I can see by her eyes she’s been waiting
Nineteen is the year I seem to revisit most often. It was the year that I found things, lost things and began to carve out a “me” from things outside of my upbringing, things that didn’t come from book pages or classroom settings, nor from anything I perceived as “expected” of me.
I used to wander aimlessly through Fullerton College, the junior college I went to just out of high school. With my eyes slightly glazed over, I would turn in another paper, memorize a new monologue, or switch out the mandatory math tutorial tapes for cassettes of The Cure and Suzanne Vega’s Solitude Standing.
It was me and “Luka” in those math labs, and sometimes “Charlotte“ as I scribbled numbers and graphs into workbook pages.
Those afternoons felt like a slow-moving purgatory. They kept me a prisoner of my own design until the buzzer would ring, classes ended for the day, and I would walk zombie-like to my Honda Civic.
I never named that little red car, though she meant everything to me. She was my first. My confidante most days. My partner in crime. Sometimes the two of us would skip classes and study labs all together – my car and me – driving to the beach and parking for hours by the sand.
I rarely got out. No, at the time I preferred to roll the windows all the way down, recline the driver’s seat as far as it would go, leaving the keys at half-mast so the music could still play. The Cure’s “Lovecats” meowing me into an afternoon nap.
The three boys who had been my sanity in high school called me up one night, in the early part of my nineteenth year. They’d been spending most evenings in Hollywood and were determined to get me to come along.
I’d pulled a disappearing act since high school had ended. Two days a week taking classes, and every other day I worked in the mall, at Jay Jacobs.
I wasn’t sure what I was doing, where I was headed, or who I was. I was just going through the motions, numb to most everything.
Back in high school, we’d all obtained identities, even if we didn’t choose them. We were part of groups, or we were excluded from groups, our identity the accusation, or the solution.
But now, well, no one put me anywhere. No one knew me as anything except “the girl behind the counter”, or “the girl cleaning out a dressing room”, “or the girl who did a Carrie Fisher book excerpt for her first monologue”.
I was becoming “Solitude Standing”, staring out windows, or rolling them down to let the salty air in. Squinting at my reflection in the dressing room mirrors wondering who I was becoming.
Was I becoming anything at all?
I was lost.
I was waiting for something.
“Solitude Standing” by Suzanne Vega
from the album, Solitude Standing (1987)
My best friend from Senior year was still in school. She had plans to move out as soon as she could, and asked me, over and over, why I hadn’t left home myself. My mother was more lost that I was then, staying out late with her friends, calling to have me pick her up from random locations. I’d find her some mornings standing in an apartment complex parking lot, last night’s heels in her hand, looking like she didn’t know who she was either.
Feeling lost has no age limit.
I had lost my role as a daughter, trading it in for a makeshift caretaker and hall monitor for her, and a surrogate parent for my little brother.
We were all still shattered by what had happened the year before. Still stumbling around like a family of zombies; infected, actually dead, but not yet aware of it.
Those three boys, they saved me again, just like they’d done during that nightmare of a year. It was that phone call – their invitation that they wouldn’t let me refuse – that would end up defining nineteen. My nineteen.
I climbed in the backseat.
They handed me a bottle of Strawberry Boones Farm, one dollar a bottle.
It tasted like Jolly Ranchers with a bite.
I took swig after swig while “Shake the Disease” played on the car stereo. I was wearing new shoes and as we drove I could feel the not broken in faux leather stiff and restrictive, causing my toes to sting.
I just took another drink straight from the bottle, one of the three taking my hand in his in the backseat.
The boy who was driving caught my eye in the rearview mirror and winked. He then proclaimed to the car, and everyone in it, that we should kiss Marilyn before going to Ground Zero.
“Lore, you’re wearing just the right shade of red.”
None of it made sense, not yet, but all of it sounded amazing.
I felt the alcohol buzzing in my head and the throb in my toes, and something more. I felt like I was finally waking up.
I never took that trip
My Grandfather was a gypsy. Well, not really. He was a welder. Born in Mexico City, though he’d spend his life denying it due to the bigotry and racism he encountered being from “across the border” and living in Los Angeles, in the ’40s. He told everyone he was born in Spain, that he was European, changing his last name, and marrying a girl that was first generation American. Her family actual European immigrants, coming from Denmark and Germany. My Grandfather had an infectious laugh, a love of big band music and Mariachi, and of the long and winding road. He would drive anywhere. All you had to say was “let’s go”. He managed to make any holiday an excuse to pack up the van, or the RV and set off to discover someplace new.
