Getting Pissed in Beverly Hills

(For those of you who know me personally, this is a unabridged version of a published blog from earlier this year)

My friend Corinne asked if I was doing anything Saturday night and if I had a cocktail dress. I said I wasn’t doing anything and did, indeed, have a cocktail dress. That is all I knew when I pulled up to her apartment, carsick and hot from traffic, Saturday afternoon. She was in a stunning, baby blue, one strap evening gown. Almost immediately, I felt inadequate. “I got this at the Ross Dress for Less  in the Junior’s section,” I said.

“Leave it, your boobs look great,” she said.

It only took 20 minutes or so before we drove up to the Beverly Hilton valet. “You would tell me if I was underdressed, right?” I asked.

“Yes, and tell me if my extensions come out,” she said.

Me and Corinne at Genesis Awards

We walked into the hotel and mixed into a small pool of people wearing various gowns and dresses, mostly with an Old Hollywood feeling to it. Sequins. Mid-thigh length. Accentuated shoulders. Not a lot of bold colors. Not a lot of Ross Dress for Less.

We collected our passes and waited outside the doors to the open bar until they slowly opened. Corinne and I were among the first at the bar. We both ordered Heinekens and stood there for an awkward second or two. There was a slideshow with various animal pictures rotating at a rather pleasant speed on the wall and monitors. “I could just stand here, sip my beer and look at animal pictures,” I said.

Instead, we headed over to the red carpet. Beatrice, the Frenchie from “Modern Family”, was walking down the red carpet. My cheeks burned, my heart thumped and I did everything possible to keep from crawling down on the red carpet and cornering Beatrice in front of the photographers. There were other human guests on the red carpet; Pauley Perrette of NCIS and Carrie Ann Inaba, a judge on Dancing with the Stars and Moby.

Moby on the red carpet

Wendie Malick of “Just Shoot Me” walked up and around our second or third drink, Corinne approached her and said, “I loved you on ‘News Radio’.”

“Thank you,” Wendie said, “but I was never on News Radio.” Then she walked into the VIP room.

“Crap,” Corinne said, “I just messed up with Wendie Malick.”

wendie-malick-the-humane-societys-2013-genesis_3572622

“I am sure she gets it all the time,” I said, turning my attention back to the red carpet. Leo, a German Shepherd, was just about to walk the red carpet with two uniformed police officers. Rocky, a long-haired jack russell, was in his olive-green sweater. I was patiently allowed to pet all three dogs featured on the red carpet.  I turned to a man I never met before, sipping a drink with his girlfriend, and said, “There is like a surge of dopamine released from my brain whenever I see dogs. It clouds my mind. It is like taking ecstasy at Disneyland.”

He paused over his drink and wrinkled his brow, unsure of what to make of me.

“Where are you from?” Corinne asked.

“Arizona,” he said.

“Ah, they just passed a law preventing transgenders from using restrooms that don’t correspond with their gender at birth … but I mean, how can you enforce that?” I asked.

“You can’t,” he said, “Women use the men’s room all the time when the line is too long.”

“I know I do,” Corinne said.

“Yup, standing at a urinal before, I have looked side to side and have seen women using the urinals next to me,” he said. “Where are you from?”

“She is from Holland,” I said, volunteering my friend into the line of questioning.

“Where is that?” he said.

“Amsterdam …”

“Ok,” he said, “Germany?”

“No.”

“Austria?”

“No.”

“Sweden?”

“You need to consult a globe, sir,” I said.

“In that general area,” Corinne softened.

Beatrice on Red Carpet 3

We came back through to the open bar and I decided to switch over to Chardonnay. Usually I do better pacing myself with beer, but once I saw a glass of white wine, my jaw tightened and my mouth grew dry.

We perused the silent auction. There was jewelry, travel packages (one trip to South America starting at $2300), Taylor Swift concert tickets, paintings (some by artists, some by animals), a motorcycle … pretty much anything you can imagine starting well above what I could afford. The $15 folded in my clutch had to last me another week, so I sadly strolled by one beautiful, shiny item after another.

We were seated at tables for dinner and served a salad for an opening course, and then a steak-like patty with a side of vegetables and a purple carrot, I have since discovered is called ‘Purple Haze’ in organic gardening circles. The food was delicious, the “meat” patty crumbled in my mouth, warm in a light gravy. My server was named Carlos.

Menu

“Carlos,” I asked, “What is this delightful thing here? Vegan?”

“Yes, everything is vegan,” he said, in broken English.

“And this meat-like thing, what is it called?”

“Veggie. Everything veggies,” he said.

“Yes, but is there a name?”

“Veggie,” he said again.

“Ok, I guess it’s called Veggie,” I said to the others.

***

Dinner table conversation at places like this are tricky. The natural theme that connects us all is our care and compassion for animals, but discussing inhumane treatment of animals can turn a “Veggie” into an unpredictable rip current of alcohol, gravy and stomach acid.

“Did you see that video of the man shooting the horse point blank? Some kind of message to animal activists?”

“No, but did you hear about what happened in La Jolla?”

“Yeah, I would like to kick her in the stomach … kicking seals … get me in a room with her so she can see how it feels ..”

“What happened with the horse?”

“He shot it, point blank. Killed it. It is on YouTube.”

The man at our table in a black velvet newsboy cap put down his silverware and thrust both hands up in the air as if surrendering. “No more,” he said, “I can’t hear anymore.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “We’ll stop. Let’s talk purple carrot. How is that purple carrot?”

He softened and lifted his knife and spoon again, “It is like a mix of red peppers and yellow peppers. I really like it.”

***

After the dessert, which was pure chocolate deliciousness, the lights were dimmed and the awards show began. Beatrice came out to present the Sid Caesar award, which showcases comedy. “Futurama”, “The New Normal” and “The Colbert Report” were all nominated, and Stephen Colbert won his third award in a row for a spot on Steve King and dogfighting.  That was about the time the bottle of white wine was drained and the laughter stopped. The awards to follow were all very much about exposing the torture and exploitation of animals or promoting the rehabilitation of those animals.

This was around the time I switched to the bottle of red because it was the only alcohol in sight and I needed to fuzz out the blood and pain in the clips from the nominees.

Gala Dinner

Nominated for best TV Documentary:

“Ivory Wars” from the Discovery Channel

“One Nation Under Dogs” from HBO

“Street Dogs of South Central” from Animal Planet

 

TV News Magazine

“Deadly Pets” on 20/20 from ABC

“The Race to Save The Tortoise “on 60 Minutes from CBS

“Cockfighting Investigation” on Inside Edition on syndication.

“The Ugly Truth Behind High Stepping Horses” on Nightline from ABC.

“At What Cost” Orangutans facing extinction in Indonesia by Brian Williams on NBC

 

National News

“Downer Cows” by Diane Sawyer

“Ivory Poaching” by Scott Pelley

“Hurricane Sandy: Protecting Our Pets” on NBC Nightly News

 

Local News

“Saving the Discarded Dogs” by FOX 31 News at 9 in Denver

“Bunny Trafficking” on KNBC 4 News

“Busted in Oklahoma” on TV 19 Action news (exposing the abuse in an exotic animal park)

 

As each presenter announced the nominees in each category, the lights dimmed, a video clip started and the booming audio of voices from the clip echoed across the ballroom. Often, I would cover my face with my hands, occasionally peeking through my fingers to see an animal struck, yanked on, dragged or murdered. I could hear the others at my table weeping with the occasional, “Oh My God” whispered over the silenced clatter of glasses and plates. Then I felt the warm water ooze from eyes and through my fingers. I heard myself weep into my palms, and slowly lost my breath. You spend all year avoiding video and pictures of war, dog fighting, poaching, famine and whatever other atrocity against our world out there in faraway places, or even next door. You know it is there. You plop money in a jar when asked. You hand a banana to a man begging on the side of the freeway ramp. You rescued your dogs. You volunteered at that event or even trained for that marathon. You do what you can to keep your mind from rattling, from screaming, from bleeding out into your eyes and mouth in hopelessness and despair without actually looking the beast in the eye.

In that ballroom, on Saturday night, nothing was there to protect us.

Guest Benefits Book

“I am going to the bathroom,” Corinne said. I joined her and we tinkled, blew our noses and dabbed at our make-up with other women hiding from the ugly reality of our world in a posh bathroom. The truth is without the televised exposure, without the audio and video capturing one cruel moment after the next, no one would be shamed, no one would face consequences, and nothing would change.

With our dresses pulled back in place, our eyeliner and mascara cleaned up and the paper towels tossed aside, we walked back into the dark ballroom to bear witness again.

“Hey … hey,” Corinne whispered to me, “Tell me that isn’t a real fur on the back of her chair.”

A woman at the table in front of us had a black, fur coat draped over the back of her chair.

“It has to be faux. This is the Humane Society,” I said.

“Not necessarily. At The Hero Dog Awards a woman had a real fur.”

“No way …” I said, staring at the woman’s fur. Corinne took a picture of it on her phone. We all needed someone to blame. The poachers weren’t there that night at the hotel. The exotic animal trainer who shoves and kicks his animals wasn’t there. The countless medical laboratories and cosmetics companies who ruthlessly test on live animals were home or at work. We needed a common enemy to extinguish that annoying feeling that we were helpless to the monster. So, this woman, in her late 50s or early 60s, sat at the table, absorbing tear stained glares from the tables around her.

“Go ask her if it is real,” Corinne prodded.

I finished the bottle of red. “Ok,” I said. “I am gonna do it.”

When the awards show wrapped and the house lights rose again, everyone popped out of their seats and chatter filled the room. I walked over to the woman. “Excuse me, may I ask where you got a fur that looks so real?”

“Oh, it is fake. I assure you it is fake. I would never bring a real fur to something like this,” she said. Does that mean she has a real one at home? Maybe not. Keep calm.

“Oh, my friend and I were just admiring it and I told her there is no way it could be real.”

“Of course not!” she said, almost indignant. Then she peeled the tag on the inside of the coat over. It read “100% faux”. I nodded, offered another compliment and then slinked away, a little disappointed.

We all wanted to hunt down someone with our torches, our pail of hot tar and bag of feathers. We wanted to right what had been wronged. We wanted someone to pay for the lives that were taxed, sold and killed. All the frustration, all the grieving and shock, all the heartbreak had to go somewhere, onto someone …. but not because of a fur coat at an Award’s Benefit. That isn’t the answer.

We need to talk about it, write about it. We need to listen and learn. We need to educate ourselves and each other.

We can show the world animal activists aren’t a group of emotional basket cases who lack leadership, logic and organization. We need to stand strong, next to each other. Assume more discipline. Grow more tolerant. And love … love the world, love the animals and love each other. Only then can the world really become resilient and brave enough to face the beast.We will never kill it, but we can fight.

