Archive for May, 2011

It Is Scary

May 31, 2011

To ask for what you need.  But my god, is it rewarding.  Case in point– the following is an e-mail I received today after coming home from doing the deal, running errands,  and meeting with Shannon for a long ladies who never see each other lunch, followed by a spontaneous coffee at Four Barrel:

 

 

Hi Carmen,

 

We had a chance to talk about your request for a raise this weekend

and crunch the numbers on our end.  We would like to go ahead and

provide you with an $80 per week increase in salary, effective this

coming Friday, June 3rd.

We feel you do an exceptional job nannying for S- and K- and

therefore wanted

to do what we could to make it happen right away.  Furthermore, from talking

with other friends who have nanny shares in SF, this increase seems to bring you

up to a competitive salary rate.

 

Given that we’re doing the increase now vs. November, M- and I

think it’s a good opportunity to do a review with you as well.  As we

said earlier, we think you’re doing an excellent job.  This will be an

opportunity for us to provide you with feedback and for you to provide

us with feedback, with the goal of making the Nanny Share run as

smoothly as possible for everyone involved.  The goal is to all work

together effectively as adults to continue providing a nurturing,

loving and enriching

environment for S- and K-.

 

We were thinking we could do the review discussion at the end of the day

on Thursday if this works for you.  It will just be M-, me and you

and will be informal.

 

We want to thank you for the past 7 months and look forward to the

next year and a half of having you work with our daughters.

 

Look forward to seeing you on Tuesday!

 

Cheers,

 

 

The moms have agreed to my raise!  Which covers the cost of my new apartment.  I cannot quite believe this.  I cannot believe I actually asked.  They both gave me the impression that yes it would happen, but neither gave me a definitive when, how, or how much.  I asked for $80 more per week as that covers the increase in rent from the studio to the one bedroom (actually it happens to be $79.61, but let us not to quibble).  I am still a bit in shock that the 1 bedroom is actually mine.  Even though I have paid the rent on it, signed the lease, and have moved a few things in.

The rental agent said I could move in things that would not interfere with the floors being done or the wall in the bedroom getting a touch up coat of paint.  So I moved my kitchen over this evening and the rest of my bathroom things.  I have left only those things in my bathroom that I will need to use for the next day and ditto for the kitchen.

The cats are starting to get nervous.  They hate it when I have moved them in the past.  However, it should be fairly easy this go around.  I will probably just open the door and let them find their way across the hall.  Giggle.  It does not cease to crack me up every time I think about it.  Tanya said, “oh no, I heard you’re moving again, are you ok,” earlier when I saw her.  I assured her that I was indeed ok, great in fact, and then told her yes I was moving–across the hall.

Actually,I may need some big strong man to lend me a hand.  Er, wait, scratch that, bring me some flowers instead.  That’s all a need a guy for right now.

What I am hoping is that tomorrow when I get back from work and doing the deal I will be able to move the rest of my stuff over.  Then on Wednesday I will be able to do a full on cleaning job in the studio.  I have already done a bit here and there as I have gone through out the weekend.  I was going to do the oven tonight.  Then I decided I would leave that as one of the last things I do.  If all goes well tomorrow I may even spend the night in my new apartment as opposed to the studio.  Then I can do up the oven and I won’t have to deal with the smell of oven cleaner in my space.

Shannon dropped me off at the house and we did the dance of joy in my new apartment after I first showed her the dimensions of the studio so that she could have a true appreciation for the amount of space I am moving into.  And like Joan did, her jaw dropped when she saw the walk in closet.  I joked that had this been during the dot-com boom the apartment could have been billed as a two bedroom, as you really could put yourself up in the closet, especially as it also has two doors–one that opens onto the bedroom and the other that opens onto the hallway.

Plus! Shannon has a love seat for me.  So now I have one couch, one kitchen table, and one love seat ready for me to furnish the apartment.  I am going to need a few chairs and a book-case.  I forgot that I don’t have a book-case any more, the one that I put all my books on is actually built into the studio’s wall.  I also aspire to a coffee maker, I have the little one cup at a time filter that I use at the moment, but now that I can have people over, I would love to be able to brew up a pot of coffee.  Other than that, the kitchen is done. Oh, wait, I keep forgetting, I need a toaster too.  But really, that’s what the broilers for right?

I am so grateful and awed and just beyond amazed at how these last few days have gone.  I took action, let go of the results, and got the surprise of my freaking life.

Can’t wait to give you a tour of my new place!

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Slightly Off Kilter

May 30, 2011

My watch battery appears to be winding down.  I thought I had another twenty-five minutes of today left to post up to my blog.  Nope, it’s already 11:53 p.m.  Oops.  I wonder if there are any watch repair places open on Memorial Day.

That’s the thing about holidays, I want to get shit done.  I want to take care of business, if I don’t have to work and I have an extra day off, please be open–grocery store, bank, hardware store, etc.  I have precious time needs and an extra day can really set me up for a while.  But that ‘s the unfortunate thing with holidays, lots of places close.  I know that is supposed to mean take the day off, but that’s not where my brain goes, it goes get shit done!  Now! Go! Go! Go!

And I did get lots done today as well, but I also made sure I got to spend some quality time with Joan at the MOMA.  We went and saw the Stein Collection.  Which if you like Picasso, you’ll love.  And Henri Matisse, you’ll drool.  But truthfully, neither are really my cup of tea.  I have never liked Picasso and I have kept my mouth shut about that for a long time.  I don’t like Cubism.  I don’t take away from the power of the work Picasso did, he’s just not my favorite.  There were, however, some things that I liked.

There was a self-portrait that was quite early on in his career that I had never seen before.  I kept going back to it.  Damn it, I’m not suppose to like your work, but there it was staring frankly back out at me.  There was a tender kind of vulnerability in the face that I don’t think I had seen in his other self-portraits before.  I also really liked the color palette of it–mustards and browns.  I went back more than once to look at it again and discern what it was that drew me.  It was simple, evocative and beautiful.  If I was to buy a Picasso–that would be the one.

Then, double damn it, I saw another I like, from his Cubist period.  Well, fuck me.  There goes my whole identity out the art window.  This was called Guitar on a Table.  And I could see the guitar but it was so abstract that I don’t know that I could have seen it without having first read the title.  Again there was some sort of titular beauty about it that drew me.  I know that part of it was again the color palette.  This was done in mint green and softer canary yellows and a sort of rose color that was very fetching.

Maybe that’s what I don’t like about his work, the color palette.  And Matisse, also, never really has done it for me.  I can see the talent, oh, I cannot deny that Matisse and Picasso aren’t extraordinarily talented, they just don’t really call to me.

The Renoir’s in the collection, though, oh, sigh.  So nice.  So nice to just let my eyes rest in the dappled sunlight of the paintings.  What I find amazing about Renoir’s work is that the subjects themselves upon closer inspection aren’t all that attractive.  However, because the paintings are so lush and rapturous, so resplendent in texture and light and color, the viewer is taken away past the outside visage of the subjects, into their heart.  And there, there they are beautiful; that is something to see.

Gratefully, Joan is a similar kind of museum goer as I, we both like to cruise around quite fast.  This is the beauty of having a membership, I don’t feel guilty about doing just that.  We also had a lovely time sitting in the cafe Museo and catching up on our lives.  I count Joan as one of my best friends in San Francisco.  I absolutely adore her to pieces.  I often times feel that we are on a similar trajectory.  And like with all good friends, watching them have the experience of going through painful things to gain insight and knowledge of themselves helps me.  I know I can do it if she can do it.

Joan is a lovely touchstone of strength and experience.  Some one I can go to and share all my news with and she gets it.  I think I really needed just to sit and sip my latte and get Joan time more than I needed to see the Stein exhibit.  But I’m glad I did go.

For the collection also spoke to a quiet dream of mine, that in which I too am a collector.  A person that discovers artists and supports them.  I like to occasionally dabble with a little crafty thing or two, but I’m not a painter, nor a drawer, or a photographer.  But I am a person that appreciates art and I know I have an eye.  I have an eye for balance and color and what makes sense.  And I definetly have my own aesthetic.

My living space often becomes the template for my artistic expression.  I love decorating and arranging things.  Especially so that they please my eye from every angle.  I need art in my life.  I need beauty.  I need to write and be able to express myself just a reverently as a great painter needs to paint or a courtier needs to do couture.  And because of that, I need art to fill up my creative heart, I need to fill the inspirational well often.  I am so grateful to live in a city with great museums and a thriving arts culture.  I know that LA and New York, Paris and Venice, are supposedly the places to be, and I’m sure a score of others that I am not thinking of off-hand, but since I can’t get to those places on a weekly basis, I am supremely grateful for the MOMA and The Legion of Honor, The DeYoung, and Yerba Buena.  My has to be fed.

And today I got to start expressing myself in my new place.  Not very quickly, but just a few things that I was able to incorporate into the space that would not interfere with the work that will be done over the next few days before I am officially allowed to move in.  I hung some shower curtains in the bathroom and placed a few items in the kitchen.  I also walked around the rooms a number of times just getting a feel for how things are placed and what I will want to put where.

It is really exciting.  And it really helps that I don’t have to pack any boxes up.  Or have a truck ready or people to help me move things up and down stairs.  Although I may need some assistance with a vehicle for next weekend when I can get the couch from Cass.  One truck and one or two extra sets of hands.  Cass said one truck, two big strong men.  I say one truck and just somebody who is as strong as I, for I am more than capable of lifting the back of a couch.

Soon, soon, soon, I will be in my new domicile.  Hanging up the few pieces of art work that I have and arranging this and that.  Supplying my eyes and senses with those things of beauty that inspire me to move forward with my own writing.  I am feeling another book project brewing.  I will be happy to get into my place, get settled and get back to a schedule.

I am so grateful for this little blog, even when it’s way past my bed time, I am happy I get to write.  I may be off my daily schedule, but my heart rests gently in my chest tonight regardless.

It’s 11:48 pm, Do You Know Where Your Blog Is?

May 29, 2011

Good lord.  I always forget that moving, even if it’s just across the hall, takes more time than I think it will.  However, the upside, is that I get to toss all the crap that I have accumulated in the past year and a half in my studio.  I have cleaned out my closets, started a big bag of clothes to take to Buffalo tomorrow morning to hopefully sell (and whatever I don’t is getting donated, I will not be hauling this shit around to a bunch of different used clothing stores hoping to scratch a few extra bucks.  My time is valuable and I am only scheduling myself a half hour to deal with selling my clothes.  I have a lot more than I thought.  Partially, as I have continued to lose weight, 102 lbs is the new number, and partially because I have no idea what looks good on my body anymore.  I buy things excitedly thinking, woo hoo, I fit into this size, only to discover once the euphoria wears off that said article of clothing is not really all that flattering–this is why I need to shop with some body else in tow) all of it.

I have taken out two full containers of recycling.  I have one big bag of garbage, it’s almost ready to go out.  I have updated my address with the agencies that need me to have my addresses updated.  I almost forgot about my Trustline Registry, and came across the paper work for that and gratefully did not toss it in the recycling.  I have to notify them every time I move to keep my profile active.  Granted I’m just moving from #17 to #19, but I don’t want to get dropped from the registry for something stupid.  So change of address got dropped into the mail box.

I also was about to toss out all the jewelry and hair pieces and clips that I don’t care for or that have been hanging out in different little nooks and crannies.  Then I remembered, I will be seeing a bunch of girls tomorrow, one ladies junk, another’s new signature jewelry.  So, I scooped all that up and am taking it with me in the morning to gift to the girls.

I am a pretty damn tidy person, but there is also a lot of cleaning I need to do.  I have the oven to clean out and the refrigerator, as well as doing a good solid scrub down on the bathtub.  I’m going to dump the red velvet chair I found a few months on the street, it’s not going to fit into my new place.  Not space wise, but aesthetic wise.  It’s been interesting discovering what I like and don’t like in my space.  I like whimsy, and eclecticism, but every once in a while I find that something I have is bordering on trashy or cheap.  So I really looked at how I want my space to be and have been winnowing down based on that.

I did all my laundry as well, which was a bit of a hassle as the washer in the building was out-of-order. I had to take my laundry a couple blocks down to the mat on the corner of Pacific and Taylor.  And it was raining. But it was not too bad as the weather was pretty in a romantic movie sort of way.  It was a warm spring rain, not a kind of rain that I normally associate with San Francisco.  It wasn’t cold and there was little wind.  The sun would also periodically peek through the masses of clouds and a shaft of light would pierce through and illuminate some little corner of jasmine or geranium plant.  There was no fog either, but a rather fine mist that enshrouded downtown.  It was the kind of weather that called for a walk holding your lover’s hand.

