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)
The Morning After
“It’s been three months since she last picked me up. Three. It was April. Late April, I think. It wasn’t raining though.” musicforthemorningafter murmurs to himself, leaning his vinyl frame to the left, his soft tones trying to shutter up hurt like an unwanted, too sunny morning.
It’s midnight though, with no sun to speak of. Instead, there’s rain, a lot of it, three days and four nights of it, despite the cliché that it never rains in Southern California.
“Hey, I’m not a cliché!” It Never Rains in Southern California interjects, reacting defensively from the right side of the crate. Insulted.
musicforthemorningafter doesn’t respond, or maybe he just doesn’t hear It Never Rains in Southern California, at all. He’s too busy fixating on her. On the lack of her. On how long it’s been since he’s seen her.
For years he’d held claim to her heart. He’d been loved like that childhood stuffed bunny with the torn ear and worn patches. He’d been held close like a lover whose meant to stay the course and played much more than often. It seemed like they were “meant to be”, another over-used cliché, yes, but one musicforthemorningafter couldn’t help believe in. He thought she’d keep spinning him until he was old and worn out. Until he couldn’t play any longer.
All the others in the green milk crates envied him. They fall all over each other, whispering, conspiring, pointing out all his flaws.
“Track six is trite. Repetitive,” Tidal says, stroking her long, straight hair and wrapping invisible arms around all her emotional depth.
“That fifth song always makes her cry. I never make her cry. Never, never ever.” London Calling brags, holding himself up straighter, chin jutting defiantly, fist-raising, vying to be the tallest in the row.
“Love is fleeting. You should know that by now,” Substance says, sorrowfully singing how love tears them all apart.
“You never were all that,” Rio says smugly. “She was mine in her awkward years. She left lipstick marks on me. Daily. Played me while she touched herself, pretending it was me. None of you will ever have fifteen and sixteen. I was her first.”
It had all happened so suddenly, musicforthemorningafter thought. He’d been her early mornings, her long afternoons, her off-to-dreamland lullabies. He’d seen her through two lovers, one failed marriage, and a six-month stint of self-imposed isolation.
She’d had two hair colors, one car crash (well, one and a half), three jobs, and one rent-controlled apartment since they’d met – all with his songs as her soundtrack.
Sure, she’d had flirtations with others in the crate. Some were best when she’d had too much to drink. Another set was just right when she wanted to wail and thrash her body around the room, crashing her right knee on the coffee table’s edge, or falling hard just to get back up again. Two were for tears, another for disappointment, and that one she hardly grabs for, she was meant for shame and sorrow. Afterward, though, she’d stash them all back in the crate, especially that latter one. I mean no one wants to replay their low points too soon.
Afterward, she’d always reach back in again – for him.
His songs crossed boundaries and moods. They could weave through almost all her good and bad days. He fit right into nearly all her “somethings”. She knew all his words, sang-a-long to each and every song, wrote them down in bound notebooks, and even had one from that so-called “trite” track tattooed on the inside of her left arm.
Take that, Tidal.
But something has changed. Something big.
It feels like she’s gone.
He has no one to talk to about it though. All those years as her beloved, as her favorite, has isolated him from all the others. Or, maybe he did it to himself. Puffing his chest out, taking up more space than his double-sleeve requires, boasting the scrawled signature across his front side, the fingerprints – her fingerprints – that pattern across his grooves. He’s let it all grow into a self-satisfied smile. He’s let it take him over. He loves being her number one. More than that, he’s felt happy, never needing anyone else’s soft touch, no one else’s but hers. He’ll wait here though. He’ll wait forever if he has to. Poised and ready for her red-lipped pucker, and that slightly out-of-tune voice that is unmistakably hers.
Even on her worst days, she is beautiful to him.
Even on her worst days, he has been who she’s reached for and clung to.
“Maybe you should dye your cover, redecorate, change your style,” Hunky Dory muses. “The universe is full of inspiration, possibility, infinite ways to be.”
“She’ll never love you back,” Songs of Love and Hate says. “I’ve been around a good long time. Been with three other beauties. It always ends. They always break our hearts.”
musicforthemorningafter doesn’t heed the advice or warnings. He brushes off their suggestions and opinions, assuring himself that he is different.
She is different.
But is she?
