I like the quiet sleepy. The guilt free lie on the couch reading political feeds and smoke a bowl cause its raining. The home from my wars. The god bless the freaks. The rambling monologues on how to achieve the perfect balance between consistency and flavor to a butter cream ganoche filled chocolate. Then eating them. The do what you need to do, no judgment of family. The word smokerettes. The condoning to relax. I like that. Time moves slowly, with a favorite tv show humming in the back ground. The hours are interrupted by chocolate tastings and feminist debates. I begin to settle in, with the old gibson on my lap, sitting indian style on the couch. My note books are spread before me, my pick poised above the strings. It's that tender moment when your deciding what to play next from a list of new songs, after a long journey home. Then my phone rings. It's Kayli calling from the home phone in Braddock. They discharged her without telling me and from the tone of her voice, she's already off her meds. She's angry, alone in my house, with all my animals and there's nothing I can do. I lay the guitar down and bury my face in my hands. It's not fair.
"What if she hurts my animals...." I whisper absently, with a cloud of smoke.
"Don't think about that." Kat soothes.
"I was supposed to get a break..."
"Chicky, there's nothing you can do about it now, am I right?"
"Go see your Mets."
My Dad takes the Mega bus home with me, this was already planned. I'm scared to step inside the house with her, her voice is dark and growly, and despite what she's telling my father, I know she's off her meds. She told me awhile back that the plan was to lie to everyone and play along with "the system" until she could escape back to NYC. We solomly walk my guitar, my boombox, my cat and my guinea pig down the freight train tracks. I wish my phone was charged, this would make an instagram sight and a half. When we get to the Mill's house my neighbors kids are estatic and I let them play with Occupig for a bit. They've been waiting to see her. Besides, they always cheer me up and I can't say I mind being referred to as "Zoo Lady". Eventually my Dad calls me over and it's time to help the little fur balls begin their own adjusting. The house is big an empty, and me and my companions seem so small. Last week [LM] and [LT] broke up and I haven't seen [MW] in months. I'm pretty sure they all dropped the project, thought nobody has said it directly to me. It's just me and [C] now, launching this actvism center, or community resource, or whatever this masive chunk of property is going to be, something for the greater good atleast. Sabina and Brooklyn circle my legs purring and barking like little love sharks. I squeeze them both against my chest then settle in my hammock to read the afternoon away. I don't know which one of them starts it, but they begin ramming their bodies against the bulge of my butt beneath the hammock, rocking me back and forth. It's their new favorite game.
Morning comes and I try not to think about how life has changed the rules on me once again, but I;m not doing a very good job at it. I blame my father and sister for everything. For ripping me away from my home after I spent a life time searching for it and banishing me to take care of their properties and their pets in Braddock. For casting me out in a blazzard with no jacket on moving day because my sister "didn't like my vibes." For leaving me on the streets at 16 with $20 as a parting gift because they didn't like my suitcase in the living room when I came to visit and my father explanation, "Your tough Miranda, anyway." For letting me take the punches from my mother to avoid the expense of a court case. And now, after embracing the Braddock move, falling in love with it and forgiving them, casting me out one more time, with no more than $20 and a hug goodbye. I want to scream and cry, but I wont do that, not again. Instead I get up, take a picture, and begin ripping out the carpet in the living room. Here's to adjusting.
