I step onto the porch in my socks. My mom would yell at me if she saw me right now. Socks are meant to be worn with shoes over them. You’re going to track dirt all around the house. You’re going to ruin your socks. But my mom isn’t here and I am supposed to be an adult— so I take my sock-only feet to the end of the porch and I wait for my dog to be done peeing in the front yard. The tree in the center of my yard is tipping. I wonder if this pulls on the roots beneath it. A harsh yanking and pulling on the roots as they mumble to the tree: “Would you stand up straight for God sake?” My mom would tell me the same.
I always wanted pretty hands. They’d feel like a flower petal, and somehow they would always be slightly warm. I try to imagine a life where my hands looked like a woman’s are supposed to. My hands are clunky and small. As though I should work in some physically-strenuous field. (I don’t.) They look like miniature versions of my Dad’s hands—I was always embarrassed by this. To point “this way” or “that way” was a means to an end. Please don’t look at my hands. It is interesting, funny, strange how we become self conscious of these small things. They take brain space that could be utilized elsewhere, though here I am: looking at my hands, the things that allow me to write, to touch, to know.
Lady fingers are slender and lean, hairless and kind. They touch carefully; if they move something in an unorthodox way they will break it. It will be ruined. My hands tend to do this. I grab. I punch. I yank. I get angry and I am not afraid to. The knuckles bulge out from my fingers like rocks that have piled up in a the crack of pavement. They jut out and trip passers-by without meaning to. It’s always an accident. They never mean to. It’s just that sometimes they forget what they’re doing.
Day Thirteen — another bane of my existence
Written by me — the bane of your existence
I’ll call this day thirteen. It’s been thirteen days since I drove out to Los Angeles and I truly couldn’t think of a better number for this day to be. It’s not Friday the 13th, but it’s Tuesday and everybody knows Tuesdays are much worse. I woke up to find that I bled through #MyCalvins onto the “futon” (just a crappy mattress that lays on the floor) I’ve been sleeping on, so now I have to figure out how to wash this Airbnb “futon” in the most concise and sly way possible. Then, on my way into the bathroom to get dressed this morning, I dropped #MyOldNavyShorts into the toilet. A toilet that, though it is probably close to a tie, has probably had more deuces than I have. Day thirteen has also supplied me with an underwhelming amount of job opportunities. As an NYU graduate, with honors mind you, a Cheesecake Factory won’t even hire me. A juice bar has yet to return a call. I found myself nearly applying to be an aspiring social media influencers’ photographer — a position in which “cannot afford to pay much.” I’m writing this from the futon and I’m sweating profusely. I saw a place in Orange County that does nine dollar Botox. I’ve heard that underarm Botox works but makes you sweat from other places. Worth it though? Maybe once I get a job I’ll try it out; have to read the Yelp reviews first though.
Highland Park is nice, I’ll give LA that. I settled in a good place. My roommate and I prefer to call the Airbnb we’re staying in a “hippie commune.” There are chickens that wake us up in the morning, five kittens, a human baby named Onyx (“like the stone”), and a bunch of beat up VW vans that sit on the curb the owner says he “fixes up.” There is also a tiny Chihuahua named Nug. Nug’s back legs are paralyzed and they do not put the wheels on him so he mainly just drags his sad little body around. And out of everyone and everything in LA, I seem to relate most to Nug. I am trying, Nug is trying, but I guess it’s just going to take a little longer to get there than we would like.
Day thirteen and I ate two ninety nine cent burritos at Del Taco. Day thirteen and I’m counting down the probability of personally Thirteen Reasons Why-ing myself. That’s not a nice joke. I understand. And that’s why I’m saying…who’s to say it’s a joke?
It’s a joke. It just goes with the theme of thirteen. 13 Going On 30 perhaps? If I can fast forward to thirty that would be swell. If I can fast forward to retirement, I’d like that even more.
But in all sincerity, why is it harder to get a job at a restaurant in LA than to get into a university with a 30% acceptance rate? Tomorrow is day fourteen. Which means it’ll have been two weeks since I arrived here and everyday has been a vacation. Mainly because I am unemployed.
Today is Sunday. Which means five days ago was Wednesday. Which means five days ago was Valentines Day. Which means that the boxed bouquet of flowers sitting under the mailboxes on the main level of my apartment building has been there for five days. She did not pick them up. Who she is I am not sure. And what deterred her from picking the flowers up, I am also unsure of. Five grueling days of me walking into my building to see the boxed flowers still there, untouched. Five days of me wondering what on earth he did that has made her as stubborn as a woman gets. Stubborn enough to leave an expensive arrangement of flowers delivered to her on Valentines Day still in its box, still on the floor of our building. Didn’t she hate seeing them every time she entered the building? Wouldn’t she have rather just thrown them out?
