It’s day three of the drug binge, and I’m sitting there in my skivvies on this disgusting couch, comforted merely by this bottle of booze and his arm draped around me. I am sticky and sickly after this many days of high and fucking, but his is the hand that guides me gently down a path of greater indulgence. I do not want to be high any longer. Even as he sits there and looks at me with the expectation and grandeur of another bump at the end of his key. He tells me he loves me and looks at me with longing, and I believe in true love, too, so I inhale and lean back so that he can hold me and touch me. We have been here for days, and we have been doing this for days. This and intermittent fucking as allowed by the ebb and flow of highly toxic blood through our veins. I try not to think about the things we could be doing or the things we should be doing. I have been waiting on my unemployment check for a week already, but apart from that there is nothing much else to do. Neither is there anything for him to do, as he flits in and out on various errands while I doze off slowly to check on the shipments. I would like to eat food eventually, but I know that is not his style, as he subsists consistently on a steady diet of apple juice and Hennessy. I cannot tell if all this indulgence has caused me to lose weight or to gain weight, but I am puffy and sallow and wilting all at the same time. Perhaps I should go home soon, but I am afraid to leave because I know as soon as I step out the front door I will be gone. And us on this couch doing drugs will be gone, too. If I leave, this will merely be a memory to clutch onto in the moments of the rest of my life to come, and what if this is the best thing that has ever happened to me? What then? And what if I never come back? Because I am a master of the inevitable, and I know that as soon as I leave, some other woman in the ever revolving door of women will come in and take my place. So I sit here, and I tell him I love him, and I do not dare eat, and I don’t dare leave, but I sit here, which is where I plan to die.
“They told me to look out for Oakland women.”
“Uh huh, why’s that?”
“Because Oakland women always have two dudes: the dude they fuckin, and the dude they should be fuckin.”
I laughed when he said that, mostly because it’s true, but also because that’s me, isn’t it? He was looking at me with a standard amount of desire for validation in his eyes, so I batted my eyes and waved off his comment.
“Well, is it true?”
“Maybe,” I replied coyly.
“Well, I’ve never met women like the women in Oakland. They have an ineffable hustle. I mean, other places, the dudes be hustling like woah. But you come to Oakland and the women do it, too.”
“Well, this wouldn’t be the hub of sex radicalism and gay rights and BDSM culture if it weren’t pervasive on ever level in society. All that white San Francisco sex positive bullshit wouldn’t stand a chance if the women of Oakland didn’t sign off.”
“We have to be. It’s Oakland.”
“Yeah, women other places be making sandwiches for dudes and shit. Women here have one boyfriend that they fuck, one dude to pay the iPhone bill, one dude to take her out, three other dudes she’s texting, and everyone’s okay with it.”
“Not everyone can pull it off.”
“Plus that Oakland booty…oooweee. Y’all know to fuck, too.”
“What can I say. We’re a rare breed. The dudes out here might be crazy as fuck, but we’re just as slick as them, and they wouldn’t get away with it if we didn’t let them.”
“So, what, can I get your number or something?”
“Hah, even after all that, you still want my number?”
“Yeah, fuck it, why not. Gotta see what this whole Oakland woman shit is all about.”
“You can’t afford my number, honey.”
“Woah. Oh, okay, I see how it is. You like that, huh?”
“I’m an Oakland woman. You knew what you were getting into the moment you opened your mouth.”
When I look into his eyes, I can see years into the future. But all we have is right now, so I will take what I can get. When I look in his eyes, I am trying to find out how disposable I am to him, which might sound bleak, but it is the question of the hour for disaffected millenials whose search for love comes in the form of efficiently careening faces over the screen on a phone in a bar in downtown. Modern technology has perfected the art of meeting strangers, but somehow we have failed to create an app that nurtures a relationship past the frills and flowers of a four month honeymoon phase, eventually collapsing in on itself and back into a cycle of sitting at the bar, scrolling through faces like the angry arbitration of your personal sex and love committee. We live in a society that has perfected the art of hooking up, which is wonderful if you’re like me and you like hooking up. However, we don’t live in a society that has perfected the art of maintaining your happiness, ability to communicate and sexual satisfaction with another person over the course of years and years. Which is unfortunate, because there is a time and a place for both hooking up and long term maintenance, differently for different people, but still legitimate. It is easy to get caught up in the carousel of try every flavor once. It is hard to make a decision when they are putting out new flavors every week. So we wrap ourselves around the culture of trying new things rather than the culture of picking what you want and then paying for it. People like to ask, “Why go out for burgers when you can have steak at home?” Other people say, “Who wants to eat steak every night?” Getting dressed up and going out for burgers once a week can feel glamorous, especially when the flavor of steak is wearing thing year after year. So consider the alternative, but make a decision. Before the shop closes up and you leave empty handed but still sugar sick on every flavor of dick imaginable.
