The skin where she dug her nails into my arm still stings.
It’s a coincidence. All of it is. The bike, the backpack, the long blood-red painted nails…ten years to the day of my sister's death and I am sitting in the gutter beside a weeping, wasted woman with long brown hair and soft brown skin. The air around her is thick, wet & foul -and so familiar. All of it is familiar.
She tries to bum a smoke off me. I tell her I don’t smoke but she asks again. The second time I say I don’t smoke it sounds very self-righteous to me so I add, “I love the smell but I just never started…” like it was some kind of a failure on my part to not smoke.
She says, “Shut the fuck up, white girl” and laughs.
She asks me how she looks. I tell her she looks like shit and I offer the glass of water I am holding. When she takes it our hand brush and I feel instantly sick to my stomach.
Before I came to sit with her on the side of the road I had stood in my yard watching her struggle to drunkenly bike down 10th West. In the amount of time it took me to go water the garden, she had made very little progress.
When I returned to look for her she was sprawled in the gutter right across the street. I tried to decide what I should do. Tried very hard to talk myself into doing what the other neighbors were doing, ignoring but I couldn’t.
I set my beer down, hiding it before heading out to her.
Having obviously lost the battle to leave it alone I returned to the other argument I was losing with myself tonight: I really wished I hadn’t turned down the chance to sit on the hillside and listen to Willie's music carry itself through the crowds at red butte, over the fences and up to the music surfers collecting on the east belly of the shoreline trail. I should have figured out a way to go…I shouldn’t be here doing this, not tonight.
The glass I gave her was my sister's. I don’t drink out of it even though tt’s been in my cupboard for 10 years.
The woman cradles her backpack kneeling beside her bike crying about her children. She tells me I don’t know her. I tell her that is bullshit. She doesn’t know what I know. She laughs and tells me, “Shut the fuck up, white girl.”
Then she offers me a shot which I accept because I don't want to rude. But I am grateful when she rummages through the backpack and comes up empty.
She cries about her daughter and about a list of drugs she can't stop doing and men. None it makes sense but it doesn’t have to because I’ve done this at least as many times as she has.
I tell her what I know is what it feels like to be a woman sitting on the side of the road crying that nobody sees.
She counters, “That’s not me, because you see me.”
And I tell her, “What I see is my sister. She died 10 years ago today from a drug overdose.” Now I know that part might be a little inaccurate because also (mostly) she drank herself to death.
I tell her, “I know she didn’t want to die, she didn’t want to leave her kids, she would have stopped if she could have, she did the best she could…”
“We do,” she said, “We do the best we can.”
I convince her to let me walk her home. She asks me for money. I tell I don’t have any aware of how angry this makes her and I prepare for anything. But the anger blows over, “Shut the fuck up, white girl, you don’t have money?”
“I did,” I tell her. “My boyfriend gave me 60 bucks today but then he asked for it back.”
She shakes her head at how pathetic she thinks that is but then she agrees to let me walk her home. She attempts to mount the bike and falls. I offer to walk it for her. She lets me but when I start off holding my sister’s glass in my hand. She tells me to leave it. I stutter before placing it in a spot I hope it will be okay.
l walk the bike as she stumbles down the street barefoot and dirty towards her house, around the corner and halfway up the block.
She asks me again for a smoke. She asks me again for money. Her hands out like she about to pat me down or worse. I do it for her. I let the bike fall against my hip and I smash the pockets on my shorts to show her they are empty.
“Shut the fuck up, white girls,” she says starting to crying again. She grabs my arm and digs her nails in as her young daughter, a kid a year younger but a head taller than my own child pops out onto the sidewalk before us.
“Mom, where have you been?” She asks blinking in the sunlight.
Her mom tells her she found a white girl. The daughter’s expression is practiced and flat. I hand her the bike while in my mind I wonder if I could keep it- it’s a nice bike and I really use a nice bike.
The woman begins pulling me towards her but I look at the front door of her house weighing the risks of what could be behind it. I picture Beach back in my yard lying in the hammock reading and I decide to wiggle free.
