© Malia Gillette
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All I See Are Cars
When I asked God in my early twenties that I might pay for the mistakes of all of my lives in this one, I didn’t know what a bold request that was.
Chapter I: Bar None
“The last thing I remember,” I say to the guy from the open mic who is sitting on the couch of my '86 Winnebago, “Is singing ‘Sunrise, Sunset’ with you."
Open mic guy has a thin line of blood running down the side of his face and no undershirt on revealing a bloated apron of skin.
"Hmmmm," he uses his stubby fingers to comb his beard, "The last thing I remember is talking to those cops."
“Cops?!" I feel lightning hot panic surge through my nerves. "I don't remember that."
OMG looks like a comfortable garden gnome with his short legs crisscrossed at the ankles. I see him reach for the set of keys leisurely strewn across the crotch of his khaki shorts.
"Sure you’re okay to drive?” I nod at the keychain.
He looks at me with both eyes struggling to stay open, “I'm fine.”
Two days absence of expensive, dead sea-derived face cream has deposited me in an alternate skin reality. My hair is knotted into a ponytail and tied with a dirty newspaper rubber band. I'm in and out of consciousness, operating on pre-programmed behaviors. Being an alcoholic I'm used to this kind of autopilot and living within the freedoms of a blackout. Yes, the freedoms. In a blackout I'm suddenly free to drive over retaining walls and through garage doors a la Matthew Perry. Getting drunk is like when Keanu Reeves discovered he could do all kinds of tricks and stuff in the matrix. Sobriety is that grey reality he woke up to and was like “God, I want to go back to doing tricks and forget what this looks like.” The problem is if you die in the matrix, you die in real life so I’ve spent time training my unconscious mind to do karate, just like Keanu did, by saying these out loud: I do not sleep with homeless people, I do not drive cars, I do not run into objects.
I glare at the gnome through the double vision kaleidoscope. 85% of the time I can keep myself away from doing those things.
Making my way from the front I teeter over cans and other dry food items on the floor.
“You alright?” he sits up a little.
For a minute, I have to think about that question. I stop walking and reach my hand up to pull something out of my hair. It's a match. I look at it and twist it between my fingers trying to distinguish if it's been used. “Well,” I squint, “I just talked to a bunch of cops, I’m pretty sure, in a blackout, in a stolen flourescent yellow dress that is made up of patterns that resemble a question on a MENSA exam so ya know.”
Now that I've been jolted by trauma into okay-this-is-fucking-happening, I am looking at this shirtless bearded guy like an unwanted solicitor. Pretty sure he was eating me out in the class A back bedroom some time ago. Winnebago is likely revoking my class status right now, moving me somewhere further down the alphabet. Class K or something. I did not get railed hardly enough. Not by the guy, I mean, by the car outside. The one I can see out the hole in the back bedroom with the helicopter behind it and the medics prying the door off with the jaws of life.
My tooth is missing, my mouth tastes like coins and I can smell the beer from the broken glass bottles scattered along the table and benches. Everything fell out of the cupboards including a Coleman stove on the back of my head straight out of the kitchen drawer like an ejected cash register.
As we exit the class K fuck and blood mobile, blue and red flashing lights hit OMG's beard in patches. From the forehead down and the neck up this might look like a warm Christmas Instagram. Electr-Hanukkah. I follow him into the darkness through the flimsy screen door that closes with a thud onto the pavement that crackles beneath my bare feet. Directly behind the Winnebago is his ‘91 blue Astro van which suffered one tiny, tiny knick on the side mirror. We’d driven it here to leave a note in the driver side window of the RV that read “broke down waiting for tow, please don’t impound”.
That’s right, I’d hitchhiked from my stranded, broke down RV earlier with an Australian guy I felt wanted me to give him some strange thank-you blow job while I was on the phone attempting to reach a tow yard, a regular good guy or furthermore a plot of land to have “the moho” relocated to if I did find a way to get it back to Portland. I had him drop me at a bar back in Hood River where I had just come from. Hence, open mic guy.
There was really nothing I could do, my hands were tied and not in the way I like. I decided I was going to take the advice of alcoholics anonymous and hand “it”, my out-of-control situation, to God.
Meanwhile, I went to go have a beer.
