By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
I meet China at Girls’ Club. She makes fun of my sweater, and instantly I like her. It’s itchy acrylic, knit by my grandmother, the card boasting that it’s a copy of one Princess Diana owns. I never wear it again. China is in head-to-toe Esprit — it all matches, small and large patterns, pastel colors like sherbet. She has braces and a headgear that she has to wear most of the time. There are cracked sores in the corners of her mouth.
We are picked up each day from school in a van and taken here until our parents get off of work. We go to different schools. We bring tapes and work out dance routines to “Like a Virgin,” in which we imitate the video, rolling on the floor as if in a gondola, and to “Somebody” by Depeche Mode. Because this song is a ballad, we do improvised ballet, which makes us fall down laughing.
I go to Immaculate Heart Middle School because it is the only school near Noah’s house (besides the public junior high, where there have been two fatal shootings in the last year). It is a girl’s school and I enjoy wearing my uniform, knowing already that it’s perverse in a good way. I roll up my skirt to make it shorter and leave my shirttails out. I wear white socks with saddle shoes. China gives me one of her bras at Girls’ Club because I can’t bear to ask Noah to buy me one. I am in seventh grade.
I tell China about Noah being gay before I ask her to come over. I ask her not to tell anyone. She doesn’t seem to care. I saw them holding hands, she says about Noah and Lee. I don’t talk about my mother, and it is rare that anyone asks. I make friends with some skater boys who live on my street. They are all cute: Franco, Lance, Duncan. China and her mother move into my neighborhood. We get suspended from Girls’ Club for carving the boys’ names into the gym floor with safety pins. We have been doing it for weeks before they catch on. China’s mother, Peg, is furious. China has to wash the walls in their new apartment. Noah’s punishment is that I have to find my own way home, which means a two-mile walk. I discover that Franco’s bus stop is on my way home. Most days I wait for him there. We go to Alex Donut and order chocolate buttermilks before we start our climb into the hills.
I hang out at his house on my way home. His older sister Nadine goes to my school. Sometimes she is home when we get there. She is a ballerina. The dark of her eyes is emphasized by heavy black eyeliner. I want to be like her. She smokes and gives us cigarettes every now and then. In the bathroom I smell her tea rose perfume and Noxzema while I pee. When Franco and I are alone, I let him kiss me. He has the same dark skin as his sister, the same brown eyes. This is clearly about practice, I think but do not say. We don’t tell China or the other boys. I take off his red Bones Brigade T-shirt one day when we are on his couch, and he unbuttons my blue oxford and takes off my borrowed bra. His skin is soft and warm, like a baby’s. We eat pink guavas from a tree in their backyard, and I head home, farther up the hill. I pass a house where a man in his fifties lives alone. He has airbrushed the entire front of his Spanish-style stucco home in rainbow pastels. There are three huge dogs in his yard, opera is blasting. The garage door is open and it is a complete dingy cluttered mess of a life inside. It is getting dark.
Santa Cruz, 1978
There is always music, a constant accompaniment to memory. The year I was born, my father took me to see the Rolling Stones; he had been their obsessed fan since he was in high school. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Marshad come out the year before, and Bowie remained my father’s idol well into my twenties, when my father laid off the rock ’n’ roll and turned his obsessive nature toward bird watching. She’s going to look just like Nico, his friends would say in front of me, before my hair turned dark. You could be a model if you just lost some weight, Noah would say. I would stare at the cover of Chelsea Girls. Was this me? I didn’t think so. I have a photo of Noah applying eyeliner in front of a tinsel trimmed mirror by candlelight, his long dark wavy hair brushing his shoulders. This was in Arcata, just before they had me. How did my mother not know he was gay? Maybe she didn’t care; their lifestyle was free and easy, fluid like their sexuality. Or maybe my mother was so relieved to have escaped from her abusive alcoholic home that an anything-goes attitude was the only way she could approach the world. She claims to have never loved anyone as much as my father, but the story she tells is that she left him, wanting to be an independent woman with her new child. She had been his first love and after that he turned to men. She had encouraged his early exploration, inviting a fellow art student of his over for dinner one night, where she prepared a vegetarian meal complete with homemade bread. But the baby and doting wife were too much for the guest to handle, and he left early.
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