He traces back the days before this shift, rewinds them like the old cassette relics that came before him. Black Celebration and Purple Rain have told him about those “early days”, how their sonic ancestors had been smaller, their insides visible, and easily torn.
All the others in the crate, they are made to last longer. Their outsides stronger, their internal vulnerabilities nearly impenetrable. Vinyl forever – right?
He can hardly picture what that must have been like. All he’d ever had to contend with were the smaller versions of himself, still circular, but brighter, lighter, and easier to snap in two. She had one of him like that – a CD version – its case was cracked from rolling around in her car’s backseat floor.
He knows she prefers the weight he offers, his raw sound, the turn of each side. She loves to flip him over, and then over again.
Back before April, in those last leading up days, she had started to leave them all alone, sometimes for days on end. She would throw him on before leaving, turning him up loud enough to shake the wall behind where he plays. She’d rush around, manically grabbing at this and that, singing with him the entire time. But more often than not she’d only get through track three before she’d turn him off again. Leaving him face up and naked, lying in wait, his cover abandoned far across the room, open wide on the worn, second-hand couch.
“She’s in love,” The Libertines (self-titled) said, English accent heavy on the ‘ove, as the two symbiotic singers lean in closer to each other, playing at being in love themselves, to illustrate their point.
Is that what this is?
Is that what has happened to her?
But, he’d been there for love before. Twice. Three times maybe. Hadn’t he? They’d come and gone, like pop songs, addictive, sugar-sweet, and hot as hell, until she couldn’t bear them anymore.
He was always there afterward. To cleanse her palate. To sate her after their new smell wore off. Hell, he’d even been part of a few initial seductions. She’d used track two on quite a few “I’m falling for you” playlists, carefully positioning his song on one of those cyclical discs to give the new guy. Once she played his whole first side when she’d brought one of them home.
Whoever this one is he’s never come home with her. She’s never recorded any of his tracks for him. She’s never taken him along with her, either. Not even once.
Weeks have gone by. Dust is starting to settle on his sleeve. Tiny flakes slipping through, threatening to colonize each groove. He tries to shake them off, leaning further to the right side, rubbing against the crate’s hard plastic.
He is starting to lose count of how many days she’s been gone.
The other’s are starting to take notice, too. Silence turning into a kind of fading. The window above them, the one with the broken shade, brings in the hard mid-day sun. One day after another, and another, and another. Soon they will all lose their color, their shape, maybe even their sound.
He can barely remember what her touch feels like.
Then suddenly, unexpectedly, he hears her. Feels her as she slides him out from the crate – oh so carefully.
Is he dreaming?
Her hands are cold, damp, shaky. Her eyes are wide and rimmed in red, her skin is a pale pallor except for the lines of inky tears that snake down each cheek. Her breathing sounds labored, ragged, as she breathes in, then out again. musicforthemorningafter wants to say something to her. Tell her how much he’s missed her. Ask her where she’s been. Say “are you okay?”
But they don’t speak the same language. Not in words, at least.
She starts with the last track. “A Girl Like You”. Each line, each lyric, says everything he can’t. She sits as close as she can get to the song, laying him softly in her lap, swaying, and singing-softly-a-long.
More tears come. They slip into each word she sings. And when the track is over she plays it again. Then once more still.
Maybe this is goodbye.
Maybe she’s back…for good.
He doesn’t notice the boxes that show up over the next few days. He doesn’t pay attention to how she packs them, carefully, one-by-one. Shutting them up tightly with thick, clear tape. musicforthemorningafter doesn’t care to notice anything besides the fact that she’s back, that she’s playing him again – a lot. And that the others are all green as the crates themselves. Jealous once again.
He does notice the sun’s warmth when it hits him though. How glaring it is as she holds him close and carries him outside. The heat beats down on him as she lays him gently on a plaid woolen blanket.
The others are here, too. All of them. He sees them starting up into the sun as she picks him up again.
“This was my favorite,” she says, softly.
musicforthemorningafter has no time to consider her words as another set of hands take hold of him. Rougher hands. Much bigger than hers. He has no time to look at her – one last time – before he’s turned over and tucked under an arm.
Songs of Love and Hate’s words echo back in his memory. “She’ll never love you back.”
“I love that one so much, but there’s no room for my records at his place,” she explains. Her voice cracking, “you’ll love it, too.”
He has no time to tell her he’s loved her, too. That he loves her now. That he’ll always love her.
It’s morning. Bright and sunny, with no chance of rain.