I was surprised this morning when link jumping through the Internet to come across an article entitled A History of Violence in the East Bay Express about Trevor Latham, a long time friend, founder of the East Bay Rats and owner of the Ruby Room and Radio. The first paragraph references his destruction of a bus stop at 24th and Telegraph, across the street from what was then Mama Buzz. The article reads
A friend of Latham’s had been mugged there, and her companion had been hit on the head with a bottle, landing her in the hospital with a scalp full of surgical staples. “Whatever he’d hoped to do to the mugger he did to [the bus stop],” writes Abramovich. That passage is one of several in which Latham plays the avenging role in an area where law enforcement is conspicuously absent.
The friend who had been mugged was me. This was in August of 2011.
This was definitely an interesting time in my life; I was unemployed, I was partying in Oakland, and on that particular night had been walking to my friend’s house when my companion and I were jumped. It was a traumatic experience, and, yes, I wound up going to the hospital to get fourteen staples in my head.
But rather than focus on the trauma and the circumstances, what’s most interesting to point out is that Oakland was vastly different in 2011. The person who jumped me was associated with the crack heads and crack dealers who posted up at the bus shelter across the street from Mama Buzz and right outside my friend’s house. The people who worked and kicked it at Mama Buzz were fairly tight knit; we all knew each other because this was back in a time during Oakland where everybody knew each other, one way or another. This was also in a time in Oakland before the word gentrification had burned a place on everyone’s mind and tongue. New people were moving into Oakland, but the core community of Oakland artists was still vibrant. Social outliers were few and far between, and their presence was generally accepted in Oakland at the time.
After I got mugged, Trevor and his friends tore down the bus stop where the crack heads would kick it. We joke now that this was the first step of gentrification in that neighborhood; ousting the local drug dealers is a common theme of gentrification, but I rue that comparison. There was then (as there is now) a mutual understanding, especially on that block: we leave you alone if you leave us alone. Breaking that social contract was what lead to a community action that was intended to ensure the safety of those who were a part of that community. It was an action by that community in reaction to violence. This was for us. Even if in some way everyone else who wasn’t here at the time eventually benefited from it.
Unfortunately, in the context of what has transpired in Oakland on a social and economic level, that’s not what it feels like now. Mama Buzz is gone, having been replaced by Beeryland which (the last time I checked) is a mecca for new Oakland folks. Ruby Room and Radio are no longer two of the five local bars in Oakland, although they are still pretty packed (albeit with a notably less interesting and rowdy crowd now than five years ago).
Macrocosmic social comparisons aside, on a personal level I am deeply grateful for what Trevor did for me. As a woman, people want to say things like, “You were drunk!” or “You were dressed like a slut!” and say I got what I deserved. But Trevor didn’t ask questions because violence against people in our community is unacceptable, and no one else was going to do anything about it. As a woman in this community, Trevor’s actions made me feel like I belong here, and that’s what I want to extend to other women here: someone is looking out for you. This is an incredibly painful memory, but Trevor helped me to not feel afraid because I knew that my community cared for me. Someone like me doesn’t get that all the time, not given my track record and my social standing. So while it was unsettling to read about this crazy thing that happened to me in the paper in this morning, I want to take this chance to reiterate my gratitude to Trevor for standing up for me in a time where that wasn’t an easy thing to do. Heaven knows the police weren’t going to do anything, but fuck the police. This is about Oakland sticking up for itself and for each other. While it feels like that Oakland has dwindled, it certainly isn’t gone, so we should be celebrating the people who still hold onto that ethos. I wouldn’t be who I am today if he hadn’t stood up for me.
