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For the first time in nine months, Diego has been quiet and still all night.
My man is snoring away next to me. I usually sleep right through his snores,
but tonight they’re like jackhammers under my window. I keep elbowing him
to knock it off, but all he does is grunt and then continue even more loudly.
It must be nice to sleep so soundly. I can’t sleep at all. I keep panicking that
something is wrong with Diego because he’s so quiet and I keep running in
to make sure that he is still breathing. I’ve lost a lot of people in my life; I
can’t help but fear for my baby boy’s life. He’s the best thing to have ever
happened to me and in my experience, good things that happen to me
always get snatched away by fate’s cruel fingers.
It’s been a blessedly long time since I couldn’t sleep like this. Really it’s been
since the agonizing, grainy-eyed weeks in the NICU, watching Diego fight for
each fluttering breath through the walls of his hermetically sealed glass cage
that was ready to turn into a coffin at any moment. Since pregnancy, when I
couldn’t find a comfortable sleeping position with my gigantic stomach.
Since my meth days, when I would stay up weeks on end, a tornado flurrying
around doing nothing at all, just acting on a burning, relentless drive to not
sleep. Since I was a kid, staying up all night replaying the mean things my
classmates said to me and how I should have stuck up for myself but didn’t
because I had no voice and no spine.
Tonight gives me restless chills in my shoulders and a sickly tingle in the pit
of my stomach, as it reminds me of all those nights. Much of my life has
been spent not sleeping and tonight scares me that I might be returning to


that sickening pattern.
Maybe I’m getting depressed again. That could explain why I can’t sleep.
Tonight will make me depressed, if I’m not already, because so many
memories are wefting across one another in my restless loom of a mind.
Memories I don’t like to remember. Playing over and over and over in vivid,
rapid succession.
There is beauty to memory repression, but sometimes repression breaks
down and fails and all the ugliness spills out across the mind, a volcanic
eruption decimating a whole carefully planned and built city with its flow. At
least there are gems to be found among the ugliness, little bits of prettiness
to treasure. Not all of my life has been shitty.
But the underlying memory that stands paramount on my mind, pushing for
remembrance ahead of all others, is the terrible, regretful memory that I
spent many of my younger years, my better years, miserable in a chemicalinduced funk. It all became clear to me, how miserable I was, in a mandatory
mental hospital NA meeting when I was 21. The feeling of exposing myself
for the first time ever was bittersweet, bright and tender and blindingly
painful all at once.

Chapter One: Pauly Vega
“Hi, I’m Heather, and I’m an addict.”
I’ll never forget how overtaken I felt when I first uttered those words out loud
to a room full of virtual strangers.
I always, always, always felt awkward stating my name in front of other
people. It wasn’t that I disliked my name. I actually love being a Heather. But
stating my name out loud was always a surreal experience for me, an


outward projection of myself that seemed more like an introduction of a
stranger rather than myself, a stepping out of my own body and presenting
myself to strangers that felt like an invitation to strangers for an invasion
into who I was. Telling people that I was Heather just felt like I was telling
them a lie, for some reason. Not revealing the whole truth. A name is a
pathetic representation of yourself, because people are always so much
more complex than a single word can describe.
But now, on top of the surreal outward projection of myself as a being with a
name, I was also projecting another surreal concept: that I was a drug
I was in a circle of twenty people, looking dowdy in the green apple
shampoo-colored scrubs that were standard issue for the Crescent Hills
Psychiatric Facility. My hair was a lank sheet of underwhelming wan
greasiness that I wanted to duck my face behind. All eyes were on me. All
faces were blank, nonjudgmental, pretending to care while patiently
awaiting their turn to speak. And they all seemed so calm, so accepting of
my hideous appearance, so unfazed by my revelation of my inner dirtiness.
They had to be lying, had to be faking their calmness! People are never, ever
that accepting of tweakers! We’re the dark side of the moon, the refuse
rotting and festering with maggots underneath the newer trash in the
landfill. We lie, cheat, steal, and have sores on our gums and faces.
Except I didn’t have any sores. I was skinny, and I looked ugly in that
harsh linoleum and fluorescent atmosphere without makeup, but I was sure
that I didn’t look like a tweaker. Where was the surprise? Where was the


outrage? Where was the disbelief? Being called out as a phony would have
been a trillion times better than the calm acceptance my revelation was
actually met with.
At least I could have been bombarded with ugly disbelief. With a
withdrawal of kindness from my fellow mental hospital patients. But, no,
they just acted like they were not surprised, like they had known all along,
like it was no biggie.
Hurricanes were raging inside me and yet everyone else seemed to be in the
storm’s eye.
Something about speaking those words aloud really makes you consider that
maybe you do have a problem, that maybe “addict” is no longer a term for
“them” but now for “you.” That somehow, unexpectedly, you have become
one of those pieces of shit, without realizing how low you have fallen.
And that whole train of thought really throws you for a loop, especially when
explored for the first time.
At least, it did me. And this was not even my first time following that line of
thinking, either. I was by then an unfriendly acquaintance with the
dissociative moments where I would step outside of myself and shudder in
horror at what my life had dissolved into. But before I had always shoved
these moments aside, refusing to dwell in them. Now, I was forced to face
the thoughts head-on, to really revel in their full implication, to believe what
I didn’t want to believe for the first time to room stuffed with people.
The approving grin and nod of encouragement with which the NA facilitator
responded to my announcement was even more disconcerting than the lack
of shock in the room. It briefly felt as if being an addict was somehow OK.
And outside of Crescent Hills, it was never OK.
I thought I had been OK, just a little caught up in a habit that I was sure to


leave behind one day in the future. But now that recovery was presented as
an option, I wondered, When would that one day be?
For the past week I had been clean but not by my own choice. I actually felt
really well. Crescent Hills was more like a vacation than a hospital visit. Not
just a vacation from life, but from drugs. Once I got back out in the real
world, what was the likelihood of me keeping up this sobriety thing, when
drugs were all I had to live for anymore? Was I an addict for life? Was it OK
that I was?
I was only 21 but I had lost a lot of people to drugs. I had even OD’ed myself.
It had never occurred to me that I might end up like them, until that
moment. At that moment, I realized that they had probably never considered
themselves addicts either, not even when that final injection sent their souls
over the edge so quickly that their bodies couldn’t pull them back.
It seemed that being an addict was only OK in NA because it was assumed
that you identified your addiction as a problem, and you were determined to
recover. But was I ready for recovery? Could I ever recover? I had secretly
wanted to for years, yet never could. What could help me now? Was the
struggle even worth it, or just a hopeless cause? Did I really need to recover
from anything?
At that moment, I saw that I did. Before I died like all the rest, with a wasted
life in shambles around my corpse, my abandoned dreams and squandered
money written on invisible notes laid in a ring around me like my ex’s suicide
notes when he killed himself with a gram of meth and a gram of heroin
swirled together in the same needle.
The ball now passed on from me. Many of the people in the hospital with me
were in the throes of delirium tremens and spent their stay holding cold


paper cups to their temples while squinting at the History Channel, refusing
to break away from the TV’s hypnosis long enough to actually feel their own
pain. Now, in NA, they came out of their trance long enough to weave
rending tales of alcoholism, the horrific things they did for one more drink,
the losses they had gone through. Almost all of them had lost their families,
been abandoned to be the selfish pricks that alcohol made them be by
There was also a big Native guy who had come into the adult unit from the
intensive care unit the same day my dad had committed me. He had been a
gray shade of a guy for the first few days, his eyes haunting with the imprint
of recent trauma. The trauma had been the result of seven days of splitting
gut pain and sweats under lockdown after he had been caught with a gram
of heroin by the cops, he revealed in NA. “Miss Black is a real bitch,” he
laughed, but there was a nostalgic sadness tinging his tone.
At least I wasn’t that bad. I still had my family. I still worked. I still went out
and partied like a normal person my age. I looked down at my arms, and
there weren’t even bruises to indicate the existence of my love affair with
the needle. I had only fucked with black twice, and didn’t even want to try it
a third time. Meth was my thing. And it was hard to think of meth as a killer.
You don’t hear about deadly meth overdoses that often. I had survived my
own overdose without even going to the ER. I liked to think that I handled my
shit pretty well. After all, I wasn’t psychotic like tweakers are rumored to get,
and I wasn’t paranoid to the point of schizophrenia, and I held a job and was
a functioning member of society. The likelihood of death was so low. Why did


I need to go through this sobriety shit? NA almost felt like some kind of
government fuckery, intended to brainwash us into thinking we needed to
take on more pain than we already suffered in order to conform to the
masses. So what if I was an addict? It couldn’t hurt me too bad.
Then I thought of Pauly Vega. No, being an addict was bad. Very bad.
Finally, the mandatory Friday NA hour was up, and we were allowed to return
to the common room to play cards or watch TV. I tried to focus on the game
of Bullshit some of my fellow patients struck up, but I just couldn’t believe
how calm everybody else seemed. I was just so confused; I was a whole
different person than I had been an hour before, and I had just been through
a million ups and downs.
Crescent Hills’s NA really threw me for a loop.
The summer Pauly Vega died, I had just moved to Reid. I was 21 with long
blonde hair and a sun tan and a body that gleamed with racehorse
sleekness. But I didn’t feel beautiful at all. My eyes were so full of sadness
and exhaustion that most people couldn’t even look into them, and no one
seemed to notice how pretty the rest of me was. My bones stuck out at such
sharp angles that every person with even just a maternal speck in their souls
felt the need to pluck at my arms or my collarbone and mutter how I needed
to eat more. This old guy, Joseph, brought me a burrito or a Tupperware of
menudo or an enchilada plate nearly every day, trying to woo me on a date
to the casino with his wife’s cooking.
I was already swirling with snow globe flakes of memories, able to tell
more stories than many of the most gnarled and wizened residents at the
nursing home where I had used to work. Yet I now found myself a nobody,


toiling beside a raging hot pizza oven behind a gas station deli counter,
calling a weird town where even the tumbleweeds didn’t stop if they could
help it as my home. My appearance was flattened like roadkill by my red and
gray gas station polo, with its ugly little corporate logo on the upper righthand side of the chest distracting from the shape of my breasts and its
ornate Picasso decoration of marinara, mustard, ketchup, and crusty white
cinnamon roll icing.
To all the people who saw me behind that counter, I surely did not seem
like the kind of girl who contained a whole nebula of life lived and life still to
be lived within her. I did not look like the kind of girl who listened to
Japanese CDs over and over, while painstakingly tracing hiragana in a
workbook. I did not look like the kind of girl who wrote pages and pages of
poetry, fantasizing about the notebook paper and pen ink morphing into a
hardback novel on a Barnes & Noble shelf somewhere with a $29.99 price
sticker that people were glad to pay in order to drink in the beauty contained
inside the covers.
I looked like I had gotten my GED, dropped out of community college, and
was now just waiting for a boyfriend, a baby, and an entire lifetime spent
standing behind this same deli counter. I looked like my face would become
as faded as the grass under the beating New Mexico sun, and even the
sadness in my eyes would eventually soften to mere disappointment.
And I was beginning to wonder if I truly was the girl that I looked like, if I
truly would have the future that seemed likely for me. College girl, Brainiac,
Japanese enthusiast, 4.0 GPA, theater nerd, big dreamer – and this is what I


had amounted to.
People often asked me why I was in Reid. “Why on earth would an angelic
face like yours just be wasting away in this dust pit?” some gray-haired lady
passing through chided me one day. All the questions were reasonable.
People were bound to be curious why someone had moved to the place that
they had been trying to leave their whole lives, or else would never dream of
moving to as they they drove through on their way somewhere else, making
faces at the feral dogs pawing through the heaps of trash around the rotting
meth trailers.
But no one had any idea how hard that question was for me to answer. How
could I tell them the true story? Was I supposed to say that all this had
started with a teary phone call to my dad, begging him to come rescue me
from Andres’s bizarre cruelty, to allow me to come back to the little yellow
room in their house, to let me sleep on the mattress still in its plastic wrap on
the floor?
The summer of Pauly’s death was actually my second sojourn in Reid. My
first sojourn would not have been any easier to tell people about, since the
answer was: “I’m here because I’m pregnant and hiding from my baby
daddy.” But no one had ever asked me that hard question during my first
sojourn in Reid because I had only stayed three weeks or so before fleeing
into Andres’s arms back in Las Cruces.
This time around, though, the answer was, “I failed at the life I tried to build
out on my own. What I thought was love turned out to be hate, what I
thought would be my child for the rest of my life was a stillborn, what I
thought would be a great job for years to come fired me because I have a


drug problem and like to sleep in.” But these were things I did not like to talk
about, even with my journal.
So, I made up listener-friendly lies, instead. That worked well enough. Until I
started confusing the lies and getting called on it by locals who remembered
what I had previously told them. I thus discovered the need for a vague,
generic response to pass off automatically to everyone. And one day, the
town’s mechanic gave me the perfect one to use.
I was picking his exact change from the deep engine grease fishbowl of his
proffered palm when I asked him how he was doing and he responded,
How pure and simple.
From then on, I told people, “I’m just surviving,” whenever they inquired
what I was doing in Reid. That usually halted all further questioning, while
simultaneously sparing me the mental strain of making up Wonderbread
stories for everybody and then keeping them all straight. It also wasn’t a lie.
All anyone could do anywhere was survive, and this was how I was currently
surviving. I could’ve been surviving differently but I wasn’t, so what?
That brings me to another question I often got asked: “How you likin’ it here
so far?” Everyone asked me that with a little smirk, a hardening of their jaws
and eyes, inviting me to commiserate with them in their disdain for Reid.
They would feel weirded out if I spoke too positively about this town but
offended if I bitched too hard, so I found a middle ground by always giving a
generic half-laugh and saying, “Not much to do here, that’s for sure, but it’s
all right.” Or sometimes, with the older folks, I would say, “I like it here but I
could do without the heat!” Old locals always were always happy to bitch
about the heat.


I didn’t ever admit to anyone how scared I felt of this place, of dying here
having done nothing with my life except smoke meth and work at the gas
Reid was a pretty random town to wind up in. How my parents had chosen it
when they left Alto Pinon, is a mystery. Reid didn’t offer a single thing. I was
lucky to have found my gas station job. And the town wasn’t even a
manageable distance from a town that did offer anything. Might as well just
move to one of those towns rather than drive that distance every day, which
is actually what many of the town’s citizens did.
Reid teetered right on the brink of becoming a ghost town. And with all the
hatred the town natives felt for the place, I wondered why it was not one
already. Reid was one of those “No Nothing: Next 150 Miles” towns that
offered glorious toilet breaks and hot lamp food and leg stretches to the
travelers of the great yellow monotony. Some people traveling through
stayed at the motel lurking dourly behind the gas station; most just stopped
as briefly as they could before flooring it in desperation to escape the yellow
monotony stretching on for hours through the eastern edge of New Mexico.
“Land of enchantment” surely seemed like a lie to those poor people who
hadn’t yet experienced the rest of the state.
Very rarely, a tourist family or an old guy wearing a fancy camera around his
neck came for the damn Wild West farce. Downtown Reid was a welladvertised tourist trap built to resemble a John Wayne movie set. There was
even a boardwalk on either side of the street. The boardwalk was a cute idea
in theory, but in reality it got disgusting quickly with kids’ gum wads and bird
shit splatters and dust and bits of trash that the wind would entangle in the


boards’ knots and whorls. Plastic bags waved ghost arms begging for help
and shredded newspaper pages with their tidings sun bleached into
ineligibility drifted under tourists’ feet, ruining the pristine Old West feel that
the town council had been going for. The town council spent the bulk of its
days cleaning the downtown, so that the Wild West farce would look
somewhat believable. Their efforts didn’t seem to fool enough people to
stop, and certainly not to stay. No tourists felt like driving to the middle of
butt fuck nowhere where they can’t even get cell reception, just to drop a
bunch of money at a fake Wild West strip in a derelict meth village.
My parents had been the only ones who had thought that this place was
worth living in, and that’s only because Mom felt she could make some sort
of difference as a counselor at the nearby reservation school. And then,
somehow, my life had surmounted to me being there as well.
Constance Lucero was the closest human version of a troll I had ever
seen, and the gas station was her bridge. She prowled the aisles and kitchen
with eerie quiet as she performed her managerial duties of ruthlessly
berating employees, threatening to dock our pay, descending mercilessly
upon shoplifters, monitoring the merchandise for inventory, and stringently
rationing the deli ingredients we down to the last olive. She was efficient, if
nothing else. She was the sole reason that amazingly, year after year, the
Reid Stop’n’Pump remained open.
An aura of damp haunted the Troll Queen, arising from her brown oily
skin like swamp muck. Her mole resembling a dead fly stuck under her right
eye would quiver when she talked. Her tiny head balanced atop her Humpty


Dumpty figure, looking like at any moment it might topple off. She wore
alarmingly scarlet false nails, so long that when she whizzed them around in
anger, I always flinched in fear that she might take out one of my eyes.
She was all nice during our initial interview and even during my first
day, so I thought things might be cool. I had had so many shitty jobs, the
worst one being Wendy’s in college, that I was desperate to finally have a
positive experience, a manager who did not seem to secretly want me dead.
But the Troll Queen hated me from my second day on, often making me
wonder why she had even hired me in the first place. She became the bane
of my existence. The only thing that came remotely close to relieving the
hatred I felt for her, was imagining mean shit about her. It would have
floored her, had she ever found out what gleefully terrible thoughts ran
through my mind whenever I smiled at her or said, “Yes, ma’am.”
I’d make myself laugh out loud whenever I imagined how she was
personally responsible for the meticulous lack of flies and cockroaches in the
store; I pictured her sneaking around the store in stealth mode to snatch
bugs off the linoleum and out of the air for her lunch. At night, she would
post up by her front door with a cigarette, but I’d imagine that she was really
out there snacking on the millions of bugs attracted to her porch light,
zapping them off her wall with a frog tongue when no one was looking,
snapping crunchy beetles midair and then licking their guts off her greasy
finger like cake frosting. When she was dealing with customers, I’d imagine
her roaring and grunting at passersby crossing some stone bridge
somewhere in Scotland, her only appeasement being a few sweaty,


crumpled bills or maybe even a handful of linty change should she be in a
good mood that day.
All these mental images almost made her presence in the workplace
bearable for me. But just almost. I didn’t care for my co-workers, either. Most
of them were older, and actually friends with Constance. Pearce was an
absolute asshole to me who didn’t even say hi. There was a teenager who
worked mornings, Avril with the black-streamed hair, but she didn’t like to
acknowledge my existence over her phone. At least the patrons were pretty
cool. The locals always liked to come chat with me over the plastic splash
guard separating the deli from the rest of the store. There were these twin
long-haired girls, seniors in high school, who would always take a few
minutes out of their day to chat with me. And then there was this guy named
Vincey who would come in without a shirt on, all sweaty from doing yards for
people around town for pocket change. Vincey was like a slice of French silk
pie, dark as a Brazil nut and topped by shaved chocolate curls, He would
come in several times a day, order a sub, and joke around with me while I
made it. I could tell he kind of liked me and I kind of dug him. I wanted to get
to know him better.
But Pauly Vega was actually my very first friend in Reid, the first one to
invite me out of my shell at least.
Actually, I wouldn’t call him a friend. More like a friendly acquaintance.
At first I wanted nothing to do with him. He wore little gauges, probably
about a size 6, the kind that I like to refer to as “pussy gauges.” And he
didn’t have a job or even any hobbies, he just hung out at the gas station to
catch the free WiFi on his phone. “We could chill and smoke some bud,” he


always told me every day.
“Yeah, maybe,” I always said doubtfully. Then I would put it off or make
plans then cancel on him. He was annoying and immature and I just wanted
him to stop lounging by my prep station all damn day.
Then, one day, Pauly told me, “Just so you know,” he glanced around the
gas station, then leaned in close, “I do other drugs too.”
My heart started racing. Did he have something that I might want? “Like
what?” I asked.
“Like shit?” I whispered.
He grinned mysteriously, clearly proud that he was so hardcore, and
nodded. “My buddy? He’s coming by tonight. He’s bringing me some good
My mouth filled with saliva and I couldn’t say no.
After my shift, I was a little nervous about what Mom and Dad would say
since they had been such hardasses when I was in high school, but they were
all right with it. It was nice to finally be an adult in their eyes.
Pauly was waiting for me in the parking lot, smoking a cigarette. We
shared it as we trekked down a little tumbleweed alleyway to his casita
behind his grandparents’ house.
“That’s awesome, you got like a little house of your own,” I commented.
“Yeah, I can do pretty much whatever the fuck I want,” he told me. “Want
a beer?”
I nodded, and he handed me a Keystone from a little dorm fridge. It was
barely cold but I didn’t want to be rude so I just baby sipped it.
He flipped on the TV and kicked back on a little couch that had been
jerry-rigged out of the gutted backseat of an old truck.
“So where’s the shit?” I asked.
“Impatient much? Well, let me use your phone.”
“Oh, so you still gotta get it?” My heart died a little inside; waiting on
dealers could take days. And I could not stand lag, especially tonight. For


weeks I had been sober and I was craving so badly that my hands were
“Yeah.” Pauly noticed the look on my face and added, “Don’t worry, he
never takes too long.”
“I don’t feel like waiting at all,” I laughed.
“I could go by his house and see if he’s there,” Pauly suggested.
“You think he’s home?”
“Yeah, go check his house.”
“OK!” Pauly hopped up. “But, um, you gotta wait here?”
“Sure.” I loved how Pauly acted like I was new to the game. By the looks
of him, I guessed that he had not been using longer than a few months.
I waited forever in Pauly’s casita, my heart thumping, my hands shaking,
and my beer growing warm and sour between my sweaty palms. The ancient
TV was crackling and spitting out blips of Big Bang Theory but I couldn’t
focus on Sheldon’s know-it-all cracks and Leonard’s whininess.
I paced a little.
At one point I heard Pauly’s grampa come out into the yard and call for
Pauly for a while. I just crouched low on the couch so he wouldn’t see my
silhouette in the curtains until eventually he shambled back into the house.
Just as I was beginning to consider going home, Pauly stomped in with
some young geeky kid. “Hey,” I said, and the kid shook my head and glumly
introduced himself as Curt.
“Your grampa was calling you,” I told Pauly.
Pauly shrugged carelessly and removed a little torn edge of a plastic bag
wrapped around a few shards from his pocket. “The piece?” he asked Curt,
who passed him a little filthy pookie and muttered something about cleaning
it. Pauly held it to the light, squinted at the charred bowl, then shrugged and
started loading it.
I wanted to tell him to clean it for sure since I couldn’t stand the taste of


burnt dope, but I had already waited too long.
Pauly opened the bag too fast, spilling several shards into the oblivion of
the carpet. From experience, I knew that we could spend hours digging
through the monstrous chasms between the carpet fibers and never find a
single piece. “Ah, dude,” he gasped, standing there with his mouth open and
the bag poised to spill more.
“Here, let me get it,” I demanded, surprising myself with the tension in
my voice. I was a loaded spring.
It had been weeks since I had last smoked. I had helped myself to some
of Andres’s shit while he slept, just after finding his Facebook messages with
his fat ass ex. It had felt so nice not to share, to exhale massive white
plumes into the dank air of his little room without him watching me,
impatient for his turn. I remember taking my time, surprised at my eerie
sense of serenity. When I had finished the last little crumb that he had had, a
chattering fleet of bats swooped by his window and I realized how numb I
had gotten and a strange sense of contentment seized me right then: I’m
leaving and never coming back.
I filled the bowl, trying not to spill any, and I handed it to Curt to melt.
Tweaker Etiquette 101. But Curt also knew his etiquette and said, “Ladies
first,” with a slight trace of a smile.
The acrid taste of smoke hitting my tongue. The nearly invisible
sensation of it filling my lungs. The vapor cloud rolling out between my lips.
Sparks went off behind my eyelids when I shut my eyes as my exhalation
fogged the room.
“Damn,” Pauly said, he and Curt both watching me. I must have looked
like a dragon goddess.
I was instantly tingly and numb.


I smoked till the bowl was gone, then mumbled an excuse through my
thick tongue and bumbled out the door. My head was spinning on a tilt-owheel and I nearly fell over tumbleweeds several times on the path back to
my car, scraping up my calves left bare by my short shorts. When I
remembered to actually look around rather than just get lost in my swirling,
intense thoughts and hammering heart, the sky seemed all distant and faded
and it spun a little bit too. And the ground seemed to quake in the shadows.
I was relieved to at last reach my car and zoom home to while the night
away half completing beaded bracelets and writing down racing ideas and
researching random shit online and totally redecorating my room and
scouring my bathroom with bleach.
I recoiled from the sun, feeling like I was turning to ash as I lowered my
shades all the way. I felt a little sick to my stomach and my throat was so
parched that my tongue tasted like sandpaper. Thank God it was my night off
and I could just spend the whole day suffering my comedown in bed rather
than at work trying to take orders and stay balanced on my two feet.
Comedowns were the hardest for me. Every time, I vowed never to put
myself through that kind of hell again. Meth comedowns are not so much
physical as mental. They’re an utter lack of energy, of will to live, of seeing
any use in going on. The physical part of comedowns is usually because of
sheer exhaustion. Eye strain, muscle aches, sleep deprivation hallucinations.
I would see spots and colorful squiggles whenever I looked at the sky after a
night on one.
When I was first using, I used to see shadow people, evil demons darting
around my room, much like the ones that had tormented me as a kid.


Eventually that went away and the demons became mental ones. I actually
preferred seeing terrifying spirits play tag all over my room to the horrible
thoughts and revelations of my own shittiness that plagued me later in my
meth years. Instead of cowering in my bed scared of demons out to get me, I
would fill my journal with messages of self-hatred and hopelessness, followed
by resolutions to get through this day and then never use again.
But that day wasn’t so bad. The comedown never is when you first start
using or after a long break from getting high. I just didn’t miss the knots in
my back and the reeling dizziness of the day after.
Why, oh why, had I gotten high? Now I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay
away, and it was all over with.
The night of June 13th, Pauly invited me to some party, and that was the
night I first met Manuel.
I remember it like yesterday, shaking hands and introducing myself to
the six-foot-four giant in shiny metallic swishy basketball shorts. He flashed
the hugest grin I’d ever seen in my life, offered me a drink from his warm
forty, and told me I was hella cool and very welcome to Reid. He had a
freckle inside the dish of his dimple that I at first mistook for a chocolate
crumb. It took me a while to come to recognize it as a sort of landmark of
Manny’s face. It also prevented confusion with his brother, Maxwell, who
otherwise looked pretty much exactly like Manuel.
And then, I was shaking hands with Vincey, who was telling me that he was
Manuel’s older brother. “You look nice tonight,” he grinned and nodded at
me, before vanishing into the crowd.
I was all flattered that he thought I looked nice. Feeling beat from eight
hours on my feet dealing with bullshit at the gas station, I had considered


just showing up in my gas station polo dyed with splattered condiments and
pizza sauce, but now I was glad that I had bothered to don a sun dress and a
full face of makeup.
“I didn’t know Vincey was your brother?” I asked Manuel.
“Oh, cuz he’s black?” Manuel nodded pensively. “We had different dads.”
Pauly disappeared into a trailer next door and I was left alone in a house full
of people I didn’t know. I was nervous at first but I felt better as I drank beer
after beer, smoked an entire pack of cigarettes, and stuck by Manuel. People
gave Manuel shit about having a new girlfriend and he just grinned happily
and said that I was just a chill new home girl. I liked Manuel; he was nice. He
wasn’t half as sexy as his brother, and he had only one tattoo, so I spent the
whole night waiting to see Vincey again so I could get another nice dose of
eye candy. But Vincey never reappeared.
After a few hours, Pauly reappeared at my side with his friend, Serena.
“Ready to go?” he asked.
“No,” I said.
“Well me and Serena are leaving. We were wondering if you could give us a
So I ended up leaving, and spending the night at Pauly’s smoking with him
and Serena.
“How long have you been doing this?” Serena asked me as she packed a
bowl. We were all cross-legged on Pauly’s bedroom floor and the pale TV
glow made the picked scabs all over her face looked like zombie wounds
oozing dark pus down her pale, thin face. She was a fallen angel, I
thought, a weeping and weathered cherub statue from the streets of
“Three years now,” I replied.
“Oh.” She widened her dark, dark eyes in surprise. Now she was a


demon statue, a gargoyle come alive.
“A few months,” she replied.
“Wow.” I was shocked, because she looked so bad. She looked like the
meth had reached such a high level in her body that it was overflowing,
creeping and crawling out of her skin and eye sockets and gums with black
vacuity. I still looked like a non-addict after three years of nearly daily use.
But then something alarmed: It had been three years! Three years ago
since that first hit in the Las Cruces September stuffiness of Spaghetti’s
room. I had thought then that it was the first time and the last time. Yet,
here I was, smoking in the mid-June stuffiness of Pauly’s casita years later.
And some part of me weakly swore that this was this last time too, but by
now I knew that the promise of “This is the last time, for reals” was a lie to
myself and to everyone else that I told it to. So when would I stop?? Ever??
“So I can’t believe Vincey is Manuel’s brother,” I said to change the direction
of my thougts, as I exhaled a huge dragon cloud. The shit wasn’t very good
and even the huge plumes I exhaled barely affected me. Serena and Pauly
were strung out on the floor, already super high from the party. Pauly kept
sniffing like he had snorted something.
Serena snickered. “Cuz he’s black?”
“No,” I said, “I’ve just seen him around town….”
“Vincey’s mom cheated on one of her old boyfriends with his uncle. His
uncle was black,” Pauly said.
“Yeah, Troy was like the only black dude that has ever lived here,” Serena
‘The only one that ever made it,” Pauly said.
“He was pretty cool, though.” And Serena went into details about how he
had been kind to her and her mom when they were homeless several years.
“Yeah, I wonder where he’s at now?” Pauly said.
“I heard he’s in Albuquerque now, with some really young chick,” Serena


“Your mom?” Pauly asked.
Serena hit him. “Shut the fuck up Pauly.”
They spent the rest of the night gossiping about people I didn’t even know. I
just lay on Pauly’s bed, writing stuff in a notepad on my phone, utterly bored
and sore and aching to get properly high.
When I stumbled home the next morning, needing a shower and a nap
before work, Mom greeted me with yelling. “Where the hell were you?”
“I – I was at a party. I asked you guys. Dad said I could go.”
“We didn’t think you would be out all night!”
“Well you didn’t give me a curfew –“
“Oh!” She always shouted that at me with such disgust that it made me want
to die. That “oh!” is one of my worst memories and it surfaces often
whenever I think back on my childhood. “I don’t know what you were up to,
but you’re just – you’re just disgusting!” She stormed away. A few moments
later, she stomped up the bathroom door while I was disrobing for a shower
and shouted through the wood about how I needed to get my priorities in line
and stop being such a wild partier.
Everybody should have guessed that I would grow up to be a partier, after
how I was as a kid. When I was two or three, I had downed my dad’s Crown
and Coke just sitting unattended on the counter while he was in the
bathroom. Though it is hard to distinguish just what is your very first
memory, I am fairly sure that that memory was one of them. I remember
watching my white foamy vomit fill the seat of a chair in front of me while my
mom ferociously spanked my bare butt. And something about a Bud Lite can
floats in my murkiest memories as well.
Then there was the whole fiasco of my middle school days, spent in a sweaty
treehouse in Washington, tipping back beer and puffing cigarettes with a


ninth-grader whose facial stubble scratched my skin red so frighteningly. I
didn’t get spanked over that by Mom; the punishment was far, far worse.
So now, with Mom so shocked that I had stayed out all night, I wondered how
they hadn’t foreseen this.
As soon as I was out of the shower, I got a text from the morning girl, Avril,
begging me to “please please please” come in two hours early so she could
get to a doctor’s appointment up in Roswell. I debated a long time between a
nap and going in early, and eventually I decided that I probably wouldn’t
sleep at all and would just feel like shit if I tried, so I said sure.
The Troll Queen was lurking over the time stamp machine, just waiting to
accost me. “We need to talk,” she told me sternly, her voice all rusky from
I was sure that it was about something stupid, something like me putting too
many olives on the hot box pizzas. Constance was really strict about
portions, especially with the olives. “OK,” I said as I started to clock in.
“Don’t clock in yet,” she said, very meaningfully.
I was suddenly scared. Imagining the Troll Queen feasting on bugs wasn’t
enough to quell my fear now that she was about to snip off my livelihood
with her long, bony fingers.
I was too high for this.
“OK.” I was trepid as I followed her to the back, through the ominous
black “Employees Only” door across from the restrooms.
As a kid, I had always been so intrigued by “Employees Only” doors,
imagining that they were gateways to top secret CIA conference rooms full
of radar screens and missile launch buttons and phones with direct lines to
the president. One of the sucky parts of adulthood was my discovery that
really those doors are just gateways to boring, cluttered offices where you


get humiliating lectures from the boss, and that they really guard nothing
more secretive than how many cigarettes and Blow Pop Rings needed to get
ordered each week.
I perched awkwardly on top of a case of Dasani, unsure what to do with my
hands, while Constance swiveled in her chair to face me and began to rub
her chin with the capped nib of a pen. “The reason I brought you back here,
Heather, is because there’s been a lot of complaints.”
“A lot?”
“A lot.” There was something gleeful, triumphant even, in her eyes.
“About my cooking?”
“About your cooking.”
I was floored. “Like what? What’s wrong with my cooking?”
“Cold food, and cold pizza. There’s no reason for things in the hot box to
ever be cold. They’re under heat lamp, for Christ’s sake. If things are getting
cold in there, that means you aren’t changing them out every four hours like
you were told to.”
“But I do,” I protested. “I think there’s something wrong with the lamps.”
“Avril and Christy don’t have any problems with the lamps in the mornings.”
“I don’t know what’s wrong with them but I do change out the food every
four hours, I swear. Check the cameras.”
She rolled her eyes. “I’m not checking cameras. Change the food out faster,
then. Do it every three hours.”
“OK.” Great. Twice as much work now. I already had enough trouble keeping
the hot box full while also making subs and pizza orders during the evening
“Another thing. You told Bev Zamora last night that it would take over an
hour to make her pizza?”
“I had five orders ahead of her and the top oven is broken so, yeah, it
would’ve taken an hour. But she canceled the order and hung up.”
“Right. Well you are right about the oven.” She sighed heavily and scribble a
note onto a pad. “I’ll have to get that fixed. But, seriously, don’t tell people


it’ll take an hour. C’mon, Heather. You want people to keep ordering food
here? Just say it’ll take the usual twenty minutes and then make them wait.
Get their money before you tell them how long it’ll be.”
“And another thing. Your texting is getting out of line. I have had numerous
complaints that you’re just standing around texting and people have
toyou’re your attention to place orders.”
“I don’t text any more than Avril –“
“Whatever, I don’t get complaints about Avril.”
This was bullshit. I hardly ever texted. I had nobody to text.
“I’ll take everybody’s phones away if this is going to be an issue,” she went
“It won’t be,” I mumbled.
“Good. And another thing. Your portions are huge. Huge. I’ve never had to
put in such high orders for olives before….”
The lecture went on and on and on. I tuned out. Focused on the pockmarks
in the wall panels instead.
But then the troll queen shared a little barb that pierced my confidence
completely: “I get people calling and asking who’s cooking, and if I say you,
they won’t order, they just hang up. I’ve never had that happen before with
any other cook. There are literally people in this town who refuse to eat your
I had always thought my cooking was excellent. Red had even been through
two semesters of cooking school and he applauded my cooking as the best
he had ever tasted.
“You have the easiest job in the world right now. You are just cooking frozen
stuff. I don’t know how you can possibly screw it up.” She threw her hands
up. “I don’t want to fire you, but I need to see some drastic improvements
this week.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I addressed the floor, feeling humiliatingly schooled.


“You may clock in now.” She swiveled back around to her computer.
A customer was already waiting for me when I got behind the deli
counter. I tried to suppress my eye rolls as I stretched on vinyl gloves and
jotted down her order. “You’re too pretty to be somewhere like here,” she
commented as I began to assemble the components for her turkey sub on
the knife-scarred cutting board.
“Thanks,” I said.
Too pretty to be here. Ha. Too dumb apparently, too, if I couldn’t even cook
frozen food right.
I spent the rest of my shift making sure temperature and timer knobs were
adjusted exactly according to the guidelines on the laminated sheets on the
walls, measuring out pizza toppings with cups, and making sure that the
frozen rounds of cookie and pizza dough proofed for the exact specified
times before baking. And I looked at each customer, wondering if he or she
was belonged to the crowd that apparently wouldn’t order food when I was
cooking. It really sucked.
I was so relieved when Curt came by to smoke a joint behind the station, and
almost happy when Vincey stopped in to get his usual sub and let me feed
him a fresh-baked double chocolate cookie that was still gooey from the
oven. As he told me I was one badass little cook and he didn’t get how
anyone could not love my cooking, I wondered if he was just telling me what
I wanted to hear. Men were great at that. Maybe every man who had praised
my cooking was just saying what I wanted to hear, even Red.
Red was a fantastic liar, that was for sure. He was an artist about it, as
creative and detailed in his deception as in his tattoos and vaginal rose glass
etchings. And Vincey was so much like him. Vincey even had a dramatically


fanged viper tattoo coiling around his wrist, much like the one that coiled
around Red’s elbow to hide his track marks.
Still, when Vincey told me that he would see me later, I felt thrilled. And I
wondered why I was thrilled. My life seemed to travel in loops, things
repeating themselves over and over.
Right in front of the gas station was an intersection of two major highways
going opposite cardinal directions. Literally one could throw dice about which
direction to take out of here and transform their whole fate. So why was I
stuck here? There was nothing really stopping me from putting my paycheck
into my fuel tank and taking off any direction away from here. I could get
lost and that woud be OK because really I was lost now, even though I knew
exactly where I was on a map.
Once a black couple that reeked of McDonald’s and Bounce fabric softener
came in to order pizza and chicken wings. While I was laying the pepperoni
on their pizza, the guy asked me, quite seriously, what state they were in
and which state they would reach if they kept heading in east. “Would east
get us to Texas?” the woman drawled, pawing some direction in between
west and north with her ring-laden hand.
Of course I thought they were idiots, but I also half wished I was them, just
out in the world with no clue where I was or where I was going. Maybe then I
wouldn’t feel so stuck in this little, dusty hellhole, failing at “the easiest job
in the world.”
Pearce came in at 2:30. Twice a week he was scheduled half an hour
late, which was corporate’s creative way around buying us health insurance
by keeping our hours just shy of forty. Their little loophole with my hours was
having me come in at three every Wednesday and two every other day.


I had never really been able to picture what authors meant by
“hawkish” until I met Pearce. He had a cruelly sharp Spanish nose topped by
beady, focused dark eyes and underscored by a tight frown that hid nearly
all the pink of his lips. Maybe once or twice I saw him smile when he was
joking around with the older Spanish guys, but usually even when he
laughed he didn’t relax the frown in either his lips or the crags on his
forehead. After he and I shared a few shifts where I unsuccessfully tried to
win him over by being sweet, I avoided him, hiding in the bowels of the
kitchen, fearing that maybe he saw the real me, that fuck-up that only a
handful of others seemed able to see. I got so nervous about going outside
for my cigarette breaks because he would glare at me so hatefully. He also
glared whenever Pauly came by to hang on the splash guard and chitchat
with me.
Now, the way Pearce watched me throughout the whole shift from his
perch behind the register made me think that maybe he was spying on me
for Constance. I half-suspected that he and Constance had a thing. He was
always kissing her ass and she was always shooting him smiles that she
never shot me. Maybe that would explain why Pearce’s wife, Cindy, came by
or called at least twice a shift. His wife was a little Spanish woman, with a
few threads of silver in her braid and enough turquoise jewelry to fund the
entire reservation for a year. Why Pearce would cheat on her with someone
as repulsive as Constance Lucero was inexplicable to me.
The shifts with Pearce always drug on twice as long as normal. I
watched the clock, praying for ten to hurry up. I had to keep sneaking back


into the freezer where he couldn’t spy on me whenever I wanted to check
Facebook, and I was sweating in nervousness that he would be able to tell
that I was stoned when I came inside from smoking that joint with Curt.
I was so relieved when Pauly came in at nine thirty and said he’d wait
for me because he wanted me to come over after my shift. “I got a lot of
cash. Enough for an eight-ball,” he whispered.
Time sped up with something to look forward to, even though Pauly
made me nervous with how he stared at me while I did the evening cleanup. I really didn’t look forward to another night chilling with him. He
attempted to help me carry out the bursting trash bags to the dumpsters,
and Pearce shouted at him that that was my job, he didn’t work here, there
would be none of that.
Just a minute before closing, Manuel lumbered in, and asked me if I
wanted to come over and smoke some good ass chronic he had just picked
up. I was tempted, because I sure liked chilling with Manny, but Pauly cut in,
“She can’t, dude, she’s coming over to kick it with me.”
“Oh.” Manuel looked hurt. “Are you two…?”
“No,” I said.
“Not yet,” Pauly said.
Pearce flipped off the open sign, and told me that I was free to go. I
clocked out and he gruffly wished me a good night as I headed out the door
with Manuel and Pauly.
“Can I come over and kick it with you guys? I’ll smoke you guys out,”
Manuel offered.
“We ain’t smoking that tonight,” Pauly said rudely. “We’ll kick it
tomorrow or something, all right?”
“’Ight.” Manuel lifted a sad hand in farewell before heading the other
“Why didn’t you let him come kick it?” I reproached Pauly.


“He’s a fucking pussy. He doesn’t do that shit. We need to take your
“Over to Vincey’s place.”
“Where’s that?”
“The trailer next to Manuel’s that Serena and me were partying in last
“OK but I can’t stay long,” I told Pauly.
“I know,” he said.
“God, Pearce is such a hard-ass. I hated working with him,” I said as
we started driving.
“He’s just a dick. You know that his wife got all wasted and beat him
with a bottle of Jack Daniels?”
I laughed. “Nice.”
“She’s a crazy bitch.”
I wondered if she was truly crazy. Everyone had thought I was crazy for
wielding a kitchen knife on Andres when he tried to punish me for smoking
all his meth and then leaving him, but at the time I had truly felt that that
knife had been my only hope at escaping alive. No one could believe the
cruelty that hid behind Andres’s eyes, only shining through when he was
alone with me, sure that no one would catch him being evil to me. Brown
eyes are the hardest to read, and Pearce’s were eerie, shiny, hard brown
discs that absorbed all light and emitted none, like black holes in his face.
Did his wife fly at him with a Jack Daniels bottle just to try to shake off his
evil hold?
“And his son, Mason? He came out last year. They were sending him
loads of money to go to school and he was spending it all on drugs and DJing
at some gay club in El Paso.”
“Yup. It sure pissed Pearce off. He and Cindy won’t even talk to Mason


now. And Mason changed his name to DJ Mace on Facebook.”
“Do you think he fucks Constance Lucero on the side?” I asked.
Pauly shrugged. “Who would?”
“I know, right,” I laughed.
“Man, I’m gonna start selling now! A whole eight-ball. I’ll get rich!”
Pauly avidly boasted about his plan to become the next huge dealer in Reid.
I estimated that he would blow through the eight-ball that night. I also was
pretty sure that Vincey would rip him off with less than three and a half
grams. Pauly wouldn’t be smart enough to measure it out.
We reached Vincey’s trailer and Pauly had me park in the deep
shadows on the side away from the Rodriguez trailer. Pauly made me wait. I
turned up the stereo and reclined my seat, closed my eyes, and prepared for
a long wait. I wasn’t so desperate to get high tonight that I couldn’t handle
waiting, but my legs did quiver in impatience.
Someone rapped on my window, scaring the hell out of me. It was
Vincey. I rolled my window down. “Pauly got you waiting out here like a
bitch?” he said.
“Yup,” I said.
“Come on in.”
Several people were chilling smoking in his trailer. Vincey introduced
me and some tweaker cowboy with a black cowboy hat pulled low over his
eyebrows passed me the pookie.
Some massive Mexican chick who was counting Pauly’s money at the
table just sneered at me when I said hi. Her tank top was like a pink cheetah
sausage casing squeezing all her fat rolls. She was craning her neck to show
off her purple disaster of hickies while she tossed bills into neat piles of
ones, tens, and twenties with her pointy scarlet talons.
“Where the fuck did you get all this money, Paulito?” she laughed at


“I earned it working for James Paul doing plumbing stuff,” Pauly said
“You haven’t been working for James Paul. He’d never hire you back
after you fucked around on all his jobs last summer,” Vincey snorted.
“You better not have robbed Gramma, you little shit.”
“Fuck you.”
“It’s all here, babe,” the chick told Vincey, gathering the cash into a
wad and handing it to him.
Vincey kissed her on the cheek and tucked the cash into his belt. I
wanted to cinch that belt off. I couldn’t believe that the obese bitch was his
woman. He could do so much better.
“It’s all cool?” Pauly asked.
“Yeah. Heather, wanna give me a ride?” Vincey asked me.
The fat chick looked incensed. “Why the fuck are you rolling with her?
I’ll take you.”
“Your truck is as loud as a fucking bomb. We can’t cruise over there in
that thing. Heather’s got a quiet little car.”
“That truck isn’t too noisy. Jim never minded it before –“
Vincey cut her off with a furious look, probably because she had just
openly named their connect. “Just stay and watch the house, damn, Mel.”
“Um. I could give you both a ride I guess,” I piped up.
Mel looked me up and down witheringly, then sneered when she saw
the pizza sauce explosions across the front of my polo. “Have fun,” she spat
at Vincey nastily, then began gathering up her purse.
“Dammit, Mel,” Vincey sighed.
“Whatever, I gotta go get my kids from my mom’s anyway. “Latah,
losers!” She shot peace signs to everyone smoking in the living room and
slammed the screen door behind her.
“Is she really that pissed that you’re riding with me?” I asked Vincey as
we headed to my car.
Vincey shrugged carelessly. “She’s just a bitch. It’s just right down the
street.” He directed me down the street to a little adobe shack.


I was surprised how fast he came back out. “Got it?” I asked.
Pauly begged me to take him back to his house as soon as Vincey
tossed him the sack. It actually looked like a decent eight-ball sack.
We went back to Pauly’s and Curt was waiting for us, watching TV and
sipping from a 2-liter of orange soda. Curt demanded that he get to load the
bowl and he put in a good little half gram of glass shards. We smoked it and
Curt loaded another round.
“Could I get just a little crumb to shoot?” I asked, my veins fiending for
their familiar needle jab followed by the familiar sweet flush of hot pleasure. I
hadn’t shot in a good month or more.
Pauly looked at me funny, then agreed. He watched me shoot so
intently that it made me nervous and I missed. I lied about it and claimed
that I had hit expertly while I rubbed the site, trying to dissipate the ball of
angry tissue and drug knotted up in there.
“Think you could do it on me?” Pauly ventured.
“No. You don’t wanna start this shit.” I meant it, too, even though it
always excited me to get the opportunity to shoot someone up and lead
them into a mystical realm of pleasure unlike any experienced previously.
“Ive already done it before. This guy at college, he was my roommate
actually, he used to shoot me. Just a little though. God, I haven’t done it in a
“Are you sure?” I inspected the site inside his elbow where he claimed
the guy would always hit him, and saw no marks or scars. Well, my arms had
no marks or scars either.
“I really want to feel that rush again. It was amazing. I want to feel
what you’re feeling.” He grinned at me through lowered eyelashes, trying to
be coy I guess.
Curt hopped up. “Well, I’m out, homie.” I could tell he was freaked out


by what we were doing.
“Laters,” we said.
I really wasn’t feeling anything but pain in my wrist where I had
missed; the rush was missed and I was pissed. Damn Pauly. But I had a
second fresh needle and I knew that if I hit Pauly, I would have an excuse to
do another shot, so I agreed. I hit Pauly perfectly. No mark or anything. But
he had to be a cry baby and nurse his arm saying that it hurt.
“I didn’t miss,” I told him.
“But it aches!”
“Sometimes that happens.”
“It never did when my homie used to hit me.”
I rolled my eyes and prepared to do my next shot.
The rush hit Pauly harder than he had imagined. He crumpled back on
his jerry-rigged couch, squeezing his knees into his chest and rocking back
and forth. “Oh, oh yeah.”
I was able to hit this time, while Pauly rolled around in ecstasy. But just
as I was halfway done with the shot, he hit me with his foot. The needle
swerved under my skin, piercing its way out of the vein and creating another
knot under my skin. “Dammit, dude,” I hissed.
“Sorry but I can’t hold still,” he murmured.
I took the needle out and did it over again. But the rush was already
hitting me. I finished the last little bloody bit of stuff in the needle and fell
onto the couch beside Pauly.
Pauly propped his head on my shoulder. “I stole this money from my
gramma.” He started giggling like it was the most comical crime in the world.
“I took it right out of his safe. I watched him do the combination last night
and I got that shit memorized and now this is the best night of my life!”
I couldn’t believe Pauly. I had never dipped to the lows of stealing
money from family for drugs; that was one of the reasons that I felt that I
honestly wasn’t a bad tweaker. “He’ll probably know it’s you when he finds


it’s gone,” I said.
“Don’t worry, I left a ransom note.”
“A ransom note?”
“Yeah, you know, where you hold somebody for a certain amount of
“I know what it is. I wanna know what the fuck you were thinking.
They’re going to be able to tell it was your handwriting. They have experts
for that shit, you know.”
Pauly stared at me for a moment, then started laughing. “They have
experts for that shit! Ha ha!”
“They fucking do. You’re dumb.”
“I’ll slap the piss outta you,” Pauly said.
Just then, Serena and her best friend Leslie arrived. Then another
scrawny high school kid showed up. I wanted to enjoy my rush so I dipped
out. “Text me!” Pauly called and I said I would but I didn’t plan on it.
I forgot all about Pauly’s bloody needle that had rolled down into the
crease of the cushions.
I stayed up another night, whirling all over the place like a tornado, my
tongue getting cracks in it from dehydration. I stank like cat pee the morning
and scrubbed myself raw in the shower. I wondered at how Andres and I
used to go weeks without showering when we were holed up together using
in his room. We must have stank! But somehow you tend to forget even the
fundamentals of basic hygiene when you’re high for weeks on end.
I vowed to my blurry face in the steamed mirror that I would never get
that way again. Last night was the last time. For reals this time.
To strengthen my resolve, I wiped off the mirror and redrew the
smeared lipstick lines from my age-old mantra: “Each day is a chance to do
better than you did yesterday.”
I had nothing to look forward for the rest of that day except working


with Pearce’s ass till ten. By now I had been up for two days but I was still
high from last night so I was OK. I had a feeling that the comedown would hit
toward the end of my shift, though.
Just when I had clocked in and started my daily prep, Manuel dashed
in. his mouth agape and eyes looking like peeled grapes ready to pop out of
his sockets. “Little Pauly died last night,” he gasped out, as he leaned
against the splashguard.
“Pauly Vega?” I demanded.
He nodded. He was struggling to breathe. “He had a heart attack and
went into convulsions and shit. He even bit off his tongue. They think it was
an overdose.”
I went ice cold. I tried to process all the events last night, all the ways
he had looked and acted. There had been absolutely no preeminent hint that
he was going to pass away within hours. Had he….Oh, no, I had left the
needle. He must have shot more. He must have kept smoking and smoking
and smoking with all the people that had come over. Probably somebody had
busted out a mirror and they had been doing hot rails, just burning up every
bit of that eight-ball.
“So what the hell happened?” I asked as Manuel gulped down a bottle
of water. His pumpkin face now looked more like a tomato with its redness.
“He was getting high, I guess. Being a dumbass and shooting it up.
Guess he started convulsing all over the floor. Serena and Leslie didn’t know
what to do so they ran and called for his grampa and his grampa went in and
he was dead already. The paramedics couldn’t get him to breathe. There was
blood and stuff everywhere.”
I crumpled against the counter, the edge a blade into my abdomen. I
had felt the wind knocked out of me like this once before, when Red’s best


friend called me and asked if I was sitting down and I kept standing and
demanded him to tell me what was going on. “Red passed away last
night….” I had fainted onto the floor then.
Since that day, I had hoped to never feel that way again. This was
nothing compared to the horror I had felt then, but it was still a horrifying
sense of physical liquidity and earth instability. And as my memories came
into focus, I got chills when I realized that cops were going to want to know
where he had gotten the needle from. And the meth. And someone was sure
to point out that I had been hanging out with him last night.
Panic began to liquefy my limbs. My meth use coming to light for my
parents was like the end-all in my mind. They already thought I was a failure
and a bad person; if they also knew that I tweaked sometimes, they were
probably disown me forever. And I couldn’t handle being disowned again. My
parents were the only people who actually loved me, without a doubt, as
much as they disliked me.
“Oh, God, I think the police will want to talk to me,” I whispered.
“You think?” Manuel said.
“I was with Pauly for a little while last night.”
“But you weren’t there when he died, right? So you’re fine.”
The closer to ten the clock drew, the more sick I felt to my stomach.
But the cops never came in, never called my cell. It occurred to me that
maybe they had called my home phone and gotten my parents, who were
both home because it was Sunday. If that had happened, they surely would
have called me. Right?
By the time I got off, I was shaking violently. My accelerator leg was
like jelly and I couldn’t drive right. I looked at the crisscross of the two major
highways cutting through Reid, and I desperately wanted to head down one


of those roads. Get far away from here. I had felt that way so many times on
my way home, ever since junior high. One should never be so afraid of going
home, I thought.
I wondered what had happened to all of Pauly’s eight-ball. Surely it
was all gone by now. But I was on a bad comedown and the idea of
searching for remains crossed my mind.
But I just pressed onward, up the hill to my parents’ little yellow house.
Mom and Dad were in bed. No notes on the counter about being in
trouble or about the cops calling for me. They only brought it up days later,
about how horrible it all was, and they didn’t even ask me if I knew him. As if
they assumed I couldn’t possibly have been in with a drug addict like him. It
was relieving that they didn’t think that lowly of me. Maybe they believed
that I had cleaned up my act finally.
In the dark, safe cocoon of my sheets, I was at last able to give in to
the tears welling up inside me. This was the second time someone near me
had died from the pastime that I shared with them. I was now starkly and
terrifyingly reminded me of my own close walk with the Grim Reaper. Each
time I injected this shit into my arm, my odds of living to be 80 and normal
dwindled by another huge percent. I was not likely to make it long, or to be
healthy and sane.
Addicts, especially of the IV variety like me, walk in tandem with those
suffering terminal cancer or on life support after a traumatic car wreck, just
a few paces farther ahead than most people in the march toward death.
Except that we choose to be that close to death; it is like a coward’s suicide,
intentional yet unintentional. Our existences are permeated with danger,
and with death. We are surrounded by it at all times, facing it every day,


crouching in constant terror of overdose, violent crime, withdrawal, betrayal
by rats and narcs, incarceration, raids, police brutality, family disownment,
alienation by society, termination at work or school, border patrol agents
and their K9 units, getting burned on our last twenty bucks by crooked
dealers, having our stashes pinched by our friends, getting jacked by the
people that come into our homes, catching AIDS or some other horrid
infection, getting raped by a dealer met in some vacant alley or out-of-theway parking lot, and a host of other terrible possibilities. And even if you
manage to achieve sobriety, you are eternally stuck with the habit of
cringing at the sight of cop cars and surveying friends mistrustfully as they
check out your belongings when they come over. And you never get over
feeling like you are dirty, tainted, a remnant of society’s refuge who is
especially vulnerable and close to death.
What the hell was wrong with me? Why did I do this shit? Why couldn’t
I stop?
Last night I had promised myself that I would never use again. Yet
today I was craving so badly that I knew that I would probably break down
and use again.
For the next week, I was the most stellar employee that the deli had
ever seen. Work was the only place where I had purpose so I threw myself
into it with a gusto that I had never before felt. Was it just me, or did Pearce
stare at me even more cruelly now?
Pauly’s funeral was the weekend after his death. Despite Manuel’s
persistence in getting me to go, I just spent the entire day in bed, right up
until five minutes before my shift. I wanted to sleep through my shift too, but


I had sworn I would never do that again after I had lost my wonderful nursing
home job that way. I just couldn’t bring myself to go to another funeral. The
tearful music, the eulogies made by people who have forgotten how much
they hated the deceased, the heaviness of cemetery ghosts pressing around
the black-clad mourners. In the past four years, I had buried my aunt Pearl,
my daughter Lily, and my ex Red. I couldn’t also bury some kid that I had
more or less murdered.
I was able to distract myself from the death all around me by focusing
on counting out olives one by one and slicing veggies into perfect spears
and cubes, until Serena came up to the deli counter with her poor, scabbed
face all red from tears.
“Why didn’t you come to the service?” she reproached me.
“I – I had to work.”
Serena hit the splashguard with her fist. “Nobody fucking cared about
Pauly. And now his whole family blames me! Like it wasn’t even my shit. And
I don’t know where the fuck he got that needle….”
I prayed that Curt would never tell anybody.
A withered alligator juniper of a woman entered the store. “Shit,”
Serena ducked her face behind her hair, “that’s Pauly’s gramma. I have to
Pauly’s gramma had already spotted us, however, and descended on
us like a rain of hellfire.
“I just want you to know,” she declared in a high, trembling voice that
filled the whole store, “I hold you two and that Leslie Sneider girl personally
responsible for my grandson’s death!”
A customer surveying a bag of spicy Cheetos looked at us with his
mouth open, put the bag back, and moved behind the candy rack to listen.
“My Paul was a good boy until you creeps corrupted him! He had


straight A’s in school, straight A’s! Then you degenerates ruined his life!”
She raised a shaky index finger and pointed it right at me, then turned it on
Serena, who looked ghastly pale. “But you two will get what is coming to
you. Oh yes. I have prayed and the Good Lord has promised me that the all
of you will go straight to Hell!”
Serena cried out and fled from the store. Pauly’s gramma fixed with
me a final damning glare before leaving herself.
And I just stood there trembling, while Pearce glared at me from
behind the register. My heart was pounding but it wasn’t from fear of going
to Hell. Oh, Pauly’s gramma, don’t you know that I am already in Hell?

