“Jesus! You two are fucking insane!” my eyes spread wide, lashes fluttering against the lenses of my glasses and my head spun around with the hope of catching a glimpse of young tanned bodies bubbling up to the surface as I distractedly swerved my car into the lane beside me. Two young girls, maybe 15 or 16 years old had stood on the far-too-tiny railing of a bridge that hung over the flowing canal of water below. I’d seen people fishing off the bridge. Seen others standing there communing with the running water that skipped rowing teams and people in kayaks across the surface of the water and slung them down another canal that would pour out into one of the bodies of water that dominate our landscape in Long Beach. I’d seen others in and around the bridge and water but I’d never seen anyone take that terrifying leap. I was shaken out from beneath the blanket of discomfort that I’d been shuffling under all damn day. My heart was racing and not in that sexy or fun way. I was terrified. Scared for those girls, fearful of what might have happened, afraid of the nibbling little flicker in my gut that reminded me that I used to do that same kind of defying thing…something about that last bit and having it be in the past tense, seriously gripped me with distress.
“Mom! Mom, watch me!” I was standing on the roof of a great aunts home, stepping over splintering bits of caved in and rotted wood, working my way to the edge my feet already halfway hanging off, the groan of decaying plywood in my ears as I hollered a little louder hoping to pull my mother’s attention from what was probably the first grownup conversation she’d had in months and the freedom she must have felt not having me beneath her feet, on her mind, to no avail. Little body shivering from hours in the pool and the exhilaration of teetering there on the edge of a roof, the circular landing pad, a twelve foot pond waiting to break my fall. I bent over with my tiny arms folded across my quivering tummy, took in deep breaths that filled my nose with the smell of chlorine and tanning lotion, “You can do this” my chant as I once again gained my erectness, tugged at the bottom of my bathing suit, unsticking it from my flesh and freeing it from my quickly tightening bum. Back straight and tall, hair slicked back and a blonde so white from the sun it was nearly platinum. Thumb and pointer finger placed on either side of my nose, three brief exhales before taking that life-saving deep breath that would stay in my inflated lungs long enough to hold my thrill induced beating heart in my chest, and make me buoyant enough to break through that surface again, this way on my way back up.
Can’t tell you how many summers I spent jumping off that decrepit and rot infested roof into the pool. Never occurred to me not to do it, that it wasn’t safe or I might get hurt. Fuck, I was hurt several times and barely stood still long enough to get patched up before pressing the oak ladder back up against the thick ivy and dodging the rotten spots….feeling my feet flail and heart race as I made that free fall back into the water. Truth told, beyond a few cuts and bruises, splinters and scratches, nothing horrible befell me and yet the very idea of doing that now, well it scares the living shit out of me. Even when I can still close my eyes, recall those smells and the crackling of the unfortunate roof, can right this second hold my palm across my chest and feel the thumping of my heart as it remembers that moment my feet left the edge and I let my body fall. Not sure if it was my stupidity or courage…not sure it matters now, I just know that watching those “stupid” girls stand on the ledge and let their stupid courage push them into the canal, I knew what I felt wasn’t fear…it was envy. When did I let fear stop me from being stupid enough to be courageous? Too long ago….
I let my car roll into a stopping position at the red light, my mind a million years and heart-thumping pool jumps away. My jaw tight with irritation as I fondled the remote for my radio, huffed and puffed that there was, “Nothing good to listen to” as I cranked the ac up and shifted my chunky, sweaty ass around in my seat. A snit, I was in a good one. Long line of cars, didn’t make that light either and “Fuck me!” there was that homeless woman that always sits there on the median, making me more uncomfortable by asking for money with her crinkled old sign with sprawled writings about God’s blessing and whatnot.
I’d seen her before, lots of times and for the most part I did what most do, I rolled up my window and fidgeted with shit in my car as to not make eye contact. I don’t have problems with homeless folks and I am a big supporter of many charities. I give when and as much as I can but there is just something about handing over crumpled bits of cash to someone…it’s shameful or something. Oh don’t get me wrong, it’s not their shame, it’s mine. I feel embarrassed handing them money, that and I do have a very, very long history with what the drug or alcohol addicted do to feed their habit and I have never wanted to be a part of that.
I’d given this regular-on-my-route woman cigarettes before. She never asked for them but when I would roll down my window and hand them over she always took them. The last time I was “stuck” at the light and beside her, after I’d quit smoking I did dig through my backpack, cursing my husband that I never have cash, (um in his defense, I never use it) and scrounged up two bucks to hand over before making my left and sailing down the street home. Her hard face always softened when my window opened, a firm but far from prideful smile as she thanked me and nodded before stepping away from my car but I was always…relived when the light worked my way and I could just coast on by. This day she and I made eye contact but I was in no mood, had no smokes or cash and I was fucking uncomfortable already. I felt myself go stiff as she walked up to, and then past my car. She had no expectations of me, hopes maybe but no expectations as she settled back down on the plastic crate that she sits on, holding her sign, asking for help. Found myself irritated with how gracious she was…how fearless she had to be.
