Friday, April 29, 2011

I get home from work in the afternoon and open my door the sound of a power drill. The house was foreclosed on in the earlier part of the year, and it's been sold twice since then, disturbing my quasi-legal squatting arrangement in the west unit, considered uninhabitable due to the leak in the roof, the holes in the floor, and the mold. Somehow I lived there for two years; it went by very fast.

So now I am living in the east side of the house with C. again. We are wary but friendly, two refugees crowded into the same tent. All the other tenants are leaving, one by one. The vegetable garden we all shared at the front of the house is torn up. The new owner wants xeroscaping. She's making improvements. No one could blame her. The place needs improving.

She hired a guy named Luis to rip down the walls in the ceilings in the west unit and make it all new again. He's been at it ten hours a day for the last few weeks, the hardest working guy in show business. I always wave at him when I go past. I wave at him today.

"Almost done," he says. "You want to see?"

You always want to see the place where you used to live. We go inside and walk through the rooms, looking at the smooth planes of fresh plaster, the shining white paint and dove-gray trim. For a second I feel like I'm dreaming. Everything is familiar and everything is different. A place I used to live, a long time ago.

"Wow. It looks amazing. Good job."

Luis wipes his forehead with the back of his arm. "It was a lot of work," he says.

"I bet."

For a minute when the house went on the market I thought maybe I should try to find a way to buy it. Then I thought, right. Buy this place I've been trying to get free of for the last god knows how many years. Buy this leaking roof and these mold-infested walls, this compromise, and spend the rest of my life trying to make it into something that I want. But that's not how the wind is blowing.

We go out on the porch. The yard out here used to be a wild place, a tangle of knotty shrubs and flowering weeks just barely pushed back enough for a few rows of chard and tomatoes and basil and sunflowers. It's all plowed down to the roots now and there's nothing wild about it anymore.

"Is she going to have you do the outside next?" I ask.

Luis shakes his head. I like his face. All the lines in it go up. "After I finish in there, I'm going home for a while. My son is getting married at the end of the month, back in Mexico."


"And my other son is graduating from college."

"Hey, that's great. Congratulations again."

"I have good kids," he says. "My son that's getting married, he's a lawyer."

"Wow. You must be proud."

"All good kids. All my kids go to college. Except for my daughter." He squints out over the yard, into the sun. "My daughter was in college, but she throws it all away to get married. I told her not to do it."

"Well, there's always time, right? She'll be OK."

"I think so. I think so. But I always tell her, you've got to do your school. Because for a woman, I think it is a lot harder. Do you know what I mean?" He looks at me earnestly. He has the kind of eyes that look like they're really looking at you. I nod. "Because you and me can do the same job," he says. "And I'm always going to get paid more for it. So I think it is harder to be a woman. I think a woman has to try a lot harder."

"I know what you're saying."

"What about you? Are you in school?"

"I'm going back."

"Congratulations," he says. "So we are both doing good."

We shake hands.

I unlock the door into C.'s place, our place. I am doing homework when he gets home. After a while I look out the window. There's an unfamiliar quality to the light, and then I see the storm cloud, colored orange by the end-of-day light.

"Baby, look."

It hasn't rained this spring at all. It hasn't rained since anybody can remember when. We are staring down the barrel of a 50-year drought and it's so hot already. It's so hot, and it's not even May yet.

C. and I go outside walk down to the end of the street where we can see it better. It is enormous, roiling, and coming fast. Other neighbors are already on the corner, staring up. I recognize the girl from across the alley. "You heard the governor prayed for rain this weekend, right?" she says.

"Sweet Baby Jesus," C. says. "Who did he pray to?"

"I guess we'll find out." The neighbor girl shivers and wraps her arms around herself. "We ought to get inside before that hits us," she says.

We go back to the house and I go back to doing my homework. Once in a while I reach up and turn down the buzzing SC unit to see if I'll hear rain, but I don't. Later I lie in bed, fantasizing about water from the sky, running off the eaves and filling the creeks. I dream of mud puddles and dams over-flowing, but it's no good. In the morning when we wake up the ground is dry as a bone and it's a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


In a kind of hotel room with my parents. My father is telling a joke. Earlier we were going for a walk next to cliffs made of sand. The joke my father is telling is, It's like rape or bad weather, you can't do anything about it, so you might as well lay back and enjoy it.

Stop saying that, Dad. That's not funny. Stop it.

What are you, the word police around here? It's a joke.

It's not funny.

My father turns around and starts telling the joke to my mother. She starts laughing. I pick up everything I know will smash and throw it at the wall --

It's a joke, my mother says. It's just a joke. All you have to do is laugh. It's easy, see? Watch.

But it's not funny. It's not funny, right? It isn't.

--tea cups, cocktail glasses, framed photographs. The last thing I throw is myself out the door.

This is one of those weird dream hotels: hallways of hallways, rooms spilling into other rooms. I hear their voices everywhere. Punch and fucking Judy. Staircases that don't go up or down, just around and around. I run, ripping open door after door after door looking for one, just one, one goddamn door without you behind it.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sunday, April 03, 2011


I am looking at myself in the mirror and my skin is cracking like the bottom of a dried-up river bed. A tag of it is loose on my cheekbone, peeling up, and I take hold of the edge of it and pull and a piece the size of a silver dollar comes away in my hand. I see other tags of skin sticking up and I keep grabbing them and peeling. I peel too much and I start to bleed but I think this is not a bad thing.
Sitting out on my stump in the graveyard, holding my ankle in my hand and crying a little bit. I sprained my ankle last summer around the same time that I broke my heart; they both took longer to heal than I expected, and I wondered if this was because I am older than I used to be. Sometimes it still aches, or I imagine that it does. It's hard to tell.