PhotoBooth

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Violent, Graceful, Terribly Wonderful Life of Angels

After my birthday, my ex-boyfriend Abe wanted to drop by with a belated birthday gift. The last time I saw him was in October, before my boyfriend Michael, before my new life. He called on holidays and left a voicemail wishing me a Happy something or other. I texted back a thank you and explained how busy I was. We hadn’t really had a conversation.  I suspected he thought it was the perfect romantic arrangement; I was too busy to talk and see him but still there … somewhere.

He stopped by when I was alone in the house.  He brought me a box and was smiling when he came in. We hugged and spoke briefly about things.

“Hey, you have a tree outside. That would be good for tying the dogs to if you want them outside,” he said.

“Yeah, how about I tie you up out there for an hour and see how you like it,” I said.

Even after two years, he never understood my love for animals. His idea in my old apartment with a yard was to keep the dogs permanently outside and barricade them from the porch.

When Michael was hanging out in my living room while we were just dating, he watched my pit bull Esther climb the arm of the couch and look out the window like a house cat. “You get it. You let your dogs do whatever they want. That’s what I really like about you. You get it.”

Sitting on Maggie

Maggie and Esther on Porch Destroyed

Some may say I don’t “discipline” my dogs but the truth is I just don’t control them. I don’t need to prove domination over them. I know I have a greater understanding of the human world around us, the dangers and realities. I don’t have to make them wait for their dinner or keep them off the furniture to prove it. I don’t want to sit on my couch unless my dogs are there. I don’t want to sleep in my bed unless my dogs are there. Everything else doesn’t really matter. I could never afford expensive things. The dogs were once destructive, but the less emotional I am about things, the calmer they are. The less I try to control them, the more harmonious the household.

***

“Greg disappeared so Michael moved in. Do you remember Michael from Doggie Daycare?” I asked.

“Yeah. I remember him,” Abe kind of quietly sang.

“We are in that bedroom and Frank is still in the back room.”

“Oh …” Abe thought, looking confused then distressed. “You two must be pretty cramped in that room sharing the same bed.”

“HAHA!” Then I remembered he had no inkling I was in a relationship. “Mike and I are together, like dating.”

“… Oh,” he said. “I thought Michael was gay.”

“Me too,” I said, digging my bare toes into the curve of the tile. “I guess he isn’t.” I shrugged and offered up a lopsided smile.

“Good … I am glad you are happy,” he said a little strained but genuine.

“I finally found someone who wants to move in with me.” I almost regretted saying that aloud, but often I think about how close Abe and I were to moving in and how obvious it was (now) he just didn’t want to.

Abe stayed to talk about how he was discovering the secret to expanding his life span to biblical standards. 2,000 years.  It was something he discovered with the water. He was building something to change the water using magnetism or electricity in some method I didn’t understand. I listened.

“Why are you smiling at me like that?” he asked.

“Just … this is fascinating but so very you.”

“Well, I could share it with you,” he offered. “Once I figure out the formula we could live like Moses.”

“Yeah, I could be your 2,000 year old platonic queen.” I laughed. He didn’t really.

We said our goodbyes and I opened up the birthday package to find several containers of marijuana bud, Marijuana infused iced tea, soap from the South of France and a $100 bill.  When showing it to Frank, he looked to Mike and said, “Uh oh, he is showing us up.”

That was Abe though. He swept in with a grand gesture of generosity every once in a while and then disappeared in long silences. I had no idea what he thought, what he hoped or what he wanted. And now, I don’t care.

***

Alia invited Frank, me and Michael over for a barbeque one night. She said I should bring the dogs so they could use the yard to stretch out. We all took swigs of whisky before heading out to the West Hills in what used to be a home. Temporary as it was, Alia saved my life. She gave me shelter when I was stuck in Washington, living in a strange man’s house with no way out. She was my out.

That night we returned to her. We all piled the dogs in the car and drove out.  At her house was a friend she invited and Ryan, her boyfriend. When we arrived, we agreed that I should go to the grocery store with Frank to buy food since I was vegan.

We left for Pavilions and I waded under the florescent lights, drifting from cold aisle to cold aisle, making quick and painless decisions on this or that. When we returned, something was off.

“Where is Michael?” I asked.

“He is walking the dogs,” she said. “In a sense…”

“In a sense?” I asked.

“They kinda … ran away,” she said.

The moment hit me like cold water. I froze. Dropped my keys. Dropped my purse. And I took off running.

I burst out onto the sidewalk. West Hills isn’t a busy town, but Alia’s house is one block from a busy street. “Maggie! MAGGIE!”

Maggie was my oldest. Esther was my other pit bull and deaf. Because she was deaf, she would most likely follow Maggie where ever she went. Brad returned before I even knew they were missing. I was later told he was the one who wandered back in through the garage door and tipped them off to the other two missing.

Family Pic

(from left to right) Maggie May, Brad
(in back) Esther

My worst fear is someone will shoot them simply because they are pit bulls.  It happens.  The second fear, they are hit by a car. Or they are picked up and never returned because their microchip has traveled under their skin and isn’t registered on the scanner, or someone keeps them in their yard or sells them for experimentation. I have read about every possible outcome, and like a frantic mother I screamed their names and ran in random directions hoping something would come from the black perimeter.  You listen to your heart. You close your ears and your mouth and let your gut lead you down one alley, beyond a yard, around a random corner.

“MAGGIE! GET OVER HERE NOWWWWW!” I screamed until my voice cracked. I was panting at the base of my throat. I would be hyperventilating if I wasn’t so focused in the moment. I turned my head for anything, any cue. A sound. A silence. A movement.

In the corner of my eye, I saw a white head crossing four lanes of traffic. “ESTHER!” I screamed, even though she couldn’t hear me. I waved my hand impatiently for her to come to me. She reads my hand gestures and obediently crossed the river of traffic to me, smiling and wagging her tail from the adventure.

I took her collar and led her into Alia’s.

“Close the doors!” I ordered.  Polite went out the window. I was in Mommy mode. I went back outside as Brad looked at me worried, one paw up and tail shaking so fast it was a blur. He always does that when he knows something is wrong.

I slammed the front door and ran back out into the night. Michael was out there looking. I think Ryan was, too.  My phone was dying and I was convinced that if anyone was going to find Maggie it was me. My mother’s intuition would bring us together like two magnetic strips a half an inch apart, we only had a neighborhood between us.

I ran down the sidewalk and tripped on a bump in the concrete and tumbled down on the ground, ripping open my pants and cutting open my knee. My phone smashed and flew in pieces, gone somewhere in the night. I got back up and ran, fully aware I was bordering on hysteria now.

“Maggie! MAGGIE MAY! MAGGIE, YOU COME HOME NOW!”

I screamed, waiting for something. I was two blocks south of Alia’s on the busy street. I looked south. Then I looked north. The traffic was stopped. The headlights were all frozen and motionless in one, uniform line. That was bad. I took off running again screaming, “MAGGIE MAY!!!!!”

On the sidewalk, Ryan and Alia were both holding Maggie. She was panting frantically in her Pooh Bear pose. Her rump on the ground and both legs spread for her pot belly.

“She was hit by a car but she is ok. She just has a broken leg,” Alia said.

“AHHHHHHH!” I screamed and fell to my knees. This is how I remember it. I don’t know if they told me to get my car, but there was some exchange with direction. I ran back to the house, dumped out my purse on the floor but couldn’t find my keys. I screamed again.

Alia’s friend kept his distance. I believe up to that point he had a crush on me.  When you see a woman on the precipice of losing her child, she transforms. I screamed. He backed away. I left again and ran back to Maggie.

“I couldn’t find my keys,” I said.

“That’s ok, Ryan is bringing the car around,” she said.  “She is ok … she just has a broken leg.”

“I don’t have any money!!!”  I said. There was a few hundred dollars in cash I kept in a washed out pickle jar back at the house. I knew about vet bills. They can ruin you. They have already ruined me.

Was it Ryan that arrived with the car … or Frank? I don’t remember. I only know Alia took the wheel while Maggie sat in the passenger seat. There was blood and she was panting like crazy. Frank was in the back seat with me.  Maggie crawled under the dash into a big, brown plump ball.

“Come on, Maggie!” Frank said with a father’s cut.

Frank and Alia were trying to find the nearest vet hospital, but it was closed.  We all were having phone problems. The batteries were dying or dead.

“Between the three of us, we don’t have a working cell phone?” I asked dryly.

They responded with something. My head was in a cloud. The two of them were working out suggestions and my tears kept pooling over my mouth.  When Maggie crawled under the dash, I knew it was bad. I knew it wasn’t a broken leg.

I clasped my hands together against the window and began praying. Now, I grew up Catholic but I am not religious at all. I wouldn’t say I am atheist. I would say I am too human to know what is really going on.

“Please God, don’t take my baby. She is my baby. I am not ready yet. Don’t take her. I am not ready. I AM NOT READY!” I whimpered sharply at the end of each prayer. I knew she was old. 10 or 11 years old. Statistics say she will only live another year or two. I didn’t care. She was my arthritic, old, grouchy baby. I rescued her 5 years ago in a strip mall in Hollywood. I trained her. I fed her. I saved her. And she saved me.

Maggie and Esther came with me when I left my longest relationship. They came with me when I ran out of unemployment benefits and moved to a shack in Sylmar. They came with me to my parents’ house when I had exhausted all my finances. They came with me to a strange old man’s house in the backwoods of Washington when my parents kicked me out with no money.

I never gave them up and they never gave up on me. If I lost my dogs, I lost my soul.

Mommy sick

*

We ended up at an emergency vet hospital. We parked and I got out of the car and rang the bell. No answer.  Somehow I got in and ran down the hallways, opened up doors to back hallways screaming “IS ANYONE HERE????” I was wild.

A vet team came out with me to the parking lot and opened the car door. The vet tech took one look at Maggie and said, “$1,500 just to get her stabilized.”

I threw myself on the pavement, screaming. “WHY???? I don’t have any money!! God damn it! WHY!!!?”

I was on the ground, I felt the spit and tears spill out on the pavement. I felt the eyes of the other family in the waiting room look me over. I didn’t care. All I could hear was ringing in my head.

How did she get out?

How was she hit?

When will the bad luck end?

I remember the gravel pressed against my forehead when Frank’s arms wrapped around me.

“Pull yourself together!” he said, lifting me up. “Pull yourself together for Maggie.” I could feel the warmth of his breath on my ear.

Me and Maggie in Malibu

He lifted me up again, and I felt my whole body held in the air. I didn’t know he was that strong.  This time when the soles of my shoes hit the ground, I took off running back inside the hospital.  I followed Maggie and the vet team in. I must have given permission to do whatever they had to do, because she was taken in the back and stabilized.

Alia, Frank and I were in an exam room talking to the vet. Michael wasn’t there because his phone was dying and he didn’t have a car. I hated him for being as disorganized as the rest of us.

X-rays were put up. “What we have here is a lot of internal bleeding. That is what all this fog is right here. It is hard to say what the damage is with so much bleeding right now, but so far it looks like her lungs and heart are intact,” the vet said. “You can see the bones aren’t broken here but there is a lot of arthritic … wait a minute … how old is this dog?”