Chapter Two: I Am the Grim Reaper
By 21, I had lost a lot of people. Sometimes even now, I blame myself. I
seemed to dole out death to those around me. It became frightening for me
to even speak sometimes, out of fear that I might be bringing about the end
of yet another person that I knew. Probably the worst part of the grieving
process is the guilt, the realization that maybe if you had done more or acted
differently, the deceased would still be walking this earth. I know that it
wasn’t my fault that Lily died, but I still often think that that was true with
I had already left Red and was crashing my friend Audrey’s couch,
trying to sleep through her and her boyfriend having wild sex and slapping
each other around every night. I was subsisting on ramen and spoonfuls of
peanut butter and the occasional tamale, so I didn’t get why I kept gaining
weight. My belly was swelling bigger and bigger every day. I researched


tumors online but my belly wasn’t misshapen like the pictures of stomach
tumors that I found.
And then one day Audrey told me, “You look pregnant.”
And I looked down at my swelling stomach and realized that I hadn’t
had a period in six weeks.
“Get a pregnancy test. They’re at the dollar store,” Audrey suggested.
Sure enough, two lines appeared on the little pink plastic stick. I peed
on four more, praying each time for just one line, but the result was always
two. Always. I flung the last pregnancy test against the wall and buried my
head in my arms on the bathroom sink.
This couldn’t be happening, could it? False positives happened a lot,
right? The web said no, false negatives could happen but not really false
positives, but the only way to know for sure was to go to the doctor.
So I went to the pregnancy help center first thing the next morning.
“There must be some mistake,” I muttered when my test was as positive as
an HIV patient.
“Our tests are very accurate,” the counselor beamed at me. Then she
handed me a packet of pregnancy literature and offered help in finding a
good OB. “Or, alternatively, we could refer you to…other options.”
“Do you have Medicaid?”
“This can’t be right. I can’t be pregnant. No, not now.”
She sighed understandingly, then said that on Monday their ultrasound
tech would be in if I wanted to see the baby for proof to me.
It was murderous, waiting for Monday to arrive. I kept half-believing
that all this would turn out to be a mistake. Maybe I had some type of cancer
that was causing false positives. I would much have rather had cancer than
a baby. I was in college!
But, sure enough, there was a little shrimp-shaped thing doing
acrobatics across the ultrasound screen. There was no denying it anymore.


“Have you thought about options?” the tech asked me, pityingly
because I was crying so hard.
“I’m keeping it,” I stuttered out between sobs.
I met Red at Spirit Winds for a coffee and showed him the ultrasound
pictures and the proof of pregnancy letter. “It’s yours,” I swore, “not
I had expected him to deny that the kid was his, since our split had not
exactly been pretty, but pure joy suffused his face.
“I knew this would happen,” he declared.
“How?” I demanded.
“I’ve been trying to get your pregnant for months,” he laughed. He
looked like such a douche, with his flame tattoos bursting up his neck from
under his wifebeater collar.
“What the fuck, Red?”
“I knew that if you had a kid, you wouldn’t leave me. I thought it was
the only way to save us.”
I hurled the pregnancy papers at his face and stormed out. A few
hours later, I called him.
“I guess your little plan worked. I can’t ever leave your fucking ass
now. But I’m not getting back together with you. We’re going to co-parent.
And you’re going to help me support this kid because Lord knows I don’t
have the money to do it on my own.”
“Get on WIC,” he said. “They’ll even pay for diapers.”
“Fuck you, Red. I think you can take the money you spend on drugs
and spend it on something actually important for once.”
Red sighed heavily. “Heather, don’t worry about a thing. I will take care
of you two girls.”
“I don’t know if it’s a girl yet. You have to wait till twenty weeks.”
“I know it’s going to be a girl. I always make girls.”
For some reason, I knew that it was a girl too. But I spat at Red,
“You’ve made two girls in your life. And God knows how many that you don’t


know about. Doesn’t mean this will be a girl. That’s now how genetics work.”
“It’s a girl,” he said smugly. “And I want to name her Irene.”
“We can’t name her that….”
“Why not?”
“Your mom, Red. It’ll be painful for her.”
“I think it would be a great way to honor my sister.”
“Red, your mom freaks out whenever she talks about Irene. How is she
going to handle speaking our kid’s name?” It felt oddly nice to say “our kid”
even though I was so through with Red.
“I don’t know but I think it would be nice.”
“Irene can be her middle name, I guess,” I sighed.
“Also, I think you should move back in, Heather.”
“I’ve been through this with Charlene already. I know that if you don’t
live with me, I’ll never see our baby.”
Dizziness overcame me and I had to sit down. “I can’t be miserable for
the rest of my life just cuz you knocked me up.”
“I make you that miserable? Really?”
“And I can’t raise this baby around…shooting up and shit.”
“You shoot up too,” he laughed.
“Not anymore!”
“I swear that I will get totally clean. I will do anything to have you and
this baby in my life. I swear it, Heather. Heather?”
It didn’t matter if Red got clean or not, I hated living with him. But
everything was different now. “Fine,” I sighed, “if you clean up and I like
what I see, I’ll move back in.”
“Yes.” I could tell he was smiling.
“One other thing. Red?”
“Yeah, honey?”
“Don’t call me honey. OK, what I want to know is, how did you get me
“Well, when a man and a woman –“
“Knock it off, you’re not funny. I made you wear condoms when it
wasn’t safe. Did you poke holes in them or something?”
“Heather, seriously, do you think I’m a monster or something?”


“Yes, yes actually I do.”
“I didn’t poke holes in the damn condoms.”
“Then why did you say you tried for a long time to get me pregnant?”
He was silent; I could tell he was opening and shutting his mouth and
rolling his eyes around the way he always did when I caught him in a lie.
“You know we were careless sometimes. It’s just as much your fault as
“Fuck you, Red. You know I can’t be on pills because they make me
sick. I tried to be careful. It isn’t my fault at all.”
“Well what do you want me to say, Heather?”
“…Nothing, I guess. What’s done is done.”
We tried for a week to work things out. We even selected a name,
Lilliana Irene, and I promised Red that her middle name would stay Irene.
Red was totally convinced by all these arcane and vague “signs” he found
that Lily was his sister reincarnated. I had never seen him so happy. He
even shaved off his red beard, pulled out his labret, and got a real job in the
mornings when he wasn’t tattooing.
I watched from afar, still sleeping on Audrey’s couch. How could I
afford my own place? No one would want to be roommates with someone
with a screaming newborn. Andres wasn’t upset at all when I broke the news
to him, and invited me to stay with him, but I said no because I didn’t want
his family to have to deal with a screaming newborn either. Moving back in
with Red began to look more and more like my sole prospect.
One night Red took me to a Chinese buffet and afterward we went to
Wal-Mart just to “look” at baby stuff. He ended up buying a few plush
blankeys and some cute ducky wash rags. I ended up sleeping with him that
night, and my eyes got starry, imagining that we actually could make it


work, make a family together a thousand times more wholesome than the
families we had both come from.
Andres was the farthest thing from my mind.
I drove three and a half hours to Reid to break the news to my parents.
But the first thing Mom demanded when I got out of the car was, “Are you
“I’m three months along,” I admitted to the ground.
Mom sighed long and hard. “Well, what are you going to do?”
“Keep her, of course. Mom, I’m actually really happy.”
“You really shouldn’t be,” she replied. “This is going to ruin your life.”
“Did I ruin yours?” I was trying to make a point, so I was caught off
guard when she said that her life would have been infinitely better if she
hadn’t had me. That type of news is a lot for a person to process.
“Who’s the dad?”
I was still so hurt that I was barely able to stammer out, “Red.”
“Oh!” she cried out in disgust. “Well, he’s not going to help you.”
“Yes, he will! He even shaved and got a good job….”
“Oh, Heather, when are you finally going to grow a damn brain? That
useless piece of shit won’t be there for you or the baby any more than he’s
there for his other kids. Look at his track record and that’s what you can
“I promise you, Mom, he’s changed. And he’d be there for his girls if he
could. Charlene won’t let him.”
She laughed bitterly. “Why don’t you call up Charlene and ask her why
she won’t let him see his kids? You’re half his damn age! And now he’s
knocked you up too. Look at the pattern, honey. You’re just another one of
many. I suggest you come home.”
I didn’t even bother to stay the night; I couldn’t handle more than a
few hours of my mom’s hatefulness. “I’ll think about things,” I told Mom
before speeding back to Cruces, all set to move in with Red. I decide to
quickly drop by his place to see if he was ready before I got my things from


Some whore with black streaks in her bottle blonde hair and
atrociously lined lips answered his door. I immediately wanted to punch her
in her raccoon eye and then again in between her huge tits where a little red
devil tattoo poked out over her tank top. She looked one of the whores that
hung around Red’s tattoo shop, and she looked high as a fucking kite.
“Yeah?” she demanded all rudely.
Red popped up over her shoulder, tense with terror. “What the hell – I
thought you were in Roswell. Or wherever.”
“Came back early.” I gave him my nastiest smile.
What ensued seemed like a Maury episode, not my real life. I’m
actually not very proud of how I handled the situation but I was just enraged
at how badly Red had fooled me.
“Who the fuck is this?” I demanded.
“I’m Marissa,” the bitch spat. “Who the fuck are you?”
“Marissa, stop,” Red said.
“Who the fuck is this?” I exploded on Red.
Marissa started to cuss me out but my attention was solely on Red.
“Go inside,” Red barked at her. She reluctantly obeyed, and sat on the couch
to make horrid faces at me.
“Who the fuck is that? Is that your new little whore?” I cried.
“Yep, and better than you, honey,” Marissa called from the couch.
“Marissa, please,” Red said. “Yeah, maybe she is my new girl. What
the fuck do you care?”
“I thought we were working shit out! For the baby!”
“You left me for Andres!”
“Yeah, that was before I found out about Lilliana Irene.”
“Yeah, well,” his eyeballs rolled on as he attempted to find some type
of justification.
“You’re high, aren’t you?” I said.
“You’re fucking stupid,” he spat.
“You are! Oh my God, you so fucking are!”
“I’ve been clean for a month, Heather.”
I lunged past him but he blocked me with his arms. He grappled with


me while Marissa shoveled some shit off the coffee table into the little beige
trash can next to it. But I saw the orange flash of a needle cap before she
had a chance to sweep it away.
I suddenly relaxed and slipped right out of Red’s grasp. “See? I fucking
knew it.”
“Knew what?” Red demanded. “There ain’t nothing –“
“The needle cap! I saw it!”
“You didn’t see nothing.”
“You’re such a fucking liar. You’re such a goddamn piece of shit.” I was
already crying and shaking with rage, not heartbreak.
“Fuck you,” Red said, “you’re fucking stupid.”
I punched his arm. “You’re the stupid one, you piece of shit.”
“Oh, I’m gonna fuck you up, bitch!” Marissa jumped up from the
“Marissa! She’s fucking pregnant! You sit your ass back down!” Red
I realized that Marissa didn’t seem the slightest bit surprised that I was
pregnant or even curious about who I was. Clearly she knew everything. And
I wondered just how long she and Red had known each other. “How long
have you been fucking this hoe?” I demanded.
“How long your been fucking Andres?” he responded.
And I was just so sickened by Red at that moment that I walked away.
From it all. Forever. But I did stop at the end of his hallway and toss over my
shoulder, “Stay the hell away from me and my baby or I’ll cut your balls off
and I’ll find and kill your ugly whore bitch too.”
At Audrey’s, I hurled my few things into my car without packing and
made that long ass drive to Reid yet again. When my parents had kicked me
out at sixteen, I had vowed to never come back. Yet here I was, with a
basketball tummy and my head hung in shame.
My phone keep dinging with messages. All from Red. He was begging


me to come back, to forgive him, to give him a second chance. “I kno im a
pice of shit but I was so heart broke wen u left me 4 andres that I wanted to
gfet back @ u.” “can’t u c I been trying real hard?” “Marissa don’t mean shit
2 mew I sent that bitch away.
Hateful words began shaping in my mind and I started shaking so hard
that I pulled over just to type him a long message telling him how he was a
stupid bitch but I felt even more stupid because I had actually believed in
him. “No wonder your ex-wife won’t let the girls see you, because you’re
such a lying drug addict lose piece of shit. I hate you and I never want to see
you again. And you will NEVER see our little girl. Just go enjoy your whore
bitch and forget about us because you’re dead to us.”
Then I took off. Red started calling me then. When I didn’t answer, he
started sending me a bunch of abusive messages about how I was the real
whore bitch and how he would sue for paternal rights, etc.
“Like you did with your kids?” I replied sarcastically.
Once I arrived at my parents’, I blocked his number and his Facebook
profile. When he found a way to get at me through Skype, I blocked him
there. Then he found a way to get at me through Snapchat. Block.
I collapsed on my parents’ couch and slept for over a day, just reveling
in the peace of not having Red in my life. I still couldn’t feel my baby yet and
I wondered if she felt my relief. “Life is about to get better for us, baby girl,” I
told her.
Mom and Dad bought me a mattress and put it on the floor in the little
room they used as an office. Dad drug out all the bookshelves to make room
for a crib in a few months. Mom started cooking lots of summer squash and
bought me a huge bottle of prenatal vitamins. “These will make your hair


and nails grow like wild.” We talked about where I could get a job.
But I was just so exhausted. I collapsed onto the mattress with its
plastic wrap still on and slept for days on end. At some point I remembered
Andres and called him up to let him know where I had moved.
Red called me after a week using a masked number. I guessed that it
was him but I answered anyway.
“Heather, I hope you’ve come to your senses.”
“I have.”
“OK, good. Look, I really think we can make this work. You don’t have
to worry about Marrissa, she isn’t coming around again. I really have cleaned
up my act.”
“Is that what you call shooting up and fucking whores behind my back?
Cleaning up your act?”
“Heather, I’m over all the shit you did to me. Now you need to grow up
and get over what I did to you. Don’t act like you’re some saint.”
“Hey, Red? Go fuck yourself.”
He suddenly started crying. “Fuck you! You can’t do this to me! Fuck
you, fuck you, fuck you.”
“Stay the hell away from us, I mean it. I’m not even in Cruces anymore
so it should be easy for you.”
“Fuck you,” he sobbed.
“Maybe when she’s eighteen she’ll want to come see you. Til then, you
can forget about any type of custody. Not even supervised visits.”
“I’ll sue for paternity!”
“Go for it. The judge won’t even look at you when he sees your class
four felony.”
“God dammit. I just wanna see my kids! Oh God why can’t you let me
see my kids?”
“Because God knows you’re a piece of shit and so does Charlene. So
does everybody. That’s why your little underage girlfriend had an abortion
and od’ed on pills, because she was so ashamed to have gotten with a piece


of shit like you.”
“Fuck you!”
“Are we done here? Yeah? Good.” I hung up, triumphant in how cold I
had been. I had inherited the art that all the women in my family possessed,
the ability to destroy someone with just a few words, to cut them just where
it hurts the most.
I’ll never be able to forget Red’s best friend Felix called me a few days
after that, as much as I would like to forget. It was late in September, and I
was a little over two months along but looked like I was six. “Uh, Heather? I
have some bad news. Are you sitting down?” Felix asked.
“What is going on? What happened to Red?” My voice caught with
what I somehow already knew.
“Red passed away last night.”
“No,” I muttered, as my knees gave way beneath me. I should’ve
taken the news sitting down, the way Felix had suggested.
“He overdosed. I…someone found him with a needle in his arm.”
“Oh. Oh, Red….”
I sobbed for a long time after Felix hung up. Then I gathered my wits
about me and called Red’s mom. The cops had already notified her and she
was surprisingly calm.
“Should I call Charlene?” I asked.
“I already did.”
“Those poor girls….”
“Yes,” she sighed, “and your poor little girl.”
I started sobbing again. “She’ll be OK.” I had already intended to raise
Lily without her father, but at least there had existed the opportunity for her
to know him one day. How was I supposed to break the news to her that her
daddy was dead? What age would be appropriate?
“Well, you are always welcome if you need a place to stay. Bring the
baby around. Out of all of Jared’s women, you were always my favorite,


That meant a lot, because I had always thought that his mom hated
me. I never did go stay with her, though. I didn’t even go to the funeral
because I couldn’t bear the thought of seeing that devil’s bitch Charlene,
and her little girls.
Red’s mom signed over permission to have me retrieve Red’s things
from his apartment. The only thing she asked for was a few photos of Red.
“You keep whatever you want. For your daughter.”
Three days later, Mom picked a fight with me about finding a job and
growing up, so I fled to Andres in Las Cruces because I couldn’t handle being
alone in my parents’ house in my grief and horror.
I wandered dazedly all over the apartment that Red and I had shared
for six months. It was there that I had conceived Lily. She was probably
disturbed by the sobs wracking my body, I thought. “Poor baby. How could
you do this to us, Red?” I asked the air, hoping that Red’s ghost was
listening. I felt him there, watching me, wishing that he was still alive.
I lay down in the ring of suicide notes scrawled on scraps of torn
notebook paper, where Red had lain down for his final sleep. The landlord
had pointed out the spot to me. “That’s where we found him.” As if he had
been talking about a dead dog or a piece of trash. Only part of the elongated
circle had been disrupted by the cops carrying Red out in a body bag.
I read the notes, feeling the weight of horror growing heavier on my
body with each one. Some of my tears bombed big smeary stains onto the
torn scraps of notebook paper. “Heather, you are so cold. Fuck this shit!”
“You will be sorry when I’m gone. Bitch.” “God and Satan together do not
equal the power of Heather. She has ruined my life. I know I will never hold


our little girl. I’m going to die and make her sorry.” “I’m sorry baby Lilliana
I held my tummy and begged her to forgive her for killing her daddy. “I
had to leave him, baby girl. I wanted to protect you. Oh, don’t believe him,
sweety, I would’ve let him see you, let him hold you. This isn’t my fault.”
As soon as I discovered that Liliana Irene was inside of me, I set about
being the model mom, the kind of mom every other mom despises, a
Pinterest mom with a house full of . I overhauled my life.
I overhauled my life. I tried to dress more conservatively, both for my
daughter and for Andres, who hated other men staring at me. Besides a
guilty cigarette bummed here and there, I really did follow What to Expect
when You’re Expecting to a T. Daily prenatals with folic acid, sleep on my
side only, kegels, lukewarm showers. OK, I did the prenatal yoga DVD maybe
three times at best, but work at the nursing home was so physically
demanding that I felt like I worked out for eight hours every day anyway.
Since I had first moved in with Red, I was shocked at how easy living
with a guy is, how you just fall into an easy pattern. And I missed that
closeness. I didn’t want to admit it to myself at the time, but really I missed
Red, or the good times with Red, anyway.
So after I got that call from Felix, I resigned myself to a life as a single
mother at my parents’. Then Mom went off on me one evening. She came
home to find me crying in bed. “You need to get up,” she snapped at me.
“I’m sorry. I’m just really sad right now, Mom.”
“Get the hell over it and get up. You need to find a damn job. Your dad
and I took care of you for too many years. We’re not going through this shit
“Red died, OK? He died three days ago.”


Mom stopped for a second, then sneered. “Let me guess, a drug
I hated her at that moment. With every cell in my body.
“Suicide, actually,” I said, hoping that would make her feel bad.
“Well, I’m sorry.” She softened slightly. “But wallowing in bed is not
going to bring that – that man back.” She clearly held back whatever she
wanted to say about him. Some pointless deference to the dead.
“Go ahead, Mom, call him what you were going to call him.”
“Oh, why can’t you ever just leave well enough alone, Heather?”
“Because I’m grieving, Mom! I’m going through a lot. I’m not right.” I
started sobbing.
But sobs were one of the surest way to piss my mom off. “I grieved
after my dad died and you didn’t even care so why should I care now? I have
to be honest with you, I’m glad he’s dead, because now you won’t be able to
mess around with him anymore!”
“Like I was anyway! I left him and came here.”
“You left him lots of times. I don’t know why you’re so damn selfish.
Your dad and I aren’t selfish people. We didn’t raise you to be this way. Yet
you – oh, boy, are you selfish! And ungrateful. You don’t appreciate a thing
we do for you. You just always have some reason, some excuse, to treat us
like shit.”
“Fine,” I told her, “you won’t have to deal with me treating you like shit
anymore. I’m leaving.”
“Where?” she laughed, all condescending.
“What do you care?” I flung my covers back and began throwing my
shit into a trash bag. Most of my stuff I hadn’t even unpacked, probably
because some part of me had known from the start that this little sojourn in
Reid would not last more than three weeks. What a nightmare of a home.
Mom followed me around screaming at me. I told her to stop because
poor Lily could hear her and Mom only exploded louder at that about how it


was my fault and my poor child was going to have a horrific mother and how
could I have a baby when I was so immature myself.
Then my dad joined in. “I just keep waiting for you to grow up!” he
yelled at me. He had always referred to my emotions and my rightful
reactions to my mom as “drama” or “immaturity.”
I had finally had enough.
“Just where the hell do you think you’re going?” Mom followed me out
to my car, stunned that I really was serious about leaving.
“None of your business,” I said, as I slammed my car door shut.
“I’ll call the sheriff!” she screamed.
I just laughed. “What’s he gonna do?”
“He’ll take your baby away!” my mom yelled.
I just shook my head and fled that place at ninety miles an hour. My
chest was tight with excitement at joining Andres for a new life, but my eyes
smarted with tears as how things were with my parents. This was nothing
The next day was that day where I visited Red’s apartment, taking
what memories I could for our baby. I put all his horrid suicide letters and
some of his beautiful sketches of tattoo ideas into a leather folder of his,
along with a few photos of him and of his two girls. I stored the folder in the
spare tire well in the trunk of my car, where I wouldn’t have to look at it until
Lily was older. Sometimes I considered burning it so that my daughter would
never have to know about the selfish creep that would never be there for
her, but I figured she deserved to at least get a look at who he had been.
At first life with Andres was amazing. We went to the dollar theatre all
the time, we ate awesome Mexican food that his mom prepared, we took
bubble baths slept naked every night. His sister liked to gossip and smoke
cigarettes with me in the yard; she got drunk a lot and I wished I could join


her. Normal, non-addict people, especially of the female variety, rarely liked
me, so it felt like a miracle when Rosario liked me. I wondered how long it
would last. His mom would smile at me while she babbled away in Spanish.
The Spanish they all spoke sounded melodic to my ears and I didn’t mind
that I couldn’t understand a word.
Then Andres had lost his job. He claimed it was over some bullshit but
his sister assured me that he lost every job because he would skip shifts to
go get high. “I don’t believe that,” I told her.
She just shrugged and said that I could believe whatever but I didn’t
know Andres that well.
I wasn’t employed yet either so we had no money at all and I still
needed to start buying things for the baby. I was totally overwhelmed at how
to afford the blankets and bottles and bathtub and car seat and crib and
stroller and yada yada yada. I was already behind on bills, and my car’s gas
light was on.
“Just get WIC. That’s what my cousin does,” his sister shrugged. “They
get her cheese and diapers and formula and oatmeal and those little baby
food things? They get it all for her. She was gonna breastfeed cuz it’s like
cheaper? But then one of our friends, well she breastfed her baby and she
lost her boobs! So my cousin was like hell no fuck that. And WIC bought all
her formula!”
I actually did consider WIC, but then I finally got a call-back at a
nursing home. I became a caregiver. Lifting old people from their beds,
changing their diapers and their clothes, spoon feeding them when their
palsies or their paralysis prevented them from feeding themselves. “You’ll be
ready for that baby in no time,” the woman who trained me said. “You’re


getting a lot of practice here.”
I was the only white girl there, besides my trainer. That’s how it had
been at the Wendy’s, but at least there the cholos in the kitchen always
shared their pills and killa chronic and they all thought I was cute. The
majority of the staff at the nursing home were smug, uptight Hispanic
women, with creative acrylic nail designs and cute scrubs. They talked in
Spanish like I wasn’t even there, laughing at inside jokes that they never let
me in on. Some of the girls showed me pictures of their kids and teased me
about my huge baby bump when no one else was around to talk to. There
were four other pregnant girls on staff there, so everyone who wasn’t
pregnant joked that there must be something in the water.
The heat in Las Cruces was starting to mellow by then, but they kept the
nursing home hot, so I always felt on the verge of melting. My whole
pregnancy had been relatively easy, but the hot flashes that I began having
in my second trimester on top of the hard work killed me. I tread the long,
disinfectant-scented linoleum corridors and what I liked to call the “laundry
court” because it was a huge, cavernous room full of humming washers and
dryers, my feet aching with each step on the hard floor. Even the rooms with
carpeting were torture on my poor overworked feet. But, shit, I was making
eight dollars an hour, forty hours a week, a good $560 after taxes. Right
away, after paying my rent and cell phone, I would buy a bunch of baby stuff.
Andres’s mom was always telling me what to buy the baby but I pretended
not to hear Rosario’s translations and just bought what a Babycenter website
advised me to.


Andres didn’t get any call-backs. He just sat home all day getting
twisted on meth. I paid his phone bill and then gave him twenty now and
then to go “get some cigarettes and a soda,” as he would ask. Then I would
smell the acrid fumes in the room when I got off work. It would make my
mouth water and my hands shake with cravings. Even though I knew what he
was spending it on, he always made me feel bad for how sad he was stuck
home all day by himself, so I kept giving him money, waiting for the day
when he would become grateful. That day never came.
Instead, he just became shitty to me. I began to resent that he never
took me out on nice dates, never paid for a thing, never bought the baby
stuff, never came along for doctor visits. While I needed sleep, he would stay
awake, the lights on, the bed vibrating with his fingers as he played games
on his phone all spun out. He didn’t like to have sex when he was high so I
would go weeks without even getting touched. His mom would come to the
door, “Por que no comer?” and then Andres would get mad at her and they
would erupt into screaming fights that Rosario would join in on. As they
hurled insults at Andres about how he was useless, I tried to defend him, and
then Rosario would turn on me. Her eyes were get so bright with hate. I could
feel poor Lily recoiling from all the yelling in my belly.
“Why can’t you just wait till after Lily is born?” I asked Andres when he
said he had to shit. I knew why he took such excessively long bathroom trips;
he didn’t have constipation, he was getting lit. I had no intention of ever
getting high again and I figured that Andres would want to follow suit for the
baby’s sake since he was so determined to be her father.
“Wait for what?” he address his phone. I was so fucking tired of that


phone getting between us.
“Dammit, why can’t you look at me when you talk to me for once?” I
“I will not entertain phone jealousy,” he replied coolly.
“OK. OK.” If Andres had looked at me, he would’ve been scared of the
smile playing on my lips. I only wore that smile when I was really pissed and
about to do something rash.
He slowly started heading out the bedroom door, still tapping on his
damn phone screen.
I ran up really fast and seized for his phone. But he had fast reflexes
and raised his elbow to fend me off. He rammed into my eye and fell to the
“Bastard!” I screamed, and I swiped for his phone again.
“Stop it!” he shouted.
“Why the fuck are you defending your phone so much? Is there
something on there you don’t want me to see?” I demanded.
“Stop acting like a little girl.”
I pretended to burst into sobs. He groaned in annoyance but leaned
down next to me. “Is your eye OK?”
“No,” I blubbered.
“Look at me.”
“Go away.”
He reached out and touched me with a trace of tenderness that I had
not seen in a while. At that moment he left his phone undefended. I pounced
on it. “What the fuck!” he cried as he fell back. He tried to swipe for the
phone, but I had it.
“Want this back?” I taunted.
He swiped for it again, now his face one of incredible rage.
“Well here!” I tossed his phone like a Frisbee over the banister and it
shattered on the tiles below.
Andres just looked at where I had tossed his phone, then slowly rose
and went to the banister. When he turned back, I thought for a second that


he might kill me. I had never seen so much hatred in someone’s face before.
But all he did was tell me very coldly, “I had one thing that was important to
me, and you destroy it.” And he widened his eyes and made an exploding
sound. Then he headed to the bathroom.
“Got your pipe in your pocket?” I snarled. I was ready for a real fight
now as I crept up behind him.
But he disarmed with the sweetest smile over his shoulder. “I am going
to go use the restroom now, if you will excuse me.”
I thought that the phone thing was now no longer an issue. Andres
would no longer be mooching phone card money off me, and he would no
longer ignore me to play games on his stupid phone. I stopped giving him
money so that he would sober up.
But the day after I refused to give him money, he got a job. I found it
so funny that he actually applied himself and got a call-back when he no
longer had my money to schmooze off of. And soon he was getting high
He also now had money to turn on the family’s WiFi. Now, rather than
being on his phone constantly, he was constantly on the computer. The
damn light would keep me up but I would lay around, trying to seduce him,
begging him even. I thought that getting on my knees would appeal to his
massive ego, but he just looked down at me pityingly, patted my head, and
told me, “That would be cute if you weren’t pregnant, dear. Now you can’t
act like a little girl anymore.”
“Is that it?” I hopped up, enraged. “You’re not attracted to me because
I’m pregnant?”
“No, I’m not attracted to your games.”
“My games? I’m not playing any games!”
He didn’t reply.


“I want to get touched! I want to get fucked! God, I never had this –“
“Don’t take my Lord’s name in vain.”
“God. God! God I’ve never had this problem before! Men love me.
They’re attracted to me as hell. And you won’t even touch me! What the hell
is wrong with me?”
He finally looked at me, and he was smiling. “Do you really want to
“Yes! I’d love to know why I’m not good enough for you when I am for
everybody else.”
“Everybody else loves you because everybody loves a cheap deal. You
see people trampling other people over Black Friday sales? You know why?
Because they love cheap stuff. They’re even willing to kill for it.” He turned
back to his computer and his grin was sickeningly wide. “But I have no desire
for cheap things. I am a man of quality.”
He had my art: he knew just how to pierce me in my most tender spot.
I was reduced to trembling sobs that wracked my whole body and came from
deep in my gut. And he just kept playing his computer game.
So I slept downstairs after that.
One night his mom caught me curling up on the couch. She flicked all
the lights on and demanded why.
I struggled to think of the right words. “Andres…drugas…no duerme…
mi cama no es…no es bien. Yo duermo aquí, porque Andres no…no me
She squinted at me in confusion. Then she hollered up the stairs for
“No, Mama,” I said, “por favor. No hables con Andres.”
“I speaky Andres!” she responded. “Andres!”
Andres came lumbering downstairs.
His mom delivered a long string of Spanish. Then Andres looked at me
irritatedly and said, “My mom says that you need to sleep upstairs with me.”
“But you don’t sleep! And I am so tired!” I began to cry.


“You sleepy Andres. You and Andres, you sleepy,” his mom ordered me.
So I was forced to return to the hell of Andres’s room.
And then I had my car wreck. My depression deepened. Andres came
along car shopping with me. While I excitedly, proudly, stroked the trim of
my new car, he just shook his head. “You just took on a huge debt.”
“I can do it. At least I have a job,” I snapped.
A few days later, I set up Lily’s cute little purple flowered car seat in
my new car. I bought a matching stroller and left it folded in the trunk.
I was now a little over eight months, and I had bought all the major
baby stuff. Cousins of Andres’s gave me bags and bags of the cutest baby
clothes, burping cloths, diapers, and blankets. Andres’s and my bedroom was
positively stuffed. Even Andres had to smile and admit that the stuff was
cute. He had been sober for a few days because his dealer had gotten
busted, so he was being sweet again.
But I was still feeling so unready. How could I bring my baby girl into
this home? I tried to imagine how I would get my own place again, when I
couldn’t afford anything and couldn’t get a roommate. The nursing home
only paid minimum wage. All I knew was that I couldn’t wait to hold my little
girl. I cradled my tummy, and it felt like holding her.
That was March 3.
That night, I woke up to such extreme back pain that it had me crying
out. Andres’s mom ran into our room, insisting we go to the hospital because
she had had the same pain with Rosario and she hadn’t gone to the ER and
as a result Rosario had been born on the living room floor.
So we went to the doctor’s. The nurse stuck her cold hand up me and
stabbed at my insides with her acrylic talons while I gasped and cried in pain.
“You aren’t dilated at all,” she informed me. “You’re probably just having
little pre-contractions.” They sent me home.


The pain abated for a few hours but I was wiped out and still
traumatized over having a whole hand stuck up me. I went back to bed,
trying to ignore Andres, who was twisting a meth pipe over his butane torch
to try to melt the last of the residue in it and making fun of me for the false
But then the pain came back with a vengeance. I cried out and
screamed for Rosario to take me to the hospital. Andres quickly stashed his
pipe away as I began to pack an overnight bag. He didn’t even help.
Contractions were making me seize up in traumatic agony every few minutes
and I really needed help.
Rosario was hungover and finally stumbled out of bed to take me to
the hospital. Andres started to follow me as I heaved my overnight bag down
the stairs, clutching my tummy. Lily was head down and dropped, and it felt
like she was about to bust out of me at any minute. A sort of clear-headed
rage overtook me and I didn’t have time or patience for anyone’s bullshit.
“Don’t bother coming along, you stupid junkie fuck. Just stay home. Smoke
your crystal. Here, here’s some money for more,” I threw a twenty at him,
which he caught. I had been hoping that he would hand back the money and
come along after all, to prove his loyalty to me, but I should have known that
he wouldn’t.
“Why did you tell my brother not to come?” Rosario reproached me.
“All he wants to do is get high. He didn’t even help with my bag,” I
“But you told him to get high! You even gave him money!” Rosario
laughed incredulously. “What is wrong with you?”
I wanted to fly off the handle on her, but a violent contraction


overcame me.
I was truly thinking about leaving Andres and also his dumb fuck sister
as I returned to the same hospital bed and got a hand shoved up me again
by the same nurse. “Ow! Can’t you trim your goddamn nails?” I barked at the
nurse, who just made a “now, now” face at me and congratulated me that I
was 1 cm dilated.
My sense of urgency in getting to the hospital was silly because it was
a whole twenty-seven hours before I even entered hard labor. I spent all the
time in my bed alone, alternating between watching TV or sleeping. Nurses
would come in and check my dilation and it didn’t even hurt with the
I was tangled up in so many cords that it was a nightmare to go pee
and even more of a nightmare to pace up and down the hallway to help
move the labor along. Finally, the doctor ordered pectocin to speed things
up, and told me to call my family because things were about to go very fast.
First I called Andres’s mother, who said something that I assumed
meant that they would be there soon. And then I called my own parents,
whom I had not spoken with in months.
Dad answered the phone. “Hello?”
“Heather….Did you have the baby?”
“No, but I’m about to,” I told him.
“Well, good luck. Call us when she’s born,” Dad said after a brief
awkward silence.
“I will. Dad?”
“I’m really scared.”
“Everything will be fine. Women do this all the time,” he said.


“And they also die all the time.”
Dad was quiet. Just when I thought we had been disconnected, he said,
“Your mom and I are going to come see you. What hospital are you in and
what’s the room number?”
I felt so much better knowing that my parents were coming.
The hard labor was a blur. I just remember being yelled at to push and
a crowd of nurses gathered at my feet up in stirrups. Forget modesty, I was
fully open for everyone to see. For a while they were even holding my legs
up and telling me to “Shit!” I guess the pushing did feel like taking a giant
dump. I broke down sobbing at one point in exhaustion and sweaty heat, but
they wouldn’t stand for that and kept making me push. I remember yelling,
“Why are you all so mean to me? Why do you people hate me? Why am I not
good enough for anyone?”
And then, suddenly, things were beeping and more nurses rushed in
and there was clearly some sort of emergency. The bed felt soaked; was that
blood? Was I really going to be OK like my dad had promised? I looked
around and cried out for Andres, but he wasn’t even there. Then I cried out
for my daddy and he wasn’t there, either. I was so alone.
Then there was a frowning doctor, and I just knew something was
wrong. “What’s going on?!” I sobbed. “Why won’t anyone tell me what’s
going on?”
A nurse with lips pressed into a flat line of sadness placed loving hands
on my arm. “Miss Henderson? I am so sorry.” And she began to tear up,
something you never want to see from a nurse in charge of your care.
“What happened to my baby?” I began to panic and try to sit up to see
but the nurses at my feet told me I needed to lay back down so I could pass
the afterbirth. “Where’s my baby?” I howled.


“I am so sorry, but your baby didn’t make it,” the nurse told me.
I fainted for a minute. Then swam buck up into the nightmare I was
living in. Why couldn’t I just wake up and find this all to be a Demerol
hallucination? I was crying already. “No! No! Where is my baby? Where is
The nurse wiped the tears off her cheeks and squeezed my hand. “The
cord was wrapped around her neck.”
“There must be some mistake.”
Another nurse approached my bed with a bundle. She was crying too. The
blankets were pulled over my baby’s face. “Do you want to see her?”
I peeled back the blankets to reveal a little person, all mangled and blue
and squished and lifeless. Her little mouth was slightly open but no cry
emerged from her throat. Her eyes were shut and I eased one open with my
fingertip and was mesmerized by the glassy dark blue iris staring up at me
without seeing. She was heavy, and warm, but she looked like a blue blowup alien doll from a Roswell gift shop. In my arms she looked like a blown up
blue alien doll from a Roswell gift shop and I am ashamed to this day to think
of her like that. She was just so far from the gentle angel I had dreamed of
holding for eight months.
I slid my finger into her hand, and her little fingers almost seemed to
grasp mine. The lifelessness of this being broke more than my heart, it broke
my soul. I was enchanted by how little she was, a dainty little doll. A doll and
not a living, breathing baby. But I hoped some part of her was still there to
hear me. My first words to my little baby girl were, “Hi, Lily. Oh, Lily, I love
you.” Between sobs I sang to her and bounced her in my arms.
A nurse had me put a diaper and a little pink knitted cap onto Lily. Lily
just had the cutest little baby butt. It felt so wrong, to be dressing this dead


baby, when half of me swore she was somehow still alive. She had to be. This
was my daughter. Of all the horrible things that had happened in my life, this
was too horrible to be real. It was something too horrible to happen to her,
after the lovely life I had worked so hard to build for her.
My parents arrived around midnight. My baby was gone by then, off to
be reduced to mere ash. I would’ve held her all night if I could have.
“Oh, Heather,” my mom held my hands and cried over me with
affection that she had not exhibited since I was a little kid crying in terror
over a loud thunderstorm. “You should come home with us,” she murmured,
but I shook my head and told her that my job was too good here. She knew
better than to get mad at me, in the wake of such tragedy.
“Where is Andres, anyway?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I’ve been waiting for him to come all night. Oh, why
doesn’t he love me, Mom?” I was crying so hard and still a little incoherent
from the drugs which had not worn off yet.
Dad looked livid as he grabbed his phone. “What’s his number?”
Andres still hadn’t replaced the phone that I had tossed over the
banister, so I recited his mom’s number.
Dad punched it into his phone and stormed out into the hallway.
I don’t know what he said to Andres, but after Andres kept insisting
that he couldn’t come see me because Rosario had the truck and was out
drinking with her primas, Dad convinced him to catch a ride with one of his
tweaker friends, or else Dad scared him into it, I don’t know.
When he arrived, though, he genuinely seemed sad. And we put our
heads together and cried. Mom looked on, her lips in a quivering line, and I
realized she really hated Andres. She had hated every single one of my
boyfriends. And she had been right about every single one, too.
But I was too heartbroken and exhausted to be mad at Andres. I just let


him shed his tears and hold me because it felt good and I needed to feel
something other than the pain that overwhelmed me.
It was March 3rd when Lily Irene Henderson left the world, and early
March 5 when she entered it. I would still give anything in the world to go
back to that labor and change everything. Change leaving my parents’.
Change staying with Andres rather than going to a shelter. Change meeting
Red, so that I could have my baby girl later in life with a good man. But then I
know that there was nothing that could have been done; the cord didn’t
strangle her because of my life choices; and had anything have happened
differently, she would never have existed, even for just eight months inside
I didn’t get any pictures of my baby girl and that is one of my lasting
regrets. I would give anything to be able to see her again, as her face grows
rusty in my memory with time. Sometimes I think that her death spared her
a horrid life, but other times I just wish she was here. And other times I
frantically try to figure out what went wrong, as if that knowledge would help
me right it now.
I stayed with my parents in their hotel room until the little funeral three
days later, when Lily had been cremated. As the pastor spoke meaningless
words of kindness, I held her little urn and the ashes tinkled inside it. It just
killed me that a living human being who had been kicking and rolling in me
just days earlier, who was my last real piece of Red, who could have had a
life and ridden a bike and blown out birthday cake candles while clapping her
chubby little hands in excitement, was now just ash in a container. I felt so


bad. I kept thinking of how scared little Lily must have been, as she
struggled to get out of me and a cord pressing around her neck prevented
her. Did she feel any pain? It still trips me out, when I touch the little
watercolor rose urn that I have on my dresser next to a teddy bear from that
gramma gave me for my college graduation later and a vintage dragonfly
perfume bottle that I had taken from Aunt Pearl’s house before Mom sold it
and a gold coin my dad gave me for good luck when I moved back to
Bellingham. I still wonder if she died in pain, in terror. She had already been
through so much in my womb, so much screaming and fighting and sobbing.
But I believe that she had been hopeful, that she wanted to be born, that
she was excited to grow up.
Then my parents left. Mom begged me to come home again, so she
could take care of me. I just reminded her of my job. I was totally numb and
yet somehow clear-headed, focused on picking up the pieces and going back
to work ASAP. I guess that’s what they call shock because it disintegrated
within four weeks.
And then I was a wreck after that.
Andres was actually good to me at first. He cleared all the baby stuff
out of the room and stowed it in the garage. He returned all the diapers and
bottles and the breast pump. I had thrown out all the receipts, since I had
never imagined that my baby wouldn’t be needing her things, but the stores
were understanding when Andres told them his daughter had been a
stillborn. That’s how he referred to Lily, as his daughter, and it made me feel
slightly better.
His mom also doted on me, bringing more food to me in bed than I


could possibly eat. Even Rosario was sweet again, coming to kneel by the
bed and pray with me. She lent me her monogrammed Bible and we would
read together for hours. God would fill my room in those moments and He
had the loveliest rose scent. I took comfort knowing that Lily now lived in His
But those moments of sweetness were far and few between. And when
the world started to go on without me, as Rosario started reading with me
less and less and his mom started serving me caldo in bed less and less, I
began to drown. I wondered how I could escape this heartless world and
rejoin my daughter as painlessly and easily as possible, with minimal mess
for Andres’s family to clean up. Maybe I could electrocute myself, make it
look like an accident.
The only thing that kept me from killing myself was knowing how my
mom would feel. I wouldn’t wish what I had gone through with Red on
One day, I just couldn’t get out of bed. Andres asked me if I wanted
anything to eat and I couldn’t even speak. I was just too numb.
He sighed and sat down at my side. Removed something from his
pocket. It took me a moment to realize that he was handing me a pipe with a
fully loaded bowl. “Here, I think this will help you.”
I was so glad to take a hit. I hadn’t in so long. As I exhaled a long roil
from deep in my lungs, the room suddenly regained color and I felt alive
again. I felt like I could make it through this and death was not necessary.
I handed Andres the wad of cash from returning the baby things and
told him to go get us an eight-ball. We got high that night and he snorted
lines off of me.


As much as I hated staying awake all night and heading to work the
following day a zombie with grainy vision and aching knots in my shoulders
and back, as much as I grew sick of Andres’s mom nagging me to comer and
his sister judging us for getting high with her drunk ass nose high in the air, I
found my appetite insatiable. I smoked so much that Andres and I started
fighting about it. Over whose turn it was, and how much I hogged the pipe. I
would lose my shit when I would come home from work, and he would have
left nothing for me. He lost his job again and so I was the one buying
everything. The least he could do was leave me some, but he was as selfish
as he had been before Lily’s death made him feel sorry for me for a little
Within a short period of time, I found myself visiting the Las Cruces
Public Health clean needle clinic again, where they gave me free syringes,
alcohol wipes, cookers, tourniquets, and even biohazard containers for my
old needles. I had not shot up since my weird od the winter previous but I
needed it now. Shooting washed me away into oblivion, while the pipe was
more like a cocktease. I loved how it dissolved the room into Technicolor dots
and lines swimming in crazy rapidity that made no sense at all and didn’t
have to. I loved how my skin crawled and I flushed and creamed my panties
every good hit. I hated how the foul taste that would overtake my mouth and
scent my breath and sweat. I hated how sometimes I did a little too much
and would just lie there transfixed on the bathroom wall while Rosario
pounded on the door to use the toilet; it always scared me that I would fly


into another od at those moments and they would eventually break the door
down to find me dead with a needle hanging from my arm. I hated how my
needle bites looked so vicious and angry to my bugged-out eyes. But at least
now I didn’t feel anything. And at least now Andres and I didn’t quarrel over
the damn pipe.
I started buying my own shit, shooting up in the bathroom, and not
sharing with Andres. He would beg his family for money, try to guilt me into
lending him twenty bucks here or there, and ask me if he could sell this DVD
or that shirt of mine. No one of us would give him anything.
“How do you like them apples?” I wanted to ask him. “Do you like how I
pretend to hide it from you by doing it in the bathroom? Do you like how I’m
obviously fucked up while you’re fiending? Do you appreciate how I keep you
up all night when you just want to sleep?”
But revenge is sweeter when you let it serve itself.

Chapter Three: Chocolate French Silk Pie
Vincey borrowed my car one day.
“It doesn’t have much gas,” I warned him as I reticently passed my
keys over the deli splashguard.
“I’ll fill it up,” he assured me.
Every minute that my car was gone made me more nervous. I wished
that I had told him no. All “Bye, Felicia” style. But I couldn’t say no, when he
leveled me with his golden eyes. Never before had I seen eyes so metallic.
He bounced in two hours later and jangled my keys over the
splashguard. “I left something for you in the glovebox,” he winked. “Come by
after you get off.”
I got excited and rushed out to my car on my smoke break.
A little twenty-sack of powder and a couple shards sparkled on top of


my car’s user manual. Whoop whoop! Except I didn’t have a pipe, and I had
broken all the tips off my needles and buried them at the bottom of the trash
after Pauly passed away. I was always doing dumb shit like that when I
wanted to get clean, so that it was hard once I picked it up again. And I hated
I had no other option then crush it up extra finely in my pocket and
then dump it into my Monster. The Monster could barely disguise the horrible
chemical taste of the shit. My stomach started cramping a little bit. About
fifteen minutes passed and I started to feel the tingle in my gums. Man, that
bag would have been so nice to slam. Eating the stuff always took forever to
kick in.
But it got me buzzing. I flew to Vincey’s, weightless, effervescent, and
It was just him. He had a full pipe and I sat tantalizingly close to him on
the couch to smoke with him. He took off his shirt and his manly sweat filled
my nostrils. “I was picking up trash at the Wild West thing,” he told me, as he
flexed his dark, sinewy muscles. I couldn’t resist touching him anymore; I
began to rub his calves, and he groaned in pleasure. Then he leaned over to
shotgun me, and my heartbeat quickened. It was already beating so hard
from the shit we were smoking. I hadn’t been with anyone since leaving
Andres, and even with Andres I hadn’t gotten it often; I missed it so much.
“Where’s Mel?” I asked.
He waved his hand dismissively. “She’s in Albuquerque.”
“Oh. Why Albuquerque?” I had to be sure that she wouldn’t be coming
back that night.
He shrugged. “That’s where her baby daddy lives so she stays up there
with the kids. They’re starting school soon, so,” and he shrugged again.


And then I lunged at him and we were tussling and tumbling all over the bed
in minutes, our clothes thrown to every corner of the room and our bodies
kissed, licked, bitten, and nuzzled on every inch. I delighted in the tautness
and the heat and the soft smoothness of Vincey; I ran my fingertips over his
tattoos as if they would feel raised, and in fact in some places I picked up
the little scars where the artist had dug the needle just a hair too deep. He
didn’t have much body hair, just deliciously prickly facial hair that I
welcomed the scratchiness of all over me.
Just as he dove into me, Manuel started banging on the door, demanding to
know what we were doing.
“Nothing! Smoking!” Vincey called, his ribcage heaving under my
hands. I began to play with him, teasing his tip into me, and he shut his eyes
and gasped a little.
“Oh. Well. Melissa’s here,” Manuel called.
Vincey’s eyes flew wide in terror. “Melissa? What the fuck is she doing
“Oh, glad you’re happy to see me, jackass!” Melissa rasped through
the door. “I came back to make shit good with you, fool. You wanna have
that attitude, fuck you.”
“Fuck you, too,” Vincey said. “I’m busy.” He was already fumbling his
clothes on. I was so disappointed that this was over as I attempted to
untwist my bra and pop the cups right side out.
“Oh yeah? With who? Who the fuck is in there with you? I see that
bitch’s car, jackass.”
“She isn’t here, she just parked here for a bit,” Vincey lied stupidly. Even I
had to grin. That sounded like something dumb that Red would have come
up with.
“Vincey! What the fuck! Open the door!” Mel began pounding on the


flimsy aluminum trailer door, threatening to bust its mere twist lock with all
the hippo strength she lodged behind her fist.
“Fuck it. Fuck this bitch. Fuck this place.” Vincey snapped his wife
beater on and I struggled on my shirt. I just wanted to claw Mel’s face off.
Now was my time to get fucked, not hers! It had been months for me, while
it was probably several men a day for her.
Mel’s face contorted with inhuman rage when she saw that it was me
gathering my hair into a ponytail and straightening my tank top hem over
my jeans when Vincey jerked the door open. “That bitch! You’re cheating on
me with that bitch!”
“I’m not cheating,” Vincey rolled his eyes.
“Oh you think I’m stupid? You think I’m dense? What the fuck else were
you two doing in here with the door locked? You lying fuck!” And so on she
raged as she leapt into her truck and roared away.
“And don’t come back you stupid cunt!” he hollered after her taillights.
She responded with an acrylic middle talon out her window.
I had been crouched by the door with my keys in hand awaiting a safe
moment to dodge out. I believed our tryst was over. But when Vincey came
back in, he slammed me up against the wall and kissed me with the door
thrown wide. “Let’s get out of here before that cunt comes back,” Vincey
“You think she’s coming back? She seemed pretty mad.” I didn’t want to
leave, I just wanted to stay at his trailer and fuck all night.
He laughed mirthlessly. “Trust me, she’ll come back any minute now. She
can’t leave well enough alone.”
We packed pillows and a blanket and quilt in my trunk. We took the ornate
red decorative pillows with gold tassles from Vincey’s couch, where they had
always looked so pompously silly and out of place against the pizza-stained


gray upholstery with tufts sprouting out in random patches, like old men’s
toe hair. They were more fitting as adornment for Aladdin’s magic blanket.
At night the dunes were glowing, misshapen lumps stark against the
deep purple sky. Oil rigs bobbed in the distance and a night hawk whistled
somewhere. The moon was so strong that only the planets and a few strong
stars showed through the milky light flooding the sky. The clouds looked
spectacular, tinged silver and divine, whipped by indefinitely lofty celestial
wind into spires and towers and lumpy chimneys.
In that milky, cloudy air, tickled by a cool breeze lifted off the flatland, I
felt like a Greek goddess, trim, my hair shimmering. Vincey kept wrapping
my hair up in his hands, muttering about Rapunzel.
We went at it for hours. We’d take breaks for bowls and cigarettes and
we’d chug water to soothe our parched throats that we had cut sore with
moaning and gasping, then we’d fall right back into tussling all over the
ornate pillows.
When we finally couldn’t do anything more from sheer exhaustion, I
rested my head on his heaving shoulder and we watched bats make loops
for mosquitoes overhead. Not one bug had bitten me but they had shown
Vincey no mercy. It was their relentless attacking that made us finally give
up our little spot of peace to go back home.
I dropped him at his front door. “Come by tomorrow,” he suggested,
then we kissed good night.
I itched a mosquito bite that was swelling on my butt and grinned.
That bite would be a several-day reminder of being naked in the moonlight
with my slice of chocolate silk cream pie.
I saw Vincey every day but I didn’t consider myself his girlfriend. One


day, he called me his mistress and I wrote in my journal how much better I
felt with a label. “Mistress.” It was just a glorified word for side bitch, I knew
that, but at the time being a glorified side bitch was amazing. I didn’t have a
boyfriend to answer to so I could flirt with other guys all I wanted, I didn’t
have to wonder if he was screwing around on me because I knew he was,
and I didn’t have to flinch at “I love you” and other false promises because I
knew that at some point this would end. But while it went on, I loved every
minute of it.
Every day, I would casually drop by Vincey’s to get high. Then we
would take off to the Lincoln Wilderness or sometimes the cemetery or an
abandoned barn outside of town and screw late into the night. Vincey was
careful to never screw me at his house, in case people would find out. But
somehow everyone knew anyway. Rumors abounded and I got teased about
it when I partied over at Vincey’s mom’s house with Manny.
I told my parents that I was taking doubles for the night shift to explain
my nightly absences. That allowed me to be out until 6 in the morning. They
were never up that late so they never checked to see if I really was at the
gas station, but somehow they seemed to know. Mom stopped talking to me
for the most part. Sometimes I would catch her giving me long, dirty side
looks, as if searching for clues about where I had been the night before. I
couldn’t tell if she knew I was high as a kite, or if she just thought I had
some secret boyfriend.
I found an old needle under the mats in my car while vacuuming it out
one day. I had been out of needles so long. I doused the tip in alcohol and
then rushed over to Vincey’s to get a dime. In his bathroom, my hands


trembled as I fished the needle around in my vein. A little red unfurled into
the liquid, and then the rush took me by storm.
And with that, I was back into it.
At first it was fine using the same old needel; it just got a little bit
harder to poke through the skin with each shot. But by the fourth shot, I
couldn’t pierce into the vein. I fished the needle around and finally struck
gold, or red I should say, but the resulting massive red mark on my inner
elbow was horribly obvious. I was so good at hiding track marks; this one
made me look like a common junkie who couldn’t afford needles. I tried to
cover it with concealer but it was still a glaring sore. My mom wouldn’t quit
looking at it and I wondered just how much she knew. Maternal instinct is a
powerful thing and my mom was no fool.
It didn’t help that a week later, I missed my dad’s birthday. No gift, no
hug, no cake, no card, nothing. I didn’t realize it until I was writing the dates
onto perishable labels in the cooler and wondered what was so damn
familiar about July 27. When it hit me what day it was, it was too late to rush
home, and I had spent all my money on a half gram that I had smoked with
Vincey before work, so there was no chance of correcting the problem.
I slunk home after work with my tail between my legs, prepared for
WWIII. But Mom and Dad were in bed already. I checked the counter for one
of Mom’s favorites, a nasty note scrawled on a paper towel, but there was
nothing. The lack of a reaction typically meant something far worse was
awaiting me.
When I glanced in the fridge on my prowl for leftovers, I was puzzled
by the absence of a birthday cake. Had they eaten out? They almost never
went anywhere. Dad was one of those “Oh, don’t do anything special for


me” types.
I had no clue how to approach Dad the next day, empty-handed. As a
kid, he and I would often play games, or go mock camping in the woods
behind our Bellingham house. I was one of those crafty kids, too, who always
returned from school with a jillion useless crafts, many of which Dad still
displayed in his office, even though they were chalked over with dust and
coming apart at all the glue seams. He had even preserved the chalk paint
graffiti I had painted all over his billiards table. Now I had nothing to make.
No special experience to share with him. He and I had been so close until I
hit puberty.
I printed him an ecard. Wrote on the back with one of my calligraphy
pens, though my embellishments were lame because of the meth vibrating
my hands.
At breakfast, I could smell my cat piss sweat as I handed Dad his
ecard. “I’m so sorry….” I said.
Dad just nodded, his chipmunk cheeks puffed out with Malt-O-Meal.
“We’re celebrating this weekend,” my mom said coldly from the
“I figured that,” I lied.
“If you want to come, we’re having dinner in Roswell,” Dad said.
“Of course I want to come!” I said.
“Are you sure you won’t be working a double?” Mom smirked.
My stomach grew tingly with adrenalin.
Mom just continued smirking at me.
“Um. Dad? Do you want to play pool this weekend?”
My dad shrugged. “If you have time.”
“Of course I do.”
“You’re not going out with your friends?” my mom replied with a
chilliness better suited to Morticia Addams. “After all we do for you, taking
you in after that baby and everything, and you can’t even remember your


daddy’s birthday? I don’t know what the hell’s been wrong with you lately
but it better stop.”
“And if it doesn’t stop,” my dad added with that tone of his that still
made me want to shit my pants, “I think you should start looking for your
own place. With the kind of money you make at that job, there’s no reason
you can’t afford an apartment. But we’re no longer just letting you live here,
use our utilities, eat our food, and just run around and….”
I felt like the wind had been socked out of me. “I’m not doing anything
Was it my paranoia, or did my mom glare at my track mark at that
I fled from the house as soon as my parents departed for work and
stopped by Vincey’s. He apologetically shrugged that he was out. This was
the first time this had happened in months, where I had had to show up to
work sober. I felt a brief cold sweat of panic, “How can I possibly do this?”
and then I calmed myself and dropped a twenty on Vincey’s bed. He
smoothed it out, studied Jackson’s evil face, then crumpled it into his pocket
with a promise to come by my work with the shit in an empty cigarette pack
so I could slam it in the restroom.
“Thanks so much!” I hung around, waiting for Vincey to kiss me or
something, but he seemed to be antsy to get somewhere. So I said bye, he
barely looked at me, and then I drug my leaden feet, one after another,
toward what I was sure would be a shitty day at work.
The troll queen had noted an improvement in my performance; she
was pleased with how I clean I was keeping her stainless steel kitchen and
how methodically I refilled the hot box. I couldn’t imagine how I would


perform so well today without the crystal coursing through my veins making
me alert, friendly, awake, and OCD as hell. I was useless that day, all
exhausted and bleary-eyed.
Of course the shift had to be busy in spurts and slow in others. I could
barely keep up, then I’d loll against the counter trying to catch my breath
while Pearce glared at me with his beady spy eyes. Once or twice he barked
across the store at me to actually work, not just stand around. One time I
didn’t even notice a customer waiting to place an order. I tried to use my
usual charm to remove her glare, but she remained irritated and I worried
that she would complain to the Troll Queen.
By six thirty, I was in physical pain, every muscle grouching in dislike
of my sobriety. I dropped a pizza all over the floor, too blurry-visioned by my
migraine to be able to differentiate between pizza box edge and counter
“Ugh!” Pearce cried exasperatedly, throwing his hands in the air and
storming away. My many days of great performance did not seem to make
any difference on his opinion that I was a stupid blonde bitch.
“I have a migraine!” I snapped to his retreating back. I had never
talked back before.
He squelched my momentary pride at sticking up for myself by
wheeling on me and snapping, “Explain that to the customer when they
come in for their order, then.”
Fortunately I had a duplicate pizza out before they came in, but of
course Pearce had to relate the tale of my ineptitude to them anyway. At
least they were stoners that I knew from parties at the Rodriguez house and
the chick flashed me a big “That’s all right” grin.
I started avoiding watching the clock but I couldn’t help it. By eight, I


was livid. I tried calling Vincey’s mom since Vincey didn’t have a phone of his
own but she didn’t answer. She was probably in bed by now, nursing her
neuropathy and her hemorrhoids upon mountains and mountains of
medicated pillows, Dr. Phil or America’s Top Talent set loud enough to drown
out her pain. I used to take her soup and I reminded myself that I should
Vincey never showed.
I drug the mop around in rage at closing. Hair stuck to my sweaty face.
I hurt so badly everywhere. Comedown. A monster rampaging in my every
muscle and tendon. Even my eyeballs throbbed. I hadn’t had a comedown
this nasty since my days shooting up constantly at Andres’s.
I need to get clean, I told myself as I strained my tight back muscles
hanging the mop-head on its hook.
Nevertheless, I had to get my twenty’s worth tonight and put an end to
this awfulness. I had a feeling that just a little shot would put me right to
sleep like a baby. Sometimes just a little bit in the middle of a comedown
normalizes you, rather than tweaking you out.
As soon as the clock hit 10, I shot out of there without saying bye to
Pearce and careened my car over to Vincey’s.
His lights were off, his music was off, and there was no sign of the
usual crowd traipsing in and out. I already had the sense that the place was
desolate, but I pounded on the door anyway, driven by my insane cravings.
Manuel emerged from next door to dump some dishwater on the
straggly flowers planted along the porch railing. “Oh, hey!”
“How you been?” I asked him as I hugged him back and gulped in his
“Oh, you know, the same. How about you?”
“Same as I always been, working.”
“I wish you’d come by more. I haven’t seen you in a minute.”


