i've been watchin' my grandfather grow old for the past few months. it's a rough business. this wasting away. the way years spent behind paper work and a tie does nothing for your soul. how it leaves you at a kitchen table in a nice big house with the same and only breakfast you know how to make yourself. a microwavable pastry on a red and white striped plastic plate.
a couple weeks ago i caught him standing in the service porch staring at the back of his elbow. when i asked what he was doing he casually explained how he'd fallen down taking the trash out. little speckles of blood blossomed on his khakis and the Washington State university sweatshirt my uncle had gotten for him one christmas.
had i not been there, he probably would have stared at those blood blooms for half an hour...trailed them across the lavender carpet. waited for something to happen. without an office. without a timecard and a pension plan, he does nothing for himself.
i am afraid to sit alone in that kitchen with him. i'm scared i would hear the tiny fractures of osteoporosis splintering bone away from marrow. or the little explosions of pigment dilating into liver spots around his ears. or how those frothy bits of spit collected in the corners of his mouth create a kind of fuzz upon his speech like warped records. but mostly i fear hearing his self worth fade.
it's instilled a kind of grit in me. my grandmother has it too but hers is a different form. it's got a bitterness to it. a salvaged kind of resentment. it's there the way eating disorders and obsessive vacuuming linger in the 1950s era of women.
mine is there out of protectiveness. a kind of "don't fuck with my family" grit.
it comes out when telemarketers call the house. i know it's them with the pause on the other end. they expected some old man with a sense of civic duty to answer the phone. but instead they got me. stepdaughter of a cop. kid of an oil rig engineer. we don't take shit. but we will make up a lie that Mr. Solorza is now under my care and i fucking hate unmarked phone calls so much that "yes Lashawnda, please do send your agent over to appraise new retrofit energy window installation for my house so i can personally beat the shit scam out of him myself".
then i kindly thank them. hang up the receiver. and drive my grandpa to the emergency room to get that elbow fixed.
i spent time in woods. in deep pockets of moss and collected pools of sea salt. i spent time in bee stings and car parks and caverns built by waves on rocks by houses on cliffs by the ocean of the pacific. i've been reading inside tents before the hipsters. i did it when i was six. and it was cozy as fuck. and no one took a picture. because it didn't matter. because i was six. and six year olds only get their photo taken in the midst of candles being blown out or pinatas being knocked down.
where we lived was mostly cement. so every time i crashed my bike, it left a mark. and i 'd grown quite accustomed to dusting myself off like nothing happened because where we lived there also weren't a lot of kids. so no one was ever out playing to take much notice. that is until the day i fell in the driveway and the old Bukowski lookin' neighbor everyone called "Sharkey" was leaning over his balcony smoking Marlboros. half heartily but loud enough for me to hear he shouted down, "be careful kid". then took one long drag and i seen him sucking in that cancer, an eye squinting closed on the inhale, the other peering down at me from behind those big thick gambling fingers holding that cigarette to his mouth.
that's the day i learned to be embarrassed of being a kid. of eating shit on asphalt. of having pink and green streamers.
that afternoon i pulled every single shiny plastic tassel off the handles. littered them on the garage floor. and kicked them into a hidden corner behind my step dad's work out equipment.
no way in hell i was gonna slow down. no old man dying from the inside with his casino guts was gonna see me fall. and i'd be damned, if it happened again, i looked like a little girl.
i was seven now.
grown. cool as fuck. take a picture of me racing in the middle of busy streets on my bike with no prissy bullshit blowin' in the wind.
how embarrassment suddenly makes life matter.
how it can turn a room full of little kids into a city full of hipsters.
he came in peace. most men come violently. that was the difference.
he had two front teeth the size of jack rabbits'. they were a bizarre shade of off white. dental egg shell. 1970s melamine dinner plates. but they were so charmingly placed in his mouth that no one would ever dare ask what was the matter with their hue.
so for nights we drove around the city.
following dark one lane roads up into the hollywood hills. cut open by mansions. bleeding out their lamp light.
at the observatory we stared at big maps of the solar systems. just stood in front of them because i don't understand science and he barely understood english. watched little models of the planets spin slowly on their shiny silver axises.
and on the third night we parked in the deserted gravel parking lot behind the big water fountain off los feliz blvd. a pack of skinny coyotes lit up in front of the headlights. their dog paws crept quietly around our car. it meant something. like in films. where things that rarely happen when you're alone suddenly happen when you're with the one person you want to witness it.
on the last night, at 2 am, we spent our money on a hotel room with the biggest bed we'd ever seen. i quickly took off my shoes and raced into the bathroom to pee only to find out the toilet didn't flush. so we sleepily took the elevator back down to the front desk and got upgraded to a room with the biggest bath tub we'd ever seen. we made plans to wake up early and fill it to the brim.
but that night we fell asleep for a week's worth. and for all the nights we'd spent a passenger seat apart, we slept like newly weds. like in films. where no one gets too warm and no one's limbs go numb. where the morning you'd always wish would happen suddenly does and you sleep til 30 mintues before check out.