I press my thumb now into the spot where the fibula articulates with the talus. There ought to be a tendon there, but I seem to feel only a crescent-shaped empty space, as if the long bone of the leg had never really touched down into its nest again. I think there is a word for an indentation of this shape and I chew through my mind after it for a while. Sulcus? I think I used to know.

The pressing in hurts and the emptiness scares me and I start to tear over. It's easy to cry because I am a little bit drunk. Before I came out to the graveyard I went to lunch with Sammie out at the lake. Sammie drank lemon soda because he had to go back to work and I drank Riesling because I didn't.

Sammie had been calling me for a couple of weeks and I'd been letting his calls go because social graces are always the first thing I let lapse when I feel stretched thin. When I finally answered last week he told me he'd bought a new watch.

"Neat," I said.

"It is neat," Sammie said. "But was really neat was the girl who sold it to me. She had such pretty eyes and such pretty hair and she was so nice. And she gave me her card and told me if I had any questions about the watch I should call her. Do you think I should call her?"

"Do you have any questions about the watch?"

"Not really."

"Can you make one up?"

"That sounds complicated. Can't I just ask her out? I mean, the worst thing that can happen is she says no, right?"


"You don't think that would be creepy?"

"No. It would only be creepy if you were a creepy guy, and you're not. Just be casual about it and be prepared to take it gracefully if she says no."


Sammie was a customer of mine when I was a dancer. He used to get panic attacks when he thought about talking to pretty girls. Sammie's parents got divorced when he was three and his mother spent the next seven years dying painfully of cancer and he has been in therapy since basically ever. Paying naked women to talk to him and knowing they would never leave as long as he kept paying them fit into Sammie's schema of life quite well. He used to buy out my whole evenings and I could pay a months rent and bills with what I'd make. I'd feel bad sometimes, but Sammie comes from money and will always come from money and money is not one of the things he has to worry about in this lifetime.

We quit going to club around the same time. It didn't work for either of us anymore. We kept in touch, maybe because he really did just finally spend enough to buy a claim on my affections. We ended up knowing a lot about each other, things we can't talk about with too many other people.

Today he called me up and said he asked the girl at the jewelry store out and the girl said no. I still think this is progress, and I said so.

"Did I tell you I bought a new car?" Sammie said. "It's the kind of car that really needs a girl in it. Can I come and take you for a ride?"

I say OK and twenty minutes later Sammie is there in his new car. I know jack-all about cars, but I know this is a beauty. It's a Mercedes with a bunch of letters in its name, tiny and sleek and low to the ground, and I feel a wash of self-consciousness just walking out to the curb. "Way to set my neighborhood on its ear, Sammie," I say. "They all thought I was a really nice girl."

"I know. Isn't it great?"

Then Sammie makes the car go around curves and corners fast all the way to the restaurant and I cling to the inside of the passenger door and scream and Sammie says, "This, this, is how this car is meant to be driven."

Over lunch, over wine and lemon soda, he asks me how things went in San Francisco and I say, "Fine. Well. Kind of underwhelming, really. I don't think they were very impressed with me and I wasn't very impressed with them either, to be honest. I don't think we found each other, uh, relevant."

"That's fine," he says. "It's the wrong place for you anyway. You know it's really cold and gray there all the time, right?"

"I know. But they have such good Thai food. Anyway, I already got accepted to the other place."

"Well, that's great then. Are you happy?"


"Your heart's not still broken, is it?" This in reference to a conversation we had on the phone some months ago, when it still was.

"No. I don't think so. Just, you know, big changes. New city. New, uh, course of inquiry, or whatever. Whenever you're about to move on from something, you wonder if you did it right, right? If you made the right decisions. If you got everything out of it that you could have. If you really sucked it dry, you know? Or if you're leaving meat on the bones."

"Huh. Well, I don't think you need to reproach yourself too much. You've done about as much living as anyone I know."

In the final analysis, I think so too. But everybody's got unlived parts of themselves, and those are the dangerous parts. Those are the parts you go projecting onto other people and then grasping after, thinking you'll be whole.

"Yeah. Hey, listen, I'm going to have another glass of wine and then I'm going to burst into tears, OK?"

And I do. And Sammie is so good about it, so good and nice. He doesn't look around to see if anyone else is looking at us. He sits with me and after a little while he reaches across the table and squeezes my wrist, but only very gentle and not for too long because he would never want to do anything, you know, creepy.

After I sprained I had to walk carefully. I found out I'd been bearing my weight too far to the outside of the foot, stretching the ligament out imperceptibly, constantly, til it give way under no provocation at all, really, the slightest shift of weight.

Injuries are the best teachers. Some teacher of mine told me that years ago, when I was in the hospital. It was golden to me at the time. In the cemetery later, afternoon-drunk, wine-drunk, the drunk of easy tears, I sit on my stump holding my ankle, pressing into the healed spot, wondering if there's supposed to be something there or if it's OK that there's an empty space.