“Jamie, I really need sleep. Where am I going?”
“Okay, grandma. Come on, you’re with me tonight!”
“I thought I was supposed to sleep in the girls’ bunkers.”
He laughed out loud.
“Like I’m gonna lock you up in the chicken coop when I could have you all to myself? Right! Come on, don’t worry. You can have the cot.”
“Where’s my phone? I need my phone.”
He brushed off my concern. “Don’t worry, it was out of juice, they’ll charge it upstairs and hook you up with a few cool apps. It’s all good.”
“I guess. I feel naked without it.”
I could still hear music from the bunkers, a heavy bass-line vibrating the ceiling and walls, dissipating as we made our way back into the building proper and down the stairs. Jamie closed the door to the workshop behind us. I felt bone-weary and wide-awake alert at the same time. I sank onto the cot as he rolled a foam mat out on the floor beside it. He threw a folded blanket at the top for a pillow.
As I lay back, Jamie walked over and turned off the overhead lights, plunging us into the kind of dark that my brain can’t accept, so it keeps sending my eyes back to try again in the forever blackness. I heard Jamie shuffle over and lie down on his mat.
It took several silent minutes before the pencil-line of light around the door revealed a few details – paint cans, the table saw, Jamie’s restless form on the floor beside me. He sighed. He turned one way, then another on his flat foam mat. I felt very bad for taking his bed.
“I can’t sleep. Why don’t you come up here with me for awhile.”
“Can you keep your hands to yourself?”
“I guess we’ll have to see.”
He climbed up and over me, so his back was to the wall, and I scooted to the front. But instead of lying down beside me, he sat like the cot was a sofa, and bent his knees to bridge my legs with his. I adjusted myself to sit up and plumped the pillow behind me, throwing the blanket over us both. Kitty-corner felt very cozy. I could just make out the basic features of his face.
Jamie reached over and switched on a small reading lamp bolted to the wall, simultaneously twisting its neck so the light shone up to the ceiling. Just sufficient to start showing colour without making my eyes object, we were under a private moon. We sat in our little cocoon of light for about thirty seconds before I couldn’t contain myself from asking what I’d wanted to know since I met him.
“Why don’t you tell me how you got here, Jamie?”
“I fell asleep one night, and was magically transported to the workshop. Trix wished me here.”
“You’re cute. But really, what’s your story?”
I waited. I thought he was about to make another joke, but then, he didn’t. He sighed.
“Ah, Chrissy Christine, why do you want my sad story? We’ve all got a sad story.”
“I’m interested in you. ” This answer gave him pause. His eyes caught mine for a split second, then scooted away into the darkness of the room.
“Okay, well, then prepare to be sad, right away. Because my story starts with “after my brother died.”
“After my brother died, my dad started drinking. He just wasn’t nice anymore. My mom could hardly look at me and she’d start crying.
It went on like that for a long time.
It was like, whatever I did, she was sad because Jessie would never do it. Or maybe she thought he’d do it better? I thought that.
I used to talk to Jessie about it, you know, in my head? But after awhile, he started telling me he would have done better than me if he’d been alive. He started saying I…I should have died instead of him. I had some fantasies about…killing myself.
So I tried pot with some friends from school, and it helped me feel more relaxed. Like, fake happy? It let me think – there’s stuff that’s not fun, but I don’t have to pay attention to that right now, I can just be. But my dad found out. He was mad. He hit me. I hit him back, so he told me to get out. My mom was just standing there, crying? She didn’t say anything.”
“What did you do?”
“How old were you?”
He seemed to have to think about it.
“Where did you go?”
“My friend Pat’s house. He snuck me in a window but he didn’t want his parents to know so I left really early. I actually went to school, and then after, I hung around and I slept in a doorway. After a few days, I went back home, while my dad was at work. My mom said she’d talk to him.
For a couple of years it went like that, where sometimes he’d get mad and we’d fight and he’d tell me to go? I’d come back after a few days. Mostly I stayed around our neighbourhood, but my mom started looking for me, to bring me blankets and stuff, like it was a camping trip. So I started going further. One night, I’d been sleeping in a park when I saw these guys. They asked me for money and said they’d help me get high. I thought maybe they had pot, but they were shooting up. So I did, too.”
“What were you thinking?”
“I was thinking, whatever.
When I tried it, I felt happy. It was so weird. It was like déjà vu – like I’d felt this once before, but it had been so long that it was unfamiliar? Everything was beautiful. I could understand my dad, how disappointed and sad he was, why he drank, how hard it must be to have to deal with me, with everything. I could love him.
After that, I found other people to spend time with. I stopped going to school. I took money from my mom’s wallet.
One day I was desperate and my dad left his credit card on the computer table. I took it and made a cash withdrawal. He called the police.”
We sat with that for a moment.
“Maybe he was just trying to scare me, but I spent nine weeks in juvey. That’s not nothing. ”
He was no longer in the room. His quiet voice shook.
“Nine weeks is a lot of nights.”
Time passed, and I wondered if he was finished. He spoke again, barely-contained bitterness spiking his words.