My Grandmother was more of the home and hearth type. She didn’t enjoy life on the road, though she always came along for the ride, often sitting in the farthest backspace, complaining about the twists and turns, the heights on travels that took us up mountains and cliff sides, often threatening to get out of the vehicle and walk back home. Looking back, I wonder if she protested too much. If there was something more to the bickering and heated words between them, barbed pointy things that would come out while he kept driving. Did she enjoy the fighting? The complaining? Or was there resentment between them that I will never know?
Maybe she secretly loved the trips and travel.
Or maybe I just want to believe that because I find it so hard to fathom why she wouldn’t love every minute of it. I know I did.
My Grandfather let me ride shotgun. He gave me the job of the navigator, of opening the complicated folds of the map that were far too big for my small arms to outstretch completely. The job included being an eagle eye to all things interesting, to point out roadside attractions, and search and find the best places to stop for a meal, or a soft serve ice cream cone. I quickly learned that the smaller, unassuming diners were usually the best choice and that a story can be crafted out of just about anything you set your mind to. We used to be the only ones still awake and talking, as we rolled through the desert in the middle of the night, building on stories one or the other would start, inspired from a lone, misshapen cactus, or a counter clerk with an unusual laugh who rang us up a full tank of gas and glass bottles of Coca Cola.
My Grandfather taught me the love of the road, and of telling stories. In many ways, he helped shape the writer in me. I know when my restlessness hits the first thing I long for is to just hit the road and go. Sometimes its a weakness in me, a lack of desire to stay in one place for too long, my commitment issues to anything and anyone beyond my children. At times, though, I think it is one of my finest strengths, as it has made me flexible, adaptable, and capable to start over – and capable of knowing (and believing) that starting over is always an option. It has saved my life before in more ways than I care to express today. It may very well save my life again.
I know that I see the world differently because of my Grandfather. That I see possibilities and histories and stories to tell in everyone I come across, and how I’m often burning to tell them or write them all down. I know that my gypsy soul and the writer that I am is more than partially due to him, and I wish sometimes that I could travel back in time and tell him just how much he meant to me, and how much he has made me the woman that I am – a writer, a traveler, a gypsy, a survivor, a lover of change, and of the road itself.
“Graceland” by Charlie Sexton
from the True Romance Soundtrack (1995)
There are now four stories spinning around in my head vying for my attention, fighting for purchase of the ever-crowding creative city of my insides, wrestling it out for that strangely coveted spot of “the project” I’m working on now. If I could I would quit everything else and just write them all, let them each have their space and their say, but that’s not realistic, feasible, or any of those “practical” words (insert practicality here), so I think that maybe this clumsy girl needs to learn how to juggle and work a little bit on all of them.
Girl to the Front (Let’s Finish Something)
That said, this notion (or plan, or naive goal) does conflict with my desire (and need) to finish one project at a time. I have issues with finishing, with not running away in the middle, with not being seduced by the “new thing”, that I need to confront head-on. Will I ever be able to finish anything if I dabble in everything?
Or is this a symptom of my perfectionism, a symptom of my anxiety disorder and low self-esteem issues. If it doesn’t come quickly and perfectly, I give up or put it aside. Or is it fear of vulnerability, of putting something I’ve spent so many years and years working on out into the world where it may be rejected. Another symptom, or issue – deep, wide, and encompassing rejection and abandonment issues.
I’’m listening to Liz Phair. It started because I was doing a write-up on Whip-Smart which led me into a nostalgic spin in her first three albums. The ’90s were all about me and my love of female musicians. It was Lilith Fair and Riot Grrrls nearly 24/7. I was in my twenties. I was a mess. I was lost and found and all those things in-between. I was questioning everything about myself – my sexuality, my relationships, my dreams, my body. I was rash and bold and brave and spontaneous. I wore my heart dangling on my sleeve. I fell in what I thought was love a lot (it was never love, at least not the big kind, the kind that you hope will last). I broke my so-called heart a lot. I made a ton of mistakes and made a ton more changes. I met some amazing people who would become some of the best friends I’ve ever had, and most of them lived far, far away from me. The internet and I met (and yes, I fell hard – I was falling hard all the time in the ’90s). And yes, I needed A BIG LOAN FROM THE GIRL ZONE (to quote Tori, though I am listening to Liz right now).
