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
In ninth grade I am back with my mother. I think about hiding under the deck and grabbing her ankles as she arrives home, hearing the weight of her fall above me, her head cracking against the sharp corner of the splintery wood. Saskia and I write songs for the band we want to start. We write lyrics about killing our mothers because it is punk, because we think we really feel it, because neither of us can sing or play an instrument. I hide behind doors and jump out at her, startling her, keeping her on edge, her scream satisfying. One night I tell her I hate you, and she grabs an empty bottle of Koala brand soda — You little cunt — and she runs with the bottle raised high above her head and I have to slam each door behind me, locking it, until I collapse onto my bed in tears, screaming, Leave me alone, do not come in here, I don’t want to be near you. This very rage will take me back to my father’s the next year because I am afraid that we may hurt each other.
I am in love with a boy named Greg Pierson, and he is six feet tall with bleached white hair that hangs over one of his pale blue eyes. I wear bright red lipstick, a black cardigan and a short Catholic schoolgirl skirt in red plaid and he never bothers to talk to me more than answer my hello and awkward questions. Saskia and I discover that he is enrolled in a class at Wayne’s College of Beauty downtown. On weekends we take the 71 and alternate having our hair trimmed, wrapped in cellophane and highlighted in an attempt to get him interested in me. He never makes a move.
After school I ride the bus home and I sit in the back with a boy named Matt who is in eighth grade and still at the junior high, where the big yellow Laidlaw picks them up first before coming to the high school. Matt and I start talking one day because he is wearing a Specials T-shirt and every day after he saves me a seat on the green bench, three up from the last row. Soon Matt joins Saskia and me on the weekends. Ouija boards, cigarettes, free coffee refills, black nail polish, photo booths, the beach at night. Matt is having a hard time too. He talks about a darkness he can feel closing in around him. He feels he can’t stop it. The darkness isn’t something that gives him character, it actually takes it away, takes himaway, and for the first time I see the difference.
One weekend we steal a bag of weed from Saskia’s mom, who had stopped in for a weekend visit. We pack a bowl into a wooden pipe that we had bought at Pipeline downtown for seven bucks. Although I have smoked before, this is different. There are red hairs that weave their way through the dense green buds. I keep smoking, egging Saskia on to take more, and I am dancing in her room, looking at my reflection in her sliding glass door. I spin my head around to see if she is taking a hit and it doesn’t stop. It goes all the way around, I mean it feels it does, and then it goes again. And I try to tell her what’s happening as I collapse onto her bed, a single mattress on the floor, and she says Lie down, just relax, and I feel my head going through the pillow. I roll over onto my side to face her and it feels like I keep rolling over, and she says to me, It happened again, it happened again. And I try to ask her, to make it clear, did she say it twice or just once and I heard it twice, and it’s becoming a mess. It has a name, or did I call it that? And all I can see when this confusion is happening around me is mini Revlon lipsticks in white plastic cases, tester size in all different shades of pink and red. Thousands of them.
Three friends of Noah’s have died this year. Harvey used to baby-sit me when I would visit my father on vacations, Larry was from Humboldt County and had been at my parents’ wedding, and Arthur painted signs with Noah when he moved to Los Angeles.
It is Saturday, early evening, and China is at my house when her mother, Peg, leaves a frantic message on the answering machine, her voice wavering, becoming stronger at the end, I’m coming right away. We go out onto the porch to meet her, the sun going down and the entire tile rust-colored and warm beneath us. Peg is crying when she reaches the top of the stairs and she says, The test is positive, and I realize what this means. Her ex-boyfriend was diagnosed with HIV three weeks ago, Peg finding out that he had led some sort of double life when they were together. China and I piece together the puzzle over the next few weeks, realizing he was doing drugs when we all went to the mountains, and that his late hours as a film editor didn’t add up in the end. None of us knows how to feel what this means. None of us knows that the ex-boyfriend will die within a month, and that today Peg is alive and well, just a little thin. And they are hugging and China is crying, and I go and get Noah inside where it is dark, no lamps on yet, Lee on the floor watching television. The sound from the TV seems much louder now. Noah comes outside with me. He hugs Peg, and I can hear Lee laughing at the TV and I hate him for it.
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