Of course his piece of shit rape van located directly behind my rig has the car crash equivalent of a scratch on the knee and my one-ton-and-then-some home on wheels somehow got the entire exterior blown off.
A month ago when I left on this Pacific Northwest coastal excursion I said to the insurance agent, “No need for collision insurance. No one is crashing into me”. I’m someone that believes if you state your intentions to the universe you will manifest them in all of their splendor. Then these things happen to me and I'm like “It's all a fucking sham, I'm destined to fail, nothing is connected, we are programmed characters in a sadistic video simulation with the illusion of free will, my life has a curse and people are after me”. It's a constant battle of perception.
OMG approaches his driver door with enviable posture like a king descending from his throne to greet another king of equal property. Before getting in he looks at the slight cosmetic pimple on his rear view mirror and in it the leak he sprung on his forehead. I’m laughing with my hobo grill, in shock, still drunk and now I’m homeless. It’s like a 4,000 dollar comedy show.
We both climb in the van and he quickly starts the ignition before the police change their assessment about our ability to flee a crime scene. Once we’re a good distance I break the silence.
“You know what’s super fucking weird?” I cough in my hand. “You actually kind of do look like Octavia.”
He doesn't turn to look at me. If physical shock produced a visible current the inside of this car would look like that lightning globe they sell at gift shops.
The facts start coming to me. It's almost as if my mind has a doctor on duty who was busy dealing with a more sensitive part of my brain but he's here now to let me know what happened:
You've been in an accident.
Your home was destroyed.
Some people hit you, we don't know if they are going to make it.
Garden gnome tightens his hands on the wheel and I get the sense the doctor hasn't briefed him yet. “Myla, right?"
I turn to look at him as a car zooms past, "No, it's Malia."
"Oh, Malia," he does a mini drum roll on the steering wheel like it's a percussion instrument, "Ooops."
The car is silent and the road is lit up only by the headlights hitting the road reflectors and mile markers. He starts to finger the radio controls, his eyes glued to the road. I have to fight the urge to tell him to stop on a Bobby Brown song I recognize and another song from the early 90's that suddenly sounds good. It's quid pro quo for my comment that didn't sit well with him apparently. Most of the channels are coming through corrupted by the canyon, but finally a station gives us a glimmer of frequency. Little River Band is playing “Reminiscing”.
My ex, my favorite movie, all the things I love are packed into this song. Everything I am running from is right fuckin’ here. My smile forces blood out. It's not a happy gracious smile, it’s like Barnum and Bailey's just stopped in town for a pop-up one night exclusive in my mouth. In my mind Christmas is here again, but in this Instagram I see my two boys and my ex on a beach in San Diego. They are Instagram treasures in this photo, my nine year old is in a wetsuit, my two year old is running and simultaneously looking from side to side, one of many odd traits he has. When they come back to me after the summer is over Instagram will end and who really knows what's after that.
“Oh shit.” I pop out of the fantasy to another dreadful remembrance.
He looks over at me now, “What? What’s wrong?”
It’s me who looks straight ahead this time not wanting to make eye contact.
“Am I remembering right or did you stop going down on me and tell me I need a shower?”
It's silent. “Yeah. You tasted kinda funky, no offense.”
“Mmm-kay.” I nod. Then I nod some more cause there are no words. Do I apologize? He was actually not doing that good of a job down there. Maybe if he wasn't treating my vagina like a horse trough it wouldn't taste like one. I start searching the floor for leftover beers and realize we left the case in the RV. My shoulders slump. “I live in a motorhome with a broken bathroom so it's not the Waldorf-Astoria Grand ballroom up in here.”
Cars zip by in the other lane. We’re going the speed limit on this highway where everyone seems drunk and motivated to get somewhere. Hood River Oregon, Highway 84. The place where people go to get fucked up and die. No, The place where people go and get fucked up, maybe die.
Like two days ago when I got to Hood River driving up from Boise, Idaho through miles of what looked like a mass produced landscape oil painting from the seventies. It was such a breath of fresh air to be back in Oregon and see real scenery, feel real air. Feel in the moment and not in some American Gothic time machine. As we careen around the mountain curve we see the party lights and neon brewery signs in town advertising good times against the blue-black sky and Columbia Gorge. Mount Hood itself is covered with white at the tip and looks like a giant stein with a massive foam head.