“Me too. Well, where’s Vincey?”
Manuel’s face fell. “Oh, you’re just looking for Vincey. Well, I guess he’s
with Mel. They’re picking up.”
“Mel’s back?” I demanded.
Just at the moment, the growling of Mel’s truck drowned out Manny’s
voice as she pulled into the alley next to Vincey’s house. It looked like Vincey
was in her front seat. She hadn’t seen me.
“Well, I better go,” I said, hopping over the porch railing. Shit! I had
parked my car in Vincey’s drive!
“No, hang out for a bit!” Manny called after me.
Mel had already stormed around the corner of Vincey’s trailer. “Whose
fucking car is that?” she bellowed at Manny.
“Mine,” I muttered, jogging past her with my keys out.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” Mel screeched at me. “You better
get out of here, bitch!”
Mel scared me, she was so big. I hopped in my car and took off as
quickly as I could. Vincey was leaning on the truck and he started to mouth
something at me when Mel stormed up to him, still screeching about me
being there. He put his hands in defense and then I turned the corner and
couldn’t see him anymore.
I wasn’t sure if I could go by Vincey’s after that. I decided to just wait
for him to come see me at the gas station. He didn’t, though, and I started
withdrawing. I didn’t know where else to get any. I knew Curt would be good
for a dub, but I didn’t know his number or where he lived. Usually I saw him
at Vincey’s.
Meth withdrawals are nothing like heroin withdrawals. You don’t hole up in a
room with bars on the doors and windows, soaking sheets with icy sweat as
your intestines twist in unhealthy contortionist bends and knots and as dead


baby hallucinations scoot across your ceiling.
But it is very depressing and despairing. You can’t really get out of bed.
Sleep haunts you like a disease, pervading your very being. Your muscles
hurt and your jaw cramps as you grit it against the relentless cravings and
you overeat. I had difficulty getting up for work and I chain smoked and
slammed Monsters. I constantly snuck little packaged muffins from the store
room, snarfing them in the privacy of the walk-in where Pearce couldn’t see
me. The vitamin B in the Monsters and the sugar in the muffins helped hold
the worst of the suffering at bay. When my co-worker divulged that lemon
juice in her water, 6000mcg of vitamin B12, and leafy greens aided her when
she got all drowsy mid-shift, I made a mental note to try that, and it helped a
little bit too.
Still, I had nearly zero energy. I couldn’t stop craving the acrid chemical
taste of a first hit, followed by the euphoric rising of my heartbeat; I couldn’t
stop dreaming of the satisfying sensation of massive white ghost plumes
roiling out my throat to fill the darkness of Vincey’s tent, then watching it
dissipate into my naked skin and the canvas walls arching overhead.
I started smoking a lot more than before, as a lame substitute for the smoke
that I missed. Smokers observe things that non-smokers don’t because we’re
outside at odd hours, just calmly sitting. At night, no longer at Vincey’s all
the time, I would just sit outside and observe Reid below me. Hardly
anybody ever went outside in Reid; the town looked like it was sleeping, but I
knew that almost everyone was up, twacked out. I would watch the distant
rectangular box of Vincey’s house, Mel’s truck always parked alongside it.
Sometimes I would see her waddle out of the house, hop into her truck, and I


wished that I could hurl my cigarette cherry all the way to where she was
and set her hair on fire. Other times I would watch the gas station, an island
of bright lights, always busy, random strangers that I would probably never
meet coming and going. I would watch the distant highway lights, getting
bigger and bigger, or the red taillights melting into the blackness of the
horizon. Bats would swoop over me, night hawks would plunge in the sky,
and the stars reminded me that there was more to life than getting high. I
tried to look on the bright side: if Vincey and I were still talking, then I would
probably be in his trailer right now, bored and high and missing out on the
beautiful night sky. But that offered me little comfort and I would usually end
up giving one last longing glance at his trailer before bitterly crushing out
my cigarette and heading back to my room to deal with the pain smarting in
my chest. And then, an hour later, I would be back outside with another
cigarette, repeating the process.
My performance at work lagged, as I knew it would, and the troll queen
called me into her office for a disciplinary conference. I could hardly
suppress my eye rolls as she described how I had left tomato seeds above
the trash bin last week and how two customers had complained of being
ignored and how another had bitched about a cold burger. I wanted to ask
her what she would do in Ethiopia, with real problems like finding clean
water and soothing her child’s dysentery cramps calling for her attention
rather than this silly shit, but I somehow found control of my tongue and just
told her I’d do better. She gave me the evil eye, her dead-fly mole quivering,
as I walked out. I just wanted to quit right then and there but I was so close


to making up my car payments that I didn’t.
Curt came by later that day and had a little bit of shit to share. I finally
got the burst of motivation that I had been seeking for nearly a week since
Vincey had burned me.
At home everything had been neglected during my month or so lost in the
sky, and now I was painfully open to noticing the damage. My laundry,
probably host to some unknown and very stinky organic life, was falling out
of my hamper in overwhelming marinara-stained mounds. I had no
underwear left, and had been spot washing pairs in the sink for work for a
week now. My body was mottled with green and brown circles from where I
would rub and pluck my aching muscles in an unkind massage. Having a
distaste for the heat of shower steam when I was high, I had forests
everywhere hair grew, and the soles of my feet were charcoal patties of dirty
callouses. On top of my toes, my flats had irritated neat little black hard
circles atop each of my toes, indicating that I needed new shoes to endure
the eight hours on linoleum floor at work. From the side, my waist was as
thin as a Victoria’s Secret Angel, but from the front, my belly hung grossly
like a V over my pants button, utterly untoned and wrinkled into saggy old
lady territory by stretch marks. And I could barely see all this through the
streaks and water spots on my bathroom mirror, hanging pridelessly over
the brown pit that had once been my porcelain vanity sink.
I had emerged from several black pits of depression before, but I was
amazed that this had been one, when I had been using a drug known for its
Energizer Bunny effects. It had been a week and I was taking it all back, all


I scoured my body, put back in my piercings that had all somehow fallen
out, scrubbed my bathroom with Clorox, and stripped my stained and sour
bedding for a wash.
I was proud that of how clean my room was, when I noticed that the peace
lilies from my daughter’s funeral bower were just a few brown reeds in dusty
pots swinging from my cobwebby ceiling. I salvaged the white bows tied
around the hanging pots’ bellies and dashed the dead lilies out my window. I
was so disgusted with myself. Not only had I killed my baby, I had killed her
flowers. I stashed the bows away where they couldn’t torment me. Good
thing Lily hadn’t even breathed one breath, when I couldn’t even grow lilies.
She probably would’ve ended up in foster care, or with my mom and dad.
I had always imagined that I had what it took to be a perfect mom, that
other moms were just lazy, that there was no excuse to be sexually distant
from Andres and to not have my baby constantly beribboned and cute with
spotless Robeez and pretty earrings and neat pigtails on top of her head. It
didn’t even cross my mind that I might go back to my soiled existence as a
tweaker, or even as a pothead, after having Lily. I knew I would care only
about Lily and I would do the best I possibly could for her.
But I should have known that was bullshit. If I had done meth before she
was conceived, then what’s to say I would have been a good enough person
to abstain after she was out of my womb? And if I couldn’t even grow lilies,
what’s to say that I would have been able to properly feed and bathe and
dress my little one? I probably would’ve failed taking care of her the same
way I failed to take care of myself.
Maybe it was a blessing that she had died. Not a blessing for me, a


blessing for her.
I couldn’t dwell in those thoughts too long, though, or I would get suicidal.
So I shoved the thoughts out of my head and resumed the all-night process
of reordering my life.
When the sun rose, I put on a sexy outfit I had not worn since Andres said
it was slutty and I applied the blue eye shadow that highlighted the
largeness and innocence of my eyes, I felt like I had just been released from
prison. The person that I was looking at had been me all along, but she had
gotten lost inside of my body, inside of my mind. It always tripped me out
when I had these weird moments of consciousness and was able to see how
bad I had gotten.
I wondered if my tongue ring could still fit in. Red had pierced it for me,
but Andres had grimaced at it, so I had not worn it since. With some
discomfort, I managed to push the barbell through the hole and screw on a
bright blue ball on top.
With that, I took back me. Andres was finally fully eradicated from my life.
I was off work that day, and I was bored, so I headed to Manny’s early. I
knew he’d like to see me, since his brother sure didn’t give a crap.
Manny wanted to know why I was so down. “I been feeling shitty,” I told
him. Manuel determined that he needed to cheer me up. We decided to drink
till we collapsed, ideally at midnight or later. Manuel requested that I
wouldn’t touch a bit of that shit so that I wouldn’t get an unfair advantage,
which I think was unfair considering he was at least double my size, but I
didn’t argue. “I’ve been clean ten days now,” I said, not counting the little bit
I had done with Curt the day previous.
Manny had made enough money cleaning up yards all week to buy a bottle
of Tennessee honey, a bottle of Jägermeister, and a thirty-pack of beer. We


estimated that if we paced ourselves, we could polish all that booze off by
I was somewhat wooed by Manuel’s sweetness and it took my every effort
not to peck his cheek in thanks. Had I pecked his cheek, he would’ve gotten
all heady and thought there was a chance, and I had finally just broken
almost all the guys in town of that hope.
So at ten in the morning we commenced with beers. Should we eat while we
do this? We debated and Manuel’s mom who overheard us cried, “Yes! You’ll
be puking up your intestines if you don’t eat! I swear, you young ones, you
all came out no common sense, not a speck!” She insisted on making us
chile rellenos after several minutes of expressing her dismay at our
generation’s stupidity. By eleven am, I had eaten two enormous chile
rellenos, polished off two Coronas, and felt a little foamy in my gut and
unpleasantly thirsty.
Beer in the morning reminded me of living at Aunt Pearl’s, sipping beers with
breakfast cereal before school. Aunt Pearl swore that the protein in beer was
excellent fortification for the whole day. I really hadn’t had a breakfast beer
since that time but I missed it. I missed Aunt Pearl with my whole being; I did
every day, but some memories made me miss her more painfully. Lack of
morning drinking had made me weak for it, though, and I was already
exhausted and a little lightheaded by noon. I was growing tired of Manny’s
smoky living room and playing Mortal Kombat.
Manuel claimed he felt fine but suggested I take a shot or two if I felt unwell.
After all, we had two bottles and thirty-pack to get through today! Now that
it came down to it, I was unsure if I could really polish off that much alcohol


in one day. Even beer kicked my ass. I rarely drank because I did not like the
way it mixed with my stimulants, so my tolerance was actually not very high.
But I had made this whole plan with Manuel and I couldn’t just be a pussy
and tap out already, so I agreed to some shots. I shot the Jager and chased
its thick sweet syrupy burn with another beer. Manuel laughed at me, all
cocky that he would out-drink me.
We played Mortal Kombat, pausing now and then to take a shot and then
crack open a fresh beer to chase the hard liquor. It was a decent strategy as
it restrained us from drinking too quickly. Nevertheless, I felt sick by one,
plus unbelievably bored. And Manuel was only getting more hyper and giddy
with each drink he took, his energy blasting my crankiness and giving me a
headache. It was becoming horrible. The world reeled. Was I drunk already?
To still the spinning, I ate some more and fell asleep on the living room floor.
Manuel shook me awake at four, saying he had just woken up from a little
siesta himself. I felt a lot better, though a headache still pulsed at the edge
of my awareness and it took all I had to not let myself feel the pain. My
ability to ignore headaches was a survival tactic that I had learned to help
survive comedowns.
I talked a little about getting clean with Manny. He squeezed me hand and
beamed at me and I hated how people seemed so tenderly proud of me
when I mentioned cleaning up. As if they felt sorry for me, stuck in a bad
place, pissing away my potential.
Manuel’s mom brought us big picnic cups of lemonade and scolded me for
being a baby. “You want to get off that shit, girl, you get off that shit! I did!”
She gestured big and wild, and I wished that I could explain to her that it


wasn’t so easy.
We poured the whisky into our lemonde but made the mixture too strong
and we both wanted to spew once the Tenessee honey hit our guts like fire
“Should we maybe hold off on the whisky?” I held up the bottle with a
Manuel studied the bottle long and hard, then nodded with a little flush of
relief. “There’s still some Jager, right?”
“Barely. You fucker, you drank it all while I was asleep, didn’t you?”
“No! We drank it, you and me. We drank a lot.”
So we finished the little that was left of the Jager and then we contented
ourselves with beers till our teeth were numb. Somehow we bumbled
through a few games of cards but I can’t tell you what we played. All I recall
was lots of laughter and more beer and some dude showing up to bum a few
beers and join in. At this point we neither cared nor needed to finish all the
alcohol by midnight exactly because we were already stumbling around like
idiots. It suddenly seemed like the perfect time for a cruise.
But then my keys were nowhere to be found. I swear Manuel and I tore the
house up looking for the keys. I even peered helplessly in my car windows,
mumbling about calling fire teams and police. Several people, I don’t
remember who, were at the house and they kept laughing at our drunken
stupidity. Manuel seized the whiskey and we set out on a walk, deciding to
work out the missing keys problem in the morning when we sobered up.
Ultimately, the night ended up being unforgettable, one of those neverending summer nights of youth, both exhilaratingly fun and desperately
horrible. I have only a handful of such nights in my life, as I’m sure everyone
else does. It was one of those rare times where you have no cares in the


world and you feel distinctly, undoubtedly young, so young that you are
emboldened to test the limits of the freedom buzzing in the dark, getting a
little thrill each time you escape death and then wondering just when your
luck might run out.
We stumbled and tripped along the dirt lanes and trash-heap alleys of Reid,
our eyes mainly fixed downward at the swerving texture of the ground, in
search of nobody and nothing really. We even accidentally meandered onto
lawns, where we made a game out of dodging dog poop with fifty-fifty
success probably. My shoes were luckily clean by the next day when I
thought to check the soles for dog shit residue. I don’t know if Manuel was so
lucky in his neon-colored sponge flipflops that he held together with zebra
print Duct tape.
Manuel sparked the blunt he had rolled for us earlier and I was pleasantly
surprised when grape flavor flooded my mouth. My senses were starting to
return, my drunk was beginning to fade. So I swigged from the bottle and
was surprised at the lack of burning in my gut. “Did someone replace all the
whisky with apple juice?” I surveyed the bottle’s contents through one eye
but couldn’t determine anything.
“Naw, it should be…whisky…?” Manuel also took a lengthy swig then also
studied the bottle. “It tastes damn good, is what the problem is,” he finally
“It didn’t earlier, shit.” I spat a chunk of weed off my inner lip and found my
lips blubbery. Without a doubt the whisky was undiluted. The cool desert air
must have been what was making me feel sober.
Manuel began to bitch about his joblessness.
“Shit, I should quit at the station, you take my position, and I’ll get


something in Carlsbad,” I proposed, only half seriously.
Manuel just grinned and shrugged. “Whatever’s clever.”
It irritated me to no end how the young men who had not already moved out
of this town to work had no true inclination to get a job and leave Mama’s
house. Manuel right then proved to be one of them. His sweetness was no
excuse for being a lazy broke ass.
“Oh, shit, there’s my brother,” Manuel nodded at a couple ambling along the
street holding hands.
Vincey still hadn’t bothered to come by the station or text me, to invite me
over. And now there he was, with Mel waddling next to him. And they were
holding hands. Like some happy couple.
Mel saw us first. “Are you fucking kidding me?” she snarled. “There’s your
slut, Vince!”
“Hey, bro,” Vincey called, trying to distract Mel, “what are you doing,
drinking out of the bottle like some damn hobo?”
“What, what, you wanna call me a hobo again?” I thought Manuel was just
buying into the joke too until him tense his fists.
“Chill out, Manny, you’re fucking drunk.” Vincey dismissed him with a wave
of his hand and started to walk away.
But Mel decided to snicker at me as she strode by. “Fucking slut. Stick with
your little boys now!”
I just had it. I chucked the whisky bottle and it shattered in a spray of shards
as I bulldozed that fatuous bitch.
I had the advantage of surprise but Mel regained her composure pretty
quick. She was unfortunately a force I could not match. With just a sweep of
her fat arms, she had me on the pavement. And then she had a painful knot
of my hair in her hands and was screaming about me being a cunt who
fucked her man cuz I wasn’t good enough to get my own man and I done
fucked up starting shit with her and she hated me cuz I was just a psycho


bitch and an ugly whore as she rammed my head into the pavement. The
sharp rocks drove through my hair, piercing my alcohol fog with pain.
That’s when Manny and Vincey got her off me. She was still spitting mad and
cussing at me. I just couldn’t be the loser of another fight. So while Manny
and Vincey held her, trying to calm her down, I ran at her again, slammed
my fist into her face, and simultaneously sank my teeth onto her boob as
hard as I could.
She screamed in pain and my head exploded in pain as she punched the
side of my face. “You’re going to die, bitch!” she howled.
“You’ll die, bitch, I got a knife and I’m gonna slit your throat,” I spat as
Manny pulled me away. I had never threatened anybody so boldly or stupidly
before but I guess that’s the power of alcohol, to oil your throat and loosen
your tongue!
Mel was strong enough to break free of Vincey’s hold and she ran at me one
last time. And with a splitting blow to the side of my head, she knocked me
onto the ground. Manny instantly dropped to my side, cradling my head in
his hands and asking over and over if I was OK.
“Mel!” Vincey exploded. “Knock it off now, you fucking bitch!”
“Oh, what, you defending your girlfriend now? Your little side bitch? You think
I haven’t heard about you two fucking around when I’m in Albuquerque?”
“Whatever, fuck this.” Vincey started running down the street.
“Get back here, fool!” Mel started chasing after him but she couldn’t run
very fast.
“Heather!” Manuel exclaimed, worried because I hadn’t answered yet. “You
I tried to lie but I found myself crying. The side of my face was swelling like a
balloon. And then for some reason he was crying too and we were talking
about totally separate things as tears rolled down our cheeks and out of our


nostrils. A car came so we got up, started heading home. I realized that I
hadn’t even called my parents at all to tell them that I would be out all night
and they knew it was my day off. Maybe I could claim I had gotten called in
to work and forgotten to call? I tried to dial them, but my phone screen
stayed black. Dead.
“Oh my God, what the hell?” Manuel’s mom gasped when we busted in
through the door. “I heard the cops talking about you two walking around
town drinking! Oh, my God, girl! You got into a fight with Melissa? What the
hell where you two doing?” She went on about how Mel stormed over to the
house, wailing about how I had attacked her while she had been doing
nothing but walking with Vincey minding her own business.
I plugged my phone in but it was too dead to even turn its lights on.
“I thought to myself, why would that little girl just attack Melissa like that?
Mel must have done something, I says to myself.” She wrapped a bag of
frozen peas in a dish towel for my face and gently spread some Neosporin on
a few nail gashes Mel had swiped across my neck that I hadn’t even felt.
“I need my car keys, I think I lost them,” I said. That key was the only
one to that car so I had no other way to get into it.
“Here, girl, I hid them from you last night to keep you and Manny from
getting’ into something stupid.” She was like a ray of sunshine splitting up a
thunderhead and I wanted to hug and kiss her as she produced my keys
from a kitchen drawer.
I finally got my phone to turn on. There was just one text from my dad,
demanding that I get my butt home immediately.
“I gotta go,” I said.
“Girl, you better not be driving home!” Mrs. Rodriguez was on her armchair
now, the old plaid fabric bulging under her massive behind as she took long


tugs off a cigarette.
“I got to,” I said quickly. I hugged Manny and I dashed out of there to face
my humiliation and my parents’ wrath alone.
The whole drive up Capitol Hill’s snaking driveway, I braced myself, telling
myself over and over again about that I was an adult and my parents
couldn’t destroy me over staying out all night without calling anymore. But I
was guilty that I had worried them. And now I was scared that they would
finally kick me out. Where could I possibly go?
Then I formed an idea: maybe today would be a good time to ask their
forgiveness and acknowledge all the shit that I never had acknowledged
before, so that they would show me some mercy. Maybe I could even thank
them for sending me to Aunt Pearl’s house, because even though their
sending me away hurts to this very day and even though sending me there
hadn’t cleaned me up, they had meant well. Besides, I sure had loved living
with Aunt Pearl.
That train of thought reminded me of an apology I still owed my parents for
being such an ass as a teenager. I had never apologized because I had never
had the guts to bring it up. Sure I was a fuck-up at sixteen like everybody,
but maybe more so than most. I could blame my parents for that in part, but
in part it was my fault and they were my innocent victims. The pot wasn’t a
big deal in my opinion, but the opiates probably really scared them. For
years I had avoided remembering when my mom overheard me say to my
friend Beth, “I would never want to turn out a tight ass biddy like my mom.
I’d rather be kooky but cool and friendly like my aunt Pearl. Shoot me if I
ever turn into my mother! Oh God!” She had been in the store at the same


time as us, and I had had no idea she was there until I heard a strangled sob
and turned to see my mom striding out the door with her hand clapped over
her mouth.
I had always perceived a jealousy that my mom harbored for Aunt Pearl. A
lot of it had involved me. Aunt Pearl was my godmother, but as a baby I had
apparently preferred her holding me. After my parents left Las Cruces for
Washington to be near Dad’s parents, I never saw Aunt Pearl, but she always
sent me the best presents. Mom commented often how I was “Just like Pearl
at that age,” usually with a negative intonation. Come my teenage years,
Mom never said it but I saw it now, my almost self-destructive desire to
experience everything that I could and my early sexual ripening were just
like Aunt Pearl’s as a teen. According to my mom’s stories, Aunt Pearl had
been a hell-raiser since Mom was a baby, always coming home late reeking
of liquor and sporting hickies that she didn’t even try to hide. She was
notorious for attending violent student protests against segregation that
often exploded into riots, despite promising Gramma and Grampa that she
wouldn’t go.
“My mom hated that little witch. And my dad just spoiled her to death,” my
mom recalled one day. “He even bought her this car for her sixteenth.” We
were perusing a family photo album and we came across a picture of Aunt
Pearl in a convertible, her cheeks mottled with freckles even in the black and
white of the photograph, her grin huge and cheesy. My gramma was
standing to the side, grinning big too, and it was hard to imagine that she
would overdose on Seconal five years later.
Now I felt terrible knowing that after years of feeling second best to Aunt


Pearl, I had only made my mom feel the same. Karma sure is a bitch. Maybe
my preference for Aunt Pearl over my mom was why every guy preferred
another chick over me!
I had often felt that a large part of my life’s problems stemmed from my odd
inability to see things for what they were. Time and again I had had the wool
pulled over my eyes, then traumatically ripped off. Aunt Pearl had once read
my tarot cards and my future card suggested that poor judgement awaited
me and that taking time to really weigh all the sides of each scenario was
much advised.
Nobody greeted me when I slipped in through the front door but their cars
were both in the driveway so I padded into the kitchen. I waited for Mom to
spring out of the shadows, cussing at me, but apparently they had fallen
asleep. I tried to sleep too, but I kept tossing around in humiliation.
I had only been in one cat fight before Mel. I had also lost miserably at that
Rosario’s face was so pale, so livid, but her eyes had a fire that was truly
alarming, as she tackled me in the kitchen at Andres’s house. I guess that’s
what they mean when they talk about fiery Spanish women. It sure wasn’t
sexy, though. The kitchen knife that I was holding to Andres’s throat
clattered across the tiles as pain exploded my skull. And then Andres’s damn
mother was there, shouting in Spanish, as Andres tried to wrestle Rosario off
me. Rosario had been silent, unlike Mel; she had actually scared me.
The seven o’clock sunshine was just beginning to leak through the kitchen
window when I started to carry my things out to my car. I had sat for hours in
Andres’s room, letting the smoke from his last few shards roil out of my


throat, before making the decision to pack my shit up and get out. There
was no need for confrontation. But, shit, if he woke up before I was gone and
wanted a confrontation, then I wasn’t scared. I was just done. Finally and
truly done.
I came back up the stairs to get another bag, and Andres was sitting up,
staring in shock. At first I thought it was because he saw the bags of my shit.
But then I realized that he was holding the empty sack.
“Did you seriously smoke all my shit?” he demanded.
I shrugged. “You must’ve spilled it or something.”
“Are you fucking –“ He laughed in disbelief as he threw the bag down. “That
was my last fucking twenty. Are you going to give me money to pay for that,
“Don’t have any,” I replied carelessly as I hefted up another bag. How did he
not register what was happening?
“What the fuck are you doing?” he demanded. Ah, finally it was registering!
“Leaving you,” I replied.
He just snorted. “Oh, so this shit again?”
“Yeah.” I turned at the door to give him a bittersweet smile. “I found your
little, um, conversations. With Janet? So yeah, I’m leaving, and I’m never
coming back.”
I had hoped for some kind of grief, maybe some persuasion, at least some
anger. Anything better than what I got, which was his stare of hatred, and
then his sneer. “Oh, OK. OK. Fine. You wanna leave? Leave.”
“OK then!” But I descended the stairs with the sting of humiliated tears in
the back of my nose. And it was so hard keeping the tears from falling as I
moved the rest of my stuff while Andres watched from his bed with a little
When I had everything out of the bedroom, I tackled the bathroom. Stupid
Rosario was in there already, curling her hair and making duck faces in the


mirror. “Please move,” was all I could manage as I knelt by her knees to get
my makeup out of the under sink cabinet. I didn’t give a shit about my
shower stuff, I could buy more, but I had such a nice makeup kit, built up
over years, with dramatic theatre palettes from my theatre makeup class. I
couldn’t afford to replace all that stuff, not with my overdrawn bank account.
Rosario hissed in impatience. “Like can’t you wait two goddamn
seconds? Oh my God.”
“I just need my stuff and then I’m getting out.”
My voice betrayed my shaking and Rosario peered at me. “Are you crying?
Are you leaving my brother?”
“Yes,” I choked out.
She slammed down her curling iron and stomped into Andres’s room.
“Andres? What the hell? What happened?”
“She’s just playing games,” I heard Andres reply.
I grabbed my bulging makeup kit and stormed downstairs. Rosario passed
me as she left Andre’s room, giving me the most annoyed look.
I’m so done with all of you! I thought.
One last thing: my nice wok, a Christmas present from Gramma now rusting
in disuse in the pan drawer under Mrs. Ramirez’s oven.
Andres entered the kitchen. “When you retell this story to all your family and
friends, be sure to let them know that this was your fault, that you left me,”
he declared smugly.
Ignore him. Ignore him. My heart was pounding hard, my eyes were foggy,
and I felt weird. That crystal had been bad. Or maybe it was just Andres’s
toxic presence, finally making me physically ill.
“And be sure to remove me on Facebook,” he went on.
“No problem,” I muttered as I tried to get past him. I had my keys in my
pocket and I was ready to go.
He blocked me. “And don’t forget. I fucking saved you.”
That got to me. “You didn’t save me from shit.”
He just smiled, amused. This was a game to him; I was a mouse between his


paw and the corner and he just had to bat me around a bit more. “Keep
telling yourself that. But I actually loved you. One day,” his smile grew
broader, “one day you’ll see that. Just like all the others.” He moved his hand
in a broad arc, indicating all his exes, all of whom he swore he still loved with
his whole heart. That had been one of the major problems in our
“Yeah, like how you love Janet,” I spat. “Or should I say, Janet’s tits?” The
pictures from his Facebook flashed before my eyes, the giant brown orbs
with curly gang script tattooed all over them, her nigger lips pursed in a
desperate pink pout she evidently thought was seductive. Bitch!
Andres’s eyes hardened.
“That’s right, Andres. I went through your Facebook last night. And now you
can’t play your little denial game, because I saw it all. And there’s no way
you can twist it!”
“And why would you go through my Facebook?”
“Does it fucking matter? Because you were lying to me, Andres! And I knew
it! After all I did for you! And you go and fuck that whore?” The tears came
and it was mortifying because now Rosario was standing behind him,
“I wasn’t fucking Janet,” Andres said. Always dodging what he had done
wrong by arguing with my wording. I hated him, just hated him.
“Oh, right. Because you’re like some weird kind of fag. You sure as fuck were
never attracted to me!”
He just laughed. “You still think it’s just about sex, don’t you?”
“No, but maybe it should be.” I tried to push past him again but he shoved
me back.
“Let me go!” I screamed.
But he kept smiling. And he wasn’t going to let me go. He had to bat me
around a little more. “I was only talking to Janet because she makes me feel


like a man while you were running around being a crazy bitch.”
I braced myself but pain already jolted me.
“After you killed Red, I should’ve known you would try to pull that shit with
me. But I took care of you. Now you want to walk out on this? Fine, be my
guest.” And finally he stepped aside, allowing me safe passage, while
Rosario stared at us with her mouth open, practically salivating at all the rich
drama that she could tell her cousins later.
But I couldn’t just walk away this time. Andres needed to suffer. To feel
some kind of pain, at least a little jolt of fear in his chest. I seized a knife
from the greasy yellow block and sprang it up against his neck in a ninja
For a split second, his eyes flew open and he stopped breathing. That
was all I needed. That tic of fear.
I would have dropped the knife. I wanted to kill Andres, to dismember
him while he was still alive so that I could hear his screams, but I didn’t want
to spend the rest of my life in prison. I had already been in prison for months,
the dank prison of Andres’s room, of his narrow little meth-addled life. Today
was my first day of a new life. Why would I fuck that all up?
But before I could drop the knife, Rosario attacked me. She was so tall
and vicious, there was no way I could stave her off, as she ripped out a
handful of my hair and punched my temples.
There was no way I could win and make her suffer the way she was
hurting me.
Cat fights made me feel so puny and powerless. So embarrassed to be
alive. Sort of like how my overall life did.
In the morning, I crept out of my room. There was no sign of them. Finally, I
pinpointed their voices rising and falling from the back porch.
They were reclining on the porch rockers, drinking glasses of sweating iced


tea with mint leaves and lemon wedges, looking at the mountains. For all
their fighting over the years, at that moment they looked so utterly peaceful.
A little unit, reclining back from the world on a Sunday morning.
Shit, they had been married 23 years.
I gulped, then pressed open the screen door, cringing as the hinges whined
and my parents’ calm conversation lapsed into tense silence.
“Mom? Dad?” My voice was almost a mouse squeak.
They did not respond, just kept staring forward, like Medusa victims struck
into stone.
“I need to say something. I know I fucked – I know I screwed up last night. I
am so sorry I put you both through so much worry. Neither of you deserved.
Um, I, uh, I did some thinking today and I need to thank you both? And say
sorry too? It’s hard to say what I wanna say so bear with me, but, um, I
guess I finally see how selfish I’ve been? And how much worry you guys
have suffered over me. It’s only natural for parents but with me I know I was
a little worse, you know. And um…I get why you just get so mad when I
make you worry because you really can’t handle anymore and you shouldn’t
have to. And last night was inexcusable. Um, I’m honestly pretty depressed.
And I get if now you guys want me gone because I am such a fuck-up, I know
it myself.”
At this point I lost it. At last I was reaching out to Mom and Dad, not pulling
away from them. Maybe this was my long-sought resolution to the fearful
and stiff relationship we had. And if that was resolved, then I would solve a
lot of my other problems. They wouldn’t throw me out, they wouldn’t hate
me, and we could finally be the happy family we had never been.
But they had to forgive me. Love is a two-way street. There was no
guarantee that they would forgive anything. So I pressed on, thinking of


more and more ways that I had fucked up, feeling worse and worse as a
“Um, I am feel so bad for moving out to go to Andres when you guys warned
me about him. And you guys were right. But honestly I learned – I learned
some things? From him. Like how to love. So he hurt me and I’m sorry but
he’s part of why I’m here now saying this shit. And Mom? I never loved Aunt
Pearl more than you. I’m so sorry about what I said to Beth that day in the
grocery store. I missed you so much when I was living with her. I would’ve
preferred to have gone dorm shopping with you, Mom, and I wanted to call
you all the time but I was…scared to? And when I did, you were so cold, but I
get why now. It took me a long time, but I do get why.”
Mom sniffled. It was barely audible, but it was nevertheless a sign she was
receiving my words through her stone wall act. Then Dad swiveled his knee
and cleared his throat.
“I don’t know how or why things got this way. Between us and also just, just
even for me. I can’t explain to you guys what I go through each day
but….Maybe it’s over Liliana, I don’t know, but my sadness started a long
time before. And it’s not your guys’ fault. I don’t know why I am the way I
am or why I feel so bad all the time but I’m sick of it. And it’s part of why I
treat you guys like shit and you guys don’t deserve it. I hope you guys can
forgive me and know that I love you both. Very much.” Even through the
wavering of my tearful voice, my speech emerged more beautiful, heartfelt,
and true than the one I had planned in my mind before stepping out onto the
There was a long silence. That had not been the response that I had


expected, but then I had not really expected any particular response. I often
felt that I did not even know my own parents because I was never sure of
what their reactions to things might be.
Just as I opened my mouth to venture a further apology, my dad finally
spoke, “We are glad you finally understand why we worry about you. Just
think of Liliana, how you worried about her. We want to see you do the best
you can in life, and we know you’ve been struggling, and that hurts us. More
than you will ever know. Now we are here to help you, that’s we are letting
you stay here. Do you know how many parents would not do that for their
kids? But we do for you and it’s because we do want to help you, very much.
But you gotta tell us how to help because we are at a loss. It is very stressful
and we are at the end of our ropes trying to figure out what to do.”
“And this self-sabotage has got to stop,” Mom piped up. “I don’t know what
you are on or what you do when you’re out all night but you can’t keep
hurting yourself and expect us to stand by and watch. I don’t know if you
just think we’re stupid or what….” She took a deep breath. “Maybe you don’t
even think about us. When you do – when you get high. But we can tell. We
have known for a long time. We hoped that you would be able to get better
here but clearly that is not true. It seems all we do for you has failed. I even
sent you to my sister’s –“ She began to cry. “I sent you there to clean up and
you just got worse!”
“I didn’t,” I sobbed lamely. “I’m getting better, I really am.” I wished I could
tell them that I had been mostly clean for going on two weeks, but that
would involve admitting that I got high in the first place. They knew but an
admission would be the end of it all.


“It seems to have been your whole downfall. That woman let you run wild on
the streets like a hoodlum.”
“She really didn’t, Mom. You did the right thing. Cruces was good for me. For
a while.”
Mom finally met my eyes. “You are welcome to stay here, Heather, but no
more crap like last night. And please get into therapy. You seriously need it.”
Then she dashed the mint leaf sop and iced tea dregs collected at the
bottom of her glass over the porch rail and went back inside.
Dad and I stood a bit longer in scarred silence before I finally went to my
I threw myself onto bed in humiliation. How I wished that I hadn’t apologized!
I had lied, I did love my Aunt Pearl more than my mom.

Chapter Four: Labret
Aunt Pearl had always seemed invincible. Not only was she openly and
proudly a witch, but she also didn’t feel ashamed of her age. She still tended
to her appearance and had men in her life despite being in her mid-sixties.
She styled her graying streaks to resemble lightning bolts jetting through her
honey badger mane. She wouldn’t go out without glamor makeup and and a
faux fur stole and heels. Always heels. In my mind’s eye she was taller than
me, and it was always a shock when she stepped down from her heels and
was an inch shorter than me. I think she also seemed so tall because she
was larger than life, a charismatic star that commanded attention wherever
she walked. Especially when she got with her group of fellow Wiccans, the
Cruces Crones as they called themselves, she was unstoppably funny,
charismatic, and dirty, with a strong penchant for wine that she advertised


all over her house with little plaques pronouncing stuff such as, “I love to
cook with wine, sometimes I even put it in the food!”
When I first got to Las Cruces, I had been naturally pretty, but Aunt Pearl
groomed me into a blossoming bombshell by showing me the proper shape
to pluck my eyebrows into and the proper way to line my eyes without
emulating Alice Cooper. She made me my own deodorant because she was
crafty that way, even making her own laundry soap and knitting her own
Angora sweaters. She was always cooking elaborate meals with food from
her own garden and exotic spices. The one thing she never used was table
salt; the only salt in the house was the Himalayan rock salt she sprinkled
across doorways to keep evil spirits out.
But that was about the extent of her healthful habits. Otherwise she was not
careless per se, but carefree. One time she confided in me that she had
never once worn a condom, to which I of course freaked out. Also, she
despised exercise, calling physical labor a torture that technology had been
invented to spare us. Probably only her diet saved her from being obese.
That and her ceaseless flurry of energy. And she chain smoked Natives;
another constant in my memories of of her is the smoke curling from her
nostrils and the cigarette clamped tightly between her middle and
forefinger, with which she would use to punctuate her sentences, driving
cancerous periods and underscores into the space between her and
whomever she was addressing like carving the importance of her words
permanently into the earth’s atmosphere.
And I guess as a result, she succumbed to cancer.
She was hardly the type one would expect to go that way. Her intuition was


so strong regarding everyone else, so why didn’t it protect her? Didn’t she at
least suspect she was sick? By the time she collapsed like a used Kleenex on
her tile floor and knocked in her rotten skull, she was more cancer cells than
healthy cells. The doctor kept assuring me that I shouldn’t feel guilty about
not checking on her, because even if I had found her sooner, she would have
died. She had laid on the floor a day or more, until one of her fellow Cruces
Crones came by with a jar of lavender tea and found her on the Spanish tiles
as pale and stiff as a birch sapling broomstick. I think Aunt Pearl probably did
that as a last joke, you know, looking like a broomstick, her witchcraft. She
had a pretty dark sense of humor. I mentioned the irony in my eulogy but
skipped over that part when I actually delivered it at her service because I
figured most of the congregation would find it sick. It will thus forever remain
her and my private joke.
Being power of attorney over the family fortune, it had thus fallen to Mom to
arrange Aunt Pearl’s services. None of us knew just what Aunt Pearl had
wanted for a service because she had always been too busy living her life to
plan her death. I imagine that she would have preferred to be cremated and
scattered over the ocean or maybe on some Irish isle, considering her
obsession with druidism and Gaelic music. But Mom determined, without
consulting any other members of the family, to have her buried next to
Grampa’s grave in a pearlescent casket lined with blue velvet. The funeral
home put her stiff, waxy corpse in her nicest dress, a beaded black gown,
and only at my furious insistence did Mom agree to have them also wrap her
shoulders in her faux fur stole and slip her favorite leopard stilettos onto her


rigor mortised feet. Since Aunt Pearl had been named for her birthstone, I
agreed that the pearlescent casket was a nice touch. I would’ve opted for
red velvet lining but the deep blue was probably more fitting in the end. It
was like the ocean that her ashes never got to be scattered in.
The night before the service, Mom and Dad arrived. Red and I went over
there. We had split up, but I needed him around for this. His boxer body was
like a pillar of support to lean on, a pillar covered in tattoos.
Mom seemed a bit dazed when she answered the doorbell. I could tell she
didn’t want to hug me but I hugged her anyway. And then she gave into the
hug and we burst into sobs together. There was a vaguely uncomfortable yet
sweet, chokey rightness to us holding each other while in tears. Since high
school, Mom had rejected me like a defective product, a disappointment too
painful to acknowledge. Even in college, with my excellent grades and honor
society invitations each semester, she didn’t call and she certainly didn’t
visit. Crying with her felt like returning to the good graces of an old friend.
We finally broke apart. Now there was my dad, whom I had missed even
more than my mom in some ways I think. He was wearing his long face and
he held me tightly for a little while too. I missed his big, strong arms,
especially when they used to swing me around the room till I was dizzy.
“This is, um, Jared.” I stepped out of Dad’s embrace and indicated Red, who
waved shyly from the doorway.
“Hello,” my mom said. I was relieved that she sounded cordial and didn’t
stare too hard at his exotic bird feather arms of tattoos or the shiny metal
spikes protruding like Spartan spears through the red scruff on his chin and
philtrum. I had forgotten about my labret, but now I was reminded of its
presence and I was further relieved that neither Mom nor Dad seemed to


pay it much mind. Maybe they had accepted that I was leading an
alternative lifestyle.
Either way, they had no idea just how alternative my life really was. Red and
I both wore long sleeves, despite the fact that October is still warm in Las
Cruces. I kept wanting to roll my sleeves up and had to remind myself to
keep them over the rivers of red needle tracks and bruises on my arms. I
was trying to get clean then, but when I learned that Aunt Pearl was gone, I
flew back to the needle with lightning speed. Well, I need it, I told myself.
When Mom and Dad squeezed me, I hated how sore my arms were. I was as
thin and brittle as the peace lily stems of Aunt Pearl’s floral arrangements.
Red and I helped Mom and Dad prepare the flowers, the cheese and meat
trays, and the decorations for the wake. It felt so nice to be back in the
spiritual web of Aunt Pearl’s house, and so terrible to not have her there
cracking dirty jokes and clacking around with her stilettos. The concept that
my aunt was really not there anymore was one I just couldn’t really grasp. I
guess you can never truly grasp it when you lose one of the pillars
supporting your life and find absolutely nothing there anymore and
absolutely no possible replacement for the glaring space, so that you spend
the rest of your time on earth a little less supported and a little less whole
than before.
When there was nothing left to do and darkness had enveloped the city, we
churned over the idea of dinner. But none of us had the energy. So we
snacked on leftover cheese from the platters.
“What do you do?” my dad asked Red.
“He’s an artist,” I said.
“Oh?” Mom didn’t seem too pleased to be talking about Red. “What kind of


I didn’t want them to know the type of art he did, tattooing in a shop
decorated with Satanic dolls and pentagons and rocked by heavy metal on
the loudspeakers all day long. I liked it when one of the artists, Chino, was
there, because he always played good, chill rap instead. I wondered about
the health of Red’s eardrums.
Red fortunately understood my discomfort and told my parents that he was
a painter.
“So then what do you do for a living?” my mom asked.
“I’m self-employed,” he said.
My parents exchanged looks. Then Mom declared that it was time for bed.
There was really no direction from my parents that I could or couldn’t sleep
with Red. Shyly, tentatively, we slept together in my old bed. I used to do
Keegan in that bed, but with Red it felt almost like an abomination of my
childhood. I guess because he was so old. I almost wished he wasn’t there,
being the weird lurking presence that my parents more or less ignored, the
blight upon my otherwise nostalgic return to childhood. I instead wished that
I could climb into bed with my parents and snuggle between their protective,
nurturing bodies, the way I used to during bad storms when I was little in
Washington. But I couldn’t, so I needed the strength of Red’s arms instead.
Family poured in the next day and it was a bright white blur of tears, peace
lilies, and the pearlescent casket gleaming in the sunlight. I sweated like a
pig in a BBQ in my sweater; the needles bites on my arms itched and I was
craving a shot to get me through this day, but I was glad to not have one.
Meth would have been shameful to Aunt Pearl’s memory. Red came out of
the church bathroom with his eyes rolling in his head; when I leaned on his
shoulder to cry, I could smell the chemical fumes rising from his pores.


In my eulogy, I talked about our last outing together. We had undertaken a
safari in the thrift shop and yard sale savanna, seeking items to fill out my
dorm room. Aunt Pearl understood my desire to be esteemed as unique and
cool, so she was all pumped to assist me in making my dorm room a mirror
of my coolness.
Of course her taste differed drastically from mine and I rejected most of the
things she wanted to buy me. But it was nice to have her there, humming
and chatting away about anything and everything. “Now I wish that I had
bought every little horrendous, gaudy, or outdated thing she had deemed
worthy of my dorm room’s ideal aura of cool, just so I could create a little
mini dorm room the way she envisioned it as a sort of time capsule of her,” I
I didn’t include it in the eulogy, but I also wished that I had continued to live
at Aunt Pearl’s, instead of moving to the dorms. That way I could have taken
care of her. Maybe I could have spotted some symptom, an irregular mole or
unusual bruising, something, anything, so that I could have goaded her to go
to the doctor. Maybe I could have prolonged her life by another decade or so.
She once told me that she knew a secret cure for cancer, so she could have
saved her own life long before the mutated cells had outnumbered her
healthy ones. I could have played the mom and bugged the crap out of her
for smoking every day. At the very least, I could have found her when she
fell, instead of leaving her to die alone on the cold tiles….
But I abandoned her. All to be cool, to be out of my own like an adult, when I
was so far from the maturity required for adulthood.
The wake was a further blur. Hugs. Condolences. Family briefly remembering


my existence and hugging me. I just wished that they would leave me alone.
I only wanted the comfort of Mom’s hugs, but she was busy entertaining,
burying her grief beneath maintaining wine levels and freshening flower
Then everyone left on their drives or their flights back home, Red had to
take off to an appointment with a tattoo client, and Dad had to get
something from the store, so it was just Mom and me, stuffing paper plates
with cracker and cheese crumbs on them into the trash and consolidating
leftovers. Mom’s jaw was now grinding; she was nervous about something.
And bitter. She never liked seeing family and I guess I didn’t either.
“I miss her,” I began crying. I thought Mom would join me, and we could hug
again, and I could feel the love that my aunt Pearl was no longer here to
But she just silently, coldly, kept moving through the motions of cleaning.
“What are you doing with the house?” I asked, trying to make conversation
to fill the awkward gap left by Mom’s refusal to hug me and cry with me.
“Selling it,” Mom replied.
I was flabbergasted. “To – to whom?”
“That’s really none of your concern.”
I was just floored by the swift coldness in her demeanor. What changed? A
block of panic rose in my throat. In an attempt to make her happy, I began
to describe how much I loved this house, how it would be a shame for a
stranger to buy it, how maybe, just maybe, Red and I could buy it.
Mom slammed down her hands. “You and Red?”
“You and that hideous – creep! It’s bad enough you disrespect all of us by
bringing him along, but now you think it’s OK to talk to me about buying this
house with him?!” She began to tremble and turn red, a very bad sign that I
remembered too well from childhood. I braced myself against the sure


barrage of insults coming. “What the hell is wrong with you? You bring this,
this, this creep to this funeral and then you sleep with him? What the hell are
you thinking? You should be in college and instead you’re running around
with some freak? How old is he, anyway?”
“Thirty,” I rounded down nine years. I had been born the very year Red had
started culinary school.
“Thirty! Thirty?!” She began shaking her head and returned to cleaning up,
and she stopped yelling at me but she wouldn’t accept my help anymore.
So I collapsed in tears onto Aunt Pearl’s lounge in the sun room, and had to
wait for Red to come back with the car.
It was around eight and I was impatiently goading the clock hands forward
with my pathetically weak telekinesis from behind the deli counter. Now that
I was apparently no longer Vincey’s mistress, all I had to look forward to was
curling up in front of Orange is the New Black at home. But that was fine by
me. I was starting to get used to being sober, and I liked it. I felt proud of
myself, even. I had found that online substance abuse counseling program
and I was wearing my blue eye shadow and guys seemed to be hitting on
me from left and right. And that evening, I was working with Susanna, an
older lady who wouldn’t ever shut up about her prize-winning quilts and
pickles but who at least was nice. It felt so good to not be under Pearce’s
arrow gaze for eight hours.
The clouds were unusually lofty tophat-like dollops of pink cotton candy
floating atop the mountain in front of the gas station, just begging to
become a sticky mess all over the hands and chins of celestial children. In
Greek mythology class I had always wondered what ambrosia must be like,


that nectar that the gods ate on Mount Olympus. Those pink sunset clouds
that evening were the only earthly thing I had ever seen that mimicked the
heavenliness I imagined ambrosia possessing. The beauty was sharpened by
the mountainside burnished gold with sharp blackly contrasting shadows
indicating just how craggy the rock crest at the mountain’s utmost edge
was. A cave that I had never known existed up there now was a gaping black
mouth of mystery, etched into gray rock set to silver fire by the sunset.
I stared at that whole sight lost in rapture for a world that was beautiful
beyond words. I felt a momentary euphoria that was infinitely sweeter than
any meth euphoria. Not as strong, but that was OK, because it was beautiful
and innocent and nice.
A lanky silhouette of a man entered the store but I looked through him,
not interested in some human when I had a Munroe rendition of the desert
brought to life in front of me. Working at the gas station had jaded me to
human faces. But then the silhouette kept approaching, until he filled my
field of vision and I was forced to study his face and recognize Vincey.
He looked as good as ever, his hair shaved and his skin glowing
golden. “I want my usual,” he grinned.
Everything told me to be a bitch. Not only had he used my twenty
bucks as travel money, but he had picked that fat bitch over me. How could
anyone prefer Mel over me? I wasn’t perfect, but I was definitely better than
her. Not just physically, but mentally too. I was actually kind to Vincey, I
brought him free sandwiches and rubbed his muscles when he was sore from
yard work and I didn’t snap at me or throw jealous fits like Mel did.
But I found myself grinning back and saying, “Well, hey, stranger,
didn’t think I’d see your face again!”


I was such a pussy.
I sliced his club sandwich into perfect halves, wrapped them in wax
paper peppered with the bright red deli supplier logo. I looked past Vincey’s
shoulder at the clouds, yearning to catch more of that sunset, but the clouds
had faded to slumber blue now. “So would you happen to have that twenty
bucks I gave you?”
“I still got you. After you get off, come by and we’ll go out to the dunes
or something.”
My heart sank. Two weeks clean (except for that little bit with Curt),
only to fall on my ass and slide back to the bottom of life’s pit by choice? I
would be betraying myself, my parents, my dreams, even that beautiful
Meth was a violation of the body, that much I knew, and my wan faith
in God had always made me feel that it was a dark sin. Hence I harbored
such mirth toward super Christian tweakers, and always scoffed and
dismissed Andres’s godly babbling because, for all his loving and wise words,
he was always wielding a meth pipe in one hand and a lighter in the other.
He only ever shut up to take a hit. My own sinning was not such an issue,
since I had no real fear of hell or desperation to get into heaven.
But after seeing that sunset, I was reminded of God, of all the beauty
He created, of how it felt to be innocent and pure and just enjoy life like a kid
again. It would be tragic to go get high with Vincey.
Despite that taste of God, I knew that at some molecular level, I was
going to go anyway. And I knew that no amount of reasoning or even
physical repulsion could restrain me. “The demon isn’t the drug, it’s you,”
people say. And in theory they’re right. But anyone who has fallen weak at


just the vaguest promise of meth knows that it is an irrational gale that will
whip you into its embrace without mercy.
I realized that particular night that I was actually staring the devil right
in the face. He didn’t have scaly red skin or cloven hooves, he didn’t have
horns or a flaming trident. He was merely a phantom of my own mind, taking
shape in a handsome dealer named Vincey. In retrospect, he was very small,
yet in my life he had grown huge. I even blew up Vincey, a simple fellow
human, into a harbinger of the devil, and I could practically smell the
Sulphur lingering an hour after he left with his sacked sandwich. What they
don’t tell you in Sunday school is that the devil is entirely inside you and can
be overcome the less power you assign him in your conscience. They also
fail to mention that sometimes the devil feels like the best thing in your life.
Suddenly, I smiled.
My heart started beating, my hands started shaking, and all my dread
I couldn’t wait to get off.
On my drive to Vincey’s house, my guilt returned slightly. I couldn’t figure
out why I was so hooked on Vincey. I think it was because he had meth. And
he was also fun in bed. He was like a party package, and I was addicted to
him. But I hated him.
To this day I have not felt as hooked on a guy, on anyone really, as I had
on Red. Vincey was a joke compared to Red; at least with Vincey, I knew it
wasn’t love, but I had really believed that I was in love with Red. Vincey
made me feel alive for a moment, whereas Red electrified the very air in the
room the entire time I knew him. And Red was not my dealer, so I knew that
my feelings for him went far beyond knowing that he was good for a hit.
No, there were things about Red that were very beautiful.


Red had the build of an Irish boxer but his feminine hands wielded such
delicate, ornate tattoos. Flowers, dragons, koi fish, snakes, tigers, barely-clad
pinup girls. He made them all come alive on paper and on skin.
I’d first met him when I had just turned nineteen. I was living in a dank
off-campus group house with Lovitz the Crystal Fairy and a few other people
who all dealt XTC and acid. I was working at Wendy’s and bumbling through a
summer English class to help catch up the credits I had squandered on
theatre, all the while glazed on a mess of random drugs from Lovitz’s safe.
When I wasn’t too tired, I partied at an unofficial club in someone’s
basement, where they spun trap and dubstep and strobe lights dissected the
kids doing glo-in-the-dark rope tricks. The place was filthy, the floors coated
in a film of sweat and puke and spilled jungle juice dyed sickly gray with the
tracks of a million shoes. The air was dead and sweaty. Staying in there too
long made my head hurt but I kept going, hoping to somehow actually bond
with the weird scene people. Mostly they just ignored me and I would dance
till I was sore and dizzy from a mixture of xtc, ketamine, alcohol, and swirling
light sticks. While the EDM scene was not my vibe, I did adopt a club-inspired
look that I maintained all that summer because I dug its drama. I dyed my
hair poison red and wore fishnets and cat-eye makeup, but I still didn’t look
like the other EDM freaks because my face was free of metal.
So, one day, I decided to use my weed budget for a piercing instead.
The guy who greeted me at the hole-in-the-wall tattoo shop was
instantly attractive to me. He had hair as red as mine, and he had the build
of Brad Pitt in Snatch. He wouldn’t stop smiling at me, with a warmth most
stuck-up tattoo artist assholes lack.


