Chapter 23 - The Beckoning Stars
Everything in my life really started going wrong. Losing Jill was bad enough. It kept me in a deep funk for quite a while. I had walked into the relationship with both eyes wide open and with the full knowledge of how she had been treating other guys to make Mickey jealous. Somehow I had convinced myself that I was different and that things could work out between us.
I was forced to acknowledge that there was nothing special about me, at least nothing that would attract a girl like Jill. Still, we had slept together, and I guess that that was something, and we had had a lot of really fun times. I had made her laugh, and she for a while she had made me feel very special. Now, that was all gone.
If that wasn't bad enough, my brother Glen got arrested on a drug charge. We had gone over to the house of a friend of his named Joey Dioballo. Joey had been our roommate once but had recently moved out because he was concentrating on expanding his pot dealing and didn't want to get us in trouble.
Joey was a Vietnam vet, and all of his close friends called him Devil. When he was angry, he had a devilish look that was very scary, but, in reality, he never got all that angry. He was loyal to his friends and generous to fault. He was tall and thin with long dark hair and really expressive brown eyes. He had a big smile and big booming laugh. His only serious flaws were a fatalistic outlook about life, and that he was easily bored and couldn't sit still for over a minute.
I felt that he didn't get into dealing dope because of the money or the power. He did it because it was only thing he could do in Concord that could somewhat match the excitement of dodging bullets in Nam. He was engaged in a lot of fire fights over there and saw a lot of his close friends die.
Once, he told me a story about how one of his buddies, an Irish kid with bright red hair and freckles was sitting in a jeep with him when a bullet took out his left eye. Joey said that he had to wipe his friend's brain matter out of his own eyes in order to see where he was driving. He said that later he had to clean out the thick blood mixed with with dirt on the Jeep's floorboard.
Glen told me that Joey was never the same after Nam. They had been good friends in high school before Joey got drafted, and he said that back then Joey was always very laid back and laughing. Every now and then, I would catch him staring out the window and looking intently at something that happened in a different space and time. He introduced us to a lot of Vietnam vets who hung around our house a lot and were always a bit on the crazy side and ready to party at the drop of a hat.
We had gone over to his house to get high and listen to a new Santana record that he had just bought. I really didn't much feel like going but Steve kept pushing it because I had been sitting around and moping over Jill for a pretty long time. He wouldn't take no for an answer. He thought it would good for me to get out.
We were sitting there laughing, smoking a joint, and drinking beer while listening to Santana's Song of the Wind from the Caravanserai album when, all of the sudden, the cops bashed their way through the door with guns drawn like we were Bonnie and Clyde or something. Joe had a suspicion that something was up and had cleaned the product out of his house. That is all except for the lid that was lying there in the middle of the red checkered table cloth. They caught Glen with the joint in his hands. The fool took a long hit before raising his hands.
All they did to me was toss me around some and try to browbeat some answers out of me. The cop talking to me was nervous and overly talkative, and let it be known that the bust was over an informant ratting out Joe for selling weed. The informant was a guy we all knew, Randy Rodriguez. Randy was a junkie who got busted dealing heroin. He had set Joey up in exchange for immunity. I quickly grasped that he knew better than to turn in his heroin connections and gave up Joey instead.
The cop who was browbeating me tried to make me feel guilty about selling weed. He was a short, somewhat chubby, young dark-skinned Mexican dude with beautiful white teeth and a porn star mustache. The name on his badge said Martinez.
"I don't sell weed, dude."
He looked around and waved his hands, "But you're here, sitting in the house of a known drug dealer."
I feigned surprise, "Joey's a drug dealer? I didn't know that."
This only made him angry, " Don't lie to me, son. It will only make things worse. Besides, you should be ashamed of yourself for hanging out with people like these two."
"Well, that one's my brother and my roommate, and the other dude is a heavily decorated combat vet having a bit of a hard time readjusting to civilian life as we know it. It could be worse, I could be hanging around with a bunch of moron's who'd let a big time heroin dealer who is also responsible for half the burglaries in this town go so that they could catch a small timer dealing a little weed."
He pulled me up out of the chair where I was sitting and thrust me toward another officer, "Well, have it your way then!" I ended up outside squatting on the lawn. After about thirty minutes, they led Joey out in handcuffs followed by Glen also in handcuffs. The cops talked for several minutes then came over and uncuffed me and told me I could go.
I had driven over by myself, so I wasn't stranded. I waited until all the cops had left and locked the door to Joey's house. I also locked my brother's truck up. Then I climbed into my car and sat there in the driveway for a second. The neighbors were being nosey and kept checking me out. I looked down at my ashtray and saw a a joint sticking out of it. They hadn't even searched my car!
I took a deep breath to settle my nerves, put on some Tower of Power, started up the car, and pulled out of the driveway slowly.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
It was too early to go home. Besides, I didn't want to be there when dad called to lecture about how stupid Glen was. So, I decided to go visit my friend Rudy Solis who lived across town. It was on the Northside but lay to the west of Daily Avenue in a run down neighborhood called Woodie Heights. Micky and his goons wouldn't be caught dead out there, so I didn't have to worry about them catching me by surprise.
Rudy was a friend from elementary school. We were best friends for a while until we got into junior high and he started hanging with his neighborhood boys, but we always kept in touch. He was one of the few people who I knew who loved reading as much as I did, and our tastes were similar. We both loved mythology, but I loved reading history more while he favored science fiction.
