My birthday was coming up in January. I would be 35 years-old. I had lots of ideas about who I would be at 35. Married. A career. A child. Maybe two.
I remembered when Madonna turned 35. I was 15 years-old and thought she was still beautiful. Even in my mind back then, before I had fully developed as a woman, I thought the possibility of still being sexy, still being alive was out there. I had plenty of time.
As it turned out, I do. Here I was, going out dancing whenever I wanted to. Dating a 23-year-old. Wearing scandalous outfits and grabbing compliments, instead of glares, from other girls in the restroom. I didn’t have a career, but didn’t feel like anyone did. We were in the middle of a recession. Those who had careers and savings accounts were now temping for companies or waiting at home for an email back on a job or an interview.
Friends with kids were all consumed. Loving their kids. Working for their kids. Trying to plan as best they could for kids in a country where education is expensive and jobs are scarce.
I didn’t feel any less fulfilled with a family of Los Angeles transplants and orphans, rather than blood and wedding bands. But a depression was creeping up on me. It could have been my post-residency come down. All my friends were gone and my schedule opened up. Tension about Huck lingered.
“You act like you should get some award for not sleeping with him,” Michael, my boyfriend, said.
“I should … it was really hard.”
It could have been working my ass off day and night for the rest of the year, through all the holidays, only to leave me broke after repairs on a recently purchased, bad used car.
It could be that I was turning 35, or that I was having my first birthday estranged from my parents. They kicked me out in August. Now it was January and I hadn’t heard a word from them. I ignored my mother’s birthday, then my father’s birthday for the first time in my entire life. I got no phone calls on Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s. Maybe a voicemail from my sister, but nothing from my parents.
Not an email asking if I was ok.
Not a voicemail just to hear my voice.
Not a card with love sent from Mom and Dad.
My parents were dead to me. And I was dead to them. That was a harsh reality for a birthday. We didn’t have much money, but Alia and her boyfriend Ryan, my roommate Frank, my best friend Trent, my oldest friend in LA Jeph and my boyfriend all went to a club in Silverlake called The Echoplex. I thought the jams would be a mix of old and new songs. Something called “Bootie Mash-Up” advertised as “LA's original mashup bootleg dance party, spinning only the finest bootlegs and bastard pop.”
The Echoplex is kind of a small venue with a couple bartenders in far corners. There is no line for drinks, so you kind of have to figure out where you are in a receding line-up without stepping on the wrong person’s toes. And why I thought a mash-up would be a fusion of old and new songs, I don’t know. It was hard to recognize any of the songs. I realized how far my head was in the musical past. Several songs would spin before one was within recognition. Something about that in and of itself was depressing for me. My musical life was dying out, and once again I didn’t fit in and probably wouldn’t as time goes on. I was out of synch.
Somewhere in the night, Trent just left and went home. My friends wanted to keep me chipper, but the booze and the music weighed me down. Michael felt like he screwed up my birthday with the wrong venue and lack of preparation.
After we all said goodnight, Frank, Michael and I grabbed some vegan food at a midnight diner on the overpass. I was still drunk … I must have been, because around 3am I drunk-dialed my mother.
It rang. I heard her tired but worried voice say, “Hello?”
“FUCK YOU!!!!” I said, hard and low. Then I hung up.
Michael laughed and Frank kind of smiled threw his cigar. “That’s horrible. Don’t do that.”
Somewhere in the next few minutes, Michael and I thought it would be a great idea for him to follow-up my phone call. At this point, my mother turned off her cell and it went straight into her voicemail.
“Um, yes hello, I am here with the very beautiful and talented, [StarFire] and wanted to let you know that I think you are a complete fucking cunt. Now, you can go and fuck yourself. Goodnight,” he said, in a very polite, matter-of-fact kind of way.
We laughed. We laughed to keep my heart from sagging.
“Alright, give me your mother’s number,” Frank asked.
“You are going to call?” I asked.
“No. Never. I am just going to hold on to it in case of an emergency.”
I wondered what would happen if I was in a car accident, or raped and killed. Frank would call my parents and what would they do. Would they come? Would it fix things? Or would they say, “She’s not our daughter,” or “She had it coming, the drunk,” or would they just hang up. They haven’t done the right thing so far, why would they start now?
First thing in the morning, I felt hung-over and immediately bad about the drunk dialing. “We shouldn’t have done that,” I said, with smudged eyeliner and snagged morning hair.
“Probably not,” Michael said, “but what they did to you was much worse.”
My parents abandoned me. I tell myself it doesn’t mean as much when you are an adult. After the age of 30, you should be fine getting kicked out, with three dogs and no place to stay. You don’t need a mother or father anymore, you are your own person. The fact is, no matter how old are you, you need your mommy.
