Thursday, July 11, 2013

Estranged, Out of Synch and Slipping on Black Ice

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?

Lose your illusions 2

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.

Cocaine hell of a drug

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.

Path of Life

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Driving Your Boyfriend Slowly Insane

Everyone went home after residency. And so did I. The holiday season was coming and I would be thrown into several weeks of constant dog-walks, kitty visits and overnights. My day would last 7am to 10pm.

Honoring Michael’s request, I disclosed the emotional affair I had with Huck over residency. I told him all the moments we kissed. I told him about the night I lay on his hotel bed with an erect cock in my hand. He took a moment. Well, more than a moment.

He got drunk and went outside to play songs off his phone.

“I have reduced my boyfriend to chain-smoking on the front porch, drinking out of a bottle of wine and listening to Frank Sinatra love songs,” I said. "Baby, there can only be one of us in this relationship."
"I know ... I am dealing with things. This is how I deal. I would never kill myself without you. And don't think murder-suicide cause ... that's just lame. I wouldn't ever do that," he said, hanging his had low over a pint of Budweiser.

"Great, well ... I wasn't thinking that but thank you for inviting the discussion."

Do it yourself coffins

Michael crawled inside and rolled around on the ground. I don’t understand the behavior but I have seen it a few times when he is distraught. He tucks in his arms and locks and rocks side to side, like an overturned ladybug.

“Roll with me,” he said. “Just get down and roll with me.”

I did, for a little bit. Then I asked him to pull himself together.

We had been through a lot. My car broke down. His car was smashed up. My second car died. And now my third car was dead.

“I know I am insane and always hysterical,” I said. “Let’s talk about how a sane person would deal with this ... you know as a guide. A tutorial. How does a sane person deal with four cars dying in 2 months?”

"I can tell you how I dealt with a $2,000 ticket followed by a $1,000 tow because my registration expired. I sat there and cried my eyes out for half an hour which I am sure they are used to since they just went about their business. Then I met a beautiful, intelligent woman who I fell in love with and makes me want to put a gun in my mouth right now."


I never thought it was a good idea to tell him everything that happened with other men, or rather Huck. Even when he asked me for full disclosure, I told him it was a bad idea. I believe sometimes it is better not knowing what your significant other thinks or does. If you are exposing them to potential disease, of course … you must disclose intercourse. But a kiss. An embrace. A thought. Exchanging those kind of free-flowing fluids would be enough to make anyone insane. Not only with the one you love, but every human being you pass. Who wants to read thoughts when you have Facebook. At least you have a chance to articulate, to edit, to think about what you want to say. As a human being, we are raw animals first, second we are sensitive, progressive human beings.


There was no denying that my winter residency with Huck changed things. It isn’t as though I pined for him, as I did before. I didn’t fantasize or obsess. I didn’t wonder about other girls or his feelings. I just deeply appreciated the connection. It would be na├»ve to say one connection doesn’t disrupt another. And here is where my free love and boundless affection does become a problem. Whether or not we are monogamous creatures in the long haul, we are monogamous in a moment. I loved Michael, but my mind strayed to Huck. Not what ifs, not what I wants … just whatever it was. There was comfort in his friendship, in the lingering attraction, after the chaos of the Fall. It wasn’t a flash in the pan or a foolish piece of ass. We actually liked each other. Color me sentimental, but it means a lot. It means a hell of a lot.

Me on Xmas

My distance with Michael was harder to manage when I was spending nights at other dogs’ homes for paid overnight visits. We needed the money. Christmas would be a non-stop drive around town, extra treats, extra love with other people’s animals. Meanwhile, my family, my three dogs and neglected boyfriend, was home without me. “A Muppet Christmas Carol” cued up, warming champagne, no Christmas decorations or tree and my exhausted body pushing through to the next house on my schedule.

There was no time to reconnect with my boyfriend. There was only time to work and think. I wasn’t confused, but I was smitten.

Mike on Xmas

When I went to my boyfriend’s place of business, an indoor doggie gym in West Hollywood, we watched a Mommy training with her puppy.

"He says 'I Love You'. Listen, I just say it first” I love you! I love you! I love you! Come on ... I love you,” she begged.

The dog sat down and looked confused.

"He really does say it, I love you! I love you!"

"Does this situation remind you of anyone, baby?” Michael asked me. “A portrait of my life."