“How can I help you?” he asked.
“I want to get my lip done?” I ventured, unsure of myself in this
situation. I wished I could’ve brought along one of my super pierced girl
friends but they were all too busy to come with me.
“A piercing?” he said.
He handed me the clipboard and asked to see my ID for a copy.
“Nineteen, huh? You look seventeen,” he said.
“I get that a lot,” I rolled my eyes.
“Do you? Well no wonder, you’re sure young looking.” And there was
something pervy about the way he grinned at me that made me blush. “I’m
Jared. Call me Red.”
Originally, I had intended to get a lip ring on the side, like most of my
friends. But once on the chair in the sterile piercing room separated from the
rest of the shop by a room divider painted with roses and sugar skulls, I
began to have doubts. “Do you think I’ll look good with that?” I asked Red.
“You? You’d look good with anything.”
I blushed and pretended to hit his arm. “Shut up, you know what I
He handed me a ring and told me to hook it over my lip and take a look
in the big mirror. I didn’t like how it looked on the side, but when I tried it in
the middle, like what Red had, I liked it a lot. It was just the drama I was
going for. It looked super sexy on him. I half wanted to just bite his labret as
he leaned in close to pierce me. The shop smelled like sanitizer and rubbing
alcohol and green soap, but Red’s manly scent, his skin and sweat and
whiskers and sexiness, overpowered it all.
It didn’t hurt half as much as getting a massive needle shoved through
my lip seemed like it would.
“Sexy,” he said, his head so near mine as he fitted the captive ball into


the ring.
And I just knew what was going to happen.
At first I didn’t take him seriously, thinking that he just wanted a fling and
seduced all the girls that came through his shop. And he probably did, but he
really did like me I think. Sometimes I even think he loved me, in his own
weird, broken way. Since Keegan and I had split, I had been single, just
sleeping around and dirty texting with whoever showed me the slightest
attention. So this guy all over me, panting and sweating for me, flattered me
into what I swore was love.
Our first night together, he invited me to a bonfire in his yard. He lived in
a shared house with a ton of other tattoo people. They ignored me because I
didn’t have any tattoos but Red gave me his undivided attention, only
looking away from me to talk shit and joke with his roommates every once in
a while. The bonfire snapped in showers of sparks that landed on my calves
and he kissed each place they landed, his red beard tickling me. And then
we laid under the stars, screwing with all the people around us, before falling
asleep on the damp grass holding each other.
“You’re amazing,” he told me.
“You’re more amazing,” I giggled. “Do you love me?” I added, spurred by
beer and the tingling in the pit of my stomach.
“Always,” he replied.
He made me feel so electric, so alive. He showed me that I could do things
and be things that I had never dared to before. He gave me a few tattoos,
permanent etchings of himself forever on my skin. I considered getting them
removed after he died but it was too expensive and eventually I just came to
accept them as a part of myself.
Even when he told me weird things like how he had a class four felony for


getting some seventeen-year-old drunk and knocking her up and trying to
elope with her when her parents pressured her into an abortion, I didn’t give
in to the discomfort and fear growing in my gut. And I didn’t mind at all that
he had two girls by a bitch named Charlene. When Charlene saw a picture of
us cuddling and smiling like the happiest mother fuckers in the world, she
lost it and started texting me about what a whore I was. Red wouldn’t stand
up to her and he was always telling me stories about having wild sex with
her in the tattoo chair while he worked on her sleeve. That sucked, but I still
didn’t surrender to the discomfort mounting in me. I guess I didn’t believe
that anything permanent could happen with Red. He was just a fling, but a
fling that I was content to let last forever.
But more things kept cropping up that I hated about Red as I got to know
him better. Like how he never paid for anything and never took me out;
when we went out to eat, I had to pay. Or how girly he was, overly
emotional, bitching and whining, especially when he wasn’t kept on a steady
dose of drugs. Or how his belly sported a massive shit smear birthmark on
his right butt cheek that always made me think he had forgotten to wipe
thoroughly before I remembered what it was. He bitched and moaned about
Charlene not letting him see his girls, yet he never visited them or paid child
support. He had a severe porn addiction, and what was worse was that he
hid it from me, going so far as to claim that he was one of those guys who
never watched porn because I was enough. Apparently I wasn’t. I couldn’t
satisfy him, even with my voracious sexual appetite, even with my bangin’
eighteen-year-old figure. And his family wrinkled their noses up at me, “Is


she even eighteen?” None of his tattoos buddies or freckled Oakey family
could identify just what he found special about me, and whenever I asked
him what it was that drew him to me, he always just chided me for being
insecure or said something banal like, “Because you’re hot, baby!”
And then I found out all the girls he was sexting and his membership at
“City Sex,” some creepy online hookup site. I found a number in his jeans
one day, “Jenna” with a heart. Fucking bitch. Sometimes I would drop by the
shop and there would always be some bimbo or some fat chola with dragon
eyeliner and too much purple lipliner in his chair, giggling and flirting, having
no clue that I was his chick. He would never tell them, either. I would
confront Red about cheating on me but he would fly into a panic, breaking
stuff and crying and accusing me of making him cheat by treating him like
shit. He could never prove that I was doing anything wrong, because for the
most part I wasn’t, so he would make shit up and pretend to be totally
convinced of it. After he died, I found a list of all my usernames and
passwords hidden in one of his poetry notebooks; he had been spying on
me, hoping for some morsel to justify his own cheating. He loved it when I
finally did cheat on him with Andres, because he finally had something real
to use against me.
Our relationship quickly dissolved into vicious fighting about the nude pix
he saved on his phone, especially of Charlene, and about all the porn he
watched. I would scream, cry, beg, give him the silent treatment, all in a
desperate attempt to get him to love me. But he just used that as an excuse
to stray farther and to talk shit about me so that everyone at the shop and in


his family hated me. When he quit listening to me and always forgot things I
told him, I finally did want our fling to end. It drove me nuts. I would tell him
that I was going to see my friends Friday night, for example, and then when
Friday night came, he would be all surprised that I was leaving and would
throw a fit about how I never told him anything.
It seemed only freaks and I had these problems and I was not a freak, I
swore it, even though I had no friends anymore and was trapped in a crappy
apartment with a forty-year-old tattoo artist built like an Irish boxer. I half
pitied Red because he had so little, half hated his pathetic parasitic presence
in my life. He had no real friends, not even the other guys at the tattoo shop.
Just younger women he screwed and me.
Yet, I could never not be hooked on him. It took me a long time to leave.
Even when shit was horrible with Red, I still dug him, still had fun with him,
still loved him I guess. The sex never stopped being hot.
To this day, I sometimes miss his body, hard and sweaty against mine. I
also miss his mischievous grin, his subtle sense of humor. His beautiful art.
He could make anything, jewelry, paintings. He even crocheted an Afghan
with rainbow thread, and he somehow taught himself how to ruche the
edges. He knew how to make love in a way that no guy has ever eclipsed,
leaving me shaking and gasping with aftershocks of pleasure every night
and often every morning too. And he was a bomb cook, just with his halfcompleted culinary education. He taught me that you can never use too
much butter and you should never cook anything too hot, especially eggs
and fish. Late at night, when I would be sad or balled up with menstrual
cramps or coming down off something, he would make me quesadillas,


perfectly crispy, buttery, and golden brown. We would have picnics on the
apartment floor, Netflix playing while we sat cross-legged on a quilt enjoying
whatever buttery comfort food delicacy he had made.
Even after I met Andres and fed him jalapenos at a movie, even after I
split up with Red and moved to Reid, I loved him. Life was undoubtedly
better without him. All my former friends flooded back, and my family didn’t
seem to hate me as much, but things just lacked the same electricity they
had when Red was around. Red’s energy was like the desert, so mesmerizing
and attractive, so deceptively deadly. He treated me like shit yet I still loved
him. For a long time after his death, I hated him and I thought with relief that
my love for him was gone forever. But that hatred eventually faded away
and now there are still days where I miss that man.
Vincey wasn’t half as amazing as Red. He was fun in bed, but not earthshatteringly orgasmic. He was pretty good at drawing skulls, but he was far
from being a talented artist. He never cooked for me, never took me on
some wild Silver City rafting adventure. Shit, he mowed yards and trimmed
hedges for a living. Most of the time, I found myself bored by his company.
So it made no sense why I was unable to stay away from him. I came to
realize that it was because he provided me the two pleasures I liked at that
time, meth and sex. No one else in Reid could provide that and I was bored.
That was it. That was why I was willing to let him take advantage of me, why
I was content being the side bitch to a troll.
Vincey had a few people over when I arrived and I assumed it would be
the usual smoke circle.
Just as I began to feel the urge to leave the boring smoke circle, Vincey


asked me, “Would you give me a ride? I left some tools at Myrna’s that I
need to go get so I can work tomorrow.”
Promptly everyone took their cue and left, either jaunting over to next
door or going home. I believed Vincey actually needed a ride to get tools
until he packed a bunch of dope in front of me and bade me to sit next to
him on the bed. “It’s been a minute since I smoked just with you. I wanted to
shake those other fools off and enjoy your company for a bit.”
I managed a smile and took two hits. When he chided me, I sang
SPM’s, “Take two puffs and pass it on to you! Yup, that sounds like somethin’
I would do.” I leaned over to shotgun him, but my heart was sinking. Vincey
was so full of shit. He didn’t give a rat’s ass about my company. When he
mentioned that Mel had dumped him in a jealous rage and quit visiting from
Albuquerque, I felt relieved that they were over but I also knew that he was
just using me to quell his loneliness. Yet I still didn’t hate him. Shit, I was
using him, too. I just felt a certain sense of shame at allowing myself to be
used that I had known since I was twelve years old. And that feeling was
what I hated. I vowed to never feel it again, yet I had, many times.
After my family had moved to a tiny town near Spokane, I found
myself pretty lonely. I wasn’t sure how to make new friends, since I had had
all the same ones in Bellingham since kindergarten. My only friend up to
middle school was a ginger girl named Hannah, who made me a rainbow
friendship bracelet out of interwoven rubber bands in the fifth grade and
thus convinced me that we would be BFFs forever.
Then everything got weird in the sixth grade, when she started
running with the “popular chicks.” I hated those girls, how they laughed


patronizingly at everyone, how they talked about each other behind each
other’s backs, and how they snapped their fingers to rap like they weren’t
just skinny suburban white girls with press-on nails and too much glitter
liner. They seemed so perfect and so much taller than everyone. They
swished their hair around and always had so much to smile and laugh about
over my head, like I was invisible.
Hannah went from the girl who had farted out loud in music in third
grade and had everyone laugh at her, to a Barbie doll in low-rise jeans. I
tried to assimilate into her new crowd, replacing my Old Navy wardrobe with
Hollister and applying blue glitter eyeliner in the school bathroom since Mom
wouldn’t let me wear makeup, but for some reason they didn’t even see me.
I was somehow not one of them, even when I dressed the part and seemed
to talk the part too. It amazed me how I could speak and literally get no
reaction from them. One day I decided to play with that and said shit like,
“You’re ugly,” and “You suck” out loud to the group, and none of the girls
even heard me. I loved it when I got Hannah to play with me or to stay over
at my house, but those occasions grew more seldom as the year wore on. By
summer, we were strangers who didn’t even smile at each other in the hall.
I ate lunch alone every day, watching Hannah with her friends and
feeling sick with jealousy. A concerned teacher with a monstrous butt that
threatened to explode the seams of her denim long skirt one day made me
sit with some other girls that she knew would be more my style, I guess.
They were the weird girls, the dandruff and snotty nose and dorkily dressed
nerd girls, the unpopular ones. I became friends with them but I never felt


quite comfortable around them. I was pretty, that much I knew, and I had
lovely long blonde hair that I always had in braided buns and the clearest
blue eyes that everyone always complimented me on. I wore cute skirts and
leggings, and I didn’t have glasses, braces, acne, dandruff, or body odor. So
why was I only good enough for the dregs of humanity, the gross girls with
no style and no social life? I gathered that there must be some weird flaw in
my personality that everybody else could see but me. That was why no one
liked me, despite my prettiness, despite my nice clothes.
And then we got sorted off into middle schools, and I found myself in a
different school than Hannah. Not that it would have made any difference if I
had gone to Hannah’s school. I would have been alone either way. My only
friend was Bretten, whose gawkiness frustrated me. We called each other
best friends, but I didn’t feel an inklong of affection for her.
Being utterly alone and totally unalike everybody else haunted me
throughout my seventh grade experience. Where the fuck did I belong, if I
didn’t fit in with the nerds or the cool kids?
I kept a journal, one of those marbled composition books, where I
scrawled poetry about how much I hated everyone. I also wrote about how
awful my parents were, how maybe they would be nicer to each other if they
just screwed sometime like a normal married couple. “No wonder Dad cheats
on Mom, she won’t fuck him!” I wrote and I underlined “fuck” several times
for shock value. One day a teacher read it and called my parents in for a
conference about my “disturbing” behavior and “violent” attitude toward the
other students. It wasn’t that I was violent, even though sometimes I wrote
about gunning everyone down. I didn’t really want to, I just wrote that


because I was dramatic and it felt good to vent the most awful, extreme
things imaginable.
Mom grounded me for months after that. She said that I was sick and
theat her and Dad’s sex life was none of my business. And I had to meet
with a counselor. The counselor didn’t help much. All I learned from the
whole experience was to write my hatred poems in code and leave my
journal at home, hidden under my mattress.
So when Wayne showed an interest in me, I couldn’t resist, I was just
so eager for someone to acknowledge my existence. Wayne was a ninthgrader, super tall, super skinny, slightly stooped from the heaviness of his
massive mop of messy blond hair. He, too, had few discernible friends. But
he had a sarcastic sense of humor about it. He wore a constant smirk and
had gotten reprimanded on several occasions for “420” and pot leaf
emblems on his hat and his backpack. One time he got called over the
intercom to the principal’s office for creating a bong out of a Gatorade bottle
and a disemboweled school permanent marker.
He always walked home and I would watch him from my window on
the bus as I passed him on my way home. But I never really thought much of
him. I have never really cared for blonds, and I this guy’s eyelashes and
eyebrows were invisible, he was so blond. Honestly he was just part of the
scenery, a pothead badass that barely registered on my periphery.
Until the day he started flirting with me.
I was struggling with making a graph for some dumb science project in
the computer lab when he took the seat next to me. He wouldn’t quit looking
at my screen, but when I turned to glare at him, he just grinned at me and
told me, “What’s up, cutie?”


I flushed, mortified, and couldn’t answer through my daze. So I just
pretended to focus on my computer, though really I couldn’t see anything on
my screen through my nervousness.
“Ah, why you gotta be unfriendly? Don’t you think I’m cute too?” He
pouted out his bottom lip.
I glanced over at him and managed a shaky laugh.
“Fine, you wanna laugh at me, that’s cool.” He seemed mad and I
thought he was done with me forever.
In humiliation, I mumbled some excuse to the computer lab proctor
and saved my incomplete work and dashed out of there.
I remember agonizing over that encounter for days, maybe even
weeks, playing it over and over in my mind trying to reimagine how it
could’ve gone if I wasn’t a shy freak. I hated on myself a lot in those days.
Guess that’s junior high for you. But I was certain Wayne would never talk to
me again, when one day he caught up with me when I had missed the bus
and was walking home.
“Hey, cutie,” he said.
I blushed and somehow managed to blurt out a hi. I started shaking.
“I’m sorry.”
“For what, cute stuff?”
“For – for – never mind.”
He shrugged. “OK…..Want some?” He had lit a cigarette in his cupped
palms and offered it to me still tucked behind his hand.
My heart skipped into my throat. This was far too much adult for me.
“No,” I said.
“Are you sure? C’mon, just try a little puff. You won’t get cancer and
die after just one puff,” he laughed.
I had to admit that I was a little curious. More than anything, though, I
just wanted to impress Wayne. “OK….” I said.
He grinned and handed me the cigarette. “Here,” he indicated a faint


foot path heading off into the woods besides the road, “there are too many
cars out here. Don’t wanna go to jail.” And he laughed and I felt nervous and
My first hit off the cigarette gave me a pure head high and suddenly it
all made sense why people paid to get lung cancer. I guess that was my
same sense of discovery when I first tried pills, then meth, and then heroin,
years later. And I guess that was the day that I started the nicotine addiction
that I still battle to this day, even after kicking all my other terrible
addictions successfully.
But I guess I can’t really regret that day, because smoking provided a
sort of distraction for me from my problems and a social lubricant that eased
my horrible, cellular level awkwardness. Cigarettes saw my transformation
from an ugly duckling to a swan craning her pale white neck for all to see.
Wayne lived in a little dingy house with junk in the yard, squatting at
the end of a little cul-de-sac. It was the type of house that I always
shuddered at in relief that I didn’t live there myself; and yet now, here I was.
It spooked me out.
Nobody was home as Wayne opened the door into the dank cigarettemusk interior. “C’mon,” he gestured for me to come in with his cigarette like
a fiery summoning talon.
“Um, I better get home,” I said, panic rising in my throat, strangling
me. I just wanted to run.
“You’re no fun,” he said. I was amazed at how quick his temper switch
flipped and how hard his eyes got when I upset him. It reminded me of Mom.
Mom was able to make me do pretty much anything with her hard eyes, and
so could Wayne.
“OK…” I said, as I stepped into the house reticantly. “But I can’t stay


long. I’ll get in trouble.”
“Who fucking cares?” Wayne was at least smiling again. “C’mere.” He
handed me a cold Miller Lite out of the fridge and cracked open one of his
own. “They’re my dad’s. He don’t even notice.” He indicated for me to sit
next to him on the grimy couch as he turned on the TV.
I sat down awkwardly, leaving a stained and greasy cushion between
us. Some mechanic’s show spilled across the massive TV flat screen.
“Ah, girl, don’t be shy like that, come here.”
What was I supposed to do, sit on his lap? I had no clue about these
things, since I had never even had a boyfriend before. I scooted a little
closer, and he held his arms out, and so I obeyed his summons and cuddled
up against him. He smelled like Axe and his shoulder was an uncomfortable
hard knob under my head. I was panicking and shaking.
It got worse, though, as he cracked my beer open for me and made
me drink. What if my parents smelled it on my breath? If I left now, I could
blame my lateness on the walk still….And then he was kissing me, a horrible,
hard kissing, and I tried to shrink away from it all into myself but I was still
very much there, a participant in a performance that I didn’t sign up for.
“I have to go,” I told him, “I really have to go.”
His eyes hardened again and he squeezed my throat with his hand.
“What, are you a little cocktease?”
“No,” I whimpered, a tear squeezing out my eye. “Please, Wayne. Let
me go. I’m going to be in trouble.”
He released my throat and tossed me down on the couch with the
force. “Fine, go.”
I ran all the way home, shaking and crying, desperately trying to spit
the smell of beer out of my mouth. Then it occurred to me that I probably
smelled like cigarettes, too. I was just drowning in horror of what I would be


met with at home. Briefly, I considered just hanging myself from a pine
rather than going home.
But when I swung in through the front door, Mom and Dad were at it
fighting, too busy screaming hate at each other to notice that I was over
thirty minutes late. They had been fighting a lot because Mom had caught
Dad having an affair. They threw the word “divorce” around a lot and there
was amazingly no mention of me. Like who would get custody of me?
The first night I had heard them bring up divorce, I had thrown myself
into their room, at my dad’s feet, and begged him not to leave. Mom had
pulled me up by my hair, screamed at me to mind my own business, and
then hurled me out of their room. Since then, I had just cried myself to sleep
every night, my earbuds stuffed into my ears with my dark wave and grunge
music cranked to top volume to drown out their voices. This was the first
time that their fighting had been to my advantage.
It was actually that night that my dad left for a while. Perhaps that was
why I kept hanging around with Wayne even thought he scared me to death.
I not only needed someone to like me when no one at school did besides
weird ass Bretten, but I also needed a diversion from my home life.
With Dad gone and Mom a basket case, it was easier to sneak away for
thirty minutes after school. Wayne stopped walking with me and started
making me meet him at his house so we wouldn’t get caught. Every time, I
regretted following him, as he made me go farther and farther than my
comfort zone. The horrid painful day he finally took my virginity, I was home
over forty minutes late. Mom noticed that time and flipped out on me.
“Where the hell were you?” she demanded the minute I came through the


door, making me freeze.
“With friends,” I stammered, worried that somehow she could
somehow tell I was no longer a virgin. It seemed plausible, since I felt that
the experience had changed me utterly as a person.
Mom not only grounded me, but she also called the school to ensure
that I got on the bus every day after class. She didn’t let me hang out with
kids on the street and I always had to be home after school. Sometimes she
let me go over to Bretten’s but I wasn’t allowed to spend the night. That was
OK by me, because Bretten’s room stank even more than she did. I just
resented not having the freedom to run around on the street, to
spontaneously go to the mall.
As a result, I took to sneaking out my window and having sex with
Wayne in an abandoned treehouse behind my house every night. A lot of
nights I didn’t want to see him, but he showed up faithfully at my window. I
absolutely despised Wayne, the way he was rough with me, the way he
wouldn’t listen to me, the way he crushed me under his weight, yet I
couldn’t seem to stop seeing him. I came up with a new code system for my
journal and I wrote long blocks of prose about being addicted to Wayne and
just wishing that I could fade out of existence.
Every period was a relief, as Wayne wouldn’t use condoms and I was
too shy to ask him to. I was basically living in a constant pregnancy scare for
two months. Fortunately, our fling ended before I did conceive.
I don’t know how the school found out. But the administration decided
to ruin my life one day by calling my parents and Wayne’s. Wayne’s dad
came and yanked him out of school and the last I saw of him, his dad was
dragging him out to a truck by the ear and Wayne was huddled up in


miserable fear. I was sort of amused, to watch him go through the terror he
regularly inflicted upon me, but I also had a crushing sense that my life was
now truly over. My mom’s face was the color of a garden beet as she yanked
me out of school too. The whole ride home, she berated me. “Why are you
such a slut? Your father and I raised you better! You need professional help!
You’re psychotic! How’d you like to go spend some time in a hospital
Probably a hospital would have helped me. I was all kinds of fucked up
at that age. My parents never sent me, though. And I stopped seeing the
counselor after they withdrew from school. Mom and Dad reconciled their
marriage and homeschooled me for the remainder of seventh and all of
eighth grade. I spent my days alone, friendless, trolling Myspace as an outlet
for all my fury and humiliations.
And then we moved to Alto Pinon, in western New Mexico, the summer
before my freshman year.
I’d say it was all downhill after that. But it felt uphill for me. In New
Mexico, I was somehow extremely popular. I don’t know how I transformed
into someone cool, someone worth hanging out with, but I was pretty much
friends with everyone. Not just the people in my tiny high school, but the
older kids too, the twenty-somethings. I used to party a lot with this thirtyyear-old chick Rose, and all the young adults that flocked to her house.
Mostly she didn’t let anybody under 21 into her house, but my crush Dylan
Garrison, my boyfriend Taylor, my best friend Beth, and I were all somehow
cool enough to be allowed in. Beth was a Native girl in my class who could
finish a whole fifth of vodka by herself at a party. Taylor was a basketball


player, and while he looked like a skinny pink geek, everyone liked him.
Dylan was the coolest guy in school and it never ceased to freak me out that
he even gave me the time of day.
I suddenly had all these friends, my phone was always going off with
texts, and I just didn’t know how it happened. I guess it helped that I was a
raging pothead; drugs make a lot of people want to be your friend.

Chapter Five: The Golden Age
“Would you like to explain to me why my muffin inventory is so low?”
Constance sighed as she heaved into her chair. The little wheels rolled back
under her butt, making a strange chafed plastic noise.
“Uh – I don’t know?” I stammered.
The Troll Queen wheeled around to face her computer and punched a play
button. There was me, blurry on the surveillance camera, slouched over in
the walk-in wolfing a muffin. Crumbs rained at my feet. I stomped them and
kicked them under a crate.
I gulped. Shit. I had not imagined that my muffin binges during my ten days
of sobriety would catch up with me. I had practically forgotten about it
“I think that it’s probably best to just let you go. You can come in Friday to
get your check and we’ll deduct the cost of the muffins from it and that’ll be
that. OK?” Her lips were in a strange flat line, like a facial heart monitor for a
dead man, and I was infuriated because I couldn’t tell if it was a that’ll-bethat smile or a that’ll-be-that frown.
There were a million things I could have spit at her nastily just to feel better
my sad sojourn at the gas station. There were a million true tragedies in my
past I could have confessed in tears to earn her sympathy. I could have


launched into detail about my excellent customer service that was so cordial
and about my enthusiasm for baking cookies and about my superior
upselling that I tried on literally every customer. While it would not have
been so wise to bring up, I could have boasted about the many male patrons
that claimed that my pretty face brightened their day.….And at the very
least I could have promised to be a thousand times better from now on and
begged for a second chance this one time, just this one time, please, after
all wasn’t I a good employee usually?
But in my heart, I knew that I was not really a good employee. I did not give
a fuck and it showed. And I knew that there was no chance of being forgiven
for stealing at least fifty dollars in muffins. In all honesty, I was humiliated.
I had been caught stealing once before, after losing my job at the nursing
home. I was high as fuck and I wanted to write but of course my pen had to
run out of ink at that moment. I didn’t have any money left to buy more, so I
decided to swipe a pack from the CVS down the road from Andres’s. Just as I
was about to bolt out the door, a manager caught up with me. I had to sit in
his office while he called the cops. I was fined for shoplifting and banned
from that CVS for life.
I was humiliated then, as I was humiliated now. I really wasn’t a thief. I didn’t
go stealing from people, jacking their shit for meth money. I didn’t con my
parents to lend me rent only to spend it on drugs. The few things I had
stolen in my life, were from corporate America. I was positive that I hadn’t
hurt anybody by stealing those pens, or those muffins.
But then again, I always swore that I wasn’t a tweaker, and evidence
determined that was a lie. So maybe I was a thief too. Maybe I was the


horrible person that the world made me out to be. Shit, maybe I really had
caused Red’s suicide.
So I just left with my head low and my tail between my legs.
I spent a good twenty or thirty minutes just sitting in my car, the August
heat boiling the water out of my cells and down my skin in runnels, the
steering wheel growing slick under my shaking hands. Finally, I turned the
I didn’t know how I would be able to pay for cigarettes and crystal now,
let alone make my car payments.
Furthermore, I received notice that my student loans were going into
repayment unless I enrolled in school before September. I was not happy
about paying an additional $150 a month for an education I hadn’t even
finished or used. Ripoff.
Needing to go back to school had been an itchy subject therefore, with
my parents dropping hints edged with worry that the gas station was going
to be my career. That annoyed me but I wanted to go back of my own
accord, anyway. College just seemed like an essential life step. How could I
ever move forward in life without a degree? Now I didn’t have a career at the
gas station waiting for me.
Yet since coming back to Reid, I had felt too weary to try to figure out
what I wanted to do with my life. College and high school career fair banners
promised benefits and a fulfilling life with enthusiastic slogans over pictures
of smiling groups of people in too much hair gel and boring business casual
suits. They looked like they made sixty grand a year, dwelled in Ikea shrines
and, and led lives only made tolerable by Prozac downed with Styrofoam
morning coffee. I had not spotted one career option, one normal lifestyle,


that did not stifle me.
Thinking I could put my creativity to good use, I had first majored in
theatre. That was fun at first. I loved my makeup class, how you can use
light, shadow, and color to create the illusion that someone’s lips are
Angelina Jolie big or their skull is cracked open. But I hated the constant
auditioning, the constant mixers, the constant workshops at odd hours of the
evening or at the ass crack of dawn, the blocking practices in the park and
the line readings between classes. I just didn’t have the energy. And I hated
how theatre people were constantly acting out a monologue on me, not
really holding a conversation.
So I had switched to English, with the plan of teaching it overseas all
as a means to be a modern-day female Jack Kerouac. The idea was cool, but
the actual curriculum was so patronizing and useless that I had to drop or
else I would’ve killed myself. Then I got pregnant the summer before my
junior year so I didn’t go back. I said I would, but I guess I didn’t really
believe that I would. What would I study?
And then one night Facebook flashed me an ad depicting a crying girl
about my age bathed in shadow, and the question, “How would you like to
be a substance abuse counselor and help addicts like this have a second
What better degree for a drug addict? I could actually possibly help
some people based on my own struggles. Maybe I could untangle the web of
my own use, too. Understand my weird cycle of quitting and then diving
back in. I could actually see myself in an office, doing files meticulously the
way I like to, listening to yet another tweaker sob her troubles about her son


not talking to her after being placed with her parents by Social Services and
her Zoloft missing and her social security cut off. And maybe, every now and
then, I would get some fractured little replica of me, and would be able to
save her before she succumbed to the world’s hate and believed that meth
euphoria and meth buddies would replace all that she had been skipped on
by God: a normal childhood, a loving family, a mom who called every day, an
ability to make good friends, an ability to say no to men. A healthy sense of
Maybe I could save myself as I saved her. And defer my student loan
payments another few years, until I had a real job, a salaried job.
And maybe Mom would finally be proud of me. She was a reservation
social worker; this was almost her line of work.
But I hadn’t pursued that until I got home from my firing that day. I
applied to the school that had the Facebook ad, paying the $25 application
fee with the little money left in my account. If I didn’t have my job anymore,
well, maybe I could start moving my life forward.
When I told my mom that I wanted to start online school that
September, her face lit up with the first true smile I had seen on her since
God knows when. “Heather’s going to school!” she shouted.
Dad popped his head out of his office, a shiny pink marble under the
overhead kitchen light. “Really? That’s great!” And he gave me a cheesy
thumbs up that transported me back to better days, to when Dad took me to
the zoo and we split a monster bag of Cheese Puffs and had contests to
propel the comma shapes of the snacks into each other’s mouths.
But when the financial aid counselor called me the next day, he said
that it would be at least $30,000 for that online degree. And Reid wasn’t


near a college with a four-year degree. If I wanted to go to school, I would
have to move to Roswell or Portales. Or back to Cruces. I couldn’t ever go
back to Cruces for fear of running into Andres again and fuck Portales. I
couldn’t even afford a place in Reid, how could I afford to move to Roswell?
So I let the dream drip down the gutter, like all my others. It was just
too hard.
Instead of drowning in despair, I tried to do better. Tried to smoke less
than a whole pack a day, tried to eat every day, tried to shower normally
and wear makeup and do a cute hairstyle every day. Maybe, just maybe, this
was my compromise. I would be a loser, I would accept it, I would spend the
rest of my life balancing my habit with living a normal life. But hey, it was
kind of fun, right?
I tried to talk to Mom about my discouragement in the vaguest terms
but she only told me to grow up and stop feeling sorry for myself and do
school like she and Dad did, without complaint or wiver-wavering. Yes, that’s
the term she used, wiver-wavering.
Just like that I had ruined my parents’ pride in me for going back to
school. They were already disgusted with me for getting fired. Why even
bother anymore, I asked my mirror. I smeared my lipstick mantra with my
sleeve, no longer confident that each day was a chance to do better than the
As if to prove it, I bought a pack of cigs that morning and finished
them by the end of the day. And I blew the slim few hundred I got on my last
check after the muffin deduction on an eigthball, a thirty-pack for a bonfire
at the Rodriguezes’, and a casino trip in Mescalero with Vincey. So much for


cutting back. Go big or go home.
That was the beginning of my Golden Age. The first time I felt happy in
years. Panic lingered on my periphery, but I did a good job of shutting it out.
Why do well? Why fight myself? Why fight to get clean, when meth was all I
had going for me?
I had been stuck in the bottom shelf of humanity for a while, but the
only reason I was so unhappy was because I wanted to be in the upper shelf.
If I just accepted that I was human trash and made the best out of it, I could
finally be at peace with myself. I could live in the present and enjoy my life,
rather than wishing for something better. There seemed to be no way that I
could ever get better, because I failed whenever I tried. And there was no
guarantee that I would actually be happy if I ever did achieve better, either.
One thing I had learned by that age, was that the things you covet, the
things you put on a pedestal, surely will disappoint you.
So why fight anymore?
I liked meth because it felt good. Nothing beat the euphoria of a first
hit. And when I had nothing else to give me pleasure in my life, this did. At
least for a bit. When I I looked at my life, at the bare bone facts of it, I was
appalled at how sad it all was, how broken, how nothing had gone as planned
and none of my dreams had ever come true and the few people that had
ever loved me were all gone, except my parents, and their love didn’t feel
nice. Living in their house was a certain daily mental anguish that I didn’t like
to admit to feeling, and there was no way to get out, not when I had no
degree and now no job at all.
And I also liked meth because it made me power through my
depression and enabled me to get shit done. In Las Cruces, I couldn’t make it


to work unless I had some crystal to give me that weird nerve drive that
allowed me to endure the routine at work without succumbing to my
exhaustion or focusing too hard on how much I detested my meaningless job
tasks. Shit, I couldn’t even make it to appointments without crystal. The
times I got fired for not being able to make it out of bed were because I
didn’t have any more crystal, and I crashed.
There was something wrong with me, and meth fixed it, sort of. It was
the closest thing to a cure for my chronic fatigue and miserable attitude and
sense of social alienation. Something was wrong with me to where I couldn’t
function without being high.
They say that addiction is an illness, but maybe they have it backward.
Maybe addicts were already ill and drugs were their only available medicine.
The only issues self-medication caused in and of themselves were due to
society’s evil insistence that drugs were bad. Maybe if we were all allowed to
self-medicate freely without crippling consequences like severe social and
legal implications, then maybe we would all be happy. If we could all stop
judging each other, the world would be a perfect place.
But nobody ever would stop judging. So why care about what they
I liked this stuff. And for good reason. The bad of it was all in my head.
Or other peoples’ heads. Who gave a fuck what they all thought?
As long as I maintained my hygiene, took vitamins, got a new job, and
stayed functional, there was no issue with it. I didn’t even look like a
tweaker. The sores only erupted on my back and shoulders when I didn’t
bathe enough; my mouth sores were only there when I forgot to brush for
days. If I took care of myself, I wouldn’t throw my life down the toilet. Shit,


after years of use I was still alive, still able to smile. That’s a lot for someone
who had lost her aunt, her daughter, and her baby daddy all within two
years of each other. Ten-year-old me was gone forever, all grown up, so there
was no need to think of her anymore. I had to focus on the me that was here
now, and I had to evolve to survive my circumstances.
If I was a tweaker, what was wrong with that? Society said it was bad
but society had never understood me anyway, clean or drugged out. For a
while I felt that I was in a tunnel that would never end, but look how I broke
through, and of my own volition!
I had been fighting myself for years. I felt that I was so off-track, an
utter failure of who I had wanted to be as a kid. If my ten-year-old self could
see who I was in my early twenties, I would have been heartbroken.
As a kid I had vowed to never do any drug. And even when I started to
cough on weed with Wayne, meth was not even a part of my life, just some
phantom existing in the anti-drug literature at school and whispered about
by concerned adults. Since I had first learned about crystal meth in DARE in
elementary school, I couldn’t comprehend the nonsensical prevalence of it
when it was so obviously bad. I wasn’t ever curious about it, I just wanted to
know why people would do something that rotted out their teeth and tore
apart their families. Meth was like an epidemic, a forbidden evil disease that
riddled the world but never touched my life.
Until my sophomore year of high school in Alto Pinon, when my best
friend Beth breathlessly confided in me that a few guys had twisted a meth
pipe over a butane torch in front of her at Rose’s house, and Rose had
dissolved a few shards of it into a Monster and chugged it.


The idea that meth was actually being done by people I knew, that it
existed where I lived rather than far off in some unfathomable strata of white
trash America, scared the hell out of me. I soon learned that many people in
Alto Pinon, including all the older guys that I partied with at Rose’s house,
were secretly meth addicts, and it shocked me that they didn’t have rotting,
festering gums and oozing sores all over their faces. A lot of them were
perfectly ordinary people, ranchers, truck drivers, mechanics at the town
shop. Beth warned me to not hug Rose while Rose was high because I would
pick up a contact high, but I hugged Rose anyway and felt nothing and was
disappointed. I guess that was my very first shimmer of curiosity about
meth. My curiosity was more of a scientific nature; I just had to find out why
this horrible thing was so popular, and why people said it was so bad when it
didn’t look that bad in my friends.
Fortunately, shortly after that, Rose ended up on probation, so not only
did the parties at her house every night cease, but also the presence of
meth in my life was removed. By then I knew who all the town tweakers
were, but I had no desire to approach them, especially when the main
dealer, Troy, used a loaded rifle as a deadbolt for his front door and required
his customers to use a code knock which he changed several times
throughout the week. Common sense told me to not go asking such paranoid
people about something so illegal. And I still wasn’t exactly fiending to try it.
After all, I had no idea how to do meth if I ever got a hold of some. I had
never even seen a meth pipe in my life. Where would one buy a meth pipe,


One time a co-worker at the motel where I was a waitress for my junior
year of high school asked me if I could score him an eight-ball. I leaned
conspiratorially toward him using my mop handle like a ballet pole and
murmured absolutely, trying to not betray my exhilaration at being given
such an adult and illegal mission. But when I actually got off work and
agreed to fetch the eight-ball and bring it to him at his trailer a few miles out
of town, I was at a loss. I went to Rose for help, but she just sucked her buck
teeth and said, “I ain’t fucking with that no more, I’m on probation.”
“Well, could I go ask Troy? You think he’ll sell me some?”
Rose’s eyes shot wide. “Fuck no. Don’t even try asking. He’ll blow your
leg off if you even go up to his house.”
“Is an eightball a lot?” I asked, my mind racing. Maybe I could get
some Native to sell me some on the res. I heard that you could get all sorts
of drugs on the res.
Rose studied me a minute before smiling condescendingly. “Yes, hun,
an eightball is a lot.” Then she shook her head laughing, and went back into
her trailer.
I had to call my coworker with the mortifying news that I was useless
as a middle woman. I blamed my inability to score on my guy being out. Ha,
as if I had a guy.
As high school progressed, I started smoking copious amounts of weed
every day and I adopted the whole punk style, wearing artfully ripped jeans
and spiky bracelets from Hot Topic, more to impress Dylan than anything.
Dylan happened to have a generous grandpa who sold his entire morphine
prescription each month for a dollar a pill, and we’d all swig them down with
rum-laced coffee on the morning bus ride for a more tolerable day of school.


Mom was all happy that I wanted to drink coffee in the morning like her,
even brewing me my own pot and lending me her stainless steel thermos that is, until she caught me cautiously dribbling just enough Irish whisky to
not be obvious into the thermos one morning.
Not long after that she found a weed necklace I had shoplifted from a
Rasta kiosk at the mall in Gallup and she flipped out on me. I was so scared
that my parents would make me take a piss test and when they didn’t, I
thought I was in the clear. But they eventually did after I came home at noon
after graduation night, mottled in hickies and bruises. They snuck some hair
from my brush and one day Mom made me sit at the kitchen island while
she read the results to me, as my intestines twisted in knots and my hands
began shake.
“We are done,” my mom said.
I began to sob and whimper for some type of mercy. “Please, I’m sorry,
I don’t know what the fuck is wrong with me…”
“You have put us through Hell,” Mom went on. “From that – that boy in
Spokane, to this. I will not tolerate anymore. I can’t tolerate anymore.”
“It’s just pot!” I gasped through my tears, unable to comprehend how
this related to Wayne in Spokane or why she was being so extreme and
dramatic. Mom always was over the top, a faithful follower of the William
Shatner school of behavior.
“And opiates!” She laughed mirthlessly and gestured at the paper with
my drug test results, sitting so evilly on the countertop among the crumbs of
this morning’s cream cheese-smothered bagels. “At first I thought you were
just into pot with the other kids. Then I had an interesting talk with your
teacher, Mr. Hatfield.”
Fucking Mr. Hatfield. Mr. Goody Two-Shoes. He was part of why the


athletes now had to pass random urine analysis in order to continue playing.
We joked that he was a porn addict after a girl spied a bottle of Dove in his
drawer one time. It made sense, as we all endured his creepy stares through
the little window in his door whenever we walked past.
“I found out all about your little crush, Dylan. How he was kicked off
the football team for having, hmm, pot and opiates in his pee!”
Mom and Dad did not deem me worthy of being in their home
anymore, so they decided to ship me off to Aunt Pearl’s in Las Cruces. My
sense of rejection was worsened by the fact that Mom hated Aunt Pearl,
always calling her a looney hippie slut who dabbled in weird shit like voodoo
and peyote mind fuck rituals at Burning Man. The fact that now she was
willing to let me live with someone like that just to be rid of me told me that
she no longer cared whether I lived or died. I can see now that she did care
because she didn’t just toss me onto the street with the clothes on my back,
but at sixteen, I was not so insightful.
I entered Aunt Pearl’s home bracing for nuttiness. I had not met my
aunt since early 2003, when we all came to Las Cruces for my grandpa’s
funeral. But Aunt Pearl was nothing like I expected. She was flipping
I spent my first week so wired, I might as well have been on meth
already, though I had never tried anything more than Adderall whenever
Dylan got a hold of some. When I looked in the mirror, my irises were nearly
blacked out from the freakish dilation of my pupils; turning the light on
barely shrank my pupils down. Everything grew hazy and yellow through my
insomnia lenses. I hated life. I watched TV and could barely follow the plot


lines as my sheets burned my too-sensitive skin.
I had no idea what was wrong with me.
“Are you withdrawing?” Aunt Pearl asked me frankly.
“No,” I laughed. Dumb Aunt Pearl.
Then the stomach pain hit. I wondered why I woke up one morning
with a headache like a band squeezing around my head, a stomach so sore
and angry that I couldn’t walk, and a dry mouth that tasted of metal. I
chugged Pepto Bismol and tried to force myself to vomit, but nothing helped.
In fact, the stomach pain only grew worse. And then every part of me hurt. I
couldn’t take it finally and broke down sobbing.
Aunt Pearl came in inquiring what was wrong, and when she heard my
symptoms, she just said, “It’s your body expunging all those pills you were
taking. Here, you need to drink water.”
“Water is the last thing I want right now.”
“You have to drink it. It will help, I promise.”
Detoxing off pills was not very dramatic for me, not like the movies
make it appear anyway. It was basically just a week of utter misery. Thank
God it was summer break. On Day Four, I was thin as a stick and I felt I could
finally eat, so I went to the Chinese fast food buffet nearby and sucked down
an entire dish of chow mein and threw it up on my trek back home in the
dizzying heat.
Then, finally, it was over. The pain dissipated one day. Everything
looked brighter and cleaner, everything felt so nice. I vowed to love the
world again, in a way I realized I had not since probably early childhood.
I enjoyed being clean. Sometimes Aunt Pearl would smoke a bowl with
me, but it was always iffy smoking with her, because she had the hippie
attitude that weed was the most illegal thing on Earth and she didn’t entirely
trust me to keep it a secret.
Then I met Seth, a.k.a. Spaghetti. He had one of those cheesy


seventeen-year-old scrims of see-through hair on his upper lip that could
hardly be called a mustache, and he was scrawny, his muscles like string
beans fried onto his skeleton, his unblemished adolescent caramel skin only
broken by a Joker tat on his shoulder. The Joker tat was really well done. The
day I made up my mind to step outside my bubble of shyness and
compliment him on it, was the day I made my first friend at LCHS.
“Did it myself,” he said proudly, cocking his shoulder and stretching
the skin so I could get a better view of the tat.
“Bullshit,” I said. “There’s no way you could’ve reached back there.”
“I’m very flexible. They actually call me Spaghetti Limbs around here.
I’m a contortionist at parties. They pay me better than strippers!”
“Prove it,” I said.
He was lying about both the tat (I never did learn who really tattooed
him but I wish that I had so that I could’ve gone to him or her myself) and
the contortionist party gigs. But he was truthful about being Spaghetti
Limbs. His bones seemed to be made of liquid and he could bend in the most
unnatural directions without so much as a grimace of discomfort. One of his
freakiest moves that got everyone laughing at parties was shimmying into a
puddle on the floor. He was planning to show off his extreme flexibility in the
talent show in spring and I was sure that he would win first prize.
Spaghetti got along with everyone so well and earned so many laughs
in class with his truly clever jokes, that you never would have guessed he
was a lonely kid. In retrospect, I knew he spent most nights home alone and
he spent most lunch breaks picking blades of grass in the park by the schoo
with no companions. I also realize that most people didn’t ever greet him or
know much about him; he was sort of an enigma. Mainly because he was so


weird yet so cool that everyone was too intimidated to really get to know
him. I know that I was at first.
I realize a lot of other things about Spaghetti in retrospect, too. For
instance, he squinted all the time because his family was too poor for
glasses and couldn’t see very well; his bizarre cracks in class where he
totally misconstrued things on the board was funny back then, but now I
realize that he couldn’t see well enough to learn. Also, I see now that he was
too poor for clothes. Everyone just thought he was a badass for repeatedly
violating the school dress code with his horribly holey pants and stretched
tank tops. He boasted about having worn the same clothes since seventh
grade, and they were a mess of random Sharpie graffiti that believably
spanned back that long.
So, his image of being the coolest weirdo in high school hid how real
shit was for him.
But when I started talking to him, I came to learn about his wreck of a
family and his utter fiasco of a dating life and how he hated everyone. In
order to get revenge on the high school’s sad parade of humanity one day,
about a week after winter break, Spaghetti brought chocolate chip cookies to
class and everyone just thought it was another one of his weird random
things and they all raved about how good the cookies were. They didn’t
expect to be shitting their pants within 45 minutes. Only a few of us were
spared the attack: a prissy anorexic girl who didn’t want to eat a cookie for
fear of the fifty calories it contained, me, and a hanful of other people that
Spaghetti was cool with. The police got involved and several parents pressed
charges; apparently putting three containers of extra chocolatey flavor Exlax


into a cookie recipe is assault.
Spaghetti got off with just a year of probation, set to end the day he
turned eighteen, by arguing that the assault was just his attempt at a
harmless yet unforgettable senior prank. “And it was memorable, yeah,
yeah?” he had asked the court with a shit-eating grin that made even the
judge smile for a split second. The school wasn’t so easily charmed,
however, and Spaghetti got expelled just within months of graduating. He
wasn’t even included in the yearbook. And he didn’t get to do his little
contortionist show at the talent show.
After he got expelled, I made other friends and didn’t chill with him
very much, but for most of the fall semester he and I always huddled with a
few other stoners under the jungle gym in the city park to smoke weed at
4:20. When the park started getting hot with nosy teachers, we started
kicking it at Spaghetti’s house instead, which was just a few blocks from the
school. Sometimes we would even wind up at the dorms at the university.
Crazy shit went down over there.
One day in November, a kid that people heralded as Lovitz the Crystal
Fairy joined us at Spaghetti’s. Lovitz looked fifteen but was really in his midtwenties. His pointy face and strangely curved hands reminded me of a
badger, always digging for food, ready to cut anyone’s throat. His visits to
the high school were sources of great rejoicing because in his camouflage
backpack he always carried cling-wrapped nugs of chronic, TicTac boxes with
Ativan or oxycotin mixed with the candies, shroom chocolate bars, and
sweet Adderralls squished into gumballs. Later on, when I was sharing a
fetid-smelling split-level near the college with him and his dealer friends, he


had traded the backpack for a locked safe. But by that time, he had moved
on from candy-disguised speedies. He utilized his genius for kitchen
chemistry projects that produced such products as pickle jar meth and
cough syrup-derived black tar heroin. He once prevented us out of using the
kitchen for a whole week when he made synthetic mescaline from San Pedro
cactus ears a buddy in Arizona mailed him.
But he had already started to mess with that hard shit in high school.
So when he came over that day, Spaghetti asked him if he might be able to
“do that.” With my already-seasoned nose for all things drug-related, I asked
what they were talking about. Lovitz grew aloof, but Spaghetti trusted me
and shrugged and said, “It’s better than Addies. I only do it once in a while.”
And I instantly knew that he was referring to the elusive and great
Somehow I had graduated to where I was actually willing, no, eager, to
try it. Perhaps I had just been around long enough in New Mexico to think it
was normal. Perhaps I was just bored and ready to experiment. Perhaps I
was on some self-destructive downslide. Regardless of why I wanted to, I
now had access to this forbidden, hardcore drug, and I was in. All I had to do
was ask Lovitz casually if I could try some, and he got this excited glitter in
his badger eyes about initiating a novice to his own new club and he
welcomed me to try it.
With a drug often referred to as “speed,” there is shocking slowness in
its procurement. Lovitz didn’t make kitchen sink meth yet so he had to go
get it from some guy “up the hill.” Spaghetti and I ended up waiting for four
hours. Whenever Spaghetti called Lovitz to hurry him up, Lovitz always


assured him that it was on its way, it would be great shit, it would be worth
the wait. I could tell he was amped up when he finally came back; his
forehead was literally slick with sweat. His hands shook a little as he loaded
a pipe from his pocket. “Oh,” he said, stopped filling the bowl to get a
notebook, set the pipe on it, and then spent at least ten minutes picking at
the dirty fiber curls of Spaghetti’s carpet.
“Seriously, man, what the fuck are you doing?” Spaghetti finally
I let out my pent-up agitation in a huge woosh. “Yeah, hurry the fuck
Lovitz lowered me with a hateful stare. “I dropped some. You want me
to just waste it?”
“Yeah, man, you’re never gonna find it in the carpet,” Spaghetti said.
“Fine,” Lovitz shrugged, “it’s your guys’ money. I’m already fucking
lit.” And he cackled proudly as he resumed loading the bowl. He even took
the first hit, claiming that neither of us knew how to melt it down without
burning it.
“It can’t be that hard to melt,” I scoffed, secretly boggled by this
process that was so unlike smoking weed.
Lovitz cackled again. “Here, grasshopper.” Finally, it was my turn, to
bow before the Great Methamphetamine. The fire in Lovitz’s black eyes
made my palms sweat. What internal fire would soon consume me? I
imagined harshness, pain, hallucinations; it still hadn’t clicked in my head
that meth was pleasurable since no one had explained to me how it felt. I
had never thought to ask.
I attempted to take the pipe from him but he insisted on holding and
lighting it for me so I wouldn’t burn it. He instructed me to hold the stem just


so, and then to wait until white smoke began roiling inside the bowl, a thin
white wisp escaping the hole on top, before taking a hit. “Start to inhale,”
Lovitz instructed, his intent focus on the bowl bordering on infatuation.
I began to draw the smoke into my mouth, and was surprised by its
searing acrid taste. It was as foul as its reputation; the taste alone was evil
and the vapor was like creepy graveyard spirits swirling into my body.
“No, don’t suck, just inhale. Like you’re just breathing air,” Lovitz
I had had no idea that I had been “sucking” but I started inhaling more
gently and as a result I began to feel my lungs fill more completely. Meth
smoke was lighter than weed or cigarette smoke, more like water vapor
really; I had trouble feeling it in my lungs.
“And now roll the pookie. Roll it like this, over the flame. That keeps
the shit melted without burning it. Faster!”
I rolled the glass tube harder and harder until I was scared it would flip
out from between my fingers. And then finally I just couldn’t inhale anymore.
I pulled away while Lovittz scolded me to keep hitting it, and I exhaled like a
dragon, enveloping Spaghetti’s whole room in white. And as I watched the
smoke spirits push into the farthest corner, my vision briefly went dim, my
head felt a million pounds heavier, and my whole body went delightfully
numb except for the uncomfortable burnt feeling on my lips. Then I saw a
shower of sparkles and the room got brighter.
And that was it.
I was actually shocked at the gentleness of the high. It was not
explosive or maddening or overcoming. Yet it was? I can never impart the
feeling of being high to someone who has never tried it.
But while I walked home that night believing it was a one-time deal,


here I was three years later, still doing it on an almost daily basis. When I
used to hear tales of people so hooked that they would do it every day and
curse their reflections in the mirror, I was shocked that they could stand to
do something so hard every day. Now I got it. Now I understood.
I was so scared that Aunt Pearl would be able to tell that I was high
when I walked through the door. She had an uncanny sense, even more so
than Mom. But she didn’t seem to notice. It was only a summer later, when
she saw the needle bites on my arm, that she knew. And she didn’t freak out
on me like I had imagined. She revealed that she had struggled with Black
Beauties for years, back when she was a one-woman motorcycle burlesque
show at festivals like Burning Man, traveling across the USA in lingerie and
feathered boas, chilling with crazy druggies and sleeping with whomever
crossed her path. She told me that whole story and I was so shocked at
getting let off the hook that I didn’t notice how pale and scarecrowish she
was looking.
Even after trying it with Spaghetti, I mostly avoided it. I ran into Lovitz
a party late in my second semester of college, and he smoked me out. I
stayed up all night scouring my dorm room. When my roommate Brittany
showed up with her boyfriend, they made fun of my huge pupils and my
flurried cleaning. “I’m on coke,” I lied, and they grinned because they had
been doing coke too. For some reason, coke was OK but meth was not to
most college kids.
And then school ended and I moved in with Lovitz. That’s when I got
introduced to the needle. One of the roommates was known as the Doctor
because of his ability to hit anybody without leaving a track mark. At first I


was horrible at hitting myself and I had marks all over my arms from where I
had missed veins. That’s how Aunt Pearl found out that I was using. But with
the Doctor’s instruction, I soon learned how to do it. The Doctor also taught
me about the needle clinic, where you could trade old needles in for fresh
packs, cookers, tourniquets, and biohazard boxes for old needles. Usually I
would forget about the biohazard box and I would turn in my old needles
stuffed into a Gatorade bottle. We stocked cases of Gatorade at the house
because it was the best for staying hydrated while on meth or ecstasy,
especially during vicious comedowns.
There were always so many people at the house. That was OK,
because I couldn’t stand to be alone with my own thoughts. If I was alone,
then I started to think about how far I had fallen, how miserable I was, and I
couldn’t handle that self-loathing. So my room was always packed with
people, getting high. I would be doing homework for school while everybody
else lounged around, passing pipes full of something. We did so many
different drugs, so many weird cocktails and experimental research
chemicals, that it was a wonder none of us just dropped dead.
Red didn’t just like to do meth, he liked to do speedballs. I honestly
can’t remember how speedballs felt. I guess they were amazing, but not
amazing enough to die from. I mostly remember just being throwing up a lot
the day after from the heroin. I hated heroin and I refused to shoot it straight
without crystal dissolved into it first. And after the mystique of speedballs
was over, I really stopped doing them. Red still did it at times, but mostly he
was content to just get really tweaked out with me. He would insist on


shooting me up whenever I had papers or studying to tackle starting my
sophomore year, which would instead usually lead to all-night sex and no
paper written. It was a treat to get high; I loved it. And Red always had it.
But nobody liked him at my house, so soon it was just him and me, together
all the time, getting high and then fighting or fucking all night long.
Somehow, I had gotten so caught up in the drug life that my whole
“descent into drug addiction” had passed me by. I knew I was doing
something horrible, but I just seemed to believe that I wasn’t that bad, that I
could quit whenever I needed to, that I didn’t need to quit just yet because I
was functioning just fine. Then I looked in the mirror one day, and realized
how much I hated looking in it now. I hated facing myself. Maybe it was time
to quit, when I hated myself so much for using that I couldn’t even meet my
own eyes in my reflection. It was like my reflection was my true self, crying
out from inside me, and I felt too guilty to face her. I realized that I had
started using several times a day. I couldn’t even face work or school without
a shot. I looked seriously gross, pimples erupting all over my chest and back,
my hair greasy, my body bloated and corpulent; I was those people in rehab
center ads or DARE propaganda. Not to mention, I was way behind on bills,
my bank account was nearly a grand overdrawn, and my gas light had been
on for days. I was just spending way too much money on drugs every day.
My tolerance had spiked through the roof and a dub just didn’t cut it
anymore. And I wasn’t the type to start stealing shit to sell at pawn shops.
I wondered what was wrong with me; I berated myself for being a
freak. No wonder my mom never called me, she knew what everyone else


saw: I was a failed human being. An angel with her pinfeathers fallen off
from meth chemotherapy. A circus freak, mentally deformed from birth and
irreparably impaired from living life right.
So I determined to get clean. I broke up with Red, I threw out my
needles and tourneys, I deleted all my dealers’ numbers and blocked them
on Facebook, I told my roommates that I would smoke weed with them but
please keep the meth away from me.
I was shocked at how hard it was to be clean at first. But I did it. For a
little while.
And then Aunt Pearl died and I had nobody to come with me to the
funeral, so I begged Red to come with me. The funeral was a nightmare and I
had trouble functioning after that.
And I got much worse.
I barely passed the first semester of my sophomore year. That was
such a horrible year for me.
Someone made off with my laptop New Year’s Eve, when I was asleep
and everyone else was up high as kites and having a great time. They had
all seen the crime but let it happen. After all the dope I had shared with
them, they were still unsatisfied, still eager to take more from me. I really
had no more to give. I was breaking. I raised holy hell, and the house
consequently voted me off the island.
I felt I had no choice but to find a place with Red. We got a creepy little
one-bedroom near the university and at first we pretended to not be
together, but when I found out he was using that as an excuse to fuck other
girls in our bed, I told him I wanted to be exclusive again.
“I think that’s a great idea,” he told me. “And I think that we should
make a pact.”
“To not see other people?” I said eagerly.


