Even little girls are
entitled to their rage…
Ryan’s brother Jeff was two years her senior. He was pale, thin and narrow shouldered. He and his friends spent most of their time in doors reading comic books, and sharing jokes that expressed a crude sexuality of which they had no first hand experience, whereas most boys their age had abandoned such pursuits years before.
Only thirteen, and damned with the heaving bust of a duchess, Ryan padded down the hallway to her bedroom in bare feet after a shower, startled from a daydream by the sound of boys galloping after. As though some fever of puberty had made them crazed, all three took advantage of the absence of Mr. and Mrs. Green, sticking index fingers into the dimples of Ryan’s thighs, tickling the marshmallow flesh that oozed irresistibly over the upper edge of her towel.
You’re such the porker Ryan. Why don’t you take your butt out for a walk sometime? They taunted with cruel words, and yet their delighted fingertips told a different story.
In an instant, the situation turned frightening. They hadn’t meant to pull her towel down, only to tease her baby fat and mock her nakedness.
In the confusion of the boy’s sharp, grotesque laughter—of their fast, groping hands and balled fists, which they used to beat against her bare arms and calves until they were red and blotchy, the towel fell a few inches and Ryan was left to weep and cower in a corner of the hallway.
“Please! Please stop doing that to me!” she sobbed. Jeff finally masked his sister’s shame with the wet towel, escorting her by the elbow to her room. The others backed away frightened, their eyes un-averted.
an angel, a radiant star
“You’re so careful with the scissors. I don’t have that kind of patience. Just tear it, see?” Ryan ripped a photo of Siouxsie Sioux out of an old copy of Rolling Stone. The girls had felt quite grand, pooling their babysitting cash and having Lia’s father write them a check to send off for the subscription. The old copies worked perfectly for the collages. Their months of handiwork lay stashed beneath Lia’s bed in a thick folder.
One afternoon Ryan had casually cut up a couple of old family pictures, and had aimlessly pasted the faces of her mother, father and brother onto photos of random things; a telephone pole or the body of a horse. Only, Lia had a hard time accepting such an odd, morbid act as the “joke” Ryan named it in order to minimize the scandalized shriek Lia emitted as she watched her take a scissors to the pictures.
“Ryan! Are you crazy? That’s so morbid!”
“I’m entitled to my rage Lia. Every day I tell them how hard it is…goony football players staring at my chest and whispering like dorks. Even Mr. Brown, that creep. He just stared at me when I went up after class to ask him about the home work. It was like I wasn’t even human; like there was nothing going on with me above the neck.”
Ryan moved her hands swiftly as she spoke, as though she had to work fast in order to control her swelling anger. “Every time, they say the same thing. ‘Oh, honey. It’s just a rough phase. Ignore those boys, they’re just immature and stupid. Besides, it’s normal. Lots of girls go through this type of thing, not just you.’ Well, who says it’s normal? What makes them think they have the right? You’d think my own parents would take my side.”
Lia couldn’t really argue with Ryan’s impassioned defense. She simply looked on quietly as Ryan applied dark ink to her cutouts, blackening her parent’s eyes and scratching angry words across their thin, paper chests, as though they were wearing sloganed t-shirts. “Traitor!” Or, “I suck!” The words seemed to scream. Sometimes Ryan even fashioned little cardboard coffins out of scissors and glue and sent them to an early grave.
Lia came up with the more jovial idea of casting themselves in party scenes. Here was a swivel headed Lia at a New York fete with Annabella Lwin. There was Ryan, standing shoulder to shoulder with Debbie Harry and Patti Smith backstage after a concert in London.
“Noel Redding is like this crazy red haired guitarist. Anyway, sometimes he and the drummer, you know, for the Hendrix Experience, used to gang up on Jimi. They called him a nigger even.” Lia breathlessly related this newly gleaned information.
“That’s crazy. I mean, he was like Jimi Hendrix...” Ryan reflected, as she smeared glue onto the back of the picture of Siouxsie Sioux.
“I know. Even he had to put up with crap.”
Lia sighed. “I wish there was no school tomorrow. I’d much rather stay home and finish this collage or maybe move to London.”
And yet, The Clash played on in the background, and it was as if the Coronado Bridge linked directly to the London Tower Bridge and birthed them unto the world. A golden ring in the mouth of a dark horse; the mauling rhythms of punk both frightened and protected in their sweet emancipation.
“Chapter 13,” or when our erstwhile heroine
catches a brief reprieve from self-loathing …
“It doesn’t matter if you give me the money if it’s late every time Neil. It like, totally defeats the entire purpose.”
