“The City of Angels welcomes you!” is how the Los Angeles International Airport greets me every time I visit what used to be my home. Taken by the escalator and its quiet hum to my mother, the angel, who waits to hug me like she did when I was ten, like she did when I was five. I take her hand and keep it in mine for the entire ride back along the Southern California freeway system, a thousand non-native palm trees bedazzling the coastline. All the while, thinking, “it wasn’t supposed to happen like this.”
One night, months ago and in a different city far away, I had sat with half a bottle of red wine and a gram of weed at my makeshift dining room table, across from a boy who’d come over on the pretense of fucking. As he talks between breaths of smoky blue interrupting the candle we’d lit to “set the mood,” I absentmindedly type into an empty Word document three broken sentences:
There is nothing in my apartment.
He needs to shave his neck hair.
He reaches for my hand and I recoil instinctively.
“Come on,” I say in a voice that I do not recognize, and head for the bedroom.
In the seventh grade, I had a history teacher whom I hated. His name was Mr. Gray and it fit him, perfectly. In hindsight I think, how sad, to have the name Gray and have it be so right. Who in their right minds would want to be a Gray?
One time, Mr. Gray stopped the class and, for a reason I can no longer remember, put his big gray palms down on my desk to support his big gray forearms and his big gray barrel-chest voice told me in a boom, “Heidi, you are extraordinary. Extra-ordinary. Do you know what that means?” I did. At age thirteen, I knew what everything meant.
I remember being abashed and flattered but, more so, I remember a feeling of deserving. No longer.
It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.
“What do you want, then?” I ask my best friend. We’re driving in his red Mustang Cobra up the familiar streets of my childhood, on our way back to my house. It’s the beginning of another Leaving Season and he has T-minus ten hours before he makes his way up the California coastline. The summer is dwindling to a sad murmur of an end.
“Okay, but how do you define freedom?”
Instead of answering me, he revs his engine and his car pulls hard. We rocket launch up Parks Road at fast-enough-to-throw-me-back-in-my-seat. That’s his answer.
“It doesn’t matter how I describe it, Heidi. It’s unattainable freedom.”
Most of the time it’s fine and I don’t think about it but, when I need someone to blame, I let myself remember you. Then, like a specter from my past, you are suddenly back — in the same sweatshirt you had lent to me two years ago when it was February cold. I let myself remember that morning; so far in the distant past I can’t even see it when I look behind me.
The light was still gray when I’d slipped out from beneath the covers you’d pulled over me. Even then I knew that there was a tremendous amount of love, barely contained under my skin, which was threatening to erupt. I desperately wished I could turn off your gravitational pull, because each time I tried to get up, to get away, you sent me hurtling like a giant, deplorable ball of burning gas back into your atmosphere. I was stuck in your orbit. And so you, who confided in me that your greatest vice was apathy, became “the one I would not forget” even as I wished and wished that it wouldn’t happen this way. Finally, in quiet resignation, I left the bit of me that allowed for loving with wild abandon in your hand and said my goodbye amidst the morning storm.