Let me first lay some basic vehicular groundwork down:
My 2007 hyundai was worth $5,000 in Portland. That was the price I was offered by a few small dealerships willing to do a trade. To make sure I got the hell out of the Northwest with my three dogs safe, I opted to keep the car and make it down to L.A. first before selling. However, in L.A., my car was only worth $3,000. This was a car I bought for $7k and just bought new wheels, new brakes and a new engine (twice over) for after three years of payments. When the brakes went out one night in Burbank, my wheels shut down, the car froze and everyone honked at me with all the care and understanding Los Angeles is known for. I parked the car, called a tow and then called Michael.
The car trouble followed me from 2011, when the engine blew out of the hyundai. Trekking back and forth to work from the border of the Angeles National forest was bad. Trying to pay off the $1,000 deductible while still making payments was worse. Fixing the car and being free for a few months was great until the engine blew again, 6 months later. Haggling with the mechanic, haggling with the insurance company and worst of all, depending on my senile, eccentric and catty parents for transport out of a very rural part of Washington state was the absolute worst. Now the goddamn thing was failing me on something as simple as brakes, now so severely damaged in just the month I was driving it, the minimum of cost to repair would be $500.
Michael and I had only been dating for a couple weeks and I was worried the latest of personal devastations would drive him away. There is always something bad that happens, and there is always a man who leaves around the time that something bad happens. When Michael arrived, he gave me a cigarette and laughed at me, watching as I kicked my car and made all the necessary calls. I negotiated a sale for the vehicle to the tow truck driver, ending up at $2700. Not bad … all things considered. I mean, it was a disappointment. I thought I could sell that car, buy a cheaper one and pay off the deposit on the new place maybe even get a new tattoo, replace the loose porcelain cap over my tooth, buy a fridge. I had to let all of that go now. So it wasn’t that bad considering I was at a bar in Burbank, nursing a martini and trying to make my 23-yr-old date laugh. I’d hoped he wouldn’t notice how frazzled I was. It was just a car. It was just a bad investment. It was the end of my dreaming about what I could pull off, at least for awhile. He didn’t need to know all that yet.
The car, I named Janis in 2009, took a pound of flesh out of me. The car payments I signed on for were fine on my salary, but I was laid off a month or so later. Those payments were my greatest expense for years, but I managed it while unemployed and, even at times, homeless. The mechanical problems with Janis were so emotionally and financially exhausting in the 3 years I owned her, that by the time her eyes rolled back in my arms that night, I really needed to let her go.
Michael, wanting to impress, offered me his vehicle to use while he bussed and walked to work. At the time, he was a receptionist at the same Doggie Daycare I worked for the few years prior to leaving LA. Now that I was back, I knew the resident sociopath there had been promoted to manager and there was no way in hell I was going to return as his employee. Not to mention, my former roommate, an emotionally retarded kid in her early twenties, was still working there. We ended on bad terms after she accused me of stealing her bed before leaving the apartment and leaving L.A. (Truth be told, the bitch withheld funds meant for flood damages to my unit from the landlord, and since I was subletting, my legal rights were limited in the matter … Not only did she lie about the amount refunded for the flooding, which drove me and my three dogs out of the unit entirely, but she reduced the “reported” moneys owed to me for rental of the bed I was using, so I took the bed as full payment. And I will sleep on it comfortably tonight.) She is fundamentally a bad person. Anyway, I didn’t need that kind of grief for $10 an hour.
Michael worked there for $12 an hour and didn’t have very many personality problems being that he was a boy (which put all males at an advantage with female upper management- I am assuming because they never got laid) and he was so easy-going. When Doggie Daycare got wind that he and I were dating, things changed. The imaginary war they had with me somehow transferred over to Michael. Managers were yelling at him for problems that occurred on the playground. For example, he was accused of failing to issue the proper naps to an aggressive dog who initiated a fight. During the time of the dogfight, Michael was greeting guests and filing paperwork in the lobby. Never mind the handful of employees left to supervise and monitor the dogs themselves on the playground. (Michael never worked on the playground, he was always stuck at the front desk. Something he hoped to change.) The HR woman, notoriously passive-aggressive, cut his hours- something she was famous for doing to employees who suddenly fell out of favor. I called her on it once. “That would be illegal!”she said.
“I know,” I returned. After a brief silence, “Ok, you can come in and work whenever you want to,” she said. And I did.
Only a few weeks before, everyone welcomed Michael back with open arms when he told them he wasn’t moving to Milwaukee afterall. Even the owner, known for being cold in person, embraced him. Now that he was in one spot and revoked his notice, he was thinking about putting in his notice again. He wanted to work somewhere he could spend more time with dogs, and less with people. Somewhere he wouldn’t have to worry about who defriended him, who was giving him the silent treatment and why … somewhere he wouldn’t be watched so meticulously for his next mistake so they could put pressure on him. Pressure to do what, exactly? Break up with me? I don’t know that I would go that far, or give them that much credit as thinking individuals. They were pushing him and no one would say why.
