I’m sorry I didn’t text you back. A walk sounded nice, and if I’m being honest the weather was absolutely perfect for it. Right after sunset. Right between the day’s heat and the night’s chill. I couldn’t really find the energy for it, somehow. At the time I was driving past a thick, imperious column of smoke on the 105 – a textile factory caught ablaze in Lynwood.
I spent the morning glued to Facebook – so many women coming forward with testimonials about assault, abuse, rampant misogyny in show business, and also a friend posted about National Coming Out Day in a poignant, cogent way. He used to capitulate to homophobic banter in an effort to hurry it along, to move past it with blushing self-consciousness, to bury it. The eye contact he would make with women afterward. Conspiratorial acknowledgement of a darker, unsaid truth between them. Mutual ill feelings creeping up spines – forcing laughter together at homophobic jokes or hyper-masculine energy that, unchallenged, goes way too far. A shameful, empty feeling as one contributes to one’s own subtle oppression. Awfulness.
I’ve been incommunicado and that’s nearly unforgivable. I was billing hours at Renata’s house. She, a budding, bubbling teenage girl, just coming into her own special, savage power. A bright light, affable, funny, outgoing. A charmer.
I would have answered your FaceTime request, but there was apocalyptic traffic today. Google maps showed a red line all the way past the downtown area, and I was suddenly overtaken with a taxing, almost leaden exhaustion. Nearly falling asleep at the wheel, I pulled off near Rosecrans into a 7/11 parking lot, parking in a sliver of shade beneath a billboard advertizing the Hustler Casino. Liz Flynt encouraging people to “Play Harder.”
I got the Snapchat ping – you sent me a short video, but I didn’t get a chance to look at it before it went away.
The 7/11, the angry plume of smoke rising like a bomb blast, blotting out the distant horizon. Barely able to keep my eyes open, I eased the seat back. For a while I thought sleep would overtake me. Strange, absurd visions – fantasies played out before my darkened eyelids. I couldn’t let go of sweet Renata, of the sour smell she lives in. The rankness. Inky, dark, tar-like paths cut through her apartment’s wall-to-wall carpeting. Years of oily, dirty feet tracking filth – grinding it down. Let’s be honest, if you steam cleaned that carpet you’d regret it for a week – the smell would send folks running for the hills.
I got your follow-up text. I’ll read and respond, I promise.
Renata in my mind, bringing consciousness back. Padlocks on the doors, the colony of ants, unchecked, unfettered in the bathroom, the mini fridges in each of their rooms guarding the spoils of their monthly CalFresh benefits. Her father, moaning and shouting in the next room, (Is he drunk; it’s the middle of the afternoon?!) unintelligible even to Renata herself. She doesn’t mind. She’s glowing.
She loves when I visit, she says; I remind her of The Great Gatsby.
I saw your shout out on Twitter and I blushed at the compliment, thank you. I owe you a few likes and maybe even a re-tweet – it’s just at that particular moment I was reclining in the 7/11 parking lot and trying to nap during an early rush hour, and it all came over me at once. The reality of Renata’s situation. Her low probability of succeeding her way out. The generational poverty morass she was born into – a life lived next to the steaming churn of a factory down by the harbor. The lowness. The squalor.
Hot, salt tears splashed suddenly, my body wracked with spasms. A gasp. A stone sewn into my heart, my gut shook to pieces. The slow tick of the Toyota engine in the heat of the cracked asphalt parking lot.
Your WeChat message came through, darling, but I was baking in the desert sun, prosessing, purging. There was a time I prided myself on having “integrity of communication.” I responded to every email. Answered every single text. I’m sorry, but I’m just not that person anymore. That isn’t me.
This afternoon, as Renata and I were trying to cobble together an outfit to wear to her job interview, there was a rapping at the window. A wizened, crone-like woman, seemingly carved out of driftwood, tapped away at the thin, sliding windowpane. Oh, Renata said, smiling with a shrug, that’s the heroin addict’s wife. She pays my dad 100 bucks a month to park her van in the back yard. She lives back there with her husband. Renata slid the window open. The heroin addict’s wife wanted to charge her iPad.
I rejected all your calls and powered my phone down. I sobbed and squeezed out all of today’s terror into a compact Japanese car in a 7/11 parking lot.
Forgive me, I whispered into my black, sleeping iPhone.
Forgive me, I haven’t been myself lately.