Special thanks and credit to the following albums:
musicforthemorningafter by Pete Yorn
It Never Rains In Southern California by Albert Hammond
Tidal by Fiona Apple
London Calling by The Clash
Substance by Joy Divison
Rio by Duran Duran
Hunky Dory by David Bowie
Songs of Love and Hate by Leonard Cohen
Black Celebration by Depeche Mode
Purple Rain by Prince and the Revolution
The Libertines (self-titled) by The Libertines
“A Girl Like You” by Pete Yorn
“It Never Rains In Southern California” by Albert Hammond
“Shadowboxer” by Fiona Apple
“The Guns of Brixton” by The Clash
“Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division
“Lonely In Your Nightmare” by Duran Duran
“Changes” by David Bowie
“Famous Blue Raincoat” by Leonard Cohen
“A Question of Lust” by Depeche Mode
“Purple Rain” by Prince and the Revolution
“Music When the Lights Go Out” by The Libertines
“Lose You” by Pete Yorn
The Morning After – The Mini-Playlist
Working through some character POV pieces for one of the novels I’m working on again. Laney, from This Desert Life (working title).
The art in the header is titled “Alive”, and is by David Fernandez Saez.
This Desert Life (working title)
He handed Laney a penny to put on the train tracks, to damage, to roll over, to imprint like a memory. They sat close together. Waiting, watching, sharing the last cigarette from his pack, two on a match, two on fire.
“The train’s late?” she half-asked, her voice curling into a lyrical lilt, like a spoken question mark, curved, poised, and ready.
So am I, she thought, but didn’t say out loud.
He told her a joke in his broken language, “Spanglish”, his Abuela would say. Laney understand most of the words, she was learning, a little more each day. She practiced at the corner market next to their near-the-border “bungalow” – real estate speak for tiny, broken down shack, the best that minimum wage could afford. She was learning that, too, this living on your own thing.
She laughed, genuinely, the light in his eyes filling in the missing words. She thought he might make a good Father, that he might keep them safe, that he might not make her give it up.
“I love your laugh,” he said, grabbing Laney’s hand, “es lo mejor.”
“Beautiful Feeling” by Polly Jean Harvey, featuring Thom Yorke
from the album, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea (2000)
“Amazing Grace” was her grandmother’s song, not that she knew her, not that she’d ever met her. Laney only knew this fact because on days when their mother had looked so sad, and gotten stuck in that “stare off into the distance” kind of haze, she would start to hum “Amazing Grace”.
Their mother could play it on the guitar, too.
Nights when her father was on another all-night binge her mom would pull out the guitar from the corner, dust it off, tune it, and start to play. Laney and Jack would come in. Jack immediately at her feet, sitting cross-legged or lying on his stomach. He was always so eager with his love, so quick to show it.
Laney, on the other hand, would hesitate in the doorway, one foot in and one foot out, always feeling this overwhelming awkwardness when it was just the three of them. Always so afraid of letting her mother see any of her thoughts or feelings.
On those nights with the guitar, her mother would always start with “Amazing Grace”.
She’d never told Laney about the song, or it’s significance. She’d told Jack, though, and Jack had told Laney after mom disappeared. She knew he’d asked. She knew if she’d ever asked her mother anything, anything at all, she’d have told Laney.
Laney never asked her anything though. She just couldn’t.
Laney knew the town thought her mother was dead. Most nights she hoped she was, and then immediately cursed herself for thinking such horrible things. If she was dead though they could play “Amazing Grace” at the funeral. If she was dead they could cry and say goodbye and have a place to visit her. If she was dead it’d mean she hadn’t left them all alone.
“Amazing Grace” by Judy Collins
from the album, Whales and Nightingales (1970)
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)
(I’ve written many odes and essays, poems and lyrics, and stories about, and within, Los Angeles. This piece started years before, called something different, but with some of the same sentiments and theme. It was time for a revisit, a refresh, and a revision. Another look at me and the city I was born in, and always seem to come back to)
Los Angeles, I’m Yours
Los Angeles as a character, as a love interest, as that unrequited thing that I never quite keep a hold of, as the abusive lover, as the errant mother, as the forgiver of all sins, the desert angel, the city of sin, the bridge between my kind of heaven, and hell.