So, I decided to stop the moving and the shaking and the hurley burly of moving and take myself on a little date.  I ate a nice home-made dinner and looked up the movie times for Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen’s newest.  There was a seven o’clock show.  Perfect.  I scurried down to the laundry mat and grabbed my clothes from the dryers and hustled back to the house.  I grabbed my French cabbie hat (I got it in Paris two years ago this week!) and popped in on my head, got my umbrella and dashed down the hill to the Embacadero Theaters.

Unfortunately, I was not the only person who thought that the warm spring misty rain splendour called for a romantic movie in down town San Francisco.  The 7 p.m. show was sold out and the 7:20, and the 8:45 p.m. was about to sell out too.  So, I said, fuck it, I’ll catch it as another day, and because I was still in the mood for French, I went and saw L’amour Fou.  Beautiful.  Sublimely shot and set predominately in Paris, but also featuring Normandy, and Marrakesh, Morocco.  It was the documentary that just came out about Yves St. Laurent–extraordinary.

I cannot tell how many times my heart felt like it might just burst open with all the amazing haute couture I got to see. Plus, the amazing art collection that Laurent and his partner of 50, 50! years, Pierre Berger, had collected.  ASTOUNDING.  I felt like my eyes were getting fed.  And it made me very glad that I had made a date with lady Joan to go to the MOMA tomorrow.  I haven’t seen the Stein exhibit yet and that needs to be taken care of.  Plus, I need some girl friend time.

I had a half hour to meander through the Embarcadero and down to the Ferry Building.  Everything was washed clean and sparkling.  I snuck into Pete’s at the Ferry Building before it closed and got a coffee and took myself back to the movie.  I let myself be submerged in French and the beauty of the film.  Then decided that I needed to sneak in a little more being responsibility, so I took the cable car line up California to Whole Paycheck and got a few groceries I needed and I got myself a gorgeous little bouquet of flowers.  They were so pretty the clerk at the store was trying to figure out what they cost as she thought the floral department had put them together.  I will take that as a compliment.

I picked out two royal purple crocuses and a cutting of tuber rose.  My little studio is awash in luscious smelling flowers.  I was getting down to business when I realized I had not posted to my blog, so here you go, just a little house cleaning, literally and figuratively.

Back to the purging!

Process, Process Damn it!

May 28, 2011

I am trying to just let everything that has happened today sink in and settle and be itself in its own sort of way, but damn it is tough.  I sort of want to jump up and down, scream at the top of my lungs, do a happy dance, and go hide under the covers all at the same time.

This morning I got up did my morning routine and rode my bike up and over the hill to Sutter at Van Ness to sign my lease for my new apartment.  I met my rental agent, the sweet and quite solicitous Zach, and signed my lease, and left a cash deposit to secure it while I do the moving from my studio into the one bedroom.  I get the keys on Wednesday.  Zach is actually going to come by my place and hand them off to me.  The floors are being refinished over the weekend and if I am discreet I can move in a few things before the 1st as long as it doesn’t interfere with the floors and the touch up paint that is being done.

I can so do that.  It’s been more than a temptation to go over right now, but I’ll at least have the decency to let them do what they need to do.  I have more than enough things to take care of in my studio to keep me occupied all weekend.

Work went well.  The girls were in terrific spirits, we got coffee, I got coffee (the sudden mental picture of S. on coffee gave me the shivers) and then ran around the quad at UCSF for a while.  The weather cooperated and the fog rolled away and we had a lovely sunny day.  I had awesome success at lunch feeding the girls, there was no grandma in-house, no distractions, no soap operas, no Elmo, both girl were focused on eating and it felt really good to have an uninterrupted lunch.

You know you’re a nanny when you’re high fiving yourself for getting your charges to eat spinach, apricots, veggie lasagna, plain yogurt, blue berries, and smashed sweet potatoes.  I was so happy.  Well rounded, lots of color, no processed food. Yay!

They napped.  I sat and crunched numbers.  I knew myself, and I knew I would be unsettled until I asked for a raise.  So, I totalled and added and subtracted and divided and came away with a clear-cut number that I would need to ask for a raise.  Not a manipulated number either, not one where I was padding the raise to milk more money out of my employers, but just a transparent, here’s the deal, here’s the increase in my rent, this is what I need to cover it.

I wrote my three pages long hand.  I planned out my weekend.  I updated my calendar.  Balanced the check book.  Ran my lines.  Which was really funny as I got a text from the director of the show while I was practising my monologue.  She’s all-knowing.  I have to be off book by next Friday’s rehearsal.  And although I’m close, I’m not there yet.

The girls got up, I did weekly laundry, dressed, changed them, fed bottles, sang, danced, did my usual Friday routine.  And did a lot of focusing on my breathing and telling myself that I could indeed ask for what I needed.  And I needed a raise.

I won’t get into the details and how awkward I felt explaining the unexpected plum of an apartment, but, suffice to say, I got the raise.

I got the raise!  Jesus.  This time last week I had no clue that I would be signing a lease on a one bedroom and getting a raise that would cover my increase in rent.  I might have been fantasizing about it, but I don’t even think it was on my radar.  I do recall having the thought as I was walking up to my house with Mr. Sexy last weekend, that it would be nice to have a bigger space so that when I had a date it wasn’t basically right on top of my bed since that is what takes up the most space in my studio.  It’s sort of hard to have a getting to know you date when your bed is less than three feet away from you and your date at any given time.  And looking up reflexively to the chains that hang over the front door entrance to my building–where the sign hangs: “apartment for rent”  when there is a spot available in the building.  But I did not actually think that it was going to happen.

Holy crow.

I left work sort of in a glazed daze of did that just really happen and went and deposited my paycheck into the atm.  Lovely little upgrade that–I really like not having to go to the bank I can just pop to the Bank of America atm and do it all there.  Then off to the Church St. Cafe.  Big hot cup of tea and a reading session with one of the girls.

Then over to do the deal with my friends.  And friends were coming out of the woodwork, ran into people I had not seen in weeks, months, and in one instance over a year.  Had a great time catching up with folks.

I also ran into Robert who broke the news to me that he’s featuring me on his new album, and crediting me in the song title.  It’s going to press, it’s going to be pressed to vinyl and cd and it’ll be available to fucking buy on line.  Good lord, how did this day happen.  And why did I wear eyeliner?

Then Mr. Sexy and I had a little assignation, ahem.  And I get to see him tomorrow, catch dinner and a movie and just chill.  I was a smidge disappointed that I would only catch him for a few hours this evening, but after he told me I had the greatest eyes in the world, I told that silly thought to get the fuck out of my head and enjoy the moment.

A kiss good night and a late night blog entry and the cherry on my sunday has been nibbled down to its sweet core.  What a day.

Wonder what’s going to happen tomorrow?

Overwhelmed

May 27, 2011

In the most incredible way.  I will be getting up and not going directly to work like I normally do, but to the offices of Davis-Paul Management on Sutter St. to sign my lease for my new 1 bedroom apartment!  I cannot freaking believe this is happening.  Last night I got to see the apartment in my own private viewing after I got done doing the deal at Grace Cathedral.

I called the rental agent after looking around and asked for a lower rent than the listed price.  It turns out that the fireplace is not actually a functioning fireplace.  Which I was sad to discover, but used as a bargaining point along with my rental history–I pay my rent on time, in full, usually a few days early. The agent had also cued me in accidentally that the apartment was going for $50 less than what was posted on the site.  So, I asked for another hundred off.  Why not?  The worst they could do was say no.  Hey, no biggie, I’m already in a great little studio.

This afternoon I got the call back with a counter offer, they would let me have it for $105 off the listed price.  I said I would take it.  We talked details and the next thing you know I’m making arrangements to go in early tomorrow to drop off a deposit.  I would typically be at work at 8 a.m. but the family needs a favor next week and as I will be coming in early, I get to go in late tomorrow–giving me just the time I need to bike over to the rental agency and sign the paper work.  The agent doesn’t usually get in until 9a.m.  so he’s also making an exception to help my schedule out. And he told me that normally they would ask for the full amount on the security, but I put down an extra deposit when I moved in and they said I would only need to do a deposit of $500.  Which I would get back once they ascertained that my studio didn’t have any damage to it.

I went to the bank after the girls got up from their naps, got $500 out in cash and then went across the street to the post office and dropped off a change of address form.  I’m moving in on Wednesday, June 1st.  I felt like I was dreaming this entire afternoon up.  I kept wanting to pinch myself.  I still sort of do.  I also want to go back and moon around in the space some more, it’s still unlocked and I went and wandered around in it a bit before getting down to business here at home.

I cannot believe it.  I’m actually really and truly moving into a one bedroom apartment in San Francisco.  I am an adult for sure!  I am going to need to ask for a raise at work.  I feel completely legit in doing this.  First I broke down the numbers and I’m a freaking steal for what I do for the families.  So, I just need to breathe deep and do the deed.  Pell suggested I wait until July 1st, but I feel like moving a little quicker than that.  Granted I have the money for rent already to go, so it’s not a matter of not having the money.  But it is a matter of continuing to live the quality of life that I’m living.

I enjoy my life and I live a very simple one.  I am not extravagant about going out, I eat out rarely, I drink coffee now instead of lattes, I ride my bike and don’t take taxi’s often, I buy the majority of my clothes used.  However, I still like my organic food and I like getting a manicure and a pedicure and my eyebrows waxed.  I like being able to buy a cute pair of shoes without worrying about the rent.  Knowing me I may worry for a while anyway, but I feel like it has all come together so smoothly and effortlessly, that it will continue to do so.

I believe that the money is there for me.

This is all so surreal and wonderful.  And crazy.  I called Cass to tell her the news and she said, oh good, I’m upgrading to a new couch, so you can have my old one.  What?  Really?  A “new” couch for my “new” apartment.  She said, two guys and a truck and take it off my hands. Ok, twist my arm! There are still plenty of other things that I will want to get for the space, but what I have in my studio will certainly suffice for now. Looks like  I won’t be doing apartment porn on Craigslist any more, but furniture porn!

I am so looking forward, however, to getting a desk to actually do my writing at.  And I’m looking forward to not having to pack anything up in boxes.  I can leisurely move everything over on the first.  I am keeping my fingers crossed that I may actually be able to get in a day earlier than that.  But if I don’t, no worries.  I also picked up cleaning supplies at the store today, before I got the call that the apartment was mine.  I figured I should act as if.  It also wouldn’t hurt if I cleaned the oven anyway, it’s not been done since I moved in.  Really glad I have a three-day weekend to do this too.

Seriously, the timing is incredible.  I am in awe.  I just need to keep it together and stop going over to my new apartment and staring at it, as I want to move in now!  But they are going to do some floor fixing and some touch up painting.  And technically until the lease is signed tomorrow it’s not mine yet, but I can taste it, oh dear me oh my, yes I can.

And it is damn fine.

Thank You, Dear Readers

May 25, 2011

I really had no intentions of posting my entire book online via my blog.  And yet, there it is.  Five years later, I’m published.  On my own blog.  I expect about twenty, maybe twenty-five people are going to read it.

You guys blow my mind.  Thank you.  Thank you to all my friends who encouraged me to keep posting, who said they wanted to read more.  Thank you to people who have come up to me in the grocery store and told me that they read my blog.  Thank you to friends I haven’t seen since high school who said they were eagerly wanting more.  Really?

Thank you to every freaking one of you, you really blow my mind and break my heart.  In the best possible way.  You helped me let go of my own stupid restrictions and expectations.  Somewhere in my ill-conceived brain I felt like the only way to be a successful writer was to be published by some big fancy publishing house and toured around the nation and the world.  To have book signings and contracts and movie deals.

Fact is, I doubt very much if any of those things would make me feel as grateful and blessed as I do to the handful of you that have been reading my story.

And it is my story.  Just a little snippet from my life.  There are further adventures.  I wrote two follow-up pieces–The Iowa Waltz and Fatherless Madison (originally titled Sins of the Father, but I discovered that there was a movie out there somewhere with that same title.  I’ve changed the title to the third book three times now.  Fatherless Madison is a working title and still doesn’t sound quite right.).  Both books are in first draft form.

