“Just paint your face” the shadows smile/
Slipping me away from you/
Oh it doesn’t matter how you hide/
Find you if we’re wanting to/
So slide back down and close your eyes”
-The Cure, Burn
It starts with black eyeliner. I rim my eyes with it, so that I look like a glamorous raccoon. My pale skin receives a quick pat of iridescent blush, my mom calls me ‘painfully white,’ but I like it because I look like a vampire from an Anne Rice book. If only my hazel eyes could glow like one of her vampires I would be drop dead sexy. Dangerous.
I take a deep breath as I apply my mascara, one wrong move and I’ll have a glob of black in my eye, I try not to think about last time I had applied mascara when I was drunk. The burning, the black tears, the chunks of gunk floating around the sensitive orb, like some exotic disease. I put my hand down and blink, while clearing my head. Nice and easy, 1, 2, 3…Now the next eye, breathe, inhale, exhale, open that right eye wider… and the hard part is done.
I step back and take in my reflection. Meh. I’m not a ‘Perfect Princess,’ I steal clothes from thrift stores. Issues of Seventeen magazine seem to mock me anymore. All the cool stuff is not available, unless you have a lot of money. Mom doesn’t have money ‘like that,’ she always complains about needing a man to provide the other half of the income, but then dates and marries complete losers. Love is so fucking stupid. My mom is pretty fucking stupid.
I move under the over-head light of the bathroom. My roots are starting to show under all the green hair dye. I could always dye it another color, but I think I’ll just let it grow out. I kinda regret dying it green in the first place, but I’ll never tell my mom that. When I came out of the bathroom, hair freshly dyed, mom nearly broke out in tears.
“YOU HAVE SUCH LOVELY RED HAIR! WHY DO YOU DO THIS, ELLEN!?”
“I do it because I can. Because it is my head.” I replied vehemently.
In truth I did it because it was the biggest “Fuck You” I could think of: A Fuck you to the rehab councilors, trying to tell me where I can go and whom I can talk to; A Fuck you to school administrators, with hateful eyes and caustic tongues; A Fuck you to the World; and most especially a Fuck you to my mom and dad. I wanted to show everyone that I did not care what they thought, that I was different. What I had not counted on was becoming the butt of every booger and Cesar Romero Joker joke. I try to pretend that it doesn’t bother me, but until the green is gone, I’m going to avoid red lipstick.
I stand back again a fluff my bob. My hair kinda of tangles and knots up, and I look a little crazy, but it’s really better this way. I almost look like Drew Barrymore, if I squint really hard and cock my head 45 degrees to the left, and stand back from the light. I wish I could be prettier, maybe thinner, but that is not ever going to happen. I grab my stomach and fold it in, until I can clearly see my hips. I then let go and watch as the flesh falls back into place. Guys don’t look twice at me, if they do, I tense up for the inevitable punchline. Me.
I reach into the dirty clothes pile and pull-out my favorite black t-shirt and black jeans. It is my standard issue uniform, anymore. The jeans are worn and hug me nicely and the shirt is just loose enough to where I do not have the ‘stuffed-sausage look.’ It is the perfect outfit for a funeral, or for climbing out of windows, a real must-have for the seventeen year old girl on the move. I take a deep breath before I exit the safety of the bathroom, my bedroom is directly across the the small hallway. All I need to do is to make it into the confines of my abode and wait. I slowly turn the knob and hold onto the press lock, this way there is no sound to announce my vacating the premises.
I’m not so lucky, standing at the door is my baby brother, Liam.
“I gotta goooo!” he say through clenched teeth, blue eyes widening, as he grabs his wang. He’s always doing that, it’s so embarrassing.
“Quit grabbing yourself and go already.” I whisper back furiously.
“Bruja!” Calls the voice from the living-room. It’s him, the bane of my existence, and since the impending birth of his demon-spawn, my step-father, Jorge.
I really do not want to see him, or have him see me right now. There will be awkward questions about my freshly applied make-up and outfit. Questions that I do not want to answer. The apartment is small, but it is dark. I stand back in the shadow of the hallway between the bedrooms and the bathroom.
“What do you want Jorge?” I call back, making sure to mispronounce it to sound like Georgie, than hor-hey, like he was trying to teach me. I edge a little closer, my mom is sleeping in the area that she converted into a bedroom. as long as I stand here, the curtains will block his view of me from the living room. I see smoke billing in the blue light of the television and there is the definite punch of dank earth, if I’m lucky he’s probably stoned.
“Do not call me Georgie, I am not a faggito. I’ll knock your crooked teeth down your throat, bruja… Go to bed.” Is all he says.
