Around the time I started getting antsy, living in bumfuck nowhere without a car, my Father felt inspired to give a speech: “The people out here are really not good. They are just different, a different type of people. The way they treat each other, what they do, you don’t want anything to do with them,” he said.
“Aww,” I said, checking my phone for anything.
seriously. Even those high school boys you like. They will change, too.
Stay away. And please for our sake, don’t fool around with anyone in
this town. It is too small a town and we don’t want anyone in our
business,” he said.
I said. I knew as soon as I got my car back, I would rush out to the
city of Vancouver, find a bar and hopefully a man to thrust an ego back
“Just focus on your work for now. You don’t need to do anything else,” my Mother said.
“Um, I need more than work in my life,” I said.
“Why?” she asked, dumbfounded.
“Because I am not a spinster, that's why. I need dancing and life and boys and . . . dancing.”
“Oh, give it a rest,” she said.
a while I tried to live like a monk, like a drunk monk who didn’t need
contact, who didn’t need friends or male attention or to be touched.
didn’t last long. Inevitably, I became close with my co-workers. There
was nothing especially unusual about the people I worked with. The
Housemen loved Star Trek. The women were planning camping trips with
their kids. The young kids made bad jokes and the old people held the
door open for me and nodded every morning.
It is a small town and
everyone is in each other’s business but its not a big deal. Gina and
one of the Houseman, Gary, live together.
Checking over a Banquet Event Order, “Oh, look, this company sounds like one of the porn sites you like,” Gina said.
“Well, maybe if you pleased me more I wouldn’t have to go elsewhere,” he snapped back.
“Well, if you gave me something to be pleased about, maybe it could come full circle,” she returned.
of the younger servers live in a house together. Kelly was kicked out
by her Step-Mother after her Father abandoned her. She now shares a room
with her best friend, who is cousins with Harry.
out water glasses and putting them on the dish rack, they argued. “You
aren’t doing it right! Why don’t you listen to me?” Kelly scolded.
“I am doing it right, you stupid bitch,” Harry said.
“No, you’re not! Get out of my life and get out of my house,” she said before turning away.
“It’s my house, you get out! I hate you!” he yelled.
moments happen during the tension and busy dinner services. On the flip
side, everyone helps each other. If someone’s car broke down, everyone
already knows where they live and someone on shift is delegated to pick
them up. They all know each other’s favorite foods, favorite shifts,
favorite movies- who they have loved and who broke their heart, who is
related and who wandered into town because they had nowhere else to go.
I was still a snob about the small town and frustrated with only a bike
and a broken heart, I asked one of the young bartenders why she moved
back to Skamania. “I grew up here,” she said warmly, “and I like how
everyone chips in for each other. One of my friends got in a car
accident once and had $21,000 in medical bills. That night he was
admitted into the hospital, everyone in town pooled together the money
Big towns, small towns. People are people. Families
quarrel, but at the end of the day, everyone was taken care of. If I
told one person about my parents or my car, everyone knew. People took
turns driving me home. And once in a blue moon, when the Kitchen had a
call for a tofu entree, someone always saved me every last bit of the
leftovers- no matter what shift I worked that day. I am the only vegan
most of them have ever met.
of the older bartenders on the night shifts, a short woman with the
posture of a hitchhiker’s thumb wearing heavy blue eyeshadow, teased me
and touched my back. She teased all of us. Once I caught her grabbing
the Quarterback’s ass. I hadn’t been touched in such a long time, when
her hand rubbed my back warmth spread out along my torso and my skin
prickled. “That is the most intimacy I have had in a long time,” I said.
Everyone laughed, but it was true.
wouldn’t call my Dad for a ride immediately after work, but slip into
the Hotel bar instead. I asked for a dirty, vodka martini, and the
bartender, around my age, short, bald with a thick black goatee, stopped
everything for the Hotel guests and asked, “Do you want that filthy or
I said. With a tight smile of acknowledgement, he made me one fine
martini. The burn of vodka on my lips cauterized my wounds for a few
seconds just before my head wilted, dipping closer to the counter by the
second. The voices of everyone around me grew faint. The Olympics
played on the big screen TV, but I didn’t care. My injuries burned then
The bartender put his hand on the counter in front of
me, “You ok?” he said gently. I fell in love with him. Smiling, I nodded
and dipped my head back into the palm of my hand. “You want another
one?” he asked like an angel.
“Well, since you twisted my arm,” I
said a little loud for someone brooding. He gave a curt nod and gave me
another equally anesthetizing martini.
He didn’t charge me for it.
The day did come. The day of my liberation. The day I got my car fixed!
mechanic called and I expected them to just give an update, but they
said it was ready to pick-up. I felt my soul leap up before I could
stand, “Are you serious? Right now?” I asked.