The day goes by slow and I take my anger out on the house, fixing this, trashing that, ripping up weeds in the yard. I take a few breaks to let my neighbor's kids play with Brooklyn and I hide in my room a few times to cuddle with Sabina on the bean bag chair I bought at K-Mart when we first got the house. After dark I play guitar till 2am and sip wine from the jug, I'm still not completely comfortable sleeping alone in the house. Eventually I retire and Brooklyn and Sabina join me, both curled up beneath my hammock so that I can feel two tiny snorring lumps against my butt while I drift into a fitfull sleep. The next day my Dad gets me up early and we bike to waterfront together to get Steak N' Shake for breakfast, its my favorite burger joint in Pittsburgh and, amazingly, has the same prices as McDonalds. When we're finished we go to lowes and he buys me the gear I will need to survive in a house without utilities. I can't help but feel deja'vu of the time he bought me new winter gloves, then gave me $20 and left me on the streets of New York City, but push the thought away. As parting gift this time, he leaves me with two bottles of flavored wine at least. When I return to the house Curtis is home. We kill the strawberry wine together and smoke a couple bowls, being goofy and day dreaming about the house. He leaves for Oakland around noon. Around 8pm I lock up and follow his path. On the bus I watch the sun sink below the hills, the steel mill rumbling in the distance. There's an earie calm inside me, like maybe this is the last sunset I'll ever watch. It's a quite observational state, I've locked all emotions away, and threw out the key with the ripped up carpet and weeds. Nothing can hurt me now. Its a defense mechanism I've adapted over the years. For awhile I nicknamed it "my wall" or "the light switch", I can turn my emotions on and off with a quick jump through a mental hoop. The doctors broke it down once, it was hard and took years, but they did. For awhile I was comfortable expressing how I felt, and crying when I needed too. I wouldnt even flinch when i was touched for a bit. But in a quick five minutes in California, somewhere behind a news stand in L.A. I built it back up again and that was the end of that. I was ashamed when I did that, and scared because my old wall had one rule, and that was [R] was allowed inside. I remember when I took the Mega bus to see him, chewing on my hands, nervously wondering if I had exiled the only one who's ever made the world not scary any more, but when he wrapped me up in a hug one more time in our roundabout lives, I knew I didn't fuck that up atleast. But he's not here, so I'm on the 61B headed towards Oakland, comfortable numb. The windows roll past [C] waiting by the bus stop at Frick park. I giggle at our paths crossing, and wave though I'm sure he can't see me. To my suprise he looks up and waves back while the bus continues on.
The stop where I get off in Oakland is the same one I took to visit Kayli every day in the psych ward. My destination is the bar I used to go to after those nightmarish trips. Going everyday became a habit, and even though she's back home, I like the routine of it. The staff know me now and the Yuengling is cheap. I circle the blocks for a few minutes while I smoke a cigarette and then head in. My favorite bartender isn't around but everyone greets me with a smile. I settle into my regular corner and withdraw my notebook as I have for weeks now. First I jot down the happenings of the day, then I begin the final draft of the newest song I've wrote. After three beers, I pee and leave. This is my routine.
Robotically my legs drag me to the bus stop. Suddenly my haze is broken by two voices singing somewhere over the rainbow rather rambuntiously. I sit down next to them, not knowing where this new encounter will lead.
"Join us!" cries the girl nearest to me. She looks to be in her mid twenties and is decorated with colorful scarves.
"Oh yes, another friend!" says the woman beside her. Shes older and quite tall, with small diamond earings and a reserved accent. I'm wondering if they're both drunk when she adds, "Want some chocolates?"
"Sure." I mutter as graciously as I can. I'm reluctant to crawl out of the shell of mind, but their mood is jovial and I can't help but think this could be fun. "If I had my guitar we could make some money." I muse light heartedly.
"Oh, do you play?" Asks the older woman.
"A bit. Mostly stuff I write, but I've made good money on the streets in LA and New York. I haven't really tried around here much... yet."
"You must get your violin!" the woman sings to her younger companion, claping her on the shoulder, "we will be the famous trio of Forbes Avenue. Somewherrrrrreeeee over the rainbowwwwww....." The other girl and I join in until the next verse, where we forget all the words and start all over again. Some passerby laugh and wave.
"So you've been out to California?" The woman asks. "She lived in California, and these chocolates are from California."
"Its true." The younger girl confirms.
"So we were destined to meet!"
"Somewherrrreeee over the rainbowwwwww...." Again we sing until the next verse, then start all over again.
"She really is good." Muses the older woman.
