chapter one: she's lost control (august 1991)
fifteen minutes left. i count them on a salvation army man’s watch, scratched on the face. sometimes i pretend that it was his. sent back from a war, or a peace march. contradictions aside, the impossibility prevails. that he exists at all, past faded photographs with ruffled shirts; prom night tuxedo, and that big hair picture of mom, looking younger than eighteen. he had scared as hell eyes. i was his little girl, once. waiting by the screen door, pleading for his arrival. my knuckles bleeding and raw, after he stopped coming home, at all. she insists that everything healed up fine, that i was better for all of it. the leaving, the going on, raising her on the way. band-aids over failed marriages, a baby brother. breakdowns. break-ups. drunken calls from i don’t know where i am. an adolescent raising an adolescent, in reverse.
this band is worn. it leaves stains on my skin sometimes, when i drive home with my arm out the window, capturing wind waves, with the radio turned up high. at the spin of a bottle, the turn of a dial, i could just keep driving all the way past the familiar off-ramps. there is nothing waiting at home for me, at least nothing unexpected, or new. his breath on the back of my neck, hot and stale, smelling of motorcycle gas fumes, marlboro reds, and late night bottom of the pot denny’s coffee. lying opposite his face. lying. away. i watch the shadow of false dance on the wall. i can count to ten once, and then backwards, flutter my eyelashes, three sighs, and it's done. then he’ll pass out next to me, snoring too close to my ear, as i teeter to close to the edge of the bed, gripping the sheets to barely hang on. this is as far as i can go without giving notice; two weeks, or otherwise. i stare at the wall still, sleepless, my legs sticky. if i move to take a shower he might wake, or i might just let myself slip down the drain, and empty out into the ocean.
i turn the page down. he tells me that dog-eared books lose their value. that people will notice the carelessness when they borrow a book, or just pick it up and page through, that they will see. but, he’ll never see this one. i can hear in my head how he’d scoff at it, shake his head and say that this is what too much television will do to you. he'll hand me yet another copy of crime and punnishment, pat my head; only two years younger and still i’m supposed to play the role of jake’s little girlfriend. as if he can read the abandonment in my eyes, that need for a father figure, twisted and recalled, recoiled. the fact lost on him that sometimes i read trash like v.c. andrews because i need that taste of poison to fill in the empty spots, to make my own family attic look clearer, saner, less cracked and torn. the page rips as i fold it, my hands betraying me again. i check for scars, for the story they tell, i see nothing.
i walk outside, fish my sunglasses out of the bottom of my bag. where is my lighter? the pink one with glitter. the one i bought this morning. that guy behind the counter wears too much cologne, i think. he smells like the guys who work downstairs, or the ones who dance at rage. (he never wore that much). he said to me, with a smirk. “you like the pink one? not black?” i laugh. roll my eyes. palm the green one, also with glitter, on my way out. he doesn’t notice. his eyes are locked on my breasts the whole time he talks to me, watching the rise and fall of my breathing, the noticeable cold morning air that my sweater cannot disguise. the lighters remind me of mixed tapes. all those trips up the coast, the way robert’s tongue felt in my mouth; ever promising things he would never deliver. i can almost hear the way our voices intertwined then, all those secrets kept, and shared. and, the hiccups of betrayal, just like these petty theft lapses of mine. his predilection for giving blow jobs to boys was right there with my constant study in the arts of denial. i’m still good at it. lying just seeps out from my pores.
i was supposed to forget about him. i was supposed to have left all that unopened hesitation behind me, like the abandoned blank walls that i stripped the posters off of, leaving only that sticky tape residue behind. i packed up all those boxes, loaded them into the borrowed office furniture truck, take them to his apartment. i knew that i was leaving pieces of me in the floorboards of my childhood bedroom, and in the back seat of my broken down first car. a hundred dollars from the junk yard was what offered me for her. “but you’ll have to drive it here yourself”. drop her off and walk away. might as well have pushed her off a cliff with me tied to the back bumper. the rear view mirror pops off easily, i should have told them, and has razor blade scratches, unique grooves in the glass. i wish i had a line right now; that familiar burn.