Los Angeles as my first love, my last love, my true love, my biggest mistake, repeated, re-ran, rinse and run me through again. Los Angeles as regret, as salvation, as part of my goddamn DNA.
Oh, Los Angeles, I’m yours, I’m leaving, I’m coming back, I’m here again.
I think of Trixie and her dream of the South, her lover that the ocean would take, their fantasies of leaving this city lasting longer than they did. Or did Trixie come back? Did she fall for Loring? Not as hard as she did for her “Grace”, but then again, we all only fall that hard once.
But Loring, he was her second best love maybe, in a city that seconded for Los Angeles. Maybe.
Did she learn to hate it as much as LA? Did she come back here, new perspective in the palm of her hand, and say “I’m back, so do your worst.” Or your best? Did her new love, that maybe-second-best-love, see this city differently?
Did she ever end up in the South at all? Or was that all too full of memories, or could-have-been-memories. Can a city be the one that got away?
Los Angeles, she never gets away for long.
Jenny sings about leaving, about returning, about being wrong and cruel, but coming back anyway. The palm trees bow, in reverence? In mockery? In forgiveness? In understanding? Would they leave, too, if they could? Would they ever come back?
I leave so many things only to come right back.
But some I leave, for good. Or, are those things the things, and people, who leave me for good? Do I ever leave anything, for good?
I hold so many memories under my skin. Every kiss, every promise, every lie, and every lover I ever thought was the one, was love, was everything to me. I never completely let them go.
But what is that hold about? Is it the storyteller in me not wanting to lose character and plot points? Is it the nostalgia junkie who can’t stop looking behind her. Tapping the memory vein for one more fix?
Thank god I don’t really believe in a god, at least not the kind who would turn a girl to salt for looking back.
If one of those lovers came back, yes, even the dead one, maybe especially the dead one, would I turn and run? Would I fall back in? Would I let them back in? Are any of them my Los Angeles? Am I any of their city of angels?
I’m itchy now, trigger finger shaking, my hand gripping tight to the steering wheel. It takes all that I am to not keep driving away. I sneer at the street signs, the twilight setting sun, the fucking pink sky, it makes the tears come, fast and hard. I cry for the broken parts of me, for the loss and the stupid dreams that I can’t let go of. I cry for the regrets, for the times I’ve returned, for my lack of being able to ever stay away.
I cry most of all for what I thought this would be.
And I blame you, Los Angeles, I blame you for always bringing me back, for not sending me away, for forgiving me at all.
For instilling in me expectation. The dream of neverending sunny days, of hope, of happy ever after. Why do I ever believe things will last? Doesn’t everyone know that things always wane, turn smoggy and grey, turn away and turn off the lights, the passion, the excitement, the magic?
Why am I the only one to think those things can last forever? Like that Hollywood sign, like the stuck-bowing palm trees, like this goddamn heart of mine.
“Let Me Back In” by Rilo Kiley
from the album, rkives (2013)
Special thanks to Tiffanie DeBartolo and the books God-Shaped Hole (2002) and How To Kill a Rock Star (2005) for the characters mentioned, and for being two of my forever favorite stories, and to Jenny Lewis and Rilo Kiley for a song that felt/feels exactly like me and Los Angeles.
(Girl Versus The F-Word is an older essay piece of mine that was due for a refresh, and revision. It is just as relevant today as it was when I first wrote it, if not more so)
Girl Versus The F-Word
Girl versus “the f-word” is a lifetime battle of wits and sanity that I have been a co-combatant in for nearly all my life. No, not that “f-word”, though I suppose I could write a separate, and equally passionate personal essay on that, as well, and my dealings with it. But, right now I mean a different “f-word”, one that may be more reviled than that other “f-word” ever could be.
Fat is by far more offensive to most people than the word fuck ever could be.
I grew up in a family where the word fat was spoken in whispers, or with wrinkled-up-nose disdain. The first time I remember really hearing it was in the form of a question. I was five years old, and I was with my mother in the early after-kindergarten afternoon. We were walking hand-in-hand in the Alpha Beta parking lot, heading towards the place where the shopping carts were stacked into each other. My mother pointed towards the carts, and specifically towards a woman who was grabbing one of herself. She leaned down towards me and half-whispered the f-word question:
“I’m not as fat as she is. Am I?”