“That’s why I could never get along with you Cindy. You don’t understand the basic things.” Neil retorted dully.
Ryan babysat for Cindy Holladay. Cindy was a twenty-three year old single mom who lived in a tiny, one bedroom apartment two blocks over. Ryan sat at the kitchen table feeding young Craig, while Cindy and Neil, the baby’s father, argued back and forth in the next room, the strains of Fleetwood Mac murmuring in the background.
Cindy was short, with tanned, muscular legs she liked to display in cut off denim shorts. She had streaky blond hair¾not so much of the glamorous Southern California ilk, but more in the style of a truck stop waitress. She and Neil had separated shortly after Craig was born.
Cindy stood in the middle of the living room drawing on a cigarette while Neil sat on the couch. All Ryan could see from where she sat were legs. Cindy’s short tan ones, shifting her weight from side to side, her small browned foot stamping the dirty carpet with impatience; Neil’s stretched out in their pale blue denim, one foot crossed comfortably over the other, his dirty feet in flip flops.
“Do you know how embarrassing it is to have your landlord show up at work asking about the rent?”
Neil chuckled. “You know what this situation needs? Roses! I should have come offering roses. White, long stemmed, just like you like. It’s been a long time, hasn’t it Cin?”
Cindy sighed. “I don’t have time for this Neil. You either need to be consistent with the payments, or we go back to court.”
“Have no fear little darlin’, that won’t be necessary.” Ryan saw Neil’s taut, brown arm reach forward, and she heard the slap of a wad of cash hitting the coffee table.
“Fine, terrific.” Cindy relaxed.
“Let’s see if you can get it right again next month. I’ve gotta get ready for work.”
Ryan saw Cindy’s brown legs moving swiftly away to the next room, where she would change into her work uniform.
Neil appeared in the kitchen doorway. Ryan was taken aback. What Neil had sounded like, what she had imagined him to be as she watched him cross and uncross his legs from afar, was different from how he appeared. Handsome. His imperfect features shaped in a mask of poetic nuances that rendered him utterly stunning. He was not very tall, but his jet black hair, wounded black eyes and full, cherry lips cast the matter of height into irrelevance.
“I didn’t know anyone else was here. You the babysitter?”
“Yeah, I’m Ryan.”
Cindy re-emerged then in a silly little dress that hit her at mid thigh and had puffed sleeves and a built-in eyelet apron. With her dirty blond hair and sullen smirk, the overall effect of the get up was to make her a joyless Swiss Miss. She dug inside her pocketbook to find her keys.
“Don’t stay around here all night bugging Ryan” she said, considering Neil with a prolonged gaze. In return Neil flashed her a bold, mischievous grin.
“I mean it Neil.”
“Calm down princess, I just want to take my time and finish this beer, then I’ll be on my merry way.” Neil’s face split into a heartbreaking smile as he leaned forward to give Cindy a quick peck on the cheek before she had a chance to duck. Ryan noticed the blushing smile that lifted Cindy’s pouting lips and poked dimples into her flesh like stars, before she quickly reset her face into a straight mask of indifference.
After bending to kiss Craig goodbye, Cindy shot Neil a dirty look, as though remembering some pact she’d made with herself, and shut the front door behind her with a bang.
Ryan came out of the bedroom after bathing Craig and putting him to sleep, surprised Neil was still there.
“You remind me of a young Jayne Mansfield,” he said.
“She was an actress from the 1950´s. Totally glamorous and beautiful. Anyway, I was thinking you look like her.”
Ryan knew she was pretty, and she also knew that the type of prettiness bestowed upon her was sometimes interpreted by men in a prurient way. Hers was a beauty of the clandestine type, best appreciated through peep show windows and glossy magazines stashed beneath bunk beds.
Whereas Lia often felt she was standing in Ryan’s shadow; Ryan was always grateful to have Lia nearby. Little Lia, who looked like she was still twelve and dusted her body with baby powder each night after her bath, was for Ryan a shield. With Lia, Ryan felt some remnant of the wholesomeness of childhood; applesauce, nursery rhymes and the Lord’s prayer, was still close at hand.
Neil was uncertain of how else to tip the scales¾he wasn’t the type to go in for assault, or grand larceny; and yet there was a searing hunger for something to call his own―burning him so hot inside. There had to be a way to get back; at Cindy, and the worthless father who’d left him, only to show up drunk to his thirteenth birthday party with a rusted red bicycle he probably found on a junk heap.
