Waking up in Amsterdam, I was still exhausted. I had less than an hour to jump on my flight to Portland, so I hustled to the passport check. Even in the rush line for connecting flights, we were waiting for what felt like 20-25 minutes per person.
There was another security interview at the gate. People were being taken to each station and interviewed in various languages, sometimes together, sometimes they were separated. I waited and watched as some people passed on, others were taken to a room.
I was asked to meet my interviewer at a station. He said, “Where did you come from?”
My eyes lit up, “Paris!”
He said, “You know your right eye is red?”
I said, “Oh, still? I don’t know what happened, my contact lens was bothering me at the airport so I took it out.”
He chuckled like a father and said, “Ah well, have a nice trip.” Then he handed me back my passport.
That’s it? I am almost disappointed.
I boarded the flight, and tried to go back to sleep between meals. They served me bread soaked in butter, pasta drowning in cheese, dying lettuce with one, pathetic slice of tomato. I was starving, I hadn’t enjoyed a real meal since Cannes, and even then, it was usually one functional item to fill my stomach.
When I arrived in Portland, my stomach was in knots. We all filed through security. The line moved at a glacial pace, and when I arrived at the desk, the attendant asked, “Why were you in France?” I said, “The Cannes Film Festival . . .” He said, “Oh” smiled and handed me my passport back.
There was one more security exit interview before we could walk the American streets without suspicion. The guard only asked, “Did you have a good time?”
Again, as my eyes grew large, I said, “Yes. It was the best trip of my life.”
He moved to let me pass and said, “That’s nice.”
Stopping, I said, “I guess we will talk about it some other time.”
Seriously, am I the least threatening person in the Western hemisphere?
I walked out to the waiting families, boyfriends, husbands and children, holding flowers and balloons. No one was there for me.
Turning on my phone, I realized (shocker!) it was turned off due to lack of funds. I only had $5 Euroes on me and my checking account was empty.
So I turned the Wi-Fi on for my phone and tried emailing my parents and sister. The fatigue and the hunger put me in a foul mood, and I almost felt like crying, wandering back and forth, in and out, of the airport halls.
I realized I could pull a 1990, and call my Dad collect from a pay phone.
The operator prompt, “At the tone, please state your name.”
After the buzz, I quickly said, ‘Dad, it’s me. I am waiting for you outside baggage. Please come pick me up-”
Operator, “Thank you.” “One moment” “The person you have dialed refused your collect call.”
In about four minutes, my father pulled up and unlocked the door. “Got your message!”
On the way home, I asked him to pull over so I could dry heave into the bushes outside of a strip mall. It was gray out. Driving down the Gorge, I could smell fumes from the freeway and the paper mill in Camus. I never hated Washington before. That drive up was miserable, and I felt my head rattle from the onset of a migraine.
Forty minutes later, we pulled up to my parents small house in the middle of fucking nowhere, and I dragged my luggage in and was greeted by my three dogs. I looked at them, and felt just the slightest pinch of resentment. They were the only reason I came back.
They were excited to see me but not overjoyed, it was a little disappointing. They looked comfortable and content without me.
Esther looked different somehow, like her cropped ears were smaller than usual. Maggie was moving slow, the moisture from the mountains was wearing on her joints and she seemed to have even more white on her face and snout now. My dog from childhood, a small, black cockapoo named Chelsea, quickly deteriorated shortly after my parents moved to this house. I wondered if my Mother sucked their souls out.
My sister called and already informed me that Mom was still working at her part-time job in town, so I could enjoy the weekend. All I could do was collapse on the bed, the only dog to follow was Brad.
Twelve grueling days kept me from Los Angeles. I thought I could sleep, eat, lose the cough and catch up on all the reading I had to do for the 10-Day residency at Antioch.
The tension with my parents started when I locked myself into my computer for most of the day. My Mother felt it was her duty to herd me out of my room, and put me to work in the yard. I tried to be patient with her, I know she is growingly feeble, but my work for Antioch was more important than her feelings.
Her skin is withering like crumpled paper. Her fingers constantly twitch, scratching her arms and legs, like she has serpents for hands. I try not to look at her or listen to her, since those ticks grate my nerves. I drowned out the sound of slurping, scratching, loud television, and the clack of the spoon against porcelain over and over and over again with white noise. I found a clip on YouTube emulating the Star Trek Enterprise on idle. Thank you, Wil Wheaton Twitter feed!