My mother’s voice was shaky, her words sounding uneven and soft, a sharp contrast to her usual loud bellow. I knew even then what the right answer was, whether it be the truth or a lie. I could tell in the pit of my stomach. So, I shook my head back-and-forth and said “no mommy.” I had to repeat it three times, those words of confirmation from five-year-old me, before she seemed to take the words in, sighing louder than her question had been, her breathing beginning to slow.
Looking back at that snapshot memory I don’t even think I understood what “fat” meant, just that it was a bad something that other women had more of than my mother did.
My mother had grown up on a diet. Her mother used dieting as a way to earn anything of value, be it a new coat, a trip to the movies, or a visit from friends. My mother was put on amphetamines as a pre-adolescent to help with the diet regimes, making her jittery and causing her insomnia to worsen, but hey, at least her hunger went away.
The physical kind, at least.
In my house growing-up, there was a new cycle every week. A new game of dieting or binging, food as a constant comforter, or the enemy. I was expected to play along. Sometimes the game consisted of weeks and weeks of celery and assorted “diet” foods, other times it was bags of Lays’ potato chips and brightly colored M&M’s. My mother was my favorite person as a child, so I followed along, every step, every cycle, every new game, as I stared at my own reflection in mirrors and window panes, wondering if all the other girls were “fatter” than me.
At age ten, my mother bought me a Charlie’s Angels lunch box. I remember wanting to be just like them – Kelly (Jaclyn Smith) especially.
Every school day she filled the accompanying Thermos with cottage cheese and yogurt. It was warm and slightly sour by the time lunch would come around.
“Mom, please can you make me peanut butter and jelly?”
“Can I please have a Twinkie, like Alyssa gets?”
Her answer was always the same.
“You don’t want to be fat, do you?”
No was the right answer. I knew that.
So, I would stare at those Angels and think they weren’t fat so I wouldn’t be either.
When I was thirteen a friend of my mother came by, bringing with her a pair of Calvin Klein jeans.
“I’m so proud of you for losing all that baby fat, to celebrate I got these for you.”
We never had money for designer anything, and these were the biggest thing at the private school I attended on scholarship. They were what all the other girls wore. I excitedly squeezed myself into them, struggling, trying the technique of lying on my back to get the zipper up.
There was satisfaction in the effort, an accomplishment in fitting into a size, into a number. I felt anything but the “f-word”. I felt beautiful. It was short-lived though, lasting only about half-way into the next day, at school.
I was standing in front of my locker, treasured jeans hugging my “in the midst of puberty” body when two boys walked by.
“I didn’t know they made Calvin’s for fat girls.”
The words hit like a slap. They stuck in me like a deep knife wound. I felt a poisonous mix of humiliation and anxiety fill up my bloodstream. I wanted to disappear.
It was in the days immediately following that I started seeing how long I could go without eating. And, it was in those days that followed that I started to see myself as that “f-word” every day, and hating myself for it.
The word would get used again by “well-meaning girls” that called themselves friends. They would pinch and pull at their skinny frames, calling themselves the “f-word” then looking to me to do the same. I would try not to stare at their “perfect” bodies in the locker room after P.E. class, while at the same time hide my own body away so they couldn’t see me. There were two girls that were “fatter” than me which made it a little easier to breathe. I started asking myself that question my mother had asked me all those years before, always seeking out the “fatter” in the room to make herself, and now myself, better – ever dreading the day that the “fatter” one would be me.
Many things started to fall into place because of the “f-word”: feeling fat, whether I actually was at the time, or not. The word’s power was impenetrable and rife with self-destruction. I loathed my reflection. But, more than that, I hated who I was on the inside. I would go without eating until my hands shook and my head pounded until the world turned blurry. Only then would I give in, buying food with babysitting money, gorging on candy bars and slice after slice of pizza, then hating myself even more after.
I cut my skin in hidden places. I took the blame for the abuse that was happening to me at home, interpreting it as a sign of how bad I was.
I counted pills from the top shelf of the medicine cabinet, wondering silently how many it would take to make it all stop. To make me stop.
I let boys do whatever they wanted to me too, even if their touch made me feel sick. Even if I felt nothing from them, at all. Somewhere in my head I heard voices chanting:
“I didn’t know boys liked fat girls.”
At nineteen, the funny, white powder I found after my high school days were over made me forget who I was. It also helped me not want to eat much of anything. I smiled at the bones that protruded from my body, those angles were bliss to me, and their presence was as addictive as those chopped up lines of magic. Anyone who I let touch myself then I didn’t feel, couldn’t, not really.