“We don’t know. She is a rescue. But I know, she suffers from a lot of arthritis,” I said.

“It’s not that, it is just you can see a lot of the arthritic pressure on her bones here and here.” If it isn’t that, then why did you just repeat what I said?

“She is older so I am worried that, you know, her life is in danger because she is so old,” I said.

“Well, it doesn’t matter the age of the dog but the general health. And the general health of this dog is good.”

“Is her life in danger right now?” I asked.

“Oh yes. Her life is definitely in danger right now. All we can do is either go in and remove the spleen, which looks ruptured right here. That procedure is about $2400. That is what we would recommend. I know you are financially strained right now, so maybe that isn’t an option. Or we could wait for the body to absorb as much blood as it can and I have seen spleens repair themselves. There was a dog I treated where the spleen was severed almost completely in half. That spleen repaired itself. However, then it is always in danger of rupturing again from physical activity.”

“She isn’t very physical,” I said into my soggy tissue. She can barely trot anymore.

“So, you have the instruments here, now, to help this dog survive and you will not save this life because of money. Is that right?” Alia asked.

“Well, it isn’t me. It’s the hospital. I cannot move forward without some kind of monetary-“ he was cut off.

“So what you are saying is you could save a life. You have everything here and ready to save this dog’s life. But you are choosing not to because of money,” she said again.

“I don’t care for the implication that-“ now I cut him off.

“Stop! I have a few hundred dollars in cash back home. I will drive back or get someone to drive back, grab the cash and help get her through the night. We will just hope the spleen repairs itself.”

The vet kind of hung his head. It was the middle of the night now. My dog’s life was in the balance. He knew what was at stake. And I am sure he saw it a million times before.

They stabilized Maggie and I was allowed to go back and see her. By this time, my hysterical weeping stopped and my eyes were so puffy and red, I could barely see out of them. I hovered over her. She tried to lift her head but the drugs and fatigue made it hard. I told her it was ok to lie back down and she rested her head on the table.

There was blood coming out of her mouth and a skid mark on her back. I was assured the blood from her mouth wasn’t serious.

Frank saw the hit. He said a truck ran completely over her at 30 miles an hour. It was a busy street. They were calling for her, she saw my friends and happily trotted towards them without a thought.

The truck stopped then took off, leaving her there in the middle of the road like road kill. Ryan and Frank carried her to the side of the road. Ryan looked up at Frank, Frank who loves Maggie maybe more than he loves me, and calmly said “Run.” Frank said he will always remember and respect Ryan for that one moment. To be the voice of clarity when blood and tears flooded the mind, Ryan held my baby and told him to run.

Frank also said he would always be haunted by the image of the hit and run. Every time he started to describe it I asked him to stop. I would obsess over every detail. I would relive it in my mind until the day I died. I couldn’t pin that on my memory with everything else. It is hard enough forgetting violent images of people in faraway countries, animals in not so far away neighborhoods. I didn’t need that image of someone I held so dear, so close to my heart.

I sat next to Maggie and stroked her fur. Her eyes fluttered shut. Michael walked in. He took my car and stopped at two vet hospitals before arriving to the right one. He just hit them in order on his iPhone map app. He was weeping. He was wearing the olive green and maroon striped hoodie I bought him for Christmas. His jeans were ripped and he had white sneakers on. He is a small man, about 5’4. Somehow, in that moment, he never looked smaller to me. He looked like a teenage kid who made a terrible mistake one night while babysitting.

When he came over, he started crying over Maggie.

“She needs to focus on healing right now, so please stop stressing her out!” I said coldly.

“Okay … okay,” he said, whimpering.

Alia had pulled us both aside to say one thing or another about staying strong, relying on each other. How we are all there for Maggie and she needs our support.

“I just don’t know how all three of my dogs could have walked out without anyone noticing,” I said, again coldly.

“We opened the garage door so the barbeque smoke could get out,” Alia said, softly.

“And why were the dogs left unattended by an open door?” Michael once asked if I grew up with a speech impediment because I use such long hand articulation.  I wasn’t, I just didn’t speak very much until after puberty.

“It was our fault. It was my fault, too,” she said. I knew it. I was mad at Michael because I was allowed to be mad at Michael. We were close enough that I could be comfortably rude. Also, he was a dog sitter.  A dog person. Their doggie daddy. He should have known better. My most precious gifts weren’t looked after in the 25 minutes I left to buy goddamn potato chips and that will always make me a little crazy.

Alia stroked both our arms and said something inspirational. When she walked away I said, quite plainly, “If she doesn’t make it, I don’t know how our relationship can survive.”

“I know it,” he said, just as plainly.

We had to lay down a few hundred. Michael gave over his whole paycheck. I had some money on my debit. I even think Frank chipped in a significant amount so we weren’t financially ruined.

They told me I could only lie next to her for awhile. She was back in the general ER area where other procedures were happening, and we couldn’t be in the way or stress the animals out.  Maggie was put on the ground with an IV and blanket. I lay down next to her and tried not to press too much weight on her. Michael sat by her head.

I know what they say. When it is time, you have to let go. You have to sometimes give a loved one permission to go away. This particular night, I wasn’t that better person. I begged her to hang on. I pressed my body against her back and said, “Stay with me, baby. I am not leaving you. You hang on for mommy, ok?”

I closed my eyes and felt myself on a dock, holding on to Maggie as she set adrift to a wide ocean. I could FEEL that. “You don’t leave me,” I said. “Not yet.”

Maggie would pass away someday, but not now. Someday when she was grey and old, too achy to walk, too tired to eat, too fat to stand. Frank already said he pictured himself taking off her collar moments before she passed away. The mention of this a year earlier in a Greek restaurant, of course, pushed me to tears.  Losing them is not something I can discuss. It will be a moment I will have to face without preparation.

maggie esther brad

*

Maggie had a “hard life” for the first five years. When I took her to a pit bull rescue, the woman said she could tell she suffered. She had probably been through 5 or 6 pregnancies. Her knees and elbows were furless from living on concrete. She had a cigarette burn on her right buttock.  The fur was rubbed raw from behind her ears to around her nose, as if she lived in a muzzle.

Our first photo together

Our first photo together

When I took her home off the streets of Hollywood, she was fucking thrilled. I never saw a dog so happy to sleep in a crate in a living room. She became my whole world. She became Esther’s whole world. Maggie, with her sad eyes and arched eye brows, her frequent yawns followed by heavy eye lids, the drool over food you had the nerve to eat on the couch in front of her would pool and trickle down from her lower lip to the floor, THAT Maggie would suffer a violent end after everything I gave her.

Esther hugs Maggie

Maggie While I Study

Maggie Unamused

Maggie Sleepy on Hotel Bed

When I walked Maggie for the first time, her paws bled. She hadn’t ever been exposed to sidewalks or exercise before. She didn’t know what to do with the bone I gave her. She only knew that she wanted to be close to me. So I taught her how to walk and sit and jump and lay down. I gave her rawhides, and Himalayan Yak Milk chews, and biscuits and pig ears, beef elbows, bully sticks, raw food and vegetables. I showed her the hills of Hollywood, the mountains behind Pasadena, the backwoods of Washington state, the river beds and forests of the Angeles National Forest, the top of Topanga canyon and the bottom of Malibu beach. She ran along the beaches of San Diego and San Onofre.

Sun Tan

Beaches

Car ride

I gave her a sister and a brother, lots of foster dogs to play with and love. Lots of strange, wonderful people to watch and nuzzle. I gave her a second chance. How could that be over already? There was more I wanted to give her.

Maggie and Fosters

Maggie and Pet Sitter

Child Rides Maggie

A lot of women will say they felt the most like a woman when they raised a child or got married or achieved some level of beauty and grace.  For me, it was when Esther and Maggie were in training class, downtown at the Coliseum. One of the “tests” was to call your dog, off leash, from 50 feet away. Both girls came plowing towards me when I called their name. Crouched with my arms outstretched, they knocked me completely over. I trained these pit bulls. I felt safe for the first time in my life walking at night, FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MY ENTIRE LIFE. Men crossed the street to avoid me instead of following me and asking me questions. The dogs stood by me through broken hearts, lovers and estranged parents, financial destitution, getting fired, getting sick. They taught me what love and loyalty really were on some level human beings have forgotten.

Maggie. Aka The Magster. Aka Mag Pies. Aka The Tank. Aka Maggie May. My Maggie was facing death after the most pivotal 5 years of my life. It was an unjust end to one of the richest friendships, one of the purest loves, of my life.

Maggie in shower cap

Maggie for Halloween

Wise Dogs

Her breathing became erratic. She was gasping, like she was going to have a heart attack.

“Michael … Michael …” I softly screamed.

He woke up and put his hand on her. He spoke to her softly and we stared at her until the staff asked us to leave. We had to sleep in the waiting room. Frank and Alia went home. They both said they couldn’t do anything there at the hospital. They really couldn’t.

Michael sat up in the small, stiff chairs while I broke my body over the uncomfortable metal arm rests. The air conditioning was spilling all over me and my thin sweatshirt was barely enough to keep me from forgetting the cold. My head fell on his lap. His hand combed through my hair. I couldn’t stop thinking about those gasps for air. After 45 minutes, I asked to return to Maggie. They let us.

The resident cat came up to Maggie and sniffed her. Maggie was so doped up, all she could do was sway her head around in a haze and stare back. “Well, this is the first and last time a cat will ever get that close to Maggie,” I said, laughing.

We fell asleep next to her.

They woke us and said we should move into a kennel. All three of us lazily walked into a large kennel and lay on thin blankets and cold concrete til dawn. Michael texted my boss to tell her what was happening and I was given the day off.

At dawn, the vet came in. “Well, it looks like she made it through the night. Every hour she lives it increases her likelihood for survival. She has a really good chance now.”

“I don’t want to leave …” I said, groggily.

“She will be ok. Why don’t you go home, get some food and sleep in a bed for a few hours. We will call you if anything changes,” he said, gentler than he had earlier in the night.

I whispered in her ear that I would be back and to get better. She wouldn’t go back to sleep. She tried to stand on wobbly legs and follow us out, the IV tube stretching out to meet me. “No, no, no. You stay, Maggie. Mommy will be back. I promise.”

As we left, the nurse smiled at us in the lobby. “She was watching both of you while you were sleeping. It was very cute.”

***

We went back to Alia’s, so we were close. She gave us her bedroom and told us to sleep. Frank would head back to the house for a change of clothes, cash and any other necessities. He would take home the other two kids who knew something was terribly wrong.  I think someone gave me food, but I don’t remember eating it. I was bleeding. An unscheduled period from the shock. I borrowed a tampon and slept with Michael for a few hours.

I needed to remain still in a permanent embrace.

In the afternoon, we called the vet. They said Maggie could go home but it she wouldn’t be able to walk or really recover for a few weeks. I didn’t care. We would build her a wagon. We would spoon feed her. Maggie would be coming home.