I wrote all the books approximately five years ago.  I took a memoir writing class taught by Alan Kaufman.  It started with twelve of us and eventually dwindled down to this unique, mystifying, electric, and über eclectic group of people.  None of whom I have any more contact with.  Terese Taylor, noted local musician and muse, was my writing partner.  Then there was Lauren Volper, Bill Wright, and Kristen Kadner.  We called ourselves the Thursday Group and we met for about nine months in Alan’s living room and drank tea and wrote our hearts out.

The class was only meant to be three months long.  I got to be in it for an extraordinary nine months of my life.  Nine months where my pen was so hot and I was so wrapped up in the writing.  I would sit down in a coffee shop after work, I was a CSR (customer service representative) at San Francisco Veterinary Specialists.  I would get done with work and depending on the day of the week and where I was expected to be later that evening, would rotate the around the coffee shops in the Mission doing my writing.  I did all of the first drafts in long hand.

I remember the first time I wrote the chapter that opens the book, Habit, I had a complete and utter out-of-body experience.  I was breaking out into a cold sweat in the Philz on Folsom and 24th.  I was there.  I was in the hooch.  I was inhaling the crack.  I was there.  Overwhelmed, I stumbled outside and made a few phone calls.

It was not the first chapter that I wrote.  It was the fourth, perhaps the fifth.  I remember so distinctly when I read it to the class that following Thursday.  How everyone fell silent.  And Kaufman said, that’ s your opening chapter.  Dump the rest.

Fuck you.

I did not want to let go of the previous four, and ultimately in the end, I did keep two of the four chapters, but repositioned them and heavily edited them to get them to work.  I had never intended to write a memoir.  I had never intended to write about being homeless, smoking crack, being in an abusive relationship.

And yet, here I was doing just that.  It took me five years to plow through this enough to get it to this blog.  Again, I had very distinct ideas and plans about how the publishing of my book was going to be done.

This was not how it was going to be done, fyi.

After I wrote Baby Girl Kaufman said to keep writing, my pen was hot.  So I did.  I completed the first draft of The Iowa Waltz in the same amount of time as I did Baby Girl, then the pen was smoking and I did Fatherless Madison.  And then the pen was on fire and I started The House in Windsor, the prequel to the trilogy.  Which in my mind I called the Tricycle Trilogy.  After a picture of myself as a little girl approximately twenty-two months old, riding a tricycle in San Jose, CA on the property of my grandparents.

My mother had just come home from the hospital with my sister.  I was irate.  Although you certainly can’t tell from the picture.  I have a very focused, determined look on my face.  My mom told me that I was mad and would not talk to her.  I don’t know if that was when the abuse started with my grandfather, but I suspect maybe.

Just a note on that.  I have no recollection beyond the flash backs of that part of my life.  I may never.  And I’m ok with that.  Loads of therapy, some of it “self-medicating” and lots of “outside help” have given me a lot of relief.  This is neither the time or the place to delve into that.  Suffice to say I did have a number of trepidations about the writing and I used them as an excuse for a long time to not move forward with the book.

The manuscript lay around for a long time not going anywhere.  I remember writing the last line of the book and calling my best friend from back home, Stephi, and telling her and crying on her voice mail.  I started writing The Iowa Waltz a week later.  At the same time I started in on the second draft of Baby Girl.

Then I let it sit for a year.  I was done.  I couldn’t look at it any more.  The writing group had disintegrated and I felt lost, alone, bereft.  One day I picked up the manuscript and started back in.  Then I let it sit for another year.  Then I got in too much pain and picked it back up.  Four drafts later, and I was beginning to feel like the damn thing would never be done and I hated the piece and wanted to throw the whole thing out.

Instead I printed off a copy and began to go back over it, chapter, by chapter, one page at a time for fifteen minutes once a week.  That was all I could commit to.  By doing that I wrote a fifth, and I hoped the final draft.  I was now involved with a number of people meeting weekly on Wednesday’s at the Muddy Waters on Valencia and 24th, we were doing the Artist Way–Molly Daniels, Jennifer Sands, Matt Williams, Ian Murphy, Kap Seidel, Johnny Carroll, (and a tipping of the hat to Zefrey Throwell who made the original suggestion to me that I try doing the Artist Way) these people, along with a rotating cast of other writers and artists, Dahlia, Jen, Calvin, Jano, Mike, Mack, all who held my hand as I did the work necessary to complete the last draft.

Then I gave it to Molly who read it with a sweet eye and gave me some suggestions.  Then I gave it to Robert.  Next to Kate Seward.  The three made basically the same suggestions.  It needed to not be so terrifically sad and depressing, there had to be relief for the reader, regardless of whether or not Baby Girl actually had gotten any.  And it needed to be better framed.

Ugh. Gah.  I was so done with it.  Then I moved up here to Nob Hill a year and a half ago and made the decision last Christmas that I was going to get myself a freaking laptop, preferably a MAC, and I would finish the edits and re-writes to the book.  I got about half way there and stalled out again, around chapter ten, eleven.

Enter the post a day challenge.  Why I decided to take this on I do not know, but why is not a question that I encourage myself to ask.  I just did it.  I think I was hoping that the practise of doing the writing would help me finish the book.  I never dreamed about putting the book on my blog.  And I did actually get together the courage to send it out, the first three chapters anyway, to an agent, who of course, said no thanks.

Then it sat some more.  Until I had a talk with the gentleman with tawny eyes over tea in the beginning of April.  I had nudged the manuscript which was sitting under a pile of other more “important” projects, and stated to him, “you should never ask me about writing, I’ll talk your ear off.”

He laughed and asked what was stopping me from getting my book out there.  And for the first time I really saw that I had to own up to the fear.  Right then, right there.  And I said, “fear.”

Saying it out loud caused something shifted.  Although I did not realize it until a few days later when I was too tired to think straight and just wanted to post my post a day and go the hell to bed.  Mr. Eyes sent me a text message and that was that.  I opened up the file with my book and copied the first chapter, then I pulled up my blog, pressed “new post” and pasted it in.

And voila.

There’s more story to the story.  But it’s irrelevant.  I’m officially declaring myself a published writer of a book–Baby Girl–the life and times of a nineteen year old homeless crack addicted girl, her true love Elliot, their dog Layla, her boyfriend Billy, and their mis-adventures there of on The Lake in Homestead, Florida; written by one Carmen Regina Martines.

Post Script.  This book is dedicated to the memory of Aaron Shadrach Wingate, my best friend, I carry you in my heart forever and only wish you could be here to see this moment.  Without you the book would never be have been written in the first place.

“Hey, Martines.  I’ve got an idea.  Why don’t you just pay for the class, not show up, and when you’re sucking dick for crack on Capp St.  you can just beat yourself up and say, ‘why didn’t i just take that writing class with Alan Kaufman’.”

                                                            -Shadrach Wingate

Baby Girl–Chapter 15–Home

May 25, 2011

Home

“Get the fuck out!”  Dawn stared at me, “you’ve got to be kidding me.  Hold on, wait, jesus fuck,” she fumbled in her purse and pulled out her pack of Moores.  “I gotta have a cigarette if I’m gonna hear anymore of this.”  She shook one out from her pack and I did the same.  We both lit up and inhaled.  “Ok, shoot,”  she said, “but quickly, we have to get on the bus soon and I got a lot of questions I still want to ask you before we get to Pittsburgh.”

I flicked my cigarette, paused dramatically and said, “the short cut really was a short cut.”

“What!?”  Dawn shook her head incredulously.  “Jesus, I was having some sort of out-of-body experience there, you are so, so, so, lucky.”

“I am, it was the worst ride of my life, the longest too,” I said, “bar none, the longest ride of my life.”

I breathed long and deeply when the Grey Hound pulled out of the station at Elizabeth City.  The man in the navy Chevelle was still sitting at the edge of the parking lot; perhaps he was still hoping I would change my mind, leap off the bus and give him a blow job before I headed back to Wisconsin.  He had gotten us to the station with ten minutes to spare.  I purchased the ticket that was being held for me, made a quick visit to the bathroom, and chain-smoked two cigarettes before boarding the bus.

Maybe the short cut was really a short cut, maybe he had been planning on trying something and lost the nerve, I do not know.  I will probably never know.  I just remember how the trees were a matte black and draped in moss, the roots exposed above the water, which were also black, but shiny; there was the occasional flick of yellow eyes that would pop in and out of the darkness.  I did not appreciate the view, but kept my face pressed to the window, engrossed in the scenery in my attempt to avoid conversation with the man.  My body was as far away as possible from the thick white hand furred with coarse looking black hair laying casually on the seat divider.

I will never fucking hitchhike again, I will never fucking hitchhike again, I will never, ever, ever hitch hike again, I prayed feverishly.  Thank you God, for getting me to the bust station, I will never hitch hike again, please God, just get me out of North Carolina, please.  My Greyhound turned a corner and I nestled further into the nubby grey seat with its burgundy stripe running through the center, a mock racing stripe for the paradoxically named bus.  I sat my black canvas bag on the seat next to me, leaned my head back and closed my eyes.  I was up front near the driver, his presence bestowing a semblance of security.  I fitfully slept.

The bus smelt faintly sweet with the cloying scent that all institutions seem to use while cleaning to mask the smell of urine.  I had $48; six packs of cigarettes, Camel Light 100s in a box, some Pringles, beef jerky, and an orange the clerk at the Greyhound station had handed me when I purchased my one-way ticket back home.  I had taken the orange silently with the ticket, not questioning why I had been given one.  I had six and one half days to look forward to riding the bus.  First, it would trundle slowly up the coast to Washington DC, than across to Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, where it would then head to Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, and finally end its long journey at the Badger/Greyhound station in Madison, on the corner of West Washington and John Nolan Drive.

I wanted a cigarette, I wanted a cigarette badly. I tried to sleep instead.  I figured the only way to make it on a long bus ride was to sleep as much as humanely possible.  When I awoke we were not in North Carolina any longer.  I did not know what state it was, except that for it being a state that celebrated fireworks; they were many advertisements lining the highway, they were legal to buy.  It was after midnight and I was not in North Carolina and I was alive.  I was alive and going home.

I ate the orange.  I really wanted a Hardee’s Frisco Burger.  Hours later, in the early morning the bus pulled into a freeway stop.  It was my first chance in thirteen hours to stretch and work out the shape of the seat ingrained into my back and thighs.  I had a cigarette out and perched at my lips before my feet even got off the rubber tread steps and onto the asphalt of the parking lot.  We were somewhere in the mountains, which were more like hills, old worn down nubs covered with trees shrouded in grey fog and mist.  The sun was tucked tightly behind the clouds.  I burnt my finger a little in my eagerness to fire up, my hand shaking slightly in the chill morning air.

The rest stop was at some sort of cafeteria that appeared to be affiliated with Greyhound, as there were little whippet dogs running around the wall paper, greyhounds dancing on duffel bags and wrist bands.  Everything seemed washed down to the same flat dull grey color of the bus.  I could see a Hardee’s beckoning across the overpass, I looked longingly at it.

“Excuse me,” I said to the bus driver who was chatting up the cashier in the cafeteria, “could we possibly stop over at the Hardee’s across the way?”

“No, sorry kid, not in the contract, we stop here and here only,” the driver said brusquely.

“Oh,” I said a little crestfallen.  “You can’t make one little exception?”

“Nope, and you better get some food if you want it here, because the bus isn’t stopping again until we get to DC.”  The driver dismissed me and turned back to flirt with the cashier, who was providing the only flash of color in the cafeteria, her grey uniform was edged with neon orange at the sleeves and on the hem of the dress, her lipstick matched as did her eye shadow.

I ordered and ate a bowl of tapioca pudding that was the cheapest thing available for purchase at four dollars a serving and stared out the tinted windows to the over pass.  French fries and a Coke, a big burger dripping with grease, bacon, tomatoes, cheese, and mayonnaise on sourdough bread.  I wanted comfort food.  I needed comfort. I put my head down on the table next to my bowl of tapioca and tried to cry, but nothing came out.  The bus suddenly honked out loudly.

I startled up and quickly ran to the bathroom and washed in a sink, that although cracked, was at least porcelain and had hot running water.  I lifted my hair up and rinsed off the back of my neck, washing away some of the fine sand of the Outer Banks.  I wanted a hot shower; I wanted to scrub and scrub and scrub my body raw. I did not want a single particle of North Carolina on me ever again.   I splashed more water on my face and rubbed my pointer finger across my teeth.  The bus honked again more insistently as I scurried out of the bathroom.