"Mmhmm." The younger girl confirms again.
"I think you should sing us something. Lets make some money." She says.
"Oh no," I beg, embarrised. "I don't have my guitar."
"Well just sing then. We like the way you sing. Sing, please sing!"
"I can't think of anything."
"Sing us one of your own then."
"Well I guess there's Pretty Red Cars..."
"Oh yes!" The woman cries. "Pretty red cars! Lets hear it!" Then she turns her attention to a poor unsuspecting college student walking by. "Excuse me sir, you really should wait, she's going to sing her song, pretty red cars!" Im mortified but start anyway. I get up to the chorus before they interrupt me.
"That was lovely. Have some more chocolates." Fairly soon the bus arrives and it turns out the older woman lives in Braddock aswell. I'm suprised again, the driver of the bus is one of my favorites who I always seem to run into. Every time I'm on his bus I hang out up front and we chat. Immediately he greets me.
"How was the big apple!?"
"Good." I reply softly. This night is beginning to get unreal.
"No guitar tonight? I was hoping I'd finally get to hear some of your music."
"Nah, it's at home." I say, smiling at the thought that he remembered. Then the older woman boards behind me and joins our conversation.
"Non sense! She told us the same and she's been singing all night. Come now, lets sing for him." She says and grips my arm while beginning somewhere over the rainbow again. begrudgingly I join in.
"That was great!" The driver laughs.
"Now you just sing to us."
"No...." I moan.
"Oh come on!" The driver pushes.
"Yes, sing us something we all know." The older woman adds.
"Fine. Do you know Mercedes Benz?"
"No, but it sounds lovely. Who's it by?"
"Janis Joplin. It was the last song she recorded before she died. She just went into the studio, recorded it, and left. She's..." I'm about to add that Janis Joplin is my hero along with Joan Jett, but the woman cuts me off.
"Well lets not think about that and just sing it." I sing from start to finish, forgetting the words in the middle for a moment but recovering rather quickly. I only miss a few notes.
"Beautiful." The driver says smiling.
"Yes, that really was. Quite touching I must say" Says the woman. Before I know it we're singing somewhere over the rainbow again. "What's wrong my dear?"
"Yes, of course."
"I'm a little drunk and have to pee."
"I thought so! I'll tell you what, you can come see where I live and use my bathroom, but then you must go."
"It's ok." I stammer. "I don't live far and I can just go behind a tree in the UPMC lot. Really, I perfer it that way."
"No! Don't be so uncivilized!"
"Why?" I start to ask but it's already our stop and the woman is ushering me out the door.
"See you later!" Yells the driver. "Great to finally hear you sing." The doors fold shut and he's driving away. Then I'm alone on Braddock avenue with this strange woman I met, feeling obligated to see her home. Its been an odd night. Im tired and want nothing more than to curl up in my hammock with Brooklyn and Sabina at my sides, but I have an awful feeling like that moment is far away still. I've been drunk for nearly 12 hours now, and I lost count of the amount of diet pills that I've thrown down my throat. It's certainly not helping my tolerance levels.
"Come, sit down." says the woman, showing me to the benchs in front of the seniors home. She withdraws a pack of smokes and offers me one. I take it thankfully. "Dear, why are you drinking?"
"You don't want to know." I reply curtly without looking at her. I know where this is going and I don't like. People should mind their own buisness.
"Miranda... that is your name right?"
"Miranda, I am 70 years old. I have seen alot in my life time and known some pain. I have three children and they are awful to me, awful! But I don't regret a minute. Tell me, whats happened to you so horrible for you to be drinking like this at such a young age."
"I can't tell you."
"And why not?"
"Because then I'm just another sorry alcoholic feeling bad for myself and blabbing my life story to perfect strangers."
"Your not blabbing it, I asked you to tell me, and we're not strangers," she says with an amused smile, "I met you at the bus stop in Oakland and you live up the street from me. We are neighbors!" I exhale an annoyed puff of smoke but don't argue. I did warn her after all.
