Pioneers pt. 2
I’ve been attracted to big cities since I was a child. Skylines awe me the same way pyramids must have stunned the Egyptians. I kept looking out of the back window of the bus until the last red light on top of the last tower blinked out. I felt a sense of loss as I hunkered down for the ride.
I didn’t feel like looking anyone in the face so I stared at their feet. I’d try to guess the person that belonged to the shoes. Then I’d look up to so how right or wrong I was. I didn’t know these people. I didn’t know their lives. I stopped the game when I realized we are all going through our own shit. I better figure out my shit before I worry about anyone else’s.
The sign on the bank said 7:24 when we passed by. I was in so much trouble. I walked very slowly towards the house. If I could have turned and ran into the woods and never come back I would have done so but I needed my bed. I needed a roof over my head. I needed to endure whatever bullshit was waiting for me on the other side of that front door.
My hand had just started to turn the knob when the door swung open. Mom was standing in front of me with her arms crossed in front of her chest in an effort to appear squat and immoveable. I could see Jenny and LJ in the hallway behind her. Their faces told me this was bad. They looked panicked like they were being forced to witness a great tragedy. I could see Todd sitting in chair in the living room. He didn’t look at me. He stared off into space. He was listening for his cue to jump into the fray. The stage had been set.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Mom was almost smug when she asked this. I am quite sure I saw a smile emerge from the corner of her mouth. She knew something funny but she was waiting for the set up before delivering the punchline.
“I’m going to get something to eat, watch a little tv and go to bed.” I chose to act oblivious but inside I was churning.
“No you’re not.” She was milking it for dramatic affect. “You don’t live here anymore.”
I know that made her happy. She had been thinking about it for a long time and was waiting for just the right moment. Here it was. I saw it coming but chose to ignore it as a real possibility, probably because I could think of no alternatives. Even so I thought I had until graduation or at the very least my eighteenth birthday in March. I needed to plead for time.
“Why are you doing this?” My voice cracked and chirped. I could feel seventeen years of frustration and anger well up inside me.
“You are a bad kid. You have terrorized this family long enough. We had a talk and we don’t want you here anymore.” She wanted to make it seem like a group effort but it was all her. Jenny and LJ were crying now. They didn’t want any part of this. Todd’s opinion didn’t count.
I rationalized, “I need a place to live. I’m still in school. How can I go to school if I’m homeless? I’d planned to move out in the summer. Can we wait until then? Please?”
She was hearing none of it. “I talked to the school today. They called me at work they said you hadn’t been going. You don’t go to school.”
“I skipped today because I was upset and I left early a couple other days. I won’t miss anymore. I need to graduate. I’m going to focus the rest of the year. Maybe get into college.”
“You are not smart enough to go to college. I sure as hell am not paying for it.” That was nasty. I couldn’t win this fight and all she wanted to do was stand there and insult me until I left. The realization of this took the wind out of me. I gave up.
“Well, let me get my things.” I needed clothes and I had five hundred dollars stashed in my room. I wasn’t going leave without my money.
“You don’t have any things here. I own everything in this house.”
I suppose the first thought I had was that she was going to steal my money. She might have stolen it already. Either way I wasn’t going to tell her I had it. “I can’t wear the same jeans forever. And shirts. I need shirts too.”
Her demeanor was imperious. “I will decide what you can have and what you can’t have. I am your mother. I make the rules. Not you!”
I was furious. I felt like had had put up with just about enough this. “It’s eight o’clock at night. It’s raining. It’s bad enough that you’re kicking me out and probably fucking up my life in the process because you have anger issues but I now I don’t even get clean socks and undies. I may be a bad kid but what did you do? Did you help or did you make it worse? Do you really think acting like a mean bitch is going to make us a happy family? Everybody in this house is scared of you. I’m scared of you and I will leave and never come back but I am getting my shit first.”
Todd had heard enough and he jumped in between us. “Don’t talk to your mother that way. She told you to leave. I am going to make sure that happens.”
I put two hands on Todd’s chest and threw him out of my way. He fell back and crumbled on the floor. I think everyone thought there was going to be a fight. I thought there was going to be a fight. Todd was all talk.