Outside the door to the bus four of us gathered grimly together, hunched up to the side smoking furiously.  The next stop in DC was a long eighteen hours away, this was our only chance to get nicotine into our systems.  I slept most of the way there. I  occasionally awoke to stare unthinking out at the wan hills and trees rolling along outside the window.  It was a long dreary desolate drive.  Upon arrival in Washington, DC we had to transfer buses, most of the people I had ridden with from Elizabeth City headed out of the terminal into the rest of their lives, I had not spoken to any of them aside from the surly bus driver.

I was too afraid to leave the terminal, even to explore the capital mall, too uncertain that I would be able to find my way back, even with six hours to kill before my bus left.  I found a Hardee’s in the food court of the station, but it was too early to buy lunch so I settled on two cinnamon raisin biscuits with white icing and a large hot chocolate.  They reminded me of sneaking off Junior year in high school to get biscuits at the Hardees in Windsor by Highway 51.

“And that’s when I found you!”  Exclaimed Dawn.

“That’s when you found me,”  I repeated with a smile.

“Wow, girl, who would have known that you had that kind of story going on!  I just wanted some company while I waited for the bus!”  Dawn smiled brightly at me.  My new friend leaned in and hugged me.

We both laughed, then Dawn leaned back and exhaled a long plume of smoke.  One last cigarette before boarding.

“How can you smoke menthols?” I asked, “aren’t they like, super bad for you?”  I said with some irony, realizing that I had just regaled some strange girl with my tales of crack smoking in southern Florida for the last five hours.

“No, they’re refreshing,” she said inhaling again and exhaling through her nose.

“Ugh, doesn’t that hurt,” I asked.

“No.  Hey watch this, I just learned how to do this recently.”  She exhaled through her mouth than inhaled the same smoke through her nose, finally exhaling g the smoke out of her mouth again.

“What the hell was that?” I asked very impressed.

“French inhale, my mom taught me how, easy peasy.”

“I’ll pass,” I said with a laugh, “I don’t think I need to learn how to smoke anything new anytime soon.”

We were both turned so that our backs where against the wall where we could see the buses boarding.  It was just about that time and I was antsy to get moving.  A security guard walked past and eyed us up.

“Hey girls,” he said, “time to move on, no loitering.”

“Fucking pig,” murmured Dawn under her breath, but she grabbed her bag.  “Come on, we might as well get in line, we can pick out the best seats.”

And then we are on the bus.  The bus is headed toward Pittsburgh.  Dawn and I are as thick as thieves.  We had chosen to sit directly behind the driver, both of us figured there would be little chance of being hassled then.  We regaled the entire bus with our adventures, roaring with laughter and loudly snapping our gum, since we could not smoke.

“So what happened next?”  Asked Dawn.

I looked out the window and smiled, it was dark we were somewhere in Pennsylvania, rolling slowly down the freeway in the slow lane, a car or two passed by on the left side of the bus, their ghostly outlines briefly illumined by the running lights on the side of the bus before the red flash of their tail lights sped past and disappeared.

“Oh, my god,” I said my mouth full of Big League Chew bubble gum, my jaw full and achy from chewing it so long.  Dawn had whipped it out of her purse earlier when I had been jonesing for a smoke,  “I couldn’t, like have sex for three days.”

“Oh shit,” said Dawn, “Billy must’ve been livid.”

“Yeah, he was not pleased,”  I said nodding my head vigorously.   “It took awhile to finally convince him that I was really ill.  It felt like some one had shoved a hot poker inside me, and when I peed, ugh, it was horrid.  After the third day of refusing sex, Billy was ready to take me to Planned Parenthood to figure out what was wrong.”

“Damn, what was wrong?”  Dawn grimaced in sympathy.

“Well, let’s just say I discovered something unpleasant in my panties right before he was going to take me into a clinic.”

Dawn’s eyes widened.  “Bugs?”  She whispered in a low conspiratorial voice.

“Worse.”  I said, dropping my voice down low too.

“What,” she asked leaning into me, the whites of her eyes shining from the overhead dome light.

“A strawberry.”

“A what?”  Dawn asked in even greater hushed tones.  “I don’t think I heard what you said.”

I dropped my head and whispered into her ear.  “A strawberry,” I said and I could not help but to smile and giggle just a little bit.  “A grey, shriveled, desiccated strawberry, it was so washed out from color I didn’t even know what it was at first, man I freaked out in the bathroom, like some gigantic bug had laid eggs on me.  I thought I was going to get hysterical, then I realized it was just a little strawberry laying there.”

“Oh, my gawd!”  Dawn said crumpling with laughter against my shoulder. “Leftovers!”  She shrieked, “from when you guys had sex with all the fruit and whipped cream!”

“Shhhh!” I nodded affirmatively.  “I had to agree with Billy when we were finished, it was a bad idea.  Awful mess to clean up.  So sticky, whipped cream is not sexy.”

“This was a bad, bad, bad, fucking idea,” said Billy, trying to rub off the tacky whip cream from his body.

I was high and laughed.  Billy had decided to play out a fantasy of his and had picked up a pint of strawberries and a can of whip cream.  I had decorated his cock with the whip cream and taken pictures of it with a disposable camera we had picked up.  I giggled trying to focus the camera.

“Shit girl, this is not fucking funny,” Billy shoved up and away from me, “this shit is too gross, I need a fucking bath.”

“Get your ass over here,” he said, propping himself up on the bed.

I crawled over to him.

“Clean me up,” he said pushing my face into his crotch.

“Well, I’m sure you’ll think twice before playing 9 1/2 Weeks again.”  Dawn said with a smile and snapped her gum loudly.  I saw the driver wince at the sound and look up at us in the rear view mirror, but he said nothing.

Lodi, Wisconsin, November 1977

“No Papa, no Papa, no.”  I sobbed wrapping my arms around his knees.  He was all I had.  We had fled California, Mama, and baby Cissy were still there.  My grandpa was no more, but I still had horrible nightmares.  And I missed my Mama too.  When would we all be together again?

“Please, please, pretty please, don’t go.”  I wailed.  The floor felt cold on my feet, I missed the warmth of California and the greenness of it.  Everything here was sullen and washed out grey and dark and wet.  Icky, it was an icky place to be.

“Shhh, baby, it’s alright,”  my Papa’s voice tried to assure me.  But his voice, it was too loud, too boomy, his breath smelled too, like sweet smoke and beer.

“I’ll only be gone for a teensy, tiny, little bit.”  My father continued, stroking my hair.  “You’re a big girl, you can be alone for a little while.”  He patted my head and tried to push me back to bed.

“No!”  I stomped down on his foot with my bare one.

“Baby girl,”  he said.

“I can’t fucking leave you alone, can I?”  Billy screamed at me.  “You fucking whore?  Who the hell has been over here?”  I had just come up from the Lake where I had been washing out my hair.  I had worked all day long hauling roofing shingles up and down a metal extension ladder propped against a coral colored house in a suburb of Miami.  Eight long hours of picking up a stack of shingles, heaving them up to my shoulder, climbing the ladder while balancing the shingles, then walking them carefully over to the middle of the roof.  After which I would climb down and repeat the process.  It was hard labor and I had to stop quite a few times and close my eyes and will myself to go on.

“Billy, what’s going on?”  I was quiet and tried to be calm.

“What do you mean, ‘what’s going on?’”  Billy hollered at me.  “Answer my fucking question, who the hell have you been with?”

“Nobody, honey, I went to work with Elliot and now I’m back, and here’s the money from the job.”  I handed him $70.  He ripped it out of my hands.

“Where is the rest of it?”  He demanded rifling through it quickly.  “There should be more.”

“There is no rest of it, that’s it.”  I said meekly, “well, there was five more, but I spent that on getting lunch.”

Billy quickly counted on his fingers.  “What kind of happy horse shit is this?  You’re worth more.  I thought you were making $15 an hour?”

I shook my head negatively.

Billy stopped fiddling with the money and reached into his pocket.  “I know you made more than that and I can prove it.”  He pulled out a small plastic baggie and threw it at me.

“What is this?”  I asked mystified.  It looked like a tiny bag meant for the smallest   peanut butter and jelly sandwich ever.

Billy glared at me, “it means you’re fucking around on me.”  He whirled around, climbed into the Honda, and roared off.

I was exasperated.  “What the hell was that?”

Elliot poked his head out from the hooch.  “It was a crack bag, Carmen.”

“How the hell do you know that?”  I asked him shooting him a dark look.  We were not exactly on the friendlies of terms.

“Well, Billy parties a lot, it’s probably one of his, or maybe it’s Leon’s.  They come and go with a lot of scum bags you know.”

“No, I don’t know.”  I stated.  I looked at him standing in the door way to the hooch with his sailor’s cap cocked low on his head.  Being at the Lake had changed him. He was still quiet, but when he spoke it was edged with a hardness that had not been there when we had left Wisconsin.  It was like the Florida sun had burned out all the boy from him, he was now a man.

“Are you doing that shit too?”  He asked me coolly.  “Do you smoke up too?  You do, Carmen, don’t you.”

I could not nod yes or no.  Tears pooled up in my eyes and spilled down my cheeks.

“Baby Girl.”  My father leaned over and looked at my tear-stained face.  “That is no way to treat your Papa.”  He picked me up and swung me into his arms.  “Now, say you’re sorry.”

“I’m sorry.”  I sniffled.

“Please.”  Said Elliot.  “Enough with the crocodile tears, Martines.”  He snorted through his nose.  “I don’t even know why I bothered asking.”  He grimaced at me, the turned and went back into the dark mouth of his hooch.

“Don’t go.”  I said.  “Please, don’t go.”

“Baby girl, it is no place for a little lady to be.”  My father cradled me in his arms.  “I won’t be gone for long and you’ll be asleep and before you know it, it will be morning and I will make you pancakes for breakfast!”

“Take me with you,” I whispered.

“Was that really the last thing Elliot said to you?”  Dawn looked over at me.

I nodded my head, tears falling down into my lap.  “Yup. Yes, it was. The absolute last thing he said to me, the last time I saw him.  I don’t think I will ever, ever forget it.”  I broke out into quiet sobs.  “I really miss him.”

“Oh, honey, I’m sorry.  That really blows.”  Dawn patted my hand.  “Sounds like that was probably one of your worst days.  Billy takes all your money and then Elliot makes you cry.”

“It wasn’t my best.”  I snorted through my tears.

“What was? You have to tell me quick, we’re almost in Pittsburgh,” Dawn shifted in her seat and looked out the window, “yeah, maybe ten, fifteen miles til we’re there.”

Coming back to the Lake the last time before we left for North Carolina.  Just knowing that we were leaving all the messiness behind.  Billy was in high spirits and ordered me off to the dock to wash up.  When I came back I could see that Billy had set up a chair, a blue plastic bowl, a towel, and a can of shaving cream, Barbasol Menthol, on a card table.  I padded up the dock leaving wet footprints that almost sizzled off the wood on contact, evaporating in the hot sun.  Billy was sitting perched in the chair, rocked back on two legs.

“Come here, Baby Girl,” he said and smiled crookedly at me.  “It’s time you learn how to shave my face.”

“What?”

“You heard me, come here.”  He patted the seat in between his legs.

I approached him slowly.  My dress was almost dry and the wind snickered in between my legs, pulling it up and off my body with a slight sighing sound.  My hair lifted off my neck drying in a corona of curls around my face; I pushed the damp ends behind my ears and then settled my hands behind my back.

“Watch,” he said taking the can of foam and shaking it vigorously, he sprayed a handful of blue gel on to his fingertips, and then rubbed it into a white foamy circle on the left side of his face.

“Now you,” he said, reaching for my hand.  “Hold out your hand.”

I held out my right hand and he sprayed the foam into it; it felt warm and soft, heavier than I expected.

“Rub it on my face.”  He said patting the cheek without foam on it.

I did so.  Billy’s hand rose to mine, guiding it across the plains of his face.

“Leave the mustache alone, I’ll show you how to trim that later.”

I foamed his face, careful to avoid the mustache.

“Now take the razor and gently pull it down my cheek, like this,” he demonstrated the stroke to me.

I hesitated when he handed me the razor.  I was standing between his legs, the hem of my dress drifting across his knees.  The sun was straight overhead.  I was nervous and did not know exactly how to begin.

“Stop,” he said firmly.

I stopped and looked down into his blue eyes, they twinkled at me.  He smiled.  “You’re not gonna hurt me, I trust you.”


I smiled brightly at him.  “C’mon Papa, take me with you.”  I bounced in his arms.

“Baby Girl, you need your sleep.”  My father admonished me.

“No I don’t.”  I shook my head.  “I’m wide awake.”