One day, while Michael was at work, I was pulling out of my driveway in his elantra when an Armenian woman, driving well over 35 miles an hour down a residential, took off the whole front end of Michael’s car. Despite the minor dent in her passenger side door, she cried, called the police and sued for injuries. Her father even came out (she was 45 years old, so don’t ask me why) and they obstructed our driveway for two hours after the incident until I asked them to move.
Leaning against yet another vehicle devastated by chance and bad luck, I lit up another much needed cigarette. A woman passing by stopped. “Don’t worry. You come into life with nothing. You leave with nothing.”
Michael walked to my house from work. “You probably saved me from some horrible accident on the freeway. That car was a death trap. I am relieved really …” he said, holding my hand. “I am just glad you are ok.”
The insurance company found in favor of that Armenian woman since I was pulling out of the driveway and speed is nearly impossible to prove. That left both Michael and myself without a car. I have bussed it before, but with the sprawling city of L.A. and a job that required a vehicle, we were really screwed for a while.
My roommate, Frank, said “If that was my car and you were the one driving when that happened … I would be outta here. That was the test. It was his moment to save the day. Now nothing is going to break you two up.”
Michael put on a face for me, but I could tell by the brooding over his room-temperature 24 oz. can of Mickey’s that he was hit hard. His kindness never wavered. He never lost his temper. He never raised his voice. He never held it over my head. It never resurfaced in arguments over other things. A few days later, he lost his iPhone while walking my dogs. When he came back, he fell face first onto my bed. I walked him to the 7Eleven and told him we could watch whatever movie he wanted and drink whatever he wanted … “The Bodyguard” he said.
“With … Whitney Houston?”
“... ok. Whatever you want.”
Never once did he allow me to feel the pressure he was under. I wanted to be that kind of person. To be patient and kind, never a prisoner of resentment or negativity but always a solid, self-contained person who kept things in perspective. Unfortunately, I have the emotional maturity of a 14-year-old. Saying this aloud once to Michael, he crunched his brow and nodded heavily.
“Well, you know whose fault that is?” I said.
He knew the answer very well. “Your mother’s?” he said.
“That’s right. My mother.”
“That bitch …” he teased.
Instead of his patience and even-keeled mentality spreading to me, my ornery, argumentative and passionate mood swings passed over to him. In the beginning of our courtship, when we navigated around a bad driver who failed to put on their signal or cut us off, he would roll down his window and shout, “Hey, hey. I don’t like you! You suck!” Now, he would shout, “Hey, fuck you! Yeah, you! FUCK YOU!” Though, I never saw him at work, I sensed the attitude was carried over, and not without justification. That said, there was one person to blame for his sudden change of attitude, his willingness to say “no” to working a day he requested off or his refusal to absorb the blame from management on a bad day. Me.
I could also see my bad luck rubbing off on him and it scared me. He was the nicest person I had ever been with. He was working hard to impress me, so hard I could see it slowly killing him. He wasn’t smiling or laughing as much. He was exhausted from walking to work every day- initially he refused to take the bus because it was so unreliable. I didn’t want to lose him. It always seems as though I drag everyone I love down into my hole. Now, he was being buried in it.
“At least you acknowledge it,” Frank said in the kitchen one day. Hearing someone else say it made it real. So, I worked against it. I tried to make Michael laugh. I gave him blow jobs. Walked him to work with a thermos of coffee at 5am and told him outrageous stories as the sun rose. Then … I introduced him to drugs.
I am an advocate of drug use. For some reason, people turn my words and hear, “I advocate drug abuse.” No. I advocate drug use. I didn’t open up the crystal curtain to cure Michael of depression or distract him from life, I led him into that world to give him something back, to kick up some magic dust, to help him see the world beyond work every day, looming parking tickets and temperamental co-workers. I don’t have very much money, but you don’t need much to hop a comet and ride through another universe.
While we were car-less, he was dog-sitting in a mansion. During the early stages of courtship, it is difficult spending time away from each other. So I would drop by. Being a professional pet-sitter, I had no qualms with making myself at home there. Afterall, we played with the dogs more than we played with each other. Michael told me I could help myself to anything in the house, including a stocked beer fridge in the garage. One night, instead of beer and champagne, I brought a few pills of MDMA and my gay boyfriend, Trent. (I should add that Trent is also a professional dog-sitter, so though there might be a question of ethics here in violating the home of a client, those dogs were WELL taken care of.)
Michael insisted he didn’t feel it, even as he paced back and forth on his phone, sweating and shouting to a friend back home in Milwaukee how much he loved him. You could see Michael’s testosterone surge, which is a bit of a surprise from his typical boyishness. His voice, face and small(er) physique lead you to believe he is younger than he is, innocent, naive … and he is to some degree, at least more so than the rest of us. But on this particular night his voice deepened and he became more argumentative, more hard-headed, maybe even a little intense.