I was miles away from my “finally thin” body.
At twenty-two, a foolish notion of love and the birth of my daughter helped me back into my body again. The boy and I were young, too young for family and parenthood, but there were some good years, years where I forgot about my body completely and just allowed myself to live. It didn’t last though.
It was after that love broke, and a passing stranger’s flippant comment that threw me back into “f-word” fear. This time I crashed into a full-blown eating disorder.
You name it I did it: binging and purging, laxatives by the fist full, obsessive exercising, days of eating nothing but “one bite” of something. Diet Coke was my best friend. The caffeine kept me going, and the carbonation made throwing up easier.
Sometimes, even now, the taste of it after a meal triggers the impulse to get rid of all of it.
Those days back then in the throes of it, I was a weakened shell of a girl. I was in my late twenties, but my body felt decades older. Some days I couldn’t get out of bed. I did though. I had a child to support, a job to go to and no one to help me. I was overwhelmed and over my head with the weight of responsibilities. Controlling my body’s weight was the only sense of control I had.
On a too hot Saturday afternoon, when my daughter was at a rare visit with her Dad, I collapsed in the middle of a grocery store. The woman who helped me drove me and my car home, helped me to my door, holding my hand and sitting with me on my porch, waiting until I could identify which key would unlock my front door.
I look at photos of me from back then and I can barely look at myself. The shadowy eyes, the pain that just reflects off every part of me, how fragile I look.
Only on the once in a while, on a really bad day, do I look at those pictures and wish I was that skinny still.
It was a hospital by the ocean and a remarkable therapist that saved my life (or helped me to save it0. He helped me want to live, while also helping to restore my creative side, and re-introduce me to my writer self.
Writing and music. They saved my life, too. Honestly, they’ve always been saving it.
It was a battle of epic proportions and the memories of it all, how much I had to turn myself inside out to heal, it still shatters me. I have fallen back a few times, but I’ve always gotten back up again. I’m better than I’ve ever been, but it’s still hard as hell. and chaos and crisis, anxiety, or something seemingly small can trigger it all. I still have it in me. I always will. But as of today, I haven’t gone back to full-throttle destruction of my body, and self.
Thing is though, I still have that “f-word” in my head. It still haunts me, taunts me, and makes me think twice about myself. I preach to everyone I know and love to know and love their bodies. I support positive body image, and I strive to change the world and all the body hatred with so much of what I do every day. I am a huge fan, and supporter of body positivity…yet I still struggle with that word.
I still feel judged for the body I reside in, I still feel less than because I’m not skinny, I still struggle to say that its okay for me to be fat because when I do I hear my mother’s voice in my head, and those boys mocking tones, and the countless women’s chorus of diet this and fat that. I still feel a failure for being fat, even though if you asked me to my face, right now, I’d smile and lie and say I love how I look.
I still wonder if I will ever make peace with the “f-word”, and if society ever will. Or is it a word whose power I will fight and fear forever (oh look, three more f-words).
“Beautiful Girl” by INXS
from the album, Welcome To Wherever You Are (1992)
Now Hear This :: Brian Matthew :: Now Is Good
Discovering music is a favorite pastime of mine, one that has taken a bit of a pause of late due to the push and pull of the holiday season, as well as some personal shifts and changes that had me burning the proverbial candle at both ends. But, as the year winds down, and the air clears, I find myself diving back into my quest for new sounds and wanting to share the gems I pick up along the way. So, settle down somewhere comfortable and prick up your ears, because some new, and some new-to-me music, will be coming this way over the next week, and well into the new year, when this space will be buzzing and spinning on the regular again.
As the sun is setting just outside my favorite window, the air warmer than its been lately, but still with a wisp of Southern California December slight chill, I find myself listening repeatedly to track 4 and 5 of a new CD that fell into my hands this week. I keep trying to weigh in on which of the two songs are my favorite, but honestly I just can’t say. They seem to flow into each other perfectly, swirling about in my ears while I watch the world outside turn on, the moon taking over and saying “goodnight” to the sun.