My father chuckled and rubbed his nose against mine.  “Carmen, it’ll be boring.  You’ll have more fun here.”

I got sullen.  “No I won’t.  Bad things happen when you leave me alone.”

“I ain’t gonna leave you if you cut my face, but I might think about it.”  Billy said in a growly voice.

I drew in a breath.

“Baby Girl!  I am teasin‘ you.”  Billy squeezed his legs together and put his arms around my waist.  “I ain’t ever gonna leave you.”

I smiled and started shaving his face.

“Ok, well, forgive me for interrupting, but how is that like the best day?”  Dawn stared at me.  “I don’t get it, Elliot doesn’t talk to you again and you’re shaving Billy?  What gives?”

“Because Layla said good-bye to me.”  I said softly and looked out the window into the dawning day, we were just exiting the freeway into Pittsburgh.  “And I knew it was Elliot saying good-bye the only way he knew how, saying I was forgiven, at least that’s what I tell myself.”

“She said good-bye, how?  I was wondering about that, I mean, like, what happened to her, you know, like you suddenly have Jake and don’t mention Layla again.”

“I left her with Elliot.  I couldn’t keep her, she wasn’t mine to keep.  I never would have adopted her, and he needed her more than I did.”

Billy was clean-shaven, I was washed, Jake was snuggled down at my feet.  We were finally leaving.  Leaving Florida, leaving the Lake, leaving the crack and all the problems inherent with it.  We were going to North Carolina, where Billy had family friends, job connections.  We would start our new life together.

As we pulled around a pothole I looked out the window to take in one last look of the Lake.  I saw a black and white blur in the passenger side mirror and my heart leapt into my mouth.

“What the fuck is that?‘  Billy said suddenly, looking up and into the rear view mirror.  He turned to look over his shoulder.   I sat silently.

“Hey, look at that shit, Baby Girl, do you know what that is?”  He asked, swiveled around in his seat.

My father was silent.  “Ok, you can come.”  He gave in with a sigh.

“Yay!”  I said.  “Where are we going?”

“Down to the Lake.  There’s a bonfire tonight and some friends of your mom’s are gonna be there.  I said I would swing by.”  He set me down onto the floor.  “We’ll c’mon, sweet pea, if we’re gonna go, let’s go.”  He took my hand.

I knew what it was, but I remained silent.

“God damn, it’s Layla!  We should take her with us.”  Billy said.

“No!”  I said loudly,  turning around to look at Layla running behind the car.  “No.”  I said again, softer.  “She’s not mine to take.”

“That’s bullshit, that dog loves you more than she loves Elliot.  That dog is your dog.”  Billy started to slow the car.

“No.”  I said again and touched Billy on the knee.  “She belongs to Elliot.  I’ve got you and Jake.”

I looked down at my knees, watched the wet spots on my blue jeans blossoming.

“Wow, you left her for Elliot? Aw, honey.”  Dawn hugged me fiercely.  We were in the terminal at the Greyhound station in Pittsburgh.  Dawn stifled a yawn and stretched her arms over her head.

“I think Elliot loved you too.”  She said, after a moment.

I just nodded.  I did not have a lot of words left in me to say anything.

“Wow, holy moley, I can’t believe we’re actually here.”  Dawn gathered up her bag and hopped up from the seat.  “C’mon let’s get off this bus.”  She bounded down the steps of the bus and into the bright Pittsburgh day.  I followed her off the bus.  I blinked my eyes, and rubbed them briskly.  It was morning, the nightmare seemed to be ending.

“Carmen, I have got to fly.  But you are amazing.  I’m so glad we got to hang out.  You sure made the time go quick! Thank you so much for telling me your story, you’re just like, totally awesome!  Make sure you write me.”  Dawn said and thrust a piece of paper into my hand.  “Really, we could be great pen pals.”

I smiled at her, “OK.”

“I’m gonna jet, I don’t mean to leave you high and dry, but you’re bus is gonna be here soon and I so want to go take a hot shower.  But I’m really serious, write me.”   We hugged one last time and then she walked toward the road, turning once briefly to smile and wave back at me.  I returned the wave, then headed into the bus station terminal.  I had a few minutes before  I had to get on the next bus headed home.  I wanted to pee in a real toilet. I located the bathroom in the huge terminal and bee lined it over to the door.

I was finally next in line.  I think every one on the bus must have held it until they could use a real bathroom.  I walked up to the stall and pulled it, the door stuck.  I yanked it again, then looked down, it was a pay to piss stall. I laughed out loud.  One quarter needed to be deposited to be admitted.  There was no one else in the bathroom.  I caught my eye in the mirror.  And smiled.

“Let’s go then,” my father side and shifted me onto his hip.

“Alright, if that’s what you want, Baby Girl, let’s get the fuck out of here,” said Billy and he spun the steering wheel to the left and we exited The Lake for the last time.

“Go home Baby Girl.“ I said to my reflection in the mirror.

I looked around the empty bathroom with the sunlight slanting through the high windows, sighed deeply and dropped down onto the floor and crawled underneath the toilet stall.

 The End


Excuse Me,

May 24, 2011

How much is that one bedroom in the window?  It came to my attention yesterday that  there is a one bedroom open in my building.  I have been yearning after more space for a while now.  And I can’t imagine a cooler move than just across the hall!

Sunday morning I awoke to some one knocking at my door.  For a brief, delicious moment I thought it was the gentleman I had a movie date with on Friday night.  Then I realized that was impossible and woke up fully to my door bell being rung.  The inside door bell.  Huh?

I answered to find the girl in the unit kitty corner to me standing there.  It turns out she was moving out and wanted to know if I could use any spare groceries.  She did not have any more space to pack and did not want to waste the food.  I said, sure, I’ll come over and check out what you have, just let me get myself together.

I raced around my studio getting dressed and presentable.  I have always wanted to see what the other apartments in the building look like.  I have always hankered after a one bedroom in this building, this seemed heaven-sent.

I went over a few minutes later and relieved her of a 1/2 bag of organic brown rice, some protein drinks, and a large yellow onion.  The rest of what she had to offer was not appealing to me or did not fit into my current food plan.  Nobody wants hot dogs that look like they’ve been in the freezer since the turn of the century.  I’m not a vegetarian, although I play one on tv.  I politely declined and peered around the space trying not to be too obvious.

Then, I asked, how much?  How much rent do you pay for the apartment.  Whilst trying to scan itas much of it as I could, was that a walk in closet in the bedroom?!  And she did not know.  She did not pay the rent.  And I could not believe that I actually harbored no grudge against her for that, talk about growth!  Some people get to have their parents take care of their rent while they are in school, that’s awesome for them.

Some people, me, don’t have that option.  However, I do have the option of sending an e-mail to my rental agency.  As well as checking out if they had placed it back up on the site.  And there it was, well, I think.  I’m actually not certain that the one they have listed is the one that I saw, but they’ve got a listing.

It is listed at $1600.  That is $450 more than I am paying now.  That is also about how much I have been stashing into my savings account every month since I made the decision to move to Paris next year.

My brain automatically went to either or.  Move into the one bedroom and don’t go to Paris.  Or stay in studio and go to Paris.

I am wondering if perhaps there may be a way to do both?  What if I just practise believing that there will be the money to pay for an upgrade in space?  What if I just have faith?  What if I just take the next action in front of me and let go of the results.  So much can change in a year and a half.  I could suddenly come into a lot of money.  My book could get picked up by an agency.  I could get a big raise at work.  I could also ask for a raise.

I want more space.  I adore my little studio, but I would love to have a real desk and a couch.  Oh my god, would that be nice.  More space for the cats.  Being able to get a bigger Christmas tree this year.  A fireplace.  Oh yes, you heard me, a fire-place that works.  My favorite smell in the whole world, wood fire burning.  Nothing more romantic than snuggling before a fire.  A cold night in foggy summer San Francisco, sure, no problem, I’ll just light a fire.  Nope, I’m not going out, I’ll be getting my cozy on.

Anything can happen.  I did not know how I was going to make the transition from paying $435 a month in a rent controlled apartment to paying $1150 and I did.  I just had faith it would work its way out.  And it has.  So, faith, I believe that if I’m supposed to move across the hall, it’ll happen.

Just, please, take the hotdogs out of the freezer before I move in.

Baby Girl–Chapter 14–Elizabeth City

May 24, 2011

Elizabeth City

“You’d better get your ass back to the hotel,” said Billy leaning over the counter at the gas station, eyes wrinkled with anger.  “I want you and your shit the fuck out of my life.”

“Billy, what are you talking about,” I tried to pitch my voice low to avoid drawing the attention of my boss who was in the back doing inventory.  There had been delivery trucks dropping off boxes and crates all day, Memorial Day weekend was about to happen; unofficial opening of the summer beach season on the coast.

“You heard me, get your ass back to the hotel and get your shit, before I throw it into the pool.”  He thundered at me, turned on his heel and stalked out of the gas station.

The owner, Matt, came up to me.  “Hey Carmen, everything ok?”  He had a clip board in his hand and ink smudged on his fingertips.

“I, uh, I don’t know what’s going on.”  I said quietly, trying to meet Matt’s frank gaze, but falling considerably short.

“Well,” Matt said thoughtfully, tapping his pen on the clip board. “Why don’t you take a quick half hour break and find out what’s going on, I’ll cover for you.  You can make up the time by staying late tonight or coming in early tomorrow, we’ll certainly be busy.”

“Thanks, Matt, thanks a lot, I’ll be right back.”  I tore out of the store for the second time that day.

Earlier on my lunch break Billy had come by and taken me for a surprise walk on the beach with Jake.  It felt very romantic to be picked up from work and taken out to lunch.

“Listen,” said Billy, squeezing my hand tightly.  “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this school thing and I’ve decided you really are too smart to be working in a gas station, I want you to start looking at going back.  We’re getting nicely settled here, I could see you doing real well in school.”

“Oh, Billy, do we need to go over this again?”  I shaded my eyes and looked at him, Jake galloped ahead of us in and out of the surf.  “I told you I pretty much flunked out before, I don’t even think I can get back in even if I wanted to go.”  And how could I even think about applying to a school, what would I put down for my address, a hotel room on the resort strip of Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina?  It was just too farfetched.

“Look, you are the smartest old lady I’ve ever been with,” he said and he pulled me toward him and danced me around the surf.  Jake leaped around us and barked happily.   “You gotta go back to school!”

“Billy!”  I yelped,  “watch it, honey, I’ve got to go back to work, I don’t have time to go back to the hotel and change.”

“Fuck that job,” he said, “no old lady of mine should be working anyway, let alone running a register at a lousy gas station.  If you gotta work, you should be waiting tables or cocktailing at some classy bar, you’re too good for that place.”

“Billy, I thought you were happy I got the job?  And you know we need the money; pay off the bail bond on the car and get into our own place instead of staying at the motel anymore.”

“Are you trying to say that I don’t know how to take care of my old lady,” he accusingly asked while squeezing my upper arm tightly.  We were no longer dancing in the surf, I could feel the tension in his arm as he tried to not shake me.

“No, no, I’m not saying that at all, baby,”  I said in a placating voice.  “I just want us to have some nice things, you know, good stuff for you to take to lunch, no more bologna sandwiches.”  I smiled brightly at him.  “You take care of me fine.”

He leaned into me and kissed me roughly.  “Come on, Baby Girl, skip work, we’ll go back to the hotel,” and he put my hand on his cock, half hard already in his pants, “fuck away the afternoon.  And then maybe we’ll go out later, go have us a nice dinner somewhere.”

I sidestepped, “Billy we don’t have money to go out.”

“We’ll just dine and dash, sugar.’” Billy said with no hesitation.

“I, uh, oh Billy, I hate doing that, really, I do, I get so nervous I don’t even enjoy what I’m eating, all I can think about is whether or not we’ll get caught.  Besides, I don’t think, this town is good for that.  It doesn’t seem big enough to do it, everybody knows everybody.”

“Fine,” he said petulantly.  “Fine.  Go back to work, go back and play suck ass to your asshole boss.”  Billy had not been pleased when Matt had stepped in earlier during the day to take payment on some beers he had gone in to buy.  Said it was policy to not let the cashiers ring up their friends or significant others, made it so they would not expect a discount.  I am fairly certain Billy had been counting on a steep discount.

“Come on, sweetie, it’s just a little longer, my days already half done anyhow.  I’ll try and see if I can get off early, I’ll be home before you know it.”  I smiled up into his blue eyes, which were flat and emotionless.

“Fine, what the fuck ever, go.” Said Billy with a sneer. “Run back to work.”