maybe i could pack everything back up and just say i changed my mind. take back the middle of april, too. jake’s birthday present. how i had faked it even back then. his hand yanking my head back, my hair rough through his fingers. i had opened my eyes wide and focused on the pain, the map on the wall, that faint smell of burnt toast. i could hear his mother in the kitchen. he wanted the escape hatch, too. the reason to leave.
my lips feel chapped. raw. i bite down anyway and taste the metallic sting of blood. count to ten and its over. happy birthday, baby (he isn’t you). i sit down against the wall, run my hand slowly across the stucco, feel the slight tug on my skin, the rough exterior pull. how easily we can tear, bleed, and heal over again. i'm an expert at looking good as new, at least on the surface. i pull my knees to my chest, rest my chin. my torn black stockings show from the small gap between skirt and boots. i picked them up off the floor by the window, had slid them on with shaky hands. the gentle grasp required for fabric so vulnerable, sheer, fragile. my fingers could just push through, and rip everything to shreds, even if my nails are bitten down to the quick. my finger tips always have that slight pink tinge of abuse. my zipper catches, snagging, another run up my leg. but, no one sees it. i pull the edge of my skirt down lower and fold my body up closer into myself. inhale, flick. i’m tempted to touch my flesh with fire just to feel something besides this lump of doubt in my throat.
the weight of not saying anything is like the nagging sound of an invisible clock, ticking incessantly. as if that big clock in peter pan was buried in the deepest parts of my insides. big ben, yeah? i forgot my pixie dust along the way, though. i have forgotten how to fly.
he will tell me this is just another way to prove my immaturity, that it is so ordinary to stumble this way. to have this conversation at all will seem so unnecessary, to him. we just unpacked, hammered nails into the walls. hold it still, lucy. stop shaking. not there. here. didn’t you study the floor plan i drew up? pin your hair up next time. you know how it makes your neck look longer. now this picture over here. the couch there. i am just part of the drawing. the sketch of a life in his black bound book. journal #26. "you are in these pages, don’t worry", he assures me in that lowered tone. through his own puffs, and exhales. he will say there is no room here, for this. that’s why my desk had to go, my school schedule, and my college education. school is just someone else’s view of the world, we will make our own; the two of us. i’ll show you how it will all work out. my own design. his own design. his. the two of us. two.
standing up i feel slightly dizzy. this skirt is perfect for spinning, hands behind my back while i let myself go. i can hear the music swell in my ears. close my eyes and i can feel the sky dim, turn itself into night. the stars dot a path, carve out a perfect space. my heart pulses as i let the imagined thump of music course through me and thin my blood. my feet just walk forward, though, even as i try to grab onto the nearest lamp post, phone booth, stranger’s arm.
i need that kind of darkness that a small club with a membership desk at the front gifted me once. i long for that sort of anonymity, and knowing. the kind of trouble I could drum up back then didn’t play out like this in the end, the screen flickered and reflected back these easier to mend snags, and missteps. i would turn myself inside out and back again. find a pathway, a bathroom stall, a reflection, a new song. passed red cups from the door staff after hours, and black lipstick kisses. i suppose it was just a different scent of deny.
she would know how to write this, but my hand slips when i pick up the phone, or when i try to bring pen to paper. there has been this pause, a button pushed before the end of the song arrives. i walked out of the room during a commercial break, and when i stepped back in she was gone. we were gone. maybe it was too much to keep my half of the bargain. the reminders of him painted boldly in black and blue, on pale skin, on the street lines, the call boxes. i didn’t know how to spell out help. push me back under, love; water my eyes, my nose, my lungs filling until i can no longer take in air, or anything. then pull me back out. my heart racing, my expression wide and wild. she would do this now, give me her answers. but then I’d have to embrace it, hold it away from me. recognition of something that will soon be impossible to hide.