My mother would get impatient, pacing from the kitchen to the other short end of the one-story house, where I was reading and catching up on my blogs. My Father was doing whatever he does in the study one room over, on his computer. She would open my door, declaring a list of all I needed to do, truly believing that she was helping me. She was a distraction, and one I didn’t enjoy.
The first blow-up happened when I was standing in the living room and describing how the men in Cannes made me feel, the erotic dinner at the Italian restaurant, the way they looked at me, their words dripping in accent and I curled up like the Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, pressing my hair against my cheek and smiling. My Father laughed, but my Mother said, “You know, if they said those things to you, they say them to all the girls.”
She stormed off and said, “Don’t talk to me like that! You know, why don’t you stop thinking about yourself and think about other people’s feelings for a change?” Pop goes the weasel!
I was waiting for something like this, and I pounced, “That is exactly the type of attitude that kept me low all those years!”
It was one or two days into my stay there, and I knew something like that would happen. My parents are too comfortable with tension. They recreate it out of nothing.
The other toxic element being they are uncomfortable with my confidence. As a kid, I was self-conscious beyond reason and it made for a very stressful childhood. Los Angeles and, now, France, had my head high. It creates this rubber band effect, where it seems like I have been released after 20 years of stretching apart, and holding back. Flying in midair, people around me sometimes hold their breath, wondering where I will land. I am still flying.
Oddly, with my sister it had the opposite effect. Social and lively as a child, she is now withdrawn, anti-social and reclusive.
I knew my ever-growing confidence would bother them. I am uncertain of the psychology, maybe they want to tame my spirit. My Mother claims she calls me her “Flower Child” though I have never heard her say that. Being parents, maybe they want to curb my behavior and keep me under control as much as possible.
So, for a week or so, my Mother didn’t talk to me. She just stormed around the house, noisily washing dishes, talking to the dogs and complaining that I needed to get a real job. They had waited for my return before buying more dog food, but I was completely broke until my financial aid check came in, so I had to rely on them for everything. They thought my poverty was indicative of laziness.
They often express that pursuing the life of an artist was a pipe dream for someone who wanted a way around “real life”. If I didn’t have money, it was because I was reluctant to pull my share. They thought of me as a social drop-out and I heard them not-so-quietly discuss me from the living room, I needed to grow up and get a job, “After all, she is 34 for God’s sake.”
In this house, I constantly have to reorient myself to their perception and reality. They have no idea who I am. They also have no idea how hard I worked the last couple years to pay off my debts, stay in the arts and keep my animals. To them, and their generation, one person gets one job and is rewarded a stable life. We don’t live in that world anymore, and even if we did, it would make a person like me miserable.
Against my better judgement, I told my Father that Jeph had to pay for my plane ticket to LA for school, since I was totally broke in France. “Don’t tell your mother that,” he said.
He sighed, and turned in his chair like something was sticking in his rib and said, “You know, when are you going to grow up?”
I asked, “What do you mean? I needed a ticket and a friend loaned me the money, that’s all. I problem solved, that is grown up.”
“Shit, you know, you can’t go around borrowing money all the time,” he said.
I was getting furious, and when I am angry, I talk fast, “I don’t borrow money all the time. Its the first time I borrowed money from Jeph and he offered. What was I supposed to do? Drop out of school and not borrow $200 from a friend?”
He leaned back and said, “Yeah.”
I repeated, “Drop out? I should have dropped out of school?”
He nodded again, “Yeah.”
I looked up and spun my hand next to my head, “That’s insane. That’s just crazy talk. You realize, that makes no sense what so ever. That’s just . . . off.”
I trudged off to my room and blasted my Star Trek idle. Its not the end of the world when your parents can’t support your dreams, but it drains the color out of them, just a little bit.
Around this time, I was pinged by Kent:
“Hey. I just tried calling you but your phone is deactivated. Can you please please please call Trent and talk to him? He is just doing the same thing. Drinking, speed and risky sex with complete strangers. His attitude right now is that he is going to die anyway so why care. If you can call me from your parents that would be great.”
Me: “Ok, I will call tonight.”
One day later . . .
Kent: “Did you ever get a hold of Trent?”
Me: “His phone was shut off, so I left a voicemail and asked him to get on-line. He pinged me last night while I was sleeping. I responded and haven’t heard back. Is he gone? I mean- still just floating out there in speed and anonymous sex?”