Bring it, asshole. I’ll get your ass put of here so quickly your head will spin. I think to myself, I really wish he would hit me. It would prove everything that I said about him. No one believes me when I tell them that he is horrible. Grandma just clicks her tongue and shakes her head.
“Don’t ruin your mother’s happiness.” Is all she says to me.
I think Mom loves him, but right now even if she didn’t, she is kinda fucked either way because she’s knocked-up. Liam likes him because Jorge will make Mom buy him things like toys and video games. I get nothing really, but it’s okay because I know how to steal. As for the rest of the family doesn’t matter, because the rest of the family isn’t here to see him. The way he looks at me, or the way he tries to grab me when Mom isn’t around. Fucking prick, I think to myself and try to push down the anger.
I slowly close the door to my room and light a few candles. I can hear Liam come trouncing out of the bathroom, I can hear Jorge walking back and forth. I sit quietly on my bed and wait for the walking to stop. Since I’ve been home from rehab, Mom thought to nail all of my windows shut. She did not count on me removing them with a claw hammer. Since then I found that the hole is still tight enough that I can replace the nail, and provided that no one get too close or really breathes on it, it looks like I’m in tight.
I wait as Liam is tucked in, the walls are thin and his bedroom is next to mine:
“GOOD NIGHT POO FACE!” he calls out to me.
“GOOD NIGHT STINKY!” I call back.
I can hear Jorge outside my door, then there is tapping.
“Go to sleep.” is all he says, then the footsteps trudge heavily back to the bed that holds my sleeping mother and unborn devil child.
I cautiously step out of bed and I retrieve my backpack, in it are all the necessary items: Toilette paper, shaving cream, and some eggs that I stole from the fridge that morning. I pull the bag onto the bed and I wait a little longer. When I am sure that no one is moving around I grab my black workers flannel. The outside is cotton, but the inside is is lined with a soft fleece, it is form-fitting and warm. Perfect for what I intend to do.
I blow-out my candles and wait once I hear the soft hitch of snoring, I know it is time. I climb onto my bed and reach behind the curtains. I carefully remove the nail and place it on my dresser I slowly ease the window open and snake through the cold ground outside. I gently pull down the storm window and I wait for a few moments.
The blood is pumping solidly in my ears, my heart feels like it is ready to rip through my sternum, I take a deep breath and force myself to stand there for a moment longer. The light does not go on. The curtains do not move. No one knows I am gone and that is exactly how I wanted it.
I turn and walk quietly to the neighbor’s yard and ease open the gate. Tomorrow children will throng this neighborhood, but tonight is mine. Tonight is Devil’s Night, the night when all the gutter punks rise and cause random acts of mayhem, it is a night made just for people like me.
I can no longer tame my excitement as I make my through the yard and break out into a run. I run through the alley that connects all of the apartments, to the side street, to another row of houses and through their yards, to another alley. Eventually I have to stop and walk. I cut through the parking lot of an abandoned grocery store and cut across Milwaukee Avenue.
The Orange lights of the city give everything a slightly toxic glow. My Grandfather complains about the the light polluting the night sky, making it impossible to see the stars. There is an energy in the lights, a pulsating hum that makes me giddy. It makes the shadows seem darker and I want to scream from the anticipation. The blinking clock at the bank shows that it is approximately 45 degrees and that is currently 10:30 PM. I hope I can keep warm, but right now it’s not too bad and I feel warm on the inside.
On the opposite side of Milwaukee, there are more side streets and dark alleys for me to seek refuge. The cops rarely come through this part of the neighborhood and as long as I stay off the main streets, I will not get caught for curfew. I make a circuitous route to the train station, where I will seize my destiny, I’m so excited I think I could poop.
My girlfriend Cal lives a few blocks away from the Irving Park stop. I told her I would come to get her this evening, so we could cause trouble. I get to Jefferson Park and start running again. The ticket guy is sleeping in his booth, so I jump the turnstile and continue down to the trains. My nerves are on fire, but I am starting to get a little cold while waiting.
I light a cigarette on the platform and stand under the heat lamps, waiting. It feels like an eternity is silently slipping by into the night. The cars on the Kennedy are whipping by me and I feel very insignificant. It is disquieting to feel so small in this world, so isolated. The darkness is all around me, I pray silently for the train. The smoke curls around my head, twisting, and turning like ghosts. Tiny ghost around a tiny girl, in a very large city.
Suddenly the tracks start to hum and hiss, the train come barreling into the station and I toss my cigarette and jump on.