I think of the characters I’m playing with. I decided to kill one recently, though I don’t know how I’ll be able to do it as I love him so very much. I became reacquainted with another character this week, one I’d thought not to touch again, but she showed up all smiles and issues and stories to tell. She is the most like me (if it could be memoir I’d let it, but there is so much fear in that for me – so she stays in the land of creative non-fiction/fiction, for now), which often makes her the hardest to write.
I need to take more photographs of places I want to eke out as setting and space. Honing my skills of setting and space, of being able to bring them both to life in a way that the reader can feel and see and smell and maybe even taste the surroundings is something I’m focusing attention on right now. It’s not a strong suit, and I don’t want to over-do it, but I want to get better at it.
Visuals are a big thing to me, so I feel like a good practice would be to take photos and use them as writing prompts. See how much I can describe a place or space. Get down to the tiniest details, but also swoop in from an aerial view. I think it might help.
I wish I could sleep more. That insomnia would ease up a bit. That I wouldn’t finally fall into that delicious level of sleep where dreams come right before my damn alarm is set to go off. I walk around most days now feeling like a “walker”, shuffling from work to school to home to another failed attempt to sleep again.
I close my eyes and all the characters come to life. Stories unfold, plots and dialogues and things that I don’t want to quiet because I need them. But could they just take a night or two off from my brain? Let Ladysleep and I have a two-night affair or something?
“Supernova” by Liz Phair
from the album, Whip-Smart (1994)
When I was a young girl I collected Barbies, and other trademarked dolls, usually representing a movie or television character, like Princess Leia, all three Charlie’s Angels, or Cher. I had boxes of clothing for them, a bright pink jeep and a lemon yellow motor home, and the ultimate “dream house” which had cut out holes in the roof for my hands to reach in, but no stairs or doors to any of the rooms. I had a few “men“, too, Ken with his “real” looking hair and smooth “boy mound“, and Han Solo who had painted on hair, and the outlines of a muscular frame, but still no “boy parts“.
Those men were all sexless and the women made-up in impossible curves and permanent, high heel posturing, forever standing on tiny tip-toed feet that would never hold up those unrealistic proportions. These dolls were supposed to reflect life, to be something to aspire to, some kind of ideal for young girls, but what kind of dream life were they instructing us to strive towards?
The boy next door used to come over and play dolls with me. He always chose the motor home to be his “home“, always chose Han Solo, and two out of three of the Angels to ride along with him. I took the dark haired, discarded Angel, and the floppy-haired Ken, changing his name and giving him a guitar to hold. I would take the “Dream house“, spending an hour setting up the rooms, sorting through clothing and tiny table settings, while my neighbor friend sped off down the hardwood hallway, and sometimes out our backdoor, going “four-wheeling” in the overgrown lawn.
Once my house was complete, once my character’s life seemed set-up and ready to go I would feel the inevitable let down. Though I was great at coming up with stories and scenarios, I felt worn out, tired, and restless. I would abandon the rock star and his brunette wife in their house of dreams and follow my friend outside, saying “hey, you want to play something else?”, and we would move on, starting again on something new. The joy for me was in the beginning, the readying for whatever we were about to do, the first moves on the board, the initial doling out of roles.
My follow-through sucked even then.
My first day fever lit me up through my adolescence. The first day of school jitters were the ones that got my heart racing, all those clean sheets of paper, too hot sweaters for a Southern California September, and new plastic smell of three-ring binders. My goals were all shiny and new, full of good intentions and determination. That fever would infect me into adulthood, all those number 1’s on the calendar feeling like a new chance, to lose weight, to work on that novel, to pay attention more, to do better, to be better, to change. All those first kisses and swear to God promises of love, the “I do’s” that would turn into “I don’t’s” when the “new car smell” wore off, when the house was set-up and the reality of living in it set in.
Maybe I should have chose the house on wheels so I could keep on moving.