I turned to mom who was cowering behind Jenny and LJ. “I will be out of here in two minutes.” I walked quickly to my room. I emptied the books out of my backpack and started stuffing it with clothes. I reached under my mattress and much to my relief I felt a wad of cash that I quickly tucked in my front pants pocket.
I could hear mom talking to Todd. “Oh my God! Are you okay honey? Should we call the police.” I guess when he decided to be her guard dog he never thought he’d get bit.
I walked back into the living room. Todd was back in his chair. Mom was at his side. He tried to get up. I was hoping he would.
“Todd, if you get out of that chair I will kick your ass. You are a fucking pussy and I am gone.”
Mom defended him, “You hurt his back. He may not be able to work anymore.”
“I don’t care.” I don’t know what response she was expecting.
“LJ, Jenny, time to say goodbye to your brother. You won’t ever see him again.” It’s weird that she tried to make me feel guilty like I was turning my back on them. They both hugged me and asked me to stay. I told them it wasn’t my choice and made my way out the door.
Before leaving mom took one last shot, “You are no good just like your father.” This was supposed to hurt me and in the past a comment like that would have such is the horrible picture she painted of the father I did not know. I couldn’t let it drop this time.
“Did you kick him out or did he leave you? If you kicked him out then yes I am just like him. And, if he left you then you should know I wish I’d left with him.” Then I poured it on. “I may be the first kid you’ve gotten rid of but after me it‘s gonna be Jenny and then you will turn on LJ because that’s what you do and you can play the sympathy card with your friends and they’ll believe all the outrageous crap you will say about me but when you run out of kids to blame for all your misery they will know it’s you and it’s always been you that was the rotten one in this bunch.”
There was no reply. There were no protestations. There were only eyes staring at me in the awkward silence. I wasn’t upset or even concerned. I walked away exuberant. I was under my own power for once. I felt ten feet tall.
I went out into the night, past the 7-11 and the strip mall. The rain stopped and I felt as if the whole universe was on my side. Whatever happened now, I wasn’t going back. I couldn’t go back. I had to go forward.
I started to sing to myself, “Fuck ‘em all I won’t go back no more, no more, no more.” It was a variation on a Ray Charles song. I sang the refrain over and over. I’d change it up, fast and slow, lounge singer or Judas Priest. No one could hear me over the sound of the cars speeding by. I leaned back on the bus stop bench and howled into the night.
I wondered if I’d ever see this town again. It was great when we lived near Seahurst. Every day I would ride my bike to the park. I’d leave in the morning and come back at dark. It was idyllic. Now I just had Fred Meyer and millions car lots. Neon lights make everything look pale and sickly.
I’d swiped a pack of mom’s cigarettes off a table on my way out, Eve Ultra Light 120’s. They were disgusting. You had to rip the filter off to even hope of getting any nicotine. I chain smoked them. A pile of little white filters gathered on the ground before me.
I got the same bus driver as before and he recognized me. I wanted to tell him all that had gone down since last we met but he wouldn’t want to hear it. Everyone has a crazy story. I’m just like the rest. “Fuck ‘em, fuck ‘em, fuck ‘em all I won’t go back no more”.
I should have been more upset. I’d always been a very emotional child especially if I felt I was being treated unfairly which was often. This time tough, I felt wholly righteous. I wanted to punch the air, kiss a stranger, to dance without music.
I had my next steps figured out. I’d crash with Eric that night. I’d start looking for a room to rent the next day. Then I would find a job. That was the plan.
Jubilation gave way to reality. I needed shelter. I felt exposed wandering around with a backpack full of all my belongings. A shirt sleeve poked out of a seam where I could not close the zipper. I rubbed my hand on the wad of money in my front pocket. The less you have the more precious what you have becomes.
Eric was asleep when I got to his place. He stumbled around looking for a cigarette while I told him what happened. I held out an Eve ultra-light but he knocked it out of my hands. I asked if I could crash at his place till I found my own. Eric pulled open a drawer and threw a shiny key attached to a purple Husky key ring at me. Then in the back he found a box of Egyptian ovals.
He put one in his mouth and handed me my own. They were wide and flat and smelled soft to the nose like sandalwood. They weren’t harsh and sweet like American cigarettes or harsh like the French. Ovals were deep and smooth and loaded with nicotine. I always got a head rush smoking them.
