Getting into my red Ford Taurus, I dumped my purse onto the passenger seat and turned the key in the ignition. It whined, but wouldn’t start, so I turned it a few more times – each time growing more and more frustrated and despairing. “Start, you mother fucking car, START!!” Pumping the gas pedal frantically, I continued to turn the key, causing the engine to screech incessantly – until a neighbor, Adam, stopped and said, “You’re going to flood the engine if you keep giving it gas.” He lived on my floor with his boyfriend and worked at a local theater. “Let me get my jumper cables,” he said, “I’ll be right back. I got out of my car and kicked the driver’s side door, “You piece of shit!” Someone walking by on the street looked back at me as he kept walking, shaking his head. While I waited for Adam, I had a moment to think about my day, which led to reflecting on what my life was now.
Here is a little excerpt from my book, which is about my first weeks living on my own in Minneapolis, trying to find my way after being displaced by my family because I left their church. One of my college friends introduced me to a bar around this time, and I found a home there because I had nothing else.
Warmth flowed through my body as the humid air kissed my taut, tan skin. After a couple beers, my breathing relaxed and my thoughts slowed. It was all about the moment. My friends were laughing around the bar and I was smiling at everyone with my dark outlined lipstick, white teeth, and a sense that life was nearing perfection. Everyone seemed to be my friend who was there to talk to, confide in, and savor. When our favorite songs came on the jukebox, we shrieked in shared recognition and sang along – sometimes using our beer bottles as pretend microphones. Those were the days when you could still smoke inside, and a cloud of our collective and constant cigarette smoke hung around us as a byproduct of our good times. Into the early morning hours, we would carouse and feel on top of the world, as if nothing could touch us. “I love you all!!!” I thought. Surely, they felt the same way about me.
The sun came up fast after these nights. Through heavy eyelids, I squinted at my alarm clock. It was after 10:00 a.m., and I had to be at work at Lenscrafters by 1:00 p.m., where I was still training as an apprentice optician. My cats, Freya and Venus, were in bed with me, playing with each other. They were my backup alarm clock. Rustling around in my king-sized pink comforter with large tulips, I stuck my feet out and closed my eyes. This was the best bed ever, and it took up much of my studio apartment. Friends laughed when they came over because it was so all-consuming and made me look like all I did was hang out in bed. But it was a bed that I had bought with my babysitting money several years before, from an ad in the newspaper. There was a lot of storage space: a giant headboard that spanned the bed, with an oval mirror in the middle and cubbies on each side, drawers along the base of it, and a long tunnel from the foot to the head. It was made of dark wood, maybe oak, possibly painted particle board, and it was adorned with rustic gold accessories and drawer handles that clinked when they dropped after use. I rolled over again and the cats jumped off. My head was spinning, but I had to get up.
Sitting up, I looked out my row of long windows out at Minneapolis, which was already well into the work day, stretching forward toward the chipped green polish on my toes. Today was a 1:00-7:00 shift, which meant that I would be at the bar by 8:00 p.m., with a beer in hand by 8:15. Unless I had a couple beers from my keg first. Leaning back, I looked in my headboard mirror at my makeup-smeared face. What time had I even gone to bed?
A chain of paper suns decorated the perimeter of my apartment near the ceiling. They smiled down on me. I had picked them up in a party supply store. They didn’t exactly fit, but they made me happy. I guess I didn’t really care if anything matched. I had my own little space – a studio apartment in Uptown Minneapolis. There I was, in the middle of an artistic, urban Mecca. I could do anything I wanted! So I decorated my apartment with paper suns. I had never had this kind of freedom before – nobody to tell me what to do, how to dress, what language was appropriate or not, and if I was allowed to pierce my nose on not one, but both sides. My giant water bed, with a regular mattress, took up most of the main room in my studio. A picture of myself as a child was propped up on the top of the built-in dresser in the short hallway from the main room to the bathroom. I didn’t have anywhere to hang my clothes, but I didn’t have many. And they fit in the drawers, with room to spare. Over the summer, I would dump my mail into one of the lower cupboards and neglect it in favor of beer, rollerblading, and exploring without restrictions or parental complaints. On the top, I placed things that I liked to look at: my Little Bo Peep porcelain doll, doilies that I collected, perfume bottles (some empty), a porcelain Cinderella figurine that I got from Disneyland, a wooden frame that my great-grandfather had made (without a picture), a few textbooks that I couldn’t bear to sell back to my college at the end of the semester, and a rough poem I wrote from the heart. This gap between being in the church, caring for my younger siblings, and living at home under strict rules, and becoming a single mother would last approximately three months. I was 18, shifting from one world to another. Moving between walls of definition, I twirled, and I transformed – so quickly it was like riding a wobbly unicorn on a carousel in the middle of the night, as it flew off its base into an improvised scene from Alice in Wonderland.