The proverbial “they” say it is my fear of failure that keeps me from staying the course, my fear of abandonment and of being wrong. “They” say it is part of my anxieties, my survivor scars, to want to keep moving, to keep changing, to keep hiding inside the starting over. I get the itch, sometimes three years in, sometimes three months, sometimes three days, and when it comes I cannot control it. I lie in bed, sleepless, my skin on fire. I itch and itch until I bleed, until the pale turns to pink, blood pooling under my nails, every exposed part of me bee stung sore. I try to ignore it, close my eyes and make it all turn dark and numb, wrapping the blanket around me like a cocoon, like a tomb, but I can’t contain it, the desire to start something all over again.
Hiding behind the blanket doesn’t make this monster go away.
Maybe that is the appeal of writing for me. The empty screen or blank sheets a canvas to scrawl a number 1 on, to create a new “dream” life on, to pen my next escape without actually leaving. It is me calling out into the yard that I want to play something else, the me that wants to put on another itchy sweater paired up with a shiny character lunchbox and ready myself for notes and tests and some kind of success, the me who looks into another set of eyes and thinks, yes, this one, this is the one.
I suppose that is why I started this blog in the first place, a created space that seconds as my escape hatch, my start over steam engine, my forever first day to fill up a “dream” self in. The girl with the itch to change waving from the words, sending her regards to her “real” life, painting girls with their feet flat on the ground and waist lines that are sometimes indistinct to curves that make sense, and boys and girls who have all their parts that they use, and don’t use, at their own volition, all the pretty and the ugly and the in-between right there, right now.
This is the me I’m writing today, though I may want to be someone else tomorrow.
Apply Some Pressure :: Maximo Park
Perhaps I should have been a therapist. I have always been able to read people quickly, a skill that came from being the shyest one in the room as a child and adolescent, and also, I think, from seeing so much darkness as a child in people, seeing what they were capable of. I also know that it was honed even further in my late teens and early twenties both from my acting classes and from successfully hiding a drug habit. Trust me, learn to lie well and you will know how to read people well. Perhaps that would not go down in the books of advice oh “how o get along with others”, but those are the things that made me as intuitive with others as I am.
I know that my way with people has helped me in my career. I fell into the industry I work in by accident, or without real planning, and because I knew the best way to talk to people and caught on to what they were like, and what they liked. I was able to learn and grow, with the help of people who felt understood, and who then perceived a kinship with me, which subsequently motivated them to mentor me. I suppose it could be taken as dishonesty or manipulation, but I have never gone at it from that approach, it is just a part of me, of who I am, that gets how to connect and see people beneath their exteriors. I wear masks myself, and painted on disguises, so perhaps that’s why I know how to see through them.
The downside can be that people are drawn to me in a sometimes unbalanced way. They see an intimacy between us that only comes from their side as I am very selective of who I open up to, and who I trust with the self that lies behind my exterior. I am well versed in sharing parts of me, often in a very raw and personal way, but they are just parts and not wholes. In that sharing, though, the other person often feels they know me because I am allowing them to be known, sometimes in ways that no one has taken the time or effort to know them.
This perceived intimacy though, because it is not a shared feeling, ends often in misunderstanding and hurt. It has caused people to cross boundaries with me, declare unrealistic things about me, profess love or at least best friendship, and expect the same in return. It is that expectation that has done the most damage, and has put a lot of responsibility on my shoulders. It has been the cause of physical and emotional damage, and of a lot of heartache, tears, anger and grief.
Maybe I’m the one at fault here. Is it wrong to know how to get people to open up, and use it? Does it make me like the Allison Reynolds character inThe Breakfast Club, who is able to get the Claire Standish character to admit to being a virgin, which you know Allison already saw in Claire, by making herself seem open and intimate in her lies (or were they lies? Something I have often wondered about the Allison character, maybe they were not lies at all but things from her past she wanted someone to know, but then quickly denied them when they were out in the open).
I do not intend to crack people open and make them bleed out their emotions and secrets, or do I subconsciously need it to happen? It is part of my deep rooted control and trust issues that fuel me needing to know about others, while keeping so much of myself in check? Does it make me feel safe? Needed? In control? Secure? Do I need them to trust me as much as they need to trust? Has it become some kind of mixed up way to feel love, and loved?
Would it have been better if I had become a therapist, using the skill to its potential professionally, while trying to keep it far from my personal life? Or is this something that I need to discuss with my own therapist?
Save Me (live) :: Aimee Mann