I kissed him quickly then dashed off over the dunes before he could change his mind and on up to the public access beach front, then across the hot pavement to the gas station.  It was actually one of the fanciest convenience stores I had ever seen.  Kill Devil Hills being a resort town, all the gas stations where more than just filling stations, they were liquor stores, with groceries, and souvenirs and the one I worked at was the closest to the public access beach and the beach house where there were showers and bathrooms.  Everyone from the beach came over to get Copper tone and sunscreen, flip-flops, beach towels, cases of beer, sand buckets, soda pop, wine coolers, snacks.  Often times bare chested, men and women, as long as they had on bottoms and shoes, all other attire did not matter.  Matt had warned me to get used to topless women coming in to the store.

They also had one long aisle with post cards and posters, boogie boards, surfboards, scuba gear, snorkels, and sand crabs.  I had to be back to mist down the crabs.  They had to be watered every hour on the hour or they would dry out and die before making it to the hotel room of the little kid who would inevitably kill it off within fifteen minutes anyway trying to pet it.

I had just finished misting down the crabs and had not even been behind the register more than a minute when Billy delivered his threat.  After Matt cleared me I ran out the door and walked hurriedly along the side of the freeway waiting for the stream of cars to lessen before dashing over to the other side.  I walked rapidly through the parking lot of the hotel, past the swimming pool and bounded up the stairs to the second landing to the room we had been living in for the past few weeks.

I got to our room, paused, took a deep breath and gingerly opened the door.  Billy was sitting on the bed furthest from the door, watching TV, he had a can of Budweiser in his hand and was smoking a cigarette, and he flicked it as I walked in, dropping ash on directly on to the floor.  I realized he was not using an ashtray at the same time that I became aware of  my few possessions heaped in a messy pile on the table by the door.

“Get your shit and get the fuck out, you cheating whore,” said Billy without turning away from the television set.  He took another drag on the cigarette he was holding and swilled from the beer can.

“What are you talking about,” I asked him in a voice just above a whisper.  “What’s going on, baby?”

“You heard me, bitch, get your shit and get out now.”  Billy’s nostrils flared and he shifted on the bed, he had not turned to face me, but he squared his shoulders and made as though to rise.

I instinctively left the door open to the motel courtyard and slowly walked into the “dining” area of the room.  I started to cry; my black leather-bound journal had been shredded to pieces, absolutely destroyed.  Sobbing, I started to pick up the torn pages of the book where they had fallen and drifted off the table.

Billy leaped to his feet.  “Oh no you don’t!”   He strode over to me, ripping the sheets of paper out of my hands.  “You are not taking that with you, that shit stays here!”

I tried to pull the paper out of his hands, he howled at me yanking them from out of my hands.

“I said ‘No!’  No!  You’re not taking it with you, you fucking bitch, you whore, you cunt, cheating on me behind my back and writing about it! No!”  Billy shred the pages in his hands and dropped them onto the floor.

“Billy!”  I said, trying to not cry and shaking with the effort.  “I didn’t cheat on you, what are you talking about?  When, Billy, when?  When could I have possibly cheated on you?  You’re not making any sense; I’m always around you.  We wake up, you fuck me, I make you breakfast, we shower together, we both go to work, I get home just before you do and make you dinner, we have sex again, maybe watch TV or take Jake for a walk, when did I cheat on you?  I never, I never…”

“Shut the fuck up you whore, shut up!”  He screamed at me and I abruptly quieted.

Billy slowly approached me as I backed away.  “Ok Billy,” I said, raising my hands up in front of me, “ok, I’ll go.”

I ran into the bathroom and scooped up my black canvas bag on the way.  I shoved my toiletries into it, pausing for a brief moment to stare at my large paddle hair brush, the brush that started everything, brush my goddamn hair, why did I ever let him brush my hair? I shoved it in my bag and then I inched hesitantly out of the bathroom, approached the table and took the few items of clothing there.  I tried to pet Jake who was keening at me under the table.

“Don’t you fucking touch that dog, whore, don’t you contaminate him,” said Billy.  He was standing by the door, the door that was still open, he was backlit by this  golden day, sky-high and blue.  A warm, salty breeze blew in from the ocean and scattered the journal pages around the kitchenette.

“I’m going, Billy, I’m going.”

“Move your ass out of here, get the fuck out,” he stepped away from the door allowing me space to pass.

I turned sideways putting as much distance between us as possible.  I did not make eye contact with him.  Just as I crossed over the threshold he grabbed my arm.  I stopped, met his blazing eyes, and looked into utter psychotic fury.

“And you best make damn sure you’re out of North Carolina by midnight tonight,” he said, digging into my arm.  “Or I will find you and I will kill you, I will know if you haven’t gotten out of my state and I will hunt you down and I will kill you. You can bet your ass on that.”

He dropped my arm and I flew out the door, tumbling as fast as I could down the steps, past the pool, out over the hot black asphalt, past the Honda, a death beetle husk, in its stall, onto the road.  I ran across, barely looking, I could not see much for the tears running down my face, the sun beating on my head.

I walked back to the gas station.  Matt took one look at me and came immediately out from behind the counter.  “Hey, honey, are you ok?”

I nodded my head, unable to speak, tears streaming down my face.

“Hey, hey, it’s going to be Ok, come on, come back with me to my office.”  He came around the counter, shut the door to the store and flipped the closed sign around.

He guided me by the arm down the surf aisle to the back of the store into his office.  He sat me down at one of the two round leather chairs flanking his desk, then went around to the other side and sat.  His eyes flicked to the bank of monitors, focusing on the cash register.  No one was yet in line at the gas pumps.

I contained myself, breathing in deeply.  “I need my paycheck now,” I said, unable to meet his eyes.  “My boyfriend kicked me out and I don’t have anything, I, I, I don’t have any money.”  I shook unsteady on the last word.

“Is this about earlier?  When I wouldn’t let you ring him up?  Honey do you want me to talk to him?  It’s just my policy, that’s all.”

“No!  Oh no, I don’t know what’s gotten into him, but it’s not about earlier.  I don’t want you to talk to him,” I said pleadingly.  I could just imagine that conversation not going over very well.

“Of course, Carmen, don’t even worry about it.  Listen, I’ll just go figure out your hours and give you cash, is that ok?”  Matt asked me in a calm voice.

“Yeah, that’s great, thank you.”  I nodded my head while wiping off my eyes.

“Is there anything else you need?” He asked pausing by the door.

“Can I use the phone?”

“Sure, honey, why don’t I give you some privacy.”  He left the office, patting my shoulder when he passed by.  The door clicked shut with a subdued snick.

I dialed, “Mom?”

“Carmen?  Carmen!  Oh, my god baby, I’ve been so worried about you.”  My mother’s voice shrieked out of the receiver.

She pulled the phone away from her mouth and hollered,  “it’s your sister.”  I heard a brief muffled conversation.

“Carmen, honey,”  my mother said back on the phone again, “your sister wants to talk with you.”

“Sure,”  I said.  This was actually better.  Cicely could help me better than my mom and I could let her know what was really going on.  If I told my mother anything that happened between Billy and myself she would lose it on the phone and probably recommend I go to the police or something equally as unappetizing.

“Carmen?”  I heard as my sister picked up the receiver.

“Hey sis.”

“Where are you?”  I could hear her light up a cigarette and inhale from it.

“Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina,”  I replied wishing I could be smoking right now too, I sure as hell could use one.

“Where?”

“God, its way too long a story, listen I can’t talk to much.  I need help.  Can you call Grey Hound for me and find out where the nearest bus station to me is.”

“Ok, sure, I can do that.  Are you coming home?”

“Yeah,”  I said after a pause, I actually did not have any other choice that I could think of.  “My boyfriend decided I was cheating on him and threatened to kill me.  He kicked me out of the place we were living.”

“Where you cheating on him?”  Asked my sister rather nonchalantly.

“Christ! No.  God, come on, Cicely, give me some credit.”

“Ok, ok, let me get off the phone and I’ll call around for you, give me the number you’re at so I can call you back when I get the info.”

I read the number to off the phone to her.

“Alright, hang tight, I’ll call you back in a few minutes.”

“Cool, I love you.  Thank you so much.”  I said feeling some relief come over me.

“Love you too, bye.”  She said and hung up the phone.

Mom was probably giving her holy hell for hanging up before she got a chance to grill me on where I was and what I was doing.  I stared out the back window of the office; a dust devil whirled idly up in the dry back lot.

“Knock, knock,” Matt said walking back into the office.  He handed me a small stack of cash.  “Your time card figured out to $128.00.”

“Thanks,”  I said taking the money.  “I really appreciate it.”

“Not a problem, do you need anything else?”

“Yeah, if you wouldn’t mind me hanging out for another couple of minutes, my sister’s going to call back and let me know where I can catch a Grey hound back home.”

“Sure, I’ll just be back out front at the register, close the door when you’re done.”

“Thanks again, Matt, I really appreciate it.”

The phone rang.  I picked it up.

“Carmen?”  It was my sister.

“Hey, what you got?”  I anxiously eyed the stack of money.

“Well, the ticket line said that the next Greyhound in your area leaves from Elizabeth City at 7:18pm.”

“Fuck.  There’s not a closer stop anywhere?  That’s on the main land, there’s nothing listed on the islands, nothing for the Outer Banks?”

“Nope.”

“Shit, oK, well, it’s 5:40 now.  Fuck, I’ve got to fly that only gives me like an hour and a half to get there.  Is there another bus that leaves after that, I might not make that one in time?”

“There is, but not until tomorrow morning at 8:10am.”

“Oh, fuck, no.  That’s not going to work, Billy is a fucking psycho, he’ll know, he will flat-out know if I’m still in state by midnight.  I can’t risk it.”  I scooped up the cash in front of me, shoving it in my pocket, I had to leave now.

“How are you going to get there?”  My sister asked, and I heard a note of concern creeping into her voice.

“I don’t know, I’m probably going to have to hitchhike, I don’t know anybody here.”

“Shit, Carmen, be careful,”  Cicely’s voice rose up a notch.

“I will, I promise, I got to go.”

“You’ll make it, oh, and they’re holding a ticket for you, I asked them to hold it under your name.”

“Awesome.  How much is it?”

“One hundred twenty,” she replied.

“You’re fucking kidding, to ride the Grey hound?”  I asked incredulously.

“That’s what they said, do you have enough money?”

“Just barely, $128.00.”

“Well, that leaves you with enough to buy some smokes and a Coke for the road.”  Cicely said with forced enthusiasm.

“Great, I need to lose some weight anyhow, screw food.”  I said sarcastically.

“Well, I guess I’ll see you in a couple of days.”

“Thanks Cicely, I got to make a move on it if I’m going to make that bus.  I’ll see you soon.  Tell mom I’m coming home, I love you.”

“Love you too, Bubba,”  she said using my old childhood nickname.

I hung up the phone and literally ran to the front.  I bought some Camels as they were on a promo special, buy three, get one free, and a 16 oz bottle of Squirt.

“Thanks again Matt, it’s been fun.”  I said with a wry smile.

“You ok, you’re going to get home ok?”  He asked with some concern.

“Yup, absolutely, I’m going to be fine.”  I had no intention on mentioning the hitchhiking.  I needed to get the fuck out of Dodge.

I walked out the door, crossed to the opposite side and starting walking backwards with my thumb out.  I walked nearly half a mile before any car slowed for me.  It was a station wagon that finally pulled over.  I ran up to the passenger side, and thank God, it was a woman driving.

“Where ya goin’ honey,” she asked looking up at me through dark sunglasses.

“Elizabeth City.”  I said quickly, wanting desperately to get off the side of the road, I kept imagining that I would see Billy coming after me at any moment.

“Oh shit, well I can’t take you that far, I gotta pick up the kids from the sitters, but I’ll get you to the bridge.  Hop on in.”  She leaned over and pushed open the passenger side door.

I jumped in.  The car smelled, but in a comforting way–it was covered with kid snack crumbs, there was a crumpled up diaper bag between two car seats, where there lingered the sweet almost overwhelming odor of talcum and baby–warm smells of safety.  The back seat was also covered with children’s clothes and toys in various stages of broken.  She smiled sunnily at me and turned over the ignition.  I felt my chest loosen and  sighed deeply as I sunk into the seat.

“What’s in Elizabeth City,” she asked looking over her left shoulder to merge back in with the traffic.

“The Greyhound station,” I said.

“Where you going?”

“Home,”  I replied.  “Back to Madison, Wisconsin, that is.”