Today is Sunday. Which means she is definitely not coming to get the flowers anytime soon. So today I walked into my building and made the decision to pick up the box. I didn’t receive flowers on Valentines Day and I didn’t want hers to die, though they were probably on their way, so I took them up my elevator and into my apartment. The most action they’ve seen since being packaged. I used scissors to tear through the tape and get into the flowers, and the closer I got the flowers, the more guilt I felt. These flowers weren’t mine to be opened. They were hers, whether she was going to open them or not. Once I opened up the box and saw the beautiful decaying arrangement of pastel yellow and pink and red and purple roses with green leaves tucked in between, a note in a tiny envelope fell to the floor. It read: “To Ruby, happy Valentine's Day, alize delame.” Which means something along the lines of darling or sweetheart in Farsi (thank you Google). I had torn through Ruby’s flowers so I could keep them alive only to find out they’re already dying and Ruby is someone’s sweetheart and I invaded all that secrecy between the two of them. Whatever conflict there was, there was not, there could have been or maybe was — I was no part of it.
I quickly boxed the flowers back up and returned it down to the mailboxes. Now I’ll walk into my building everyday and see the love that I trespassed. I think not knowing was better.
Everyday I walk down my five flights of stairs and see a bullet hole spreading its veins in one of the windows along the staircase. I hate it here but when I’m not here I miss it. At one point this building must’ve had a rough one, so I think about it during the year 1903, but like all good things, they end. It’s 2017 and you would never see a bullet in the Slope now, but walk five miles southeast and you’d regret it. You probably feel bad for the ones that live in "that area." In fact, you say it with caution. But little do you know that they feel bad for you. You’ve spent your years in a life with a tree giving you shade and protection from the hiss of the sun. The thing is: they’ve got stories to tell and all you can tell people is about that time you shot a pigeon with your air-soft gun in your white subdivision because you were bored.
I exit my building and can tell you, as a fact, that the winters here are not as bad as the winters I endured in the Midwest. The winters back home don’t have a smell. I’d walk out of my front door and it would be odorless at a truly appalling degree: maybe below ten or twenty but it felt like forty. Everything was dead. But here nothing is dead because even in the winter, the subway platforms smell of piss and other unmentionables.
I follow the sidewalk to the subway and follow the subway under the river and then above the river I walk out into Manhattan. The women are so pretty here. They stand outside of restaurants with cigarettes fixed between their index and middle fingers while speaking in low hums. I wish I knew what they were saying. I seem to romanticize them when in actuality they’re discussing how cold they are. I seem to romanticize much about this city. Their elaborate long jackets cover the knees and ribs that hide under their fabrics. The smoke travels up to the apartments above and another smell follows me. Only this smell is not just a winter one; it's always in season.
I travel back to my apartment and immediately walk to the sink. My hands are cold and my fingers are numb so I twist the faucet on. The hot water burns my near-frostbite and steam rises up and drifts into the mirror. I am home again. I think about what I'd do if a new bullet came through the staircase window tonight. You know what I'd do? I'd put on my cowboy boots and pretend it's 1903. Brooklyn has taught me that all good stories come from the thrill of being alive, but again, I seem to romanticize everything about this city.
Between the states and the middle America that watches over the milky skies and stars over the inland plateaus and valleys, there is a flatland town washed over in potato pasties and fried battered fish that I call home. It is home to people who left and came back. It is also home to people who never left.
It spreads out on a map like any other small town except with lots of water. The water ages you. It soaks you and wrinkles you until you rise out of the water imitating a raisin. As a child, I was the daughter of lake country. But upon coming back to this town, I’ve noticed the sun-induced deep creases and lines in my skin with some memories I’d like to fold up and slip into my suitcase while others I’d prefer to leave under the water.
Mosquitos haunt lake country like the ghost of your elementary school best friend. Do you wonder what they’re doing sometimes? Do they slip into your mind unknowingly until you’re drenched in sprinkler water with your feet covered in soft pieces of grass? The mosquitos hum above the still water and taunt you: they know you’re there, you know they’re there, now who’s going to make the first move?
You follow the old wooded dock towards the deepening water and you watch for the slivers that you used to not know about until they were a millimeter deep in your heel. You’re older now and a little wiser, but after thinking about it, not that much wiser. You kind of wish that if you fall into the water your mom and dad will jump in after you because you’re not that good of a swimmer yet. But now you stand in the water and three quarters of your body are in the air and it’s cold.
There are people missing now from the lake country you knew years back: your grandmother that loved you but had a hard time showing it until her last days, and your cousins Golden Retriever and German Shorthair. You’re afraid to show people where you came from because you’re afraid to face the differences from how you once saw this place. But then you remember it’s always been like this, looked like this, smelled like this.
The big house on the water is now average-sized and the pontoon is much smaller than you thought it was. But it was always that way, I remind myself. I can still be the daughter of lake country even though there are other places I like more. It’s not betrayal, it's just how it is.
After finishing up his undergrad at the University of California Santa Barbara, Devin Smith decided it was time to make a big change in his life. You see, Devin was a dreamer, “a doer!” he proclaimed to his sixty year old parents upon moving back home (also in Santa Barbara). Shortly thereafter this statement, he realized he needed to be this doer that he called himself. So, Devin moved to Los Angeles. But this isn’t one of those, follow-your-dreams-to-the-city-of-dreams anecdotes. This is a boy-meets-dog story. You thought you knew where this was going? Try me.