“No, to get clean. I want to get clean with you,” Red said.
My heart sank. “OK,” I eventually agreed. I knew that I needed to, and
maybe it would be easier with Red on board to support me, rather than
tempt me.
“I got a couple grams left,” Red went on. “Let’s have one last hurrah,
let’s kiss this hell good-bye.”
“Yeah, we might as well use it up,” I laughed, knowing that the correct
thing to do would be to flush all that shit down the toilet. But it would be a
shame to waste all that money, right? One last extreme high and it would be
over. Or so I hoped.
I prepped my rig, my tourniquet, my little square of rubbing alcohol,
my little tin cup and pre-made cotton ball. What kind of factory
manufactured these addict supplies? Did they know what purpose these
products served, did their workers know? How did they feel about their life’s
work at the end of their shifts?
I often liked to look over the city lights and boggle my own mind with
the consideration that for each light there was at least one person with one
long story and countless minute likes and dislikes and infinite connections to
other humans at other lights. I now did this as I held the needle with my last
shot ever in my hand.
Then I put my musings aside and began to hit myself.
I hit perfectly, registering blood and getting all the thick, syrupy shot
in without wiggling the needle into my muscle and feeling pain. A few days
back I had studied up on some free phlebotomy sites online and apparently
had always garnered the practice required to tailor phlebotomist’s
techniques to match my unique little rolling veins. When I pulled the needle
out, there was no blood, not even a dot to mark the spot. How fitting, a final


farewell that went smoothly and left no trace of shame.
The burn at the back of my throat as soon as I untied the tourniquet
told me that it was going to be good. I laid back, welcoming the rush I knew
was about to hit. Red laid back too, smiling and sighing in contentment.
But then my heart faltered, and cracks of brightness diced up my
entire field of vision. I flushed hot and couldn’t breathe through the
screeching of the migraine that erupted in my head. Something was wrong.
I crawled to the toilet, somehow believing that throwing up would
purge my body of the poison in it like with alcohol. But I couldn’t puke and
the toilet bowl looked cracked into a thousand pieces when I stared down
into its dank depths.
I finally heaved myself onto my back and stared at the naked lightbulb
of my bathroom light for seemingly hours, the world reeling around me and
my heart hurting, my arms turning purple in the peripheral of my vision. And
I wondered why I wasn’t dead already. Or maybe I was, and the lightbulb was
morphing into the light you see when you die? I forced my spirit toward the
light with all my strength but it stayed the same distance away. And
sometimes my body would dry heave or gag for hydration, a feeble crumb of
evidence that I was actually still very much alive. So how much longer? I
wished it would hurry up. I didn’t know much about meth overdose but I did
know it could happen on occasion.
“Are you OK, babe?” Red called.
I couldn’t reply.
Red banged the door open. “What the fuck? Oh my God.” He heaved
me into the shower. The cold water shocked me and I started shaking and
crying. I was still so damn hot, my body felt like it was on fire, and the cold
water was only stoking the flames. My stomach hurt so bad and I tried to


throw up again but I couldn’t. And then I started shaking so hard that I
thought I was going to bite my tongue off.
“Oh, my God!” Red said.
I looked at him and his face had turned blue. I looked down at my skin,
and there was blue lacing the red patches all over me. “Red,” I whispered,
“I’m blue.”
“You’re just cold,” he responded. He shut the water off and hefted me
to the bed. The apartment swam in incandescent shadows and monsters ran
around the bed. Red made me drink water but it tasted searing hot.
“My chest hurts,” I whispered. My breath sounded deafening.
“You just did a little too much. You’ll be OK,” Red said. But I could tell
by the look on his face that he didn’t entirely believe me.
So I began sobbing. “I don’t want to die this way!” Another seizure
racked my body.
“You’re not going to die, baby.”
“I need to go to the ER.”
“You don’t need to go to the ER. You’ll be fine.”
“Take me to the hospital!” I screeched.
I guess I yelled it a little too loud, because Red clapped his hand hard
over my mouth. “If I take you to the hospital, you’ll have to talk to the cops.
Do you really want that?”
He brought me more water. I made him turn the lights off. And while he
sat on a chair next to the bed drawing, checking on me occasionally, I just
shivered and watched the demons dance around my room. I hadn’t seen
demons like that since I was a kid, tormented for hours every night in my
bedroom in Bellingham. I wondered briefly if these were the demons waiting
to usher me to Hell. They kept whispering to me, but it was in a language I
couldn’t understand. Thinking of the Bellingham demons, I saw my little


childhood friend Colten, standing little and blue by my bed, reaching for my
hand. “Let’s play!”
Then I knew that this was all just a hallucination. Meth-induced
psychosis. If I knew that, then I was safe. I already felt my heart’s flutter
calm slightly. There was a reason I didn’t see demons anymore; it was
because I had learned that they couldn’t hurt me, that the real demons were
in my own head.
“Are you OK?” Red’s voice cut through my thoughts, disturbing me
from the serenity I had finally achieved. I didn’t bother to answer him
because I worried that speaking might send me back into that dizzy hell. I
just needed…peace.
Red threw down his notebook and ran up to the bed, peering into my
eyes. When he saw they were open, he asked quietly if I needed anything.
“A sketchbook,” I said.
So he handed me one of his sketchbooks, wiped the dust off its cover,
and told me he would leave me alone for a while. I began drawing all the
things I saw in the twists and twirls of the air. My pen felt so fluid. I was so
disappointed to find stupid scribbles all over the pages the next day,
because I swore that night that my artistic handicap had been lifted and
beauty flowed out of my hands. I filled the whole notebook. I saved it for a
year as a reminder to not fuck up again, before burning it with all of Red’s
things to rid myself of the painful memories that still haunt me anyway.
I survived but felt like shit for days after. I was so sick with aching
eyeballs and harsh stomach acid that I skipped work and got fired. I had to
take a new job at Subway.
When I was well enough to get out of bed, I wrote a mantra on my
mirror with lipstick: “Each day is a chance to do better than you did


yesterday”. And I tried to live by it. Red kept getting high and lying to me
about it, so that little pledge of cleanliness we made was a farce. I ended up
doing it again with him, but just smoking a little and never shooting up, and I
felt like a monster, turning my back on my mantra, my pledge to myself.
That was part of why I had enough and ditched Red to go stay with Audrey,
because I just didn’t like who I was around Red. Things were always so fun.
So electric. But that just wasn’t me. I wasn’t some lollipop porn bitch from
the tattoo shop with no pride and no higher aspiration in life. After all, my
fling with Red was never supposed to be long-term, so finally I realized that
it was time to end it for good.
Free of Red, I was sure that now I could get clean, that now I could go
back to school. I had dropped out spring semester but I still had some aid
money. NMSU would take me back. But that plan fell apart the minute I peed
on a stick and two lines appeared.
Of course I stayed clean throughout pregnancy. Even with Andres
tempting me so badly. But that had turned out to be a pointless endeavor,
bettering myself for nothing but a dead baby. Lily had given me something
to live for, to care about, and when she was gone, I had nothing left. Except
meth, I guess. My od scared me enough that I am still surprised that I ever
resumed shooting up; when I finally picked up a needle in Andres’s
bathroom, I was so terrified. But I did it anyway.
And after that, it was painful to look at my sad, disappointed, and
jaded reflection in the mirror again. I started hating myself again. When I
imagined my future, there was no meth in it. Yet I kept doing it. It was
becoming my future. I hated that fact, I battled against it, I avoided my


reflection promising that one day I would be OK, but when would that one
day come?
I was tired of waiting for one day.
So why fight anymore?
In one night, I ended years of internal struggle with one simple
decision: to accept myself for who I was.
My Golden Age of meth abuse reached a peak when I finally met Vincey’s
dealer, Jimmy. Now I could go straight to the source. Jimmy loved the needle
as much as me so he turned out to always be good for a shot. And he had so
much shit lying around that he was willing to kick me a shot for free, which
really helped as I struggled to find another job.
Jimmy was almost completely decorated in tattoos from his days as a Crip in
Cali. Who knows what he had done there that made him choose to hide out
in Reid among his third cousins twice removed or whatever they were.
Apparently he was even slightly related somehow to Pauly.
I first met Jim slouched against Manuel’s counter when I came in. He
wouldn’t take his copper orb eyes off me after Manuel introduced me to him
as Jim Blacky and he clasped my hand delicately in between both his
calloused paws, as if I were some Victorian lady and he didn’t want to dirty
my glove. I took his number down.
Then Vincey came in and Jimmy followed him next door. Vincey jerked his
head for me to follow, but I just gestured at Manuel as an excuse to not
follow them. “Could I just get a sack from you?” I asked Jimmy, overstepping
Vincey, a very ugly thing to do in the tweak world. Vincey’s face instantly
tightened as Jimmy winked at me and told me to text him.
Manuel grinned, happy that I didn’t ditch him for his brother as usual. He
was having a little party that night and he wanted me to join. I almost never


partied with him anymore.
And I grinned, happy that I didn’t have to rely on Vincey anymore. If he
decided to ditch me for Mel for ten days again, I wouldn’t have to deal with
withdrawals. And I would no longer look as attached, because I no longer
would be at his house every night. I would have another option some nights.
A few hours later, I told Manuel that I was tired, chugged the last of my
Bug Lite Lime, and jaunted over to Jimmy’s. Practically overnight his house
would become a familiar haunt, a site of countless wasted hours floating in
another reality. His little orange adobe shack with metal sheeting sliding off
the slope of his roof and chickens pecking the hard-packed earth of his little
yard was the type of place I might have feared getting fleas in a year before,
but for Reid it was rather typical and I didn’t cringe as I sat on his bed. It was
dim and dank inside. The sweat of being high, or maybe just the smoke itself,
gave every meth house I had ever been in that same dim dank stuffiness.
Jimmy put on a movie but we didn’t watch it. We passed the glowing
white pookie back and forth. I laid on the huge gang letters scripted over the
ridges of his abs. He was forty, he told me, and I was amazed, because he
seemed no older than thirty. His body handled the drugs as well as mine did,
bearing none of the marks of aging or decay that other tweakers’ bodies did.
The tattoos curving and curling over every inch of his torso, neck, and arms
made me want to see if they also curved and curled up under his jeans. So I
took his jeans off and was slightly disappointed to find only his calves were
adorned in ink art. Also he had little hair, just uncomfortable prickles all over
his legs. Did this guy wax or something?
He read me some of his poetry, deep thoughts on getting high and


shitty people. His stylized handwriting curved and looped hateful words
across thick pulp paper, reminding me of my own hate poems back in middle
school. He was pretty good at poetry, but I was better.
I recited some of my poetry that I could remember from my fifteenyear-old mopey unrequited love and suicidal ideation poetry phase and he
smiled. His teeth glowed. “I never seen a pretty girl that writes poetry too.”
“What, all the girl poets you know are ugly?” I joked.
“No,” he said, “they just ain’t many around here who write poems and
the ones who do don’t write nothing worth nothing.”
“People in this town aren’t into much more than drinking and meth.” I
held up the pipe and surveyed the flurry of smoke still in the bowl.
“That’s true. But you into it too.” He chuckled.
“I don’t know why,” I sighed. “I guess it’s my medicine.”
He got up to jiggy with the computer hooked up to his TV, and porn
spilled out across the screen.
It had never occurred to me to think of what I liked about meth, since I
was always preoccupied with what I hated about it. “I can’t even stand to
look in the mirror when I’m high. And I hate facing my parents.” I didn’t want
to admit how I was trying to accept it now. It felt weird, like I was just listing
the things I used to hate about it. Now I didn’t feel that way so much
anymore. I had been working on looking in the mirror more, to accept myself
as I now was instead of as I had always wanted to be for years, and I had
also stopped caring about being around my parents because I could never
make them happy anyway.
“Make peace with it, and it’ll be your best friend,” Jimmy said.
He was saying what I had been thinking lately.
“I have made peace with it. I like it. Only thing I hate are the
comedowns,” I said. Really, the comedowns weren’t so bad anymore. I knew
how to remedy the worst of the suffering with Monsters, cigarettes, Tylenol,


Gatorade, gum, and light snack food when I couldn’t stand to eat.
He leaned back against the pillow. “C’mere, girl.”
I laid across his taut, tattooed body. We kissed a while. With my head
tilted back on the pillow, I arched my body against his lips as he kissed me
down to my toes and back up again. Then, when I reached down to put him
in me, I grabbed a handful of limp garden hose.
“I don’t know why shit does this to me,” he laughed. “It makes me
horny then I get too damn hot.”
“Why don’t you turn that on?” I indicated the huge swamp cooler
hulking in his window. The window was open and a very slight breeze darkly
moved the curtains but not the dank, smoky air in the room.
So he switched the cooler on and kind of half got it up.
We took a sweaty break and he read me a little more poetry. I was
starting to feel irritated.
Then we heard a door open in the other end of the house. “Benicio?”
Jimmy called.
“Yeah?” A guy poked his head in, nudged the door open further with
the corner of a pizza box. He looked taken aback for a moment when he
spotted me in the darkness.
Jimmy switched the light on. “You got pizza? Well, damn, come share,
nigga. Give the lady some too. This is, uh, Heather.”
Benicio nodded hello to me and came in to share his pizza with us. It
was my favorite, Hawaiian with roasted red peppers and jalapenos all over it.
Next thing I know, Jimmy and Benicio were discussing some gravel job
and I got the feeling I should go. My phone said it was 6:52. I stumbled
outside into cold, overly bright sunlight. Late August, it was already growing
chilly come dark, and the chill didn’t lift from the ground where it settled
heavy as corpses till late morning.
What to do so early in the morning? If I went home, Mom would still be


there, brewing her Keurig and dressing up all professionally for work. I
couldn’t stand the idea of facing her this early, when I was so high that I was
dizzy and the sky was full of floaters that haunted my vision after being in
the dark cave of Jimmy’s place for so many hours.
What did I like about this stuff? Why couldn’t I get clean when I hated it
so much?
I drove around the ghostly empty streets of Reid. The houses all looked
especially sad in the morning paleness. Nobody was open yet for a coffee or
a bite to eat, not that I was willing to put food into my tight stomach. Well,
the gas station was open, but on Wednesday mornings this early, the only
one there was the Troll Queen and I didn’t want to see her hideous gargoyle
I hated the wanness and weakness of the day after getting high. I
hated the people, like Vincey, all liars and assholes. I hated the prick of
needles in my veins and the marks left, especially from when I couldn’t get
blood and missed because I’d been high for a while and all my blood seemed
to suck into my heart and leave my veins deep and fallow in my arms. I
hated the dry mouth so bad that my tongue would stick to the roof of my
mouth with a constant metallic taste and I had no salive left to wash the
taste down my throat. I hated grinding my teeth and holding myself so tense
that my every muscle ached, especially the muscles lining my jaw and in my
temples and scalp.
I was driving past Vincey’s house when I saw him round the corner of
his trailer with no shirt on. I bet he had been over at Mel’s. He spotted me
and waved me to come in, so I couldn’t very well be rude and ignore him.
He packed a bowl. I didn’t want to smoke, I wanted water, as my


mouth was so dry that I anticipated the bowl making it worse.
“Where you been, girl?” he asked.
“Just been busy trying to find a job. You?”
“Around. Working. You were over at Jimmy’s, weren’t you?” He was
smiling at my trembling hands.
I folded them on my lap. “Yeah, how you know?”
“I saw your car there.” He melted the bowl down and then passed the
piece to me.
I hesitantly took a hit, exhaled. I anticipate nausea but instead my wan,
horrid comedown feeling wafted away. I surveyed the pipe for a moment, and
was flooded by a sudden revelation: If I stayed high all the time, I could beat
the comedown. Then, the one thing I hated about this drug would be gone!
A few days later, I got a job at the Willie’s Pizza & Beer over in
Carlsbad. I had to take out my lip ring, wear my hair up, and always be
presentable in a clean black shirt and slacks. I don’t know why Willie made
us wear black when pizza sauce showed up on it like blood under a UV lamp,
but I at least looked really good in the color.
Willie was the type of guy who could only make it as a carnie or a cook.
He was positively massive, with a lion’s mane of black hair around his face.
Scarred hands, a massive meat slab of a face. An almost sexy baritone voice.
When you got close to him, you could smell his manly sweat overpowering
his cologne. He wasn’t attractive, but I pictured him throwing me around with
his tree trunk arms that were colorfully adorned with tattoos. I always have
been a sucker for men with lots of tattoos. That explains why I had made that
horrible mistake with Red. I had a bad boy thing, I guess.
After years of cooking for other people around Carlsbad, Willie had
finally opened this little shithole, where the lights flickered and the toilets


were always backing up and the chipped linoleum was stained a permanent
weepy gray from years of foot traffic. There were crud-clogged metal holes in
the floor where arcade machines had once been drilled down, back when this
place was an arcade in the 70’s and 80’s. Willie did the cooking and cussed
at us employees about “this bullshit” and “that fucker” and “who the fuck
put up this order, what the fuck is this shit?” Every fifteen minutes, he would
hurl down his gloves in disdain for the world and go outside to puff one;
during bad rushes, when he couldn’t get a break, he would smoke inside.
When he wasn’t smoking, he was chewing, spitting his old black tobacco
wads into the dishwashing sink every so often. His teeth were browned by his
relentless craving for nicotine.
I had been sure at first that I would make a lot of tips, serving pints and
pies to oil workers, pretending to enjoy flirting with their nasty asses. But
usually they just left me their pocket change when it became evident to
them that I wasn’t going to stop by their motel room after I got off.
Sometimes I was tempted when one of the good-looking oil guys would
proposition me, but I still had a shred of pride I guess, and they didn’t like
that. Bastards. I was lucky if I cleared thirty a night.
By then, I was two months behind on my car payment and I was pretty
sure that I was about to lose it. Already I had to pay twice as much for gas
because Carlsbad was a good hour away from Reid. An hour of flat grassland,
spotted only by oil rigs and sand patches, boring as church. All of my tips
went toward gas, Camels, and Monster. Sometimes I also bought a slice of
cold pizza after Willie’s closed, which they always charged me four bucks for.


After an unusually good night, I would spring for a gram or take a trip to the
casino with Vincey. Consequently, I never had enough left over from daily
living for my car. Maybe if I had saved and not lived a life at all, I could have
made my payments, but it just felt so hopeless that I didn’t bother.
At least I was able to get high for free thanks to Jimmy and Vincey. I’d
drop by Jimmy’s, get a free shot, get a few extra hits if Benicio was around,
and then I’d go through the farce of trying to have sex with him which I never
actually had to because he could never get it up. At least I knew the issue
wasn’t me, because he was always petting me, tweaking my boobs, and
raving about how hot I was.
I’d make the drive, often pulling over to scribble in my journal as sweat
dyed my uniform even darker. My shifts were usually only six hours,
sometimes seven if I needed to prep before my shift. I would somehow make
it through, trying my hardest not to act too screwy around customers. Being
high made me talk a little too much and a little too fast; I mixed up words
and got tongue-tied a lot. Willie would sometimes survey me from the
kitchen, suspicion in his dark, dark eyes.
I’d usually swing by Vincey’s after work. There would always be the
usual motley assortment of people. We’d all smoke and have a good time,
playing poker or darts and drinking along with our vice of choice. I used to
never like mixing crystal with downers, but I found that a little alcohol was
good at easing the anxiety getting high caused me.
Once everybody cleared out, Vincey and I would screw for a bit before I
went home. We didn’t have to head out to the dunes anymore, since Mel had
dumped him. Honestly I missed the dunes. It was more interesting; Vincey


soon became boring. But at least he could get it up, so I kept putting up with
his boring ass. Some nights, when I sensed Mom and Dad were growing owly
over me coming home hours after when they knew my shift ended, I’d head
home at ten.Vincey would always watch me go on those nights with
Then I’d stay up all night, writing furiously, filling entire notebooks with
scribbles of creative genius that I could barely read the next day. I wrote
stories and novels that made no sense later on.
In the morning, I’d feel like shit, so I would force myself to eat, chug a
Monster, and do it all over again. I would drop by the Allsup’s every day and
get what I like to call the tweaker’s survival pack: a Monster or Red Bull, a
pack of Eagles (or Camels if tips had been really good), a pack of gum or
some beef jerky, and a dollar scratcher. All tweakers will usually buy a similar
combo whenever they run into a little extra cash. The gum or jerky helps
with the sore jaw from jaw jacking, the Monster helps avoid the energy crash,
and the cigarettes and dollar scratchers are just common vices of those of us
with addictive personalities.
I almost felt normal, being part of this grind. To the point where I
almost was able to lie to myself and claim that I loved my job. I sure acted
like I loved it, I was there so much. Like a normal working class American. I
was so driven, so energetic, that I began to do what I had never imagined
doing during my previous jobs: volunteering for overtime, going in on my
days off if they were short-handed, answering calls from work knowing that it
would be a call-in. During the day, there wasn’t much to do in Reid anyway
and I was too hyped up and high to be static, so I really had nothing to do


other than work. Sometimes I wanted to blow off work, to just hole up in my
bed or car and write, but my cramping hands from writing all the night
before often made that impossible, so I always went to work like a good girl.
Finally, I had found the jackpot, the way to be part of the masses that I
had never imagined being part of before. The fact I got high before and after
work wasn’t exactly normal, but since it kept me normal, it didn’t matter, did
it? Jimmy was right, the whole trick was making peace with my drug use. I
had finally made peace with everything, all of me.
That’s why I call this period of my life the Golden Age, because it was a
brief bout of happiness in my otherwise very dark years as an addict. It felt
like it lasted forever, though it really only lasted a spell.
Working at Willie’s reminded me a lot of my very first job waiting
tables, at Margo’s Motel and Food.
Margo’s was like a little 50s diner, with red vinyl bar stools as hard as
nails and as slippery as owl shit. Little kids were always sliding off them and
crying over their bumped heads or knees on the stained linoleum floor.
The few booths lining the walls were equally uncomfortable, red vinyl
around stained faux marble linoleum tables screwed into the floor. Kids
would cut the vinyl or carve their intials and bad words into it with pocket
knives; the nasty yellow stuffing of the seats puffed out like big popcorns.
Wherever there was a rip, the seats sank, so that whoever sat there ended
up shorter than everyone else at the table. People had a lot of fun with that.
We served fries, shakes, burgers, onion rings, pie. The headliner dish,
Margo’s special claim to fame, was our green chile cheeseburger. It was a
jaw-popping, gut-busting diabetic nightmare, a ten-dollar greasy and spicy
monstrosity favored both by locals and daring tourists trying to dabble in NM


green chile cuisine. And who could blame the tourists? In Bellingham I have
not been able to find anything remotely similar to the spicy yumminess of
Hatch green chile, but in NM, it is available at every corner Allsup’s and
every Subway and every grocery store. Come August, the entire state’s air is
enriched with the earthy scent of chiles being roasted in parking lots and
back yards everywhere.
Margo’s had a green chile canned mix that went on the cheeseburgers,
but locals knew to ask us to use real green chiles, so we always kept some
prepped in the walk-in. As the youngest worker there, I was stuck with the
job of prepping the chiles
I hated gutting chiles just as much as I loved eating them. The chiles
would come frozen and it felt like I was developing premature rheumatoid
arthritis with the iciness seeping deep into my joints as I scraped the seedy
chile guts out and flaked the blackened skin off. It was always a relief to thaw
my fingers in the warm water bath I then had to give the chiles to wash off
any skin I had missed; they always felt like limp, heavy fish in my hands and
I swore they wanted to jump into the big industrial steel sink of water and
swim away down the drain.
I often had to stay for hours after my shift rolling silverware with paper
napkins and closing the rolls off with paper rings, chopping up and putting
veggies in containers, slicing and paring fruit for pies, changing out the walkin labels, and organizing the walk-in using the first-in-first-out rule. I often
had to do a lot of dishes too. And a lot of scraping black cockroach carcasses,
sometimes with still-waving antennae, to an uncertain death down the
kitchen sink drains. The hordes of cockroaches in that kitchen made me


never want to eat there. But the worst part for me was shivering in the walkin when I put stuff away. I hated that damn walk-in.
I was allowed to wear whatever I wanted, so I usually wore my semipunk ensemble. When it grew chilly, I wore my Jimi Hendrix sweatshirt. The
manager requested that I dress more cowgirl-y to suit the theme of the
restaurant and added that I would probably make better tips if I looked nicer.
But I was determined to be me and so I kept dressing how I wanted. Largely
that wasn’t truly me, I just dressed like that to impress Dylan, who had a
thing for bad girls and dirt bikes and skate punk music.
I was so madly in love with Dylan Garrison. I just wanted to kiss the tiny
chocolate chip freckle on his cheek and bury my hands into his curls while he
rammed into me. I had only had sex with one guy before but I fantasized
about things I wanted to do to Dylan like a grown woman who knew all the
tricks and kinks.
My parents liked to say we moved because Mom got a job at the
reservation school as a social worker, a job that meant a lot to her since she
was passionate for some reason about intervening in all the alcoholism and
meth problems of the Native population. I suppose she felt an inherent guilt
for what her Dutch ancestors had done to the Natives and so she felt the
only way she could make peace with the past was by meddling in the
present. That was all a convenient cover for why we had really moved,
though, which was to get me away from Wayne in Washington.
I became popular in high school, but Dylan was the first person to
befriend me, when he offered me a hit of weed one day while we were
waiting on the activity bus. I nearly coughed my lungs up; I started gagging I


was coughing so hard and Dylan pounded my back and laughed at me. I had
tried pot only a handful of times before with Wayne, so it still shocked me
how head-changing it was and how chafing it was on the interior of my lungs.
I pined for Dylan for two years, watching his cute face, usually through
a screen of pot smoke, for a sign, even the tiniest hint, that he might see me
as more than one of the guys. When he would give me a handful of free
hydros or Adderall, I almost believed that he liked me. Then I would see him
making out with this chick Gloria and I wanted to punch Gloria in the face for
not cherishing what I wanted so badly.
Through most of high school, I pretended to like a guy in my class
named Taylor. He took me to my very first prom and genuinely believed me
when I claimed that he was my first. After nearly two years of pretending to
not be bored to death sitting beside him as he played video games with
Dylan and the other potheads, we started hating each other, in a classic high
school way. We were horrible to each other after our blurry break-up, but it
never hurt and I never missed him.
My little black and white marbled composition notebook was swollen
with love poetry that I phrased just vaguely enough so that no one would
ever know they were about Dylan. I hoped that if anyone read them, they
would believe them to be about Taylor. Somehow Mom was not fooled,
however. She read my journal in an effort to uncover “what I was up to” and
she somehow knew exactly who my poems were about. I guess she put two
and two together when she read about me wanting to kiss “the little
chocolate chip freckle on his cheek.” I felt foolish for abandoning the code I
had written in throughout junior high. How I sobbed as Mom berated me for


being a weak fool and letting some dude take over my mind when I needed
to be focusing on the Pythagorean Theorem and the hidden symbolism in the
Scarlet Letter and the difference between vertebrates and invertebrates.
Though she was right. If I had focused on academics rather than doing
drugs to stay close to Dylan and writing poetry about him instead of taking
notes, maybe I would have suffered less heartache. But I already had straight
A’s without studying, without trying. And who wants to just think about the
useless fluff they teach in high school?
Well, you already know how the story ends. Lots of details and endless
months of heartache aside, I never married my high school crush and I
ended up in Las Cruces at Aunt Pearl’s instead.
But whenever I look back on those days, on my job at Margo’s, all I can
remember is longing for Dylan and looking forward to being told that I could
go home by my boss Carmen so that I could go smoke weed in his camper
behind his grandpa’s house.
Years later, at Willie’s, I found myself in a curiously similar place,
prepping container after container of pizza toppings, wiping tables with
sanitizing solution, rolling silverware, and picking crumbs out from the mesh
at the bottom of the pizza bar, all the while my mind already on going home
to Vincey’s to get high. Why I wanted to go to Vincey’s so badly was not
something I wanted to think about too hard, for fear of shattering the golden
era I was living in by opening a Pandora’s box of repressed revelations.
Like the revelation that I felt more for Vincey than I admitted to myself.
Or like the revelation that my life was moving in a circle, with past
experiences repeating themselves and with future wounds about to slice into


my heart through scar tissue from wounds that had already fallen on the
exact same spots before.
The only good thing about living in a repetitive cycle is that you grow a
skin tough as bark over your heart, so that in time things don’t hurt nearly
half as much as they would have previously. And when things fail to knock
you down the way they used to, it almost feels like a triumph over the past
as well as the present.
So I knew that I was about to have my heart shattered by Vincey, but I
wasn’t too scared. Or else I was just in denial. I refused to admit how much I
had grown attached to Vincey. Not so much to him, but to the false sense of
being loved that he gave me for just a bitterly disappointingly few glowing
minutes after screwing.
The golden age was nice. But like all golden ages, over a series of
events it began to lose its luster, until it all tumbled away and there was no
more denying that I was back in the dark ages again. I suppose all the things
that I had brilliantly repressed for months were very much in the back of my
mind, and eventually all delusion eroded because there was nothing left to
support them. Consequently all Hell broke loose in my head as I regained my
sense of how terrible my life really was.
It all began to tumble down into ruins with a conversation I had with an
old roommate from Cruces, Brandon Rockstraw.
He was Cockstraw to those who hated him for the lying druggy he
actually was, and Rockstar to those who loved the XTC, cocaine, and
ketamine he sold. He had a constant entourage of gangsters, rich frat and
sorority kids slumming at the time, and freaks like Lovitz and Spaghetti. Had


he been a meth head from the get-go, his 24/7/365 partying would have
made more logical sense. But in fact, he became far less of a partier and
actually slept more once he did get hooked on Spaghetti’s shitty pickle jar
The last time I had spoken to him, he had come by my and Red’s place
to drop off a gram of weed. That was after Red and I had attempted to get
clean for a little while. By the light of the naked porch bulb and the TV, he
looked ghoulish, but I had zero doubt that he looked any better by natural
light. He was as skinny as Shaggy, his waist curving inward, his pants barely
able to cling to his hips even with his belt cinched as tight as it would go. He
had acne that he had picked into massive red minefields all over his face. For
a drug known for its face picking, surprisingly few actually do it. Rockstar
surprised me; I studied him with the fascination of a spectator at a zoo
He didn’t want to stay long. He was in a hurry to go somewhere, all
peeking out the window and bouncing around on the balls of his feet. The
nug was tiny but he wouldn’t give us a refund. “Gotta go,” he finally gushed,
and he ran out the door, and we never saw him again.
Until over a year later, when I saw him on Facebook. His profile picture
actually looked normal, no pick marks or under-eye bags. I felt the warmth of
seeing a familiar face and I added him. I could recall that numb, cold, sweet
taste of cocaine in the back of my nose, the way my breath would feel inside
my numbing nostrils, as I skimmed over his profile. Memories. One night him,
me, and Red tried coke, meth, and heroin all blended into the same
injectable cocktail. A wonder that we had all survived those days.


Now, he had apparently moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, and had a little
boy with some Mexican chick with a big mole on her face. He had always had
odd taste in girls. I clicked the “Add Friend” button. I needed more friends in
my life.
I was bored, lonely. Vincey hadn’t even been home, which was unusual,
and Jimmy’s house had had an unpleasant vibe, like I had worn out my
welcome somehow. So I went home to be alone all night, just miserable.
At least Jimmy had sold me a dub. I had made myself wait for the shot,
like a sort of fun kung fu exercise over my intense cravings. Ideally I wanted
to wait till morning, but I knew that was beyond my mastery. So, with
trembling hands, I laid out the bag, the needle, the alcohol pad. I popped the
cap off the needle, poured the shards into it. Crushed it up with the top of
the syringe’s plunger. I had forgotten to grab water, so I scurried into the
kitchen to fill up a glass. My cotton mouth was bad so I took a sip. I
considered dumping the glass onto a house plant because I wasn’t sure that
spit belonged in a shot, but I decided what the hell and drew the water into
the syringe, squirted it into the cap to dissolve the crushed shards, crushed it
up a little more with the plunger top, and then drew the fluid up into the
needle. Then I executed the shot perfectly. I was so good now that I could do
it by the dim blue glow of my computer.
The rush was great. My throat burned as my skin crawled and my
mouth filled with an evil chemical taste and my hair felt like it was huge. The
room got dimmer and then brighter. Then I blinked and my room dissolved
into swirlies. I loved that. I lay down on the floor, too weakened with euphoria
to make it to my bed, and I just enjoyed the pleasurable rush of my heart


beat elevating. It was vaguely hard to breathe.
When the euphoria calmed down to simple numbness and excessive
drive, I immediately hopped on Facebook to message everybody how much I
loved them. I had neglected so many people of late. I hadn’t even emailed
my gramma since my birthday. That was always a mistake, to neglect family.
For months I had barely talked to Aunt Pearl, and then one of her friends had
found her dead in her sun room. More than anything, I wished that Aunt Pearl
was still around, so I could tell her how I much I loved her.
But then I saw that Brandon had accepted my friend request so I
focused on sending him a message that somehow took me over an hour to
compose because I kept getting all distracted by thoughts and things to jot
down in my journal. It was a fight to not just start writing the night away, the
way I usually did when tweaked out. Finally I sent it. It said, “Hey, long time
no talk.” Over an hour to compose that. And I never got around to messaging
the other people that I had wanted to express my love to.
“good nd yu?” was Brandon’s response.
“hi as a kite,” I replied. “hbu? Any good shit in Az?”
“I’m clean. And with someone. So i appreciate if you didn’t talk about
that stuff plz nd thanx.”
I felt brushed off. And horrified that the picked-face tweaker dude of
my memory was actually sober. At first I assumed he was lying, but then I
perused his pictures a second time and realized that his normal weight, clear
skin, and bright eyes were, well, of a sober person. Amazing.
He was so much beneath me back then. So much worse than me. And
he was clean and sober? What the fuck?
Was I actually better than him when I had sneered at his infected pizza
of a face? Maybe my face was smooth as a dove’s chest feathers even now,


but my nail beds were a bleeding mess from biting. I was sick of the sharp
pain of the edges of my teeth hitting the tender nerves of my nail bed and I
was sick of swallowing hard, inedible scrims of nails with a burst of guilt at
being disgusting. I tried to disguise how hideous my nails were under polish
but then I would just chew the polish off and it tasted horrid. So that was my
little nervous tweak, just as bad as face picking really.
And now, he had a kid, a significant other, and he was clean. I had no
kid, I was one guy’s former side bitch turned full-time fuck buddy and
another’s meth whore, and I was rolling around high as fuck all the time.
So how was I any better than him, really?
And that brought me to another thought, one that always struck me
hard when I contemplated it: I had now been doing this for three years. And
after the first puff, I had planned to stop. I had been trying to make peace
with this, but was it something to make peace with?
Did I really want to live like this forever, swallowing torn bits of nail and
blood and toxic nail polish down my eternally dry throat along with meth
smoke, rushing through a shitty pizza parlor job to go sleep with a guy who
didn’t give a shit about me, and living at my parents?
But what else did I have? What other life could I live? Worse of all, what
would I do when this phase of my life failed? Nothing lasts forever but what
could possibly happen after this?
And those types of thoughts are truly terrifying and cold.
Those thoughts first hit me in the miserable cave of my freshman dorm
room. Leaving my miserable theatre workshops or crashed on my hard,
narrow bed listening to my roommate Brittany list all the guys that liked her,
I wondered where my life could possibly go from there.
My freshman year had started out so exhilarating, just like my Golden


Age had. But it gradually spiraled downhill, until it was horrible.
The theatre crowd I had first fallen in love with my senior year of high
school doing plays grew tiresome with time. I was so tired of forking over
money for workshops and taking notes at plays to write reviews for class and
memorizing scripts.
The crowd that I had started partied with in college was also growing
tiresome. They were all so fake. Brittany was a big partier, with perfect
acrylic nails and hair, the exact type of person I hated throughout grade
school. Now she was supposedly my best friend, and I just wanted to
strangle her to get her to shut up for once. Going out to another party with
her felt like the death of me. But what was worse, was how she started to
forget me as soon as I stopped hanging out with her sorority crowd, and
started chilling with EDM scenesters. It hurt how easily people could forget
And the guitarist I had been dating since my senior year at Las Cruces
High, Keegan, was no longer able to uplift me.
When I had first met him busking in front of Starbucks, I had fallen in
love. His eyes were so brown, flecked with green and bronze, as he peered at
me through his Kurt Cobain hair. I didn’t usually care for blonds, but for some
reason I found his blond chin scruff adorable. He looked older, over twentyone, which is enticing for any seventeen-year-old.
“Do you want a coffee?” he had asked when I handed him a dollar.
“Sure,” I grinned.
As we slurped mocha frappucinos through green Starbucks straws on
the patio of the café, the sun illuminated his hair. Keegan smiled at me as he
told me about his ex who was a stripper and about his family who wanted
him to move out by the end of the year. Then he gazed across the University


traffic and remarked, “All these cars, like so many metal fish. In a hurry to
get somewhere, for no reason at all.”
“That’s so poetic,” I gasped. He seemed to think like me, writing poetry
in his mind about the banality of existence. It was clear that we were special,
somehow in a secret from the rest of the boring, materialistic world.
So I got together with him. I loved bragging to my friends that I had an
older boyfriend, and I loved it even more when he would buy us all beer and
cigarettes and party with us. Aunt Pearl liked him, too, because he was a
genuinely nice person.
But in time I started to realize that his “poetry” was vapid. And I began
to hate how he was always smiling, no matter how horrid life was. I was sick
of competing for attention with the acoustic guitar constantly in his hands,
and I was sick of having to hide my deepening drug habit from him because
he only approved things that grew out of the ground, weed, shrooms, salvia.
While I had career goals, he busked around Cruces for beer money and he
lived with his parents. I was eighteen, and I had been out of my parents’
house for going on two years. All his friends were hippie types who didn’t
really like me, while my friends were party girls who gagged over how he
didn’t wear deodorant. And while my aunt Pearl doted on him and asked
about him whenever I visited, his mom hated me after the day
So, for the last few months of my freshman year, everything that had
mattered to me lost its enchantment. My life had been built on a certain
foundation, and that foundation was being shaken. I lay around in
depression, wondering if everything I loved was actually bad for me, and if I
should move on. But I didn’t have a clue how. And it was so disconcerting to


admit to myself that I needed to.
The second event that sent my little golden age of meth addiction into
decline was the return of Mel to Reid around Halloween.
Mel had in fact returned the same night that I had hit up Brandon
Rockstraw. When I found that out, I felt smacked. That was why Vincey
hadn’t been at his trailer last night, after promising me in the morning with a
kiss that he would be there when I got off.
Son of a bitch.
I disguised my dismay when Manuel griped, “Mel was here last night,”
and gave me a meaningful eyebrow raise.
“That’s cool,” I said through the rising block in my throat.
“You’re not still mad at her?”
“I was never mad at her, I was just sick of her talking shit whenever
she came down here. Why the fuck is she here, anyway? Don’t her kids have
Manuel shrugged. “I dunno.” Then he added, “I guess some drama
went down? Yeah, I guess her man caught her and Vincey, you know,
sexting? So he threw her out and she’s at her mom’s. She’s back for good I
“Ugh,” I tsked.
The idea of Mel being around all the time was bad enough. But now my
little routine of Jimmy’s before work and then Vincey’s after work was over.
Vincey was the only one who was laying me. Sure, maybe we would still
sneak out to the dunes now and then, but I had loved this little routine.
Manuel changed the subject to chatter about his new welding program
in Carlsbad and how he felt he was finally going to get out of this town. “Fuck
this town, they’re all just a bunch of haters,” he said.
I faked exhaustion and left not long after, though. I punched the
Allsup’s dusty sandstone brick wall in my despair over becoming lonely and


out of regular good sex now. My hand swelled up into a vine ripe tomato as I
finally drove up Capitol Hill to spend another night alone.
The idea that I was becoming the one jealous of Mel, rather than being
the one that she was jealous of, was another one of those scary revelations
that I didn’t want to admit to myself.
Halloween was always my favorite holiday, a time for getting
obscenely drunk and smearing FX makeup across my sleeve and the toilet
seat as I threw up pure liquor.
I didn’t have access to any FX makeup that year, however, so I headed
to the Rodriguezes’ Halloween party with a bare face, lank hair, and no
costume, every bit a representation of the dreams lying in shards around my
feet. I was in a foul mood from work and coming down because I hadn’t had
any for a few days, since Mel’s truck was always in Vincey’s lot and Jimmy no
longer seemed to want me around. I prayed that Vincey would be sans
Melissa that night. A few hits and a good screw was guaranteed to reverse
my wretched despair, or so I hoped.
The party was hopping. “Heather!” Manuel called to me over the sea of
heads bobbing in and out of the house. He raised his beer bottle like a
beacon of pale ale-light to help me find my way to him.
I hugged him and he offered me a Bud Lite Lime from the cooler full of
dirty ice. “What you been up to?” he asked heartily, as he twisted the cap off
the bottle for me and tossed onto the shiny mountain of caps accumulated
on the top layer of his trash can.
“Not much, just work. How bout you?” I asked.
“School.” He grinned, evidently proud of himself. I felt a swell of
genuine happiness for him. “I got a work-study job at the college, so I’m


doing good.”
I hugged him. “I’m happy for you!”
I joined the masses on the porch, smoking and gossiping about all the
people that weren’t there. Manuel stood like a resolute statue at my side.
Some chick, evidently Pauly’s cousin, started bawling about how much she
missed her Paulito. Then everybody started reminiscing about him. I was
relieved that no one pointed the finger at me as his killer, like his gramma
had shortly after his passing. It almost felt like a crushing weight had lifted
off my sternum.
I kept scanning the yard for signs of Vincey. Mel’s truck wasn’t there,
but his windows were all black. Where was he? Out with her? I felt the usual
gall and wondered at how he could possibly choose that turd of a woman
over me, when I treated him like he was a king and she had left him several
times for her baby daddy? I was positive that I was better than her in bed,
too. Did he even miss my touch at all? Once again, I was forgotten. And I was
such human shit, that I wasn’t even good enough for a meth head loser.
What the hell was wrong with me?
“You OK?” Manuel asked me tenderly.
I swallowed and nodded.
I had just gone back inside and joined a game of Busride, when the
back door swung open and Vincey strode into the kitchen, shirtless and
looking pissed. “Get me a beer,” he barked at Manuel. “I fucking need it.”
“Hi,” I said.
He barely glanced at me. “Hi.”
Stung, I looked back down at the cards, trying to convince myself that
this was nothing, that it was over as it was bound to be from the very start.
But through those empty lies to myself, bubbled up memories of our very
first time, the moonlight making our skin glow with pearlescent fire.


“Heather, c’mon,” Vincey suddenly said, as he started to head out the
backdoor again.
In shock, I nearly knocked the table over as I ran after him.
“You’re leaving already?” Manuel’s voice held a quiver of hurt, as he
looked from me to Vincey and back.
“I’ll come back in a bit,” I told him, giving him a half-hug. “Thanks for
the beer. Happy Halloween.”
Vincey and I headed over to his trailer. He flipped on the lamp and told
me to leave the main lights off. “I don’t want all those stupid mother fuckers
coming over here,” he muttered, as he began packing a bowl. I could tell he
was pissed about something. And, sure enough, he started bitching to me
about Mel as he melted down the bowl. How she was a slut and over there
having threesomes with Jimmy and Benicio.
I felt dirty, hearing that. Did Jimmy manage to get it up for her? What
the fuck, why did everyone find that bitch more appealing than me? “Well,
what did you expect?” I replied irritably.
Vincey didn’t reply as he began melting the bowl.
“Why do you keep getting back with her?” I went on. “She’s left you for
her baby daddy, what, three times now?”
“You know what, I don’t wanna talk about Mel right now,” he snapped
suddenly. He had never snapped at me before.
I recoiled. I was so relieved when he shotgunned me. We smoked a
little more and then began to make out and feel each other up on the couch.
The couch was too narrow and we ended up falling onto the floor. I giggled
and Vincey growled, “Just fuck me, bitch.”
He had just tugged off my boots when someone started pounding at
the door. “Vincey! Let me in!” Mel cried shrilly. “I can explain! Just let me in,
baby, please.” She sounded like she was crying.


“Fuck!” Vincey hopped up and looked around desperately.
“Just ignore her,” I said, vaguely feeling powerful. At last I was in a
position to be like Red’s lover Marissa, that day when I found out he had
been lying to me about being clean and faithful for Lily.
“Get your boots back on,” Vincey commanded me, and he darted over
to the back window and lifted the window open. “There you go,” he told me.
I stood there, flabbergasted.
“Here,” he hissed at me, throwing his window open all the way. Mel
was still knocking and hollering about how she knew he was in there.
So I clambered out the window and then stormed around the trailer,
hoping to catch Mel, ready for another fight where I intended to win. But
Vincey’s door was already shutting behind her enormous ass with its cottage
cheese chunks of cellulite busting out from under her shorty shorts.
I sobbed with humiliation and rage as I drove home. The world around
me was all foggy and sparkly from my high but all the euphoria was
completely gone. “Fuck!” I screamed, and punched the horn. It blasted
through the cold air with startling ferocity, slicing my ear drums through my
windows which were rolled all the way down. I threw my cigarette butt out
the window, and a shower of orange sparks exploded across the asphalt
behind me, a final firework spectacle of my anger.
I kicked myself for being a weak whore. Why hadn’t I barged in there
and confronted Vincey in front of Mel, ruined their little Halloween that they
didn’t mind ruining for me? Why hadn’t I just refused to climb out the window
like a dirty little secret? Bad things happen to stupid people, it’s true, but no
one gets how much it hurts when you are paying for your own stupidity.
This journey home with my tail between my legs took me back to one
of my worst memories of all time.


For two years, Dylan had treated me as one of the guys. And he had
always been with Gloria or else “single by choice” when he and Gloria were
And then, Gloria had cheated on him the day of graduation.
He and I were parked above the town, getting stoned and looking down
on the pathetic sprinkle of orange security lights in the gray valley below. I
wanted to be out partying, but it seemed more important to be there for
Dylan, as he swigged from a giant bottle of Canadian Mist and cussed about
how Gloria had done him so dirty. “I was going to marry that girl,” he told me
What I would give to have a guy plan on marrying me after graduating
from high school! Gloria was a dumb bitch.
“I’m sorry.” I didn’t know what else I could say. I was distracted by the
feeling of my body being just inches from his. The feeling between us was
tantalizing, electric. And he was now ripe for the picking.
So, on an impulse that I had been biting back for nearly three years
now, I reached over and grabbed his hand. “It’ll be OK,” I assured him,
determined to show him that it would be.
He suddenly turned and seized my head with his huge hand and began
kissing me. His mouth tasted of spicy sweet whisky. His lips were a little
blubbery; he smeared spit all over my mouth and repeatedly probed my
mouth with his searching serpent tongue. It was the horrid type of kissing I
had detested since Wayne had first kissed me back in seventh grade. Why
did teenage boys all kiss like that? I attempted to teach him how to kiss right
by not permitting him too much access to inside my mouth and forcing his
lips closed with mine, but he was determined to kiss me that way.
His friend Dustin pulled up next to us in his beat-up Jeep Wrangler,


shaking Dylan’s car windows with the force of his cranked-up bass. My heart
sank, as I was sure that now Dylan would get pulled into partying with
everyone else and would forget all about what he and I had been doing. That
kiss was not as pleasant as I had fantasized for years, but it was still the
closest the Heaven I had ever been.
“Yo, dawg!” Dustin cried, handing me a blunt through the window.
“What the fuck are you two doing up here? Quit fucking and come party!”
“Shut up,” Dylan laughed, his cheeks turning a little red. And I shrank
into myself, wondering why he acted ashamed at the idea of fucking me.
Then I told myself that Dylan always had been private about that stuff and
likely just didn’t want to broadcast to the world that he and I had been
making out. He was actually being respectful, if anything.
Dylan followed Dustin down to the party house. I pretended to be
excited to go party, when really I just wanted to get back to what we had
been doing.
All night, the hours drug by agonizingly slowly. I followed Dylan around,
sat next to him on the couch, fetched him Solo cups of jungle juice, and
laughed extra hard at his jokes so that he wouldn’t forget about me. He
mostly ignored me, which scared me. Beth and some other girls gestured for
me to join them in the bathroom for a joint, but I was too scared of leaving
Dylan’s side.
At some point, Gloria came in with her entourage of senior girls, all in
the tiptop of their gorgeousness, long earrings swinging, hair in elaborate
braided updo’s, all the doing of Gloria, whose dream was cosmetology
school. She smiled at Dylan and he just turned his back on her, making me
so relieved.


“Dylan, can I talk to you?” she asked sadly, giving him her sweetest
puppy dog eyes.
Dylan begrudgingly handed me his cup of jungle juice and told me to
hang on to it. “What?” I heard him asking her as she led him by the hand to
one of the bedrooms.
The next half hair that passed killed me. The longer he stayed in there
with her, the surer I became that they were naked, that he had forgotten me,
that my little taste of Heaven had been the last one I was to ever get. I even
had to go outside to cry a little bit and somebody split a cigarette with me
and I felt even worse.
When I was about to return indoors, however, Dylan stumbled out,
looking upset. “Heather, c’mon,” he said when he spotted me, “you take me
home.” And he jangled his keys at me.
I drove him back to the camper he stayed in behind his grampa’s
house, a good twenty miles of dirt road outside of Alto Pinon. His truck was a
stick shift, which I didn’t know how to drive really. Plus I was drunk and
couldn’t keep the lines in the middle of the highway from swerving and
swaying under the tires. Dylan yelled at me to be careful. Finally, he took
over driving, and floored it, making reckless turns and fishtails on the rutted
dirt road that had my heart beating in terror in my throat. I was sure we
would either flip the truck or get pulled over since cops were out in droves
that night to prevent shenanigans like the one we were committing.
I followed him awkwardly into the camper, half knowing what was to
happen and half not believing that it really would.
It did.
I was both exhilarated and frightened when Dylan seized me and
tossed me like a doll onto his bed. His Steelers’ flannel blanket chafed my


bare skin as he took me with an aggression that hurt me more than
pleasured me. My neck and face were sticky after he mauled me with his
spit. He took out all his rage against Gloria on me, shouting the whole time
about, “Bitch, bitch, you bitch!” And I cringed each time he touched me and
rammed into me but I also felt so excited that it was him touching me. I dug
my nails into his back until he seethed with pain. I was shocked to find
myself just wishing that this would be over. Why did I hate being with the guy
that I loved so totally? Why was he hurting me so much?
After he finally finished he collapsed next to me and sweatily panted
himself into a deep sleep. And I lay next to him, my head spinning. I was sore
and covered in hickies and bruises and I was unsure whether to sob or leave
or cuddle into Dylan’s hard muscular body. And I lay there until the 9 am sun
broke in through the chinks in the dirty blinds, illuminating the hell that I was
in. Dylan always smelled so good but his camper stank with its heaps of
moldy dishes in the sink and the dirty boxers and socks scattered across the
scuzzy gray carpet. A fly wouldn’t stop harassing me. All the times I had
smoked in here with his friends, watching them play Call of Duty on his
ancient TV set, hitting the weed pipe when it was my time in the rotation, I
had never wanted to leave. Now that I was all I wanted to do.
So I shook Dylan awake.
“Huh?” He yawned, stretched, blinked, then rolled over. “Oh. Heather.”
“Yeah, it’s me,” I laughed, trying to disguise my hurt at his apparent
“I thought you were Gloria at first.” He sighed heavily and stared out
his window, avoiding my eyes.
“Nope…it’s just me.”


“Um. Well do you need a ride home or something? Is that why you
woke me up?” He wouldn’t meet my eyes.
I stared at him for a moment, appalled, then I snapped off the horrid
Steelers blanket and started yanking on my clothes.
“Dammit, Heather, what did I do now?” he groaned.
“Nothing,” I choked through the block in my throat. I started shaking.
And then the shakes gave way to tears.
“Heather,” he groaned. “What the hell is it with you?”
“Don’t worry about it,” I spat.
And then I left.
I really wasn’t mad at Dylan. I was only mad at myself.
It was a nearly seven-mile walk to my parents’ house. The May sun
beat down on me nearly as hard as I was beating myself up. That was the
time of the infamous Wallow fire in Arizona, and New Mexico’s sky was an
angry blood orange, the smoke mingling with the dust to resemble Hell. My
every step rose giant dust clouds, mushroom clouds of doom to the fire ants
seeming to race alongside my feet. My mouth was chalky and my skin was
And, for a brief moment, I wondered why I was even walking home. My
parents would kill me once I stumbled in reeking of booze and looking like an
abstract art piece with my decoration of colorful bruises and red hickies. I felt
like I was maybe bleeding a little down there, too, so I wasn’t sure if my
pants were stained or not. The rest of my life was ruined, I felt.
Why not just jut out my thumb and hitch a ride with any of the out-ofstate cars shooting past? Maybe the driver would rape and dismember me in
the middle of nowhere, but at that point I didn’t really care.
A few days later, maybe a week later, was when my drug test results
came back positive and I got shipped away to Aunt Pearl’s.
The third and perhaps utmost end of the golden age was when I came


out with my keys an hour before work, blinking the cold, hostile Thanksgiving
week sunlight out of my puffy eyes that were not yet adjusted after my
lengthy meth crash sleep, and my car was not in the driveway. The inevitable
doom of repossession had finally fallen.
My despair over losing my car was surprisingly light. Bearable. I didn’t
wail or break stuff, as much as I wanted to be packing a chainsaw. I just sat
on the edge of the porch and lit a cigarette and cried a few tears. Then I
went numb as I took in the ratty town and yellow, featureless plain below,
stretching away to oblivion to the east and south and into blue mountains
shadowed raggedly by the few clouds skittering overhead to the west and
north. The highways made skinny licorice ribbons, peculiarly shimmery and
sticky-looking from my vantage point where the disrupted the otherwise
perfect flat yellowness of the plains. Three cars glinted cold and bright where
they had just rolled over the horizon, on their way to the crossroads. Since
getting fired from the gas station, it had been a long time since I had stared
at the horizon, at the crossroads, and dreamed of what laid beyond. Now I
wondered where those glinting cars were from and where they were going; I
envied them their mobility. Even though I had been mobile, even though I
had been leaving the town for Carlsbad every day, now I felt that I had
squandered my chance to escape. I could have kept driving. I could have
gone to Carlsbad for work one day, and never come back. I could have spent
all the money I wasted on cigarettes and drugs, on gas for a trip to nowhere
instead. At least I could’ve gone back to Cruces, back to NMSU.
You never know what you got till it’s gone.


I had felt the exact same way with the car I had totaled the year
I had bought my very first car with a loan from Aunt Pearl and my
inheritance from Grampa. It was a little blue Hyundai Sonata. Aunt Pearl
helped me pick it out a few weeks after I had returned from Bellingham,
where Gramma had had Grampa’s service.
Grampa had succumbed to a burst blood vessel in the brain shortly
before I started college. Dad had picked me up in Las Cruces and we drove to
El Paso for our flight up to Washington. He and I had barely talked since my
parents had washed their hands of me the summer before. He bought me
McDonald’s and the tang of the tartar sauce on my fish burger was especially
sour with my suppressed pleas for his love, his approval, his smile. He didn’t
smile. Well, his dad had just died.
But when the plane suddenly lifted off the ground and I gripped the
arms of my seat because I felt that my stomach with its fish burger contents
had been left behind on the runway asphalt, he asked me if I was scared of
flying, and I began crying as I said yes. Not from grief for Grampa, not from
fear of flying, but from happiness that he cared enough to ask.
My grandpa’s service had been on board the house boat he and
Gramma had in Bellingham. In the cramped white space of the boat living
room, twelve family members squeezed around a cheese and cracker spread
and talked about Grampa’s life. Childhood memories. All that. I had little to
add because I hadn’t seen Grampa since I was eight. Gramma placed
Grampa’s urn on their counter and it slid precariously as the boat rocked with
the choppy water. I gazed across the ocean, the low gray clouds, and missed


Washington more than I missed my dead grampa.
After an ordained family friend said a few words of Scripture for
Grampa’s soul and everyone eulogized him, we each took a handful of his
ashes from his urn and scattered them into the water. I didn’t feel pure
enough to touch his ashes, when I missed him so little. My hands had held
meth pipes and coke bags; they were too dirty to touch the remains of a man
who had undoubtedly hoped for so much from me. Why hadn’t I called him
more, sent him more personal letters? All I had sent for years were holiday
cards and thank you notes for birthday and Christmas presents. Last
Christmas I hadn’t even sent a card.
I almost felt pure again that night as Dad and I shared a six-pack of
Amber Boch and watched Everybody Loves Raymond, pretending to be OK
despite the crushing presence of grief in the room. But that purity was all
fake and I felt even guiltier when I received a check from Gramma for a
grand a few weeks later. I didn’t deserve to be in Grampa’s will; why had I
even been included? I wanted to spend the money on drugs but I just
couldn’t do it. So instead I bought a car.
It was a bit of a haughty feeling, to cruise into my dorm hall parking lot
with my own car loaded with my stuff. Aunt Pearl of course came along in her
own car to help me, but for just a moment, I was able to pretend that I was
alone and fully grown. I was eighteen, and I felt it. With the LC heat, I had to
blast my AC, but I left the windows down so that people could see my tawny
hair blow in the AC current. How freeing a feeling.
That car had 100,000 miles on it and by the time I totaled it, it had
nearly 100,000 more. Over the next three years, it would see it’s fair share of


various body fluids, illicit drug use, loud music, tears, laughter, hand holding,
and adventure. I adored that car, and I adored its stellar sound system and
auxiliary plug-in, and I adored the Ed Hardy “Love Kills Slowly” seat cover
and steering wheel cover and sun shade set I had bought for it. I loved the
“Manana doesn’t mean tomorrow, it means not today” bumper sticker that
Andres had given me and the Hello Kitty bracelet looped around my rearview
mirror by my roommate Brittany.
When I first got the car and wasn’t spending all of my paltry Wendy’s
paychecks on drugs, I would splurge on gas and wine coolers and go for
cruises all over New Mexico, with Korn and the Deftones blaring at top
volume and my windows lowered all the way down blasting my skin with the
cold desert night air. I would go as far as Hatch, Hillsboro, or T or C, just
sailing through the darkness, sometimes 100 mph or faster. Not once was I
ever pulled over, though I was detained at border patrol for a K9 search
once. I guess the dogs had been able to smell all the weed that I had smoked
in the car, but they weren’t able to find anything in the car, so I was let go.
One time, the spring I turned 20, Red and I were back together for the
last time and we decided to take a little vacation in Albuqerque while Red
tattooed a whole back piece on one of his old meth head friends. We slept in
the car in the client’s dumpy trailer driveway, our seats reclined all the way
back, blankets mounded over us to guard against the cold that still lingered
ominously over the Albuquerque basin. That car had some comfy seats
actually, though they were too narrow to accommodate much sex. We used
the back seat for that.
I remember hiding the light of my phone from Red as I texted all night


with the handsome, smirking Mexican guy Andres who would become my
boyfriend in less than six months. I had first met Andres when he ate at the
Subway where I worked, and I had instantly been drawn to him. Over the
following few weeks, he fully swept me off my feet by coming into the
Subway nearly every day to flirt with me and smoke cigarettes out back with
me. He showed me the attention that I once had gotten from Red. He made
me feel important. “Head Over Feet” by Alanis Morrisette was my constant
soundtrack of that time period. “I’ve never wanted something rational,” I
would sing triumphantly to myself. As if Andres was at all a rational choice.
He sure seemed to be at the time, compared to sleazy, nasty Red, who was
really starting to look forty-one.
I realized that I had fallen for Andres the day he didn’t show up and I
missed his company and the whole shift drug on depressingly, as I wondered
with despair if I had somehow scared him off. But I hadn’t scared him off. By
the time Red and I were in Albuquerque, I already knew we were done and I
wanted to be with Andres instead, because he made me smile and feel whole
with his flirty texts.
When I left Red for Andres, I actually broke the news in my car as well.
We were driving somewhere and I just couldn’t hold it in anymore, couldn’t
stand another day with this cold and drugged-out dickhead sitting next to
me. Of course Red completely flipped, threatening suicide and cussing me
out for cheating on him with the “dirty Mexican.” “I knew it. I knew you had a
thing for Mexican guys,” he accused me as he dramatically sniffled and
And I didn’t even bother explaining that I wasn’t attracted to Andres


just because he was Mexican, though his smooth mocha skin and thick black
hair sure was hot. No, I was attracted to him for treating me like a gem on a
mounted pedestal, the way Red used to treat me. I didn’t bother explaining
that because it didn’t matter anymore. “Anybody would be better than you,”
I told Red, words I would come to regret stingingly after he offed himself.
So, a fairly significant hunk of my life occurred in that car. And that’s
why I cried bitterly when I totaled it and got to see it for the last time in an
impound lot as the insurance claims agent wrote it off as total loss and cut
me a check for only a fraction of its priceless sentimental value.
I was still pregnant with Lily when I totaled it. I was pretty damn huge
with her, actually. I was constantly hungry with her growing inside me;
doctors say don’t eat for two but Lily had enough of an appetite that I
couldn’t help but stuff my face. After a long morning shift at the nursing
home, where I was working on earning my CNA certification, I was starving.
So when I saw Andres’s best homie post on Facebook that he was selling $5
enchilada plates for his kids’ school, I had to go get some.
Andres’s best homie was a good guy. He took my five bucks and closed
the door in my face so I couldn’t come in. It seemed unfriendly, especially
considering how leery he and his wife had originally been of me since I was
white as snow, but I at least had the wherewithal to understand that he just
didn’t want any drama, since his wife and Andres were both not present. If
anything, after my various bad experiences with lone men in the past, I was
grateful for his respect. He barely cracked the screen door again to pass me
the Styrofoam box containing my food.
“Have a good one,” I called as I started to already shovel food into my


mouth on my way back to my car.
“You too, Heather,” he called back, and the screen door snapped shut.
“Be careful.”
I should’ve heeded that, but instead I drove like a dumbass, eating and
checking Facebook rather than keeping an eye on the road.
That’s why, when the stop light I was idling at popped a green arrow
but not a green light, I hit the gas and didn’t look up again to see my mistake
until I was about to collide into a turning car. Some weird type of car. I
remember screaming but I felt no fear as our cars crashed together jarringly.
The front of mine crumpled like an accordion up to my windshield, and my
windshield crumpled like water that fell in sharp-feeling droplets all over my
face and arms and throat, and rested in a glittering dusting atop my
protruding belly. The tires squealed like banshees as I spun around twice in
the middle of the intersection.
There were a few moments of stillness.
Then the world seemed to audibly click back on again. There was
yelling, something about how I ran a red light, some bitch saying how she
saw it all and was totally gonna support the guy in the car I had hit when the
cops came. Someone approached my car yammering on the phone, and I
could tell by their stop-and-start tone that they were speaking to the cops.
“Drinking? I don’t know. I sure hope not. Oh my God!” The guy on the phone
started back when he saw me. “You better send an ambulance, she’s
pregnant. The other driver. Yeah. There’s blood all over.”
Suddenly there were sirens and a huddle of people around my car and
some woman was asking me if my baby was moving at all. I gripped my
stomach in fear, and was so relieved to feel Lily kick back, the little hello way


she always did when I touched my belly.
And then there were cops asking me questions and I was incoherent
because I was shaking so hard. But I didn’t feel a thing. Lily was happily
kicking and rolling and my skin stung but I didn’t feel any of the horror or
grief I later would. Guess that surreal, suspended feeling where you see
everything and also nothing because the world is all a blur moving way too
fast for focus is what they define as shock. People had me get out of the car,
and I sat on the nearest surface I could find, the edge of the sidewalk. The
guy I had hit looked upset and confused, but he no longer seemed pissed, as
he kept glancing compassionately at me just dazed and cradling my tummy
on the curb.
The next thing I knew, I was being hoisted into an ambulance, where I
was guided to lie down on a stretcher and asked more questions as my vitals
were checked. I was fascinated at the utter limpness of my arm when the
EMT with the super long silky ponytail took it to wrap a blood pressure cuff
around it. It was nice being clean; when I had had to get my blood pressure
measured while I was using, I always cringed at the obvious bruises and
needle marks on my arms in plain view to the nurse’s trained eyes. I never
felt there was any use lying that I was not taking any street drugs once the
nursing staff had been up close and personal with my arms. It felt good now
to honestly declare that I wasn’t on anything, except Wellbutrin for my
depression, when the EMT asked me.
The cop and the EMT with the ponytail exchanged notes. The cop
looked up at me and I realized he must be a stater because his face was
shaded by a hat. “You take care, ma’am,” he nodded at my tummy. “I’m


going to have to give you a ticket for reckless driving, OK, ma’am? And your
car is going to need to be towed.”
“OK,” I agreed dreamily.
He wrote off my ticket. It all seemed to take forever. I couldn’t focus as
he explained something about impound lots and tapped a number on a card
for me to call if I had any questions for him.
“Wait,” I hollered as he clambered out of the ambulance and Madame
Ponytail proceeded to shut the door. “I left an enchilada plate in my car and
I’m like really hungry. Could you get it for me?”
The cop looked at me funny, then he asked the EMT to wait a moment.
And what seemed like ten minutes later, my warm Styrofoam container of
enchilada, rice, and beans was in my hands. I rested it on the natural table
top of my belly and ate as the ambulance bumped and shivered its way up
Lohman to the emergency room. “Want any?” I offered a heaping plastic
forkful to the EMTs and they all laughed and shook their heads.
That’s why I absolutely admire and love EMTs. They always make
ambulance rides as fun as they can. Firefighters, too. And even some cops
are truly wonderful.
And I was fine, besides the soreness in every part of my body and the
itchy glass sprays all over my exposed skin. Lily was fine too. But I had lost
my precious car, which felt a bit like losing a rib. For weeks I had to get rides
to and from work from Rosario, Andres’s sister, who was always singing along
to the Drake and Rihana and other stupid pop shit she blasted on the radio.
GEICO finally cut me a check for two grand for my totaled car and I
used that for a down on my Nissan Altima. I could’ve gone for another
cheapo car, but the Altima was alluring, with its shiny black paint and its
interior smelling of brand new car.


