By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The back and forth gave me the permanent status of new kid. I passed through two junior highs and five high schools. Most of the time it was my decision to leave one parent and go to the other, or to try a new kind of school. I remember sixth grade at Cheremoya Elementary, the first year I moved in with Noah, showing up in new sneakers and dark jeans with pink pin stripes, and seeing all new faces staring back at me. The classroom was full of still, hot air. In Santa Cruz I had been present, engaged, concerned with my progress and attentive to my teachers. It was at Cheremoya that I began to check out, daydream out the window, because I felt it was temporary, I was waiting to return to my mother’s. My teacher, Mrs. Chung, warned me that I may get a low grade because of my penmanship, and I was shocked. My handwriting had been perfect ever since I learned cursive with Mrs. Baker at Branciforte Elementary; her praises had given me a sense of pride. Mrs. Chung pulled out several examples of my sloppy and unpredictable marks on the page. It looked as if someone else had written them. I began to take my studies a little more seriously, but it was never quite the same after that; it took more effort to stay focused. I became fascinated with a boy from Laos whose parents had escaped; I befriended three Korean girls who had scented erasers and Hello Kitty lunch boxes and a boy named Mario whose father was in the Doors or the Eagles. It took some time for this, and still I never played with them after school, was never invited to any of their houses. This is how it was throughout high school as well; I was somewhat accepted, but my home life remained secret, and I kept to myself, the tall girl. The homes of my classmates were a mystery, a black screen to project my ideals onto. They involved pets, dinner waiting at six, maybe someone to help them with schoolwork.
Santa Monica, 1990
Noah says in the kitchen that he doesn’t think it’s a good idea. You can’t stop me, I am going to do it anyway. You don’t know. I don’t think he deserves to have any control over my life now that he’s clean. He’s acting like a father. Too little, too late is how it feels. I am moving in with Lyle, switching to Samo High in his district so I don’t drop out, is how I put it to Noah. I cut classes at least once a week. It is my senior year, and I leave for a month in January to go on tour with Lyle’s band. I don’t ask for permission.
We live in a studio apartment in a 1970s rent-controlled building. I can walk to the beach, and suddenly L.A. doesn’t close me in, it is no longer dark all the time. When Lyle is on tour, I feel like a sad character in a film, ?the camera close on my face, then pulling back slowly, but farther and farther, emphasizing the smallness of me and the largeness of the world.
Lyle doesn’t like me to have friends over when he is not there. Our home is private. The carpet is dark blue; we ash our cigarettes onto the floor and rub it in with our shoes. We never vacuum. The drain in the bathtub is always clogged with hair and sand from the beach. When I want privacy, I lock the door and sit on the toilet, sometimes I drag the phone in with me.
The Phone Call, 1999
There were warning signs, firecracker-sized explosions, before Kate overdosed. My mother was recovering from a surgery and a divorce. Noah loaned her two thousand dollars to get herself an apartment, and there we were. It was night and we were inside the wood-paneled one-bedroom watching a film about an orphaned boy in Brazil. Painted landscape shots of desert and forest; I wanted to cry for him on his bus ride.
The phone rings, interrupts the attachment of me to the film. And she, my mother, is above me, robe and arm extending the blue receiver. I don’t know how to tell you this, Noah starts, and pauses for just a second, then blurts, Kate’s dead. And then he is crying and I have to drop the phone. I am lying down on the sofa, and still I feel I may faint. The receiver bounces off the carpet. What? My mother is saying. I pick it back up, and he is still crying, and he is talking about himself, his experience with Kate, and I have to go, get off the phone, not talk about his feelings. I am collapsing inside, folding in on myself. She did it on purpose, I know this. Still folding. Falling while I call my voicemail to find messages from her family, from friends, and I do not want to be angry with my mother for needing me. Trying not to be angry with myself for helping my mother and not being with Kate. I haven’t returned Kate’s phone calls or e-mails for the last week. I could have stopped this.