“Oh, that’s a long ways away, how’d you get down here,” she asked not looking at me, but rather at the traffic as we merged back onto the highway.

“That’s a really long story,” I said and I felt the tears welling in my throat.  I swallowed hard.  “And kind of complicated, you know.”

“Oh, I see,”  she said glancing out from the sides of her sunglasses at me.  “Well, you seem like a nice girl, if you want you could crash over at my place tonight, and when I drop the kids off at the sitter’s tomorrow, I could drive you all the way to Elizabeth City.  You’d have a nice bed and a hot shower.”

I was totally taken aback at her generous offer, but shook my head no.  “Thanks, but I can’t.  I need to get out of here as soon as possible.”

“You runnin’ from something?”  She asked me gently, but piercingly.

I shook my head hard, tears welled up and spilled down my face.  I could not get the words to come out.

“It’s ok, sugar, we’ve all been down that road.  I understand.  I’ll drive you to the bridge, but if you change your mind, my offer stands.”  She reached over and squeezed my hand.

“Thanks,” I said, tears fogging up my throat, “I really appreciate the ride.”

“What time does your bus leave?”

“7:20.”  I said glancing at the clock on her dashboard.

“Well, we got a little time then,” she said, turning into the left hand lane she slowed down and signaled to turn.

“Where are we going?”   I wanted to plead with her to just keep on going, but my ability to talk was at an all time low.

“Winn Dixie, can’t let you get on the bus without some sustenance, now can I?  If you won’t come back to my house for a hot meal, the least I can do is send you on your way with a little something for the trip.”

“You don’t have to do that,” I said meekly.

“I know, but I want to.”  She smiled at me and pulled into the parking lot of the grocery store.

We parked and went into the super market.  She grabbed a couple of bags of beef jerky, some Pringles sour cream and onion potato chips, a couple of neon green Gatorades, and a handful of Skor candy bars.  She hustled right on up to the ten items or less check out and we queued up in line.

“What do you smoke?” She asked out of the blue.

“How did you know I smoked?” I asked incredulously.

“Honey, when the shit hits the fan, we all smoke!”  She chuckled.

I laughed, “Camel Light 100s.”  If I was going to get cigarettes I might as well get my favorites.

“Couple packs of Camel Light 100s too please,” she said to the check out girl. I experienced a brief moment of disorientation, I should still be behind the cash register at work.

She paid and handed the bag to me and we went back to the car.

“I’m gonna drop you about a half mile from the bridge,” she said.  “No one’s going to stop past that, it’ll be too close for them to pull over.”

“Ok, thanks again, I really appreciate the ride, and everything else too,” I said gesturing to the plastic bag in my lap.

“It’s ok, us girls gotta stick together, we’ve all had our turn at bad luck, I’m glad I can help you out.”  She said and smiled brightly.

We drove in silence for five minutes, then she pulled off onto the right hand shoulder.   “Alright, lady bug, end of the line.”

I grabbed my stuff and opened up the door.  The woman grabbed my arm, stopping me from getting out.

“Wait, here, take this too,” she shoved a business card and $40 into my hand.  “Please call that number when you get home.  Promise you’ll call when you get there, promise?”

“I promise,” I said, trying to not start crying again.  “Thank you!”

She leaned over and hugged me tightly.  “Good luck, sweetie and Godspeed!”

I climbed out and stood alongside the road.  She pulled a u-turn and drove off waving at me.  I waved back and smiled, then settled down to await my next ride.  I really wanted to be moving, but I heeded her warning to stay put, no one would stop for me if I was on the bridge.  And it was probably illegal to try to walk over it.  The sun was beginning to set.  Cars flew by, their head lights beginning to flicker on in the dusk.  Ten minutes passed, I about to give up waiting and just walk it, when an old green Ford pick-up pulled over.  There was an old man in bib overalls in the driver’s seat.  I was running toward the truck immediately.

“Need a lift?”  He asked leaning over to unlock the door.

“Yes, please,” I answered.

“Where ya goin’?”

“Elizabeth City.”  I said with great hope that I could get all the way there now.

“Well,” he said pausing and turning to spit out his window.  “Can’t take you that far, but I’ll get you across the bridge, get it.”

“Thanks,” I said and clambered in.  The cab smelled of chewing tobacco, hay, and warm leather.  The springs in the seat squeaked when I settled down.  He popped the truck into first gear and we were off.

We traversed the bridge back to the main land silently.  The man’s overalls were dusted with flecks of tobacco and hayseed chaff, there was a grease stain on his left knee, he hummed to himself and did not make any conversation with me.  He pulled over about a mile after the bridge to let me out.

“Last stop.”  He said with a curt nod.

“Thanks so much,” I said hopping out.  He drove off into the twilight and I watched his tail lights until they disappeared.

It was almost completely dark, just a tiny hint of daylight left.  All the cars passing over the bridge had their lights on.  I winced from the high beams as they passed by, no one was slowing down.  I did not know what time it was, but I could feel the panic rising in my chest.  Then a car stopped just past me, tail lights flashing a red wink at me, I scooped up my bag and ran to it.

“Where you going?”  A middle-aged heavy-set white man looked out at me.  He was driving a dusty navy blue Dodge Chevelle.

“Greyhound station, Elizabeth City.”  I huffed out breathlessly.

“Get in, I know where that is, I can take you all the way there,” he pushed open the passenger side door to me.

“Oh, thank God,” I said climbing into the car.  I was going to make it.

“What’s your name,” he asked me.

“Carmen,” I said.

“Carmen,”  he said slowly, rolling my name around his mouth in a way that made it seem like he was tasting something he had been thinking about wanting to eat for a long time.   “Well, that’s a nice name for a nice girl.”

“Thanks,” I said tightly smiling.  I scrunched up and sat as close to the door as possible.  The inside of the car was a dark maroon.  I shifted in my seat, keeping my hands wrapped tightly around my bag.

“Where you going?”  He asked after a few moments of awkward silence.

“Home.”  I replied tersely.

“Where’s home?”

“Wisconsin.”

“Really?”  His voice went up, “I got me some family up that way.”

I smiled and said quietly, “that’s nice.”

“You all set for money?”  He asked drumming his fingers on the steering wheel.

“Well, not really,” I thought for a moment about the money the woman driver had given me, maybe I could get some more out of this guy.  Then my gut clenched and I realized I did not want his money.  “ But I got enough to get home.”

“You need some more, I’ve got some in my wallet.”  He said and then patted his leg, “I could part with it easy for a lady in need.”

“No, thanks, I’m OK, really.” I said very firmly.

“You sure, it’s right here,” he said patting his lap again.

“No, thanks again, I’m quite alright.”  I kept my eyes forward and tried to ignore the bulge in his pants.

“Well, if you change your mind, you let me know, I don’t like to see such a pretty girl in distress.”

“I’m fine, but, uh, thank you for your offer, it’s mighty nice.”  I smiled tightly and looked up at him quickly hoping he believed me.

He tipped me an imaginary hat and winked.  He then signaled and turned off the main highway.  Trees encroached upon the road.  Flat black water reflected back the headlights; we were headed into the swamp.

“Where are you going?” I asked alarmed.

“I’m taking you to Elizabeth City.”

“But this isn’t the way.”  I protested.  I had driven with Billy often enough along this stretch of the road.  The main highway led to the city, the other road led into the Dismal Swamp.

“It’s a shortcut,”  he said with a dry chuckle.

Baby Girl–Chapter 13–Pigs

May 23, 2011

Pigs

Billy’s hand dropped from my waist, slid down underneath my ass, cupped it and squeezed it while giving me a lusty look.  I giggled, “Knock it off Billy, I don’t want people to see.”

I reached around and placed his hand back onto the small of my back, just over the ridge of hipbone where it was supposed to be.  He caromed me around the dance floor and laughed.

“You have anymore of that lip balm, Baby Girl?”  He raised his eyebrows up and down suggestively.

“No,” I said swatting him.  We twirled around the parquet as the blue grass band gustily winded up the song in a shriek of fiddle and bass guitar.  Billy swept me back into his arms, dipping me almost to the wood floor.  I screeched and threw my arms around him, he grinned big and silly and then kissed me with gusto.

We had been at a pig picking all day long.

“A what?”  Dawn interjected.  “What the fuck is a pig picking?”  We were back at the Grey Hound station getting ready to head toward Pittsburg.

I laughed, “it’s a pig roast.”

“That is messed up, they call it a pig picking?” Dawn stopped my story for a moment with a raised hand and looked up at the departures board in the Grey Hound station.  Her eyes rapidly scanned the board.

“Ok, continue,”  she said once she had matched  our tickets to the correct outgoing bus.  We had a half hour yet to use the bathrooms and chain smoke as many cigarettes as we possibly could.

“I know, it’s weird, I had the same reaction.  I kinda had this picture of a bunch of red necks standing around an oil drum barbecue with dirty nails pulling apart some pig.  But it was actually just like any other pig roast I’d ever seen, except it was in a bar.”

“So I’m guessin’ you all were doing a little better financially, if you could be out having dinner and stuff instead of swapping out food stamps.”  Dawn said, and dug her pack of Moores out of her purse.

“Yes, thank god, I mean we didn’t have a lot, but we weren’t staying in the swamp camp ground anymore.  Billy ran into an old friend who was the front desk guy at a motel in Kill Devil Hills, one of them little towns in the Outer Banks?  Anyway, so we were staying there on the cheap and I had gotten a job at a gas station and Billy was crewing with a bunch of guys he met through another old connect.”

“Well, damn, that actually sounds pretty good.  What happened? Details!”  Demanded Dawn as she lit her next smoke up.  We headed to a bank of mint green plastic chairs by the bus corral and settled in for our half hour wait to board.

Billy had finally secured a job.  A decent job, that paid out regular as the main carpenter on a house building site.  He had hunted up an old friend who knew some body that knew some body that introduced Billy to the boss.  And fortunately they hit it off.  It did not hurt that they both like to smoke a lot of pot.  The motel we were in was actually right on the beach directly across from the main drag of Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.  Not even a half mile away from where the Wright Brothers flew their plane for the first time outside of Kitty Hawk.  Billy had taken me to the enormous sand dune they had leaped from, walked me to the top then slid down to the bottom where he dug a gigantic heart in the sand with his heel, our names in the middle of it, a feathered arrow piercing the center.  Billy + Carmen 4ever.

Life was very good.  I had walked into a gas station to get a pack of cigarettes and walked out with a job working the cash register.  It was our first weekend off with pay and Billy had gotten wind of the pig picking.  We had been there as soon as the bar opened.  I was sun burnt and tipsy, the smell of roasting pig made my stomach rumble now and again; it was empty except for a couple of wine coolers.

“I’ve got the best looking old lady here,” said Billy crooning proudly in my ear.  He twirled me around again.  I giggled gleefully and kissed him, his rough mustache wet with beer and perspiration.  We were definitely the happiest couple on the dance floor.

“Yup, I’ve got me the belle of the ball.”  Billy said with pride edging his voice.  I had never been the belle of the ball before.  I had never been to prom and this some how felt like my dance.  I fanned myself with my hand and batted my eyelashes at him while squeezing his shoulder hard.

The band took a break and there was a brief pause in the merriment before the jukebox came blaring on.  Billy finished another beer.  The pig and all the fixings were free, but the booze cost.  It was still early in the day and the pig was not done roasting. I had been under the impression that we would come to the event, get a plate and start eating.  But the pig was to take all day cooking and the bar was not going to serve any food until after 5pm. Billy had already had five or six beers and a few shots of Hot Damn at the bar.  He and the bartender had made themselves fast buddies.

“You don’t happen to have any of that lip balm with you, Baby Girl, do you?”  Billy goggled at me with a leery grin.

“No, baby, I don’t.”  I repeated, without telling him that we had already had this conversation just a moment ago.  No need to ruin his good mood.

“I could do you right here, you look so good.”  Billy licked his lips and grinned.

“Shh, Billy, someone’s gonna hear you.” I protested.

“No they won’t.  Heck, we could do it right underneath their noses and ain’t nobody gonna care,” he said and tried to cop a feel of my chest.

“I am not going to have sex with you here.”  I stated firmly under my breath, brushing his hand gently off my cleavage.

Billy ignored my protestations and continued.  “Yeah, we could, find us a little corner, or a bathroom stall, I could just sneak on into the Ladies with you.  And I bet you do to have some of that lip balm shit tucked away on you.”

I did not.  I was out.  I had briefly considered throwing it into the Lake the last time we had been there, but kept the last little pot with me till I had scrapped every bit of balm out of it.  I shook my head no again.