Devin moved to a tiny suburb in Los Angeles called Silver Lake. He was not stylish nor was he musically inclined nor was he personable. But boy did Devin try to be (personable). He met Melanie, the local barista at the local coffee joint. Melanie had dyed-black hair with short bangs (“Spock bangs,” Devin thought) and a hoop ring straight through the center of her nose, (“like a bull,” Devin thought). He was very attracted to her though. The two became friendly. The type of friendly one has with their barista:
Melanie: Hi there! Iced latte with an extra shot?
Devin: Yeah Melanie, thanks. How are you?
Melanie: Good. You?
Melanie: Great. Your latte will be at the end of the counter. Have a good day!
Devin: You too!
One day, Devin overheard Melanie talking to another barista, Rem, about a small party she was having at her small apartment so Devin timidly asked if he could come and Melanie shrugged and said yes so Devin went to the party but when he got there Melanie ignored him so Devin assumed she hated him and he left and now he doesn’t go to that coffee joint.
Fast forward a few years and Devin, still friendless in Los Angeles, is on the phone with his mother Anne. He works as a Project Manager for an up-and-coming web browser, like Bing, but better.
“Dev, I know it’s tough. Have you thought about getting a dog?” Anne said. And then, thoughts began percolating in Devin’s project managing brain. “Lots of people with dogs make friends because people love dogs.” She continued, “why don’t you go to the shelter and get a dog? Corgis are all the rage right now. See if they have a corgi. You know,” she paused and giggled while Devin pictured her on her maroon recliner flipping through a crossword, “you remind me of a corgi.” She concluded.
After that phone call, Devin went to the local animal shelter. The man who worked there was very nice, Devin thought about inviting him over to watch the Dodgers game, but then decided he should stick with the dog plan. He walked past many kennels of many dogs; some with lots of hair and some with very little hair, big dogs and small dogs, wise dogs and dumb dogs, political dogs and hippie dogs, nice dogs and bitchy dogs. At the very end of all the kennels, sat one dog all uniquely its own: a French bulldog. The man said he was surprised to see one of its breed at a shelter considering they’re the most desired dogs on the market. And to that, Devin said, “I’ll take her.” “It’s a he.” The man replied, “and his name is Augustus.” That night, Devin took Augustus to the pet store, got him a nice cozy bed, tasty chicken and rice dog kibble and a ripe dog bone. “This is the start of a great thing.” He said as he looked over to Augustus sitting in the passenger side of his Mini Cooper while they rode off into the sunset of traffic and smog.
Several days went by of dog park visits and Augustus seemed to be having a great time. Devin even took him back to the coffee joint Melanie worked at, to show off the cutest dog in the entire world. Melanie smiled and waved to Augustus, then told Devin to grab his coffee at the end of the counter. “Bonus points.” Devin thought as he pet Augustus’ stubby body.
But it was that night when Devin noticed something strange happen. After Devin tucked Augustus in his dog bed, located on the floor next to the foot of Devin’s own bed, Devin also tucked himself into bed. Devin began drifting off into a deep sleep, dreams surely on their way, but he was woken up when he heard his bedroom door open up, followed by tiny foot steps clicking against the linoleum flooring. Devin creepily sat up, nervous of what it could be. He slowly lowered his feet onto the floor and began walking towards the door, but before he left, he noticed Augustus was no longer in his dog bed. He opened his door and saw Augustus walking his tiny body down the short hallway and to the front door, to which Augustus stood on his hind legs and opened. And once again, it was just Devin, friendless in Los Angeles.
Devin followed Augustus out of his apartment building and to his surprise, he saw Augustus with a group of dogs and their owners in the courtyard of the building. There were balloons and streamers and people playing beer pong and dogs skateboarding. “There’s gotta be at least twenty five of them,” Devin thought, “and I’ve seen these people at the dog park.” Devin stood alone at the foot of the stairs of his apartment building in his boxers. He watched Augustus party with the partygoers.
Devin stood at the stairs for about an hour an a half, according to his Apple Watch, before Augustus walked back at approximately two o’clock in the morning. He took Augustus inside and scolded him for leaving.
The next night, Devin went to bed and followed the same routine as the nights prior. He tucked Augustus in bed and then himself. But again, Augustus left to go hang out with the other dogs and their owners. Devin secretly followed him again, but this time Devin saw Melanie, the barista, at the party. Brokenhearted, Devin walked back to his apartment distraught that his dog was throwing parties and wouldn’t even invite him. “I’m done with this city and its lame ass parties,” Devin concluded and then decided that it was time to move back home to Santa Barbara: a place he had so missed, for so long. Him and Augustus now write letters to one another occasionally.
One day you’ll go to a place that you went to years ago and it will not feel the same, but it will feel pretty darn close. And that strange space between the same and not, will shake you.