“Right now,” he said.
ran into the living room and sang, “My car is ready. Someone drive me
to White Salmon!!!” (that is the city with the closest and most reliable
mechanic) It had been several weeks since my Hyundai puttered into the
shop. No more biking to get cereal. No more walking to escape the
constant scratching, itching and bursts of insanity at my parents’
My parents collected in the living room, smiling. “Really, its ready?” my Dad asked.
now, right now!” I said, facing both my parents, dancing. My Mother
stood in front of me, rubbing her crotch, absent-minded. Maybe it itched
her, whatever the case, I found it distracting and slowed down my
sentence until I stared at her hand, rubbing up and down over her
genitals. Then I stopped speaking entirely and said, “I really hope you
don’t do that in public.”
“Hey!” she said, then stuck out her
front teeth and manically rubbed her crotch, “I will do whatever I want
to do.” She shook her head like I was completely out of line and looked
at my Father with a smirk. He chuckled back at her, as if it was a
shared joke that their daughter was demented for bringing it up.
drove me out to White Salmon, which was a 20 minute drive along the
windy, mountain highway. Before they could park the car, I opened my
door to jump out. “Would you control yourself!” my Mother snarled. “We
aren’t that bad, are we?”
Now, the last pair of Hollywood bosses I worked for asked me the same question, and it got the same response: Silence.
I retrieved the key for my vehicle, got in my car and waved at my parents, “See ya!” And I took off to Vancouver, WA.
again was fucking phenomenal. I can tell you it was better than sex. I
rolled down the windows and blasted Tom Petty then flew down the highway
along the Gorge. The windsurfers and parasailers cut across the choppy
waters of the Columbia River. Mt. Hood was watching from afar, capped in
fresh snow. The trees played shadow puppets with the sun overhead, as I
zipped through more and more forest.
When I got to Vancouver, I
filed for a replacement Social Security card (which I have needed for
years), then I found a nearby salon where I could finally get a pedicure
and a wax. The closest place was Priscilla’s Salon, buried between a
gas station and a smoke shop.
Vancouver, Washington is
where I grew up from the age of 13 to 18 (not to be confused with
Vancouver, BC). When we moved there, to me it was paradise. Of course
anything was paradise compared to where we came from, Milwaukee,
Wisconsin. In the 1990s, Vancouver was a few apartment buildings, a
movie theater or two and just fields of land. It was gorgeous. I would
walk out into tall grass and admire the sun melting into pink and orange
on one side of the field, while the moon and a few stars slowly
appeared through shades of periwinkle and lavender on the other. I
would walk everywhere, just to cut through the thick grass. There was
space to stretch out and think.
Vancouver has no more fields. There are no more pastel sunsets through
tall grass. There is no space to stretch, explore and admire. All of it,
and I mean every last acre, has been paved and built on, used for
parking lots, Starbuck’s, car washes and Border’s bookstores that have
been built and now remain vacant. New streets cut through new blocks and
new strip malls, making it confusing to navigate and easy to get lost.
One block would look identical to the next, but streets would wind
around in circles like they were an afterthought.
It also seemed
dreary. The sunlight on the mountaintop by the Hotel in Skamania was
warm and pure. Here, in the city, it was just a bulb behind a dusty
shade of clouds and industrial fumes. Even though I drove down the same
streets from high school, through the old haunts- the Shari’s, the
Safeway, the Computer Shop where my boyfriend worked, the Gas Station
where I asked a stranger how to use a pump . . . there were no real
memories. It all looked too different now, and they all looked sad,
to Priscilla’s Salon I went, first was the wax. The woman was older,
Asian and barely spoke English. I should have known what I was in for
when she cued up the soft music. I laid down and heard her say, “This
hurt . . . you ready?”
“Oh, I am used to it,” I said, waiting for
the first pull of hot wax. The sound of a meat slicer rose up over us,
and I winced. Then she held down my torso just over my clitorus. At
first, I thought, “Wow, someone is finally touching my clitorus.” Then I
felt pressure, fingers and grinding from her wrist and arm as she put
all her weight on my delicate flower to yank out even more pubic hair. I
cried somewhere deep inside, but didn’t open my mouth.
“You strong,” she said. “Good girl!”
I mumbled in a cough. She took off everything, it was a full on
Brazilian wax- which I never ask for because a) it reminds me of being a
little girl and b) it is a lot more expensive. Off it all went, and I
thought, “Might as well. Fresh start.”
“All done,” she said. “Most women complain. Not you.”
sat up and caught my reflection in the mirror, all my eyeliner was
melting down my face. That bitch made me cry without me even knowing it.
my pedicure, I stumbled on over to the nearest dive bar, barefoot, and
ordered a shot of whisky and a beer. My hair was in Princess Leia buns, I
was wearing a Rolling Stones t-shirt, small blue shorts and my
heart-shaped sunglasses. The daylight was smearing through the opaque
windows and the clack of pool balls sung in the background. I looked
around for a man, and found none to my liking. The afternoon was still
So someone bought my next round, a Mexican who barely spoke English. “You come home with me?” he asked.
