me in 2003
I had an epiphany in the car this morning on my way to Archer's school. It was a song that did it as songs so often do. Ask me what the song was and I don't even remember. It had been many years since I'd heard it, a time capsule of cacophony, suddenly leaking memories.
I moved here when I was 18. I grew up here. Lived in a house full of guys, here. Got engaged when I was twenty before calling it off when I was twenty-one. I did drugs in bar bathrooms, here and got so drunk I woke up in my own puke, here. I had sex with strangers, here. And friends. And other people's husbands. Men my father's age. And then I cried about it. Laughed about it. Felt empowered and ashamed. Wanted to move so I left. Missed L.A. so I came back. Made plans to join the Peace Corps... to save myself from becoming an LA cliche. Met Hal the day the forms came in the mail. Got pregnant and now here I am.
I used to live off Melrose, behind what used to be a Smart and Final where my old roommates and I shopped for parties we frequently threw. It's an American Apparel, now, which reminds me of the Warehouse parties they used to throw downtown. One memory leads to another until it's hard to recognize myself. In this new life that isn't really new at all. Driving every day down Melrose, past the cheap shops and ATMs and thrift stores where I used to trade in my clothes for someone else's; to drop Archer off and then pick him up from school.
I've lived here nearly a decade. No one recognizes me from the past. Last week I saw a guy I one-night-standed (or maybe he one-night-standed me) years ago, while hiking, my newborn daughter strapped the chest he once fondled. I'm good with faces so I recognized him. Our eyes met for a moment before he looked away. Had no idea who I was, that we were naked together once. Maybe even twice. When my hair was still blonde and my eyebrow was pierced. This stuff happens all the time.
I got a shipment of books in the mail last week. Books with stories I wrote and edited in High School and when I should have been in college but didn't go. Stories first published a decade ago under names that were not mine and names that were. A "best of" collection of some of my many lies. Truths, too, but mostly lies. Secrets hidden in teenage stories for teenage readers. Dreams of being taken seriously as a writer after being laughed at by Lawrence Ferlinghetti who told me to my face when I was nineteen, that I was a "sell out." I had introduced myself to him as a writer and a fan.
"What do you write?" he asked.
I showed him the books I was signing and he frowned.
"Every writer should be so lucky to "sell" something," is what I should have told him but instead I smiled, pretending, and asked him to sign my copy of Pictures of the Gone World, with its pages torn and the following passage highlighted:
'We think differently at night' she told me oncelying back languidly And she would quote Cocteau'I feel there is an angel in me' she'd say'whom I am constantly shocking'Then she would smile and look away
I wanted so badly to be the girl in the poem. Sometimes I still do.
A close friend of mine recently moved to Encino with her husband to raise her son. Out of Silverlake and into the suburbs. Selflessly pulling herself out of what was. Growing up.
I never understood why. "Your apartment was so great," I told her. "You could have raised your son there just as easily."
But I get it, now. After one song on the radio, I understand. She didn't want to take a trip down memory lane every day she drove her son to school. She wanted to be able to listen to the radio without falling down the rabbit hole of yesterday or five years ago. Or ten. She wanted to make a new life without having to bury the old one, being reminded daily of who she once was: the single girl who ate breakfast at noon and dinner at midnight. Who was reckless and careless and destructive. She didn't want to see that girl at every intersection, in every store window, ex-lover's eyes.
A disclaimer for those of you who plan to raise children in the playground of your youth: Beware the boulevard of broken heels and broken hearts. Ghosts forever lurk in storefronts and sidewalk cracks and songs on the radio. Take the long way to school. Listen to CDs.