The doors close behind me and I am alone in the car. Normally I would smoke a cigarette to celebrate my personal party car, but I do not want to attract any undo attention. The train makes a stop at Montrose, before finally heading to Irving. I replay the conversation earlier that night with Cal in my head:
“So we’re fucking doing this.” I told her that afternoon, while smoking a joint.
“Are you sure about this?” She asked while passing it back to me.
“What could go wrong? As long as we move quickly and keep it within a small radius, we should be totally fine.” I say as I inhale.
“Okay.” She said finally.
“Good. I’ll come to get you.” I say and smile.
I cut through the back streets and alleyways, again avoiding Irving Park or Pulaski. The Cops will surely be traveling down them tonight. Anything that we do in terms of teepeeing or egging a house needs to be done quickly. Then we can go and party and then we will be bad asses, we can brag about our exploits to the boys. If I cant get them to date me; then I’ll baffle them with my exploits.
I turn into the final alley way that runs behind Cal’s house. The wind has picked-up, the sweat from running and the excitement is starting to turn cold on my skin. Like tiny tendrils of ice prickling my shoulders and armpits. ‘It will be worth it’ I repeat in the back of my head, making it my running mantra.
I enter through the neighbor’s yard and jump the fence, as Mr. O’Donnell has installed motion sensor lights on the garage. I stand underneath her window, it is dark. This is not a good sign. I walk back to her Step-mother’s stone garden. I pick-up a few pebbles and I toss them. The first haul goes a little wild and sprays the side of the house. I stand there cringing for a moment. Real fucking smooth, Ellen.
Determined, I go back to the garden, a pick-up a smaller handful. I make sure to toss just one at a time. Then I wait, again, I can feel the passage of time slip by. Nothing, absolutely nothing happens. I toss a few more stones. I wait. Nothing. I curse my rotten luck and I curse the flakey Irish girl who happens to be my best friend.
I guess I could go home, but I want to have an adventure. Something, anything to break the monotony of so much plotting and planing. I really need some action. I run out into the neighborhood, looking for a target. I do not have to look far, as there is an old house, and I do not wast anymore time. I launch an egg and it lands with a satisfying “WHAP!” against the stone porch.
Feeling emboldened, I throw another, but goes too far and it hits the picture window right off the porch. The glass makes a “DOINK!” sound. I think I might have cracked the glass, but I do not have time to check, because lights go on on the second floor, I start running. As I’m turning the corner as I can hear a front door open and slam shut. Someone is pissed and I am fucked.
I duck down another alley. I go to the nearest yard with a large wooden privacy gate, but it is locked. I go to the next yard and manage to open the gate. I close it behind me and dart towards a stair well, grateful that there are no lights. I think I’m actually going to poop my pants, right now.
I can hear a cars engine as it travels slowly through the alley. I say a silent prayer to all of the Gods and baby gods, that nothing gives me away. I pull my knees closer to my chest as I hide in some stranger’s backyard, ducked in a stairwell. I made sure to close the chain link fence behind me. I sit and wait, sweat is pouring off of me and now I feel ice run up and down my spine. From the front of the house I can hear another car speeding down the street, blaring the Cure.
I ultimately decide to ditch the bag. If I’m lucky, they probably thought they saw a boy, not a girl. If I do not have any additional crap, they really can’t tie me to the egging. If I get caught, which I do not intend to do. I stand up, and I steady myself. It takes awhile, because my knees feel like gelatin. With trembling hands I pull the bag of bastardry up one last time. I slowly climb up the stairs and survey the backyard, I spot a large bush. I walk over to it, crouch down, and slide everything under the bush, careful to bury it under dead leaves.
I wipe the dirt from my hands and slowly stand up. My ears are pricked, waiting to hear sound. Any sound that will betray the eerie sense of calm that has replaced the recent excitement. I look around and cautiously make my way out to the front of the house. The streets are empty, the large houses look vaguely menacing as I walk down the side street.
A block away I can hear another car, it is enough to make me start running. I slip into the shadows and make my way slowly back to Cal’s house, from there I can figure out where the train station is. It doesn’t take long, but my attempt to back track has caught the attention of the car. It could be someone out for a night drive, or the person who is looking for me.
There is a church nearby, I duck into their yard and find cover behind the bushes. They still have some foliage and I am able to keep covered. I reach into my pocket to find my return fare home, but my hands reach down into the fabric and are brushing the lint when I remember that my bus fare is in the pouch, of the backpack, under some leaves in a backyard of some random house. I want to cry. I am cold, I am scared, and I have royally fucked this up. If I start walking I can make it home in an hour, but what time is it?
