out of my life and get out of my house,” she said before turning away.
“It’s my house, you get out! I hate you!” he yelled.
Those moments happen during the tension and busy dinner services. On the flip side, everyone helps each other. If someone’s car broke down, everyone already knows where they live and someone on shift is delegated to pick them up. They all know each other’s favorite foods, favorite shifts, favorite movies- who they have loved and who broke their heart, who is related and who wandered into town because they had nowhere else to go.
When I was still a snob about the small town and frustrated with only a bike and a broken heart, I asked one of the young bartenders why she moved back to Skamania. “I grew up here,” she said warmly, “and I like how everyone chips in for each other. One of my friends got in a car accident once and had $21,000 in medical bills. That night he was admitted into the hospital, everyone in town pooled together the money for him.”
Big towns, small towns. People are people. Families quarrel, but at the end of the day, everyone was taken care of. If I told one person about my parents or my car, everyone knew. People took turns driving me home. And once in a blue moon, when the Kitchen had a call for a tofu entree, someone always saved me every last bit of the leftovers- no matter what shift I worked that day. I am the only vegan most of them have ever met.
One of the older bartenders on the night shifts, a short woman with the posture of a hitchhiker’s thumb wearing heavy blue eyeshadow, teased me and touched my back. She teased all of us. Once I caught her grabbing the Quarterback’s ass. I hadn’t been touched in such a long time, when her hand rubbed my back warmth spread out along my torso and my skin prickled. “That is the most intimacy I have had in a long time,” I said. Everyone laughed, but it was true.
Sometimes, I wouldn’t call my Dad for a ride immediately after work, but slip into the Hotel bar instead. I asked for a dirty, vodka martini, and the bartender, around my age, short, bald with a thick black goatee, stopped everything for the Hotel guests and asked, “Do you want that filthy or soiled?”
“Filthy,” I said. With a tight smile of acknowledgement, he made me one fine martini. The burn of vodka on my lips cauterized my wounds for a few seconds just before my head wilted, dipping closer to the counter by the second. The voices of everyone around me grew faint. The Olympics played on the big screen TV, but I didn’t care. My injuries burned then went numb.
The bartender put his hand on the counter in front of me, “You ok?” he said gently. I fell in love with him. Smiling, I nodded and dipped my head back into the palm of my hand. “You want another one?” he asked like an angel.
“Well, since you twisted my arm,” I said a little loud for someone brooding. He gave a curt nod and gave me another equally anesthetizing martini.
He didn’t charge me for it.
The day did come. The day of my liberation. The day I got my car fixed!
The mechanic called and I expected them to just give an update, but they said it was ready to pick-up. I felt my soul leap up before I could stand, “Are you serious? Right now?” I asked.
“Right now,” he said.
I ran into the living room and sang, “My car is ready. Someone drive me to White Salmon!!!” (that is the city with the closest and most reliable mechanic) It had been several weeks since my Hyundai puttered into the shop. No more biking to get cereal. No more walking to escape the constant scratching, itching and bursts of insanity at my parents’ house.
My parents collected in the living room, smiling. “Really, its ready?” my Dad asked.
“Yes, now, right now!” I said, facing both my parents, dancing. My Mother stood in front of me, rubbing her crotch, absent-minded. Maybe it itched her, whatever the case, I found it distracting and slowed down my sentence until I stared at her hand, rubbing up and down over her genitals. Then I stopped speaking entirely and said, “I really hope you don’t do that in public.”
“Hey!” she said, then stuck out her front teeth and manically rubbed her crotch, “I will do whatever I want to do.” She shook her head like I was completely out of line and looked at my Father with a smirk. He chuckled back at her, as if it was a shared joke that their daughter was demented for bringing it up.
They drove me out to White Salmon, which was a 20 minute drive along the windy, mountain highway. Before they could park the car, I opened my door to jump out. “Would you control yourself!” my Mother snarled. “We aren’t that bad, are we?”
Now, the last pair of Hollywood bosses I worked for asked me the same question, and it got the same response: Silence.