Alia seemed so sure of it. “That’s right! That’s Maggie! She fought and she won!” I never thought Alia really doubted Maggie would make it, but I started to realize everyone doubted she would make it. They were just keeping me sane.

***

The spare room at home was set up as a kind of hospice. It isn’t much of a spare room, you can’t fit a real bed in there. Maggie was given a beanbag and blankets. I slept, ate and did homework in there for a full week. We gave her medicine and spoke to her. The dogs slept against her. In a day she was sitting up. In two days she was urinating and defecating normally. And then, in less than a week, she was walking again.

Sick Maggie

Maggie's Hospice

Maggie Heals

I knew it was one of her last miracles.

If she died, what would I have learned?

She wouldn’t be the first pet to die an untimely death. Life isn’t fair. Death is certain. People are reckless assholes.

One time, my sister was crying over a dog she loved  who died of some kind of blood poisoning. When it struck, he only had a few days left and there was nothing she could have done. While weeping on my couch over her broken heart, she said, “What if dogs lived for 30 years? Then I would have to kill myself.” The love is so divine; I choose the word divine because nothing else seems proper. The love is so celestial that we are only graced with it in small doses. It is a gift for small stretches of a human life. Human love is something we must gnaw on, bleed over and suffer through for a lifetime.  In people we learn to forgive, to negotiate, to grow, transform and fight. In dogs, we only learn loyalty and devotion.  Who could survive the human world fed only on loyalty and devotion? We would be killed out there. It is a window into another type of existence none of us are ready for. Not yet. Not me. Not you. Not Abe and not Michael.

Now Maggie is stretched out on the bed, giving me dirty looks for throwing raspberry kisses at her butt. She hates that.

Maggie May. My queen. My child. My love. My second chance.

Maggie Smile

my queen

Maggie and Esther

I was given a little more time. I don’t pretend to know why, but I know it was brought to me by angels.

Thank you.

Maggie Sleeps

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Estranged, Out of Synch and Slipping on Black Ice

My birthday was coming up in January. I would be 35 years-old. I had lots of ideas about who I would be at 35. Married. A career. A child. Maybe two.

I remembered when Madonna turned 35. I was 15 years-old and thought she was still beautiful. Even in my mind back then, before I had fully developed as a woman, I thought the possibility of still being sexy, still being alive was out there. I had plenty of time.

Madonna+-+Calender+1993+-+CALENDAR-155249

As it turned out, I do. Here I was, going out dancing whenever I wanted to. Dating a 23-year-old. Wearing scandalous outfits and grabbing compliments, instead of glares, from other girls in the restroom. I didn’t have a career, but didn’t feel like anyone did. We were in the middle of a recession. Those who had careers and savings accounts were now temping for companies or waiting at home for an email back on a job or an interview.

Friends with kids were all consumed. Loving their kids. Working for their kids. Trying to plan as best they could for kids in a country where education is expensive and jobs are scarce.

I didn’t feel any less fulfilled with a family of Los Angeles transplants and orphans, rather than blood and wedding bands. But a depression was creeping up on me. It could have been my post-residency come down. All my friends were gone and my schedule opened up. Tension about Huck lingered.

“You act like you should get some award for not sleeping with him,” Michael, my boyfriend, said.

“I should … it was really hard.”

It could have been working my ass off day and night for the rest of the year, through all the holidays, only to leave me broke after repairs on a recently purchased, bad used car.

**

It could be that I was turning 35, or that I was having my first birthday estranged from my parents. They kicked me out in August. Now it was January and I hadn’t heard a word from them. I ignored my mother’s birthday, then my father’s birthday for the first time in my entire life. I got no phone calls on Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s. Maybe a voicemail from my sister, but nothing from my parents.

Not an email asking if I was ok.

Not a voicemail just to hear my voice.

Not a card with love sent from Mom and Dad.

why_gal

My parents were dead to me. And I was dead to them. That was a harsh reality for a birthday. We didn’t have much money, but Alia and her boyfriend Ryan, my roommate Frank, my best friend Trent, my oldest friend in LA Jeph and my boyfriend all went to a club in Silverlake called The Echoplex. I thought the jams would be a mix of old and new songs. Something called “Bootie Mash-Up” advertised as “LA’s original mashup bootleg dance party, spinning only the finest bootlegs and bastard pop.”

BootieBostonJan13-web

The Echoplex is kind of a small venue with a couple bartenders in far corners. There is no line for drinks, so you kind of have to figure out where you are in a receding line-up without stepping on the wrong person’s toes.  And why I thought a mash-up would be a fusion of old and new songs, I don’t know. It was hard to recognize any of the songs. I realized how far my head was in the musical past. Several songs would spin before one was within recognition. Something about that in and of itself was depressing for me. My musical life was dying out, and once again I didn’t fit in and probably wouldn’t as time goes on. I was out of synch.

Somewhere in the night, Trent just left and went home. My friends wanted to keep me chipper, but the booze and the music weighed me down. Michael felt like he screwed up my birthday with the wrong venue and lack of preparation.

***

After we all said goodnight, Frank, Michael and I grabbed some vegan food at a midnight diner on the overpass. I was still drunk … I must have been, because around 3am I drunk-dialed my mother.

It rang. I heard her tired but worried voice say, “Hello?”

“FUCK YOU!!!!” I said, hard and low. Then I hung up.

Scream

Michael laughed and Frank kind of smiled through his cigar. “That’s horrible. Don’t do that.”

Somewhere in the next few minutes, Michael and I thought it would be a great idea for him to follow-up my phone call. At this point, my mother turned off her cell and it went straight into her voicemail.

“Um, yes hello, I am here with the very beautiful and talented, [StarFire] and wanted to let you know that I think you are a complete fucking cunt. Now, you can go and fuck yourself. Goodnight,” he said, in a very polite, matter-of-fact kind of way.

We laughed. We laughed to keep my heart from sagging.

“Alright, give me your mother’s number,” Frank asked.

“You are going to call?” I asked.

“No. Never. I am just going to hold on to it in case of an emergency.”

I wondered what would happen if I was in a car accident, or raped and killed. Frank would call my parents and what would they do. Would they come? Would it fix things? Or would they say, “She’s not our daughter,” or “She had it coming, the drunk,” or would they just hang up. They haven’t done the right thing so far, why would they start now?

First thing in the morning, I felt hung-over and immediately bad about the drunk dialing. “We shouldn’t have done that,” I said, with smudged eyeliner and snagged morning hair.

“Probably not,” Michael said, “but what they did to you was much worse.”

***

My parents abandoned me. I tell myself it doesn’t mean as much when you are an adult. After the age of 30, you should be fine getting kicked out, with three dogs and no place to stay. You don’t need a mother or father anymore, you are your own person. The fact is, no matter how old are you, you need your mommy.

Maybe that is why my mother got the brunt of the midnight phone calls. I didn’t care to interact at all with my father- the man who made me uncomfortable as a child with his unpredictable temperament and bizarre post-Vietnam War behavior. He was the one who smashed my nose in at the dinner table when I was 13 because I smacked my lips too loudly in imitation. I couldn’t stand how they ate at the dinner table. My nose bled for 5 minutes and I screamed in horror thinking it would never stop bleeding. He was the one who dragged me into the bathroom by my hair and told my mother to check to see if I was still a virgin because I was late coming home from school. He repeatedly kicked me out of the house in middle-school and high-school for acting out, for being moody, for sleeping too long. He kicked my boombox apart for playing music too loud.

My mother was supposed to protect me. “Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children.”

I always crept back up my parents’ doorstep and mended things.  I knew the only way to get out of that suburb and get into a four-year-college was to do it using my parents’ as a springboard.

They suggested I move in with my high school boyfriend. Even at 17, I had visions of working at the mall, going to the movies every Friday as a retreat, eating at strip malls. I didn’t belong in that suburb and, maybe even then, I knew I didn’t belong with my boyfriend. I loved him, but there was more for me out there. So I soothed my parents when I needed to, ducked my head and worked my ass off until I turned 18. Once they dropped me off at that four-year-college in Olympia, WA, I was free.

**

Then why did I move back when I was 34? Didn’t I remember the tension, the strained mealtime conversation, the nervous pacing, judgement and irritation with little things, like my bursts of singing? Didn’t I remember that I resented them?

The quick answer is no, I didn’t. After I moved out at 18, I loyally visited my parents. For the last 15 years, I called my mother almost every day. The one Christmas I spent away from her, she cried on my voicemail. I was faithful, anyway. Children always are.

When I moved back, I was a more whole person. I was no longer a child, no longer as insecure or needy for validation. I was an adult, and that behavior, their behavior was peculiar. Then it grew hostile. This time, when they threw me out, I didn’t hang my head and offer to make things right. I didn’t soothe them with apologies or tears. I just left.

I don’t know how they feel. I know my sister showed them how to block my number from their cell phones. “I have to say I was shocked hearing my little sister talk that way to my 70-year-old mother,” she said.

Wasn’t she shocked when her mother kicked out her little sister? Why didn’t that warrant the same reaction? Am I not worth as much to her?

Lose your illusions 2

In those few weeks after my birthday, I read my final semester notes from my mentor. Her words changed from encouraging to judgmental, from interested to bored and “confused”. She didn’t like my final submission and felt that my material was too personal. “[She] tends to write about men she had sex with when the audience may not find that as interesting as she does.”

The words burned holes in my chest. It was then that I laid down in bed and didn’t get up for four days. The dog-walking business was down. No one was booking me after the holidays.

**

Michael was growingly frustrated. With the depression, I was snarky with him. I rolled my eyes and was sarcastic, at times rude. I wish I could write something poetic here about why I was that way to the one person who loved and supported me every day, all day. I really don’t know how to justify it, other than saying depression clouds you with darkness. You can’t really see anyone or anything. The self-loathing poisons your whole demeanor, even towards the kindest souls. I hated myself but couldn’t do anything, not even shower or eat.

“I just can’t make you happy,” he said. “We have to break up.”

When Michael broke up with me, he was dog-sitting at a mansion in Sierra Madre, about half an hour east. He was staying there overnight for about a week. So when he left, he said it was permanent. We weren’t working as a couple. My life was snowballing into a total disaster.

So I did what any self-destructive, depressed Los Angeleno would do … I bought cocaine. Frank and I stayed up listening to Bob Dylan and snorted the night away. In the morning, the come down was like an ice truck crushing me against the asphalt. I was crying.

Cocaine hell of a drug

I called Michael and he picked up.

“I need to see you,” I said.

He came right over and he held me. He held me all day as I cried in his arms and tried to fall asleep. My body would twitch and flinch with nightmares, and he laid awake and cradled me like I was a baby who couldn’t sleep. When I would wake up, I would cry again.

“I can’t lose you, too,” I said.

“It was bad baby, really bad,” he said, kissing my hair.

“I’m sorry,” I cried into his shirt, before drifting again, into another nightmare.