It is me and my travel companion “Diamond”. The name he gave himself after the tattoos he had carefully selected out of a folder to be put all over his body. Kind of like if someone bought a trophy for themselves and walked around with the handle “da winner”.
Couple things to know about Diamond: His real name is Tom, He’s thirteen years younger than me, thruthfinder.com doesn't show he has any DV probs, he has next to no survival skills, and was adopted into way more priveledge DNA than his DNA deserves. There are few things we have in common: a love for Justin Bieber’s new album with Diplo, drinking, taking off on a whim, breakfast, and we are both obsessive compulsive. He folds his clothes before and after sex. I can't leave the house unless everything is right where it's supposed to be, I have to have Italian sweet cream in my coffee, my nails are always done even if I've just changed my cars fuel filter and did them five minutes before that. Now that my home is on wheels things are no different and every morning I wake up to dust bust and make sure ice is in the sink with bud lights arranged as if we are our own elite guests with a mini bar and a bowl of fresh limes. I am the maid to my future self who is rather into a lifestyle of ghetto luxury.
Diamond is also half Peruvian-half Hawaiian. I’m white with blond hair and blue eyes. When older, racially conservative people see us together they look like they were just granted negative wishes. Someone offered us a porn spot not because we are attractive or have better than average bodies, but simply because seeing us together was “shocking”. I guess shock sells, I wouldn't know, turned them down simply because I have to draw the line somewhere on things I'll do for money and that might be the last thing I have left.
But the greatest thing Diamond and I have in common...we are both hustlers. He's a thief and I'm conniving as all shit. I don't like that fact that he steals, but when I was having to front his share in gas I began pointing to outfits in department stores telling him “I’ll take that one.” I don't like to admit I'm conniving; I've more than manipulated myself into thinking I'm a good person. We’re broke, but living a retirees life with a fridge stocked with alcohol, a closet full of new clothes and an RV complete with full bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, large couch and dining area with only 60,000 miles. We’re broke, but have now gone over 3,000 miles and the thing only gets 6 miles per. There's no generator so instead we have a portable Coleman stove, tons of mounted LED lights and self flush the toilet by cranking the slide open with a kitchen knife and downing a bottle of water. We hit up the truck stop showers with our expensive beauty products, avoiding paying for them by approaching truckers and asking for their free vouchers. We’re broke, but no one knows that and it doesn't mean that we aren't about to go out and have a two hundred dollar night.
Parking is a chore in the 31 footer and the tourist town is made of hills and paved inclines, cars parked too close together and regulations we are unfamiliar with. After backing into a brand new Buick at the top of Mount Charleston in Nevada, I don’t even try to drive the thing anymore.
“Park here!” Standing between the drivers’ seat and the passengers aka drunk “back seat driving” I sway my Four Loco in the direction of a bungalow which shifts quickly towards the back windows as we cruise past. Diamond almost hits a BMW and I remind him politely to keep it fucking real.
“I'm gonna park right up here.” He takes a hand off the gigantic wheel and uses the other to direct us close to an upcoming curb.
I use both elbows, one on the driver's seat and one on the passengers so I can scope out the house, bending down to see up the hill. It looks like a million dollar property that sits twenty feet up a direct walkway from the spot.
“No, I don’t want to park here.”
I point to the rambler, “look out the window they can see our broken blinds over the sink.”
“Shut up about the blinds for the tenth time!” He shifts into park and turns off the ignition. “No one is looking at blinds.”
“Rich people look at blinds, no one has crumpled up blinds! They’re going to see the blinds and think we’re cooking meth in here.”
Turning to me, he grabs my Four Loco and downs a few gulps. “No one is going to think that! We'll move it down to the shore early. Tons of people will be out with RV’s…going windsurfing.”
At one point Diamond was a track star and sponsored windsurfer, that was before all the heroin and strip clubs. His whole purpose for joining me was to get away from all that. Not that I’m the poster child for health and well-being, but I do draw the line at the shit that will ruin your life faster than borderline personality disorder: heroine, meth and crack.