Neil felt as though he were at the cusp of forty (although he was only twenty-two) because the sweeping slope of his life was heading down hill so fast. Prophetically he envisioned the young boy inside himself cruising downhill on a skate board, poised for eminent disaster.
“You know, beauty kind of goes in cycles. It all depends on what the fashion people in Europe and New York think is cool. Like in the early sixties it was that skinny chick, Twiggy. See, you’ve just got a different sort of look is all. If you’d been around during the era of Mansfield or Rita Hayworth even, I can guarantee if I’d put you on a bus to Hollywood today, only it was like 1953, you would have been a star, easy.”
At long last, someone who understood she was a star. The stars were in abundance, gleaming inside her crying eyes, and she thought that this was something she might even be willing to pay for¾that in exchange for Neil’s attention she’d repay him with every ounce of devotion she had. With three older sisters, Neil knew girls. He was a regular professor when it came to understanding about their favorite perfume, the books they read three times back to back, or the movies they imagined themselves starring in.
Right before Neil crept out of the apartment complex that night like a thief, just missing Cindy by a beat¾Ryan grabbed both his arms and pulled him towards her for one last kiss¾but Neil made Ryan wait. He held her at an arm’s length so as to get a good look at her, some kid who was all pudgy and beautiful and as over looked as a dirty orphan, and was pretty sure he had her pegged just right.
for seven years she had panned for black
gold but all she ever found only
lead her back to doubt
The girls charged downstairs, loud footfalls “like a herd of animals!” shouted Mrs. Payne. Their eyes bright with the giddy flame of anticipation. For more than a year they’d spun records on stereos, every groove and skip a poem they knew by heart.
The purchase of every new album by X was marked like a special occasion. Holed up in one another’s bedrooms, they poured over the rich liner notes; inspired by clever, sophisticated verses written in Exene’s own beautiful scrawl.
That night, for the first time, they would see them! Exene and the others on stage; all of them breathing and exhaling one another’s air in the same room.
Ryan wore straight, platinum tresses, green eyes shrouded seductively by long bangs. Lia twisted blue-black cotton candy into a French roll and fixed it with spray. Crimson lips smiled pin up girl smiles, contrasting sharply with white teeth and another pale; the blinding starlight of innocence.
“I wonder how many kids from Coronado will come?” Lia queried as the bus lumbered slowly over the bridge.
“There’s a homecoming game tonight, which means most of them will stay put, right where they belong.” Ryan was certain.
“Who knows how many of them have even heard of X?” Lia reassured herself.
“Megan Hamilton has no time for punk music, she has to worry about getting together, one by one, with the entire football team.” Ryan quipped.
At this they laughed; their chuckles not induced by humor, or even a genuine dislike of Megan Hamilton, but the need to believe that there was no danger of their thing being usurped by anyone.
All they needed was for some popular kids to take a shine to X, and there they’d be; homeless as refugees, all the fears and hopes fortressed by those splendid crashing, cruising sounds laid bare.
a nymphs cloak spun of silk
the moon casts the water a deep, gorgeous, dark blue
Ryan looked beautiful swimming in the water at the Cays at night, the moon throwing a cast on the water that made it a deep, gorgeous, dark blue. She laughed and twirled around in her white t-shirt, which clung to her body like some nymphs cloak spun of silk. Yet, Lia had never known her to risk swimming in the deep waters of the bay.
Ryan had been the first to begin wearing makeup, the first to steal a pack of her mother’s cigarettes (and two diet pills) but now it was as if she’d changed; swimming far out to sea, past the point where Lia could reach her.
The girls told their parents they were babysitting for Cindy whenever they partied with Neil. They hung out with him steadily for about three weeks before it all collapsed.
The Coronado Cays was a development of condominiums right along the water, where residents docked their boats right outside their homes. That warm night, the girls shuffled into the house, feeling their way through the unfamiliar surroundings. The house smelled of new everything: carpeting, paint, varnished floors. It was nothing like Neil’s small, dark apartment in Imperial Beach.
Throwing on the lights inside the spacious, two storey home, Neil strutted around displaying gleaming new faucets and the glamorous blue lights which haloed the heated pool at night. He offered cold drinks with all the panache of a butler.
“Yep. This beauty’s all mine….well, until the job’s finished. Soon as we’re done dry walling the guest house the keys go back to my boss,” he confessed.
That night, the trio was joined by Neil’s friend, a swab named Keith. They sat in the living room sipping their drinks―beer for everyone except Lia, who preferred Seven Up―while Neil rambled on to no one in particular.
“I’m mostly German and French. My last name comes from my dad, but you know, I’m only half… Mexican.”