“You just signed up for a big debt, babe,” Andres said with foreboding
as he walked around my car, surveying every shiny black inch of it. Through
the whole financing ordeal, he had sat next to me, cracking jokes to the
salesman that he had no idea how all this worked because Mexicans don’t go
to dealerships and buy cars, they buy the pieces of shit their cousins don’t
want no more. The salesman laughed politely but I could tell he didn’t
appreciate the stereotype Andres was perpetuating and I didn’t appreciate
how guilty Andres was making me feel for spending so much money and
incurring so much debt.
The day my car got repo’ed, I was in shock and feeling nothing at first
too. Then, I began to feel bitter about the fact that Andres’s words of
foreboding were, in fact, right. Perhaps he had known on that day at the
dealership that I wasn’t responsible or mature enough to handle such a big
debt. At the time I swore I could pay it off in a timely manner, even make
double payments to get ahead, because my nursing home job was good and
I was living in Andres’s parents’ house for only a hundred a month and
Andres got us food stamps. But embarrassingly, I ultimately proved everyone
right, that I truly wasn’t capable of handling huge responsibility in my life. I
spent my money as unwisely as Mom always accused me of doing. My Altima
was now gone and again I felt like I had lost a rib.
Hello, darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk to you again.
The golden age was over.
But, as always, I survived.

Chapter Six: Hello, My Name Is Heather


I survived by hibernating as a grizzly, my bed as my den for three solid
days. I did not eat, did not drink, did not get up for the bathroom. The few
times I did open my eyelids, I could not bear to hold them open and see the
grayness of my room around me.
But sleep let me stop feeling. Sleep kept me from the bad dreams of
my life. I always have good dreams, which is partly why I cannot get out of
bed early in the morning, because I just do not want to leave the embrace of
the joyful DMT cinema in my had.
Mom finally noticed that I had not been out of bed for a few days. I
have vague memories of her storming into my room and interrupting my
slumber with interrogations about drug use and why wasn’t I at work and no
wonder my car had been repoed as I was a degenerate, deadbeat scumbag.
By the third day, she was frightened, and the despair in her voice penetrated
my sweet dreams as she pleaded for me to please, please get up, to please,
please get some help. “Your dad found you a place to go,” she said.
And I finally then woke up, to see them both standing over me, ready
to send me somewhere so that they would not have to deal with me
“I’ll go later,” I said, and I squashed my head back into my pillow.
“No.” Mom began to shake me. “You have to go now. Now, Heather.”
And when I realized that she was sobbing, I knew that I couldn’t
hibernate any longer.
My life is very meaningless, I thought, as I cut spirals with my pinky
fingertip through the condensation droplets amassed on the inside of the car
window. Dad was driving me to Crescent Hill Psychiatric Hospital and it was
raining fiercely, the cold drops as fast, hard, and piercing as little daggers


shot at me from Hell’s freezer.
Crescent Hills was a dull stucco complex of several buildings that more
resembled a government research facility than a hospital. As the wrought
iron gate swung open admitting us into the parking lot of the intake building,
I began to feel that heavy heart tugging of dread settle down over me with
sudden ferocity. And my hands began to shake violently.
The intake lady was all smiles. “Hi, Miss Heather. I spoke to your dad
over the phone and we’re all really glad that you made the choice to come
here. My team and I are dedicated to helping you feel better, OK? So,
Heather, tell me why you’re here.”
“Depression,” was the condensed chicken soup version of my life story
that I ended up telling the intake lady. Sort of like my little generic story
about why I was in Reid that I told all the people at the gas station.
I got my little paper wrist band marking me as a patient, dropped my
piercings into a tiny plastic bag for storage till my release, and got a medical
exam where the doctor ran his gloved finger over my very slight track marks
and asked if I was doing heroin and snorted when I said no. I guess he had an
eye for that. When I came out, it was dinner time. I joined a single file line
snaking into the cafeteria, with surprisingly normal-looking men and women
behind and in front of me. A lot of them were chatting, joking, reminiscing
about cigarettes. We weren’t allowed to smoke in there.
The toilets were just like the steel tank-less ones they have in jail,
according to my fellow inpatients who had seen the insides of jail cells
before, but the food was fortunately decent. Salisbury steak and potatoes
with cheddar cheese and brown gravy. You could tell it had all been frozen
before the cook microwaved it, but it all had flavor and was warm and there


were a lot of drink options at the juice fountain. In the mornings they also
had coffee and hot tea, but by lunchtime they shut those dispensers off.
After dinner, we were supposed to have a group therapy session, but I
was exhausted and numb and I just wanted to sleep. I wandered back to the
room section, to find my door locked. “We lock the doors after supper
because you need to be interacting with people and participating,” a nurse
walking by chirped at me. She seemed practically pleased to see me struggle
to open my door.
So I slumped over to the group room and slunk into a seat, attempting
to avoid as much attention as possible. A woman smiled mossy teeth at me
and I managed to force a smile back even though I was absolutely falling
The group session was a daily recap, discussing the events of the day
and asking each inpatient if they met the goals they had set in the morning.
Most of the people said they had reached their goals; most of them had
found out they were soon to be discharged and they were really happy about
When the facilitator reached my spot in the circle, I thought he would
skip over me, since I hadn’t been there to set goals. But of course he could
not offer me such mercy.
“What’s your name?” the therapist asked, his tone heavy with fake
“Heather – Heather,” I choked through the block in my throat. My
wildness in bed was in sharp contrast to how horribly shy I really was.
Somehow I had learned early how to overcome shyness with sexuality, but I
had yet to succeed in overcoming the hand trembling, stammering, and


choking up that I developed every time I found myself in a new social
“Tell us a little bit about why you’re here, Heather.”
“Depression,” I said. Then, because of all the testimonies other people
stated about being here for drugs and alcohol, I felt it was OK to admit, “And
meth detox.”
A few people nodded in appreciation. And not one person seemed
shocked, the way I half-expected. Was I more obviously a meth addict than I
had previously assumed?
Following group was med pass. We single filed at the nurse’s station
and received our meds in a little paper cup with another little paper cup of
water to wash them down with. Unlike the movies, everyone there was
happy to take their meds, primarily because we got benzos at night. They
gave me Ativan and a nicotine patch. My entire stay I had a nicotine patch
but it never cut my cigarette cravings.
By my second day, I found myself interacting with my fellow inpatients
the way I supposed to. I was shocked how normal they all were. Maybe I
really was crazy, and I had finally found my niche with the crazy people. Or
maybe we were the sane ones, locked away by an insane society. Either way,
the mental hospital proved to be a great time.
There was an old biker dude with PTSD from ‘Nam and there was a
Native guy detoxing off heroin, and there were lots of nice men and women
with forgettable faces and sad hearts that I felt honored to meet. Mostly I
hung out with a massively overweight chola named Theresa who said she
knew Andres and had actually met me once at a party. She was cool.
We played poker, replacing chips with little torn rounds of tissue. We
also devised a way to play pool using our fingers to flick bouncy rubber balls


toward marked spots in every corner. Traditional rules, of course. I think we
also tried to devise some type of mental hospital-friendly put-put golf but we
failed on that score.
I hadn’t played put-put since I was twelve. That was before Wayne,
when Dad still liked me. I remember we got Cold Stone, and I had a cone
with chunks of cheesecake in the vanilla that was so good. It mostly melted
down my hand before I could eat it, it was so huge. My face got very sticky
too. There was a group of adolescent boys playing one hole in front of us and
they kept teasing me, saying I sucked at golf and calling out, “Bye,
Heather!” all silly-like when they left. I was blushing and nervous with them
watching me and so glad yet so disappointed when they left.
Everyday at noon I met with a therapist. When she asked me about my
drug use, I decided to be honest. With all her qualifications framed on the
wall, she seemed like the only person who might be able to help me. Not like
that crackpot school counselor back in junior high. And I was beginning to
see that I needed help, that I wasn’t strong enough to help myself.
She had me take a diagnostic test and informed me that my results
pointed to rapid cycling bipolar disorder II. I felt that maybe that explained
everything. My mood swings, my inconsistencies, my lack of friends. The way
all my exes’ moms hated me, because they could see me for the bat shit
crazy bitch that I was. Even my brief Golden Age was probably just a manic
upswing. “Could that be why I use drugs? To self-medicate?” I asked her.
She beamed, pleased that I knew what self-medication was. “Possibly.
Is there a history of drug abuse in your family?”
I thought back to my gramma, od’ing on Seconals when my mom was
sixteen. And Aunt Pearl’s bout with Black Beauties. “I guess, a little?”


“Well, drugs are often a means of self-medication.” And she beamed
some more. “I’m going to start you on lithium and Lamictal. Just a small dose
at first. We’ll monitor your moods and symptoms for a few days to make sure
that they help. Let us know if you start to develop a rash….”
The rest of the day, I chilled, socialized, played cards, and felt relieved.
At last I had a name for what was wrong with me. And maybe a medication
that wouldn’t send me into anxious fits the way meth did. Now I had found
the reason why no one liked me for very long.
Before dinner we got to go out to the track field and walk a mile,
huddled against the blistering cold wind. The weather was miserable but I
felt good. Mainly because I was surprised at my freedom to be myself here. I
could be bipolar, I could be a meth addict, and people didn’t bat an eye.
A guy named Dalton, who had just been admitted that day, fell into
step beside me. He said he was from Grants, which wasn’t too far from Alto
Pinon. We reminisced about taking trips out to the Malpais to climb around
on the monstrous, craggy black gorillas of rocks and to stare across the
mysterious sweeping distance of New Mexico.
Dalton told me he was thirty-one, which shocked me. I had estimated
him to be about twenty-five. He had a pretty sexy black grizzle hugging his
cheeks and chin and his hair had cowlicks from curls attempting to rear their
heads from his short cut. He was wearing a plaid flannel shirt and I wanted to
cuddle into its scratchy warmth.
We sat next to each other at dinner at the “cool table,” where
everyone laughed and shouted at the guard that he was Mussolini. We put
our arms around each other that evening in the TV room while the Fresh
Prince of Bel Air played. I didn’t really know Dalton at all, but I was willing


with roll with it. The speed with which we got comfortable together was
dizzying yet so natural-feeling. I couldn’t complain. We were nuzzling our
cheeks together, just about to touch lips, when a guard appeared in the TV
room doorway and ordered us to not touch.
“Mrs. Mussolini,” I said.
Dalton burst into laughter.
The fun didn’t end there, though.
I had just started to nod off into the fuzziness of my sleeping meds
when light spilling in from the hallway woke me. I didn’t have a roommate
yet so nobody should’ve been coming in and the guards did periodic bed
checks but they never opened the door all the way, they just shone their
little pen lights through a crack. So I sat up in bed, rubbed my eyes, and
blinked through the darkness in mild surprise.
It was Theresa, already at the foot of my tiny bed.
“I want to make love to you,” she whispered.
Save for a wild drunken experience in college with Brittany and one of
her boyfriends, I had never been with a girl. And I had never really wanted
to. My chest seized up and I whispered back, “You gotta get out of here. If
they catch you –“
“Shh.” Theresa clambered on top of me, enveloping in her fatness, like
I was some baby otter to be kept warm. “Just relax, baby, I’ll take care of
“Theresa, you gotta get out of here.”
She kissed me. I was half thrilled and flattered, half mortified and
desperate to get her off me.
A tiny hard white circle of light from one of the guard’s pen lights
flashed over my eyes. “Shit!” I gasped, pushing Theresa off me. That was no
easy feat, either, as she was at least twice my size.
“Hey!” The guard doing bed checks through my door open. “Miss


Sanchez, you aren’t supposed to be in here.”
Theresa straightened her green-checked pajama smock and waddled
I lay back, heart pounding, and began to smile. Maybe I wasn’t exactly
normal or likable, but I at least never ran out of people who wanted to do
me. It was some reassurance that I wasn’t totally horrid.
Theresa was gone the next day, shipped off to Las Vegas. That day was
visiting day and I felt a little hurt as half of my fellow inpatients filed out to
the intake building to see their loved ones and no one had come to see me.
My parents never even called. And of course Vincey never did. I bitterly
imagined Vincey entangled with Melissa, swallowed in her fat. Now I half
understood why he liked her; Teresa’s big body had felt sort of nice when she
was on top of me.
My lithium and Lamictal and Ativan all combined together were
beginning to make me feel better. They were supposed to take weeks to
work, but I was already able to look at things, like Vincey fucking Mel, with a
sense of humor and a lack of feeling that I had never experienced before.
Usually I felt things so violently, like so many knives diving into my heart.
Tuesdays and Thursdays we had art therapy. Dalton and I sat next to
each other, touching as much as we could as we painted cartoon animals
and fused plastic beads into designs. It was like high school all over again. I
realized how badly I missed being a teenager. At least back then, everything
made sense. Even the painful things, as vibrant and violent as they felt, were
actually manageable compared to the horrors of adulthood. Now I recognized
how much of a mess my life was, and making art, sneaking kisses with
Dalton’s scratchy bearded lips, and playing poker was a blessing. I had found


an oasis amid the horrors of my life.
On the outside, all I had to distract myself was meth, and I saw how
meth was almost crumbling my life, ruining my health. I had been able to
deny that fact up until now, when I felt better than I had in years without any
meth in my system.
It was not the excellent remedy of my issues the way I had led myself
to believe.
And it also wasn’t a super hardcore addiction. I had none of the
withdrawals or craving I experienced on my sober days on the outside. It
proved that it was environment and stress that made me want it, not actual
chemical dependency.
My counselor wanted me to start thinking of goals to tackle when I got
out. I decided one goal would be school, but I still had no clue how to go
about that. My other goal was to find a job closer than Willie’s, maybe
something higher paying.
Friday morning, my counselor made me attend an NA meeting in the
group room. And my ideas about addiction were further reaffirmed. With a
head-spinning turmoil of guilt, shame, amazement, denial, and relief, I
uttered the words, “I’m Heather, and I’m an addict.” Those words sent me
“I’ve been doing it for four years now. Started when I was seventeen. I
don’t know why I tried it, it was stupid. I kept thinking each hit would be my
last but I don’t about that anymore. Then I tried accepting it as like a part of
me, just what I do, but I’m not sure that was the right thing to do. I don’t
know why I do it,” I told the room. “Well, I guess I do. I guess I’m selfmedicating for bipolar disorder. I didn’t even know I was bipolar till now. But


it makes a lot of sense. Meth makes me happy when I’m all depressed. I’ll
crash for days. It’s the only thing that gets me out of bed. That lets me
survive work. Life. I tried other stuff, but meth was the only one that stuck
with me. I guess it’s the only that helps. I feel that when I get out, I’ll go back
to having nothing else, and that scares me.”
The NA facilitator tilted his head at me and said, “You can get clean. I
was an addict for eighteen years and if I could do it, so can you. So can all of
you. Thanks for sharing, Heather.”
After NA, I desperately needed a hot shower to slow the whirlwind of
thoughts and fear paralyzing my brain. Showers made Ativan even more
effective, I noticed.
As I headed to my room with a towel, Dalton passed me. “Taking a
shower?” he asked suggestively, and I could tell he was picturing me naked.
“You want to join me?” I joked. I would’ve loved him to join me, but I
didn’t think we could slip by the guards.
The showers at the hospital were all dirty tile and hard arctic blasts
from the rust-stained shower heads. The drains emitted a vague sewer
stench. I had avoided the showers since my admission, especially since we
weren’t allowed to shave without a guard watching us. I was getting so hairy
and gross.
Just when I had finally gotten the shower to warm up to a comfortable
level, I heard the rustle of someone taking their clothes off. Dalton slipped in
through the curtain and I seized him. It was so hard to be quiet as he thrust
into me from behind and I tried to not slip on the tiles. It was amazing,
exhilarating, and took my mind off of everything. Then the water turned cold
again and we shrieked as we hopped out of the shower, giggling.
“God, that was romantic,” Dalton joked.


A guard came up to the doorway to check on me just as we exited the
bathroom together, our hair still damp. He just scowled and shook his head
and returned to his post at the common room.
Dalton and I couldn’t stop breathlessly giggling.
The next day, Dalton was discharged. He left me his number on a piece
of dark blue construction paper from the art room and I tucked it in my
pocket, more for a keepsake of my mental hospital vacation than anything.
And I never did call him. Mental hospital friends are great, but once you are
discharged, you don’t keep in touch. It’s hard to keep talking to the people
that saw you without your social mask on, who know what kinds of pills you
take, who heard your innermost struggles in group. Besides, how would you
introduce each other to family and friends? “Hi, this is my friend so-and-so,
and we met at the mental hospital”?
It was very lonely with Dalton and Theresa gone. I lapsed into a vague
depression at the thought that the only people who liked me were sexually
interested in me. How sucky. Really it was the same back home, my only
friends being guys who liked me. And I always lost those friends once they
realized I wouldn’t date them. None of them were actually real. Somehow I
couldn’t keep girl friends, either.
But my depression dissipated when I was invited to play Texas Hold
‘Em with a bunch of other patients and we all had a great time. I did have
some friends, after all. I was capable of having fun with people who didn’t
just want to fuck me.
Eight days after my timid intake and first cafeteria supper of Salisbury
steak and potatoes with cheddar cheese and brown gravy, I was discharged.


I got all my piercings back in a sealed and labeled Ziploc bag and a handful
of psychotropic medications, a referral to a psychiatrist and a counselor, and
a list of local NA chapters and rehab facilities in the Carlsbad/Clovis area.
I ran back to the common area to bid adieu all the people still there.
They all hugged me and some gave me their numbers or asked for mine and
we all knew we’d never see each other again. And then the nurse told me
that my dad was waiting for me, and escorted me to the intake building.
For some reason I wanted to burst into tears of bittersweet joy when I
saw the familiar shiny dome of my dad’s head, staring at the snacks in the
windows of the vending machines with their blinking red money mouths
hungry for dollar bills. He hugged me, almost as affectionate toward me as
the last time we played put-put golf and still too little to finish a whole Cold
Stone cone by myself.
Mom had been kind enough to call Willie and let him know that I was in
the hospital. Upon my return home, she handed me the phone and told me
sternly to call him and let him know I was available to work again. “You’re not
losing another job,” she informed me.
“How’m I supposed to get there?” I demanded.
“Find someone to ride with, I don’t know. You figure it out,” she replied.
I almost flew into despair for a minute, but I guess my meds helped me
reign it in and actually focus on a solution. Meds helped me not drown in my
depression and also not to feel too happy either. They enabled me to see
how important it was to balance my moods and not feel too much of
anything, even joy, as too much of a good thing is just as bad as a bad thing.
Suddenly I remembered that Manuel had told me that he had started a
welding program and he drove to Carlsbad every day. So, if Willie would


adjust my shift to work around Manuel’s school schedule, maybe I could hitch
a ride with him? I knew he wouldn’t say no.
I promptly texted him hey.
He responded a second later, “Hey where u been? I missed u  why
don’t u come by no more?”
“I’m sorry I was in the hospital,” I replied.
“Omg are u ok? I’m sorry ”
“I need a favor. Do u think I could hitch rides with u to work?”
The following era of my life felt gray and bleak, but in retrospect, it was
truly a good and triumphant time.
Filled with resolve and proper meds from my stay at Crescent Hills, I
was now willing and ready to embrace a sober and clean life. I had no
temptation from Vincey, I didn’t even want to be around Jimmy’s sordid
company, and I didn’t really have any other tweaker friends besides Curt
who rarely had enough to share.
Also, I was now prepared to adopt new mantras for my life. In one of
my group therapy sessions, the facilitator had emphasized the importance of
looking on the bright side at everything. We then each had had to come up
with a negative event from our past, and then find something positive in it. I
had identified the one positive out of Red’s death: his passing on had allowed
me to avoid a whole custody battle or a possible third disastrous reunion with
him out of loneliness and desperation.
Now, I scrawled in my best italic bubble letters, huge so that I couldn’t
ever ignore it: “Always look on the bright side.” Under it I added: “Never
apologize for how you feel.” And, finally, I wrote: “The race is long and in the
end it is only yourself.” Maybe that would remind me to quit relying on
people like Vincey, and even Dalton in a way, for my happiness.
By the time I was finished, my lipstick was smashed out of its pressed


shape, and my entire reflection was slashed with hot pink words.
And I felt ready to take on my new life.
I stuck by my new mantras with a dogged faith that I had failed to stick
to my old mantra with.
I also adopted the practice of finding something to be grateful about
every day, either from that day or from some sad event in my past. One
night I even managed to finally find something positive about my daughter’s
end: She didn’t have to suffer and I didn’t have to feel guilty because I was
not fit to be a mother.
Manuel and I were suddenly constantly together, it seemed, as we
shared the two hours of driving to and from Carlsbad. We blasted Dr. Dre and
Eminem and Savage, even older shit like Digable Planets and A Tribe Called
Quest. Our mutual favorite song was “Ass Like That” by Eminem, which we
would bump obnoxiously as we cruised the streets of Reid or as we pulled up
to Willie’s. Willie was almost always out front chain smoking whenever we
pulled up and he would watch us like we were clowns, shaking his head at
me slightly. I always slid out of Manuel’s mom’s pale yellow beat-up truck
with a little bit of disappointment, not just because I had to now face my
horrid boss and shitty customers for paltry tips, but also because I just
wanted to chill with Manuel a little more.
Working sober was more dreadful than I had previously imagined. In
my freshman year of college, I had gotten a job at a Wendy’s. I don’t
remember hating it too badly at first, especially since the burger flipper was
a big Blood who would smoke joints with me behind the dumpster out back,
blatantly in view of the drive-thru customers, and snort lines of crushed oxys
off the stainless steel rail in front of the grill after the lazy night manager


would dip out to hit the liquor store before midnight. But quickly enough, I
became fried by the repetition of, “You want the meal with that? You want
fries? What size drink?” And I hated the way customers looked at me, like I
was a piece of dog shit on the floor, especially whenever I screwed up an
order. You could tell they genuinely believed I was stupid, when in fact I was
too smart for the job. Perhaps even worse than the hateful customers were
the overly nice, chatty ones, because their camaraderie was so
condescending and fake, at least to my jaded point of view. In a short period
of time, I grew so jaded that I would literally dread work all day long before
my shift and then I would want to cry as I drug my feet down El Paseo to the
awful little fast food restaurant with its pleasant, unassuming façade. All my
clothes and my skin and hair took on the scent of the fryers and I just wanted
to vomit at the smell.
Now I felt very similarly about Willie’s. I detested the gummy soda gun
handles, the yellowing linens, the hideous stained linoleum, the flickering
fluorescent lights, the dull faces of fat hunters in camouflage, and the faded
middle-aged couples who all raved about how much they loved New Mexico.
All the people faded together and I couldn’t force myself to care enough
about their hot sauce requests and complaints about dry pizza that had
obviously been under the hot lamp for hours.
At night I was a chronic insomniac, one of the worst remnants of my
meth days. And during the day, I was drowsy and lethargic, and often
horridly sore. I broke out in acne and sores formed on my gums, the exit
pathways of the meth still in my body I guess. During the day, I was always


so tired.
So, I pounded Monsters. Up to five a day. I also crammed my face with
sugar. I gained ten pounds overnight. In all my photos from my heavy use
period, I looked like I was constructed from toothpicks wrapped in skincolored tissue paper. Like a single hard gust of New Mexico wind would
topple me.
Despite my lack of work drive, I gained new drive for education. The
online drug counseling degree ads that appeared on my Facebook called to
me. Now, I had done what I had begun to think I never would: I had become
an ex-addict. And I was doing great. And so now I was ready. But how could I
afford it? I felt so stuck in New Mexico, the land of no opportunity. I couldn’t
be a waitress forever. I was determined to finally do something with my life,
and this seemed to make the most sense.
“I’m proud of you,” Manuel told me, when I announced that I had been
a month off meth and was thinking again about school.
“Yeah, it’s a drug counseling degree,” I admitted, a little scared of what
he might say since he had been in court-ordered drug and alcohol counseling
in high school after getting caught with a grip of pills in his backpack.
But he just gave me his massive cheesy grin and said, “That’s
“You think so?”
“Hell yeah! You’ll make a badass little counselor.” And he grinned and
plucked my elbow affectionately.
Warmth and gratitude for Manuel swelled within my chest. “Thanks,” I
beamed. “You know what? You’re a really good friend. And thanks for all
you’ve done for me. “
“Hey, I gotta take care of you! You’re my best homie.” And he beamed


back at me but there was a slight twinkle of pain behind his expression. I
knew it was because his crush on me had reached feverish proportions and I
was nervous that he might confess soon and then quit being my homie when
I rejected him. “Do you wanna come over tonight? It’s Miguel’s birthday.”
I never hung out in Reid anymore. But it was Saturday night and I felt I
needed to celebrate my sobriety. Manuel said he missed me at parties and
that Vincey had mentioned missing me too. It meant a lot that Vincey
actually missed me, after his callous rejection on Halloween. I figured that
maybe I had been overdramatic and that really his rejection hadn’t been that
extreme, not when I was obviously the side bitch, so I decided to go down
and party that night.
Everybody hugged me, seemed happy to see me. “Where’ve you
been?! We thought you left,” people said. I was surprised any of them had
even noticed my absence, since they had barely seemed to have noticed my
presence before.
It felt kind of good.
Maybe I had more friends than I realized?
We stood in the kitchen drinking beer, exchanging the usual gossip and
insults, discussing the New Year’s rager likely to go down at Manuel’s.
Manuel noticed me rubbing the hard knots in my shoulders with a
pained grimace.
“You want a back rub?” he asked me.
He gestured in the direction of his room. “Let’s go, I’ll give you one.”
“Oh, we can wait till after the party.” I didn’t want to take him away
from everybody having a good time.
“It’s cool, come on.”
I followed him back to his room. He gingerly shut his door and flicked
the light on. “Wanna smoke?” he asked, producing a pipe with half a bowl of


weed in it from his dresser drawer, from under his stacked boxers and briefs.
“Is that a new one?”
“Yeah, look at this baby.” He proudly showed me the red and black
glass swirls in the pipe.
“That’s awesome. What you name her?”
“I don’t know yet.” He grinned. “I was hoping you could help me with
“La Diabla,” I said.
“La Diabla? Hell yeah, I like that. La Diabla it is.”
We smoked the bowl together, just side by side on the edge of his
mattress on the floor. His carpet had a brand new huge stain in the middle of
it from the bottle of whisky someone had spilled on it last weekend. I hadn’t
smoked in a while so I got super baked after just three hits. My eyelids got
heavy and I laid back to steady the spinning of the room.
“You all right?” Manuel asked. “Here, roll over, let me give you a
I flopped onto my stomach. “Oh, I’m so fucking high.”
“This is good chron, huh.” He began to knead my back muscles, his
hands feeling as soft and comforting as angels’. My skin tingled and I began
to feel the soreness lift like the weight of the world rising off my shoulders. I
was Atlas no more.
“Is that good?” he asked.
I nodded.
Suddenly he brushed my hair back from my neck and began kissing my
neck fervently, passionately, making his way around to my throat.
“Manny….” I tried to push him away.
“Heather.” He pulled away, looking stricken as I sat up and
straightened out my clothes. “I’m madly in love with you.”
“Heather, please. Please don’t reject me. I want you so fucking bad.”
He slammed his fist down on his lap. “Do you have any idea how hard it is to
sit next to you in that fucking truck and – and not being able to even hold


your hand? C’mon, Heather, please, be with me. I’ll take care of you, I’ll treat
you right. I’m not like my brother.”
I was unsettled by his confession. I had been half expecting it for a
while now, but not something this passionate! In fact, no man had ever
confessed their love of me so passionately before. It actually felt amazing
and I felt my knees grow jelly-like and my hands started to shake as
overwhelming emotion overcame me.
“How – did you know about me and Vincey?” I ventured, for lack of
better to say.
He seemed deflated. “I figured it out.”
“How? Did Vincey tell you?”
He shrugged and looked out the window to avoid eye contact. “One
time I saw you leaving his trailer, and your hair was all messed up and you
looked – happy, I guess.”
I suddenly wanted to cry, more in rage than sadness, rage at myself for
actually letting myself feel happy when I was fucking Vincey. What a joke. I
was so stupid. Why couldn’t I love someone like Manuel? He would be the
perfect man.
And then I realized, why not love Manuel? My lack of attraction wasn’t
a repulsion. Maybe, just maybe, I could give him a chance. Actually do
something rational in love for once. Repeating my old mistakes and getting
with guys the likes of Vincey for the rest of my life would not change the
crash course of my love life. A different kind of guy was needed to bring
about different results than the fiascos of my past.
“And you don’t mind?” I pretended to be abashed.
He met my eyes again; his big brown ones were swimming with tears.
“No. No. I don’t give a shit about all that.” He waved his hand through the air
like he was dismissing the memory. “I love you for who you are, not what


you’ve done.”
Love just scared me half to death. The things that had happened to me
before bordered on nightmarish.
Nothing is able to make you feel worthless and question if you’re
actually crazy or not than an ex who screws with your head. Andres and Red
both were experts at saying shit then denying it so that I seriously wondered
if I was hallucinating or not. One guy I had dated between my tries with Red
had even called me schizophrenic. When not just one but every ex calls you
crazy, you begin to think it’s true.
“I’m just not ready to be with anyone,” I answered Manuel.
He seemed to crumple into himself. “That’s cool. I figured you didn’t
love me back.”
“I’m –“ I was about to venture an apology, then remembered one of my
new mantras, to never apologize for how I felt. “I hope you won’t drop me as
a friend now. I really care about your friendship. I like hanging out with you.”
“Or are you just using me for rides?” He met my eyes and then quickly
dropped his.
I couldn’t believe he thought that I was that shallow.“Seriously? You
think that’s what I’m about, just cuz I don’t want to date you?”
“No, I’m sorry – that’s not how I meant it.”
“Well what the fuck else could you have meant by that?” I laughed at
how preposterous all this was.
“I’m sorry, Heather. C’mon, please. I was just angry.”
“You’re just like every other fucking guy here. You wanna use me for
sex and when I say no, you fucking throw a fit and quit being my friend. Well,
thanks for wasting my time pretending to be my friend. I won’t be needing
rides anymore.”
Manuel protested but I was already out the door. He didn’t bother


chasing me down or anything, so I figured that he was just as fake as the rest
of them and no real loss.
My phone dinged with a notification on my walk up Capitol Hill.
When I saw that it was a text from Vincey, I actually rolled my eyes. He
was the last person I wished to hear from. “Are you coming over tonight?” he
had typed.
Before I would have at least felt smug, seeing that he still wanted me
around. Now I was jaded enough to know that either he was just checking in
order to tell Mel not to come over, or else seeking a warm body to comfort
him since he and Mel were fighting about some stupid shit. He didn’t really
care if it was me or not, I just happened to be the girl on call. Sure, maybe he
did notice my absence and even miss me, but that was no longer flattering
or comforting. It wasn’t confirmation that I hadn’t wasted my time with
someone who didn’t give a shit about me, because honestly I had.
Rather than being saddened by this new wisdom, I was actually
released by it. It showed me that I no longer cared about Vincey, that all my
feelings for him were dead, and that I was strong enough now to not crumple
in emotion over this guy when I had been through something so much more
tear-worthy with Lily. Vincey was no loss. I was weak enough to have fallen
for him a little, but I wasn’t weak enough to have lost the ability to not really
grieve something so silly and pointless to the overall end game of my life. I
honestly felt no more than a needle pinprick on my heart over him.
The next day, I was supposed to go to work the lunch shift at Willie’s.
But when Manuel rolled up to the house and knocked, in some pathetic effort
to make up last night’s argument by offering me a ride, I just stayed in bed


and pretended not to be home. Let him think I caught a ride with someone
else. I didn’t want to see his ass face ever again.
Really, I didn’t want to see anyone ever again. Not even my parents
really. I loved my parents, unfortunately, and I knew that somewhere deep
inside their hearts they loved me too, but I hated the miserable expressions
of judgement and disappointment on their faces all the time. No one here
made me feel good. No one here seemed healthy for me. I imagined trying to
find some way to get to work, since there was no work in this town, and I just
felt defeated and overwhelmed.
Since quitting meth, I realized how few friends I had here. Manuel had
been my single friend since I had shed meth from my life, and now that the
inevitable implosion of our friendship had occurred over my romantic
rejection, I saw how I had absolutely no one else.
I had moved to New Mexico seven years ago and every day since I had
felt dead inside. I had attempted to fill the void with drugs, which allowed me
to function like I was still living and provided a social lubricant so that I could
have a semblance of a social life, but that had been more detrimental to my
happiness more than it had been beneficial. I was officially clean now and the
feeling of internal death was no longer staved off by any kind of buffer. It was
sickeningly apparent that my life here was over and impossible to revive.
How could I have known that Reid would be so horrible? It had seemed
so innocent at first, its air so clean and pure. I had thought the town was
lame the first time I visited it, but lame in an innocent way.
I had first visited Reid on Christmas 2012, after Aunt Pearl passed
away. My parents had just moved into their little house on Capitol Hill. Mom


had left the Navajo reservation for a new job on the Apache reservation near
Carlsbad. Dad started working for an oil company.
That was the first time that I had celebrated Christmas with my
parents since I was seventeen. So I drove up from Cruces absurdly happy,
thinking at last that they had forgiven me and found their love for me
wherever they had hidden it away.
Las Cruces typically hovered at 50 to 60 during the day in December.
Therefore I didn’t even think to bring a coat. At least I was wearing jeans
then, not some cute skirt or yoga pants, but the denim was no guard against
the wind slashing down my very bone marrow when I got out of my car. The
brilliant sunshine had me fooled and Mom and Dad had neglected to
forewarn me that Reid shared both climate and landscape with Hell. The
wind sucked all the trash out of my car and I didn’t even chase it, I was in
such a hurry to get inside.
Go figure that Mom would take forever to hear my knocking over her
jazzercise DVD’s pumping soundtrack. She finally rescued me from
hypothermia, opening the door in a purple work out suit and a sweat bead
with horses embroidered on it. She took me in for a minute. I hadn’t had my
od yet so I was still using. Hopefully she would think that I had been skipping
meals with the pressure of finals and now would get back on track, but I
worried she might somehow guess the real cause of my scarecrow figure.
“You’re earlier than we expected,” she said, then she managed the weakest
smile I had ever seen. But it was something.
I smiled back but kept it somewhat weak myself, not wanting to seem
too eager or too sure of myself because that was when Mom’s temper would


bite the worst. Humility and fear that I had not been totally accepted back
into their good graces was the safest bet, though if I overdid it she would flip
out on me for not being happy to see her and Dad after so long. Balance was
key. And I felt liquefied inside with fear. Our last encounter at Aunt Pearl’s
funeral still stung.
Dad emerged from his bathroom. He was always in the bathroom. I
guess it was his only private space, since Mom had always had her own
room for all her shit and also an official cluttered place at the dinner table
but he had not even been allowed his a section of bookcase for all his special
interest magazines or ginormous CD collection. Mom always made him keep
all his stuff in cardboard boxes in the garage. In the new house maybe it was
different but I doubted it.
It felt so nice to hug my dad. My mom never hugged me after Wayne,
but Dad always had a hug for me, and I felt like a whole person with his arms
squeezing me close. He was thinner, grayer, obviously older. By Mom’s
decision to not really have much to do with me for three years, I had already
missed a sizeable chunk of life with them. One of my deepest terrors was
that one or both of them would die soon, leaving no chance for healing of
the great holes knocked in our souls.
Mom and Dad gave me the grand tour. They were obviously proud of
what they had done with their fixer-upper, and enthused about all they had
left to do. The place smelled like new paint and stale wood. Mom complained
that they had to replace the entire inside of the walls. But didn’t I like the
buttercup color they had painted it? I complimented the beautiful house.
Really the house was vaguely creepy, an aged ranch house buffeted


ceaselessly by the wind off the plains, the window frames always groaning
like rising tomb dwellers and the metal roof always banging and grating like
someone was on the roof trying to get in. I looked out over their lonely view
of the dirty sprawl of adobe and trailers of the town below. I dubbed the hill
they now lived on “Capitol Hill” but didn’t share my joke with them because I
never knew what might be funny to them and what might be offensive.
“We are going to plant cherries and pecans all around the house in
spring. They do well here,” Mom told me.
“Oh, good.” I was kinda relieved that they would be adding something
to ease the desolation of their little house on the hill.
Mom advanced to the kitchen, and there I began to help her mash
hardboiled egg yolks with relish and ham to make devilled eggs for our
midday Christmas dinner. I had not seen Mom cook for even Thanksgiving
since I was fourteen; this change was truly thrilling. It flashed me back to
early childhood, begging like a puppy for a lick of cookie dough or frosting
off the whisk whenever Mom was baking, to which she would always say no
because of the raw egg yolk. To this day I feel a little tinge of guilt when I
taste raw cookie dough off my utensils but hey the raw yolk has yet to kill
me. For a spell a weird roommate of mine at the trap house drank raw yolks
straight from eggs out of the carton, claiming they were the world’s
strongest natural steroid and so legal “it was not even funny.”
I painted Mom a beautiful picture of my life in Las Cruces. I described my
house, how much I loved it, how a darling rainbow rose bush took up most of
the front yard, how I was approaching the six months on my lease actually
and probably would renew, how I had the master room with an attached


bathroom and a sliding screen door that let onto a patio.
“Sounds dangerous,” Mom frowned. “You be sure to keep that door locked.
Do you have drapes over it?”
“Yes, mom, and it faces the back yard so no one can even see it’s there.
The back yard is walled in by concrete and there’s a peach tree….”
“Oh you’d be surprised what creeps know. They case your house for days
and memorize the floor plan before they break in. Are you sure there’s no
one who knows that you’re alone in that room?”
I wanted to get impatient with Mom already but I miraculously kept my
cool and assured her of the safety of the house. I even lied and said that
there was a padlock on the screen doors and we never opened them, and we
also padlocked the front yard gate. In truth, we were lucky if we all
remembered to shut the front door on our way out to one of the many places
we always were instead of home.
“I work at a restaurant, too,” I went on, not adding that it was just a
“You told me on the phone,” Mom nodded. “New job. How is it?”
“Pretty good. I like it more than Wendy’s. That sucked. But the restaurant
Is really busy. And people leave crummy tips.”
“That’s probably because they don’t like your service,” Mom replied.
That was the last thing I wanted to hear. “My boss says it’ll get better. And
he’ll compensate me out of the other girls’ tips if I don’t pick up soon but he
says I got a lot of potential and all the new ones don’t make much at first.
It’s normal.”
“Hmm. It’s probably because of your piercing. People don’t like seeing
piercings especially around their food. I know I sure don’t.”
I wondered if that was a hint for me to get away from the deviled eggs. Oh,
well. If mom didn’t abide by my lipring near food, I would just go sit in the
living room.


“A lot of the other girls have piercings,” I argued.
Mom shook her head. “All right, well I was a waitress in college, at a little
diner down the street from my mom’s. Even when I was new I did well. Most
mornings I would clear eighty to a hundred.”
“That’s because you were hot. Are hot.” My dad appeared behind us, making
a little boy’s face of excitement at the deviled eggs we were arranging
neatly on a fine china platter that Mom had inherited from Gramma.
“Oh, shush,” Mom said, but I could detect a faint pink in Mom’s cheeks. So
she and Dad seemed to be doing better at least, I was relieved to see.
No other kid in the history of ever has wanted their parents to have sex
more than I did after the time when I was twelve and I overheard Mom
scream at Dad for never getting her ready but just slamming his way in, how
he didn’t even care to make love to her the way he always used to, how she
hated sex with him so much she never even came, and how he could just
forget about ever touching her again from now on. Then I heard my dad start
weeping. It killed me to hear him cry but I couldn’t go comfort him because,
well, how do you comfort your dad over a sexual dysfunction with your own
As gross as the subject was, I determined to help. I had learned in a
psychology text I checked out of the library that healthy sex was vital to the
strength of a marriage. And my frequent tune-ins to Dr. Laura on my
Walkman when I walked home from the bus stop seemed to confirm this
fact. Already my parents had been on the brink of divorce so many times
that I now believed sex would save them and I set about trying to set the
mood between them as slyly as possible. Once I had even ordered them to
just relax and enjoy a candlelit dinner on me, which they reluctantly agreed


to do, but only after Mom ascertained that I was going to eat something too.
I had set up candles and roses on the table, and put only aphrodisiacs only
on the menu. I had set out in the kitchen the professional chef, the
adolescent Rachel Ray or better yet the Bitch In the Kitchen. If only I had a
chef’s hat and an apron, I thought, I would feel so much more queenly and
expert at this shit. I could not imagine a thing going wrong, since cooking
looked so easy.
But it all went wrong. I seared the asparagus beyond edibility and
overcooked the fish to crispy surfboards stuck so completely to the pan so
that only a few morsels of white meat came free. Then I tried to dip
strawberries in chocolate but “I’m fine, Mom, it’ll be great!” I called back.
It wasn’t great. They lied that it was, but they didn’t even bother to hide
their laughter immediately after.
Anyway, my efforts in that department not only proved futile, but extremely
unwelcome. When Mom read my comments about their relationship in my
journal, she was so pissed that she called me sick. I trembled in humiliation
long after she slammed the door closed and I had trouble with eye contact
for weeks – actually, ever since!
After that I not only didn’t try to fix my parents’ marital issues, I prayed that
they would never have sex again. But since I had moved out, they seemed
to be much better, much more affectionate. I felt relieved to see them happy
for once. Well, shit, they were going on 22 years that year. I began to realize
their relationship was actually much saner than most of mine wound up
“How did finals go?” Mom broke my reverie, with a sideways appraisal of my
totally flat waist.


Again, I had to paint a rosy picture. I had very nearly failed everything after
Aunt Pearl died. “Four point oh!” I declared.
“Wow, nice,” my dad said. “You’re still, uh, in theatre?”
“English,” I said.
“Hmm. I always saw you as a scientist,” Dad went on. He drifted out of the
room, absentmindedly locked in fantasies of the astrophysicist daughter he
wished he had.
Mom had gone all out, honoring our ancestors in Great Britain with goose,
mincemeat pie, ambrosia, homemade bread, stuffing, and deviled eggs. She
had not gone so traditional since I was a little kid. The Christmas after
Wayne happened, we had dinner at a depressingly cold and vacant buffet
where the turkey floated like naked white businessmen in a public bath of
lumpy brown gravy. That same Christmas, we stopped watching Christmas
movie classics together. Mom stuck all the Christmas tapes in the back of
the storage closet and the VCR became a dead relic of a great monster that
had once prowled the living room in Bellingham where I had spent my early
childhood years, its luminous eyes always surveying me whenever I ceased
playing and surveyed it back, and its mouth accepting of any food items I
fed it. A few times I remember I had dared to reach my fingers all the way
back into its mouth, then I would flee in adrenalin-fueled exhilaration that I
had removed my fingers just in time before it guillotined my digits in half
and swallowed them as eagerly as the peanut butter jelly sandwich and the
cracker stacks and the salami slices it had eaten before. But I grew to
consider it a friendly machine and I still miss watching my Christmas movies
with Mom and Dad on the living room couch, splitting a giant bowl of


caramel popcorn and sipping mugs of peppermint hot cocoa.
So, imagine my shock when, following dinner, Dad proposed we watch
Chevy Chase’s Christmas on TV and Mom agreed. We all agreed the popcorn
was unneeded because our bellies ached with over nourishment, but we did
each enjoy a cup of hot green tea. I wrapped myself in a blanket, unable to
escape the chill that seemed to seep through the floors.
Following the movie, I ate more food. My stomach started cramping, but my
mouth kept demanding more food. I wondered if I was destined to become
obese like every other American. Well, leave it to me to become fat too, on
top of all my other fuck-ups, I thought with bittersweet mirth.
Finally I felt so sick I had to retire to the couch, where I lay in agony for a few
unfocused scenes of the Christmas Story before an uncontrollable force
burst forth from my insides. I barfed literally all over Mom’s new Persianimitation rug and hooker red couch set. Then I barfed all over Mom as she
rushed me the tall kitchen can, splattering her reindeer sweater that she had
replaced her workout suit with finally right before dinner.
“Oh, Heather,” my dad groaned through hands clamped over his face.
I recuperated in the bathroom for a long time while Mom and Dad retched
and bitched about the mess that they had to clean up in the living room. I
kept calling to them to leave it be, I’d get it as soon as my belly let me move
freely, but they ignored me and my belly did not seem to want me to leave
my uncomfortable squat over the toilet bowl.
“I guess we can’t go to the Christmas Faire and the tree lighting with
caroling by the youth choir,” I finally heard Mom sigh dismally, the
disappointment in her voice cutting through my dazed sickness.
“We can still go,” Dad assured Mom.
“How?” she sighed. “Heather’s in the bathroom sick.”
“I’m sure she’s all better now, she just ate too much.”


“Yeah, sure, I think she’s bulimic,” my mom grumbled.
“She just ate too much.” Dad rapped on the bathroom door. “Heather? You
OK? You didn’t fall in, did you? Light a match!” He always thought those
jokes would never get old and I guess they never would because I almost
laughed through all my misery.
I groaned. “Not much better.”
“We wanted to go to town for a, a Christmas thing?”
“A Christmas Faire and a Christmas tree lighting with caroling by the youth
choir,” Mom corrected him. “It’s fine, we won’t go. I have dishes to do,
anyway….” She sighed all heavily. “I just wanted to start getting out in the
community, meeting some new people….”
My belly hated me as I rose at last. My back muscles cramped and my belly
cramped worse. There was no way I could attend this stupid Faire thing in
town. But it sounded so important to my mom that I made myself.
Mom unearthed some Persian wool mittens, scarf, and coat that had once
belonged to her as a little girl. I fit into it like I was a little girl too, earning
another one of her weird appraisals of my thinness. But I just grinned at her
and tried to not swoon from the strength of the mothball fumes of the winter
set that had slept in the dark depths of Mom’s trunk for decades. I couldn’t
stand to button the coat over my distended belly but when a wallop of wind
struck me square in the chest and untied my scarf from my neck in just one
gust, I knew I’d have to if I wanted to survive this Faire. Why on earth did we
have to do anything outdoors during temperatures like this?
Reid was featureless, except for its lurid Wild West downtown. The store
fronts were festooned with cheery Christmas decorations. I was all in pure
agony, cringed against the cold and trying not to buckle at the pangs of my
stomach, but I was still able to chuckle at the tinsel candlesticks on the light


poles that closely resembled phallic objects. Did no one else notice that?
The Christmas Faire appeared to be merely a stroll in the bitter cold up and
down the boardwalk, checking out the Western-themed costumed buffoons
selling things like vegan soaps and turquoise belt buckles inlaid with mother
of pearl or melted barbed wire. Dad split some molasses candy with me
which was actually so nasty that we both chucked our remainders in a
garbage can. The molasses had already begun to freeze with our spit and
clanged hard in the trash can.
A fortune teller who seemed to be emulating a Gypsy more than any
Western theme snared Mom and me with a promise of tarot readings so
accurate we would get chills up and down our spines. Mom seemed wowed
by her reading. I was unimpressed because her interpretations were too
general, suggesting either she didn’t employ her gift to her readings or
didn’t even possess any sixth sense but was merely regurgitating
memorized textbook definitions for each card. When Aunt Pearl had tried to
teach me tarot, she stressed making the person’s reading very personal and
unique, almost a therapy session, and this woman irritated me with her
commercialism. I would have tried to do my own reading instead of hearing
hers, but my foggy memory had not retained the implications of the cards.
I wondered if the fortuneteller’s dirt-stained fingers and the black tarry
crescents underneath her curved talons of varying length were all part of her
act. If it was just a costume, props to her for convincing makeup! But I
somehow doubted that it was, since she stank of cat pee as well. I was so
relieved to escape her clutches before she touched me with those grubby
hands that appeared more caked with e.Coli than a phone dunked in a Port-


A-Potty bath.
It was murder on my back muscles to support me upright. I probably looked
like a hunchback. So I told Mom and Dad I would catch up with them, I just
needed a quick breather, and then I stumbled through the first pair of
swinging saloon doors I saw and collapsed onto a bench. It was so
comfortable, like the arms of Red that I desperately missed. I texted him a
little bit. I snoozed. Finally some woman prodded me awake with the handle
of a bullwhip that she carried wrapped up under her arm. Apparently I had
chosen to rest in a café with twenty-dollar paninis and squash bread bowl
soups and such on the menu, where everything, including the tip jar’s
declaration “Tipping is not a city in China,” was twirled in pink chalk. And
there were fake sunflowers poking little plastic faces from between the
spokes of the sawed-in-half wagon wheels used as chair and table legs. It
looked like mashup of a French coffee shop, an inner city vegan hipster joint,
and a Wild West saloon. And the woman prodding me with her bullwhip was
unnerving with her massive hoop dress, brocaded petticoat, opera glasses,
beehive hairdo, and fake beauty mark like a plop of engine grease forgotten
on her upper chin. “You can’t just sleep in here,” she told me, fake smiling,
“you need to buy something or move along the Faire, please.”
Back outside I found Mom and Dad talking to a guy who was demonstrating
the daguerreotype on the street corner. No one else seemed to be as
afflicted by the cold as I was, not even Mom and Dad, and I decided that Las
Cruces must have spoiled me because I had used to love the cold in
Washington as a kid. I would play in the snow till my gloves were soaked


through and stiff with ice.
Missing Red again, I recalled how this was perfect weather for cuddling
against a guy’s warm body under a quilt.
The Faire finally came to a gradual death as it turned dark and cold and
fewer and fewer blank-faced people strolled the boardwalk. Now little whirls
of fine, sugary snow flaked off the clouds onto the ground, immediately
dissolving to little beads of cold water. It was, at last, time for the Christmas
tree lighting. From the center of the park where Pauly’s memorial would later
stand, the Reid fire department switched on the lights on the twelve-foot
fake, while the kids of the youth choir broke out in puny warbling, their little
voices shaking in the cold. The decades-old decorations that the Catholic
church, senior citizens center, and fire department had all loaded on the tree
sparkled merrily in the light. A big yellow ring of light formed around the
tree, like a halo of Christmas’s very own spirit, once again alive for me.
Christmas morning, I presented my parents with Proud NMSU Parent mugs. I
had been reticent to give them those for fear they weren’t really proud to be
my NMSU parents, but Mom and Dad seemed to like them and Mom even
had a spark of pride in her smile as she proffered the mug for a picture.
Then Mom and Dad handed me my present, a genuine snakeskin purse with
a heart-shaped mirror inside the magnetic flap. I carried that thing with love
for nearly a year, garnishing compliments left and right. The purse had even
begun to wear out in places and the magnetic clasp no longer caught every
time, but I still wore it daily, because it had been my first present from Mom
and Dad in years. I finally got rid of it after I fell out with my parents years
later when my son was born.
Mom even hugged me slightly when I left.


I had gone to Reid through Carlsbad. The drive was so sickeningly boring
that I decided to go a different route, through the Lincoln Forest. The Lincoln
Forest added several hours to my trip, but I decided what the hell, I hadn’t
taken a road trip in months. Red was still in Silver City seeing his family, so I
wouldn’t see him tilla few days later, when he promised to make me a duck
stuffed with apples, so I really had nowhere to be anytime soon.
The Lincoln Forest is a strange bit of wilderness. The yellow plains around
Roswell suddenly give way to mountains shrouded in pines. Highway 70
wound from Roswell to Ruidoso, steep cliffs coated in conifers on either side.
It tripped me out that the vague blue mountains that I could see from my
parents’ back porch were really submerged in dark forest, hiding centuries of
mystery and probably numerous dead bodies.
Ruidoso’s streets were a slushy mess. Ski and snowboard shops advertised
that they carried the best brands. Broken ski lifts sat in peoples’ yards. The
mountains around the town were covered in gorgeous mansions, the
vacation homes of the rich Texans that primarily live in that town.
I stopped at a Shell for a Monster and cigarettes. The Apache cashier asked
if I was going skiing. “No, I’m just on a road trip,” I said.
“Oh yeah? Where to?” she asked.
“I’m not sure,” I admitted. “Anywhere you recommend?”
She shrugged. “You could go to Fort Stanton.”
“Where’s that?”
She gave me directions but warned me that the roads might be bad. What
she did not warn me was that that shortcut was half gravel. My car sludged
through the mud with a difficulty that terrified me I’d get stuck out here with
no help, no coat, and no water. I was a damn fool. I debated turning back,
but then the gravel gave away to asphalt again so I plugged on. The trees


walling me on either side with their tops shafted by brilliantly warm sunshine
and the few gray Zeus clouds breaking up the light formed a breathtaking
contrast. Little snowflakes began to descend and I rolled down my window
and protruded my arm so I could lick the melted water off my skin. Purest
water you could imagine tasting.
Fort Stantion’s grim, barnlike buildings shuffled around its square creeped
me out. I could sense the ghosts and demons of all the psych patients,
juvenile delinquents, Nazi POWs, and mentally challenged people that had
been jumbled into the institutional oatmeal of the place against their own
choice. One of the silos had a giant Swastika graffitied on it. I didn’t stick
around long.
The Spencer Theater, touted in pamphlets as some prize to the area, was a
humongous white blight on the landscape that seemed more funereal than
artistic. That, too, I drove by.
From there, I turned back to Ruidoso and took a shortcut to Cloudcroft. The
massive lodgepoles strobing the sun along the creepy reservation highway
raised goodebumps on my skin and shushed my mind into a solemn
appreciation of Nature. I always wanted to ask trees their stories. Imagine
the stories of the world’s trees, the thousands of years of secrets the
wizened and twisted giants could tell. But I didn’t want to ask these trees
their stories. They probably bore witness to Native American massacres,
ruthless gold and silver prospectors, and countless rapes and murders and
other secrets buried in the soil at their roots. Then at some point they had
watched many of their brothers and sisters chopped down just to pave this
black strip of highway, and to make the power line poles running along it. No


wonder they now seemed unfriendly. I could sense their silent hatred of me
because I was a human and to them humans were harbingers of horror.
I was finally able to breathe in Cloudcroft. I honked High Rolls slightly
reminded me of Bellingham in winter, with its shut-up produce stands and
the bare brown skeletons of apple orchards standing in waist-deep yellow
grass. Mossy gray settler ruins declared this place an oasis from the hostile
desert of Alamogordo just eight miles downhill.
I was so sad to leave the peaceful forest behind for the ugly sunbaked valley
of Alamogordo. I suddenly felt such deep dread of going back home that my
legs and hands trembled. I especially dreaded going back to work tomorrow,
and going back to college on the second week of January. Nobody had
warned me that college would suck so badly; in fact, most people had
painted it to be fun and enriching time and overall the best period of your
damn life. So why did it feel like my worst?
The only little respite I got from my mounting dread was the unexpected
beauty I encountered of White Sands Missile Range. I got lost in the white.
The pewter sky had powdered the crisp dunes like powdered Donettes.
White Sands looks white until snow falls on it, and then it looked slightly
yellow. Scraggly desert plants clawed jagged limbs toward the sky as if in
pain from the light dusting. It was so beautiful and also so achingly sad.
By the time they closed the park, evening had fallen and the jagged
unforgiving peaks of the Organs now appeared like the rock beach cliff’s
edge of the cold bright star sea. I just wanted to teleport into that sky, drift
forever into its unbelievably pretty and pure indigo light, fall till the silver
specks of ancient stars became massive fireballs or black holes ready to


suck me up. Freezing to death in Space would have been infinitely better
than going back to the filthy trap house I called home. Infinitely better than
seeing the blank, drug-sick faces of my roommates and their freakish drugsick friends.
Right at the cusp of the Mesilla Valley, LC’s lights twinkled out into the
distance under me, and I marveled at how a place so evil, so dark, so ugly,
could be so beautiful from afar.
Just a hundred feet from the dip into Organ, I ran straight over a huge
roadkill stretched all the way across my lane. A volcanic eruption of dead
flesh spewed across the front of my car, and less than a millisecond later I
was completely and thoroughly ensconced by the poor creature’s death
stench. I gagged, heaved, and tucked my nose into my shirt collar but I
could not escape the strong smell decimating my nose.
I furiously sped down 70, disregarding the speed limit signs. I made it home
unmolested by cops and in record time. None of my roommates even
greeted me, they were all too busy tripping on 2CI on the floor, their Call of
Duty playing blue light across their zoned out faces. I initiated a donation
fund of pocket change from them but they all said they didn’t have any
money left. At least I had some change and I dug a few grubby pennies from
between the couch cushions so I could afford a Quik Wash. I even opted for
all the fancy extras like the undercarriage waxing.
When I emerged from the end of the car wash tunnel, I sniffed around, and
hoped that the lingering odor was just trapped in my nostril hairs. But by the
time I got back home, I knew that the car wash had failed to lift the odor
from my car. On inspection, bits of fur and guts were etched like Super glue


into the tread of my tires and the inaccessible crevices of my headlights and
front bumper.
Exhausted, I decided to deal with it in the morning and turned into bed. I felt
cheated somewhat, like my joy earlier had somehow attracted this
misfortune. I often had that sense that I was a harbinger of doom by merely
feeling happy myself, the universe hated me that much.
By morning the car’s stench had magnified to where it smelled like I carried
a decomposing body in my trunk. I am surprised I was not pulled over with a
search warrant on my unpleasant drive to work. After work I spent all my tips
on another car wash, this time at Daddy-O’s which always gets the job done,
but again it was a waste of money I could’ve spent instead on cigarettes and
a soda. I sure craved some to comfort my frustration. I called Red, hoping he
would deliver me from the pits of depression, but oddly he wouldn’t answer
his phone all night long. Probably screwing some bitch from his high school
days or something.
The next day the death stench was strong enough to enter the house. My
roommates made me park the car the church down the street. So I left the
car at the Lutheran parking lot for a full 3 weeks before the last molecules of
rotten animal had wafted into the cosmos, never to assail my nostrils again. I
lived in near constant fear that the Lutheran clergy would smell it and have
the trunk popped open to check for a body. It was so relieving to once again
have use of my car, and to keep it parked safely on the curb in front of my
I think that should have been my omen. To never go to Reid. But it
seemed like my only option, when I got pregnant, and again when I had to


leave Andres.
Now it still seemed like my only option. I was so stuck, so lost, so
confused. What could I possibly do?
For the first time in years, I opened up my Bible. I opened it randomly,
and it fell upon Psalm 69. And there were words that resonated with me,
words of horror and weakness, a plea to rally the whole forces of Heaven to
save me. O God, in the multitude of thy mercy, hear me, in the truth of thy
salvation. Deliver me out of the mire, and let me not sink; let me be
delivered from them that hate me, and out of the deep waters. Let not the
waterflood overflow me, neither let the deep swallow me up, and let not the
pit shut her mouth upon me. Hear me, O Lord, for thy lovingkindness is
good: turn unto me the multitude of thy tender mercies. And hide not thy
face from thy servant; for I am in trouble, hear me speedily.
And I began to read this aloud. And then louder. And then I was
shouting it.
I was tired of drowning. I needed to be saved.
And then, as if God came down from the heavens and whispered my
salvation into my ear, I had an idea: that I could leave.
Since childhood, trudging home from school, slinking into the house
after being with Wayne, covering miles in my walk of shame from my night
with Dylan, I had never wanted to come home. Instead, I wanted to run far,
far away. And now there was nothing to stop me.