"Fine. I grew up with my dad trying to kill himself and my mother. They were both alcoholics and got super violent alot. After my dad finally left my mom started taking her anger out on me, she'd favor my little sister but the few times she tried to hit her I'd put myself in the way, so it was really just me being abused. My sister has been schitzophrenic her whole life too, so when ever my mom got real bad and beat me up she'd freak out and go catatonic, so I'd have to comfort her first, then sober up my mom, then finally I'd get to to bed hours later and tend to my own injuries, alone."
"So you were an abused child then?"
"Its not just that, it gets worse. I got seperated from my mom by child services at 16, but since I was the only one getting abused and only a year and a half out from being of age, CPS felt it was enough to make my entire family go through family court and have to pay all those expenses. They basically told me good luck kid. I tried staying with my dad for a bit but he drank too, and didn't have the money or time for both me and my sister, and as I told you, my sister needed more attention. Not to mention it was a 3 bedroom with 6 people living in it - we had roommates. It was crowded and stressful. My sister told my Dad I had to go, so he asked me to figure it out. I got sent to a holding bay kinda program in the woods for 9 weeks, it was really for teenage drug addicts but CPS uses it in a pinch, then they got me a scholarship to a boarding school where I could live. It was a rare case for them to have a private school like me, i went to The Dalton school on scholarship, so they didn't want to put me through foster where I had no chances at all."
"So you were only homeless for a bit, then went to boarding school and graduated? Thats not so bad. You must think about things in perspective...."
"NO, thats not just it. I was a liability for the school because technically nobody had custody over me, not my parents or the state, because nobody wanted to pay court fees over me. I was in a legal gray area. The admissions representative had to lie to the board to get me in, and for my entire stay there, I couldnt tell anyone I was living on the subways when we went home on the weekends or else I wouldn't be allowed to attend anymore and end up in foster, which would be much worse, so the day after I turned 18 I got myself kicked out on purpose, thinking CPS couldn't touch me anymore. I was an idiot in that sense but I got lucky, because my friends parents took me in and gave me a home in Connecticut."
"So they adopted you and are the ones who sent you here?"
"Not quite. My biological parents are responsible for me being here but I'll get to that. It gets worse again. I wasn't used to having parents, I'd never had anyone take care of me before so in the summer I ran away to New York again. My father and sister had moved out of that tiny apartment in Queens to a bigger one in Brooklyn. The plan was for me to move with them and for us to repair what happened in the past, but the week we moved in a friend from boarding school wanted to hang out. we got drunk on the roof, then he threw me to the ground and raped me. I was in the middle of an eating disorder relapse so my body couldn't withstain the injuries. My entire back from kneck to hips is still messed up from it."
"So you were raped? Dear I know, oh I know.... so many of us..."
"It gets worse." I interrupt her.
"Your were raped again?" I nod my head solomnly. There's an icy distance inside me. part of me honestly believes while I'm telling the story that none of this really happened to me, that I am a mere robotic observer, and alien species, retelling the legends of a human girl that never existed in the first place.
"It was my best friends since kindergarden. He was like a brother to me..." I recount.
"But you moved on after that? You had your adoptive parents, no?"
"No. Then I ran away again. With my adoptive Dad's best friend. He was 36."
"And how old were you?" She asks quietly.
"19." There's an awkward pause betweens us for moment while we drag on our cigarettes. I can hear the steel mill humming in the distance. Somewhere a car goes over a pothole, the soft tha-thump echoes through the empty streets. "I knew it was wrong, and I didn't like it either, but I had to do it. I was getting to comfortable there, to close, I needed to do something that would force me out or else I would never leave. I was stuck in a rut and it was time to move on. In hind sight, I would have been honest and left on my own, saved myself from that truama..."
"Of course dear, hindsight is everything. That's what being young is all about. What happened after that?"