“How do you know those guys?”
I’m on a date, and I just crossed paths with the last person I slept with and his best friend. It was an awkward interaction; my date knows my former lover and his best friend, but he doesn’t know that he’s my former lover. I’m not exactly ecstatic to see my former lover, then or really ever, mostly because he’s a shitty person with a slew of unmanageable personality problems that range from addiction to violence. So I did what I always do when I run into my former lover: I look away. And he does what he’s been doing every time he sees me, which is to run up and say hi to me. I’m not sure if he does this because he knows that I find it to be irritating or if it’s just another crappy power move intended to unsettle and intimidate me. I have considered the possibility that maybe he’s a cordial guy who is polite enough to acknowledge the presence of a former sexual partner, but upon further consideration I realized that, no, he’s not that kind of person. He’s the kind of person who discards women like dirty dish rags without a second thought. And I would prefer to watch him drift off into the sunset, but he’s refusing to go quietly. Despite the fact that our departure from each others’ lives was mutual, if tacit.
“I don’t know,” I reply dumbly and drunkenly to my date, trying to dodge any conversation about them because I’m not feeling secure enough to be mature and tell the truth which is, “I used to get ass fucked by that dude while high on cocaine at eight in the morning on occasional Tuesdays and sometimes we’d invite his friend to have group sex with us.” I know that neither of those are answers that my date wants to hear, mostly because he knows them, too. Instead I am awkward and aloof.
“I think that guy is so&so’s boyfriend,” my date says about my former lover. I feel crestfallen as he hands out this information. Mostly because I know it wasn’t true then (I did my research!), but also because it might be true now. Also, it’s none of my business if they cuffed each other up after I gracefully pirouetted out of their sexual rotation. I left for a reason, and I stay away from them still. That reason was because they had a highly toxic, very codependent, somewhat abusive relationship, and their M.O. was to drag me down into it, too. But I wouldn’t go down, so I got out, and here I am now, dating other people.
“Oh,” I reply. This isn’t a great way to wrap up a date as we head back out. This isn’t what I want to think about angrily as we drive away, being silent while being wasted, too. I don’t want to think about my shit head former lover, and all the crazy sex we used to have, and all the shit he put me through. I’d rather be making out right now, but I’m not, because my head is tangled up in him and the chaos he brings to my life. I am aching to be the person who doesn’t feel like this whenever he walks into a room. Because he walks into rooms all the fucking time, and this feeling is indelible as I try to run away.
Is it easier to touch someone you can never love? Or love someone you can never touch? Your phone screen is cold in comparison to the touch of your finger on human flesh. We profess love into the magic little boxes that work wonders through the advent of unseen technologies straight into the pocket of some brand new lover. There is comfort in knowing that someone is on the other end, but the other end will always be far way, regardless of cell phones or postage stamps or video chatting. Science has not neutralized physical space, even if we tell ourselves that it has or it can. There is no cure for the desire of human touch. There is no remedy for distance. And while loyalty may be a beautiful thing, you have to wonder: to whom are you being loyal? And how do you know if someone deserves your loyalty. If you are not loyal to yourself, then what is the value of loyalty in other form? Is it easier to commit to something that cannot be touched, because everything that is available right here and right now has suddenly been qualified as not good enough. The promise of self denial includes a clause about our eventual admission into heaven. But I have written to the PR department of heaven, asking for a press packet with which to advertise all the wonders and benefits of heaven. I have never heard back from them. So instead we are here, and I am trying to contemplate the valor of loving someone that you cannot touch, because to me the bravest thing I can possibly do is say yes to someone who will ask me to be right here and right now for as long as I possibly can. It is easy to run away when you are already far away to begin with. It is hard to stay put and suffer through staying somewhere with someone when we live in a world that is constantly giving us another excuse to walk away. Maybe it takes courage to fake your way through space. It takes imagination to pretend that someone else is in the room when they have never shown up. It is easy to love someone who has never been late. It is hard to sit in silence while minutes pass by with no incoming text messages and knock on the door when you wait for someone who should have been here twenty minutes ago. We make choices, and we can be the heroes of our own stories only if we know the right way to tell the story. So how are you telling yours?