When Michael left that night, I pulled myself together. The self-pity, the darkness, the cocaine, the nightmares all had to stop so I could get my life back. I had to keep going and pretend it didn’t all hurt for another few months so I could gain momentum. I had to make jokes, so people would laugh. I would have to dance, so people would play more music. I had to write more, so someone could send me a few words of encouragement from somewhere. I had to make love to my boyfriend so he could feel my love, if not in the tone of my voice or in the way I was treating him, then with my body, my mouth, my cunt.

I did love him.

I drove out to Sierra Madre to see him and ask him to give me another chance. He hugged me. I rested my chin on the top of his head and felt that soft, black hair around my face.  Towering over him, I felt myself melt.

“I’m not going to cry,” he said in my shoulder, “because I am a man.” In my arms he cried. And I got my second chance.

Path of Life

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Driving Your Boyfriend Slowly Insane

Everyone went home after residency. And so did I. The holiday season was coming and I would be thrown into several weeks of constant dog-walks, kitty visits and overnights. My day would last 7am to 10pm.

Honoring Michael’s request, I disclosed the emotional affair I had with Huck over residency. I told him all the moments we kissed. I told him about the night I lay on his hotel bed with an erect cock in my hand. He took a moment. Well, more than a moment.

He got drunk and went outside to play songs off his phone.

“I have reduced my boyfriend to chain-smoking on the front porch, drinking out of a bottle of wine and listening to Frank Sinatra love songs,” I said. “Baby, there can only be one of us in this relationship.”

“I know … I am dealing with things. This is how I deal. I would never kill myself without you. And don’t think murder-suicide cause … that’s just lame. I wouldn’t ever do that,” he said, hanging his had low over a pint of Budweiser.

“Great, well … I wasn’t thinking that but thank you for inviting the discussion.”

Do it yourself coffins

Michael crawled inside and rolled around on the ground. I don’t understand the behavior but I have seen it a few times when he is distraught. He tucks in his arms and locks and rocks side to side, like an overturned ladybug.

“Roll with me,” he said. “Just get down and roll with me.”

I did, for a little bit. Then I asked him to pull himself together.

 

We had been through a lot. My car broke down. His car was smashed up. My second car died. And now my third car was dead.

“I know I am insane and always hysterical,” I said. “Let’s talk about how a sane person would deal with this … you know as a guide. A tutorial. How does a sane person deal with four cars dying in 2 months?”

“I can tell you how I dealt with a $2,000 ticket followed by a $1,000 tow because my registration expired. I sat there and cried my eyes out for half an hour which I am sure they are used to since they just went about their business. Then I met a beautiful, intelligent woman who I fell in love with and makes me want to put a gun in my mouth right now.”

**

I never thought it was a good idea to tell him everything that happened with other men, or rather Huck. Even when he asked me for full disclosure, I told him it was a bad idea. I believe sometimes it is better not knowing what your significant other thinks or does. If you are exposing them to potential disease, of course … you must disclose intercourse. But a kiss. An embrace. A thought. Exchanging those kind of free-flowing fluids would be enough to make anyone insane. Not only with the one you love, but every human being you pass. Who wants to read thoughts when you have Facebook. At least you have a chance to articulate, to edit, to think about what you want to say. As a human being, we are raw animals first, second we are sensitive, progressive human beings.

becoming-human-vi

There was no denying that my winter residency with Huck changed things. It isn’t as though I pined for him, as I did before. I didn’t fantasize or obsess. I didn’t wonder about other girls or his feelings. I just deeply appreciated the connection. It would be naïve to say one connection doesn’t disrupt another. And here is where my free love and boundless affection does become a problem. Whether or not we are monogamous creatures in the long haul, we are monogamous in a moment. I loved Michael, but my mind strayed to Huck. Not what ifs, not what I wants … just whatever it was. There was comfort in his friendship, in the lingering attraction, after the chaos of the Fall. It wasn’t a flash in the pan or a foolish piece of ass. We actually liked each other. Color me sentimental, but it means a lot. It means a hell of a lot.

Me on Xmas

My distance with Michael was harder to manage when I was spending nights at other dogs’ homes for paid overnight visits. We needed the money. Christmas would be a non-stop drive around town, extra treats, extra love with other people’s animals. Meanwhile, my family, my three dogs and neglected boyfriend, was home without me. “A Muppet Christmas Carol” cued up, warming champagne, no Christmas decorations or tree and my exhausted body pushing through to the next house on my schedule.

There was no time to reconnect with my boyfriend. There was only time to work and think. I wasn’t confused, but I was smitten.

Mike on Xmas

When I went to my boyfriend’s place of business, an indoor doggie gym in West Hollywood, we watched a Mommy training with her puppy.

“He says ‘I Love You’. Listen, I just say it first” I love you! I love you! I love you! Come on … I love you,” she begged.

The dog sat down and looked confused.

“He really does say it, I love you! I love you!”

“Does this situation remind you of anyone, baby?” Michael asked me. “A portrait of my life.”

“I have to show you video of him saying it. He does say it!” the dog owner insisted, pulling out her cell phone.

I don’t want to hurt Michael. I didn’t want to hurt Michael. I just needed space to think and feel without consequence. That is the ultimate difference between action and thought. A million feelings pass through the two. I don’t want the person I love the most to stamp each one with approval, with acknowledgement. I want to float around a little bit, fall in love, fall in hate, feel disgust, feel compelled … then reflect on it. Make sense of it. That is life.

Here I am, flipping through my copy of Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, looking for one passage that struck me last month. It is night now. My contacts are burning my eyes. The TV is on in the living room. And the white wine is soothing my throat after smoking too much this week. I had quit for awhile but writing always brings me back.

Didion said, in a more poetic arrangement, that you can fall in love many times, but the one you marry is the one that shapes your life; the one who shapes your identity. Michael, though much younger, though less experienced, was my husband. And my feelings towards someone I still feel “love toward” and one who has shaped my life are uniquely different. You cannot buy and own love. You cannot stick a flag in my abdomen and say I own this part of you. Sharing my life however, that is as close as you can get and probably much more fulfilling an experience.

The Right Apple

Michael and I rode around from job to job together- just to be together. He waited in the car for 30 minute dog visits and drove 10, 20 and 30 minutes with me to other houses. We got coffee together in the morning. I should have been a peach to him. I should have been Doris Day. But I wasn’t. I acted like a confused, bitchy teenager who didn’t have time to separate her thoughts.

“Do you think Starbucks has a toaster?” Michael asked over strong lattes one early morning.

“I don’t know, why don’t you ask,” I said a little too slow, a little too bitter.

“I oughtta hit you in the god damn mouth right now,” he said. I smiled a little at him. I don’t want to be hit, but admired him for saying it. He was standing up for himself, and though I admired it at the time, I wish he took a more controlled approach. “I have never wanted to hit a woman before in my entire life,” he said looking down.

“I have that effect on men,” I said, soberly.

I knew I was a hard girl to fall in love with. I keep my ex-boyfriends. I kiss everybody on the mouth. I flirt without ever registering the moment. I loved the guy though, and he had no way of seeing that quite yet.

“You should come to the gym with me and work out. I think you need the exercise,” he said.

“How can you say that after all the work I did on you last night?” I asked.

“Yeah, and you gave up?”

“Is that so, Mr. Can You Get On Top?” I quipped.

“No, you were great last night.”

“Finally, a compliment,” I said, slapping my hand down on the wobbly, cheap table in the corner of a Vons grocery store. Why do they have to put Starbuck’s inside grocery stores? I need ambiance for Christ’s sake.

“HAHAHA, I could spend the rest of my life like this,” he said.

“Seriously?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“Laughing with your bitchy girlfriend?”

“Yeah,” he said again. He was serious. All the while, I was kind of waiting for the thing to fall apart.

 D and L

We went out to dinner after the holiday rush. I made a lot of money. Over $2,000. Every bit of it went towards a new transmission in the used car I bought a couple weeks before. And I still owed a $300 balance after rent was paid.

Do you know what it is like working every second of the day only to lose every cent of that second? If you are a Hispanic dishwasher, no need to answer. Indentured servant maybe? Jesus, what does an American have to do for a savings account?

We saved up enough for a dinner together after the holidays. Just Michael and me. We went to my favorite restaurant, now a small chain. All vegan. Everything is excellent. Real Food Daily.

We sat across from each other in the Pasadena restaurant. I ordered a Vanilla Hemp Soy Shake and made love to the thing like it was the first milkshake of my life. I often scrolled through Michael’s cell phone. I am not really checking up on him. I am partly curious, partly testing him. It is a relief when I discover he is as human as I am.

“Who is Katie?” I said, reviewing text messages.

“That would have been funny yesterday, but it’s not funny now,” he said, stoic. When he drinks his ice water, he swishes it around in the back of his jaw before swallowing. He doesn’t want to look at me.

“Really? I think it’s more funny. You know, ironic.”

“Well, you shouldn’t have made out with your ex-boyfriend. Not the ex-boyfriend who hates Jews. Not the ex-boyfriend with conspiracy theories. Not the ex-boyfriend who bit your head. You know … just the regular crazy ex-boyfriend,” he said. (For those of you who don’t know me, all of the above is true. Of course, had I known that any of them hated Jews or would bite my head, I, of course, would have never fallen in love with them in the first place.)

“I just want to eat,” Michael continued, “I want to eat chocolate chip cookies. Like a whole fucking box of chocolate chip cookies. I used to take a peanut butter cookie and put it on top of a chocolate chip cookie and eat it like a sandwich. I could totally do that right now.”

I eat it

Once, while reviewing old photos on his younger brother’s Facebook page, I saw what Michael looked like in high school. He was short, chubby and holding a white, fluffy dog. I remember saying to myself, “I know exactly who that kid was in high school.” The chubby dork. The chubby, sensitive, wonderful dork.

In bed, I see the stretch marks on the side of his rib cage. I like them. They remind me of lightning bolts.

“Can I be honest? I think that Huck is the wedge between you and me, not the car,” he said.

“I agree,” I said, honestly. I had an intimate connection with another man, and it was lingering.

“Ok, so you agree. Let’s talk about it. You were intimate with him and now it has completely ruined things between you and me,” he said.

“It hasn’t ruined things; it is a bump in the road.”

“No, you cheated. It’s a lot more than a bump.”

“There will be lots of temptations down the road, there will be other people, things will happen.”

“Not with me! I would NEVER do that,” he said.

“Please don’t use the word ‘never’ at 23.”

“Ok, I am sorry.”

“I needed the closure. We only kissed. I don’t want to have a relationship with him. I don’t want to run away and marry him. I want to be with you.”

“What does he have that I don’t have? You were going to up and move to Milwaukee for him? Would you do that for me?” he asked.

“Do you want me to do that for you?”

“No. I know you love LA. I would never ask you to.”

“Good. He doesn’t have anything over you. There is just an energy … it’s similar to how I feel around you. A levity. I don’t know how to explain it.”

“Don’t you dare compare to me to him! How could you do that after the way he treated you? He is an asshole. The rest of us are onboard, we are waiting for you,” he preached.