“When they let me out, he was waiting. Like showing up could make up for what I just… I walked right by him. I hitched to the city, and called a guy who’d helped me survive inside for the first month, till he got out. He hooked me up, but there were…expectations?”
He ruminated, then offered, “Once you’ve done something, it’s easier the next time.”
“So, you lived with this guy?”
“With him? No. I lived in the ally, or sometimes in a warehouse if the weather was bad. He just gave me a dealer, ways to make money.”
“How long were you on the streets?”
“Too long.” He gathered more thoughts. “But really, after awhile, you hardly notice anything that’s not getting high.”
He looked down and away from me.
“Anyway, Bash started coming around and talking with some of us. He didn’t tell me what I should do, he asked me questions. I didn’t like it. His questions would stay with me, gnaw at me for days.
He told me about Timeless. He asked me to help build a set, but he said I had to be clean to walk through the doors. It took a long time before I was willing to think about that.
Bash helped me get on a waiting list, for treatment? When I came up, I deferred. Twice. They threatened to take me off the list.
I was pretty proud to be clean, after it was all done – that I got through it, physically, that I could walk into Timeless and know I had a place to be for awhile. I moved into the bunkers. It was safer than juvey, but I was always nervous. One day Trix saw what I was painting, and got a friend of hers to come and teach me more. Luca was here then, and I followed her around, saw how the lights and set go together, how the sound and lights need to mesh. She really took me on. She showed me the boards and some keyboard. John helped me learn guitar. After awhile, I asked if I could sleep in the workshop, and Trix said okay. ”
I sensed that this was not the end of the story.
“It went like that for, maybe, a year? Then Luca…left. I should have stepped up, I should have been here for them. It was a lot of pressure. I missed her. I was tired of everything sucking, of not being good enough.
When Trix found out I was using again, she kicked me out. I can still hear her: ‘You pollute your body, you pollute my music and this place. Come back when you’re clean.'”
His did a pretty good impression of Trix on her high horse.
Surprised, he shook his head as though I’d missed a rudimentary concept.
“Trix is straight-edge. Better learn that quick.”
“She was right. I was stupid. I fell right back into it, and I hid from Bash so I wouldn’t have to face him. Do you know what she said to me, when I finally came crying at the door, begging for money, for love, for a place to sleep? She knew I was still using. I was too desperate. She stood blocking the door. She leaned right into my ear and whispered, ‘The sooner you hit bottom, the sooner you can try again. You’re almost there.’ She poked my chest and pushed me, closed the door in my face and bolted the locks. Loud, so I could hear.” He sounded almost admiring.
I was shocked. So callous! How could anyone look at those hurt chocolate lab eyes, knowing what he’d been through, and turn him away?
He faced me then, for the first time in the story. He took my hand, and looked into my eyes.
“She changed my life when she said that. I’ve been home for awhile now. I don’t want to have to try again. I’m done with it. I have this place and what I make here with my own hands. I feel…lucky. Luca told me so many times: yesterday’s for learning, today’s for doing, tomorrow’s for dreaming.’
We sat looking at each other. I felt the intimacy between us as a tangible field, surrounding and connecting us. I trusted him completely. He leaned toward me, and whispered in my ear, “What do you dream about, Chrissy Christine?” I shivered.
Abruptly, he turned away from me, hunched over.
“Jamie, why do you do that? Hot and cold? It kind of freaks me out.”
He held his head in his hands.
“I know. I don’t know. Any way I explain it you’ll think I’m fucked up.”
That made me laugh a little. “I know you’re fucked up. I’d feel better if I understood HOW you’re fucked up so I wouldn’t keep being surprised by it.”
He didn’t say anything for what felt like a long time. Then, he started talking into his hands, so I had to lean in and listen carefully.
“For a long time I was angry with Jessie for dying, and when I got mad at him, that’s when he got mad at me. But when I was sad, he tried to comfort me, and sometimes, I imagined that he missed us and I needed to comfort him. Eventually, I couldn’t tell us apart anymore. Like I’m…both of us, living both of our lives at the same time.
Everything about me is like that – split up. Like, I feel angry a lot, but right away I start thinking about reasons why I’m wrong, and then I don’t know what to do with my anger because there’s nowhere to throw it. So, you.” He heaved a sigh. He turned to me, but then looked down at his lap while he spoke.
“I look at you and I want to take you to my bed and worship you head to toe, protect you from the big bad wolves. So I feel that, but right away I start thinking I’m nothing, I’m no one yet, and I have no where to put my feelings so I don’t know how to be around you. But then, you sit there, like it’s just what you expect and you’re waiting for me to get past it. Like I’m perfectly normal. So I forget to be careful with you.”
He seemed so earnest that I longed to reach out and kiss him with the tender first kiss of young teens, the one that feels like an end to loneliness. I so wanted to give him that heart’s yearning. But I knew in my core that there was no kindness in that gift. I didn’t move.
“You’re right, Jamie. There’s no bullshit between us. We know where we stand. We’re okay. It feels safe.”
A beat passed before he spoke.
“And you’re hot.” He devilish-grinned.
I whacked him with the pillow. He seemed okay with it.