Chapter Seven: Rocking on the Ocean
Vincey was actually the last person I saw from Reid, with the exception
of my parents of course, before I took off. He was at the Allsup’s while I was
buying a soda and suggested that I come over. I shrugged like I didn’t care at


all and said, “Maybe later.”
“So you’re fucking my brother now?” he laughed. “You better be
careful with that, hun, he’s already all madly in love with you and shit.”
I almost protested that I wasn’t fucking Manuel, but then I realized that
that was none of Vincey’s business. Fuck him. Let him think that I was, it was
Later that night, Dad made ribs for dinner. I commented, “What a nice
good-bye dinner.” And he only replied that it wasn’t a good-bye dinner, that
they had planning for ribs for a while.
Of course he hadn’t planned me a good-bye dinner. Why throw a goodbye dinner for someone whom you won’t miss? They didn’t seem happy that
I was leaving, but they sure weren’t sad either. At least they were willing to
give me a ride to the Greyhound the next day.
I was all blurry with sleep when my dad woke me up at six am to leave
for my bus.
Mom hugged me at the door. “You do well,” she told me, but her voice
had such a weak conviction that I actually would.
But I refused to let that tear down my confidence. “I will,” I promised
her, with full intention of doing so. Who cares if my mom ever felt pride for
me or not?
Dad and I played “Name that song” the whole ride into Ruidoso, like
old times before we stopped talking really. At the Greyhound station, after I
hugged him good-bye, he reached into his pocket and produced a gold coin.
“Your grampa found this. And he gave it to me for good luck when I went
away for college….Now I would like you to have it, for good luck as well.” His
eyes grew slightly misty.
And I burst into tears. This important gift told me that Dad believed


that I was actually capable of something. It also told me that this was final,
and that he knew as well as I did that I was never coming back. “Thank you,
Dad.” I put the coin into my pocket and fought back tears. “I’ll treasure it,
And I did. It sits on my dresser even today.
The bus ride was so long. I was stuck alone in my thoughts with
nothing to distract me. Over and over, I asked myself if I even deserved a
second chance. My gramma was kind enough to open her home to me;
would I just blow it and hurt her like I hurt everyone? Would I somehow bring
about her death like I did everyone else’s?
I hadn’t seen my gramma since my grandpa’s funeral Her hair had
gotten whiter, thinner. “Hi there!” she called when she saw me at the bus
station. She wasn’t as excited as I had imagined her being, but then we had
almost never spoken over the years. It was nice to see her again. And it was
so nice of her to invite me into her home to stay indefinitely.
She ordered us sushi and some guy in a car wrapped with the sushi
business’s logo delivered it. Sushi delivery! We sipped sake and dipped our
California rolls in soy sauce while she described her days in Japan when
Grampa was in the military. Tea parties and temples and getting her hair
lovingly washed at the hairdresser’s. She had lived in Hawaii a little bit, too,
and she showed me photos where she looked like a model with her 50’s
bikini and cat-eye sunglasses.
“And you? What happened? You sounded so upset on the phone,” she
said, as she set the photo album aside.
“Oh, I was just going through a rough patch,” I addressed my empty


sake cup.
“Well, tell me what happened, dear.” She leaned forward, her forehead
furrowed with concern.
I realized that I didn’t need to invent Wonder Bread stories anymore.
My gramma would understand, and in fact she deserved to know why I
needed to be here, why I really had no other place to go. So I told her about
the horrible things that had happened to me, leaving out the drugs of course.
I even told her about how Red had blamed me for his suicide in his horrible
little ring of notes.
“Oh, my.” Gramma leaned across the table and clasped my hand.
“Don’t ever believe him, sweety, it was his choice.”
“I know, but it’s hard,” and I started crying.
“It’s not your fault, it’s never your fault when somebody takes their
own life.”
Her words were generic and I could tell she just didn’t know what else
to say, but she comforted me. My mom would never utter generic rotes to
soothe me, and that was part of why I hated talking to her about things that
destroyed me inside. For a counselor, my mom was a terrible empath and
useless source of comfort.
Gramma and I touched on that a little bit, actually. She commented
how hard-hearted my mother is and I felt a swell of relief that I wasn’t just a
spoiled brat, I actually had others out there who saw Mom’s coldness as well.
Gramma mentioned how hateful my mom had been to her after marrying
Dad, how she cut Dad off from her over the years, and how it was so
disgraceful that she didn’t even bother to attend Granpa’s funeral.
The hardest part was discussing Lily. Again, Gramma comforted me
with generic words about how at least Lily was in Heaven now and it was not


my fault. And again, I felt slightly better.
I now understood that nothing could really ever make the tragedies
and traumas of my past truly OK, so there was no point in denying the pain.
It hurt horribly to let grief well up in me, but then the swells would normally
pass quickly enough. I was more capable of surviving with a heavy heart
than I had ever imagined possible before.
My first days in Bellingham are some of my very favorite memories.
The house boat was so cramped that it was annoying at first. But the
whiteness of the tiny space, Gramma’s prize-winning Christmas Village, and
the little memorial to my grandpa on her counter had a clean sort of comfort
that whitewashed my sense of dirtiness. There I was able to pretend that I
was an ok person, until I actually was an ok person.
Almost immediately, the humid air began to heal me. The cold rain
began to seep all the filth out of my veins. I would watch the ocean and the
gray skies and feel a sadness that I could no longer bury. And oddly, I liked
feeling sad for once. At least I wasn’t numb anymore. I could handle being
sad. It was apparent why heroin was such a problem in Washington, what
with the endless gray and damp, but for me it was cleansing, nice,
inspiration to get clean and just feel what was raging inside me.
Every night I would eat dinner with my gramma and I was always
bracing myself for some smart comment, some burst of anger at something I
said. But when that never came, I always left the dinner table feeling so
relieved. It was nice to not live in constant fear of my mom.
Bellingham is a great city to disappear into when you’re an introvert.
You can hang out silently in coffee shops with headphones on and nobody
will bother you, unlike in Reid where everyone had to make obligatory phony


small talk about the weather and how are your parents and where you
workin’ at these days? People were too in a hurry to chitchat or else they
wanted to be left alone. Just like me. I thrived.
I took long walks, delighting in the sensation of the damp, cool air
painting my skin and flattening my hair. It was nice to breathe in humidity
instead of dust. The trees were still bare, but I couldn’t wait until everything
was overgrown and vibrant green. I remembered how Bellingham had looked
in my childhood, so green that it almost hurt to look at.
I also remembered Colten. His little presence seemed to rejoin me in
Bellingham and I wasn’t sure if it was just his memory or if his ghost had
found me again. All I could say to his presence was, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”
That was one thing I never brought up in therapy, because I didn’t want to
seem crazier than I already was.
Colten Charley was the neighbor’s kid in Bellingham. He was two years
younger than me. I didn’t even know of his existence until he started
kindergarten and the bus would pick him up at the little blue cabin down the
road. “Holy smokes, there’s another kid!” I thought when he first timidly got
on the bus. I had always been able to see the cabin from the creek where I
played by myself, but I had never once seen any evidence of a fellow kid
My best friend Brooklyn and I giggled along with the other kids at how
puny he was, but secretly I felt bad for him because he looked so damn
I was shy, and second graders and kindergartners don’t really mingle
anyway, but I got to know him quickly since the bus driver requested that I


get off at his stop to ensure that he got inside safely.
“I’m Colten!” he told me, and he showed where he had lost all his front
teeth. He had already lost way more teeth than I had, which irked me.
But, overall, I came to adore him, in sort of a big sisterly way. He was
covered in bright orange freckles and he was always smiling and he walked
with a little bop in his step. He was three years younger than me, and looked
even younger.
The first time he came over to my house, he ate my last little pudding
cup and I started to cry. My mom seized my elbow and jerked me so hard
that my head flopped painfully to the side and hissed at me, “Stop being
such a greedy little pig. Colten doesn’t have much. You have everything in
the world. So be kind and share for once.”
Maybe that day, maybe a few days later, Mom presented Colten with a
Wal-Mart bag full of brand new clothes.
“Why did you get Colten clothes?” I demanded, confused and jealous
that she hadn’t bought me a thing when I had been asking for light-up
sneakers since school started.
Mom just made a shut-up face and gestured violently for me to drop
the subject.
Colten didn’t even say thank you, just stared into the bag for a long
time. Then he began gingerly picking through the clothes, before shoving the
bag into his backpack and shooting out the door. I thought that was all very
rude and I hoped Mom would buy me some new clothes because I would at
least say thank you for them.
Later that evening, just as Dad had brought home Applebee’s Carside
and we had assembled at the table to say Grace, the doorbell rang. I opened
it despite Mom yelling at me to wait, and then I recoiled in fear from the fat,


freckled, scantily-clad, barefoot woman standing there holding Colten’s WalMart bag of clothes. “Is your momma home?” she demanded without a smile.
“Hi, yes, I’m Lucille Henderson,” my mom appeared behind me.
“Heather, go back inside and eat.”
I returned to the table but still listened. The woman said she was
Colten’s mom and she just wanted to know just what the fuck this was? And
she opened the bag up for Mom to see. “I don’t know if you’re trying to insult
me or what, but I take care of my son and I don’t need your goddamn help. If
he needed another mommy, he’d be in foster care. He don’t need no help
from the rich bitch down the road.” She tossed the bag onto the floor and
stormed off.
Mom looked upset when she came back inside with the bag of clothes.
I never saw the clothes again and Mom got mad at me whenever I asked
about why his mom had been so rude.
Over the next year, Colten and I played a lot down at the creek. Colten
always had a lot of weird bruises and round red burn circles all over his body
all the time. One time he told me how he caught his mom and some guy
having S-E-X and that the guy saw him and made him suck something. The
story made me feel gross and I ended up telling Mom later. Mom flipped and
immediately got on the phone and locked her bedroom door so I couldn’t
listen in on the conversation. When she came back out, she told me that I
was not to play with Colten anymore.
I obeyed her. Until late one night when I woke up to tapping on my
window. It was Colten, standing on his tippy toes, asking me to come play.
“I can’t,” I told him.
“I gotta show you something.”
He led me down to the creek and showed me a river mussel he had


pried off a rock whose snotty flesh would squirm when we touched it. Colten
caught a frog and we stretched it flat on a rock and dissected it with a sharp
twig. I cried a little bit as the frog croaked in agony but I was fascinated as
his little shiny organs spilled across the rock through our incisions. Colten
was up to his knees in water and I asked him if he was cold and he just
shrugged no.
“I’m cold,” I griped.
“It’s not cold here!”
“Yes it is. It’s fall. It’s always cold in fall.”
“Wanna play hide and seek?” Colten asked me.
Trees loomed over us with many threatening arms and an owl
screeched somewhere deep in the blackness. A breeze raised the
goosebumps on my arms. “I’m scared,” I told Colten.
“There’s nothing to be scared of!” he laughed, and then he tapped my
arm. “You’re it! You have to count.”
“OK.” I cupped my face in my hands and counted to thirty, skipping 23
and 26 of course. “Ready or not, here I come!” But Colten was nowhere in
I looked around but I felt so scared that I just ran back to my room.
In the morning, I thought the night before had been a dream. But then I
saw the mud on the hem of my nightgown.
I went on another hunt for Colten after my breakfast but I still couldn’t
find him. I started to get mad and spit mean words out at the trees, in the off
chance he might hear me and feel bad. “This is ridiculous!” I cried. I gave up
and played by myself down in the mud, but I kept looking around, hoping to
catch sight of him. I missed him. The trees closed in around me the same
way that they had last night and a cold breeze struck my skin and suddenly I
didn’t want to be alone in the woods anymore. I never would feel


comfortable playing down by the creek again.
After a few days of Colten missing at school, I noticed panicked
concern spreading through the staff. The principal called me into his office
and everyone in class taunted, “Ooh, you’re in trouble!” But I wasn’t, he just
wanted to ask me when and where I had seen Colten last. So I admitted to
playing with Colten down by the creek at night and I told him how Colten had
disappeared into the woods and I could never, ever find him, but please
don’t tell my mom I was playing with him. “Do you think a mountain lion ate
him?” I gasped.
The principal’s mouth formed a tight, sad line. “I’m sure he’s fine,” he
said finally.
I was old enough to be able to tell when I was being lied to.
When I got home from school, there were cops. “Were you playing with
Colten at night?” they asked me.
“No,” I stammered, because my mom was hovering over me.
“Mr. Carl at your school said that you did.”
“Heather May Henderson!” my mom shouted.
“It’s all right, ma’am,” the cop held up his hand. “Can you tell us when this
“I don’t know….”
“Heather, we believe that Colten might be in some danger. We don’t want to
scare you but we need you to understand how serious this is. Anything you
can tell us can help us find him.”
“I don’t know. Two nights ago, I think? But I think it might have been a
The cops glanced at each other.
That night, just as I had fallen asleep, I heard the same tapping on my
window as before and I leaped out of bed, all excited to have finally found
“Where the heck were you?!” I scolded him. “It wasn’t very nice how you


just left me.”
“I never left,” he said. “You stopped playing.”
“No I didn’t. You just disappeared. They even have the police looking for
“I can’t stay long,” he replied, his voice all far-away sounding.
“Where did you hide?”
“With my daddy,” he said.
“What? I thought you didn’t have a daddy?” This whole time, Colten
had only mentioned his mom and her boyfriend.
Colten gasped and cocked his head, like someone was calling him. “I
gotta go now. Bye!” And then he vanished into thin air.
I woke up. Seeing Colten one last time had only been a dream. I
scanned the woods through my window and he was still irrevocably,
irreversibly hidden.
A few hours later, I heard sirens, so many sirens. Cop cars were flying
up the road. The only house past ours was Colten’s. Mom and Dad cautioned
me to stay inside as they watched anxiously through the lace curtains, so I
slipped out the back door, down to the creek. It was raining hard but I could
see a little bit in the rotating illumination of the cop cars. Enough to see men
in heavy black jackets marked with the yellow letters “CSI” on the back
stalking around the blue cabin, coming up and down through the outside
cellar doors. A bunch of cops escorted Colten’s mom and some lanky,
bearded guy in handcuffs out to squad cars. The squad cars took off. And
then a few CSI guys emerged from the cellar carrying a little black bag,
which I knew was a body bag from my mom’s crime shows. Except this body
bag was a really little one. And I knew Colten was in it.
I ran back inside shrieking about Colten. Mom was crying when she
caught me by the shoulder. “Colten’s mom and her boyfriend were very bad


people, Heather. They were doing a drug called meth and they hurt – they
killed little Colten. They were probably upset about that story you told me,”
she explained.
“Would – would Colten still be alive if I hadn’t told you that?” I gulped.
“Oh, Heather,” Mom sighed, “stop making it all about you.”
A month later, we moved to Spokane.
I spent my first six months in Bellingham relatively alone. I couldn’t
handle the chatter of other people on top of the chatter in my head. For
months I relived memories of my life in New Mexico, trying to process all the
shit I had been through I guess. Gramma suggested I go to a grief counselor
that she had been seeing since Grampa had died, and I found the sessions
shook me up more than they helped me, but I kept going. I needed someone
to talk to, and I didn’t want to burden Gramma with all the revelations of my
past. Ms. Adichie was a turbaned Nigerian woman with a voice like warmed
honey. She was the best listener I had ever met. I decided to use her as a
model for my own counseling in the future.
Besides Ms. Adichie and my gramma, though, I had no friends. And I
was OK with that. I just focused on school and work. I found that classmates
and co-workers and a therapist and my gramma were sufficient for a social
life. Friends are rarely any more intimate or real than the people I now
surrounded myself with. I didn’t need parties or sex to feel validated; I saw
that all that was just an unhealthy waste of time, a way to set myself up to
be hurt again. Vincey and even Manuel had put the nail in the coffin on my
pleasure-seeking days.
I got a job at the same Asian fusion place that Gramma had gotten
sushi from my first night back. It was a surprisingly nice restaurant, marked


apart from its strip mall neighbors by an elegant black awning with kanji
printed in gracefully curving white strokes across the front. And it was just
within walking distance of Gramma’s boat.
All the chefs were Japanese men, their faces puffy and wrinkled with
many years spent squinting to minutely place mayo squiggles and tempura
crumbs just so on top of countless rolls. I admired their artistry. I found their
dialogues in rushed Japanese melodious, and I began to listen to my
Japanese CDs again. I would practice my Japanese on the head chef and he
would just chuckle and respond to me in English.
The fragrance of wasabi and raw fish and cucumber was a perfume to
my nose; the atmosphere here was so clean and uplifting. Not only did I
desperately need a job in order to pay my parents back for my Greyhound
ticket and my gramma for rent, but I felt a true desire to work here. That was
unusual, since I hated working something fierce.
A majority of my job involved describing the different sushi rolls to
people. I had to pour drinks, and sometimes I even got to warm sake or make
a fun cocktail behind the bar. The squat, older bartender named Beth was
determined to train me in everything behind the bar, saying that I had real
potential to graduate from waitress to bartender after she left. I was the
Grasshopper, watching with popped eyes as she poured perfect quarter
ounce shots and pulled two-handed pours from multiple bottles and sliced
delicate, graceful spirals of orange or lime peel for twists. Her encyclopedic
mind full of drink recipes was awe-inspiring and I felt so dumb and clumsy
when I had to look up recipes in the liquid-wrinkled and swollen bartending
book under the register. It was overwhelming, trying to do my waitress duties


on top of having to run behind the bar when Beth called me. More than once
the head chef barked, “Heathah-san! Get to work!” when Beth was
demonstrating some drink to me in the middle of a rush.
But I didn’t quit. I was able to tolerate this job. I didn’t even mind the
basic cleaning, the refilling of soy sauce decanters, or the light prep work of
shaving ginger root and making fruit twists for the bar. My goal was to get as
good as Beth and take over her job when she retired. And the tips were
awesome. I would walk away with sixty bucks on a bad night; on my best
night, I left with a hundred and fifty. That kind of money was worth taking out
my labret for; I didn’t really miss it, as now my appearance was unobstructed
with metal and my natural prettiness could really shine.
The job seamed beautifully with my class schedule. I rode the bus
every morning up to Northwest Indian College, listening to my Japanese CD
tracks ripped onto my mP3 player, attended class, and then either wasted
time reading under the totem poles in front of the school or rode the bus
back home doing my homework on my lap and waited for my shift in a
coffeehouse next to the sushi place, savoring gourmet lattes and orangecranberry-green-tea muffins. No one really bothered me; the day a chatty old
black guy on the bus tried, I just ignored him. I felt bad doing that, but he
seemed like the type who would yak my ear off the whole bus ride and
maybe even follow me from my stop still talking. And I had to stand by my
old mantra, never apologize for the way you feel. If I didn’t feel like talking to
him, why be polite and let him squander my afternoon? When he called me
unfriendly, I just smiled at him.
Twice a month, I would spend my afternoon at the little “Asian Nails”


place next door to the sushi place, having my feet massaged, oiled, and
exfoliated into silky health and my nails filled and drilled into acrylic
perfection. With my environment of yacht and house boat snobs dropping
hundred-dollar bills at the sushi place, I wanted to look like money too. I
never had much to talk about with my nail tech and soon she learned to stay
quiet as she worked on my hands and feet. My life felt so full until I was
asked to talk about it. Then, it seemed that I had nothing going on really.
Gramma had a car that she was willing to lend me so that I could go to
parties or activities or whatever I wanted in the evenings. Usually I had work,
so I couldn’t do the cool shit I wanted to, like the aerial silks class at the
downtown gym, the volunteer opportunities teaching kids about plants at the
botanical garden, or the dinner theater at my school. I felt kind of left out of
One thing I hadn’t expected was to feel a little homesick for New
Mexico. I was in my beloved Pacific Northwest, how could I possibly miss the
barren and thorny desert wasteland housing my most piercing memories? I
guess that New Mexico had grown on me over my seven years there. There’s
a certain wicked, lonely, gorgeous mystique in the sweeping yellow
grasslands and crinkly elephant skin rows upon rows of mountains. There’s a
certain sense of yearning and anticipation in the endless highways and
timeless horizons. There’s a certain limitlessness and humility in the vast
starry night skies and the tremendous, sky-filling sunsets and sunrises. They
say that they can tell if you’re from New Mexico by a specific microbe forever
resident to our lungs. So part of New Mexico lives in me, and always will.


Another thing I didn’t expect was to find myself changing into a whole
new person that I now had to get to know. I wasn’t sure if I was changing into
a new person, or becoming the real me, but it was a weird transition. It was
another reason that I needed to be alone, to be able to figure out who I was
turning into. For instance, I realized around midterms that I hadn’t gotten laid
in over three months. Wow, I had not been so long without sex since
probably the first few months of high school in New Mexico. My meds were
working so well and Bellingham was jiving with me so wonderfully and I was
so damn busy that I had forgotten to feel horny. I just hadn’t really wanted to
fuck anyone, nor had I really met anyone to fuck. There was that cute waiter,
but he was engaged. And there were some cute patrons at the restaurant,
but I didn’t want a one night stand or to be a side bitch anymore; maybe if I
had, I would’ve found someone to screw by then. But my last experience
with Vincey had left me so raw, that sex really didn’t appeal to me much
anymore. I had done that guy Dalton in the mental hospital, but that had
been like a death rattle to my promiscuous days.
Honestly, I didn’t want to just randomly fuck anymore. I wanted to find
love. And I wasn’t totally sure that love existed.
In my psychology class, we had touched upon the “myth” of
nymphomania. My professor claimed that there was no such thing as
nymphomania, that women who had sex compulsively merely suffered from
low self-esteem and a deep desire to feel loved that they had probably been
denied by their parents while growing up. At first I was enraged at their
close-minded refusal to acknowledge nymphomania as a possible chemical


disorder, or maybe a mere personality characteristic that wasn’t a disorder
at all. For a long time I had considered the possibility that I was a nympho.
But as I thought about it and studied case studies of aberrantly
sexually active men and women, I did begin to notice a pattern. It was a
sickness, and technically an addiction, as it gave only fleeting pleasure and
brought about more trouble than fun ultimately. And I began to realize
similarities between myself and them. I hadn’t ever really felt loved, except
for a few rare moments as a child, like at the zoo with my dad. And I certainly
never felt loved by my mom. The only time I felt love as an adult was in the
post-coital after glow. I let men use me and treat me like dirt just to get a
taste of those brief moments of love. Like Vincey. In retrospect, I had no love
and no reasons to love Vincey; the true reason I had become so dependent
on time with him, was because he was great in bed and thus able to help me
achieve that orgasmic sensation of being loved and actually loving. But it
was all fake.
As I began to delve more into my concentration of drug addiction, I was
further disturbed by the unpleasant truths about myself that I unearthed in
my textbooks. I still liked to believe that I was not that bad an addict. I didn’t
like to acknowledge how I still craved meth and dreamed about massive
shots that blew my hair back, and how I pounded Monsters and smoked a
pack a day and drank whole bottles of wine by myself after work as a way to
fill the void left by being clean. But my coursework forced me to admit
everything to myself that I had been that bad, at least to myself and my
loved ones; I had hurt my parents and scared them, very deeply; I had even


hurt my aunt Pearl. And wine was not necessarily a lesser addiction.
My twenty-second birthday was the first birthday where I truly felt like
an adult. Gramma paid for me to have a spa day, complete with facial mask
and massage, and I got my eyebrows waxed and ice blonde highlights in my
hair. In the mirror, I admired my new self, so trim and pretty. I really did look
normal now. And maybe I was becoming normal. I even wrote poetry less, I
was so focused on living. Was that a good or bad thing? I didn’t know, but I
was proud of myself. Finally I paid my bills on time and I was doing OK.
My parents didn’t even call me that day, Dad just sent me a happy
birthday text. I looked at the text for a long time before sending back a mere
thanks. Maybe my life was truly better without them in it. All they did was
make me feel terrible. Part of true adulthood is knowing when to cut ties with
people, even when it hurts.
The close of my first semester at Northwest Indian College was a
sentimental time for me. I got back my grades: four point oh. Since my
credits had transferred, I just had three semesters left to a counseling
degree. I was gonna do it this time! I was gonna finish school! I wouldn’t be a
forever college dropout, waiting tables or languishing in boredom behind a
gas station deli counter eagerly awaiting the close of my shift so I could go
get high.
I looked back on all that had happened to me and all that I had become
since the close of my freshman year at NMSU. Then I had been so excited
because I was about to move into a room at a house down the street. I had
no idea then how strung out I would get in that house, how nasty the kitchen


would always be with the accumulated dishes and crockery of six people,
how we often couldn’t even use the kitchen because of Lovitz the Crystal
Fairy’s mad scientist mescaline brewing, or how one of the shitty needle
junkies would make off with my laptop and ruin the start of my new year. I
had no clue how a few weeks later, I would get kicked out, and have little
choice except to move into an apartment with Red, with whom I had no idea I
would conceive a daughter, whom I had no idea would be strangled by her
own feeding cord during labor. And I had certainly had no clue that I would
also come back to that apartment to read Red’s many suicide notes, scrawls
of hatred and mental illness that hurt me to this day.
Now, everything was surprisingly devoid of bullshit and heartbreak.
I had broken the cycle of my life.
Sometimes you have to do something drastic, like move a thousand
miles away, if you want anything to change at all.
My excitement about my future and my meds enabled me to avoid
succumbing to misery about my past that seemed to constantly nip at my
heels. “Don’t let your past dictate your future,” my therapist told me, and I

Chapter Eight: Perfect
My depression lifted with the onset of summer and I even got a slight tan
from hanging out at the beach on my days off. I ate right, walked a lot, and
took care of my looks now with flawless makeup and perfect nails. My hair
flowed down to the middle of my back and I kept it trimmed and highlighted.
I was drop dead gorgeous. You would never have guessed that I was a
tweaker just months before.


That’s how I finally attracted somebody normal, I guess, because I looked
normal. Sometimes I liked to think that I looked like those preppy girls that I
had never fit in with in school before.
The first time I saw Steven, he was seated by the window in the sushi
restaurant, his pale, smooth-shaven face lit by the June sun and his suited
figure framed by the graceful arch of white orchids potted behind his seat.
His suit made me steel myself for dealing with another asshole. The
exhaustion of a long morning of classes and a shift full of people indifferent
to whether I lived or died had me too weary to smile for this guy.
But he looked up from his menu with the brightest smile that anyone had
shown me in a while. And I melted a little. I was suddenly able to smile too. I
had not seen such a genuine smile in a long time. Not since Manny.
“How are the mussels?” he asked me.
“Green and full of juicy flavor,” I said.
“Hmm. That sounds good.”
“OK.” I wrote mussels on my pad, imaging how I would impress this
guy by delivering a plate with the perfect shiny green mussel shells filled
with mussel meat reduced to a mustard-powdered soup. He was so cleanshaven and I wondered if I could actually dig a guy like that.
While I was ringing up his order, he relocated to the bar. As I mixed his
drink, my boss came out up to me to ask me about something and I replied
in my broken Japanese that had become habit for me to speak in.
“You know Japanese?” the guy asked excitedly when I dropped off his Tsing
Tao beer. He looked less saintly without the window light and the orchids, but
he still had a warm demeanor. I couldn’t help but feel intrigued by him. He
was like an angel that alighted on my life, a blessing in an unexpectedly
ordinary form.
“I’m learning,” I blushed, trying to ne modest. But I knew that I already had


this guy in the bag. The question was, did I want him in the bag? Was he the
typical kind of jerkoff I was attracted to or was he Mr. Right? I wasn’t down to
screw around and waste my time with a guy now, not unless he was
someone I could seriously marry. I decided that I needed to take my time and
get to know him.
“Did you learn it here or…?”
“I taught myself. And I took a class in college, for my foreign language
He grinned. “Well that’s amazing. I actually lived in Japan for a few years.”
“Did you really?” My interest was growing by the minute.
“I did. My dad was military.” He sipped his beer, made a slight face, then
took another drink. “It was a pretty cool experience. I guess I got pretty good
at Japanese, but, uh, I’ve forgotten it all.” We both laughed. “Wow,” he shook
his head in wonder, “not only are you incredibly beautiful, but you’re also
smart. This isn’t fair.”
I grinned. “Nice reference.”
He looked lost.
“Sorry, I thought you got that from So I Married an Ax Murderer.”
“Um, I don’t even know what that is.”
“Oh, it’s a Mike Meyers movie. One of my favorites. I have to show it to you
someday.” I caught myself, aghast that I was already talking like he and I
would spend time in the future.
But he just smiled and told me that he would really like that. “Leave me your
number,” he suggested.
I wrote in a napkin and considered adding a heart by my name, but decided
not to.
“Heather.” He nodded. “I like that name.” He reached out his hand. “I’m
Steven Templeton.”
“Heathah! Why you no working?” the head chef called from the sushi
“I better get back to work.”


Steven just smiled and gestured for me to carry on with his beer. When I
brought him his mussels, he handed me a ten dollar tip. “These look
delicious. I’m glad I took your recommendation,” he grinned.
I grinned back but didn’t know what to say.
The next day, Steven still hadn’t texted so I deflated, sure that somehow I
had driven him away or had misread his interest.
But around six, a delivery guy showed up with a massive edible arrangement
of yogurt-dipped pineapple stars and chocolate-dipped strawberries.
“Heather Henderson?” he read from his delivery slip.
“This way,” my boss bowed graciously and led him over to the cash register.
He gave me a little wink as he returned to his spot overseeing things in the
“You’re Heather Henderson?” the delivery guy asked me, not a trace of
surprise on his face. Like I looked like the type of girl who would get this type
of gift. And I guess now I was. Nobody had ever sent me flowers before,
much less an expensive edible arrangement.
The waitstaff kept coming over and giggling and admiring my bouquet,
secretly just looking for permission to break off a strawberry or something. I
let everybody have a bite before I ate any myself. The gift was too pretty for
me to break into myself, so it was easier once someone else took the first
piece of fruit off it.
I snuck away for a cigarette break, and my phone dinged with an
unidentified number. “Do you like your arrangement?”
“It’s so pretty. And delicious. You’re awesome. <3”
He wrote back, “Np. Would you like to have dinner with me this weekend?”
“Of course,” I wrote back.
I then flew into a fresh mania. “Steven’s a good one, you must never
let him go,” I told my reflection in my gramma’s bathroom mirror as I did my


lips super red in the mornings and lined them to look like they had been
puffed with collagen.
I had a therapy session right before my date. As I gushed about my
nervousness, my therapist just surveyed me amusedly, and then cautioned
me to not put Steven on a pedestal.
“But he’s so perfect,” I said.
“Why?” the therapist asked.
“He’s like one of those perfect guys that never looked at me twice last
year. And yet he’s into me. He even sent me an edible bouquet.”
My therapist just frowned. “Be very wary of men who send extravagant
gifts so early in the relationship. He’s trying to charm you.”
I left the session very irritated that my therapist couldn’t at least be
happy for me. So what if Steven was trying to charm me? Nobody had ever
tried to charm me before because I was so easy that they knew there was no
need to.
There was no need for my nervousness, though. As soon as I slid into
the passenger seat of Steven’s car, I was shocked at the ease with which he
and I got along. With our vast differences in background, it was amazing that
he even liked me at all. He was a recent law school graduate, trying to make
partner at a personal injury law firm. He even suggested that I be in their
next ad, because I was just the kind of pretty girl they could use.
Our very first date was at a brew house. Steven laughed at me practically
unhinging my jaw to bite into the monstrous mushroom and Swiss burger I
had ordered. And when my plate was wiped clean by my last seasoned fry,
he teased me for having a super expandable gut. “You’re so skinny, where
does it all go?” he pinched my tummy, which was admittedly painfully round
with a food baby at the moment. “I should enter you in an extreme rib eating


contest or something.”
“I’m sorry,” I laughed.
“Don’t be sorry. I like a girl who eats.”
And when we made out to the car after the meal, I apologized about
the mushroom odor on my breath, to which Steven only said, “You taste
yummy, like dinner.” He kissed me again and I felt his hand travel up my
spine, toward my bra strap.
Suddenly, I felt overwhelmed and scared. I hadn’t been with anyone in
over six months. “I don’t want to spend the night,” I told him.
“That’s OK,” he said.
“Maybe some other time, but not tonight.”
“That’s fine,” he laughed. “Can I see you next weekend?”
We made out a little more when we reached my gramma’s slip. “I had
a nice time,” he told me.
“I did, too,” I smiled. “Text me?”
“Sure thing.”
I danced into Gramma’s boat, my heart beating in disbelief. How had
things gone so well? He didn’t even seem to recognize me for the loser that I
Before our second date on Friday, I was determined to actually spend
the night with him. I had to lock him down.
I went to Victoria’s Secret and spent money I really didn’t have on a
matching bra and panty set. I browsed the lingerie obsessively for over an
hour, trying to decide on something that would make him go nuts. I was torn
between a super risqué black and pink set that he was sure to dig and a cute
gingerbread-colored set with pink ribbons that I adored. Ultimately, I elected
to get the gingerbread one because I liked it enough to want it even if he and
I didn’t work. Surely we wouldn’t work, we were so unalike. I was just so


nervous. The approaching date felt more like an approaching doomsday
rather than some approaching miracle with The One. I kept thinking of ways I
could fuck it up and they way outnumbered ways I could make him fall in
love with me.
This time, he took me to a swanky wine bar and we split a cheese platter.
The environment was intimate, with even a glass fireplace that threw moody
shadow and light over our table. I was still nervous, as I told him vaguely
about my life in New Mexico. “Uh, I went to college. I didn’t like it much, so I
transferred here. Um, I lived with my parents for a while, and I had a couple
roommates. New Mexico was really boring, actually. I like it here so much
“Well, I’m glad you came here. I’m glad I met you.” He smiled at me flirtily as
he forked a piece of Montago onto a cracker.
“I love this wine,” I commented, raising my glass of Sauvignon Blanc.
“I like it too,” he said.
We lapsed into silence. It was like our first date, only even less comfortable. I
wondered if we had already run out of things to talk about.
I was so relieved when he started telling me about his weird day at the law
firm and his frustration with his paralegal.
After we finished the cheese platter and a whole bottle of wine, he asked me
where I wanted to go. “Are there any fun bars around here?” I asked.
He smiled. “There’s Ned’s. They have soccer pool.”
“Soccer pool?”
“Yes, it’s like pool but you kick balls into the pockets.”
I giggled. “I’m a pool shark, so I bet I can beat your butt.”
“Well I went to pre-law school at U-dub on a soccer scholarship, so I doubt
that,” he responded.
And he did kick my butt. But we had a great time, sipping frozen cocktails as
we played. We even challenged each other to PacMan on one of Ned’s
historic arcade machines. The cocktails thawed my awkwardness and


suddenly Steven was like an old friend to me, inviting and kind. And I was
finally ready to go home with him. I kissed him on the cheek after he beat
me at Pacman a third time and asked him if he was ready to go.
He led me by the hand into his place and then led me to the bed. I laid down,
feeling shy for the first time in years, as he tenderly removed all my clothes,
studying and running his fingers along my body lit by bars of street light
through the chinks in his blinds. “Sexy,” he murmured, as he ran his thumbs
over the gingerbread lace of my panties. And when he removed the panties, I
could tell he was turned on by the change in his breathing. “I like your
tattoo,” he commented about the little hummingbird Red had tattooed on my
With a surge of my old sexual fire, I seized him, and yanked his shirt off. I
kissed down his chest, down to the top of his pants, and then pulled the
zipper down with my teeth.
“Whoa, now! Slow down.” He eased me back down onto the bed. I wondered
what I had done wrong. But then he began to kiss me all over, and I realized
he just wanted to be the one doing the work that night.
He really was trying to charm me.
I was shocked at the sparse simplicity of his apartment when I went to get a
glass of water after making love. He didn’t have many photos on the walls,
and no décor. His furniture was all Ikea and functional. Even his couch was
perfect, all sleek black leather. “You’re really clean for a guy,” I joked as he
came up behind me surveying the books and DVDs on his shelf and wrapped
his arms around my waist.
“I have a cleaning lady,” he explained.
“You’re not even a partner and you have a maid?” I laughed. Then I instantly


regretted saying that, because I sounded like a gold digger.
But he didn’t seem fazed. “I work so much that I don’t have time to clean.”
Right when you think you’re happy with someone, exes seem to come
pouring back. I heard from several around that time, in a creepy sort of influx
of the past reentering my present. Like my exes could sense I was finally
happy and they wanted to intrude on it. Taylor was a little annoying to hear
from, but it was actually pleasant to hear from Keegan.
The shittiest cherry on top of the sundae was when Andres tried to message
me, asking if I was OK, like he cared. I figured he must have gotten himself a
new girlfriend and was looking to cheat on her with me. He sure had a thing
for his exes. Too bad he couldn’t desire them while he was actually dating
them! I just wrote back telling him to never contact me again.
However, out of all of them, the only one that I was genuinely glad to hear
from was Manuel. He hit me up on Facebook one day, to make amends for
the death of our friendship that he had brought about.
His message had fallen into my Other folder. Who checks their Other folder?
Somehow, one day, I just happened to notice the number 1 next to my Other
folder tab, though, so I clicked on it. Manuel Rodriquez. Wow. A voice in my
head cautioned me not to waste my time and let any more cretins from my
past back in, but I did it anyway, driven by the self-destructive curiosity that
allows got my into trouble before. To be honest, I missed Manuel. His big,
cheesy grins, his jovial pumpkin face. He had been my only real friend in
Reid. Sometimes I wondered if I had been too hard on him when he admitted
to liking me.
The message I read was actually very nice and comforting. “Hi Heather I


hope you’re doing good. I been thinking a lot about you lately and I want you
to know I never meant to hurt you and I miss you. Hope you hit me back but I
understand if you don’t.”
It took me a long while to figure out what I should reply with, or if I should
even reply at all. Ultimately I decided that Manny had stayed my friend my
whole time in that god forsaken shithole and that I had no hard feelings
against him if he didn’t. It actually meant a lot that he apologized and still
wanted to be friends despite my rejecting him.
So, I responded, “Hi, I’m doing good, how are you? Nice to hear from you,
long time no talk.”
A few minutes later, he sent me a friend request and replied saying that he
was now in Colorado welding for a construction and going to CSU for an
architectural design degree. He had always had a feather light hand and a
knack for freehand drawing when he was particularly stoned; he would make
an excellent architect, I believed.
I told him I was proud of him and he responded that he was proud of me too.
“You’ll make an awesome therapist,” he told me. Then he wrote, “Vincey is in
jail now.”
Good thing that no one was able to discern how my heart rate sped up and
my hands became shaky at the very sight of Vincey’s name. How could the
man still get such a rise out of me? Perhaps they are right when they say
that orgasms lead to a release of oxytocin, which is capable of making the
strongest woman fall down on her knees in devotion for the man who gave
her that orgasm. How else could I have loved Red, piece of shit that he was,
and Vincey?
“What happened?” I asked. “Sam Vega busted him on his way to Alamogordo


with an ounce and baggies and a scale,” Manuel wrote back.
“Is he going to prison?”
“Idk he has court next month.”
Vincey’s court date kept getting pushed back for months, until it was
finally dropped. Manny and I kept in touch and he updated me now and then.
When Vincey got off, I finally asked him to stop updating me on him. “It
brings back some painful memories,” I explained, and Manny understood. So
instead we began talking fairly regularly about our lives, and reminiscing
about good times in Reid, like when we drank all day and walked around
acting stupid. Of course we didn’t reminisce about my cat fight with Mel,
The next nine months of my life were so uneventful that I hardly
remember anything from them. I guess when you’re doing well in life, there
is no drama. And with no drama, life is surprisingly boring. Sometimes I just
wanted to scream, or punch something, just to add a little drama to the daily
But I didn’t. I stayed a good girl. I did my homework, I went to work,
and I tried to quit smoking because Steven said I was too beautiful to ruin my
life with cigarettes. Steven also tried to get me to quit at the sushi
restaurant, but I made bartender and I told him that I liked it there.
“But you’re so much better than waiting on jerkoffs,” he said.
“Like you?” I teased. Secretly I resented him for trying to change me so
much, while trying to remind myself to be grateful for it. At least someone
was pushing me to be the best version of myself.
Steven eventually dropped the sushi restaurant thing. He did, however,
make me act in all his firm’s TV ads. My role was always the ditzy blonde girl
throwing her hands up next to a smashed car and crying out, “Oh, no, what


do I do now?” before Mr. Gibbons, the president of the firm, popped up next
to me like a car accident genie and prompted me to call Gibbons, Layell, &
Pearson, Attorneys at Law. I spent way more time in that stuffy office that
smelled like coffee, donuts, and boredom than I wanted to. Steven would
always have me come by and wait for him in the lobby for sometimes an
hour or more, before he was finally free to take me out.
Suddenly, one day, I found myself very out of place in a oneshouldered black dress at a fancy restaurant in Vancouver. Steven had finally
made partner and this was where he opted to celebrate.
I was thrilled to be somewhere this black-tie. Only black-tie is not all
it’s cracked up to be. Over the smooth jazz and clinking of silverware,
everyone spoke in a murmur and women wore flashy diamonds and I felt like
I was both sadly inadequate and starving to death. I had anticipated a big
French meal, but the duck I had ordered was just a shaving of meat drizzled
with orange sauce and garnished with a spring of parsley. The martini I got
tasted like pure vermouth, without even a drop of vodka to add some variety
to the foulness.
Steven was all polished in his suit and tie, his face pink from a recent
shave. I so wished that he would finally grow his damn facial hair out and
look like a man. He was the only dude in Bellingham with a clean-shaven
face, I swore, and I couldn’t help it but lust after the many bearded young
men that I saw around. I longed for bristles to prickle my lips when Steven
kissed me, rather than his little girl smooth and aftershave-scented checks.
But his suit was nice. Suits are the lingerie of men.
My sense of alienation approximated how I had felt seeing Steven’s


parents before dinner. They lived in Vancouver and acted tense around me,
like they were afraid of setting off my bipolar psychosis. Every time I saw
them, I felt more and more certain that they knew I was dirty and not good
enough for their son, no matter how hard I tried to act like I was. His dad was
kind of nice in a tense, aloof way, but his mom was a cold turkey of a woman
who was obviously disappointed in Steven’s choice in me. To make matters
worse, Steven was always condescending to me around them, talking to me
like I was an idiot and smiling patronizingly at all my jokes. He only made me
more nervous, so that I tripped over my words and dropped silverware and
trembled like a high-strung Chihuahua.
“Do your parents hate me?” I asked Steven as I swirled orange sauce
around my woefully empty plate with the tines of my fork.
“What? Of course not. They love you,” Steven said irritably.
“Excuse me, waiter?” I piped up as the suited waiter strode by our
table, on his way to assist someone else. All my life I had waited to go to a
place where I could say that. “I don’t like this drink?”
“Oh, I’m sorry.” The waiter scooped up my martini by the stem. “What
was the matter with it?”
“I just didn’t care for the taste. I believe it was mixed incorrectly.”
Steven made a little embarrassed sound. Clearly I was making some
faux pas.
“I’m sorry, ma’am. Would you like to try something else?”
“Um. Maybe an apple martini? They taste nice here, right?”
The waiter smiled courteously but I could tell I annoyed him. “I will
bring you an apple martini.” Then he glanced at Steven with raised eyebrows
and Steven gave this weird little assenting gesture with his hand.
I assumed that it was Steven apologizing to the waiter for my behavior,
being the condescending son of a high-brow bitch that he could be. I was all


irritated with him and couldn’t look him in the eye, so I just glowered down at
my duck.
“What’s wrong, babe?” He smiled at me all hopefully across the table.
“What was that?”
“What was what?”
“You know what I’m talking about.”
He looked lost and I hated how he was so good at playing innocent.
“I’m never good enough for you, am I? I even embarrass you at damn
restaurants.” Apparently I had been letting this sense of inferiority and
resentment build up for a while because tears began spilling out
immediately. “I’m just always an embarrassment.” I slammed my first on the
table, making the silverware bounce and rattle.
“Heather!” Steven hissed, a look on his face that was almost…
The waiter appeared and placed a martini glass garnished with a huge
apple wheel that was probably more food than my entrée had been. And
then I saw the diamond ring nestled at an angle with the glass’s bottom. The
big stone blinked at me.
I gaped at Steven, my hands growing shaky and sweaty. “Steven?”
He gave a hapless shrug, then slid down on his knee at my side. “I
didn’t think I’d be asking you in the middle of a fight but…will you marry
People were looking at us with smiles and I thought I heard an “Aww.”
Then my vision blurred and I swayed a little in my seat. And before I had
time to think, I blurted out a yes.
Steven smiled and then laughed in relief. “You were so mad just a
moment ago, I almost thought you’d say no.” He fished my ring out of my
martini and slid it onto my finger, where all night the inside of it felt sticky
from its alcohol bath.
I was so dizzy with adrenalin and happy surprise that I was lightheaded


and unable to focus for the next few hours. I kept clasping his hands and
kissing him and made him take me home early.
But halfway through our making love, I straddled him and let the street
lights fall in bars across my bare body, and I paused for a minute to take in
the beauty of my ring sparking from my hand pressed on his chest. He
stroked my hair and then ran his fingers all down my neck, my chest, and my
belly, catching the tip of his index finger in my belly button, before letting his
hand fall onto my thigh. And he wore such a peaceful smile of contentment.
Suddenly, I felt such a fool, starting a fight over a gesture that was
clearly just indicating for the waiter to bring my ring. He had had all this set
up. As the thick syrup of guilt overtook me, I lost all desire to keep having
sex. And my delight in my ring was totally overwhelmed by my sense that I
really didn’t deserve it.
I fell down at Steven’s side and began crying.
“What’s wrong now? Dammit, Heather,” Steven groaned. “Can’t you
ever be happy? Seriously, what would it take to make you happy for once?”
His words cut more than he could have ever known. I don’t think
Steven would ever have deliberately wounded me. He did, many times, but it
was because he didn’t know how to handle me. I hadn’t told him any of the
wounds of my past that still bled and made me so insecure in his wonderful,
loving arms. The ring now on my ring finger was only a constant reminder of
how perfect he was and how imperfect I was.
“I am happy,” I sniffled. “I’m crying because I’m happy. I don’t know
what I did to deserve you.”
He pulled me into him and began smothering me in kisses. “Heather,
I’m lucky to have you.”


“No, you’re not. You don’t even seem happy with me. Why would you
propose to me? You’re always saying how I’m never happy and -”
“Heather?” He placed his index finger over my lips, another gesture of
his that he probably didn’t realize was so infuriating and hurtful to me. He
was always cutting me off, shutting me up. “I love you. I want you to be my
wife. I want to live with you, and I know you said you won’t live with me
unless we’re married. So I want to marry you. I want you to have my kids. I
want a baby with you, Heather. You do make me happy.”
I began sobbing harder than before. He groaned and got up. “Heather,
what the hell is it?”
“There’s – there’s stuff I haven’t told you,” I choked out. Here it went,
our whole relationship. “I…I had a baby before.”
He looked taken aback, then muttered something about how he had
thought my stretch marks were because I had been fat before or something.
“And I used to do drugs. I’m not as amazing as you think I am, Steven.
I’m really not. I’m dirty and – and – horrible. And –“
“Heather, we’ve all experimented with drugs in college. It doesn’t
make you a bad person. Shit, if that made you bad, I’d be a bad person, and
you know I’m not.”
“It wasn’t weed and acid, Steven, it was serious shit.”
He shrugged. “I did cocaine a few times. I’m not innocent.”
“I was on meth, Steven. Meth and even heroin for a while. And coke
and pills and you name it, I did it.”
He seemed shocked for a minute, then grunted and said, “Wow, I never
knew. …Well. As long as you’re clean now…?” But he made a swift sweep of
my arms with his eyes. I knew that appraisal too well from my mom. There
was a sudden new distance between us that I desperately wanted to bridge.
Why wasn’t Steven saving me as usual, holding me close and comforting me,


telling me that I was not a tarnished person? Was he having second thoughts
now? So I began to tell him the rest, hoping to justify my descent into drug
addiction with my saga of tragedy after tragedy.
“My parents threw me out and I lost my aunt and then I lost my baby’s
father. And then my baby died too!” I was verging on hysterical as the
floodgates of disclosure opened up. But there was no stopping now, as the
pressure of my repressed past had been building up for too long. I went on to
describe how I had been with abusive Andres, and then I got out only to wind
up at my abusive parents’ again.
“Heather,” Steven finally sighed, getting up and pulling on his briefs. “I
really don’t know what to say.”
“Where are you going?” I sobbed.
“To get some water.” He came back a few moments later and handed
me a water glass. “You’re been through a lot. I wish you would’ve told me. If
you want to make this work, you got to be honest with me. You know? Now I
wonder what else I don’t know about you.”
“You don’t love me anymore, do you?” I sniffled.
“God, Heather, I’m not that shallow. I love you for who you are, not
your past. I’m just a little…surprised, is all.” He pulled the comforter to his
chin and rolled over with his back to me and fell asleep almost immediately,
like he wasn’t really shaken by my confessions at all.
I gulped down the water and laid back. This wasn’t at all how I had
expected things to go down. Steven was so perfect, so why were things
always so disappointing with him? I had always imagined love being
tumultuous; love always had been in my past. But with Steven things were
so blank, so unnervingly calm. My gramma said that was a good thing, that


true love is just like a nice friendship that lasts a lifetime. Well, that is what
Steven and I had, a serene partnership with vague bits of lifeless sex now
and then. But it was not nice. Not all the time. I wondered if I was just too
messed up for true love then, because this was so…boring. I almost would
have preferred it if Steven had exploded at me for keeping things from him
and stormed out of the apartment.
Could I bear spending the rest of my life like this, sleeping against the
wall of Steven’s back, staring miserably at the patterns in his ceiling for
some kind of consolation in my insomnia?
My first taste of marriage had been when Red introduced me to his
daughters as his wife, Heather.
“You’re married?” Andrea peered at me suspiciously. She had a braid
down to her waist and bell earrings that jangled whenever she moved her
“No,” Red said, “but this is the woman I’m going to marry.”
I was just nineteen, and the back of my thigh hurt where Red had given
me my first tattoo, an Aries ram for my April birthday. I felt way too young to
be somebody’s wife. Especially since Red and I had been dating only about a
month. But I was flattered, too, and for the next few weeks, I played the
wife/stepmother role and loved it.
Charlene had agreed to let Red have Andrea and Annalisa for the
summer. We drove all the way to Silver City to get them. Red made me let
him drive, even though it was my car, so that I could duck down in the
passenger seat when we reached Charlene’s. “She’ll be pissed if she sees
how gorgeous you are,” Red told me, to placate my outrage at having to hide


in my own car from my own boyfriend’s baby mama.
From the floor of the passenger seat, I couldn’t see Charlene, but I
didn’t need to see her to know that she had a much nicer and much more
tattooed body than me. Red had shown me nude pictures he still had of her,
even one where she was doggie style with coke all down her spine. I hated
her. And I hated her shrill voice as she called bye to the girls and told them
to call her if they needed her to come get them. She seemed so certain that
Red wouldn’t have them for the whole six weeks.
Red buckled the little girls into the backseat. Analisa was still in pullups and pigtails but he didn’t even use a carseat for her. “Who’s that?”
Andrea asked, spotting me right away. She didn’t even seem afraid of the
strange girl crouched in the passenger seat of the strange car she was in.
Had Red done this before?
That’s when Red told her that I was his new wife.
We drove out to the cabin at the edge of the Gila where Red had been
born without even a midwife in the midst of a violent snowstorm in the
seventies. As he told us the tale of his birth, Andrea demanded to know why
Nana hadn’t gone to the hospital. “Nana was a hippie,” Red declared proudly,
“she didn’t believe in hospitals.”
“That’s dumb,” Andrea said, kicking the back of my seat. “Mom went
to the hospital when she had us.”
“Yes, she did. But Nana did it the natural way. She chewed valerian root
and drank opium tea to help with the pain and she pushed me out into a
metal pan.”
“Opium tea? While she was pregnant with you?” I gasped.
“Yeah, that’s why I turned out so great.” He grinned at me and I had to
laugh. But I always wondered if that was why Red had such a problem with


The cabin was one tiny room with a hard packed earth floor. I felt
ghosts squeeze in close around me as Red made the girls help him sweep
out all the trash and spider webs that had accumulated in the corners.
“Looks like someone’s been living in here,” he grumbled, as he poked the
fireplace that was full of half-burnt logs. “Mother fuckin’ squatters.”
“I wanna see Nana,” Andrea whined.
“We’ll go to Nana’s in a bit,” Red said. “First we gotta make lunch.” He
stoked up a fire in a pit outside of the cabin and told me to not worry about
the burn ban because forest rangers usually didn’t come out this far. Then
we cooked hot dogs over the fire. Analisa’s fell off her stick into the ash and
she cried until I slid a new one on for her. “Tank you,” she smiled at me.
“It’s thank you,” Andrea told her irritably.
“I think it’s cute that way she says it,” I told Andrea.
Analisa smiled at me sweetly. After that she was especially attached to
Red’s mom, Geraldine, lived in a trailer a little ways up the road from
the cabin. Her walls were stained sickly yellow with cigarette smoke and it
was hard to find places to sit among all the crap she hoarded. She didn’t
even smile at me when Red introduced me as his new wife, just demanded,
“And how old are you, Heather? Twelve?”
“Nineteen.” I laughed.
“I’d like to see some ID. Red here has a problem with underage girls.”
“Ma, knock it off.” Red didn’t like to talk about the seventeen-year-old
girl whose parents had pressed statutory rape charges on him a few years
We stayed for dinner. I felt weird about eating the elk sausage
spaghetti Geralidine made, when feral cats roamed her kitchen and her


garbage was overflowing putrid meat wrappers. But it was surprisingly good.
Geraldine finally thawed slightly toward me and showed me and the
girls pictures of Red’s sister, Irene, back when she was in grade school. The
pictures stopped abruptly when she was about eleven. “There are some evil
men in this world,” Geraldine’s voice took on a higher pitch, “some evil, evil
men! They plumb took her, just snatched her up. She was walking down to
the school bus and they took her and we never saw her again.” She snapped
the photo album shut. “And I know the bastards that did it. Irene came and
told me in my sleep!”
“Who?” Andrea gasped, her eyes round.
Red’s mom said some names, adding what bastards they were, driving
around in their truck raping little girls. “Irene tried to lead me to where her
body is buried, too, but my Lord wouldn’t let me find it. He knew it would be
too hard on me. Oh, it was so hard living in that damn cabin. Irene wouldn’t
leave me alone in there! And I thought I’d have peace when Jared Senior
bought me this dang house, but oh no! She still visits me in my sleep!”
That night, Andrea couldn’t sleep because she was so afraid of Irene’s
ghost. “Nana just likes to tell stories,” Red assured her, but she was still
scared. So we let her climb into our sleeping bag and snuggle between us.
She rested her head in the crook of my elbow and she was so toasty that I
was burning up in the sleeping bag. Plus now Red and I couldn’t sneak out
and make love in the forest like we had wanted to. But it felt so nice, to have
this little child trusting me like a mom.
And a few days later, when we were on the river tipping precariously
from side to side in a makeshift raft Red had fashioned out of boards and


pallets lying around the property, little Analisa grabbed my arm and said,
“Hold me, Mama!” After that I was “Mama” to her. I realize now that the little
voice she would call me “Mama” in is the same voice I hear when I imagine
Lily calling me that.
For the first time in my life, I wanted to become a mom. I just had no
clue that I would be in a little over a year.
That whole vacation went beautifully for a week. Then Andrea started
to get bored and Analisa started to whine for her real mom. Geraldine let
them use her phone to call Charlene, and Andrea accidentally let it slip that
“Daddy’s new wife fell into the water!” when she was telling her about our
rafting adventure. She demanded to speak to Red, and screamed at him
about how she was coming to get the girls and about how she saw my
picture on Facebook and I looked like an underage druggie whore and she
was not going to let Red neglect the girls in order to fuck me all the time!
And a little over an hour later, she whizzed up to Geraldine’s porch,
screaming some more at Red in fury as she jerked the girls into the backseat
by their arms. They were crying but they didn’t even say bye to Red or me.
Red came back into the house, dejected. “Well so much for having my
girls back,” he said, and then he collapsed onto a stack of magazines on a
chair in tears.
Geraldine just smirked from the couch where she was spinning wool to
tie-dye. “I told you bringing Heather here would just be trouble.”
“So this is my fault?” I cried. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Geraldine sighed. “No, hun, but Charlene is one crazy bitch. I warned
you, Red, I warned you and I warned you!”
“Fuck this shit!” Red jumped up. “Heather, c’mon, we’re going home!”