Driving again was fucking phenomenal. I can tell you it was better than sex. I rolled down the windows and blasted Tom Petty then flew down the highway along the Gorge. The windsurfers and parasailers cut across the choppy waters of the Columbia River. Mt. Hood was watching from afar, capped in fresh snow. The trees played shadow puppets with the sun overhead, as I zipped through more and more forest.
When I got to Vancouver, I filed for a replacement Social Security card (which I have needed for years), then I found a nearby salon where I could finally get a pedicure and a wax. The closest place was Priscilla’s Salon, buried between a gas station and a smoke shop.
Vancouver, Washington is where I grew up from the age of 13 to 18 (not to be confused with Vancouver, BC). When we moved there, to me it was paradise. Of course anything was paradise compared to where we came from, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In the 1990s, Vancouver was a few apartment buildings, a movie theater or two and just fields of land. It was gorgeous. I would walk out into tall grass and admire the sun melting into pink and orange on one side of the field, while the moon and a few stars slowly appeared through shades of periwinkle and lavender on the other. I would walk everywhere, just to cut through the thick grass. There was space to stretch out and think.
Now, Vancouver has no more fields. There are no more pastel sunsets through tall grass. There is no space to stretch, explore and admire. All of it, and I mean every last acre, has been paved and built on, used for parking lots, Starbuck’s, car washes and Border’s bookstores that have been built and now remain vacant. New streets cut through new blocks and new strip malls, making it confusing to navigate and easy to get lost. One block would look identical to the next, but streets would wind around in circles like they were an afterthought.
It also seemed dreary. The sunlight on the mountaintop by the Hotel in Skamania was warm and pure. Here, in the city, it was just a bulb behind a dusty shade of clouds and industrial fumes. Even though I drove down the same streets from high school, through the old haunts- the Shari’s, the Safeway, the Computer Shop where my boyfriend worked, the Gas Station where I asked a stranger how to use a pump . . . there were no real memories. It all looked too different now, and they all looked sad, somehow.
So to Priscilla’s Salon I went, first was the wax. The woman was older, Asian and barely spoke English. I should have known what I was in for when she cued up the soft music. I laid down and heard her say, “This hurt . . . you ready?”
“Oh, I am used to it,” I said, waiting for the first pull of hot wax. The sound of a meat slicer rose up over us, and I winced. Then she held down my torso just over my clitorus. At first, I thought, “Wow, someone is finally touching my clitorus.” Then I felt pressure, fingers and grinding from her wrist and arm as she put all her weight on my delicate flower to yank out even more pubic hair. I cried somewhere deep inside, but didn’t open my mouth.
“You strong,” she said. “Good girl!”
“Thanks,” I mumbled in a cough. She took off everything, it was a full on Brazilian wax- which I never ask for because a) it reminds me of being a little girl and b) it is a lot more expensive. Off it all went, and I thought, “Might as well. Fresh start.”
“All done,” she said. “Most women complain. Not you.”
I sat up and caught my reflection in the mirror, all my eyeliner was melting down my face. That bitch made me cry without me even knowing it.
After my pedicure, I stumbled on over to the nearest dive bar, barefoot, and ordered a shot of whisky and a beer. My hair was in Princess Leia buns, I was wearing a Rolling Stones t-shirt, small blue shorts and my heart-shaped sunglasses. The daylight was smearing through the opaque windows and the clack of pool balls sung in the background. I looked around for a man, and found none to my liking. The afternoon was still early.
So someone bought my next round, a Mexican who barely spoke English. “You come home with me?” he asked.
“I am not that kind of girl, sorry,” I lied.
“I pay you. How much? You say how much and I pay,” he said.
“Excuse me,” I said, staring at him.
He giggled then waved his hand at me. “Nevermind.”
“Are you asking how much I charge for sex? Wow. That is . . . a first. Thank you,” I said.
“Misunderstand. No. No. Sorry. No,” he said.
