You wonder how many in your generation have been damaged, later.
He was teaching you about Robert Frank and Walker Evans and he gave you a copy of a book that you kept.
“Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.”
What you liked was the way that Agee wrote. You liked Jacob Riis and what he shot in New York. You were 23 and just beginning to form ideas. You were leaving Los Angeles for good. He drops a last rose into the box you have packed, but that isn’t the end yet.
You are all just 23 or 24 in the early eighties. Everything is a series of directions you might follow. You transfer schools to get away from that love that you cannot have, that doesn’t belong to you, that he shouldn’t have started in the first place.
“I’ll marry you,” a friend says.
“You’ll see, everything will be fine. I’ll be the father.”
He has come to Los Angeles to collect you and bring you home. Like a lost girl. Like the girl who should never have gotten involved in a mess like this one was. He ruffles his casual blonde hair and smiles at you while he looks at himself in the rear view mirror. Easy. He could just pack you up and take you north.
Except it wasn’t.
The two of you had gone to High School together.
You had mutual friends with parallel lives. You had come home to get away but the images started to arrive. They came on postcards every day like works of art. Stills.
They kept you trapped.
You chose a place along a street named for roses and you had a roommate who had escaped the harbor and the man who had tried to trap her on his boat. She had only one suitcase. One suitcase full of costumes that she could perform quick changes with.
The two of you sat crosslegged on the floor as the sunsets burnt the sky.
She poured white wine.
She read the I-Ching for you. You did Tarot in exchange.
The two of you looked endlessly for messages in the cards and the coins.
“What does he mean by this?” you asked her. “What do you think he is saying on this one?”
She didn’t have an anwser.
You slid down the wall in your empty room thinking about how much you were in love. You had transferred and your grades were failing that first quarter.
Trapped in silver.
Every day he called. Every day he called from phone booths someplace in Los Angeles.
Your heart hung on that hook, or that ring, until it made you feverish and jumpy.
You couldn’t think clearly. The calls came while you were at work, or at home, and you found yourself waiting, endlessly.
In those days you wore a series of kimonos. Madame Butterfly.
It’s how you thought of yourself then. Looking back you were like her. Abandoned at the shore’s edge.
Your roomate had an outfit for each man she was seeing. She pulled her looks from that suitcase like a quick change artist. She could be a secretary, or an actress, or a fresh faced blonde ingenue in sweatpants at will. They came to the door to pick her up and you sat typing poems looking out to sea over the industrial rooftop before you.
Your best friend is angry at you because her boyfriend has been cheating on her. It’s not your fault.
She follows his car along the curvy roads to see where he parks, and she finds him in somebody else’s arms.
She can’t understand what it is to be a muse for an Art teacher.
“Leave him,” she says. “Get away from him.”
Your roommate fixes sushi and the two of you sit cross-legged on the floor. Neither of you have furniture yet.
There is nowhere to sit except on the sea of beige carpeting.
Alladin hops into your lap and you hold him, purring.
She fixes sushi and you try and take a bite.
The sunlight streams in through glass as the sky darkens. “Try and eat something, ” she says. “It’s not going to be so bad.”
But it will be and you know it and it doesn’t matter what any of your girlfriends are going to say.
He looks at you with his kind blue eyes and his bags of groceries full of chips and mayonnaise in gigantic packages and he ruffles his blonde hair and smiles and you were the girl he brought the rose to in High School.
You were the girl that got the long-stemmed rose.
His nature was poetic.
He didn’t want to see you come to harm.
You were the girl that got the poems he wrote.
You were the girl that slid down the wall waiting for that phone to ring and you were trapped in silver. All silvertone you waited for the man with the silvertongue and the cameras and he with his black hightops spinning and jumping and clicking clicking clicking and the snap of the shutter kept time to the beat of your heart in those days or the way your eyelids fluttered, closing.
“Don’t,” is what you said as he took them.
“Don’t,” you said, walking along the boardwalk down in Venice — your hands fending off the assault.
“Come up for air,” the stranger said after he saw you entwined and kissing on the parkbench.
“Come up for air.”
Click went the shutter.
Click, click, click capturing the shadows on the sand and the expressions and the tongues and the kisses or the way you ran straight into his arms and wrapped yourself around him long and lean and curved yielding to the ring of the everpresent phone.
“I’ll marry you,” your old friend says. “It’ll be allright, you’ll see.”
He ruffled his blonde hair, now short, now preppy like the style was then and you thought about the time in High School when he’d worn it long and blonde and freefalling straight almost to his waist and he had handed you the rose sitting on an old stone wall and your best friend had been there too, on her boyfriend’s lap, and his hair had been long and black and he’d looked like a Mayan temple carving in the late afternoon sunlight and the four of you were just setting off that year for destinies unknown…
* * *
“Damaged” — copyright 2009 by Valentine Bonnaire — all rights reserved.
*authors note: These pieces of music, even though they came later capture the mood of those times perfectly…I’ve been thinking a lot about how people choose musical scores for things and what that might be like when music creates the mood to go with cinematic imagery. I was out in this slough looking at the landscape and egrets and if I played Chopin it could have been France — or if I played something else it might have been Japan? Or, it might have been an African plain if I played music from Senegal. I just sat there looking at the light and the egrets and testing out that theory of sound…with an image. This music is all stuff I have, by the way. On albums. This is the Indy kind of stuff many in my gen listen to…