I back out into the street and tell her goodbye from a distance she can't make without stumbling. She hisses something about her neighbors being a threat to me. I can’t help but to laugh. She doesn’t notice and tells me she will watch me to make sure I make it passed them without trouble….
I run her street, a lot. I know every piece of it, every house, every tree, & every leaning mailbox. Walking it, away from her, is soft and milky like the edges of a sleeping baby's dream… I turn the corner safely back on 10th. The air here is different. I take a big breath in slowly letting it out.
I collect my sister's glass off the neighbor’s grass. Cross the street and go looking for my beer.
Taming Venus, mlb
“I pulled up to Abby sitting on the grass of the apartment house next door sipping on a Big Gulp of Diet Coke. With her long white legs, short shorts, and big dark sunglasses she looks like she’s waiting to go to the lake. We weren’t going to the lake we were going to clean up death.
We worked separately together. Abby cleaned out the kitchen. I worked in the front room and of course the bathroom. I’m not sure how to explain the behavior of stepping over the chunks of Wendi’s hair and the smears of blood. Why we choose to ignore them. Finally, I dawn a single rubber glove and remove the hair.
The blood, I couldn’t do that. I sprayed it with cleaner and left it for the landlord.
Out of my car I pulled my pink math book, three semesters worth of math classes. Oh me and math. This book was my greatest accomplishment so far for so many reasons. The last of which I was not sure I could do. I had already tried two times both times giving up too early. But this summer I had done it, a full semester of pre-calculus in six weeks. I nearly failed the first exam and instead of quitting I studied harder and pushed through- not like me to at all, if I’m not already good at it I don’t do it. I did the homework three or four times just to pass.
I placed the blanket from the tub in the bag along with the towel that was under it. Carefully I added her unfinished beer, her ancient surfing poster, my textbook with two drawings one from Jonah, her son, and one from Chloe, her daughter, inside the font cover. I had to throw out so much of her stuff, of her life, of the things she managed to not lose along her way as she moved time and time again, I figure giving her the symbol of my greatest accomplishment was a fair trade.
Abby and I hoisted the bags to the dumpster and threw them away. Food, bedding, her things, will she ever forgive me for taking her life and scattering it across the world she so hated?
I climbed the stairs one last time and unlocked the door. I pushed against the pressure of the apartment; it felt like someone was holding the door shut, resisting my entry. At first I held the door like a safety net, but eventually, I let go and walked towards the bathroom. I knew I would forget the way this place looked and I don’t want to
I started talking out loud to her even though I could tell she was not there. “I’m sorry you died here. I really did love you. But we both know you chose this.”
Did I really love you?
I was crying and she was not there.
At my feet, an undercurrent fading tentacles of her demons real and imaged; maybe they wanted me to take them with me and not leave them here in this place to rot as she did. “I really did love you,” I say one more time for neither of our sakes locking the door behind me.
I desperately needed a drink; that is irony.
I drove crying and I didn’t stop even as I pulled up to Rescue Haven, a battered woman’s shelter and gave away her dishes and unopened food. All I said was my sister died. I held out the boxes and I cried and cried. The women fleeing their own battered lives hugged me one after another; that is ironic too but for a whole different reason. Her last job, a waitress job, was only two blocks away and while they hugged me I could smell the food.
Later my dad stopped by the house leaving angry, mad about the smell of her in my house. Are you kidding? It’s my house image how I feel about it.
But I’m not mad. I’m worried she is mad. I’m worried she will come back and be mad that I took all her things….
J is for juggling. I woke up trying to figure in the one plate of food (was it pizza crust?) into the scenario. When did she eat? I should call the officer and ask. But once I’m awake enough to hear Colby moving alone in the kitchen doing the things I used to do for us I remember that I decided today I would try to move forward starting with cleaning the house.
I moved things around to fit her stereo system into my front room, into my life. I retrieved the bag on the front porch. It still smelled. I pulled out the hot irons for Alexis. I threw the brush and elastics and blow dryers in the trash. The bag I decided to wash and keep.
I took the glass with the sprouts in it that I had rescued from her apartment. Really to survive I should have thrown out the weaker almost rotting one, but I don’t. They will slowly die together on my windowsill.”