“Well, we better find you some more than,” he said.  Then he growled at me and buried his face into my chest.

“Billy!”  I hissed and pushed his face out of my bosom.  “Calm down.”

He narrowed his eyes up at me then got up, headed straight to the bar.  I sipped on my wine cooler, trying to go slowly, my stomach demanding food, not alcohol.  He came back, slammed down his beer and shot.  I startled back wordlessly.  It looked like he had moved on to whiskey and was getting serious.  We sat side by side as the band started back up, watching the dancers swing each other around in elaborate squares.  Billy tapped his foot, but we did not return to the dance floor.  He did, however, continue to return time and again to the bar; each time leaving me a little longer by myself.

“Billy, slow down, baby,” I said reaching out to touch his arm the next time he came back from the bar.

“Don’t tell me what to do, girl.”  He stood back up and launched again to the bar, weaving in and out of the dancers on the floor.  He pulled up a stool at the bar, did another shot, then sat down and drank on his beer with his back to me.

Just after the bands next set, a man in overalls got up on the stage and announced that the pig had finally finished roasting. Cheers and whoops went up from the bar.  Four tables covered in blue and white checked plastic cloths were rapidly being filled with aluminum pans of food. A number of women with their hair pulled back under bright kerchiefs stood behind tables.   The tables were heaped with steaming soft shell crabs, corn on the cob, coleslaw and rolls.  Platters and platters of crackling pig began to be carried through the side door.  The aroma of smoky crispy pig made my mouth water effortlessly.

We got into the queue and finally got food.  Billy was sullen and only picked at his plate.  He was mashing coleslaw on top of a roll and then layering it with piles of pulled pork.  I had never seen a person eat a sandwich with coleslaw on it before and I stared at him.

“This is how you eat it,” he said in a grumpy voice.  The juice from the coleslaw ran down his hand as he shoved the roll into his mouth.  “Don’t you know how to eat a pork bbq sandwich?”  He sneered at me and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

I re-organized my sandwich to fit his specifications then quickly ate it.  I did not enjoy it, but said nothing.  After I finished my sandwich I got up and excused myself to the bathroom to go wash.  I left Billy sitting alone a table covered in balled napkins, bones, and piles of spilt coleslaw.  I nearly ran to the bathroom.  Washing up, I realized that I did not recognize the woman in the mirror, darkly tan and freckled.  I pressed my hands cooled from the water to the sides of my face.

Some one banged loudly on the door, “Baby Girl!  Baby Girl!  You in there?”  Billy voice rang out loudly just outside the bathroom door.  I froze at the sink and said nothing.  He muttered something under his breath and then stomped loudly away.

I stood at the sink unmoving for an eternity staring at myself in the mirror with a wet wadded up paper towel clenched in my hand. When I came back to the table, it had been cleared of everything but an ashtray and the bottle of beer clutched in Billy’s hand.  He saw me and drained the bottle.

“Let’s go,” he said.  “I’m tired of this stupid scene.”  He pushed away from the table and stood up with a wobble.

“Honey, are you sure you’re alright to drive?”  I asked already knowing the answer.

“I’m fine,” he said barely in control of his swaying body, he grabbed onto my arm tightly, the force of which almost pulled me down.  We walked out together, I doing my best to keep him balanced and in forward motion.

The car was parked in a gravel lot just to the south of the bar.  The lot was an absolute melee of vehicles wedged in every which way.  Billy and I had gotten to the event earlier than most and had gotten pretty parked in.  We stumbled over to the Honda.

“Billy, really are you ok,” I said again beseechingly.  The parking lot looked far too crowded to navigate sober let alone with a bunch of beer and whiskey under your belt.

“I’m fine,” he shook my hand off him, walked around to the driver’s side using the car hood as a prop to lean against.  He dropped the keys twice in the dirt before successfully unlocking the door.

“Maybe we should just wait a few minutes,” I said slowly getting into the passenger side.  “There’s so many cars, it’s going to be really hard to get out, baby.”

“Fuck that, I’m not waiting, I want to go back to the hotel.”  He said, fumbling in his pockets, “where the hell are the keys?”

“There in the ignition, sweetie,” I said very quietly.

He turned and glared at me.  “Don’t sass me girl.”

I sat silent and abashed, looking down in my lap.  Then I turned and fastened the seat belt that I usually never wore tight across my body.  Billy started up the car.  He put it in reverse.  He promptly slammed into the car behind us.

“Goddamn it!”  He screamed, pounding on the steering wheel.  He shifted out of reverse and slammed it into drive.

He went forward too fast and ran into the metal guard rail that was in front of the car.  “Shit! Fuck!  Fuck!”  Billy said and began to reverse the car again.

“Stop your vehicle,” said a loud crackling voice from behind us.  A bright white light shined into the back window.

Billy stopped the car and pulled the keys out of the ignition, they fell from his hand onto the floor mat.  He looked at me with wide eyes, round and pleading; the pupils so dilated, the blue was just a narrow rim around a sea of black.  His mouth opened, and then closed, turning down at the corners, wet with saliva.

“Don’t let them keep me in jail, Baby Girl, I can’t stand it, please don’t let them keep me.  Bail me out, don’t make me spend the night in jail, don’t do it to me,” Billy pleaded with me.

“How?  How do I do that?”  I had never bailed anyone from out of jail before.  “Your not going to go to jail, Billy.”

“Get me out Baby Girl, make sure you get me out,”  Billy rambled at me incoherently.

“Billy, how?”  I demanded again, my chest constricting.  “Honey, I don’t know what to do.”  I felt frantic and scared, so scared.

“Step out of the vehicle son.”  The light continued blazing through the rear window and now there was a cop with a flashlight standing outside of Billy’s door.

He looked at me one last time, “please, Baby Girl, please.”

“Billy, I don’t know how,” my words were again lost on him as he clambered out of the car and promptly fell forward into the gravel.

“Looks like you been drinking son, you smell like a distillery, how much y’all been drinking?”  The cop leaned down and flashed the light directly into Billy’s eyes.

“Just a couple officer,” said Billy squinting up at the cop.  He pushed himself upright and wobbled for a moment before steadying himself.

I could not see his face from the car, but I knew he must be staring down at his feet, his voice was muffled and thick like his head was hanging down, the bass of his voice lost in his chest.  The officer walked him through a field test.  Billy failed spectacularly.  It appeared to be more for the amusement of his fellow officer, Billy could barely stand on two feet let alone one.  He was fucking wasted.

The officer turned him around.  “Ok, now, that’s enough,” he cuffed him and put him into the back seat of the cruiser.

Billy’s lost little boy face stared at me mournfully from the back seat of the cruiser; his eyes pooled with tears.

“Ma’am,” asked the cop returning to our car, “You seem good to drive, am I correct?”

“Yes,” I said nodding my head.  I failed to mention my lack of drivers license.  I was, however, fine to drive.  I certainly knew how and I had learned on a stick.

“You can scoot on out then, you’re free to go.”  He waved me along.  “Your boy’s gonna spend the night in the drunk tank and sleep it off, we’ll process him in the morning.”  He chuckled and walked away.  I am sure Billy was just the beginning of a night of shooting fish in a barrel for the cops as the sounds from the bar were picking up.  The officer walked away and squared the brim of his hat.  I watched him climb into the patrol car before moving.

I climbed over the stick shift into the driver’s side; the keys were still on the mat.  I picked them up and started the car.  I checked both mirrors and readjusted the rear view.  I carefully popped in the clutch and eased slowly out of the lot.  The cops waved at me as I turned onto the road.  I drove about two miles down the way before pulling over at a stop sign.  I sat there shaking and smoked a cigarette and cried.

“What am I going to do?”  I asked out loud, wiping the tears of my face. The stars hung heavy and low in the dark sky and had no answer for me.

I ran all the possibilities through my head and turned down every one of them.  The thought then occurred about asking Billy’s folks, but I had no idea how to reach them, of how to get to their house.  Besides which, the reception they had given us upon our arrival in North Carolina had not been warm.

“I’m sorry Billy, but your step-mama ain’t havin’ nothin’ to do with this girl being in her house,” said Billy’s father.  He cut his eyes at me, they were hard to read but his voice was not.   “Not that you don’t seem to be a sweet girl and all,” he said in a back-handed complimentary kind of way.

“Ok, Daddy,” Billy said, “I just wanted to let y’all know that I was back in North Carolina and I wanted you to meet my old lady, that’s all.  If you can’t put us up the night, we’ll just go get a motel, I understand.”  Billy’s voice was soft and low and almost stuttering with the shame of asking his father to put us up for the night.

“Well, now son, you know it’s good to see you, it’s just your step mama, well, you know how high-strung she can be, I just don’ wan’ to get her all riled up,” repeated his father.

Billy nodded without saying anything.  I stood dumbly by his side.

“Now why don’t the two of you sit down for a moment so we can have a proper visit and I’ll scramble up a little somethin’ for you to eat before you head out.”  His father shifted his bulky body around the kitchen and pulled a cast iron skillet out from a cupboard.

“No, thanks, Daddy, I ‘preciate that, but we should head on out here before too long, make sure we get into a motel and all.”

“Alrighty then,” his father said, setting down the pan and turning toward me he brusquely stuck out a thick, heavy, warm hand.  “It was nice to meet you, you take good care of my boy, hear?”

I nodded my head and shook his hand.  “Nice to meet you too.”  I paused nervously, I did not want to ask, but I had to.  “Would it be ok if I used your washroom before we go,” I asked shyly.

“Well, of course, now, just head on back through that door, and it’s to the left just to the inside of our room.”  I left them awkwardly standing in the kitchen.  Billy looked blighted and small in the stout wide presence of his father.  I had never seen Billy so shrunken and withdrawn.

The bathroom was the biggest bathroom I had ever seen–it was all done in black, sinks, toilet, and bathtub.  The bathtub was so wide I could have lain across it, although there was no desire to do so upon noticing the grayish soap scum ringing it.  Heaps of towels lay scattered across the floor, they too were black.  I navigated to the toilet and peed squatting above the bowl to avoid touching the overflowing wastepaper basket tucked by its side.  I washed my hands with a small soap fashioned like a rose.  The dish was in the shape of a white sea shell and it appeared to be decorative more than anything else: the soap was dusty to my fingers.

“Let’s go,” said Billy huskily when I returned.  It sounded like he was holding back tears in his throat.  He shook hands again with his daddy and we walked out to the car.

It was already twilight, the sun beginning to drop and I shivered involuntarily as the bit of warmth from the day was quickly fleeing.  The air was damp and chilly and cooling off rapidly, it would be a very cold night. I could already see my breath puffing out from my exhalations.

“Where are we going to stay Billy,” I asked gathering Jake up into my lap as I buckled into my seat.  We had left him in the car.  Jake trembled against me and began licking my face.  I knew we had no money, he had just said that about the motel to save face with his father.

“I don’t fucking know,” he said, starting the car  viciously.  He jerked the steering wheel and pulled  quickly away from the double wide trailer.  We drove far out into the countryside until Billy found a side road that was very deserted.  Billy got out of the car to piss.  Steam rose in billows and his breath fogged from his mouth.  “Fuck it’s cold,” he said leaping back into the car.  “This is as good as any other place.”  Billy said. I nodded in agreement.  We slept fitfully on the seats leaned back, trying to keep our only blanket tucked around our bodies over the gear shift.  I found myself suddenly missing Florida.

Remembering our awkward and cold first night in North Carolina, I thanked God that the summer weather had actually arrived and I pulled into the motel parking lot.  I still had no idea what to do about making Billy’s bail.  Nothing had come to me and out of pure ignorance I had not thought of calling the police department and inquiring how to get him out.  Billy’s folks were definitely not going to help, even if I knew where to locate their number.  So, I climbed the stairs alongside the pool, unlocked the door and found Jake waiting eagerly there for me.  His little puppy body shaking uncontrollably—he had to pee. I took him for a walk along the beach.  The night was clear and warm, the waves crashed noisily on the sand.  I was the only person there.  I smoked a cigarette and watched Jake dash in and out of the surf.

Billy spent the night in jail.  It was the first time I had not spent the night with him since we had started dating three months prior.  I felt myself take a deep breath and really smelled the salt and the tang of the ocean.  I let Jake play for a while longer in the waves, then called him to me and headed back to our room.  I actually ate what I wanted to eat and watched what I wanted to watch.  I wrote in my journal and went to sleep with the lights on and Jake curled up next to my feet.


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