"I lost my job because of it. We worked together and it was disturbing our coworkers. The only place I knew how to survive was New York City so I began communiting and found work as a professional activist for the ASPCA. It helped because I identified with stray animals after bouncing around and feeling like one for so long."
"And hence why you rescue so many of them still?"
"I told you about all the campaigns I ended up doing, didn't I?"
"Well I followed a crazy boy out to California eventually. I knew he was wrong deep down, I just needed to get out west some how, he was my only option. I spent a year there and for the first 6 months it was beautiful. I had a real great job out there. I was a manager and moving up to assistant director working on gay marriage campaign and legalizing cannabis for recreational use. Everything was perfect."
"I freaked out after me and that guy I followed out there broke up. I was all alone on the other side of the world. Went down to Mexico with my boss for Christmas, got a new tattoo on Christmas Eve, Christmas day we ended up in a bar room brawl over gay rights and got chased by federalis through the streets. My boss was in Mexican prison, I had to chase down his little sister and hitch us a ride home while she cried Miranda, you're a run away, you know how to sleep in the dirt, you know how to get hitch hike, right?! I didn't appreciate it. The next morning my boss got out of jail but I was on a roll, I needed to prove I was the bravest girl in the world so I free scaled a 1,500 ft mountain alone. I was warned about rattlers and scorpians, and told by a trailer park family I should tell someone what I was doing, but I didn't. I thought I could walk the ridge after the lowest peak, but it turns out I had to scale it, the only way down was the highest peak once I was up, I've never been so terrified in my whole life. I was sure I was going to die up there. The rocks were pitted so I couldnt see what was lurking behind where I put my hands, almost fell off a few times. When I finally got down a part of me snapped. My boss wanted me to go home to America with him right then and there, but I had fallen in love with a dieing puppy and got on a bus with it alone. They caught me in Mexicali and told me I had to come up with the bribery money if me and my puppy wanted to live. We made it back to America eventually, but the pup died on New Years eve. I threatened to bomb the vet hospital that put her down and an old lady had to escort me to her car, it was a mess. It was shortly after that when I met Dylan. He was bad news bear. I quit my job for him and lost respect from all my coworkers. everything went downhill from there."
"Until you came home?"
"Yeah. I'd been searching the entire time for home and when I got home sick I realized I must have had one all along, I mean, if you can get homesick you must have a home."
"That makes sense."
"I lost everything, even my childhood guitar. I had wrote every one of my songs up until then on that guitar. I still have dreams that I'm playing it sometimes, it was like losing a limb. But me and my cat made it back to New York City alive atleast. Of course, I was only there for 30 days exactly until this whole Braddock mess happened, I told you about that, right?"
"And when my sister finally showed face I had to have her committed. Until this weekend, when she got out and kicked me and all my animals out of the house."
"And she's off her meds?"
"I believe so, yes." I say quietly, then add, "Aside from all the little detail in between and side adventures, yes." The woman takes a deep breath. Then she tells me about her own nightmare. About starving herself as well, and being raped. About being a bastard child back in the day, and marrying the wrong man, though she loved another. When she is finished there is a heaviness in the air. I am somewhere far away, distantly observing the hours as I have been since I watched the sunset earlier. She is quite, she barely moves save to raise her cigarette to her lips. I dont know how long it is before she speaks again.
"We are done smoking now. Come inside, I will show you the bathroom, give you a tour, and then you may leave." The tour she guides me through is thurough, with narratives of the inhabitant at every stop. She insists that each and everyone of them is negative, old and bitter. When we get to her room she gives me a bottle of vitamins and I help her flip her mattresses rightside up. They've been displaced from some sort of bug bombing the building owners did. When we're done she tells me that I must start taking care of myself because if I died, that would be one less good person in the world. Ignore the remark then wonder for a moment if fixing her bed was the only reason she invited me up, there's no way she could have managed it on her own. We had been chatting about my activism and rescued animals when we enter the lobby and it is time for me to leave.