Geraldine followed us down to the cabin and cried about how Red
didn’t love her as Red hurled our sleeping bags and clothes and cooler into
the car. And then we took off while she yelled after the car.
He never did propose to me and I never was the woman he married.
Nor was I able to be “Mama,” either to his girls or my own daughter later on.
My little taste of being a wife and mother was just that, a little taste.
Between writing cover letters to countless jobs and finding space for
my stuff in Steven’s neat IKEA palace and picking through bridal catalogs to
find something tolerable for our wedding, I finally understood how a chicken
feels with its head cut off.
Somehow, we had made it this far. I had even gone through Steven’s
Facebook and phone while he slept beside me, hoping in a sick way to find
evidence that this really was all a sham so that I could at last sleep well
without worrying about when and how this might fall apart. But besides some
vaguely flirty texts with a few women, there was nothing I could break up
with him over. And nothing suspicious turned up in his place while I moved
in. Either he was really good at hiding things, or he was as perfect as his lintfree suits and gum-scented breath. I almost wanted to cheat on him and
leave a condom wrapper on the floor or get a hickie on my neck, just to
finally make him lose his composure. To finally end the suspense about what
would ruin us, once and for all.
He came in from work one day while I was looking at wedding gowns
with a total lack of thrill. “Hi, baby,” he kissed me lovingly on the top of the
head. “How was your day?”
“Long,” I sighed. “Still no word from any jobs.”
“Aw, I’m sorry.”


“How was your day, honey?”
He popped the top off a Shocktop and heaved himself into the couch.
“Long, too,” he sighed. I scooted next to him to kiss his neck and rub his
shoulders, and he rubbed my feet. “Heather?” he asked suddenly.
“Hmm?” His hair was growing a little and cowlicks were popping all
over his head; I weaved my hand through one, imagining how his hair would
like all long and curly, like in his Jewfro pictures from middle school.
“Who’s Manny D. Rodriquez?”
“Oh, uh, he was a good friend from mine from New Mexico….Why, did
you see him on Facebook or something?”
“Well, look at this.” Steven held up his phone and I saw he was on my
photos on my Facebook. He swiped through all my selfies, pointing out how
Manny D. Rodriguez had liked every single one. He was the only like on a few
of my selfies, even. “Why is he always creeping on your page?”
“I don’t know, I think he’s just being nice. Why? Are you jealous?”
“No,” Steven laughed condescendingly. “I just found it odd. He’s aware
that you are taken, right?”
“Of course! Everyone knows. It says in my profile that I’m engaged to
you, after all.”
“But have you actually told him that we’re engaged?”
In truth, I had not. But I lied and shrugged yes. “What do you think, I’m
keeping you a secret?”
“So you had a conversation with him about being with me?”
“Steven, come on. There’s nothing going on with this guy.”
“Was there at one time, though? There’s a lot of things you didn’t tell
me before, so I want to make sure there isn’t anything you left out of your
I was flabbergasted. My story? My life story? Of course there was shit I
had left out. And maybe Manuel had once liked me. But there was no way he
still did, after over a year apart. “I can’t believe you just said that.”


“What? It’s a serious question. If you had nothing to hide, you wouldn’t
be so upset, right?” I didn’t like the weird hardness that I had never before
seen in Steven’s eyes.
“I’m upset because of what you just said, not about Manuel. Seriously,
Steven. I opened up to you big time. I shared things that were very hard for
me to share with even my therapist.”
“Oh, babe, you know I didn’t mean it like that.” Steven kissed my
forehead. “Don’t be upset. Just make it clear to this guy that you are taken,
OK?” He kissed my forehead again. “And Heather?”
“What?” I was trying to forgive him but I was still bristling.
“You smell like cigarette smoke. We talked about you quitting. Are you
still serious about that?”
“OK. I just really don’t like the smell, OK, honey?”
“OK.” And suddenly I wanted a cigarette more than anything in my life.
“I love you.” He kissed my forehead a final time and then took a swig
of his beer and started toggling the PS4 controller to play a game. He always
played Gears of War to decompress after work, while I just sat around bored,
waiting for my turn to put on a Netflix show or a movie.
I wanted to smash everything in the neat, plain little apartment we
now shared. The complex had seemed so nice, with its pool and its balconies.
Steven’s huge bed had long been a sort of comfy cradle to me, a place to
stretch out after a year of being cramped in my gramma’s houseboat. I liked
the simplicity of Steven’s decorating, or rather lack thereof, as the place was
a blank canvas for me to fill. But at that moment, I just wanted to destroy
everything, to create chaos in the stifling mediocrity and perfection.
Steven was a square, in every sense of the term, and I was one of
those weird, incongruous shapes that doesn’t even make it into the


quadrilateral family. He didn’t even like me being on top in the bedroom, and
he refused to go down on me, like I was some gross piece of meat that had
fallen on the floor and wasn’t fit to be anywhere near his mouth. He wouldn’t
let me smoke, and he wouldn’t let me drink more than two cocktails
whenever we went out. Definitely no entire bottles of wine to myself. He
hated my music and requested that I listen to it on headphones. And now he
acted like my old friends were threats to our relationship. And yet I wore his
ring on my finger.
“Steven?” I clambered onto his lap, pushing the controller out of the
“Babe? What are you doing?” he laughed.
“Eat me out.” This was the only way I could create chaos, without
destroying the apartment.
He scowled. “Heather, you know how I feel about that.”
“We’re getting married. And I want you to eat me out.”
“Heather! You’re acting ridiculous.”
“Do it. Why won’t you do it? Is it because you think I’m gross?”
He rolled his eyes. “We’ve been through this before.”
“I’m about to be your wife. Why won’t you do one little thing for me?
Put aside your prudishness for once, and do this. For me.”
“Heather.” His eyes were hard again. “I just want to play my game and
relax. I’m not in the mood for this at all.”
I jumped off his lap and, laughing bitterly, I reached for my purse. “I
bet Manny would eat me out. Manny used to be crazy about me. Which
you’re clearly not.”
Steven stared at me with his mouth hanging open as I removed a
cigarette from the pack in my purse. Then I winked at him as I went outside
for a smoke.
Later that night, I went to unfriend Manuel, just to appease Steven’s


apparent suspicions. But when I looked on Manuel’s grinning pumpkin face, I
couldn’t bear to. Manuel had become my single good memory from my time
in Reid. His enduring affection of me, despite my many imperfections and
mistakes, was something I was not accustomed to. Even Steven had grown
weird hearing about my meth addiction, but Manuel never had judged me for
that. And Steven would have surely balked had I told him about how I was
Vincey’s side bitch for months, whereas Manuel was able to look past it.
Looking back, I think that’s the point where Steven and I were truly
over. I secretly knew it, somewhere deep in my heart, where a little voice
cried, “Fatally incompatible, fatally incompatible! Danger!” But I wanted him
to be The One so badly, to elevate me into a new life, that it took me a little
bit longer to fully admit that we were done.
The one-year anniversary of Lily’s still birthday was a rending day, but
not as terrible as I had imagined. And her second birthday, spent with
Gramma, had been mournful, but bearable.
But for some reason, the third anniversary really hit me. I skipped class
and called into work and spent the day languishing in bed, letting out every
tear that oozed like blood from the crack in my heart. I liked to imagine that
Lily would have been proud of me, clean, two months from graduation, about
to work for a needle exchange clinic, engaged to a lawyer. But I knew that
she would have seen how miserable I was, and she would not have been
Steven texted me that he was working late. He didn’t even know what
today was. I was relieved, because now he wouldn’t be here to judge me as I
drowned my sorrow in alcohol. I bought a whole bottle of gin and two bottles


of juice and I sat on the balcony drinking in the cold.
I was so heavy-hearted, imagining little Analisa’s voice in Lily’s body,
calling me Mama. She was now the age where she could call me Mama, too,
and outstretch little arms at me, and giggle, and clap fat, sticky toddler
hands together in delight over things she liked. Why couldn’t she be here?
When the world got sickeningly dizzy after my fourth gin and juice which was
more gin than juice, I threw myself on the bed, hoping to find some stability
to the spinning. My phone dinged. And I checked it to try to distract myself,
hoping maybe it was Steven finally coming through to save me with a
suggestion of a fancy dinner or something. Or at least my parents, who
hadn’t even called to see how I was doing on my hardest day of the year.
It was a Facebook message from Manuel. “Hi Heather. Hope you’re
doing ok. I remember what today is and if you need anything hmu.”
He remembered. He actually remembered. I had only told him once,
nearly a year and a half ago, when my little angel had died. And he
Then my gramma called. She remembered, too.
At least there were two people in the world who cared about me, about
I stumbled out to the balcony for yet another drink.
I woke up in the middle of the night with a strange lucidity that had
escaped me for so long. Steven was stretched alongside me, as reliable as
the misery of Monday mornings. Lily’s spirit was there, so strongly present
that she nearly felt like a living and breathing person in the room. “You are so
unhappy, Mama,” I felt her whisper to me through the darkness. “Don’t cry,
Mama. I want you to smile.” And I imagined her stepping out of the shadows


to hand me a piece of candy and shine a smile at me.
I packed quietly. Because of all my moving around, I really didn’t have
much stuff. Most of my things were either still at my parents’, awaiting the
day when I would finally get my own place and the will to go fetch it all, while
several other items still lay around my gramma’s. I knew my gramma would
have me back, much the way she had when I had first needed to flee Reid
and its meth chokehold.
I almost wanted to just sneak away, to disappear out of Steven’s life.
The idea of hurting him was too much to bear, and I instead longed to leave
and avoid the whole terrible confrontation.
But he deserved an explanation.
Should I write him a letter? I wondered.
“No, no, you need to wake him up,” Lily whispered to me through the
shadows in the room.
So I shook him awake.
“What is it, Heather?” He seemed mad.
“I need to talk to you.”
“We’ll talk in the morning,” he growled. “When you’re in your right
“What are you talking about? I’m in my right mind. My mind is more
right than it’s been in months,” I replied.
“I know you’re drunk. I found you on the balcony with a bottle of
liquor,” he replied coldly. “Now, please, I’d like to go back to sleep now. We’ll
talk in the morning, if you still have anything to say.” He squashed his face
back into the pillow, squeezing his eyes tight shut.
“No.” I shook him again. “We’re talking now.”
“God dammit, what is it?” He jerked up, ripping the comforter off his
I found a huge block had formed in my throat. He just looked so angry.
And I hated him. But I loved him, too. He didn’t deserve this. No one


deserved dealing with me. “I have to leave, Steven. There’s no room for me
in your life. I can’t be the person you want me to be. I – I have to go.”
I’ll never forget the look on his face, as if I had just sucker punched
him. I still feel like an asshole for that. And I almost crumpled into his arms,
almost took it back. But, no, I had to escape this imploding hell.
I slid off my engagement ring, thanked him for his role in my life, and
gave him a sentimental lingering kiss on the forehead. Then, I left.
I saw him again a few weeks later, when he was finally strong enough
to call and say I had left some stuff behind. He was clearly a wreck; I felt a
sick twinge of pleasure at seeing him not perfect and pristinely shaved for
once. All our relationship I had longed for his facial scruff to grow wild and
tickle my face and the insides of my thighs. Now that we were over, I
couldn’t feel his final surrender to scruffiness. Well, whatever. He would
never have eaten me out anyway.
“How have you been?” I ventured, knowing fully well how he had been.
He shrugged, gave a mirthless half-laugh. “OK. As OK as someone can
be in this situation.”
I started to apologize, then bit my lip. Why lie and act like this break-up
had not been a release from a chokehold for me? Why break my mantra and
apologize for how I felt? Being with Steven had made me forget about my
mantras and now I was taking my life back. At last I could be myself, even
smoking out on Gramma’s deck again.
“I’m moving to Dallas, actually,” he said.
“Wow, really?” I was both hurt and relieved to see that he was already
moving on from me. His career had always been of paramount importance to
“Yeah. I was actually going to tell you while you were – while you were


still here. But, uh, well anyway, I leave in July.”
So I could have moved to Texas in summer, and left behind my beloved
West Coast for the stagnant air and flat landscape of the central mainland.
How long could I have played that charade before breaking down? Seriously,
if Lily’s soul had not come to me begging me to finally take care of myself,
how long would we have lasted? Would we have actually gotten married?
What would our wedding have been like? Likely as unoriginal as his martini
proposal, and as far away from my wild elopement in Vegas fantasy as his
new job in Dallas.
“I’m proud of you,” he told me.
“For what?”
“For graduating, for getting your job.” I recognized the sentimental
glint in his eyes and my heart broke a little. “I get why you left, and I want
you to know that there are no hard feelings.”
“It wasn’t you-“
“No, it wasn’t. But I get it.”
My high school graduation was a sickly haze of meth and weed that
made me feel like a rotisserie chicken inside my graduation cap and gown
under the assault of the Las Cruces June heat. I had a sore throat from
coughing on a bong and rolling a pookie with Spaghetti in the park right
before the ceremony. And that yucky meth chemical taste in the back of my
throat was swelling into an unmanageable, evil monster of foul stink. I can
only imagine how bad my breath must have stunk.
My parents were painfully absent. But at least Aunt Pearl was there, all
glammed up in her leopard print stilettos. And Keegan sat on my other side,
his guitar case beside his seat and his program glaring pink from his lap. He


said he was worried about how flushed and sweaty I was, as I couldn’t even
hold his hand because my palm was so slippery. Aunt Pearl heard his
expression of concern and only looked away quickly, with a sort of pain
fleeting across her face that suggested she suspected that I was high. I don’t
think Keegan ever guessed that I had ever puffed anything besides bud at
I began feeling dizzier and dizzier as the ceremony stretched from
hours into eons. Sometimes I thought I might actually throw up or faint; other
times, gripping the sides of my chair so hard that it turned my knuckles
white and left itchy grooves inside my fingers for hours after, I felt the world
steady a bit and I swore that I would be OK.
Finally, they announced my name, and I got up to accept my diploma
and shake the principal’s hand. Music was playing, loud techno that mingled
eerily with the spitty announcer over the loudspeakers doing his roll call of
names and the clapping and cheering of the spectators. Suddenly everything
swam around me and I knew for sure that I was not going to be OK.
And, Phoomp! I fainted right by the podium. The whole line of
graduates behind me clustered around me. Some annoying Hispanic girl that
had been in several of my classes was laughing. I came to with their strange,
concerned faces peering down at me, half annoyed and half worried. The
whole ceremony had halted, as people asked if I needed an ambulance or
something. “Is she diabetic?” a whale of a mom who looked diabetic herself
Then Keegan appeared and helped me up. I got weak at the knees
again and keeled over to dry heave. My mouth was just too dry for me to


throw up, and I felt almost like I was going to choke to death. “I think I got
heat stroke,” I tried to say, which was probably true, but only because of my
“Let’s get you home,” Keegan said.
Aunt Pearl remained curiously noncommittal about the whole thing as
she propped me up in my bed with two fans trained on me and set a gallon
jug of water with some ice cubes within easy reach.
My college graduation was like a sweet do-over opportunity, except
Aunt Pearl was not there to see me actually excel. I like to think that she saw
it all from Heaven, though, grinning her funny pointed teeth in pride. What I
would have given to have looked out across the faces in the crowd and seen
her watching me, and with my daughter on her knee in a pretty dress and
pigtails. And I would have liked to have seen my parents, but they couldn’t
even call me, why would they come to my graduation?
But at least Gramma was there. And Manuel sat with her. I had invited
him, needing to see a genuine smile for once. When he said he would come, I
sensed that everything was going to turn out just fine. He was like a reliable
porch swing, sturdy and comforting after a long day at work or school.
Life was now an ocean, lapping at the tips of my toes. It seemed like
life was just beginning and I was scared to swim into it; yet I knew that I had
been living all along, that actually I had lived a very full life by the age of
twenty-three, and I was going to rock it. If I actually wanted to.
Manuel was enamored with my upcoming career, proud of my
graduation, and awed by the sheer verdant beauty of Washington. He
actually remembered shit about me and fawned over my life with the interest
that I had always searched for in Vincey, Andres, Dylan, Keegan, and finally


Steven. Each one of my exes had always had their own agenda or their own
shit going on, and didn’t even seem to really listen when I spoke. I always
wondered why they had that interest for other girls but never me, and I
figured that there was something inherently wrong with me. But Manuel had
held that interest for me since Day One, when he had first swallowed my
hand within his as he introduced himself and welcomed me to Reid, New
I felt like I was at the top of Mount Everest when I hurled my cap into
the air. With it I hurled all my past, all the stress, the strife, and the
stagnation of not meeting my goals. What now? Enjoy life, travel the world,
and have a family, I supposed. My gramma clapped and Manuel whooped.
We went to dinner at my restaurant. All my co-workers congratulated
me with big smiles and said that they would miss me since I was leaving in
two weeks for my needle clinic job. We had sake delivered warm to our table
and began to toss back bowls of the liquor between sushi rolls that we
dipped in bowls of soy sauce and ginger. Manuel didn’t know how to use
chopsticks and Gramma tried to teach him but his enormous and scarred
welder’s hands were too clumsy. She finally gave up.
“Do you want to go out for a cigarette?” Manuel asked me.
“Sure.” I smiled and excused myself from the table.
We leaned against the brick wall outside the restaurant. We both still
smoked menthol Pall Mall 100s.
“You know, I have to tell you, I’m really proud of you,” Manuel told me.
I blushed. “I’m proud of you, too. You’re almost done with your
program, too, huh?”
He smiled. “Not really. Three years left.”
“They’ll fly by.”
“I should transfer up here. I like Washington.”
“Oh, that would be awesome.”


“For reals? You’d like it if I were closer?”
“Absolutely. I missed you.”
He smiled. “I’m so glad you wanted to talk to me again. I thought you
hated me after you left.”
“Well, you pissed me off,” I laughed. “Accusing me of using you for
He just looked sad. “I’m sorry, girl. That was so stupid of me to say. I
really didn’t mean it, I was just lashing out cuz, you know, I was hurt.”
“I get it. I’m over it.”
“I’m still sorry. You know I have never gotten over how much I liked
you, Heather.”
My blush was hot and my hands started trembling. I dropped my
cigarette onto my toe and cried out and kicked it off into the street.
“Shit, are you all right?” Manuel gasped.
“Fine,” I grumbled.
“Listen, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be hitting on you when you just split up
with – with Steven.” Uttering Steven’s name seemed difficult for him. “But I
just need you to know that I’m still here for you. And if you ever wanted to,
well, you know, be with me, I am here.”
“It’s OK, Heather.” He heled his hands up. “I didn’t just come here to
hook up with you.”
“I know, Manny.” And out of a sudden urge to be near him, I collapsed
into his chest. My cigarette fizzled out in the wet street and Manuel’s burned
down to the filter unsmoked and the whole city fell still around us as we held
each other for what felt like ages.
When I pulled away from him, I felt as if my soul had had a nice, long,
cool drink after years of thirst. “I don’t know what to say. But I like you,
Manny, I really do. I always have. I just…didn’t let myself feel it. It scared me,
I guess.” And as I wished that the kind lie I was telling Manuel to let him


down gently was true, I began to consider that actually it was. Like the way I
hadn’t been able to delete him off my Facebook, like the way my memories
with him in them were the only ones from Reid that made me smile. He was
actually perfect. Not in a flawless, superficial way like Steven, but in a more
real way, a kind and gentle and imperfect way.
He smiled gently and brushed my hair back from my face. “You always
look so sad.”
“I want to make you happy. I want to make you smile. I’ll wait for you,
Heather. I’ve waited two years, I can wait however many more you need.”
“I don’t want to make you wait forever. There are probably a trillion
better girls….”
“Stop it, Heather. I ain’t hot like my brother but I’m not a bad-looking
guy. I had a few girls in Colorado. And none of them were like you, Heather. I
love you. I always have. That’s why I’m here! I’m here for you. And I’m ready
to come up here and start a life for you. You know how much I prayed you
wouldn’t marry Steven? It wasn’t just so I could get with you. Shit, I know my
chances with you are small as a flea. But I could tell that guy wasn’t right for
you and you weren’t happy. And now that I have my chance, I want to try to
make you happy, Heather. You – you been with all these guys. Like my
brother. They treat you like shit and you deserve better than that.”
He looked at me with such overwhelming emotion in his face. And then
I seized his face and kissed him. His lips were so soft, like the lips of a teddy
bear if teddy bears could kiss. Never before in my life had I felt so complete.
I broke away. “We better go inside.”
“Yeah – yeah,” he stammered in shock.
Back inside, Gramma gave me the white bear that now sits on my


dresser, its stitched smile and wide-spread arms a happy reminder of her
kindness. And Manny gave me a calligraphy pen set. “For your writing,” he
told me.
“Well, it’s past my bedtime,” Gramma rose and began adjusting her
“I’ll come home later,” I told her.
She nodded in understanding and gave me a long hug before going out
to her car.
“Do you want to do anything?” Manuel asked awkwardly.
“We could check out a room with a hot tub,” I smiled. I knew that it
was time to be with him, to add him to my life. I was done waiting for a good
guy and I was done being hard-hearted and alone. I was ready to want
Manny, to finally want something rational, like Alaniz Morrissette says in
“Head Over Heels.”
Manny seemed to go weak at the knees, an expression I recognized
because I used to adore making guys go weak like that in college. I would
always seek out the more spineless guys, the ugly ones, the ones with little
boy syndrome, so that I could reduce them to stammering and quaking.
I jiggled in impatience as he called each motel, “Do you have any
vacancies? OK, how much for a room? Oh, and, uh, do you have a hot tub?”
He finally found one and drove me there in an old, clangy charcoal Ford with
the name of his welding business emblazoned on the doors. I felt proud of
him. The Manuel Rodriguez of my memory had driven his mom’s beat-up
yellow truck and had no money and certainly no business of his own.
But then it dawned on me that it must work the other way, too. Surely
Manuel found me indistinguishable from the college dropout, gas station
drone, meth addict whore whom he had met at his party and watched fuck


around with his brother.
And yet, somehow, we were both out of New Mexico, with our shit
together, and still able to talk easily despite our new interests. In fact, we
were able to talk better now, without drugs always between us. Manuel
didn’t even smoke weed anymore, despite his former worship of the plant,
because he was so serious about getting good contract jobs. I guess I could
have smoked weed if I had wanted to, but with my cleanliness and
dedication to school and finding a new career, I had just practically forgotten
about it as a recreational choice.
So, we had grown up, changed, cleaned up. We were finally clearheaded. But we were still the same people. That was how we were able to
connect on our new levels. It was amazing.
A growing urgency in my chest had been building since I had kissed
him outside the grill. Now it was thumping at a fever pitch as he held the
door for me into the motel lobby. “Whatever your mom did wrong with
Vincey, she did right with you,” I half-joked as I thanked him for his chivalry.
He just laughed.
We didn’t last too long in the hot tub. I slid off my towel and revealed
that I was naked, since I didn’t have a swimsuit, and Manuel’s jaw dropped. I
lazed in the water opposite him a few minutes, waiting, teasing, and he
quickly crossed over next to me and began caressing me under the roiling
water. No one else was with us in the pool area so we began to make out. It
was far sexier than I had ever imagined with Manuel.
“Let’s go,” he said suddenly.
He pulled me by the hand. As soon as we entered the air conditioned
pristine of the pastel room, Manuel had me against the wall. I was cold where
the AC hit my wet skin and hair, but warm where Manuel covered me in his


muscular mass. His unusual aggression as he growled deep in his throat and
pinned me in place with his pelvis thrilled me. He even left a hickie on my
chest that I cherished for days after. I hadn’t had a hickie in forever; Steven
certainly never got rough enough to leave me one. I had no idea how good
Manuel was in bed. When I commented on his aggression, he stopped.
“Sorry, I was just so excited. Lost control of myself a bit,” he said
“Don’t be sorry, I love it.” And I seized him, mauling him in my own
aggressive kisses and digging the way he moaned.
Over a continental breakfast of cereal in little boxes with peel-off film
tops, crumbly blueberry muffins, hard yellow unripe bananas, and coffee
from a bar coated in spilled creamer and sugar granules, we didn’t feel the
least bit awkward. After being with Steven and Dylan and even sometimes
Vincey, I remember being too shy to really meet their eyes. But after how
surprisingly great Manuel was the night before, I found things curiously
normal and calm. Wonderful.
He smiled at me. I smiled back.
“Let’s look into places. I’ll start researching now,” he told me.
I advised him what areas to consider, what not to. “I’ll look too,” I
When he drove away that afternoon to go back to work in Denver, the
world lost a little bit of its luster.
Little did I know, I was already pregnant.

Chapter Nine: Diego
My first move to New Mexico had been when I was just barely thirteen,
feeling older than I really was in my little non-virgin huddle of pregnancy


fear. The rainy wet green of Washington was all I had ever known, so I was
not prepared for the wild, dramatic beauty of the sheer cliffs, sparse
vegetation, and the endless horizons. At first I thought it was ugly there.
Now, I was more grateful to see it again, like it was an old friend from
high school I was catching up with briefly. All the mountains and plains, the
purple of the dusty distance and the yellowness of the grass, the pygmy
trees and tumbleweeds amid the savanna grass, were beautiful
reaffirmations of what I had come to wonder was merely a pretty and bizarre
nightmare I had woken up from in Washington.
Manuel and I were going back to Reid to fetch Lily’s baby stuff from my
parents’ attic. I was due in eight weeks. When I clutched my belly and felt my
little son doing tae-kwon-doe on my womb, I always begged him not to die
on me like his big sister had. It became practically an OCD ritual that served
little purpose other than some temporary reassurance to my worries. It didn’t
work, though. I knew I wouldn’t feel better until Diego was born healthy, and
even then I sensed that I would forever be overprotective and worried about
this little boy, now that I knew how swiftly lives can just be snuffed out like
candles in the wind. He was the most precious thing in my life, next to
Manuel. Manuel was my best friend.
We had been living together for a few months now. Our two-bedroom
left us broke at the end of each month but at least little Diego had his own
little nursery. I had not bought baby things or decorated yet. The idea of
fixing up a nursery with the joy and excitement with which I had fixed up
Lily’s nursery, only to have to tear it all down and dismantle the crib weeks
later, was a heartbreak I couldn’t bear to go through again. I remember how


eager I had been, assembling the pretty white crib in Andres’s room, doing
all the work myself while he was picking up a twenty-sack. And how hard I
had cried, seeing that crib after I got back from the hospital, destined to be
empty forever. I had had Andres pack everything up and sell some of it and
stow the rest out of sight in the garage, ignoring the offers of his various
pregnant family members “to take it off my hands.” Then I had taken it to my
parents’ after I left Andres. And now, I was going to fetch it all for little Diego.
I couldn’t put off decorating the nursery forever. But I was so scared that the
crib was now somehow cursed, and bringing it home for Diego would
somehow be bad luck.
My mom and dad didn’t have anything good to say about Manuel, but
they didn’t have anything bad to say either. They couldn’t exactly pack me
up and move me like before when they didn’t like my love interest. To avoid
shit with Mom, I agreed to stay the night at their house, in my little yellow
room, on my old mattress. Meanwhile, Manuel’s mom was devastated at the
idea of him not staying with her, after being so far away for so long, and so
he was staying with her. I almost relished the idea of a whole bed to myself
for a change. As comfortable of a body pillow as Manuel was, my giant belly
made me toss and turn in discomfort anyway, and I felt guilty all the time for
thrashing around disturbing Manuel. At least Manuel was a heavy sleeper,
able to snore his way through a nuclear holocaust. Sometimes I resented
that. Insomnia had begun to plague me again with the baby; I would stay up
all night worrying that Diego would be strangled by the cord too, or I would
get hit by a car and lose him, or he would just pass away in my hostile womb


and nobody would ever know why, or I would go into eclampsia and he and I
would both perish.
Reid was even drabber and dumpier in the January brightness than in
my memories. Presiding over it all from Capitol Hill was my parents’ house of
horrors, looking even sadder and more desolate than I remembered it.
We went to Manuel’s first and spent a few hours vegging on the couch,
recovering from the two-day drive. Diego was not happy with me for making
him endure that ride; he was kicking up a fury. I briefly worried that maybe
the stress of the journey had hurt him, or somehow damaged his cognitive
development, perhaps predisposing him for a host of mental illnesses that
were already in the cards for him thanks to my genes. I even briefly panicked
that this long road trip had increased the chances of stillbirth.
A stream of people I hadn’t talked to in years came in and out of the
house to say hi to Manuel and check out my belly to see if he really had
knocked me up.
“Aren’t you two going to get married?” demanded his gramma, a
monstrous Mexican woman with a prominent black mole beside her nose that
quivered as she talked, and another prominent black mole on her upper lip
that was stained brown by her wet-looking lipstick.
“We’re waiting until we can have a nice wedding,” Manuel explained.
“I want to wait till our son is old enough to be our ring bearer,” I told
She laughed and shook her head. “You young ones, always needing a
fancy wedding. We could have a very nice little wedding for you two here,”
she said. Then she gave me a sharp look. “That baby better have my
grandson’s last name.”
“I was thinking I would name him Diego Rodriguez Henderson,” I said.


That was more traditionally Spanish, to give the child both the mother’s and
father’s surnames.
The gramma looked taken aback, then grinned. “Diego, huh? Aye.” And
she smiled and winked at Manuel. “Diego was his grandfather’s name.”
“And my middle name,” Manuel reminded her.
“Oh, si, si.”
“I always knew you’d do the right thing,” Mrs. Rodriguez chimed in.
“You and Vincent, oh, I just kept hoping you wouldn’t settle down with that
one. I knew Manny was the one for you.”
“Ma,” Manuel said crossly, “stop it.”
“Oh, why?! It’s true! I took one look at her when she first came over
here and I says to myself, ‘This one would be good for Manny.’”
I smiled at Manuel and he avoided my eyes out of embarrassment.
“You two should do what Maybel and her man did, run down to the
courthouse and just get married,” Mrs. Rodriguez went on as she lit a
cigarette. My mouth watered for one but I had been doing everything so right
for this baby that I hadn’t touched a cigarette since my last missed period.
Manuel had actually proposed we get married real quick at the
courthouse when he first moved in with me and I figured out I was six weeks
late and peed on a stick. As soon the two pink lines formed, I had felt sick
déjà vu. It took a while for me to feel normal again. Manuel kept holding me
and saying it was OK and this time he would be here for me. We lived kind of
a shitty area of town but affordable and we were happy there, cooking every
night and rubbing each other’s feet and asking each other about our days
while Hulu Plus or Netflix played. Life was good. But I felt so hurt when he
proposed we get married without a wedding, or even getting down on one
knee with a rock. Did he value me as little as every other guy I had ever


been with? So I had gotten mad and made it very clear that he either value
me like a queen and give me a fancy wedding and propose with a ring, or
else he could get out of my life. I knew by now that as much as I liked him
and as terrified of being pregnant as I was, I would survive fine without him. I
needed somebody to make me happy, not someone to give me the cheapest
scraps of their love that they could get away with. And Manuel had agreed to
wait until after the baby, when he could save up money for the kind of ring
and wedding that I deserved.
The door swung open and I somehow knew it would be Vincey before I
even saw him. Seeing him made me a bit weak-kneed and dizzy. He still
looked delicious, but his chocolate shaving curls had melted with grease and
the lines on his face had deepened significantly since I had seen him last. His
jail time and legal battle had worn him the way his years of meth use had
“Heather,” he nodded at me.
“Brother,” Manuel said, standing up to give him one of those backthumping man hugs.
“Did you get my damn laundry done?” demanded Mrs. Rodriguez.
“Not yet, damn,” Vincey snapped. “Can’t I say what’s up to my bro
She waved at him irritably with her cigarette, while the gramma laid
into Vincey in rapid Spanish for being disrespectful.
“Whatever,” he rolled his eyes, then fixated on my belly. “Due pretty
soon, aren’t you?” he asked while his gramma was still scolding him.
“Eight weeks left,” I said, patting my tummy.
“He’ll be a Valentine’s baby,” the gramma nodded approvingly. “Just
like Carlos.”
I didn’t know who Carlos was. Manuel’s family was so massive that I


still didn’t know everyone in it.
“Nephew,” Vincey patted my tummy for a minute, rendering my whole
body shaky and faint. Then he told Manuel to come over to his place for a
beer whenever he was done here and jogged back out the door.
“You better get my fucking laundry done!” Mrs. Rodriguez shouted
after him.
Every cell in my body yearned to jog after him, to go smoke and do
whatever else he wanted to do in his trailer next door. I had been clean so
long and I would never do meth with my baby inside me, but some sort of
muscle memory was etched deep within my cells, overriding my ideas of
decency and morality with a thirst for meth. Everything in Reid was a call to
use again. My knees knocked, my stomach tingled with adrenalin, my hands
were beginning to tremble like tender baby leaves in the spring breeze, but I
was strong enough to ignore the call. Once a pickle, always a pickle, they like
to say about addicts. Even to this day I still get cravings. What isn’t true is
that it is nearly impossible to ignore a chemical dependency. Doubt that?
Well, I’m living proof, right here.
But while meth cravings were understandable, my craving for Vincey
were less logical. Why was I that weak whore again, the one who climbed out
of Vincey’s window with no pride, the one who craved his touch all day at
work and then sped home to feel it and wanted to punch things when he
wasn’t home? I hated how shaken seeing him again made me feel.
Despite how much Vincey had hurt me, I still smile at some of the
memories. I smile at how he made me caldo one day when I was sick, and
spoon fed me on the couch, making me feel like his main bitch for a split
second. I smile at how we drove to the casino at midnight, hitting the pipe in


the car while peeling our eyes for the reflection of our headlights in a
roadside cop car’s window. I smile at how he touched my belly and said,
“I’m ready to go,” I told Manny, desperate to no longer be so close to
his brother.
“OK,” he said.
I hugged Mrs. Rodriguez while she chided me for not staying for dinner
and then I hugged Manny’s gramma. My heart was thumping with
nervousness about seeing my parents again.
Dad opened the door without a smile but he was gracious as he invited
Manuel in after me.
Mom was slamming things around in the kitchen island. Here I was,
pregnant out of wedlock and planning to marry a Mexican, for the second
time. My college graduation and the fact Manuel was actually a wonderful
human being did not matter to her. All she saw was a repetition of my
mistakes. And I saw the repetition too, but I knew that this time was
“Hello, Mrs. Henderson,” Manuel called to my mom.
Mom begrudged a hello without removing her head from inside the
kitchen island. The hollow sound of plastic bowls and Tupperware being
stacked inside of each other was louder than her voice.
“Well, have a great day, ma’am. Sir,” Manuel said awkwardly.
Dad merely nodded. Mom did not emerge from the hermit crab shell of
the kitchen island cupboards until the door closed behind Manuel. “I’m
making acorn squash and ham for dinner,” she told me without meeting my
“Ooh, I bet Diego will like that,” I clutched my belly, praying to feel
Diego rolling around inside. He was still and a jolt of panic flashed through


me, but I reminded myself that he had just been kicking when Vincey rubbed
my belly earlier, so probably the truck ride up Capitol Hill had just put him to
sleep for a bit.
Mom glanced disapprovingly at my stomach and then turned to the
oven. “I just thought that it would be nice with the cooler weather. Well, it’s
about done.”
We sat down to dinner. I was used to dropping food onto the ledge my
belly made and staining my shirts because of how far I was forced to sit
away from the table edge. Dad led Grace, but we didn’t hold hands. We had
used to when I was very little, but Mom abandoned that tradition after
Wayne. That’s around when she stopped hugging me too. She probably
thought I was too dirty to touch.
Damn, just being back in this house triggered a flood of painful
flashbacks. Being called a dirty slut after Wayne. Mom reading my journal
twice, and telling me how disgusting I was the first time or stupid and moony
I was the second. Getting kicked out after my drug test results came back.
Not being able to spend the night at friends’ houses throughout high school
because I was “too wild.” Being told to stop making everything about myself
after Colten died.
Then I remembered being five, and Mom told Dad to cover the
“hastas” so that the frost wouldn’t kill them. “The hostages? You have
hostages?” I demanded. I knew from Mom’s Criminal Minds what a hostage
was. “Where are the hostages? That’s not very nice, keeping hostages!” I
was practically hysterical, imagining crying, filthy, reed thin people in chains
in our basement. Mom got irritated and smacked me so hard that she


knocked me onto the floor and broke the corrective glasses that I used to
have to wear to correct a lazy eye. As I struggled to get back up, my whole
face smarting and my tears already welling over, my mom berated me for
thinking she was a bad person.
Dinner was tense and when I proposed pool afterward, both of my
parents claimed they were tired and wanted to go to bed early. So much for
me visiting. I desperately wanted to be down in the town, sleeping with
Manuel tonight. I was still bugging to see Vincey again. The way he had said
“nephew” almost made me feel like he was reminiscing on the weird fact
that that baby could’ve been his just a few years ago.
“Dad, can you open up the attic for me?” I requested. “I just want to
grab Lily’s things then go.”
“Why?” He peered at me suspiciously. Like finishing college, getting my
own place, dating a man who treated me right, and conceiving a child that I
was doing the best I possibly could for still wasn’t enough to convince them I
wasn’t an addict looking for stuff to steal.
“I need my baby things. For Diego,” I said.
Mom looked stricken. “You’re going to give Lily’s things to – to him?”
“Yeah…” I froze, my heart pounding in my throat, as I braced for some
type of horror to ensue. Once Mom’s temper got going and her face turned
red, it was a guarantee that she was about to say stuff that would destroy
But she just shook her head and carried her dishes to the sink.
“I’ll do it later,” my dad told me resignedly.
“OK, as long as we do it tomorrow before Manny and I leave,” I said.
Mom clattered the dishes loudly.
I so wanted to be down in the Rodriguez house. Even more, I wanted to
not be pregnant so that I could get high and dissolve my brain into numb


oblivion. But I couldn’t.
I had finally gotten comfortable on my old bed when I heard Mom’s
feet stomping up to my door. I braced myself. “Heather?” she said crisply
outside my door.
“Yes?” My voice wavered in fear.
She burst through my door. “I just wanted to let you know,” she began,
which was never a good thing to hear her say.
I foolishly decided to interject. “I know it’s sacrilege or something for
me to grab Lily’s things, but she’d like to see them go to good use.”
“Oh, shut up,” Mom snapped. “You come down here for one day, one fuckin’
day. Just to use us while you get baby stuff. You don’t even want to spend
time with us.”
I was flabbergasted. “I even tried to ask you guys to play a game!”
Mom tsked hatefully. “Games don’t mean anything. That was just your way
to try to get us to not recognize what you’re really doing!”
“Oh, yeah, and what am I doing, Mom? What am I doing?”
“Don’t pull that shit,” she spat, “you know exactly what.”
I really had no idea but I was getting rapidly distressed. Mom’s raised voice
was already upsetting Diego and my stomach started hurting horribly. I
suddenly had the urge to gather my things and leave. I had done it once
before and Mom didn’t disown me forever. But if she did this time, that was
fine, became I had half a mind to disown her. Graduating college wasn’t even
good enough to make them happy and they could no longer scare me. I was
no longer going to give them permission to hurt me and certainly not my kid.
Mom had already hurt poor Lily enough, with all her screaming while I was
carrying her.
“I don’t know what the hell is wrong with you. You left the most – the most
wonderful guy you could’ve been with, for that.” And she gestured to my
stomach distastefully. “Do you have no fucking common sense? He’s a


welder, for Chrissake.”
“And he’s in college,” I said in his defense.
Mom laughed. “The University of Phoenix?”
“Washington State, Mom.”
She snorted. “Oh, and does he even go to class?”
“Every day.” And his homework was all over the apartment. I helped by
proofreading his papers. But it was all his own work, and he was doing well.
He was not a loser, no matter what people might think. Shit, he had a truck;
he was better off than me in that department.
“You’re a fool. And that baby is going to need a proper mother. I don’t know
how you’re going to do that for him if you can’t even afford to buy him
I got another sudden, sickening surge of déjà vu and I swayed on my feet,
overcome by a sweaty terror that Diego was about to meet the same fate as
Lily. God, coming here had been a huge mistake.
In a blind panic, I began to obsess on the whirlwind of horrid possibilities
snowballing in my mind. And the pains in my stomach became blindingly
worse. I dropped to the floor, grasping at my stomach, and then rolled onto
my back sobbing in horror as the pains exploded.
At first Mom yelled at me for being dramatic. Then she realized something
was wrong. “Call an ambulance!” she screamed to my dad. And her eyes
grew round with her own sickening surge of déjà vu. And I vowed at that
moment to never forgive her.
“You killed him,” I told her when the ambulance arrived and hoisted me onto
a stretcher.
Diego Marley Rodriguez was born at two a.m., January 12th, at two and a half
pounds. I left the Henderson off his birth certificate because I didn’t think he
deserved such a cursed family name. He already had enough against him.


His little pink chicken wing of a body shuddered inside his cage of breathing
and feeding tubes and I wanted to save him from the trap, to hold him,
because I was so sure that he would die soon. We never even got to hold him
after he was born, as they had to rush him into a NICU tank at once.
When I gave a final push and saw the team hustle my baby away, I was so
immersed in déjà vu that I didn’t have hope. “He’s dead, isn’t he,” I said
flatly to the nurse.
“No, sweety,” she smiled and squeezed my hand. “You just had a little baby
I blinked. “What? But he’s so early….”
Her face crumpled slightly. Then she forced a smile again. So I knew that
his chances were small. I didn’t have the strength to be optimistic. I just
crumpled into despair, imploring Lily to forgive me for killing her brother too
and swearing that I would get my tubes tied and never put another child
through the horrors of growing in my uninhabitable body.
An hour later, a nurse informed that Manuel, Mrs. Rodriguez, and my parents
were all here. “Send Manny in! And his mom. I don’t want to see my parents.
Just tell them to go away. Tell them that the baby is dead and they need to
go away!” I wailed.
I cried harder when I saw Manny. He didn’t say anything, just grimly
squeezed my hand. His mom pet my hair and murmured that I was a good
girl and everything would be OK. “He’s a Rodriguez baby! He’ll pull through!”
she kept saying. Her greasy pigtails and enormous shapeless mass looked so
odd against the dim hospital walls. I had only ever seen her chain smoking in
her armchair in her dull living room.
I had been so excited to share the labor with Manny, to at least pretend to be


like one of those normal couples. Yet I had gone through another labor
without the father at my side. I wanted to cuss at Manny but I knew that it
wasn’t his fault. I know that as soon as one of my parents had scrounged up
the decency to call him, he had hopped in his truck and hauled ass to see
So I squeezed his hand back and let him kiss me. And then I burst into fresh
tears. “Why can’t anything ever go right, Manny? Why does everything good
in my life crash and burn?”
“Shh, baby, everything is still good in your life.”
“My parents don’t even love me.”
“Do you want some soup? I’ll go get you some soup!” Mrs. Rodriguez
lumbered out of her chair.
“They’re in the lobby waiting to see you,” Manny said.
“Seriously? I told the nurse to send them away. I don’t want them to come in.
I don’t want to see them. Send them away!” I started sobbing harder.
“OK.” He stood. “I’ll go tell them.” He set his jaw and I could tell he relished
the idea of telling my parents off. When he came back in, followed by his
mom and a nurse with soup and crackers, he informed me, “I told them you
don’t want to see them and they left.”
“Were they pissed?” I asked.
“Your mom just started crying really hard. Uh, I felt kind of bad.”
“How the fuck can you feel bad for her? She’s why this happened!”
“What did happen, baby?”
The doctors said the long car ride and my weak placenta had caused the
premature labor, but I know that it was my mom breaking my heart for the
thousandth time that did it. My parents didn’t love me. They couldn’t even
bother to come to my graduation, to visit me in Bellingham, to bring up Lily’s
baby things, to call and see how Diego was growing after my ultrasound
appointments, to be normal, decent parents. They couldn’t spare me the


hellacious long drive, the poverty of having to buy all new baby things, or the
stress of yet another fight over nothing. Getting anything from them was
always a transaction with the devil.
I counted all the baby things in their attic as abandoned. It was now all
cursed junk, sure to bring about the death of my children. They could sell it,
for all I cared.
Who would I lose next, Manny? It couldn’t be coincidence that all my children
died and that all my lovers either died too or abandoned me for hideous
women. Manny crawled into the hospital bed and held me as I cried myself to
Soon I was discharged. But I continued living in the El Paso hospital for six
weeks, my torn bottom aching and bleeding into massive uncomfortable
pads while I spent agonizingly long hours in a hard plastic NICU lobby seat. I
ached but I was in a zone. My despair almost diminished with daily glowing
reports of my son’s health. His little lungs started to form. He began to eat.
The blue tinge of his lips faded to rose pink. His little shuddering chicken
wing body began to look like a normal baby’s. He had a brief bout of jaundice
but they had saved him from that too.
But I could never quite accept that there was a chance, because I was sure
that as soon as I began to think positively, he would be ripped away from
me. God seemed to love rewarding my happiness with nasty surprises.
I asked Manuel several times to please go back to Reid and fetch some shit,
just so I could stay awake, but he always staunchly refused. That’s what I
loved about him. He was stronger than me, he was able to protect me. Has
all this happened with Steven, I was sure Steven would have left me alone to


go work, and he definitely would have flipped if I asked him to get me some
Manny was actually able to break out of the tense paralysis we both suffered
long enough to buy me flowers in a teddy bear vase from the hospital gift
shop and food and coffee from the cafeteria. He loved watching our son for
hours with me, memorizing Diego’s every vein and wrinkle, sharing my sense
that our lives could only go on with the next rise and fall of Diego’s brittle
ribs. Our little baby looked plastic, but so beautiful.
I barely noticed my own body except during bathroom breaks. My loose baby
belly flopped over my lap, like a fat person’s empty skin folds after major
liposuction. Shit, I had forgotten how gross that was, the fluid sound it made
when shaken. In the long mirrors, I was so shocked. All the beauty had
drained out of my face and left it lifeless and gray. I had zombie eyes, lank
hair. The spark was gone and I wondered if life had finally managed to break
me. Who can worry about losing baby weight when you can’t even bear to
bathe and you brush your teeth with lukewarm coffee and your index finger
in the water fountain?
Needless to say, we couldn’t always be at the hospital. One night a nurse
begged me to go sleep. And I numbly let Manuel take me to some cousin of
his. It was a little creepy house, near the south side. It smelled all musty in
there and I could tell they smoked meth. Meth barely has an odor but any
tweaker can sniff it out. I cringed, unsure if my cleanliness would be able to
survive all this pressure.
I finally managed to swallow a few bites of cold enchilada while Manuel’s
cousin and his friends fell into hostile silence around a video game, obviously


resentful that I had just interrupted their little meth party. I wanted to finally
dip into the shower, to feel the water slide my bloody metallic sweat
mushroom odor along with my stress down the drain. Instead, I passed out
on the air mattress we had been delegated on the kitchen floor. The roaring
zombies of the video game and the murmurs of the guys didn’t even keep
me up. Manuel spooned me as I slept the sleep of a hard meth crash, dead to
the world for a good seventeen hours. When I woke up, I was so damn
miserable with myself for neglecting my son that long. He needed me to
keep him warm energetically while the heat lamps kept him warm physically.
I wanted to be anywhere but where I was, racing through traffic to the
hospital, beating myself up for sleeping so late, checking my phone
obsessively and calling the doctor over and over to get his voicemail, praying
against hope that my little boy was still alive. El Paso stretched around me in
arid hideousness, dry rotting beneath Juarez’s brown smog. The shacks on
the others side of the river and the writing on the mountain was Mexico, and
I hated it. I wanted everyone in the shacks dead. I glanced over at Manuel, at
his thin, pale face, and wondered how I had wound up back in Hell when I
had sworn he was an angel. How could I live with him? Maybe Mom was
right, that I was a fool, that I had chosen to ruin the life I had worked so hard
to build by saddling myself with the worst man for me in the world. He
wasn’t super bright or interesting or dazzling. Not enough to be worth a life
of this kind of misery and stress. Too bad I was too fucked up in the head to
have stuck with Steven. Steven at least had the decency to wear condoms.
But all that thinking melted away when we reached the NICU and


Diego was still OK. That was the day I noticed my baby boy had a full head of
hair and Manny and I were allowed to hold him. He fit in our palms and we
cried tears of such pure joy that hurt our hearts with a piercing sort of good
pain unlike any I had experienced before.
That was the day I truly learned to pray, to just drop to my knees and
give myself up for gratitude and elation at the kind mercy of God. I also
prayed to my dear aunt Pearl, for watching down on me from Heaven, for
making sure that her little great nephew would thrive and not wither away
like his baby sister.
My son would make it. Manuel and I would make it. We would get out of
El Paso, and we would make it.
The cycle was effectively broken.
When my parents called me later that day for an update, I told them
that Diego was fine. “I got to hold him. I’m sure we’ll make it home soon.”
They breathed a collective sigh of relief. “We’ll be there tomorrow,”
Mom said, “to hold him ourselves!” She sounded so happy, and I could tell
the idea of holding her grandson, of seeing him live, enthused her. It had not
occurred to me that my own parents might be as sleepless and tense as I
“No, Mom,” I said firmly.
“No what?”
“Don’t come. Don’t come around us ever again. You can talk to Diego
when he’s older, send him some gifts, whatever, but you will not harm me
anymore. This whole thing was your fault. I just want you to know that. Really
let it sink in. And I want it to really sink in that I will never forgive you and I
never want to see you again.” And I hung up before Mom could start any shit
with me.
For years I had secretly wanted to cut them off like that. But I didn’t


feel triumphant when I hung up, I just felt empty.
Manuel took off to Washington to set up Diego’s nursery a few days
before he was set to be discharged. I stayed behind, jittery with impatience.
The hours seemed to drag extra-long now that my son was about to get out.
Finally, I got to have my baby boy with me. It was Heaven to hold him
for the first time, to be able to take him home.
We stayed in a Ronald McDonald house and I held Diego close while
sleeping. Only I couldn’t sleep. My nerves were shot. It just seemed a bit too
good to be true, to have averted tragedy with my son, so half of me
wondered what other monstrous thing was due to swoop in and shatter my
joy. I called Manuel every few hours and kept him on the phone with him for
as long as possible, just to soak up his voice in case I would never get to
hear it again. He didn’t mind. When our son would whimper, I would let
Manuel listen. I held a bundle of magic. A literal rainbow baby. It felt so nice
to be able to feed him. My milk was of course gone, but I enjoyed holding the
bottle while he suckled. He was alive, very much alive, and that fact kept
making me tear up.
In the morning, we flew home.
I carried him into his nursery only a few days before Lily’s stillbirthday.
It was decorated in soft greens and yellows. I had chosen those colors for
Lily, in an attempt to be gender neutral.
Then I recognized a lion plush blanket, folded in the basket under the
bassinet. That had been one of the only things that Red had ever bought our
daughter before buying enough drugs to end his life.
“Manny?” I said.
“Your parents sent everything from their house,” he explained softly.
I went into the closet. There were the onesies I had gotten for Lily,


stacked neatly in her green closet organizer. Manny had put all the girly
clothes away in totes but the gender-neutral things were all there. I grabbed
whole handfuls of clothes and inhaled their scent and sobbed the afternoon
And thus I rejoined my old friend, the darkness, once again.
I had gone off my bipolar meds at the first hint of pregnancy, and
thought that the withdrawals alone might kill my baby. Diego was a tough
one; he made it just fine. I, however, was not so tough. I finally went back on
the meds but could never remember to take them. I went back to work but
slept in late and got edgy with clients when they tried to con me into giving
out more clean needles than they needed or when they turned down Narcan
like they were invincible to overdose. I started acting like the hardcore
disciplinarian school counselor that they didn’t need.
All the horrible tragedies of my life crushed down on my shoulders and
manifested in weird thoughts. Like, “Why didn’t Vincey ever bother to visit us
in the hospital? Why didn’t I ever mean anything to him?” And, “Why can’t
my mom just drop dead? I hope I get a call that she’s dead soon.”
Manuel was not one to suggest counseling to anybody, so when he
urged me to go, I knew that I needed to. I missed Ms. Adichie. She said that I
had postpartum depression and that my Lamictal was clearly not enough,
that I needed some type of antidepressant to restore my quality of life. So, I
spent a little time in a local mental hospital, feeling like a waste of a mother
and not having half the fun I had had at Crescent Hills, though I did still enjoy
poker in the lounge. All mental hospitals are the same in that regard. Manuel
visited often with Diego and it was clear my son grieved my absence. They


both did. They were worried. My life had descended into a strange hell but as
I looked at their faces, my boyfriend and his mini-me, I wondered why. Why
wasn’t I happy, why wasn’t I grateful?
The day that that dawned on me, was the day that I began to surface
from the deep underwater cave I had lost myself in. I still wasn’t completely
all right, but I had a sense of hope at long last. Things began to take on color,
losing their grayness, despite the overcast gray of the majority of
Bellingham’s days. I was discharged and Manny and Diego were waiting for
me in the visitor’s lobby this time. Diego even cried a little and reached out
for me.
I wrote a new mantra on my mirror in very small, artistic lettering,
using the very same lipstick that I had written all my mirror mantras with: Be
I remember the day I finally snapped out of my depression. I had been
on an antidepressant for a few weeks after leaving the mental hospital and I
felt good enough at last to take a nice, long shower. With my hair feeling
delightfully silky after a long deep conditioning, I carried Diego out onto the
courtyard of the apartment complex.
It was a beautiful day, reminiscent of the southwest with its warmth
and cloudless sky. I could smell the ocean. Butter yellow sun dappled on the
surface of the swimming pool that would open in a month or so.
A yellow butterfly skimmed Diego’s face and he opened his huge
brown eyes to smile at me. And I thought of the SPM lyrices, Let your
children’s brown eyes be your diamonds and gems. Diego was so healthy
now, a seemingly whole different baby than the sickly weakling shivering for
oxygen in the NICU. He was growing up to be a linebacker, with his massive


ham legs and his butterball turkey body. He was already almost too heavy for
me to lift. His little rush of dark hair was now luscious and full, and his
caramel skin didn’t even give me any credit as his mother.
A few days after that, I got my hair cut mad short and highlighted with
ice blonde again. At long last, my skin glowed and my eyes snapped like
sapphires. My beauty was not gone forever.

I feel raw after a night of spinning memories like spiderwebs
throughout my head, spanning up and down and throughout the entire
course of my life. I hate admitting certain things to myself.
Now dawn is splitting through the chinks in the blinds. So many
mornings I have watched dawn break, all sore and tense and dry-mouthed
and bug-eyed from meth. But today I am just spun out on my own mind. I
never thought I would be here, actually OK, watching dawn break sober and
with my life intact around me. Nothing horrible is happening; I’m not
drowning in self-loathing.
After all those nights of guilt that I was still using and terror that I
would never, ever stop, I have actually stopped. They say that once a pickle,
always a pickle, but I don’t feel like a pickle anymore.
Diego starts crowing for a baba like a morning rooster, I heave myself
out of bed. I am sick of the scratchy sheets anyway. I pee and as I spruce up
my short hair in the mirror, I catch sight of the little lipstick letters of my
Be grateful.
No, things are not perfect. But what they don’t tell you is that
happiness doesn’t come because things are perfect. Happiness comes when


you accept who you are. And you can only accept who you are when you
become someone that you like. I finally like myself. I like my life. I love my
son and my man. I think I have finally made my way back to the person I
wanted to be when I was ten. And I’m honestly proud. Even with such an ugly
past on my back like a monkey, I am capable of this beautiful present. I am
not tarnished.
In two weeks, I start a new job at a rehab sanctuary. At first, I wasn’t
even certain that I should be applying for a job healing people while still
healing myself. But now I think I’m perfect for the position. Because I was
once as broken as the people in the rehab, and I made a comeback. I am
living proof that you can get clean, and then you can become that person
that you want to be. I can also teach them that it isn’t easy, that sometimes
you have to do things or cut out people that mean the world to you.
Happiness does not come easily, especially for us addicts.
I am not perfect, but I think I am perfect for this job. And this life. My
past hasn’t rendered me too dirty to help others or to raise a child; in fact, it
has rendered me better able to.
My past hasn’t left me tarnished, not when I’m here.
Exactly where I want to be.