An older guy bought my next round and played a game of pool with me. He killed it, and I was impressed. We got to talking. “Why don’t you come home and I will have my daughter cook you something special for dinner? I am just around the corner here. The whole family is there. I have dogs too,” he said, sweetly. His hair was turning from gray to white. He kept his goatee and baseball hat on to feel young. I just felt sorry for him.
“Maybe,” I would chime until he finally left. He made me promise I would stay at the bar until he got back.
By the time it grew dark, I was wasted. There was always a beer and shot of whisky on the bar next to me. Every time I looked up, I felt bad looking at the tall, frothy ale and the respectable, small spirit staring back at me. They became a familiar couple, but I knew I was in over my head. Eventually, I had to walk away from them just to save myself. I stumbled across the parking lot for Vietnamese restaurant and filled up fast, but I was still too drunk to drive.
The first choice, unfortunately, was Huck, the last boy I fucked. Luckily, I was smart enough when sober to delete any remnant of our conversations off my phone, any call logs, any text messages . . . however, there was one mystery number that was 608, and I called. A woman answered. I apologized and hung up.
Then I called Abe, my on-again off-again boyfriend of the last 2 years. It had been months since we spoke. When I returned from France, he never bothered to schedule a time for us to chat on-line or over the phone, despite his missed chats and texts and my muddled sleeping schedule, so I blew him off. Huck was an easy distraction for awhile and, to be completely honest, the best thing Huck ever did was help me get over Abe.
That said, when you are alone in a parking lot at 10pm, trying to shake off whisky, heartbreak and eccentric, controlling parents . . . you have to call someone. Abe picked up, and lightly coughed before saying, “Hello? . . . Hello?” He always did that, followed one hello with another with that tickle in his throat, probably from smoking so much. He smokes so many cigarettes when he was in Europe backpacking with his cousin, the locals nicknamed him “The Chimney.” He also smokes weed every day, all day.
“Hi,” I said, “I am drunk and in a parking lot. I need you to talk me down.”
He chuckled a little, “Ok,” he said.
The conversation was friendly, foggy and he stayed on with me after I turned on my engine and headed back on the freeway. I told him I hated my parents, how living with them was unbearable, the comments about me looking fat, the scratching and rubbing of genitals. “I am glad I haven’t had kids yet because I wouldn’t want them to ever know them.”
To Abe parents meant love, support, comfort, big houses and lots of food, concern and warmth. I loved his parents, and part of the reason I wanted us to end up together so badly was the allure of his family. No matter what stories I told, no matter how critical or rude or irritated I was when I spoke about my family, Abe could never absorb what they were to me, and I resented him for it.
“NO! No. No. No,” I said. “Listen to me! They don’t want me there. At all!”
He listened and somehow the conversation jumped tracks to our relationship. Though I was in a blistering meltdown of whisky, dark highways and general aggravation, I do remember saying, “When you broke up with me before your cousin’s wedding, that really fucked me up. You know?” I started crying and put one hand on my face to stop my eyes from watering, like it was a gauze.
In April, before France, Abe proposed that we move in together, found a great duplex in Orange County and bought me an expensive dress for his cousin’s wedding later that month. For two weeks I was in heaven. Even my roommate said, “It is everything you wanted.” Skeptically, I responded with a “ . . . yeah. It is.” Abe would have rescued me from poverty, from moving in with my parents, from all the things I felt bogged down and worried by- he could have rescued me- but he backed out the Thursday before the wedding. He said we would never work out and he asked me not to attend the wedding. I can describe to you many moments of disappointment and humiliation, but the one that rings out with the most poison, with the loudest, blood curling echo is hearing this man I love (and I do still love him) tell me I wasn’t good enough for his family.
“Why did you do that? It fucked me up, man.” I said, holding my face up to see the highway.
“I know it did. I know it fucked you up. I am sorry,” he said. That is all he could say.
When I pulled into my parent’s driveway, the lights were out. For the first time, they didn’t wait up for me. I stumbled into my bedroom and fell asleep, still unsatisfied, still sad and still looking for something else. All that time I waited for the car to set me free, but it just wasn’t enough.