"My dear...." she says sadly all of a sudden, staring into my eyes and making me feel uncomfortable. I almost cried tonight and I dont like that at all. There's an awful shifting feeling inside me, like sand crumbling through tiny cracks. I want to run and get away as fast as I can. I don't know why I told her so much. I'm drunk, but I didn't think I was that drunk. "You are trying to save the world," she says slowly, with moist eyes, "because you know deep down you couldnt save your parents, and never will. You can't do it, you know. Nobody can." I don't know whats happening, but suddenly that awful shifting feeling turns into a feeling of the floor falling out from beneath me. The world begins to spin, I feel sick. Her words repeat over and over again in my head at a deafening volume. Your trying to save the world because you couldn't save your parents your trying to save the world because you couldnt save your parents you couldnt save your parents you cant save your parents thats why your trying to save the world you cant save the world. My hands and feet begin to shake and my breathing gets suddenly shallow, I know I'm about to have a flashback and a half. From somewhere far away I hear the woman cry in the same happy tone she greeted me, "Oh Audrey! This is my friend Miranda, she is on her way out. Oh how are you darling!? It is quite late now, isn't it?"
"I need to go home now." I think I stammered.
"Yes now shoo, off with you, it is late we will see each other around. Audrey....." I stumble towards the door. I walk as fast as I can up the hill using all my will power to stop from breaking into a run. Im hyperventilating, wringing my hands. This is bad, very very bad. Maybe I should just cry, I think to myself. I take a deep breath and let go, braced for the flood, but all that comes out is a single tear. Just enough to blur my vision in one eye, then drain into a duct. I blink, shocked for a moment, then continue on my way home. By time I reached the porch, I'm sure that something is seriously wrong. I can no longer think, I can only do. I'm not moving through space anymore, it moves around me. I glide through the house, slam the sliding porch door, glide out with my knife. I rock back and forth on the chair for I dont know how long before shooting up with violent force and taking a swing at my leg. It's dark, and can't see if I damaged it at all, but it only hurts a little. I take another swing. I hold my calf up to my face with two hands, inspecting it with morbid curiosity. Then I take the knife and press it to my kneck. My arms are shaking, as if they are fighting an invisible attacker. I watch. Then the knife is flung to the ground. For moment there's clairty. Something's wrong, somethings very, very wrong. My brain screams.
"[C]." I gasp, but it comes out no more than a whisper. "[C]." I try again. I can't call for him, I can't move. Then an awful thought hits me. I start to gag violently like I'm choking. "Oh God," I gripe into the warm night air, the words coming up like puke, my shoulder blades and stomach following, helplessly, in a spasm behind them, "I'm going to die tonight." Without thinking I reach infront of me and grab the cork screw, then I slowly, maticulously open the last bottle of wine and begin to chug, hoping it will soothe the next attack. I begin to write a suicide note while I patiently wait. I am not myself anymore. It comes without warning like before, but this time I rise slowly, cautiously from the chair. Then I begin to walk towards the tracks. I make it to the middle of the yard then stop, looking back. Somewhere deep inside, something may have screamed no, but it's too weak and far away. A freight train whistles in the distance. Damn, I missed that one. is my only thought. I make it to the gate. Stop again. My feet frozen to where they are, but whatever makes me stop can't turn me back. I continue on. I'm about half way there when I realize I forgot the bottle of wine. I freeze again, but this time I have a thought, wine is a chance to get back to the porch, back to somewhat safety. If I can just keep myself there, once I get there. I stand in the middle of the road for a long time, in utter confusion, a part of me hopes a car runs me over right there so I don't have to make any more damn descisions. Then there's another gap of clarity, and I sieze with all the strength I have left. I run all the way back to the porch without stopping once.
I don't know what happened for sure after that, but somehow theres a massive pile of pills in my hand, and two empty bottles on the floor. I pick out the oxycodone first, knowing it will create a lethal mix with all the alcohol I've consumed. Then I open my mouth wide and kick the rest back with the last swallow of wine.