"I have to show you video of him saying it. He does say it!" the dog owner insisted, pulling out her cell phone.

I don’t want to hurt Michael. I didn’t want to hurt Michael. I just needed space to think and feel without consequence. That is the ultimate difference between action and thought. A million feelings pass through the two. I don’t want the person I love the most to stamp each one with approval, with acknowledgement. I want to float around a little bit, fall in love, fall in hate, feel disgust, feel compelled … then reflect on it. Make sense of it. That is life.

Here I am, flipping through my copy of Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, looking for one passage that struck me last month. It is night now. My contacts are burning my eyes. The TV is on in the living room. And the white wine is soothing my throat after smoking too much this week. I had quit for awhile but writing always brings me back.

Didion said, in a more poetic arrangement, that you can fall in love many times, but the one you marry is the one that shapes your life; the one who shapes your identity. Michael, though much younger, though less experienced, was my husband. And my feelings towards someone I still feel “love toward” and one who has shaped my life are uniquely different. You cannot buy and own love. You cannot stick a flag in my abdomen and say I own this part of you. Sharing my life however, that is as close as you can get and probably much more fulfilling an experience.

The Right Apple

Michael and I rode around from job to job together- just to be together. He waited in the car for 30 minute dog visits and drove 10, 20 and 30 minutes with me to other houses. We got coffee together in the morning. I should have been a peach to him. I should have been Doris Day. But I wasn’t. I acted like a confused, bitchy teenager who didn’t have time to separate her thoughts.

“Do you think Starbucks has a toaster?” Michael asked over strong lattes one early morning.
“I don’t know, why don’t you ask,” I said a little too slow, a little too bitter.

“I oughtta hit you in the god damn mouth right now,” he said. I smiled a little at him. I don’t want to be hit, but admired him for saying it. He was standing up for himself, and though I admired it at the time, I wish he took a more controlled approach. “I have never wanted to hit a woman before in my entire life,” he said looking down.

“I have that effect on men,” I said, soberly.

I knew I was a hard girl to fall in love with. I keep my ex-boyfriends. I kiss everybody on the mouth. I flirt without ever registering the moment. I loved the guy though, and he had no way of seeing that quite yet.

“You should come to the gym with me and work out. I think you need the exercise,” he said.

“How can you say that after all the work I did on you last night?” I asked.
“Yeah, and you gave up?”

“Is that so, Mr. Can You Get On Top?” I quipped.

“No, you were great last night.”

“Finally, a compliment,” I said, slapping my hand down on the wobbly, cheap table in the corner of a Vons grocery store. Why do they have to put Starbuck’s inside grocery stores? I need ambiance for Christ’s sake.

“HAHAHA, I could spend the rest of my life like this,” he said.

“Seriously?” I asked.


“Laughing with your bitchy girlfriend?”

“Yeah,” he said again. He was serious. All the while, I was kind of waiting for the thing to fall apart.

 D and L

We went out to dinner after the holiday rush. I made a lot of money. Over $2,000. Every bit of it went towards a new transmission in the used car I bought a couple weeks before. And I still owed a $300 balance after rent was paid.

Do you know what it is like working every second of the day only to lose every cent of that second? If you are a Hispanic dishwasher, no need to answer. Indentured servant maybe? Jesus, what does an American have to do for a savings account?

We saved up enough for a dinner together after the holidays. Just Michael and me. We went to my favorite restaurant, now a small chain. All vegan. Everything is excellent. Real Food Daily.

We sat across from each other in the Pasadena restaurant. I ordered a Vanilla Hemp Soy Shake and made love to the thing like it was the first milkshake of my life. I often scrolled through Michael’s cell phone. I am not really checking up on him. I am partly curious, partly testing him. It is a relief when I discover he is as human as I am.

“Who is Katie?” I said, reviewing text messages.

“That would have been funny yesterday, but it’s not funny now,” he said, stoic. When he drinks his ice water, he swishes it around in the back of his jaw before swallowing. He doesn’t want to look at me.

“Really? I think it’s more funny. You know, ironic.”