“I am not waiting to make a decision. I want to be with you. You and I have spent more time together. You are my boyfriend. That is not in question.”

“I don’t know what to do with you. Any other girl I would be out of here … oh, I am not breaking up with you. You can just let that one go.”

“Good,” I picked up the menu, “I know its hard being my boyfriend.”  He nodded heavily, like I put a chain around his neck. “But it is part of me that needs the freedom to do little things other girlfriends don’t. I am not like other girls and its part of the package. I won’t sleep with someone else. Anyway, it is over with Huck.”

“I know it’s not over. You are still talking to him.”

“No, I am not.”

“I know you are.”

“Well, there is a one or two text exchanges, but not a conversation,” I confessed.

“See baby, why do you do that? I can’t trust you.”

“You asked me to be honest, how can you not trust me?”

“I am sorry, I don’t.”

“Ok, well that’s a shame. So glad I told you everything,” I said.

“You told me like … way later.”

“AFTER residency, so I didn’t have to fight with you while studying. It’s over with him ok, he is gone. You are my life.”

“It’s not over.”

“Yes, it is.”

“It doesn’t feel over,” he muttered.

There was a silence.

“Well, it is,” I punctuated.

“Until next residency …”

“We will have more time together then. Baby, we have been together for only 2 months. I had unresolved business. Just don’t put so much on it, ok? I am here with you.”

“I am just gonna stuff my face. And after this I am going to Taco Bell, open up an account,” he said, finishing his ice water.

“Sure you don’t want to sweep by Mrs. Fields first?”

“I would eat the shit out of Mrs. Fields.”

We-love-Mrs-Fields-mrs-fields-25580083-300-300

I started singing. Beauty and the Beast. “Gosh it disturbs me to see you Gaston, looking so down in the dumps …”

He laughed. He laughed so high, the waiters smiled.

We ate dinner fast and he stopped talking about eating out his heart.

Gaston

“Ok, here is the comment card,” I grabbed after I subconsciously bussed our own dishes. “Service? Excellent.” I checked the box. “Food? Excellent. Comments, how could this have been a better meal?” I read aloud as I wrote in pen, “I wish I could have had dinner with a girlfriend who didn’t cheat on me.”

He laughed again and grabbed my hand. “I love you. God damn it, I love you.”

For the first time, I really believed him.

Old Memories

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Rattling the Bell: The Last Night of Residency

The last night of residency came fast. Towards the end, you find yourself skipping lectures you circled on your agenda to take a nap or slurp soup in the middle of the day. You lay around like a sea lion, hoping someone will throw food in your mouth so you don’t have to flop around anymore.  Caffeine can’t help you anymore. Nothing can but the end. You just want it to end.

Rescued Sea Otter

But you kinda don’t want it to end at the same time.  Cat would go back to Oregon. The Silver Fox back to Chicago. Another to Paris. Another to Claremont, not too far away but far enough to never see each other over a semester. Collide then let go. Huck would be back in Baraboo and I would be back to dogsitting, car trouble and a rocky start to a promising relationship.

We were all just hanging around one late afternoon. The alcohol supply was dwindling. We were googling Yoko Ono performances and exchanging book recommendations. Michael stopped by. I always was excited to see him but our meetings were strained. It wasn’t unusual with couples. Another roommate had a similar experience when her boyfriend came to visit. It is hard, but I am not quite sure why.

Michael sat on a stool and stared at me with tears in his eyes. We were talking about the car I picked up a week before. The transmission blew out on it 10 days after I bought it with cash. “It’s bad,” is all he could say. “The lowest estimate I can find is $2500 and they said it isn’t even worth saving.” All my money was put into this last vehicle. I can’t tell you how much air squeezes out of your lungs when someone tells you all your savings wasn’t worth saving. Michael could barely speak. He just stared at me with those glossy, puppy dog eyes. He was going to rent a car until we decided what to do. For a guy under 25, that proved to be financially crippling. After one leg was shot out from under us, the other one would slowly crumble.

“Stop looking at me like that,” I said, coldly.

“Sorry,” he said, looking away. Why does he make me feel so bad? Most men don’t express any feelings of weakness. Michael is free with it. He will tear up. He will look like he was slapped across the face. And then he will cry. I have never had a man in my life like that before. It makes the connection all the more intense. The more I cared for him, the more frustrated I was in his moments of stress, hurt and weakness. There was no way to protect him and there was no cure.  I wonder if that is how men feel in relationships most of the time?

The Silver Fox offered to drive him to the airport for a cheap car rental. Michael bussing over the greater part of Los Angeles was like taking blood by the quart. He was worn down from all the rushing, the scrounging of change and the long waits on dirty buses. One to the next to the next. Some buses don’t stop. Some don’t show. On foot in the urban jungle with only a dying cell phone and a pocket full of change, you are vulnerable.

LA Bus

After we dropped off Michael, the Silver and I made plans to hang out. It would have been quiet, just the Silver Fox, Cat, My Flower (a beautiful female writer who was graduating) and me now that the others had either gone home for another night or moved to another couch in another house. I mucked it up a but by inviting Huck over. It was our last night and I really thought we would have a good time. The Silver Fox is a distinguished, older poet. The type of guy with a nice car, a nice home and a nice wife. He drove my boyfriend to pick up a car rental, drove down to pick up my ex-lover, then took us to a liquor store to buy more beer and wine for the house. The poor guy.

We walked into a Venice liquor store and a slinky, black guy accompanied with a much more sophisticated (and rather beautiful) black woman beat us to the refrigerated beverages.

“Whatever you want is on me!” he said.

“That bottle of Chardonnay,” I said, pointing.

Everyone laughed while I waited patiently. Silver picked up his choice. Huck his.

I gave up and grabbed my bottle. “Is it naive that I thought he was really going to buy my Chardonnay?” I asked.

“Yes,” said the Silver.

Then we hopped over to Subway for a few sandwiches. We were all hungry and the Silver was buying. I was worried that he was annoyed. I really pressed my luck on this orchestration.

While waiting for my lettuce, avocado and tomato sandwich, I looked over at Huck to check on him. He wasn’t hungry and he was sitting alone by the front window. His glasses slipping down his nose and his perfect Rockwell haircut. He was smiling at me. That smile was Gatsby-esque.

Pick Your Poison

Back at the house, we came in with booze and cheap sandwiches. I drained my bottle of cheap Chardonnay in one sitting. That was the first mistake. Filling up my wine glass with whiskey … that was my second.

The Silver Fox suddenly decided that doing (on-line) work would be more productive than watching us slap and pinch each other over musical selections. All the on-line demand strained the wi-fi a bit, so that created more quiet stress.

Huck started with the White Album then switched over to Amy Winehouse, “You Know I’m No Good”. How transparent. I begged for “Back in Black” (Winehouse). He only had the one song by Amy. Then I switched to funk. Some James Brown … yeah, things get fuzzy around here. Real fuzzy.

The next thing I remember is screaming at Huck in the street outside the house while he hailed a cab.

What got us there? I can’t say for certain. Moments were briefly recreated for me the next morning:

-Cat told me at one point Huck said, “You know Michael is just a rebound, right?”

   -The Silver Fox said I turned. Something in me switched to the dark side.

 – Cat said Huck would leave, open the door, turn around and sit back down at the table, declaring, “[StarFire] won’t let me leave!”

What a fucking mess. So much so the neighbors called to complain to the owner of the house. My poor roommates could only respond to the complaint with, “Yeah, we have one of those in the house.”

Here we were. The last night of residency. The mist was rolling down Venice Blvd off the Pacific Ocean. The streets were nearly empty, it must have been after midnight. I have no idea. What were we fighting about? Feelings?

old-couple-fighting

I remember throwing one last zinger at him as he finally got his cab. He stopped at the car door and turned around to speak to me. I walked away.

**

Later, I would describe this night to my therapist. “What is funny is I never argue with Michael. I can’t stand it when he is mad at me so I just shut down. I don’t speak.”

“And what do you argue about with Huck?” she asked.

“It isn’t really arguing. It is more … like playing a part,” I said.

**

The rest was like a dream. Inside the house, was I crying? Somehow I texted Michael. Then Michael was there and he took me home in the rental car. I said lots of things to him, everything I remembered at the time, which is more than what I know now. I can’t ask him what I said now. I am burying these feelings here in my computer.  Unearthing them today would burn, at no great benefit to this blog. The argument was stupid, whatever it was.

I was back home, with my stolen IKEA bed, and my three dogs, and my forgiving boyfriend who was realizing I was more than a handful. Whatever joy, stimulation, adrenaline shook me during residency was softened and grounded at home, like a rattled bell that finally stopped swinging. I got my head back. The house in Glendale I was avoiding put new roots in me and I was ready to let go of residency, my friends, my messy, expired love affair and all the validation and doubts passing through.

**

For the first time that next morning, I was hungover. Michael drove me to school and Huck offered a half-sincere apology via text. “Perhaps a bit rash.” I tore into him and he was quick to defend himself. The argument escalated and I threw my phone on the floor of the car.

“Just please stop texting him,” Michael said. He played it cool but he was smart. He was waiting for the storm to pass before really talking to me about what a detriment Huck was to our relationship.

At school, I smoked a hangover cigarette and felt the beginning of a migraine. If I didn’t hydrate and avoid bright lights, by 3pm I would be inoperable. 3pm was our final workshop. Each workshop is divided first within genre, then in smaller groups of approximately six writers with a Workshop Mentor. God, I looked like shit. I felt like shit.

Funny-Hangover

“[Starfire], we have your panties and wallet!” Cat shouted from the parking garage.

“I am not sure they are yours. They aren’t really your style,” The Silver Fox said.

“Let’s see them,” I said as Cat pulled out my blue and white gingham panties with ruffles around the seams. “Yup, those are mine. I hope they are clean.” (They were)

“My love, you turned last night!” The Silver Fox said. “My love has a switch!”

“Was it bad?” I asked.

They both nodded. “You need to avoid whiskey or avoid Huck. Whatever you do avoid Huck with whiskey. Last night was just … not healthy.”

Cat described moments of Huck and I slapping each other’s legs. She said Huck wouldn’t let me listen to funk. Then she described how toxic our relationship was. My head was like soggy oatmeal at that point. I had no idea what to do with all this information. Cat’s voice tends to carry too, so whenever she said Huck’s real name, I heard it bounce off the building and roll back through the clusters of other students. Sometimes a head would turn to listen in. I hung my head.

“Just stay away from Huck,” John said.

*

That was, of course, around the time I texted Huck that I wanted to say goodbye before he flew back from Wisconsin. I was angry at him, God knows why, but I did want to say goodbye to him. His flight was leaving at 5pm and he needed a ride to the airport around 3 or 4pm. Around the time of the last workshop. Around the time my hangover would really take hold. Our goodbye would be rushed.

Just before we all broke apart to go to our different assigned workshops, I met him at the wall with the schedule. “Walk and talk with me,” he said, in a mock-teacher voice, smiling. I was holding a small cup of coffee that was quickly growing cold.