You know, the RV isn’t in terrible shape and we’d spent thirteen dollars in quarters at the self-pay giving it a bath only a few days prior, but in Portland where the homeless population has skyrocketed since it became legal to pitch a tent anywhere RV’s are a squatters oasis. The side door doesn’t work and this model wasn’t designed with a passenger door so we exit out over the driver seat, plop down three feet into the rich people's lawn.
Now we’re looking real classy.
Diamond is covered in diamond tattoos. I have on all new clothes: a pair of banana republic black strap wedges, white and black lacy shorts and a black tank top. All stolen. Admittedly, I look good. My blond hair is straightened with newly cut bangs, my nails are done and I have a walk that has an ink tag.
I order my first beer at the bar down the street. The patio is lined with Christmas lights and behind the bar are four fridges filled top to bottom with local beers. There are a good number of people packed into the small space. What appears to be the band is out smoking by the door.
There's a system by which I drink by. The first one I always sip for the longest. If I need an immediate buzz I order a shot and then a beer. Sometimes I'll order a stranger a beer just to give the illusion I have money. From then on I'm typically broke, but I'll either have found someone interested in me, found someone who caught onto my generosity or just straight up ask someone for a drink. By the time I'm asking someone point blank for a drink I’ve turned into a full on sideshow of dance moves and they are feeding me like a slot machine. I'm encouraging them to join in on my monkey dance cause the drunker they get the more they forget they're buying for two.
I'm surrounded by blonde guys, the first I've seen of their kind in Oregon, looking like the Hampton's of the Pacific Northwest. These guys are predictably focused on the youngest and thinnest girls of the dancing cyst that is developing. None of them are into me, I'm almost forty, a relevant and sexy milf-like forty, but still over-that-hill. I'm dancing with my drink up taking occasional sips when I feel a hand clasp around my other dangling wrist. The force pulls me back from the crowd, turns me to him and to my wet pussy surprise he is tall, has a great smile and the perfect combination of boy and man that I seem to like. He's also one of the only non-blonde's with brown hair and brown eyes. The punk band gets louder and the instant chemistry we’re communicating through our unbreakable smiles allows us to feel good touching each other, grabbing each other, dancing close and looking one another in the eye. We dance through two songs before he leans down to ask my name. After another song we take to the bar stools. I can see Diamond down a few feet from me and he's got an absent look in his eye that I've only seen with drunk Natives and people with liver problems. A look that seems to say, ‘my soul has left and is on a bathroom floor in middle earth.’”
I pull the guy’s face close to mine and whisper in his ear, “usually I'm trying to use my charm and wit to convince people to buy me drinks, do you think we could just bypass that and you could just get me one?”
About to say something he lunges forward as a drunk blonde falls into him. “Whoa, shit.”
The blonde goes back to the pseudo mosh pit and the guy rolls his eyes, “This town really blows this time a year. Same people getting blasted every night. That was Rich,” he signals over his back.
I rest an arm on the bar next to me and point to myself with the other. “See that's where I come in. Different person. Getting drunk.”
He shrugs, “Alright, I'll get you a drink. I'm easily manipulated.”
I smile. “What's your name?”
“Charlie.” He motions to the tap and points two fingers at the bartender.
“Oh, like Flowers for Algernon?”
He shakes his head, “I've not heard that one. Usually there's a chocolate factory reference in there.”
Past him I see Diamond rummage around the crowd then leave out the door like a zombie in feast mode. I try to ignore it. Two beers get delivered and we tap glasses. As we put the drink up to our lips our eyes communicate that we’ll definitely be sleeping together tonight. He motions me back on the floor and people are moving out of the way to let us have the spotlight or it at least feels like it. After a few more songs he pulls me out of the club and we join some friends going down the road to a larger venue with an even drunker pulsating room of people.
The next thing I know hours have passed. We're running up stairs. Lots of them. When I'm drunk I can run forever, but this seems like a significant amount of stairs we’re climbing. My thighs are starting to kill me and every ten steps I'm taking a break and falling into Charlie.
“I didn't want to say this out loud,” I bend over and hold my knees like an umpire, breathing like I'm a black dog in the desert, “but I'm gonna. What is going ON with these stairs!”
“They are kind of famous out here. There's a hundred and fifty of them.”