“Well, you shouldn’t have made out with your ex-boyfriend. Not the ex-boyfriend who hates Jews. Not the ex-boyfriend with conspiracy theories. Not the ex-boyfriend who bit your head. You know … just the regular crazy ex-boyfriend,” he said. (For those of you who don’t know me, all of the above is true. Of course, had I known that any of them hated Jews or would bite my head, I, of course, would have never fallen in love with them in the first place.)

“I just want to eat,” Michael continued, “I want to eat chocolate chip cookies. Like a whole fucking box of chocolate chip cookies. I used to take a peanut butter cookie and put it on top of a chocolate chip cookie and eat it like a sandwich. I could totally do that right now.”

I eat it

Once, while reviewing old photos on his younger brother’s Facebook page, I saw what Michael looked like in high school. He was short, chubby and holding a white, fluffy dog. I remember saying to myself, “I know exactly who that kid was in high school.” The chubby dork. The chubby, sensitive, wonderful dork.

In bed, I see the stretch marks on the side of his rib cage. I like them. They remind me of lightning bolts.

“Can I be honest? I think that Huck is the wedge between you and me, not the car,” he said.

“I agree,” I said, honestly. I had an intimate connection with another man, and it was lingering.

“Ok, so you agree. Let’s talk about it. You were intimate with him and now it has completely ruined things between you and me,” he said.
“It hasn’t ruined things; it is a bump in the road.”

“No, you cheated. It’s a lot more than a bump.”

“There will be lots of temptations down the road, there will be other people, things will happen.”

“Not with me! I would NEVER do that,” he said.

“Please don’t use the word ‘never’ at 23.”

“Ok, I am sorry.”

“I needed the closure. We only kissed. I don’t want to have a relationship with him. I don’t want to run away and marry him. I want to be with you.”

“What does he have that I don’t have? You were going to up and move to Milwaukee for him? Would you do that for me?” he asked.

“Do you want me to do that for you?”

“No. I know you love LA. I would never ask you to.”

“Good. He doesn’t have anything over you. There is just an energy … it’s similar to how I feel around you. A levity. I don’t know how to explain it.”

“Don’t you dare compare to me to him! How could you do that after the way he treated you? He is an asshole. The rest of us are onboard, we are waiting for you,” he preached.

“I am not waiting to make a decision. I want to be with you. You and I have spent more time together. You are my boyfriend. That is not in question.”

“I don’t know what to do with you. Any other girl I would be out of here … oh, I am not breaking up with you. You can just let that one go.”

“Good,” I picked up the menu, “I know its hard being my boyfriend.”  He nodded heavily, like I put a chain around his neck. “But it is part of me that needs the freedom to do little things other girlfriends don’t. I am not like other girls and its part of the package. I won’t sleep with someone else. Anyway, it is over with Huck.”

“I know it’s not over. You are still talking to him.”

“No, I am not.”

“I know you are.”

“Well, there is a one or two text exchanges, but not a conversation,” I confessed.

“See baby, why do you do that? I can’t trust you.”

“You asked me to be honest, how can you not trust me?”

“I am sorry, I don’t.”

“Ok, well that’s a shame. So glad I told you everything,” I said.

“You told me like … way later.”

“AFTER residency, so I didn’t have to fight with you while studying. It’s over with him ok, he is gone. You are my life.”

“It’s not over.”

“Yes, it is.”

“It doesn’t feel over,” he muttered.

There was a silence.

“Well, it is,” I punctuated.

“Until next residency …”

“We will have more time together then. Baby, we have been together for only 2 months. I had unresolved business. Just don’t put so much on it, ok? I am here with you.”

“I am just gonna stuff my face. And after this I am going to Taco Bell, open up an account,” he said, finishing his ice water.

“Sure you don’t want to sweep by Mrs. Fields first?”

“I would eat the shit out of Mrs. Fields.”


I started singing. Beauty and the Beast. “Gosh it disturbs me to see you Gaston, looking so down in the dumps …”

He laughed. He laughed so high, the waiters smiled.

We ate dinner fast and he stopped talking about eating out his heart.


“Ok, here is the comment card,” I grabbed after I subconsciously bussed our own dishes. “Service? Excellent.” I checked the box. “Food? Excellent. Comments, how could this have been a better meal?” I read aloud as I wrote in pen, “I wish I could have had dinner with a girlfriend who didn’t cheat on me.”

He laughed again and grabbed my hand. “I love you. God damn it, I love you.”

For the first time, I really believed him.

Old Memories