Los Angeles. I only went there once but the way it moved, the way the lights danced through the smoke and palm trees, would stay with me forever. The way the land curved like a voluptuous starlet, the colors, and the people; It's hard to forget. But then it was hardest to remember. I learned a new way of walking when I went to LA. As if you owned the world, as if your eyes were glittering rhinestones, as if you were a tiger stalking its prey.
And it was there that I almost drowned into the cracks beneath the pavement. That's what happens when you don't have the faintest clue as to who you are and you go to a place like that. You disappear; become the foam in the sea or the stars that no one can see in the sky.
I guess you could say that Seattle kept me grounded, kept me safe, inside it's green arms and calla lily tongue. I don't know if it was Seattle or just the fact that I was home again and I was already changing from the sun exposure I had finally received in Los Angeles. I don't know if it was that I was on a roll and no one could stop me even if they tried; but I finally became me.
I finally saw myself clearly. Maybe it was that here, in Seattle, the stars are visible even downtown or that the cracks in the pavement are filled with moss.
Maybe the same thing would've happened if I had been in New Orleans, New York, Toronto, or even Amsterdam. I have a feeling that I would have become myself no matter where I was because it was my choice to begin with. It was my choice to move on and grow. To stash my memories like drugs beneath my mattress.
"Coffee, black." My voice cracks as I take my order. Sliding into the booth next to me is a man with short black hair and a business suit. He's clean and neat and when I look at him I think of order and control; I think of the cool lights in airports and the sound of a car engine. I wonder if I will end up with a man like that. What will become of me?
I try to hold back that awful feeling I get when I remember his name. There is this part of my throat that closes up, causing my eyes to water when I remember that not too long ago I was living with him. He was different than the man behind me. They are as different as Dionysus and Apollo.
I will not say his name, this isn't the time, I think. But he's always in the back of my mind, an image flickering. I see him with his feet in the water, pants rolled up, laughing. He had a huge smile when he laughed, a feral grin. I read somewhere once that men with wolfish smiles carry more testosterone; all I know is that it made my heart beat like a drum.
My coffee tastes like ash, and when I look outside at the city and its skyscrapers, I can't help but feel like ash as well. Before I met him I had grown used to myself. I was living in America and I had grown used to being alone. I remember when I went to see my father in Europe, I hadn't been since I was a child and I felt I was ready to step outside a little. My world seemed huge then, infinite in its possibility. Then I met him.
He was tall and thin, shy in his movements but once he started talking it was like watching a flower bloom. The petals unfolding as words tumbled out of his mouth, a mouth that had always been so quick to smile and laugh. At least that's how he seemed at first. I was so different then, so vulnerable, and so ready. How was I to know that this would be the one to reach inside of me and pluck my heart like a lily? His hands were so delicate with the petals, careful not to bruise them. But somewhere along the line he became careless. My petals started withering. I grew smaller, fading, and yet the need in me grew more urgent.
Closing my eyes, I can't stop thinking about the way he used to need me, whispering I love you on trains, kissing me awake when I fell asleep. The holidays, the trips, everything rolls into one in my mind until it becomes this jumbled mess of love, pain, sunlight, and words. I wonder if he even remembers. Slapping my tip on the table, I get up quickly because I know I shouldn't care. He doesn't want me anymore and the polluted air of rush hour couldn't greet me soon enough as I open the doors and walk down Pike street.
Why can't I remember the times when I was alone? When I was an entity unto myself and I knew I was fine as I was? I need to focus on the present, I tell myself. My cell phone rings, it's my mother telling me that there is enough cash in my account for some art supplies. Christmas is coming up and my sister wants a new painting. I want to paint women who see, women with a third eye always open and aware. I want to paint Shiva, with his blue throat full of poison and moonlit face. I need these colors and images. I need dreams, because right now I feel as if the past is swallowing me whole with no exit or door to which I can escape.
The city is lit up with lights that look as if they are eyes winking at us as we drive in the car. I open my window to let the smoke out as Razor lights up the sixth cigarette of what is to be a long evening. Her real name is Rebecca, but she goes by Razor. I never really knew the reason behind that, but from the moment I met her I loved her attitude. I met her at a party one night in college, it was one of those awful situations where a boy is hiccupping and cornering you with bad pick up lines and vodka. If it hadn't been for Razor pushing him away, laughing at him and saying, "Hey buster! Get your paws off her!" who knows what might have become of me.
From the moment I met Razor I couldn't keep my eyes away, no one can. She has a multicolored shaggy haircut that hangs at her chin, icy eyes and this way of bringing any room to life. She sews dresses that could be mistaken for Valentino if they weren't so slashed up and short. I knew when I met her that I could learn something from her. I'm so different from her; I'm small, with large eyes, and a passive stance. When she called me up wanting to go to a show tonight, I couldn't pass up such an opportunity. I needed to escape my house with its overgrown Christmas tree and jungle of colored lights. I needed to get outside because I felt suffocated by the memories and isolation it seemed to hold.