so we only filled the bath half way. i held my breathe under the soap water. blew little bubbles against his stomach. looked up at him with my eyes millimeters from the surface like some half submerged half pint crocodile.
you spend15 minutes pretending to swim laps in that big tub. 10 minutes laughing about how stupid you look doing it. 5 getting dressed. and every second of the elevator ride down you hold hands, burning into memory how you both look in the reflection of that mirrored cubicle. because that's the last time you'll probably live through something like this.
build armies out of my subconscious. burn yourself to the ground. let the dirt stink of the things i think about myself. beautiful cities grew out of the ugliest towns. buried their dead beneath the church. hallowed and unseen. until the heat let the skeletons creep out.
there stands proof that no love can defeat the look. even the sweetest men still want to fuck something further from godliness and closer to perfect. all the summer camps in the world, you can therapy away the issues but nothing cures the guilt. those 20 pounds of flesh are substitutes for all the hollow voids emptiness filled. no amount of control will ever save us from the shit we blame on ourselves.
i tip heavy. i am second to none. i come in 3rd.
i am the size of 28 years trying to saving everyone else.
give me a scale that measures the weight of the world. subtract that from the shoulders. you'd find one motherfucking skinny girl.
his back was an eclipse. a thin skeleton body all charcoal shilouhette in the death of oncoming traffic. i watched as he walked slowly in the middle of the street directly towards every single approaching pair of headlights. most of those cars swerved violently around him, shoving his left shoulder back by the sheer force of gravity and momentum. i pulled into the median and crept along side of him, rolling down the window while dialing 911. i screamed for him to get out of the road but instead he just turned his hollowed out face toward me. big fish bowl eyes floating in deep empty lake beds of bone. as he walked toward my car i could hear the operator repeat "hello?" from the phone in my lap. he was now along side my driver's door as we crept on down the street. his hand repeatedly moving to his mouth in the drugged up symbol for "food". i spoke into the receiver all the info.
"there's a man walking in the middle of 4th street into oncoming traffic. by the 5 freeway off ramp. he's older and wearing dark clothing."
at this point he'd wandered back into the lane and was now aiming to be hit. trying to line himself up in the path of every fast moving vehicle. some wayward marksman. all bows and arrows at heaven. i kept driving in the center divider, flashing my high beams at every approaching car to warn them of his presence. that street is so dark and buried under thickets of trees from the 1920s.
we staid like that for awhile. my little white car quietly sending out beams of light like morse code. stop. please. stop. trailing behind a stranger in every attempt at guarding him the best i can. and a few minutes later, three police cars swiftly pulled up and cornered him in a hallow of sirens. backed him into the gutter and willed him into a seated position on the curb.
i sat there for a moment because in those ten minutes of guarding his life, i'd convinced myself we were family. i felt protective and concerned and like someone should inform me of what fucking hospital they were taking him to.
but the truth is, he was just a stranger that wandered out in front of my car. his brain was mapping constellations on another planet. and they weren't taking him to any hospital. just another pavement waiting room. with long hallways that led into street shaped offices. where the doctors were in soccer mom lab coats and shined high beams into your eyes. and the only person taking your pulse is a far too sensitive girl that can barely see over the wheel.
we spent nights driving back to that little house. and the fog, well, it came home with us. creeping steady off the wet grass embankments. pulling ghost moves round the wheel wells and gently assaulting the edges of windshield. every single night we drove home, i buried my hand further into the pocket of his trousers. hoping to find a loose thread. unstitch his heart and sew it neatly against mine.
if i wasn't wearing heels i'd volunteer to open the big wooden cattle gate on the dirt road. and if it was too cold, he wouldn't let me. i watched the shoulder blades under his sweater get illuminated in headlights and think to myself, "for every inch your muscles move, i love you".
so we'd unpack the car of all the little things collected over the day, whether it was umbrellas or new ten eyelet boots or the few remaining cookies we bought at the gas station and ate half of on the way back. big heavy solar systems examined the unruly cowlicks on top our heads. blessed us. star crossed. checked their horoscope in the patterns our hair grew.
he'd slide the skeleton key into its lock body and pressed open the french door ribs of that little cottage. that place breathed warmth. it felt like bath water and blankets. i could have spent years in the seconds of every 1 AM entry we made there.
but it always ended the same. two books. pages halfheartedly read. then all together abandoned the second i leaned over to kiss the crook of his left arm.
we spent nights driving back to that little house. the one with the big cattle gate that made husbands out men. on the last day, on the way to Heathrow airport, i unfastened a little string from the inseam of his pocket. and for every inch his muscles moved under the wool of that cardigan, i will forever say yes.
a Los Angeles based artist and writer with a chihuahua for an accomplice. .
THE LITTLE BUKOWSKI TUMBLR
"Nikki is the quiet storm, a true observer who can capture the essence of a moment in a powerful manner. Her writing is the full force of fancy woman blood. Her blog reveals what many women have been trying to say all this time."