“One hundred and fifty stairs!” I spit out. “I wish I would have known that ten steps in! There's no way to stop now unless we have a sled or, like, an electric scooter.” I look down and in my blurry sight the rails look to flatten out so the dangers of tourist sliding down them drunk can be avoided.
“Oh, there's tons more options than that and I don't even think a scooter would work.”
“Oh great,” I toss my hands up, “I've only got two ideas and one of em sucks!”
“Here.” He grabs me up in his arms and shifts my weight to his back.
I'm holding on to his neck with my face flattened against his back, my wedge strapped feet dangling and hitting his sides. It feels good. We get back to his place and drunkenly put our mouths all over each other and stick things places and scream and moan and pass out.
I wake up on an arranged bed of couch cushions under a thin hospital blanket. Charlie is asleep on the floor with his back to me. Cranking myself up onto an elbow I notice how bare his room is with only a closet, a couch and the cushions I'm on. There's a pile of dirty clothes in one corner serving as a hamper and a dresser it looks like. Turning onto my back I look up at the even more bare ceiling.
I love men. Not in a sex addict way although I love sex too, but in a mystical admiring way. I mean I love cock: the taste, the sexiness of knowing a man’s primal need for pleasure, the way a man might objectify a woman. I embrace being objectified and am okay with that. My battered ego needs attention as much as a cock needs my mouth, however, I've never been able to truly figure them out. All I'm told is that men are simple. I don't do simple, my mind makes things a tangled mess beyond meaning. In effect, I'm no better at relationships than when I first started trying to be in one, worse actually, and I wish I could be more like a man in the sense of not reading into things so much or living in a room with just a couch and dirty clothes. Even more mystifying is the fact the more I seem to appreciate them, the more I seem to repel them in a relationship sense. I reel them in with my savvy charm and looks, but then they smell the man lover in me, a fragrance that advertises “I cannot be trusted” or “I'm easy” which I have to admit is kind of true.
“What are you thinking about?” I hear Charlie break into my tangent and disrupt my obviously intriguing thought face.
“Men, body parts, etc.”
“Oh,” he seems unmoved.
Getting up, he pulls a pair of jeans from the dirty pile, slides into them and zips them up. Simple.
“I got to be to work by ten.” He scratches his neck and looks around.
Oddly, I feel well-rested with no other side effects other than a sudden rush of anxiety that hits when I remember Diamond was loose on the town. This is a completely legitimate fear since the last time he bounced in a blackout he was charged with disorderly conduct for pissing on the side of a Buffalo wild wings. I scramble to my feet and in the light of the sun coming through the window begin to collect my stuff. Clumsily, I grab hold of my tits and crouch down where it looks like my clothes had a mini seizure. Sometimes I feel like strutting my shit like I'm in a perfume commercial, today is not one of those times.
After getting dressed I put the cushions back and sit with my legs folded waiting for Charlie to get ready. He comes back in the room and I'm struck again by his pleasurable face. I try to play it cool and act like I have more important things to do than park my RV by the river, con people for gas money and drink stolen Bud light lime.
“I should get back. Kind of worried about my friend.”
He comes into the room and stands above me, “Well, let's get going than.” Reaching for my hand he helps lift me off the couch. Since I feel like I might not see him again I do something weird and rest my head on the side of his arm as we walk. It’s a little awkward, but I won't be seeing him again so….
I wish that was true.
The Day After The RV Accident
Karma. This is my karma, I know it and it sucks. My karma has just begun. No, that’s not right. More accurately, my karma has just resumed.
I slept great last night. Kind of wish I’d been more productive in my dreams and got a job, developed a network of support, done some credit repair, gone to planned parenthood to treat the funk I'd contracted and proceeded to go around to schools talking about how I made a life change, but instead I’m awake with blood in my hair, being hugged by the fiddler on the motorhome, in a cot in a high-end women’s boutique.
When I open my eyes I see clothing racks hovering above me like space saucers. There is a twilight zone vibe like Rod Serling himself is about come out and address the fact that somewhere between drunken accidents and women’s clothing stores is a reality that goes by the name of “The Twilight Zone”.
Man, I slept good. Wish I would have stayed that way forever.