I don't even know what show we are going to, only that it is in a studio downtown that I have never been to. Stone Temple Pilots plays on the radio, the soft voice of the lead singer mixing with the guitar chords makes me wish that someone would sing for me like that. It's strange because I have always loved the car ride more than actually arriving at the destination. It must be the soothing feeling of going, never stopping as buildings and people pass. I love that I live in a city on the water, I couldn't handle it if I were in a desert or in Middle America, where there is no body of water to flicker and reflect the city it surrounds.
Razor turns up the radio when the Ramones comes on, cigarette ash flying as she shakes her head to the music, fingers tapping the steering wheel. "We're going to have so much fun tonight Angie!" she squeals, squeezing my shoulders as I just smile meekly and tell her to keep watching the road.
We park under the bridge, the sound of cars overhead seems deafening. I remember how it used to scare me as a child and make me want to run out from under it. Now I just wish I could photograph the way it looks at night.
"Come on! I can't wait for you to see this band, you're going to absolutely fall in love with the lead singer." Razor is already out of the car, a vision of fishnets and glitter as she jumps around waiting for me to lock my door. I look down at my slip dress, it's an old silk thing I found at an antique store and I know it's too cold to wear outside on a night like this.
"Do I look alright?" I say, tugging at my neckline and pulling my velvet blazer over my shoulders. "Beautiful! Like always!" she says, grabbing me and swinging me around. I remember how whenever I asked him how I looked, he'd always say beautiful, but with this tired tone in his voice as if to say, why don't you just believe me?
The club the band is playing at is in the back of an alley, its walls thumping with the sound of a bass that can even be heard from outside. My knees are shaking from the cold as I wait for the bouncer to take my ticket and let me in.
Inside there are women with painted faces laughing, teeth showing like a predator's. There are boys with shaggy hair pointing in all directions looking bored and leaning against the wall. There are couples laughing and wearing leather. I feel small and frightened suddenly under the red glow of the lights, surrounded by people that could be images out of Homer's Odyssey.
Razor doesn't seem to mind; she grabs my hand and drags me toward the stage to see the band. All around us people are moshing and slam dancing to the music. The guitar is grinding and electric, pulsing as the man who plays it looks like he is trying to shut the lid on Pandora's box.
Then I see the lead singer she was talking about. He's thin and pale, hunched over and screaming. I feel strange, as if I should leave. He's yelling about hate and being left behind, about hiding and forgetting. My eardrums ache, as Razor looks hypnotized by the music, by this wild man screaming about pain and dying. I feel like I am in hell. He looks up in our direction, and I'm struck by how light his eyes are, what a contrast it is to his dark hair. I feel as if he's looking through me and I look away. I could never handle people with intense stares, it's as if they can see every bone and organ in your body without having said a word.
After the show, Razor wants to stay and talk to the band. I find myself feeling drained. I feel drained all the time lately, I keep thinking about him and I can't stop. I want to cut out stars and glue them over my eyes so that maybe I won't see him everywhere. At this point I just want peace. The wanting and hurting always comes back when the evening is beginning to die down.
"Wasn't that great?" She's jumping up and down, her face bright. We're standing with some of her friends that we met up with here at the show; none of them have names I can remember. I love the smile on her face, like a little girls and it's at that moment I think I see Rebecca instead of Razor; so I say, "It was really hardcore."
A man saunters up in leather pants and a glazed smile; he's looking at Razor. "Hey babe, how'd you like the show?" His voice is raspy from too much whisky and smoking. She squeals about how it was great, how she hadn't been back to a show since school had started, and all I can think when I look at her is how I see myself in her. I see that yearning, that need to impress, all of those feelings I must have exuded whenever I was with him, even when I lived with him I was like that. Like a small child trying to get her father to notice her, she'll stand on her head; do cartwheels, anything to get his attention and approval. Maybe we never really evolve from that.
Razor stops and introduces me to this man, and when his gaze meets mine I realize it's the lead singer. His eyes look at me hard, I feel as if I'm withering under his gaze. I wonder if he can tell everything about me just by staring into me in such a manner. Then his face breaks into a smile, "Damn, cute girls always hang with each other." I cringe when I hear this, but Razor just laughs as if it's the funniest thing she has ever heard.
I begin to worry about getting home, I know from the look they are giving one another that they will end up sleeping together tonight and I don't want to be stranded downtown. I smile at Razor and say I'm heading out but that she can stay if she likes. She winks at me and whispers a thank you. I tell her to call me if anything comes up. I don't like leaving but I can't stand watching this.
When I head outside the cold air hits me full force. I count my change and wait for a bus; the people at the stop look at me strangely. A man tries to talk to me, his eyes drifting over my body as I begin to walk away. I decide to call Michael, his voice is angry from sleeping as he starts to fire away, "Angelique! Where are you? What do you mean you don't have a ride?" This is what I get when I decide to call my cousin for a ride. When he comes to pick me up, he goes off about how I should be more careful, and why am I dressed like that? I stare out the window and pull at the hem of my dress, what once felt beautiful feels shameful now.