the ice swirls. i spin and shake the straw, pull back the lid, slide ice chips into my mouth, between my teeth. i think about how carrie would laugh and say, “you know what chewing on ice means?” but this is far past sexual frustration. this is about breaking something, even if only the enamel on my teeth. it is about creating noise in my head as the ice cracks. how it delays the whispers in my head, the words i’m choosing again to ignore. one more day, one more hour, one more second. maybe if I keep chewing, keep walking, keep reading grocery store last minute decision aisle novels. keep memorizing the lyrics to ‘she’s lost control’. watching his fingers on the strings as he showed me the bass line, telling me how easy it could be if i just tried harder. how he taught himself to play songs like this. how new order progressed the sound of joy division. that i needed to grow past my death rocker tastes and sensibilities. stop wearing so much black, lucy. drown out the words as procrastination takes her predictive place in line. take the stage, front and center, arms in the air; now spin.
i light another cigarette.
but, my waistline was beginning to betray me. my hand rests on my belly. i mouth “i’m sorry", to my reflection in the store window, and "i can’t do this” i whisper out into the air. i pour more ice into my mouth. i count the steps back to the second shift. he is late again. i look at my watch. i put my weight all on my toe tips, up and down, lift and decline. he knows how much i hate it when he’s late. i could go back in and unlock the gate, call him from inside, wait for him there. but, that would mean alarm codes, closing the gate again, writing down an explanation for re-entry. again. i know joe is going to start wondering. i see the way his eyebrow raises when i come in, the look of distrust. i’ve seen it before. like he knows about the stolen pens, and the ten dollars that one time when my gas tank was empty, and i ran out of cigarettes. it all paints this pink glow to my face, guilt. my eyes invariably darting back and forth, and my lies never taken in clearly, misunderstood his second-language english. i know he watches the way my hands shake, and how i’m always too quick to volunteer for anything.
so, I guess I’ll stay put. stand here and wait. my heart skipping a beat every time i see a car, craning my neck to see if this one is finally him while nightmare storybook pages float through my head. i play act shock and surprise when they break the news to me. a car accident, a failed robbery, a stabbed victim bleeding internally. i try on how my mask of sorrow would look, practice hiding a momentary buzz of relief, and freedom. these were the tales i played in my head as a child, too, while i waiting in a deserted playground. mom losing track of time. i would stand there watching every child wave from a car window. ice cream and daddy’s dream, they all were. the mad array of violent endings i saw, that i almost hoped for, just something she could us to explain, to somehow make the forever waiting worthwhile; and not just me as a forgotten errand, an afterthought.
i loathe these inner folds of me. the hushed side of who i am. i know most people are fooled by my good parochial school past. the way i can write a perfect essay, play a good game. they laugh at the trappings of a girl gone bad, the witch’s cackle, the smeared kohl under my eyes. thrift shop garb in fifty five shades of black. they think they can look right through me, as they nod in this smug way as if to say “you can’t fool me”. like i am just a naïve little thing underneath it all; bright and shiny, sewing paths to a happy ending in some optimism overdrive fairytale. they all stand in line to walk across me. as if i’m a damn yellow brick road.
if they took off my clothes they would see the indentations, the boot scuffs, the notches and nicks where the heels dig in. they all think I love it. dig it. dance a tango to the beat of give everything to everyone. the never ending needy bring their shopping carts to me, park them in my driveway, just up and under the eaves, or in the stairwells. they come tuck themselves in next to me as i sleep. steal the good blanket, and push me to the floor. they would all run and hide for cover if they saw beneath my skin, the gore, the doubts. the pathologic writer of tell-tale explanations. i spin better than a spider, but no one squints hard enough to notice the web.