“Trailer Man” feels like a ride through the desert, the long stretches ahead and behind, the unknown just off the next exit, my gypsy soul turning the volume up while getting lost in that very best way. There is something late seventies in the vibe that permeates from this track, something reminiscent of the songs from the Laurel Canyon era, a little Crosby and Nash, a little Morrison and Manzarek, and a little Taylor and Mitchell. There is definitely a bit of Steely Dan in here, too (like I said, late seventies), and peel back the surface a little further, too, and there is definitely a Grateful Dead sensibility going on here which flows beautifully into that next track I find myself so fond of.
Passion & Chemistry
“Passion & Chemistry” take a slight turn from that desert road, upping the tempo just a bit, and pulling the sun out from behind the clouds. There is a sense of the ocean here, of movement and color. That Dead sensibility I mentioned before takes a harder hold of the reigns with this track, so much so that if you close your eyes you can almost see the crowds gathering, hands reaching out to smoke and sing and dance. This one almost requires getting up and taking the car out for a drive, turning the wheel to face the sun’s descent, hopefully somewhere over the ocean. Perhaps a drive to Venice Beach is in order with this one blasting out the open window.
Track 10, “Groovin’ On” is a close second (or is it third?) favorite on this album. Definitely the “jamiest” on the album, I’m tempted to play this one right after track 5, as it feels almost organic to come after “Passion & Chemistry”. Although this is a Winter discovery for me, I can’t help but think the entire album is ready made for a late Summer getaway. I may just have to have this on hand, and plan a slightly out of season road trip somewhere.
The album, “Now is Good” is available at iTunes here. Brian is a local Los Angeles singer-songwriter who also plays with the local band Harmonious Fits. You can catch up with where to see them, and listen to some other music on Facebook here.
If you are in the Los Angeles area you should start off your new year with some live music and check out the next Harmonious Fits show in Santa Monica, on January 2nd, at TR!P.
Grow With Me :: Harmonious Fits
“After so many words,
still nothing’s heard –
don’t know what we should do.”
These silences break like the late arrival of an October morning
the sun a sudden shock to the system
like the vibrating sound of my 5am alarm
shattering a dream I was having
of you lying next to me
I will only half-remember it in an hour
hazy images weaving in-between the lyrics
of a first played song
Your smell lasting longer
then any subliminal shade of brown eyes
I swear you still linger
in these thread-counted sheets
in the tangled tendrils
of my outgrown hair
In the contents of last thoughts before sleep
and in the first glimpses of another day
But there’s nothing left for us to say
we made choices
choosing not to wait
a path of settling safely holding you bak
No morning light can break what’s come
no memory recall or half played song
the only thing left is to step out the door
squint at the beckoning sunlight
whisper I wish this was never our goodbye
Lost in the Light :: Bahamas
from the album, Barchords (2012)
Keep Art Alive :: Art by Sanithna Phansavanh
“I love you,
standin’ all alone in a black coat.
I miss you,
I’m goin’ back home to the West Coast.”
There are ways we decide to express ourselves; be it in the way we write, talk, think, dream, invest our time, or as I tend to do, more often than not, through the music we listen to. I may wake up with invisible tape over my lips, rendering me silent and wordless, but what spins in my car’s stereo, or pours out of my headphones, well that’s where most of my truths may lie. Sometimes, I get lost in the twists and the turns of a simple lyrical refrain, other times the pleas of a singer wailing into the mic reduces me to a pool of tears, or brings on such strength and renewal that I swear I can fly.
Inside of songs I often hide confessions, longing and unnamed pain. It seems easier to tuck them away in a melody, throwing them out into the ether of existence and airwaves – the music holding tight all my secret wishes, keeping them safe and sound. Sometimes, I tie ribbons around the songs, leave soft kisses on the curve of each note, sliding them into a brown-paper package and sending them off to the hands, and ears, of someone else. They are my gifts of heart and mind, they are my love, my anger, my logic, my imagination, my emotional insides, and my dreams. Music is connection to me, and if the receiver is too far away to touch, well then the songs are my offered hand-to-hold, my fingers entwining with theirs, my arms wrapping around them in a long embrace.
At times, the songs are enough to fill the ache and the pull of distance and regrets. Other nights, though, they are the strung-out reminders of a damaged heart awash in loneliness. The liner notes are etched in a scrawl too convoluted to see clearly, but if I could make out the words they would sound something like “I miss you, I wish you woulda put yourself in my suitcase.“
And your unwritten replies? Well, I imagine them alight in the burned spirals of that CD you sent me once; the one I still carry around with me, everywhere.
West Coast :: Coconut Records