Kent: “Yup. And drowning in alcohol and despair, despite his hate for such a lifestyle he has no motivation to change it.”
Me: “I am heading down there Tuesday night but I will be without a car. Maybe being closer I can figure out a way to see him.”
Then I got the email:
Kent: “Trent tried to hang himself around 4:00 am this morning. I have no way to contact you but on fb which sucks. Riely (his dog) was barking like crazy and woke up his mom and Rick and they went down there and had to break the door down and get him down. He ran. The cops found him and he is on 5150 lock down. I’m a mess. Sorry to have to tell you this way but you didn’t give me a phone number. Fuck I tried to tell everyone this was coming and no one would listen to me.”
My dear twin flame. My precious gay boyfriend. My very, very dear friend.
Kent and I furiously exchanged information. I called and we spoke, apparently after the police swept him up, Trent tried to hang himself in his jail cell by his pajama pants. The veins in his eyes flooded with blood from asphyxiation.
Kent: “Okay. Thank you and sorry for dragging you into this. I just know that you each have such deep love for each other.”
Me: “He is my other fucking half. DRAG ME IN! Please. I was upset all morning over it. I am mad that I can’t be down there. I am mad that I can’t drag him somewhere and beat sense into him. I thought about what if we lost him. What if we lost him, Kent? And then I thought, maybe it’s inevitable. I love him so fucking much.”
Kent: “He is lost, but I’ve been mentally preparing to lose him physically for a while. If he were to have been successful I would be destroyed and feel like I failed him.”
Me: “Suicide fucking ruins everyone who loves you. If I lose him, I don’t know that I could keep going. I would have to shut down for a while. Stop school. I think it is inevitable that we will lose him. I wasn’t even shocked when I got your message this morning. I stood there like I was expecting it. How sick is that?”
Kent: “That’s what he says. But why? Why must it be inevitable. Why can’t I save him?”
Me: “One person can’t save another person from himself, it’s the one thing we can’t go between. You are closer to him than I am so you feel more responsibility, but from where I stand, there is nowhere to fit between Trent and his darker side. I mean this has been going on for so long now since before either of us knew him. When does it stop?”
I got the number for the institution holding Trent, and called.
He got on the phone, his throat scratchy and strained from the noose.
Me, “Trent? What the hell, man? What are you doing?”
Trent, “I don’t know.”
Me, “You tried to hang yourself? Why would you do that?”
Trent, “ . . . I don’t know.”
Me, “What were the two things I told you not to do before I left? Don’t kill yourself and don’t lose your job. Now you’ve gone and done both.”
Me, “And hanging yourself with your pajama bottoms? That’s not a very glamourous way to go. I thought you were more the chardonnay and pills type, or is that just me?”
He laughed, “I know. It’s all I had.” He choked up some more laughter and said, “It feels so good to laugh.”
Me, “You don’t want to be remembered for that. Is this about the 27 legacy? You want to die at 27?”
Me, “You know, you can’t be in the 27 legacy just for dying at 27, you have to do something beforehand.”
He laughed a little more.
Me, “Give yourself more time. Be easy on yourself. 27 is young, man.”
I walked around my parents front yard, trying to keep cell phone reception and pulling my friend back in a little out of the darkness. I can kick him a ray of light, but I knew I couldn’t save him and if he really wanted to kill himself this badly, he would.
Having been there ten years before, I knew at least he would be safe in lockdown. They won’t let you kill yourself, even though being in a public mental institution makes you want to do it even more than before. I didn’t have to worry about him, at least for a little while.
The next day, I found out my rescue dog, Cupcake, died. Before I left for France, they were trying to find her another home just because she hadn’t warmed up to the husband for the year they had her. Then, they saw sudden progress and decided to give her another try.
