by Ruth Crossman
We said we would get up early. Like 9:30 or 10 at the latest, a few hours to watch horrible daytime TV and touch up the bleach in our bangs before we had to get moving. But when the alarm went off I just couldn’t do it. She forms a perfectly diagonal line in my bed, her arms cactused out on each side, unashamedly taking up as much space as possible. Her snores are a declaration: I sleep with peace of mind. Who am I to disturb that?
I lay back down instead, draping my arm as carefully as possible around her waist and breathing in the scent of dry shampoo and cigarettes. Wishing that was enough to get me drunk. I feel her chest rise and fall and the tears begin to form in the back of my throat. I tell myself it’s not the last time. Not yet.
My bedroom window faces the street. I’m paying even less on my dangerously below-market rent in exchange for the hassle of being closest to the parking lot, the one that tends to spill over with drunks on Friday and Saturday nights. The owner is serious about selling this time. There were showings all last weekend, and for once I was grateful for the parking lot, grateful for the freeway and the BART tracks. On paper, the address sounds perfect, but once they arrive the San Francisco emigres can’t help but notice the influence of the compass points: Jack in the Box is to our North, Telegraph to our East. Within gentrified sliver Temescal we are still on the wrong side of the tracks.
I go to the kitchen, flipping the tea kettle on and grinding the beans for the French press. She gets the red mug, her favorite, the one with a cartoon egg and waffle holding hands and grinning goofily while forks and knives dance on either side. Underneath is the script:
WAFFLE AND OMELETTE SHOP
A PLACE FOR FRIENDS
SAN PEDRO, CALIFORNIA
Somewhere there is a photo of the two of us standing in front of the restaurant, with matching sunglasses and matching hangovers. Our arms are draped around each other as we grin into the sunlight, some boy or another positioned behind the lens. That was after Catalina, those three nights when we kept missing the boat to the mainland because all we wanted to do was bake in the sun and chain smoke.
“It’s 11 already.”
“You looked so peaceful.”
“Obviously we needed our sleep. I had some weird ass dreams.”
“Tell me about it. Tell me everything.”
Last night we were reading from my old diary, the one I kept that summer when neither of us had any money.
7/2/08 : If we pay just the past due part of PG&E then we can go to Pak n’ Sav and then I get paid next week. I really need L to give me that money for the water bill.
Sometimes I forget about the house under the freeway. Our lost tribe of Oakland, unmistakeable in faded band Tshirts and skirts fished out of the free bin. Slouching in our battered converse lowtops, the shame like sharpie scrawl on our foreheads: degenerate.
6/3/08: I think I drank too much beer last night and me and S were fighting again. Feel like shit, thank god I don’t have to go into work today.
She peered over my shoulder while I read.
8/1/08: I saw the best minds of my generation standing in line at the food bank! Packs of feral white kids mobbing the liquor stores in leather and dirty jeans. Raising the ghostly clothes of jazz with our adolescent tantrums.
“You were writing poetry?” Sort of.
“It could almost be a song, if you messed with it a bit. Bring it over to my house.”
By noon we are climbing down the rotting steps and jumping into the battered van. She pulls out of the parallel spot with deft glances over her shoulder and cranks up the stereo, the singer wailing about getting out of town. Los Angeles…Los Angeles! We listened to that CD on the way back up. Feeling the wave of depression hit with the traffic on 580 as we peered out at the rundown Victorians, the outline of the Kaiser building deep in the background. Tears slipping out from under her oversized shades as she wiped them away with the back of her hand. Look, it’s ok. Scowling like Reese Witherspoon in Freeway and pretending like she wasn’t crying. We’ll go back.
“C says they wanna pay us for shows, but I’m just like fuck it, that’s not worth staying for.”
Her eyes dart left and right as we cross San Pablo, speeding past the crack triangle and towards the streets named after trees: Myrtle, Filbert, Magnolia, Linden. The light becomes more orange the closer we get to the water.
Stay away from the old haunts for a while, if you can. My weekly check in with K. Keeping honest, keeping current. People and places from your past can be very triggering… Flipping a pen over and over again in my hands as I bite my tongue. The point is to give yourself space. You’re starting something new, remember?
I stare at the morning glory growing along her roof, so incongruously purple against the iron bars on the windows. I’m not used to seeing it in the light of day. The porch has been swept, the coffeecan ashtrays emptied. The milkcrate seats are stacked up against the door, ready to be taken down if a session should break out. We stand in the kitchen waiting for the coffee to brew and she sweeps up the bottle caps on the floor. The PG&E bill is still in his name, affixed to the refrigerator with a magnet made out of a lotteria card. El Borracho.
“It’s weird, you know?”
I talk to her from the private bathroom with no door as she makes the bed, listening to a Buzzcocks album spinning on her record player, a bit too softly.
“It’s natural. You’ve never left before.”
“Oh my god dude, listen to this.”
5/1/08: I couldn’t sleep last night. R drank all the wine before I got home, again. Asshole.
She has tacked a map on the wall for motivation, with hearts around all her new haunts. Echo Park. East L.A. Santa Monica.
5/3/08: Dr. Rosenberg says I can take Ativan at night but it’s too late. If I have bad dreams again I’ll just deal with it.
There are flyers tacked above her bed going back four and five years. The Gilman, Eli’s, The Stork Club. The band names change but somehow the artwork is always the same.
7/14/08: R said he saw Milo’s ghost downstairs by the bikes. No one else believes him except me. I never thought about cat ghosts before…
We sit on the porch, staring out at the back ends of apartments. We can see the track for the highschool just down the street, its pavement glittering in the heat. A bass line pounds from her neighbor’s back yard and it makes me want a beer more than anything in the world.
“You’re doing something new. It’s important.”
“I’ll miss you a lot.”
I look into her eyes for a minute. Tears in the back of my throat. Uncalled for.
“If it doesn’t work out I can always come back.”
Please don’t leave me.
Ruth Crossman is an ESL teacher by day and a writer by night based out of Oakland, California. Her work has appeared in Dryland and on 3QuarksDaily.