We walked down the hallway. “I am sorry things went bad between us and I am sorry I overreact and whatever, argue with you or push your buttons or whatever I do.” We reached the end of the hallway and stopped. “I acknowledge that drunk people are annoying. Ok, there,” I said, exasperated.

“I am sorry …” Huck started, then looked down.

“It’s ok, just say goodbye.”

We hugged. I had one arm around his shoulder and the other holding the small cup of coffee, now dripping down my coat sleeve. It was a good hug. Better than sex would have ever been.

“Goodbye,” I said, crumpled in his arms.

Then we let go. Until next residency.

crossing paths

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Infidelity and The Talking Streetlight

Here I was wrapping up the semester, working my ass off, making money and now another residency is upon us. In 8 days to be exact. I know, despite my body and mind begging me to daydream, to sleep, to watch TV and catch up on everything I can’t when school and work merge, that I can not fall behind on this journal.

Residency was a becoming a rapid collection of beaded memories, each tapping into the next as I dropped them on a long string to hold on to, at least until I could write it down. Drinking. Huck. Michael. Friends and students in a house in Venice, all exhausted, all laughing, a kiss here or there from one gender or another. The house was cold but I was so eager to be close to the conversation, the music, the clips and text we shared with each other. The stimulation was not just rich in mentor-lead conversations at school, not only in the brilliant faculty readings of poetry and fiction, but in the hanging cocoon of comradery.

Michael, my boyfriend of almost two months, was not a writer. And he was without a car on the other side of a sprawling city. He felt isolated but didn’t complain. There was friction. There were brief visits and misty eyes. Long silences and growing irritation. He was my other life. There in Venice, some other part of me was living through a world not too far from the Bloomsbury Group. I didn’t want Michael’s reminders of the broken car, the dogs now urinating and defecating in the house during my absence and his own suspicions to cloud me. That was real life. It didn’t melt into the dreamers world.

Bathers by the pond

Another person isolated from the group was Huck, my lover from the previous semester, now a friendship  taut sexual tension. If I disappeared for a night, everyone thought I slept with him. I would come home to the Venice House and announce, “I didn’t sleep with him!”

“That’s a surprise,” my fiction writer Cat responded.

Exhausted from residency, one morning I asked to crash in Huck’s hotel room for a few hours to nap. The Venice House was a drive away and I didn’t have my car. Michael was taking it from shop to shop to figure out how much it would cost us. I brought Huck a sandwich and asked to just lie down there until the lecture later that afternoon. He said yes.

When I arrived, he was watching Stephen King give a lecture on his laptop. I peeled off my skinny jeans and put on Huck’s shorts so I could breathe. Then I crawled under twisted sheets and a blanket. My eyes were closed. My leg exposed. I was truly exhausted but still acutely aware of every sound in the room. I pushed my mind off the dock and felt my leg twitch. Finally, I could sleep.

A pop of the vodka bottle at his desk. The crunch of plastic as he discarded the sandwich container.  I was awake. He gave me his critical paper to read. He showed me some clips and photographs of Bukowski and the women he loved. My head was swimming in fatigue and I knew I was crossing a line.

Huck got on the bed a few times. We replayed some karaoke from the night before on my phone and laughed. Just as I felt close he would get up and cross the room. That afternoon I wrote this in my notebook:

 

He gets up and walks to the bed sometimes.

He lays next to me, hiding behind a wall of pillows.

Sometimes he stands at the edge of the bed, staring down at me.

“What did you think of my paper?” he asks, as I gently fold each page face down.  

Reading.

“I am only on page 6,” I said.

 

He changes shirts.

He pours more vodka.

He hunches over his computer,

Occasionally glancing at me through the mirror on the wall.

 

“You can’t stay here,” he says.

I feel a little blood trickle into his shorts.

I think its blood.

Maybe not.

 

He looks tired but the sunlight makes the blue rise.

The blue of his shirt.

The blue of his eyes.

 

“You can’t stay here,” he says with his back turned.

I don’t move.

The sheets smell like him.

I smell like sweat.

He farts.

We stay unmoved in our own filth.

Huck at his Desk

I got up and dressed. He stayed at his desk. It wasn’t the same room from last semester. Our room was on another floor.

I kissed him on the lips, soft and quick. “Bye honey,” I said in a mocking housewife voice. He looked at me and I kissed him again. This time he closed his eyes. Maybe it was just a second longer. He looked at me hard when I opened the door to leave and I knew he was capturing me in his writer’s eyes. He would remember how I looked. He would remember the moment and maybe write it down. Maybe he would throw it away. But I wouldn’t be back.

***

I did think about sleeping with him. I would be lying to everyone who reads this if I didn’t admit that.There were moments when I wanted to. Outside, I sat on a familiar curb in Venice smoking a cigarette. Just one block deeper in that neighborhood was the apartment where I married the wrong man almost a decade ago. This neighborhood was where I drifted deeper into the streets and parked my car with a bottle of wine and a handful of pills. I was obsessed with another man and leaving my husband was the most difficult thing in the world at 25. Hurting him was more than I could bear. I like to think I was young and stupid then. Here I was, on the same winding streets, juggling two men in my mind. Again.

*

Three of us writers discussed infidelity in a bar one night earlier that week.

“Is it so wrong to sleep with someone else? Would it really ruin a relationship?” I asked.

“Yes! It would do irreparable harm!” said one writer, a man.

“No! Why do we have to expect one person to be our everything? There can be different people who appeal to different sides of ourselves. One person can not fill all our needs,” said another writer, a woman.

“It is a lot of stress to be someone’s everything,” I said.

“And impossible,” she said before sipping the foam off her beer bottle.

*

I was alone now. No one was there but my buzzing phone. The streetlight across from me turned off and on. It didn’t flicker. It had no rhythm. I wanted to believe it stayed on when I was thinking about the right man. The streetlight would give me the answer.

streetlight

Michael stood by me through one of the roughest transitions of my life.

Streetlight on.

He was good to me. We were fine before all of this. He handled my temper tantrums, my drunk antics, my casual flirtations with other people. He loved my dogs. He loved me … in a way no one had before.

But we just started. Our relationship was young. Was it right to be monogamous now? Would it mean anything if I slept with someone else right now? It is only sex. It isn’t my soul or my life. It is just a moment. People have moments all the time with other people. That doesn’t mean they love them. That doesn’t mean they sacrifice something greater for the moment.

What if I had sex with him and pretended it never happened?

Streetlight off.

Then what was the point of doing it at all? Do I have to have sex with Huck? Why? Why was my mind driving at intercourse with someone I already had sex with, already cared about and who already hurt me. What was the point of reliving it? The adrenaline. The titillation. The false satisfaction. It is recycled mistake.

Streetlight on.

Streetlight off.

 

He already hurt me. He would hurt me again.

Streetlight on.

And I would hurt Michael. Michael. Someone who only ever treated me with kindness, forgiveness and affection. Am I only not doing it so he doesn’t get hurt? Is that enough of a reason not to do something? Was he just like my ex-husband?

No. He wasn’t. Not at all.

Streetlight off.

No, it is different.

I can’t lose Michael.

I can’t lose Michael.

Streetlight on.

I can’t lose Michael.

heart-roots-20071

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Rock N Roll Suicide

It was the night of the residency party. Six months ago, it was the night Huck and I finally consummated our flirtation. I was looking forward to going, mostly because I had more friends in the program this time around. Also because it was happening at the Culver Hotel, a very old and classic hotel in the center of a modernized shopping district. As far as I am concerned, it is the only classy thing about Culver City.

Exterior-Culver_Hotel-

I was still shaking off brunch with Huck. When we first saw each other, the morning after a public, drunk blow-out in the parking lot, I said, “Well, obviously you are in love with me. But we don’t need to speak of it.” He smiled, shaking his head. Though Huck may not be in love with me, I do believe his feelings are stronger for me than he admits. He thinks he is maintaining power. I think he is just a scared.

As we were walking back from lunch, he pulled something out of his pocket. “I have your hair in my pocket. I don’t know how it got there but it is definitely your hair.” In the moment, I was touched he was carrying it around in his pocket. Chemistry and friendship is a powerful cocktail. If I was going to honor my boyfriend, I knew I couldn’t be alone and drink with Huck anymore. I didn’t intend to sleep with him. I didn’t intend to kiss him. I just felt myself laughing, smiling, caring about my puffy eyes more than usual. I was always wondering if he would show up around the corner, humming that song … “See the way he walks down the street … watch the way he shuffles his feet …”

I would like to think of myself as a good girlfriend. I would like to think I had the best of intentions. We were playing with fire.

***

We texted that night. Was he coming to the party? Why did I have to care if he was coming? I was with Cat, another poet, much older and very sophisticated (someone who made me feel beautiful and funny) and a handful of others who collected in the lobby. The older poet, who we called The Silver Fox, bought my first drink. Vodka martini. It was brought to me in a shaker, and not having any experience with such a high-end presentation, I spilled it all over myself and the floor. The waitress accommodated me with another drink. I have been humiliated in public so many times, it doesn’t even phase me anymore. The burn on my lips was the first delicious welcome into the evening, and I forgot about the vodka wet on my pants and shirt.

dirty_vodka_martini

The party was upstairs. I hadn’t been up there before, well yes, once for a photo shoot with Lana but the pictures were lost before I could ever save them. Now there were students collecting in clumps around the corners. I have socialized with all kinds of awkward people before: prisoners, prostitutes, actors, comedians. Nothing is more awkward than trying to socialize with writers. We all prefer hiding behind our computers and books because it gives us proper preparation with what to say. The hard covers give us a special shield to protect us from insult and rejection, and if it penetrates, we can just cower down and cry with no one able to see.

Huck was up there with a few other classmen who were graduating. Some were cold to me, others were decent if I was sitting next to him, and some suddenly tried to be kind. I just needed to plug in my charger and heard Huck call out a joke about my exposed ass crack . I stood up and pulled up my pants. “Well … why are you looking?” I said in a voice, other than my own.

Another vodka martini found its way to me, compliments of The Silver Fox. He had won me over one late evening at the Roosterfish when all the Queers cleared after drinking their beers. “We would have had a great love affair if we met twenty years ago and were around the same age,” he said.

I smiled. Poets always know what to say to me. “Your hair is beautiful. It frames your face perfectly. But your eyebrows are your best feature, and you play with them when you are nervous,” he said. I don’t see the face men see when I look in the mirror. I see an awkward girl with a round face that doesn’t understand make-up. Shapeless with wrinkles now forming around the mouth and eyes. Odd eyes, like quarter moon windows. Eyebrows that don’t know how to be manicured. A smile that diminishes the upper half of my face when I smile.  I grew up believing I was ugly. For two years as a teenager, my acne was so grotesque I broke a hallway mirror and kicked a hole in the wall from disgust. Once, someone asked my boyfriend how he could stand to look at me. Now, I am qualified as a flirt, sometimes a slut or a deviant. Someone troubled or unfaithful. I am really just a little girl who wants to believe she is pretty too. I like myself best through other people’s eyes, that is why probably I never like being alone.