“I am not that kind of girl, sorry,” I lied.
“I pay you. How much? You say how much and I pay,” he said.
“Excuse me,” I said, staring at him.
He giggled then waved his hand at me. “Nevermind.”
“Are you asking how much I charge for sex? Wow. That is . . . a first. Thank you,” I said.
“Misunderstand. No. No. Sorry. No,” he said.
older guy bought my next round and played a game of pool with me. He
killed it, and I was impressed. We got to talking. “Why don’t you come
home and I will have my daughter cook you something special for dinner? I
am just around the corner here. The whole family is there. I have dogs
too,” he said, sweetly. His hair was turning from gray to white. He kept
his goatee and baseball hat on to feel young. I just felt sorry for
“Maybe,” I would chime until he finally left. He made me promise I would stay at the bar until he got back.
the time it grew dark, I was wasted. There was always a beer and shot
of whisky on the bar next to me. Every time I looked up, I felt bad
looking at the tall, frothy ale and the respectable, small spirit
staring back at me. They became a familiar couple, but I knew I was in
over my head. Eventually, I had to walk away from them just to save
myself. I stumbled across the parking lot for Vietnamese restaurant and
filled up fast, but I was still too drunk to drive.
I sat in my car and I do what any girl does when she is alone, some
place she has never been and intoxicated beyond belief. I tried to call
The first choice, unfortunately, was Huck, the last boy I
fucked. Luckily, I was smart enough when sober to delete any remnant of
our conversations off my phone, any call logs, any text messages . . .
however, there was one mystery number that was 608, and I called. A
woman answered. I apologized and hung up.
Then I called Abe, my
on-again off-again boyfriend of the last 2 years. It had been months
since we spoke. When I returned from France, he never bothered to
schedule a time for us to chat on-line or over the phone, despite his
missed chats and texts and my muddled sleeping schedule, so I blew him
off. Huck was an easy distraction for awhile and, to be completely
honest, the best thing Huck ever did was help me get over Abe.
said, when you are alone in a parking lot at 10pm, trying to shake off
whisky, heartbreak and eccentric, controlling parents . . . you have to
call someone. Abe picked up, and lightly coughed before saying, “Hello?
. . . Hello?” He always did that, followed one hello with another with
that tickle in his throat, probably from smoking so much. He smokes so
many cigarettes when he was in Europe backpacking with his cousin, the
locals nicknamed him “The Chimney.” He also smokes weed every day, all
“Hi,” I said, “I am drunk and in a parking lot. I need you to talk me down.”
He chuckled a little, “Ok,” he said.
conversation was friendly, foggy and he stayed on with me after I
turned on my engine and headed back on the freeway. I told him I hated
my parents, how living with them was unbearable, the comments about me
looking fat, the scratching and rubbing of genitals. “I am glad I
haven’t had kids yet because I wouldn’t want them to ever know them.”
Abe parents meant love, support, comfort, big houses and lots of food,
concern and warmth. I loved his parents, and part of the reason I wanted
us to end up together so badly was the allure of his family. No matter
what stories I told, no matter how critical or rude or irritated I was
when I spoke about my family, Abe could never absorb what they were to
me, and I resented him for it.
“They are probably being over-protective because they are so happy to have their daughter back home,” he would say.
“NO! No. No. No,” I said. “Listen to me! They don’t want me there. At all!”
listened and somehow the conversation jumped tracks to our
relationship. Though I was in a blistering meltdown of whisky, dark
highways and general aggravation, I do remember saying, “When you broke
up with me before your cousin’s wedding, that really fucked me up. You
know?” I started crying and put one hand on my face to stop my eyes from
watering, like it was a gauze.
In April, before France, Abe
proposed that we move in together, found a great duplex in Orange County
and bought me an expensive dress for his cousin’s wedding later that
month. For two weeks I was in heaven. Even my roommate said, “It is
everything you wanted.” Skeptically, I responded with a “ . . . yeah. It
is.” Abe would have rescued me from poverty, from moving in with my
parents, from all the things I felt bogged down and worried by- he could
have rescued me- but he backed out the Thursday before the wedding. He
said we would never work out and he asked me not to attend the wedding. I
can describe to you many moments of disappointment and humiliation, but
the one that rings out with the most poison, with the loudest, blood
curling echo is hearing this man I love (and I do still love him) tell
me I wasn’t good enough for his family.
“Why did you do that? It fucked me up, man.” I said, holding my face up to see the highway.
“I know it did. I know it fucked you up. I am sorry,” he said. That is all he could say.
I pulled into my parent’s driveway, the lights were out. For the first
time, they didn’t wait up for me. I stumbled into my bedroom and fell
asleep, still unsatisfied, still sad and still looking for something
else. All that time I waited for the car to set me free, but it just