At least I have have cigarettes, not many, but I smoke one anyway. I’m sitting behind a bush, on dead leaves in a church yard, I look up and I can see the stars. They’re actually planets, because their light is a bit stronger than stars, but I make my wish anyway. I wish to be out of here, to be home, to be safe. I wish that I had someone to talk to right now, to tell me that I’m going to be okay. Nothing happens. I sigh and stand up and prepare to start the long walk home, when I see another shadow in the alley. I jump back into the bushes.
“Heelloo?” It’s a guys voice. He is now standing ten feet away with his head cocked quizzically. His voice doesn’t sound menacing. I take the risk.
“Hi.” I say, trying desperately to sound more confident than I feel.
“So, uhhh, you know you’re hiding behind a bush, right?”
“Yup. It’s pretty nice back here. There’s bugs and dirt and leaves and stuff.” I say agreeably.
“Listen, you’re not some sort of twisted devil worshiper, are you?” He asks cautiously.
“Do you have anything against pagan-chicks?” I ask cautiously.
“Then, no.” I say as I come out into the light.
“My name is Ellen and I’m in a spot of trouble.” I offer a dirty hand.
“Nice to meet you Ellen, my name is Shawn and I know trouble when I see it.” He says amiably.
“Great, listen, Shawn. I need to use the bathroom.” I say as my bowels start banging into my pelvic bone.
Shawn wastes no time. His apartment is next to the church and he saw me in the bushes as he was coming home from work. He figured he would see if I needed help, because I looked alone. Without further encouragement, he brought me back to his place and directed me to the bathroom. Everything relaxed.
A few minutes later, I was able to exit. I walked into a large room that was both a living room and bedroom. There where black light posters and lava lamps all over the place. Shawn seemed pretty rad, but I needed to get home.
“Er…Thanks. I gotta go.” I mumble .
“Not so fast.” He says. Again he cocks his head and looks at me quizzically. He has closely cropped hair on the sides and slicked back blonde hair on top. He is handsome, but handsome guys are dangerous. I need to figure out what he wants and fast.
“What is it? I ask.
“Well, I do enjoy rescuing damsels in distress and all, but how in the hell did you end up here?”
“Is that all?” I ask.
“Yeah. Tell me your story.”
“Okay. You got pot?” I venture.
“Nope, just cigarettes and coffee. I quit smoking dope sometime ago. I don’t drink either to answer your question.”
“Oh, but you have black light posters.” I protest feebly.
“Yeah, so?” He asks.
“Oh, well then. I’m almost out of smokes and I could really use something warm.” I say and shrug.
Shawn makes me some coffee with extra sugar and cream. I tell him everything. Once I opened my mouth, it seemed like I could not stop myself: I told him about how I got there, the eggs, Cal, the Car, my Mom, my Step-father, and I told him about my recent stint in a locked ward.
He never clicked his tongue, or made me feel bad. When I was done, he told me about his life. We talked about drugs and drinking. He told me he was sober, that maybe if I’m lucky I could be like him. I told him that I thought that was nice and all, but I liked pot too much and I absolutely loved whiskey.
“Maybe so, but you’re still young. You might change your mind one day.” He told me affably. I looked at the clock, it was almost 3 AM. I needed to go.
Shawn tossed me a few smokes and some cash. He then grabbed his hat and an extra hoodie for me and we walked to the train. I wanted to kiss him, but thought better of it. Instead I hugged him.
“Just get home, girl.” he told me.
“I will.” I promised.
“Hey… Ellen? There is a belief that when you save someones life, you become responsible for them. Promise me you won’t waste yours.”
“Alright, I promise.” I said as I rolled my eyes and walked into the train station.
When I got home, I collapsed into my bed. The next morning I had a migraine and couldn’t go to school. That afternoon, during my outpatient therapy, they drug tested me. I was clean. The night and Shawn dissipated into the late October afternoon. I returned home and went trick-or-treating with my baby brother, because Mom was too tired after work.
When we returned home, Jorge was waiting for us with one of the “Uncles,” they were giggling and making jokes in Spanish. I hate it when people talk in another language, it makes me paranoid. Even more so when they speak another language and then look at me. God, I hate him. Mom was asleep, so I helped Liam go through the candy. After much negotiation, I got: Three Snickers, a Three Musketeers bar, a Blow-pop, two pennies, and a pamphlet cautioning me about the evils of Halloween. The last two items were graciously given to me by my brother, because he loves me.
A few days later, I tried to locate Shawn to thank him and return his hoodie, but could not locate the apartment that I went to that night. Everything looks differently in the day, I became so distraught and frustrated that I eventually gave up.
Several months later I saw him at the train station, I was getting off the train as he was getting on, with his girlfriend. I waved to him and he returned the wave, that was the last I ever saw of him.