Maybe that is why my mother got the brunt of the midnight phone calls. I didn’t care to interact at all with my father- the man who made me uncomfortable as a child with his unpredictable temperament and bizarre post-Vietnam War behavior. He was the one who smashed my nose in at the dinner table when I was 13 because I smacked my lips too loudly in imitation. I couldn’t stand how they ate at the dinner table. My nose bled for 5 minutes and I screamed in horror thinking it would never stop bleeding. He was the one who dragged me into the bathroom by my hair and told my mother to check to see if I was still a virgin because I was late coming home from school. He repeatedly kicked me out of the house in middle-school and high-school for acting out, for being moody, for sleeping too long. He kicked my boombox apart for playing music too loud.
My mother was supposed to protect me. "Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children."
I always crept back up my parents’ doorstep and mended things. I knew the only way to get out of that suburb and get into a four-year-college was to do it using my parents’ as a springboard.
They suggested I move in with my high school boyfriend. Even at 17, I had visions of working at the mall, going to the movies every Friday as a retreat, eating at strip malls. I didn’t belong in that suburb and, maybe even then, I knew I didn’t belong with my boyfriend. I loved him, but there was more for me out there. So I soothed my parents when I needed to, ducked my head and worked my ass off until I turned 18. Once they dropped me off at that four-year-college in Olympia, WA, I was free.
Then why did I move back when I was 34? Didn’t I remember the tension, the strained mealtime conversation, the nervous pacing, judgement and irritation with little things, like my bursts of singing? Didn’t I remember that I resented them?
The quick answer is no, I didn’t. After I moved out at 18, I loyally visited my parents. For the last 15 years, I called my mother almost every day. The one Christmas I spent away from her, she cried on my voicemail. I was faithful, anyway. Children always are.
When I moved back, I was a more whole person. I was no longer a child, no longer as insecure or needy for validation. I was an adult, and that behavior, their behavior was peculiar. Then it grew hostile. This time, when they threw me out, I didn’t hang my head and offer to make things right. I didn’t soothe them with apologies or tears. I just left.
I don’t know how they feel. I know my sister showed them how to block my number from their cell phones. “I have to say I was shocked hearing my little sister talk that way to my 70-year-old mother,” she said.
Wasn’t she shocked when her mother kicked out her little sister? Why didn’t that warrant the same reaction? Am I not worth as much to her?
In those few weeks after my birthday, I read my final semester notes from my mentor. Her words changed from encouraging to judgmental, from interested to bored and “confused”. She didn’t like my final submission and felt that my material was too personal. “[She] tends to write about men she had sex with when the audience may not find that as interesting as she does.”
The words burned holes in my chest. It was then that I laid down in bed and didn’t get up for four days. The dog-walking business was down. No one was booking me after the holidays.
Michael was growingly frustrated. With the depression, I was snarky with him. I rolled my eyes and was sarcastic, at times rude. I wish I could write something poetic here about why I was that way to the one person who loved and supported me every day, all day. I really don’t know how to justify it, other than saying depression clouds you with darkness. You can’t really see anyone or anything. The self-loathing poisons your whole demeanor, even towards the kindest souls. I hated myself but couldn’t do anything, not even shower or eat.
“I just can’t make you happy,” he said. “We have to break up.”
When Michael broke up with me, he was dog-sitting at a mansion in Sierra Madre, about half an hour east. He was staying there overnight for about a week. So when he left, he said it was permanent. We weren’t working as a couple. My life was snowballing into a total disaster.
So I did what any self-destructive, depressed Los Angeleno would do … I bought cocaine. Frank and I stayed up listening to Bob Dylan and snorted the night away. In the morning, the come down was like an ice truck crushing me against the asphalt. I was crying.
I called Michael and he picked up.
“I need to see you,” I said.
He came right over and he held me. He held me all day as I cried in his arms and tried to fall asleep. My body would twitch and flinch with nightmares, and he laid awake and cradled me like I was a baby who couldn’t sleep. When I would wake up, I would cry again.
“I can’t lose you, too,” I said.
“It was bad baby, really bad,” he said, kissing my hair.
“I’m sorry,” I cried into his shirt, before drifting again, into another nightmare.
When Michael left that night, I pulled myself together. The self-pity, the darkness, the cocaine, the nightmares all had to stop so I could get my life back. I had to keep going and pretend it didn’t all hurt for another few months so I could gain momentum. I had to make jokes, so people would laugh. I would have to dance, so people would play more music. I had to write more, so someone could send me a few words of encouragement from somewhere. I had to make love to my boyfriend so he could feel my love, if not in the tone of my voice or in the way I was treating him, then with my body, my mouth, my cunt.
I did love him.
I drove out to Sierra Madre to see him and ask him to give me another chance. He hugged me. I rested my chin on the top of his head and felt that soft, black hair around my face. Towering over him, I felt myself melt.
“I’m not going to cry,” he said in my shoulder, “because I am a man.” In my arms he cried. And I got my second chance.