“I have never seen people respond to MDMA like this except when I am with you,” Trent said. A couple years before, we rolled with Frank in his Hollywood apartment, long before we were roommates. Out of the blue, Frank punched the couch. It put us on edge, but now I am beginning to understand that straight men, when flooded with dopamines and emotion, snap a little. I won’t pretend to suggest why other than acknowledging the obvious- men are raised to resist emotion, unless it comes in the form of anger.
“Can we have feelings talk, please?” Michael asked and asked and asked.
“Let’s just enjoy ourselves,” I said. “Feelings Talk” is always a push for Michael when he has had too much to drink, but now, more than ever, it was bouncing off the side of the wall and back in my face like a rubber ball and paddle.
“No!” I said finally. “NO we can not have feelings talk!”
“How dare you!” Michael said. Then I slapped him in the face. He claims it was hard but, if my hand wasn’t burning, it was just a love tap. He retreated to the master bedroom on the upper level, and I followed to ease his mind. The first time you do any drug, it is always good to have a veteran there to guide you through, keep your mind on track and your nerves soft. So I seduced him. There, the first time we made love that night, a small drop of blood smeared on the bed covers.
“Is that blood?” I said, turning pale.
Michael clapped his hands together, “It’s a mitzvah!”
The love-making resumed downstairs, in the guest bedroom. Trent would come down the short staircase occasionally, “Um, is this the bathroom?” he asked.
“Yeah, help yourself,” we said, not even thinking to close the bedroom door while we made love, even as Trent walked up and down the hallway. Every few hours, his head would pop around the side of Michael’s swinging scrotum, “Um … sorry to bother you again, but is the beer down here?”
“Yeah, come on down,” Michael said.
The guest bathroom had heated floors and a bidet. The bidet could spray warm water towards the genitals or the rectum. It was around this time I discovered the joys of “pulsating” mode. It also was wired with a companion drying device, oscillation available. The MDMA put my body in a constant state of engorged sensitivity. A touch of the human hand, a spray of hot water, the chill from cold bed sheets, the soft grain of fur on a dog’s back, it all engulfs you and the world is heightened. When I think about MDMA, I remember the night I discovered magic in the Puget Sound. In 1996, I went to school around there as an Undergrad. At night, we hiked down to the water and someone could take a stick, shove it down the placid black pool of water gently lapping up against the muddy beaches, and a trail of light would ignite behind the movement. The dinoflagellates (a single-celled organism that floats with the plankton) is bioluminesce; meaning when stimulated, it glows in the dark “either as a continuous glow or an instantaneous flash”. Watching the unseen life light up like steps of vertebrae along the spine could only be, exist and happen, for one reason, at least one reason for an 18-year-old who didn’t know any better ... simply to be beautiful. To reveal a world of wonder that has yet to be discovered. Those flashes of light find their way along the body and spirit when the night, company and drug line up perfectly. And in the magic of science, you find your place in the universe, if only for a few seconds.
Tumbling around with Michael downstairs, and joking around with Trent upstairs was divine; my two favorite men in one house and all my senses tickled with physical and emotional love. It was one of the best nights of my life.
You don’t need drugs to appreciate the world, to reinvigorate sex and friendship, to make you laugh and cry about all the beautifully tragic things webbed into a fragile and complicated human being- but it helps.
When morning came and we sent Michael out to find us food, I apologized to Trent. “Sorry we spent so much time having sex and leaving you up here alone.”
“That’s ok. It was sexy listening to all those noises. It really was. By the way, he is definitely straight.”
Later, Michael would complain about the evening, “I don’t know, you were kind of a downer. You brought me down, man.”
“Michael, you realize we had sex about 12 times in one night …”
“Oh … yeah.”
Later that week, Doggie Daycare suspected something was going on. Unfortunately, Trent, Michael and I all had ties to this Doggie Daycare. We all worked there, we all had friends who once worked there and some who still do. When we posted pictures to Facebook, someone squealed to management and before we knew it, the promoted sociopath of Doggie Daycare was making unexpected visits to the house.
“They said they found a marijuana pipe, saw all the beer was gone and claimed 500 miles was put on their car. Oh yeah, they also found the bloody sheets,” Michael said following a reprimand at work. I buried my face in my hands, horrified. There is no secret at Doggie Daycare. My previous boss, my previous co-workers, my ex-roommate, my enemies, my acquaintances, my friends all knew I had bloodied those sheets. It was a side effect from taking the morning after pill a few days before. My cheeks burned. The air was sucked out of my lungs. I lifted my head up, “Haven’t they ever heard of a party?”
Michael laughed. “They didn’t fire me, but I quit. I had to. I’ve worked there for years and they are going to send [Sociopath] to check on me? I’m sorry, but that’s an insult. I don’t need it.”
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“Yeah, fuck that place,” he said. “Anyway, I can’t go back now.”
My friend, Sascha, gave him a job at a dog training facility in Hollywood. Michael took a slight pay cut, lost hours in his work week and now had to bus it an hour each way into Hollywood. He claimed he was happier but I could see he was tired.
So, in the month we dated, Michael lost his car, his phone and his job.
“I am ruining your life,” I said.
“That’s ok,” he smiled, “I am having a good time.”