I used to be a two bottles of wine a day alcoholic. Sort of a “get up in the morning, brush my teeth, saunter on down to the liquor store” type of girl.
I had to get a handle on that. Between Topamax, getting in a stable relationship and a better state of mind, I’d toned it down to light social drinking. This was a victory.
And you know what, fuck AA. I didn’t go to one AA meeting. Sure, it might work for some people, and that’s great, I wish them well. But it sounds mortifying and depressing to sit in a church basement and tell my most debased stories to toothless strangers. I kicked my other nasty little habits on my own, without NA, because I was too shy, too proud, too secretive and above all too ashamed to admit to strangers that I had a problem.
I used to do a gram a day at the heat of it.
But that was before. Katie, dark print on her back, forgetting, it reminds me. Some things I must remember, some things I must forget. I remember the boyfriend I had before Katie. Tod.
I left him once before. I remember when I left. 2006.
The walls of the Echo Park squat were pressboard and black and brown and whorled with hibiscus and soot and pressed hard into the board-box as Nick liked to call it. The dim dawn hid through a crevasse in the wall. A pigeon lived in the roof, and cooed reflections down.
On the phone to me Thursday night, he said, “Board-box is getting me down.” I was home with my parents in between years at CalArts, biding my time until I could come back to LA.
I could hear him breathing over the phone. “Are you coming down this weekend?”
“Oh certainly.” In my room, in San Diego, I pushed my knees tightly together, felt the adrenalin ascend with the sweet silky softness of him.
Into my love for him, his stubble and long narrow pale arms, girlish chest, waist waifish from the hormones: estrogen, estradiol, ralerate and spironolactone. Hands of a woman and feet of the same. I could be the butch this time. I carry stubby brown curves stuffed into jeans, boots, moving sideways into a five laid down on the bar.
I left, I remember when I left. Too soon.
That weekend, Tod shook those blue mascara-ed lashes at an elderly man selling raffle tickets at the FoodsCo, and I tugged his arm, muttering, “Are we going?” They talked for twenty minutes, the silver fox’s goatee wagging and my boy’s stubble so carefully waxed yet growing out again. I watched the surfaces of the aisles, the walls of Tide and frozen lean cuisines, the twelve-packs of beer and jalapeno poppers. The light, fluorescent.
I watched and turned away, browsing, my basket empty. My boots clanking against the water-damaged tile. Walked the length of frozen foot, stopped, and turned around, counting steps, until I ran up against the length of him.
“Let’s go, darling.”
He came with me.
I left. I remember when I left. I wanted to stay.
We sat in the squat in the dim heat of the afternoon, drinking Colt 45 and eating the remains of some Thai take-out. He ran the icy bottle against the insides of my legs, panty-clad, the jeans gone to the 120 degrees, thrown to the side of the thin mattress by the candles and rows of bottles on the boarded up window. I watched the shadow of his arm in the candlelight. The dark was seething, not with insects but with memories of past inhabitants, the layers, the sidewalks walked and rooms slept in once but never again.
I slept there three nights. Each one we held each other for the first few hours, then rolled apart, the heat thrumming in the dank air, the smell of a ghoul or a tomb, the sweat gathering in the bedclothes.
I left. I remember when I left. It was time.
At five am on Sunday, I was roused by a smell so foul that I clawed at him.
“Oh, that. Carlos shit in the toilet. It doesn’t work.” He squinted, lopsided, a scruff of black hair over one eye.
“I can’t be here.” I stared at the dark.
“Let me sleep.”
“You are coming with me. What time does Django’s open?”
“5:30, I think.”
Giving him time to pull on a dirty white shirt, I marched him cranky and resentful to the fresh dawn air of the coffeeshop, where we caught them taking down the chairs. Welcome light, welcome smell of caffeine.
The tips of his bangs bobbed to the steam in my cup. I bent both hands around it.
I was 30 years old, then. Tod was 22. I stared at myself in the mirror of the St. Cecil Hotel, corner of 7th and Main, our evening paid to get out of the squat after the toilet incident. Gagging at Django’s coffee on the corner at five am, lurching there over a single coffee, breathing the fresh clean air. So, air, so cleanse me, so save me, so bring me forth that I may live again.
The purple clouds raced over the peaked roof, the door made of traffic signs hung half-open. We had crept in past the exposed electrical wiring and the slats of sheet metal on the floor. Carlos shook my hand as we advanced past his room. Hard with callouses. We sat on the stoop outside in the evening and Nick bummed a cigarette. Soft maroon of evening sky, the blossoming Los Angeles twilight. I left the next day.
There is so much more to say about Tod, there is so much more I haven’t said. His hands around my throat, “Do you want to die, Andrea?”
“Do you want to go to the river?”
I never wanted to go to the river with him.
I would rather forget.
I open the Ativan bottle, rest the pill against my teeth, consider taking only half, as is usual, and then swallow it whole. Two chalky milligrams wash down with tepid water from the sink. Gnats fly. I do not remember the river. I do not remember my throat, my throat is only water, water from the sink, it is swathed with papaya lotion and holds a necklace with an octopus. I reach up and pour water on my face.