Me on Set for BH Cop Pilot

I was always aware of Huck in the room, but I made my respective circles. My comfort zone was to stick by the gays, but knowing I was already unpopular with some, especially the faculty, I tried putting myself out there, sipping on the olive juice and vodka for courage. Huck couldn’t help it, and ducked around the room, suddenly pulling up a chair across from me. I smiled under the rim of my glass.

This semester, there were a handful of women who were pregnant. We were all talking about how odd it was. I can’t think of a worse time to have a child than in the middle of a rigorous and time consuming creative writing program. New mothers were everywhere, the one in my class skipped this residency because motherhood was too demanding.

“I wonder about names,” a young woman said. Female writers brightened with all the names we store away for our favorite characters, those kept safe in books on the shelf and those who have yet to be printed.

Huck was sitting across from me. “How about Huck?” I said. Now, audience, you must know by now that Huck is an alias for the real poet. He, of course, knew his alias already having read my blogs for the last 6 months and kicked his head back with a smile. The girls were none the wiser.

“Huck . .. I like that. And it is never used,” they said.

I made my way to George, sitting by the window. He was talking about Miguel, the Hispanic teacher who I had my first interest in last residency, and how he was flirting with a new student.  It irked me. Though Miguel didn’t outright reject me, he never looked me in the eyes when we spoke and wouldn’t hang out with me when I came back to LA. It is juvenile and nonsense, but that is the psychosis of a a rejection phobic. If you don’t laugh at my joke, you have rejected me.The conversation stalled and Huck found his way in the sliver of a seat between George and myself. We got on the topic of the night before, and how I got drunk in his hotel room. Everyone thought we fucked. There was more innocence at play than everyone really could understand.

I laughed at Huck. Loud. Big mouth. Hair down. He called me Julia Roberts. I thanked him. George said he didn’t think it was a compliment.

“So she is laying there, with my cock in her hand and she said, ‘I would never sleep with you … you disgust me …,” Huck said. I laughed again.

George shot up from his seat. “You two need to fuck,” and then he walked away.

“But you didn’t hear the rest of the story …,” Huck said.

I put my arm around Huck and kissed him hard on the cheek. I think that is what happened. I don’t remember the taste of his skin or any drizzle of romance. I only remember he leaned back laughing. He looked happy. His drink tipped back and all of a sudden we felt easy, like we did the first time in June. Easier than last June. There was just the case of the man I loved, walking my dogs, waiting, hoping I wouldn’t be unfaithful. I took another drink.

On the other side of the bar, champagne glasses were being filled. A good foot of the bar was covered in glass and bubbles. “Who is this for?” I asked the bartender. He was an actor, I could tell.

“They are for all of you,” he said.

Self-filling-Champagne-Glasses

I grabbed a glass in each hand, and walked away sipping the first one before starting on the second. Huck watched me over his shoulder, laughing. His smile is gorgeous. I wondered if tough guys always had pretty smiles. When I look for pictures of Jim Morrison (on lonely nights), once in awhile I stumble on a photo of his smile and it makes my fingertips cold and my ears warm. A man’s smile can paralyze me. I wonder why they keep it such a secret?

Jim Smiles

After both glasses were drained, I returned for two more, and slowed down a bit. My intention was to give Huck space at the party. To really give all conversations a chance, but he kept hanging around me. It wasn’t unwelcomed. I thought he liked me. I felt like I had a hook in him, no matter how temporary, and I enjoyed dragging him around with me for the night. Outside we had a cigarette and spoke about something mild and general.  I can’t recall it now. I just liked that we were outside, sitting on a bench together alone. Buzzed but not drunk. Happy but not touching. I didn’t have to touch him, I knew we were in the same moment.

One of the upper classmates came out to talk to us. It was the first time he acknowledged me all semester, I assumed the friends in his circle had opinions about me and Huck and me. I wanted to be rude, but I never can be when someone is nice to me. It was a pleasant, casual conversation. I liked that he saw I was with Huck and that we were civil with each other. It gave the whole sordid affair a dignity.

***

As the party broke up, and I always feel like parties break up too soon, Cat and I jumped in the Silver Fox’s car to go sing karaoke at the Tattle Tale Room, the bar where Huck and I first met last June. Half of my favorite people were there. A female poet who read a translated poem earlier in the day that took my breath away. The non-fiction writer who lives in Paris, wears her hair short and speaks her mind with such confidence, it demands respect. Her manuscript was flawless. A few people in my class. The Silver Fox. Huck slid into the back booth where we met.

“She turned to her left, and there he was,” he said. He was referencing a line from my blog, describing the first time I met him.

“I turned to my left and there he was,” I said, jerking my head to the left, laughing. I did it two or three times. No one was in on the joke. “It is our anniversary. Six months ago, at the school party …” I said.

“That’s right,” he said. Maybe he knew, maybe he didn’t know. It was innocent. I wasn’t trying to stir things, they were already stirred. I just appreciated the synchronicity of it all. The same bar where we met. The same booth. The same night.

We took turns on karaoke, turning off the locals, as usual. I selected my Rolling Stones song for the residency: “Start Me Up”. Now, there are theories on why I obsess over which Stones songs at what moments of life. The truth is there are original videos out there I discover, and they click in my obsession, and I watch Mick … I watch Mick … and I step inside the song. At home, I dance like him to feel it and I feel alive.

Start Me Up

So when I had the microphone in hand, and the guitar kicked in, I felt the white pants, the purple v-neck, the improvised shoulders and arms of a British rock star who belonged to another generation.

“If you start me up”

“If you start me up,

I’ll never stop.”

I tried to climb onto a nearby table, but it rocked and the couple sitting there laughed, leveled and invited me back on their table top with their spilled drinks. I shook my hand and continued singing. In karaoke, people rarely notice how bad my singing is because I perform. I never feel better. Music gives me superpowers. It is my most loved drug.

The Parisian writer came up and wiggled next to me with her mouth open. Truckers stopped talking and stared at me. Mimicking Mick, and I assume most people don’t recognize the original dance moves from the original 1981 video, made me sexy. My father never liked Mick Jagger. “He thinks he is doing Elvis,” he said. “It looks ridiculous.”

“No, no!” I said. “It’s a broken doll kind of thing. No one else can do it. It’s new.” Well, it is new to me. I just discovered the Stones roughly 10 years ago, after my sister dragged me to see a tribute band perform. The music sunk in, deep. And swinging my hips, throwing up my awkward, long arms and tilting my head back with my off-key voice made me right for 3 minutes and 40 seconds. Mick made different sexy. Now I could be sexy, too.

Me and the Stones

We all performed songs. The Silver Fox and I did “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”. Someone in my class did “American Pie”. Huck did “Rock n Roll Suicide” by Bowie. Writers might be awkward, but they have great taste in music. I video-ed Huck on my phone.

“Oh no love! You’re not alone,

You’re watching yourself but you’re too unfair,

You got your head all tangled up but if I could only,

Make you care.

Oh no love! you’re not alone.

No matter what or who you’ve been,

No matter when or where you’ve seen,

All the knives seem to lacerate your brain,

I’ve had my share, I’ll help you with the pain,

You’re not alone.”

Huck didn’t sing last semester. I think he is too shy, or was too shy. The more we cheered him on, the more he got into the song, kicking his head back and smiling.

“Lets turn on and be not alone (wonderful),

Gimme your hands cause you’re wonderful (wonderful),

Gimme your hands cause you’re wonderful (wonderful),

Oh gimme your hands.”

“My hand?” I asked, reaching out my hand from behind my phone. He put his fingers through mine and sang for a line or two before letting go. We laughed. It was a good time.

Afterward, he sat down and spoke to Cat. He sat down and spoke to the Parisian writer who told him he wasn’t invited to poetry readings because she doesn’t care for misogynists. I saw them talking and laughing, hands thrown in the air and lightly dropping on the shoulder. He was making friends. Even though he was a class ahead of me, I was helping him get to know everyone. That made me happy.

My next song was “I’ve Been Down So Long” by The Doors. It was a personal joke for me, and me alone. The karaoke guy handed me the microphone, “This time, don’t scream into the microphone. It breaks the levels.”

“Of course not, that was my Mick Jagger. Now I am doing Jim Morrison. He doesn’t scream,” I said, dismissive. He handed me the microphone. “Pffft … obviously,” I said, like a drunk bitch.

“Well, I’ve been down so very damn long,

That it looks like up to me.

Yeah, why don’t one you people,

C’mon and set me free.”

Off the LA Woman album, the song has a bluesy feel to it, and with that raspy, angry poet.  I got down on my knees and rocked back and forth on my knee caps. I could feel everyone going about their business, but a few people walked up to me, looked down on me and I kept singing my blues.

“Baby, baby, baby,

Won’t you get down on your knees ….

C’mon little darlin’,

C’mon and give your love to me, oh yeah.”

That bar is a dump, but it sure has a fucking fantastic karaoke selection.

As midnight spun round, and beers were drained, it was time to leave. It always takes someone else to tell me when. Singing classic rock, dancing to classic rock, that is when I am most alive. That is when my spirit has a real voice. This blog … well it is clunky, rough. It doesn’t slide through me like the music. Other people’s words put to harmony can work through me like water. This blog, it is smoke, crawling through my throat on shoes made of sandpaper. Writing lights a match in my lungs I can’t release until I exhale. Music is more pleasant.

Top-Classic-Rock-Songs

The night had to end. Everyone left and I waited to pay the bill at the bar. Female bartenders always seem more exhausted than men. I tip the same. I turned around and saw Huck had walked back into the bar. He grabbed the back of my head and kissed me hard on the lips. It almost felt like he bit my lower lip. It stung.

“Happy anniversary,” I slurred. He pecked me again on the lips, this time I leaned in a little but it was still hard and brief. Then he left.

***

I got into the car full of writing students. “Where is Huck?” someone asked.

“He wanted to walk back,” someone else said. It was about a mile back to his hotel.

“Why?” someone asked but the car was overtaken by more chatter. Another writing student had gotten in an argument with a local who had a knife on him. The police were called. We drove out.

Back at the Venice house, I danced in and threw myself on the first bed I saw. A beautiful, mixed race, writing student had her papers spread out. Her final presentation was in the morning.

“Do you know how beautiful your freckles are?” I said, with her papers screaming underneath me. “Each… little … one.”

She was patient with me. “I am working right now. Can you give me this time to prepare?” she asked behind tired eyes, a little smile and heavy glasses.

“You are my little flower. My precious, little flower,” I said. She smiled.

I crawled into Cat’s room, straddled her and spanked her. She screamed and laughed. “Buy me dinner first,” she said … or something like that. I steam rolled her.

The Silver Fox called me to the couch and laid me down. “Follow my breathing. Do you hear it? Just follow my breath. In and out,” he whispered. I slipped away into darkness and let go of the music.

original-let_go_cover

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized