The Passing Breeze of Memories
In the 1962 movie Days of Wine and Roses Lee Remick plays an alcoholic who wears full-skirted dresses and drinks in bed. Sometimes she leaves the house her hair a mess. Jack Lemmon loves her but has to stay away if he’s going to stop drinking. The bottle comes between them. I watched their heartbreaking love story with my grandmother, an alcoholic who got sober for a minute in 1971. I saw myself in Lee Remick and Jack Lemmon more than I did in that couple from Love Story. In that 1970 blockbuster Ali McGraw is going to die from leukemia and Ryan O’Neal doesn’t know how he’s going to live without her. They learn that love means never having to say you’re sorry. Lee Remick, in Days of Wine and Roses, doesn’t say she’s sorry for different reasons. She’s going to keep drinking if it’s the death of her. I was ten the first time I saw the film and even though the only drink I’d had at that point in my life were the few sips of a beer left in the refrigerator I knew Lee Remick was my kind of woman.
What I don’t think people realize is how important family is to me and how much I’ve always wanted to be a part of one. Mine was too difficult for me to be a member of. This made me feel the outsider. I looked to my father to be the one person who could connect me to family. What a mistake that had been. I visited him at Los Angeles County hospital in 1974 when I was thirteen. I stood outside his room scared of his bloat the cirrhosis the smell of death around him like that Lynard Skynard song: OOOO-OOOO that smell/Can’t you smell that smell?/ The smell of death around you. My father wore a patch over his eye. He drank gin. In 1982, three years after he died, I was in a near-fatal accident and came out of three-days-of-unconsciousness in the motorcycle ward of Los Angeles County Hospital. I wore a full length cast on my left leg for six weeks. Once it was removed I had to use a cane. It was my eye patch.
In 2008 I called Arthur, my father’s drug dealer during the 1970’s. He wasn’t dealing drugs anymore. Not that I know of. Not since he spent time in prison. He told me that Warren Oates was on LSD the whole time they were making Kid Blue. I asked him, How did he remember his lines? He said, Well, Warren Oates was a very smart man.
My half-brother was the assistant director on Kid Blue. The movie about a train robber who tries to go straight but can’t stay away from crime was released in 1973 and starred Dennis Hopper as well as Mr. Oates. Dennis introduced my father to Arthur. Dennis was in Rebel Without a Cause, a movie my dad directed. They’d lost touch over the years and ran into one another at a New York City nightclub in the early seventies.
I saw my half-brother for the first time in twenty years in 2005. Right away I felt connected by blood. He was a cream sickle ice cream on a hot summer’s day until he melted away. Now all that’s left is a popsicle stick split in two and stuck to the crack in the sidewalk.
As a boy he’d spent too many nights without a father. As a young man he did too much cocaine. He snorted his first lines on the set of Kid Blue. He went on to produce movies that afforded him ounces of coke. He snorted himself right out of the business.
My family likes speed. My mother was addicted to Preludin, an amphetamine sold over the counter in Madrid, where she and my father lived during the early 1960’s. My father was prescribed methamphetamine in the late 1950’s as treatment for his alcoholism and depression. He never stopped using it, even after the doctor stopped prescribing it, even after it became an illegal substance. Arthur sold him his first gram of cocaine. After my father’s death from cancer in 1979 I spent the summer in a Rodeo Drive bedroom smoking coke. It was called freebase then. Crack hadn’t been born yet. Crystal Meth made an appearance in 1980. We also called it crank. It was the poor man’s cocaine. In 1980 I wasn’t hanging out on Rodeo Drive anymore I was living in a one-room apartment in a tenement next to the Hollywood Bowl. My roommate spray-painted a syringe on our bathroom door and wrote meth monsters next to it. I always hated needles but by 1980 I would do anything to make me forget what it was that broke me.
In 2009, Jesse, my boyfriend since 1990, and I rented the 1945 Robert Siodmak movie The Spiral Staircase starring Ethyl Barrymore and Rhonda Fleming about a serial killer who goes after physically vulnerable women. I hadn’t seen it since 1972. My mother saw it the first time when she was eleven. It had scared the living daylights out of her. She was so excited to see it listed in the TV Guide that she made me, my sister, my stepsister and brother, watch it in the den of our two-story Spanish-style house. After it was over my stepfather stood at the top of our staircase and said, with a low-light shining on his chin, “Step up the spiral staircase.” I screamed all of the way to my bedroom. In 2009 being frightened by my stepfather was the only part of the movie I remembered. If I’d known the film was going to make me have the first rape dreams I’d had in a few years I would never have watched it.
My first home away from my mother’s was a crash pad in Hollywood. There I met girls who understood, better than the boys, why I had to drink the way I did. Just like Lee Remick in Days of Wine and Roses I stayed in bed drinking and made boyfriends angry because bringing the beer bottle to bed with me was more important than having sex.
Pat Smear, the bass player from the Germs, Nirvana, Foo Fighters, listened to PIL every day all day for seven days. He was never a boyfriend he was just someone who my friends and I hung out with sometimes. In fact, in the fall of 1980 a group of us decided to go to Santa Monica City College but we had to take all of the same classes because we were punks and back then punks got beat up by jocks. Pat Smear told me he listened to PIL every day all day long when we were sitting in his living room. He lived in a house next to a Pup-n-Taco fast food restaurant. He owned a lot of birds big ones little ones I don’t know which kinds. He fascinated me. Shortly thereafter I stopped going to SMCC because I was too busy sleeping all day. Next time I saw Pat we were in the Licorice Pizza parking lot across the street from the Whiskey-A-Go-Go on the Sunset Strip. I was having trouble walking because I was so drunk and there was blood red paint smeared across my forehead and when he saw me he was horrified not because of the fake blood but because of my turgid voice and jelly legs. I remembered this a few afternoons ago when I was listening to a dead boy sing. If he were still alive he’d be a middle-aged man with track marks scattered across every vein. I can’t figure out why he’s dead and I’m not. I ate a stick of butter in one sitting. I was looking for comfort and wanting retaliation.
At twenty I stopped drinking. I befriended a girl who had also gotten sober young and was in the repairing stage of her life. We had punk rock in common. We had sexual abuse in common. We came from families that made us uncomfortable. We had getting sober before we were the legal age to drink in common. We were part of a minority in 1981 and 82. We had our whole lives ahead of us and so sober people who hadn’t gotten sober until they were thirty or older looked at us as though we hadn’t suffered and therefore thought we’d been saved from the torment that they’d experienced. They’d dish out backhanded compliments, like saying, “When did you get sober? When you were two?” They were negating that we’d hit a bottom, too. I turned away from them and made my best girlfriend my lifeline. I guess that’s too much to ask of anyone. When I was forty she ended our friendship. She said, “The future of our friendship cannot be held, defended, or maintained.”
I recently dreamt that I ran into her in the frozen foods section of Whole Foods. It had been five years but after we hugged it seemed like no time had passed as if there were no hard feelings between us and nothing that needed forgetting ever happened. We were falling in love with each other just the way we’d fallen in love that first night we met. I was twenty-one at the time. She was sixteen. A mutual friend had brought her over to the apartment I shared with my then boyfriend, a nineteen-year-old ex-skateboarder turned hardcore-punk-rock junkie. In the dream I nestled against her breast and for the first time since we’d stopped speaking I felt safe. The feeling was fleeting. In an instant we each remembered how we’d let the other down and recoiled. By the time we got to the produce section we were strangers again.
I stay away from people. Sometimes I wonder where I am and why people don’t call and then I remember how I lost my best girlfriend because of our inability to show up because once you’re broken and you make the necessary repairs the bandages are apt to unravel even if they’re glued on tight.
I tested positive for having been exposed to Hep-C twenty-seven years after I stopped using. You may look like a different person when you look in the mirror but that old person is always loitering. I cut myself peeling potatoes. I hurried to stop the blood from dripping on the sink, counter, cutting board, on Jesse. If I contaminated him if my past infected him if I lost him where would I be? He is my better half. My other half. My completion. I went to a specialist who did some more tests and discovered that my immune system had cleared my body of the Hep-C. I think he said that only happens to five percent of the people who are exposed. My ex-best-girlfriend had Hep C. Sometimes her breath smelled like sour liver but I never said anything. I wanted her to love me. I wanted her to think I was pretty; to think I was special like people thought she was. She was a singing sensation, a Hollywood darling – for a split second. She told me she was finished she had no reason to live but she survived and cut me off in the process. She was not the dying woman she was afraid of becoming. I hear now she’s going strong.
I regurgitate my life in different shapes and sizes, trying to make sense. That pot-smoking agent said I was boring. He didn’t understand or I didn’t make it clear that I’m a person created in hindsight.