Then abruptly, Neil took Ryan by the hand and led her away from the group, leaving Lia alone with his friend; a slight, pale white guy with blond hair and a thin reddish brown mustache, who appeared to be about Neil’s age. The swab did not speak much but only smiled faintly at Lia between sips of beer. Each time Lia lifted her eyes to meet his, she quickly lowered them again, wondering what he thought of her; a little brown thing, shyly peering at him like a joey sticking its head out of its mother’s pouch.
“What say we check out that pool?” he finally asked.
Lia, artistic, sage, and otherwise mature in her comportment¾had not been schooled in the ways of men. She had kissed a boy once after a 7th grade dance, and had kissed another at a party when everyone broke off into pairs and he and she were the only two¾like P.E. team rejects¾left standing. She hadn’t decided yet, if the hasty kiss smacked upon her lips by Ryan’s older brother as they passed one another in the dark hallway one night when Lia was sleeping over, really counted or not.
Outside the aqua water in the swimming pool, highlighted in indigo by the illuminating lights, lapped against the concrete of the pool, pushed there by the ocean breeze. Beyond the pool and the gate that enclosed the yard, the boats in the marina bobbed along the inlet waters, looking like toys from a distance.
The swab Keith pulled together two white, plastic chairs and set them facing the water. Lia ran her hands along her bare arms, trying to rub away her chill bumps.
“I outta give you my jacket, hold on a sec.” The narrow waisted, light-footed sailor stepped back inside to fetch it for her.
In the moments of his absence, Lia sighed, ignoring the inner voices that told her she ought to go home. She forced herself to try and relax. Her every move positioned and aligned in accordance with Ryan and Neil; she didn’t want to be alone, childishly watching television and eating Cheetos by herself.
The sailor Keith stepped back outside, closing the sliding door behind him, holding the jacket aloft.
He draped the beige wind breaker over Lia’s shoulders like a magician’s cape, and sat down beside her as the two of them wrestled with the silence that loomed like a hungry beast.
Timidly at first, and then with increasing firmness, the swab Keith rubbed Lia’s shoulders, attempting to warm her.
“Yes,” she said, in a muffled whisper, which fell down into the neck of his jacket, only to disappear wherever muffled whispers go. Over the course of the next fifteen minutes, Lia first let the swab Keith lean against the arm of the chair, positioned in such a way that his arm brushed hers, then every few minutes or so, he would rub her arms until finally his arm came to rest about her shoulders, shielding her from loneliness, from blonde surfers who might have kissed her at parties in the dark folds of night, but wouldn’t ask her to dance when the school gymnasium was festooned with streamers. He shielded her from her babyish inability to flirt like Ryan, or court danger like her friend Jesse¾the sailor Keith created a buffer between her and the sharp edges of reality, in much the same way her poems and drawings did.
Beneath the dark, moody sky, in a place where neither he nor she belonged, Lia drew closer to Keith¾a stranger, a man from Indiana whom she did not know; a man who sailed endless oceans and had learned to weep silently and without shaking his shoulders in his bunk there on that immense ship with all the other sailors.
Lia that Keith had not been raised in a nice suburban home like she had, but had been poor and runny nosed as a child, ashamed that his mother did her washing at the laundry mat, whereas all the other kids got their jeans and socks washed at home. Yet Lia was a little black girl, so that her blackness cancelled out, or was at least equal to his poverty, and still he had a poor look about him¾the evidence was all there: his apologetic gait and broken mannerisms, his timid grasp of a beer can, his inability to be loud and cocky like businessmen at happy hour, or a dozen frat boys slurping beer from a keg. Young Lia, against her best judgment, against the combustible fury of her parents, which went everywhere with her like a packet of instant soup, ready to simmer and boil vigorously at any moment (if they ever saw her, if they ever found out), leaned her head against the narrow, bony chest of the swab Keith and let him hold and kiss her; the down of his boyish mustache surprisingly soft and not scratchy like when her father kissed her cheek at bedtime. Lia got used to him, except for the smell of him and his grey t-shirt, which carried the odor of cheap detergent and the muted funk of tobacco.
At first she had been afraid to kiss him, certain it would be un-pleasant, but his taste was mostly predictable¾layered in nuances of toothpaste, beer, smoke, and something else―the immediacy of his kindness perhaps, which was surprisingly sweet.
Every now and then the stranger Keith would whisper, “You’re a real nice young lady,” and she liked and was grateful for his appreciation of her, and despised it also. But mostly she was grateful for being out at the Cays, and not in town at the movies on Orange Avenue for instance, because no one cool would ever be caught dead even telling the time to a swab.