Six weeks later, I was scouring their Facebook looking for pictures of her, but they were all gone. So I emailed them and got this in return:
“I am sorry to tell you, but Cupcake has passed. Justin, Rosie (the other dog) and I have been coping with her loss over the past few weeks. She started acting strangely, not wanting to eat, coughing and was more agitated. We took her to the vet and found out that she had a stage four heart murmur. Our vet told us she would only have a short time (a few weeks) before her heart would fail and leading up to that would be pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs) so she wouldn’t be able to run and play with Rosie like she always loved to. We saw this happen with Norman and knew that we couldn’t let Cupcake go through that. We decided that Cupcake wouldn’t want to stick around if she couldn’t enjoy her time with Rosie, going for walks, playing and eating (she loved her treat rope!). She said goodbye to Rosie and we made her a chicken breast which she enjoyed on the grass in front of the vet’s office. She was very peaceful and calm. I think it was the calmest I had ever seen her with multiple people around. I think that she knew it was her time. She will always have a special place in our hearts and we have peace of mind knowing that we did all we could for her by providing her a second chance in a loving home. We are so happy that we decided to keep her even when times were tough. She taught us more about ourselves than we could have imagined. Thank you for bringing her into our lives.”
As I read this now, I just feel my heart bottom out. I never responded to that email.
Even when you save them, they still go off and die.
So the storm circled overhead, and it was difficult talking to my parents about any of it. They hate it when I cry. Often, I see on commercials and TV shows where Mothers and Fathers offer an arm or even a hug to their child when they cry. My parents complain and leave the room.
I was still on France time, so I would wake up at midnight or 1am and write a blog completely undisturbed. I poured myself a glass of wine or two, and before I knew it, the sun would be shining, and the house astir. I cherished those hours alone, where I could revisit France, the sunshine and the food, and forget that I was stuck in my parents’ sterile house, rocking back and forth on the creaking tight ropes of silence and unpredictable tempers, stranded with a broken car in the backwoods of Washington.
One morning, I thought I would save myself the 20 second trip to the kitchen and take the whole bottle of wine into my bedroom with me. When I write, I don’t feel time, hunger, or fatigue . . . I am in a trance. Once, I munched on double my allotted portion of edibles and didn’t feel a thing until I finished writing four hours later, and in that moment, the THC hit me like an ice truck.
I had my last splash of wine around 3am, thinking nothing of it. At 6am, my father opened my door without knocking, as they always do, and he stared at me, then the bottle and said, “Do you have a drinking problem?”
I said, “No, I hardly ever drink.” That was true in Los Angeles. I really can’t afford to and I certainly don’t enjoy drinking that much when I have other goodies available.
He grabbed the bottle off my desk and said, “Ok, new rule. No drinking in the morning.” Then, he slammed my door.
I rolled my eyes and turned on music, maybe a little loud. He threw open my door again and said, “You are living like a kid!”
“Whatever,” I muttered.
He stiffened and then said, “Ok, let’s go for a walk.”
Still writing, I said, “No.”
His head popped back in mine, surprised, “No?”
I repeated, “No. I am writing.”
He said, “Ok, this isn’t working out. A week after you get back from LA you need to be out of here.”
My father’s blue eyes were wide, and he put his finger in my face. My first thought was, “Go ahead and hit me, Asshole. I will call the cops before you can even blink.” (if cell phone reception would allow)
He hadn’t hit me in the face since I was 13-years-old, sitting at the dinner table refusing to eat the steak my mother prepared. They refused to acknowledge my push for vegetarianism and I smacked my lips in disgust, when the back of my father’s hand smashed my nose against my face. Blood pumped out, all over the sweater I was wearing. The blood never washed out and it had to be thrown away.
Though that was the last time he hit me in the face, there were still moments of bizarre violence. One afternoon, coming home late from school in the 9th grade, he dragged me to the bathroom by my hair and demanded my Mother check me to see if I was still a virgin. Up until the age of 17, he loved dragging me by the hair.
Now here we were, I was in my thirties, healthy and strong. My father was in his late sixties, thin and weak. He stood frozen and I realized, he knew he couldn’t hit me anymore.
Nonchalantly, I said, “That’s fine, but my car is broken.”
He said, “I don’t care about your car.”
I said, “I know you don’t.”
He stopped and stared at me, he was studying me more, but I don’t know what for.
I stared back at him, so he could see that I wasn’t a scared adolescent anymore. He was an old man full of empty threats who just wanted to see me shake. I don’t shake for bullies anymore.
He left the room and I cried. I stormed to the bathroom and saw the red wine had stained my lips and teeth. I smiled at myself, “Oops.” (New rule: brush your teeth after drinking red wine)
I would disappear again soon. In the meantime, I wouldn’t let him pull focus off my school work. So I kept writing. I kept reading. And I grew to hate him all over again.