My hip has a dull pain from the weight I’ve had on it all night, but if I turn I will be facing what’s his name point blank. Nose to nose. This cot is like sleeping on a napkin. All I can do to relieve the pressure is adjust myself a few millimeters. He speaks immediately like he’s consciously been lying awake staring at my backside for some time now.
“My mom owns this shop. It’s a clothing store for rich, artsy people. She let’s me sleep back here sometimes.”
“You live with your mom?” I cough up.
There are three racks of clothes right in front of me. At least we are in the back of the store and not in some kind of display window where passersby can view my unfortunate life like reality show gold.
“Would you like to get some breakfast with me?” he moves my hair from my face.
There are several things going through my head that I’m finding difficult to say out loud. Number one is “No”. Number two is “Please don’t touch my hair.” Number three is “Maybe after a few bloody Mary’s”.
I sit up. This is when I feel the protrusion on the back of my head some two inches from where the back of my head used to be. It is covered in a nest of hair. “I think I need to go to the hospital”.
If I wasn't a career alcoholic depression might be setting in, but this is just “another one of those days”. What's getting to me is that my resource center has shut down and I'm having trouble drawing blueprints for the days ahead. The hospital feels like an oasis, like once I get there they will act as my liaison to the world.
I thank beard guy, say an awkward “sorry” and walk into the blazing sun in my flourescent yellow dress.
With the town only being a couple miles squared, the Emergency Room is just a hop, skip and a jump from the strip of stores where the fancy rich clothes are. The clothes are not fancy and rich like women in magazines wear; Not Gucci, Versace or Chanel. They are clothes for the Oregon elite, for lesbians and straight alike, moo-moos and robes from custom local “artisans” and yarn handmade from some lady named Lenore named after the Poetry of Edgar Allen you know who. There’s enough embroidery, applique and other shit dangling from them to look like a shelf at a Tibetan gas station.
As I approach the hospital there are more cops and I have the instinct to turn away just in case it happens to be related to some part of our interaction which I still can’t recall, but my feet propel me forward as the only place I can think to go. Correction, a bar was the first place I thought to go once I hit the pavement. If I passed a bar, I’d notice it before I’d notice a five story hospital, but I feel no such relief so I keep my head down and walk past the crowd of officers. It occurs to me that it is likely they are here for the other survivors of the accident. Or fatalities, who is to say.
I feel like an aimless shroud, like I’ve gone straight to haunting the earth in an anti-climatic transition from the lonely living to the unnoticed dead. Is this how it is? I die and my punishment is that I’m in an uninterrupted continuation of the life I’ve been living? Gliding through the doors, I look around through foggy lenses knowing that I’m just not right in the head. The word “concussion” echo’s inside and I know I have one, but all of the other extensive survival skills I normally have are gone. I don’t know what to do and like an Alzheimers patient that knows they know things, but can’t access them I do what comes natural, feel agitated.
A lady at the front desk signals to me, “I can check you in!”
I approach like she’s a visitor in jail and I’m the prisoner on the other side, “What’s the commotion outside?” I ask hesitantly.
“Oh, I’m not sure,” she looks in the direction I’m pointing and then back to the screen. “Let’s talk about what’s going on with you.”
I lift up my ring finger that is fat around the knuckle. “Um, my motorhome was hit last night. I was in it. I got this.”
Her fingers tap on the keys quickly making a sound similar to puppies scattering on a tile floor. “I can see you got a fat lip.”
I nod, “And my front tooth, the chip, I didn’t have this before.”
My front right tooth has chipped three times and two times I’ve gone to great lengths to get it fixed. Teeth in general are the bane of an addicts existence. We know if our teeth are fucked we’ve entered a phase of physical degradation that gets hard to come back from. We stop smiling altogether, hiding our mouths with our hands and somehow thinking that it’s only our fucked up grill that’s giving us away. If it weren’t for my teeth, I’d look pretty good. Forget the stench of beer sweat, the fact I haven’t blinked in two days and my pores that look like a Mutant Ninja Turtle might climb out of them-I’m worried about the sliver of tooth I lost thinking suddenly I look like Sloth from Goonies. Fortunately, my drive to fix things is at least as strong as my desire to wreck them if not a teensy bit stronger. My good friend Jim used to call me Kali for that reason. The goddess of birth and death, creation and destruction, tooth and no tooth.