Eric lit his and took a drag. “I hate it here.” He paused to exhale a big cloud of smoke that he let out with a sigh. “I live on a floor full of meathead ROTC guys. They’re useful if I want to start a USA chant but I don’t know them and don’t want to. I don’t know anyone on any of the other floors. The people I know from class all live in faraway dorms or off campus. I don’t have any study groups because I don’t trust anybody else’s notes. Basically, I have the same number of friends I had in high school except I only see them occasionally. Stay the whole year if you want.”
I was greatly relieved. I never doubted Eric would come through for me but I didn’t expect the invitation. A sense of ease returned to me. It had been a roller coaster of a day and I felt tired. We smoked a little weed and finished our cigarettes.
While I unpacked Eric named off all the secret places he thought we should get high. We weren’t potheads. We didn’t own Camaro’s and listen to AC/DC. The purpose of getting high was not to party it was to experience. It was to change perception. That’s the lie we told ourselves. The truth is we smoked pot for the same reason everyone else smokes pot. It feels good and it makes it easy to laugh and if your life is full of crippling bullshit you need to find a way to smile.
It was getting late and we were kind of loud so when Gina knocked on the door we obviously thought we were busted. Eric grabbed the air freshener and started spraying it wildly around the room. I didn’t know whether or not I should be there. Eric pushed me into the closet and shut the door. He turned off the light in the room and opened the door slowly. “Hello?” he mumbled like a man woken from a deep sleep.
“You are in so much trouble.” As soon as I heard her voice I knew who it was. I stayed hid until she was completely in the room then sprung forth. She screamed, which everybody must have heard at 1:45 in the morning, and gave me a big hug. She whispered in my ear, “I miss you.” I could have stayed just like that all night and did not want to let go.
It had been weeks since I’d seen Gina. She’s died her blonde hair Sunkist orange and was wearing a new army jacket but otherwise it was the same Gina. The back of her coat had a Dead Kennedy’s logo that she had drawn herself. She let me hold it while she made herself comfortable. I admired her craftsmanship.
I gave her an abbreviated version of my story. I wasn’t in getting deep about it. She was really excited about me staying with Eric. The universe was conspiring to keep us together. Maybe getting kicked out of my house was a good omen.
Gina reached into the oversized bag she brought with her and pulled out a forty ounce bottle of Old English. “You guys can drink this while I take a shower.”
Eric grabbed the bottle and cracked the screw top slowly to draw out the hiss as long as possible. “Bathrobe’s in the closet along with the towels. If you’re doing laundry too I have many quarters.”
Living on the streets is something of a misnomer. Gina always had places where she could crash but sometimes the power would be turned off or there’d be too many kids packed into too small of a place. Eric’s had become a refuge for her. She would drop by every week or so. It had become routine.
I will admit I was a jealous of Eric where Gina was concerned. He was a funny good looking guy with a bright future. I could never take care of Gina the way he could, the way I wanted to. Then again, I don’t know if she wanted someone to take care of her. She never had before.
Gina came back with her wet hair dripping water.
“I stole some bitch’s shampoo and conditioner.” She announced. “It was the good shit. I couldn’t resist. Here, smell it.”
She shoved her mop head in my face. Eric laughed and she got him too then shook like a dog until little droplets covered everything in the room.
I was still trying to catch my breath when Gina sat next to me and perched a leg across mine.
“I shaved too. Check it out.”
I tried to not let my hand tremble as it ran down her calf. I know this was flirting and she was fully aware how it affected me but if I ever called her on it she’d cut me off. The tease was an end unto itself and she liked to see if she could break my cool. I let my hand linger a little too long and she pushed it off. Game over.
We spent the next couple of hours smoking weed, drinking, and getting generally twisted. The three of us talked incessantly about nothing really at all. Good conversation is not about things, it’s about tone, rhythm, and shared breathing. We achieved synchronicity.
Once her clothes were done Gina got dressed and folded everything that went in her bag. I assumed I would be sleeping on the floor. There were only two single size beds and Eric was already passed out in his and Gina had claimed the other. I started to look for something to put on the hard linoleum floor but instead she pulled me next to her and lying on my side she spooned me with one hand draped across my chest. It was the best sleep I ever had.