Felt like three hours before I was able to turn my car around. In fact it was less than five minutes before I was sailing back down the street, past her but going in a direction that felt a bit like toes hanging over the side. I pulled my car into the Trader Joe’s parking lot once again with the huffing and puffing as all the granola eaters and gherkins (sorry old people, Leisure World Senior Living Facility is right up the road) sauntered through the parking lot, left their carts in open spaces and took, “For-ev-er!” to back out of one of the far too few spots. This is where I share that I am not only not the shopper in the family, I loathe Trader Joe’s. I walk the aisles there and cannot find one fucking thing I want to take home…the few times I have bothered I’ve been horribly disappointed. I was there because it was close but now I was like a retarded kid wandering the rows, throwing random crap like fruit leather in my basket.
Filled my basket with things I normally avoid like the plague. Boxes of shelf stable food, some fresh fruit, juices, veggies, bread and a couple beers but it was bags of nuts, dried meat, and canned foods that packed my basket so full that the little plastic handles dug deep into my flesh as my still irritated ass stood on a huge line. Not sure why I was there or what I was intending to do but those two insane girls and their racing hearts inspired this and from the nervous pounding in my chest I can assure you, I was feeling less than fearless but…maybe a bit more courage.
Cringed at the total of my bill and snorted a bit when I heard my own voice ask for a “few extra cloth bags” to purchase. Made a zombie like walk to my car, spread the bizarre array of goods on the trunk of my car and I could feel my chest heaving and caving as I searched within, trying to figure out what my next move was. Giant ass exhale when I realized, I didn’t have one. Loaded up the reusable bags with Trader Joe’s crap, pulled open the driver’s side door and lunged into the belly of my now feeling way more comfortable car, wriggled my sizable ass around the steering column, pudgy hands digging for one of the bottles of Rose I’d brought home to enjoy. Shoved the cold bottle in one of the bags, had just enough shit still going on upstairs to walk to the Ruby’s on the corner and ask for a couple paper cups before hoisting the bags over my shoulder and walking my sweaty ass like a half mile, (probably even less but it felt like 3 miles to this chunkster so back off) back to the median I had passed forty minutes earlier….comfortably on my way home.
Must have looked like a sun dried tomato as I pressed the walkie button thing at the light. Sweating, face a mashed bunch of “what the fuck?” bags bumping against my ass with each shift of my hips. I let two lights pass before I shuffled my feet to the curb, dangled my toes off the edge and stepped into the street, made my approach. Now this woman and I had seen each other no fewer than thirty times. Made contact, even briefly heard each other’s voices when I shoved something out my window at her and she, as prideful as she could be, thanking me. We’d been face to face, in a way but never this close. Never this face to actual face. I dropped the bags on the narrow median and with a very dramatic deep breath, stuck my hand out, managed one of my crooked smiles and said, “Hi” praying to whomever that I didn’t sound too cheerleadery or like one of those missionary fuckers.
I watched her eyes. Dark sun dried skin tight and rough as she looked from me to a bike that was pressed up against a light post across the road. She didn’t speak. Didn’t take my hand but had no problem looking me right in the eye, a stare so fierce I felt wobbly and stupid…which inspired me to take one more step forward. I bent down, reached into one on the bags, pulled the cold bottle out, still standing there with this homeless woman, on the median where she held a sign asking for whatever we had to give. Wrapped my hand around the neck of the bottle, twisted the sleeve and heard the snap of the seal break, “I’ve not much to give and I wouldn’t blame you, for a second, if you told me to go fuck myself but….I have these bags and this bottle and they are yours if you would be willing to tell me a story. Could be yours, could be someone else’s, don’t care. Up to you”
Daisy. Her name is Daisy. I felt the singe of my own cruelty as something in my head said, “Not as fresh as a” when she told me her name. Her scent that of the unwashed. Dusty, oily, musty like muddy jeans. Her story not unlike so many or what you might suspect. Detached parents, looking for love in the fumbling hands of a man, gave birth to too many kids all of which now live with her hard, cold, firm but sober parents in Arizona. I was captivated as she spoke. Her mouth sweetly powerful and free as if no one had asked her about…her, in so long that she didn’t know where to stop. “He was number five and he was the one that gave me this” her ragged voice briefly soothed by cold Moulin de Gassac Rose as she pointed to a bubbled over scar that ran from her left ear to her collarbone. She confessed that the bike she was so protective over was not hers; she’d stolen it, but only after hers was taken from her. I felt the green and fresh flavors of the wine splash against my palate, the tingle of acid ripple down my throat as I took cavernous gulps of my life while listening to the story of hers. The two of us letting the bits of fear fall away as we shared a bottle of Rose from the Languedoc and ate a bag of cashews.
“Well Daisy, I’d better get home” I said as I dusted off my own muddy jeans. Her face became stern again. I knew she wasn’t ready for me to leave, for whatever reason, but I could feel the difference between courage and stupidity just then, it was time for me to go home. I extended my hand once again and once again she ignored the gesture. We gave each other a nod and I made the trek back to my waiting car in the Trader Joe’s parking lot. I looked back only once and I was thrilled to see, “That chick is insane” on her face.
A shared bottle of crisp Rose
I wish that for us all…