maybe tonight I’ll tell him. throw it out there over a plate of fries, right before he pulls out his latest scheme dream that will be forgotten in a month. his plans used as rolling paper to smoke one last joint. “i produce more when i’m stoned”, he says this from the couch, where he’s sat for the last twelve hours. paging through the free press, the want-ads, the lost and found. he asks for another five cookies, always better to polish off the whole row, then the symmetry is complete and intact. and, in his bakery goods order, or despite it, the space between us widens. some day i’m sure one of us will fall in, disappear.
maybe this will do it. the words will spill out and a portal will open up in the sky, pull me up by my ears. he’ll just see my feet dangle for a second before i’m gone. he’ll still have that look of shock plastered across his face, the circular twist of argued perspective and reasons waiting on the tip of his tongue. i am ever holding my breath while he readies his army, lying back as i let them march on over to me; his hostile takeover. his words shake me until i’m blue in the face. but, i’ve beat him to the proverbial punch. i'd be gone then, taken through the space portal. he can just sit back and waft in the titles and role models he'll swear i could have been. or maybe he'll just take that waitress girl’s obvious pass at him, bang her in the bathroom stall, right next to i heart gene loves jezebel, and adam lies, with three exclamation points. her face pushed up against the chill of the metal door, the latch barely holding them in. lipstick pink smear smudge leftovers and wrinkles smoothed out of her brown corduroy skirt, placating her way back to work, fixing her hair in the dessert glass. don’t mind me, i’ll just be floating by, watching. she sighs a little quieter than i do. the staccato one two three a bit too rushed. but, it will all help him forget. let go.
i hear the brakes squeal. i recognize the impatience even in the way he drives. somehow the story will reverse and back-up into me. responsibility pinned to my sweater, stuck sideways and in through my flesh, and back out again. i slam the door a little harder than necessary. sulk into the seat. somehow my body has twisted and turned itself into adolescence, again. i can almost hear my mom telling me to sit up straight. to project my voice to the back of the room. to lose ten pounds. to go to more parties. to kiss more boys. all the expectations she never voiced, but just threw at me without words. how she longed for me to fall, to fail. ditch classes, earn a reputation, open up my legs, break curfew. anything that would bring me to her with tear stained cheeks and choked-up pleadings. she would bravely hold my hand at the clinic. wait for me with a magazine. and the looks of admiration from the other scared girls who couldn’t tell their own mother, she would bask in it. how they would tell her i was the luckiest.
maybe she would hold my hand now, eight years too late. can i cash in a rain check for my teenage rebellion? i press my nose into the passenger window glass. breathe out hard. blowing. i watch the hot air fog block my view. i’m tempted to etch help with my fingertips. i remember doing that as a child; smile faces, dogs, my name. mom would yell back at me “don’t write on the windows!” and i’d deny it, forgetting that it would stay there, even after days went by. you’d still see the image, taunting me with it's existance, chiding and singing at me liar liar pants on fire. aother knot in my stomach, tied in a bow. even though she wouldn't remember telling me no.
i rest my head on the glass now, feel the cool shock to my system. michael penn is singing about blue jeans. we just passed a 7-11, and i can almost smell the inside; old hot dogs on that continuous roller thing, with one always left in the back, all shriveled up. the bleep blips of video games, the warning labels across the magazines, 18 and over or this is not a library. the whir of the slurpee machine. i want to shringk three feet and walk through the door, quarters stashed in my pocket for ms. pac man, and enough money for the biggest size, my own suicide in multi-colors, a cola and wild cherry death. that big straw with the spoon on the end, michael tried to see how far up his nose it would go when he was ten, i was twelve.
i catch a young boy staring at me from his back window. his own breath shield is almost completely hiding him, except for the eyes. we make that quick contact, that inner register of i see you, you see me. i don't even turn around to look at him then. he is driving, humming to the radio, when the words finally come out.
"jake, i'm pregnant."