We could talk all night once we got together. I pulled up in his driveway and saw him and his big fro sitting in front of the big picture window reading a book. He saw me, smiled, and beckoned me to come in.
He met me at the door and gave me a hug. "What the fuck, Dude? Where the hell have you been? I read these two great science fiction books and been needing someone to discuss them with. I'd tell Reyna everyday I hope Danny comes over tonight."
I shrugged, " Aw, man, I been laying low. I got some Northside dudes after me and got to watch my step."
"No shit? What's all that about?" He peered at intently through his round, John Lennon glasses perched on the end of his nose.
"A girl. I'll tell you all about it later, But now I need to drink a beer." I took a tall Budweiser out the brown sack I had and handed him the bag. When he went and put in the fridge, I kept talking. " Yeah Glen and Devil got popped tonight. I was there but they let me go."
We went and sat down two big red easy chairs. "Damn, shit is happening all around you. You got some bad Karma to work off."
"Yeah, whatever, where's Reyna and Little Bit?" I looked all around.
"She took Lily to her grandma's house and then was going to pick up a friend. They'll be back in a minute."
Reyna was a rich girl; her father designed stores. She was thin Swedish looking beauty with long ass blonde hair. I thought she was coolest chick in Concord. Her dad was pretty cool too. Rudy had knocked her up when she was a junior in high school, and her dad welcomed Rudy into the family like it was nothing. Rudy and Reyna had beautiful two year old name Lily Ann. I was her honorary God father. I always brought her picture books when I came over keeping three or four in the trunk of my car just in case.
I listened to him tell me about a book that he liked called the Lathe of Heaven by one of his favorite writers, Ursula K. Le Guin. It was about a character whose dreams could alter the past and current reality. The premise sounded cool, so I told him I would read it later.
I, in turn, told him about things I had learned reading Carlos Castaneda's A Separate Reality. I had come across a great quote by the author that said, “The aim is to balance the terror of being alive with the wonder of being alive.” I loved the quote and was in the process of making a poster of it. Rudy liked it too and thought it could be turned into a great premise for a science fiction novel.
When we got done talking about books, I started telling him about my girl troubles. I told him how Mickey Porcine and his friends were looking for me.
"You mean Mickey, the dude that was messing with Jill Booth?"
" Yeah. Jill was the girl who played me for a fool, gets me beat up then leaves me and went back to that stupid ass."
Rudy was incredulous and grinned widely. "Wow, man. You were kicking it with Jill Booth? That chick is seriously hot. I'm impressed, Danny."
"Well, don't be. She ditched me; dropped me like a hot rock."
"Still though, dude, that's something to be proud of. I guess it would be a good time to let you know that that friend that Reyna's picking up is Jill Booth. Girl was our baby sitter when Lily was little."
I didn't even have time to say "Fuck me" under my breath before Reyna pulled up outside in the driveway. I could see the look of concern cross Jill's face when she got out of the car and saw my car parked there.
She had the same concerned look on her face when she entered the door. Reyna came in and ran over and hugged me and then turned to introduce me to Jill. I stopped her.
"We know each other. Hey, Jill." There was a bit of pause in the conversation before I shrugged and said, "I didn't know."
Rudy was grinning like a demented leprechaun but Reyna was still clueless. She turned to Jill and said, "I always thought that you two should get to know each other; I'm glad you've already met."
For Reyna's sake none of us let on that anything was out of the ordinary. It was awkward as hell, but we managed to hold a polite conversation. Rudy told Reyna and Jill about the Castaneda quote, and it became the topic of our conversation.
Reyna wore rose colored glasses. I mean figuratively as well as actually wearing pair of gold rim rosed colored glasses. She was more of an optimist than anybody that I knew, " I think that to constantly be amazed is the trick, and to do that you can't think of life as being terrifying. Don't you think so, Jill?
Jill avoided looking at me when she said, "Yeah. I guess it's something like that. I think that looking at life as being wondrous helps you to deal with all the terrifying things." She blushed when she finished.
Rudy jumped on it. "I think that's all well and good if what you're trying to do is hide from the fact that life can be ridiculously gruesome. I like the idea of the balance. I don't think its possible to truly appreciate life without understanding what makes it terrifying. Ain't that right, Danny?"
I didn't want to talk. I just wanted to sneak out of the house without offending two of my best friends. I finally spoke, "Life is totally terrifying. We all grow up the moment we realize that we're going to die sometime, and we can deal with it in two ways. One, we can run from the knowledge and try to throw enough dirt on it that we can't see it. Two, we can accept it and handle it by then understanding just how amazing life truly is."
Reyna laughed, "Danny how can you be that gloomy. You have a great life. You are usually the most understanding person I know. I always thought of you as having the world by the horns."
I chuckled sadly, "I don't think it's that gloomy. You'd be surprised though. Usually the person with the calmest demeanor is masking the deepest emotions."
After that we just talked for a while. I could tell that Reyna was starting to get suspicious that something was wrong because Jill and I weren't making eye contact. It was at this point that Jill said that she had to get home and asked me if I would give her a ride. I told her I would.
As I started the car, I could see Reyna looking out the window with a sad look on her face. Rudy must have told her about the situation. She waved as we pulled out, and we both waved back.
"She's worried." I muttered.
"Does she have reason to be?"
I ignored the question, "Look, Jill, I'm sorry. I had no idea that you and Reyna were friends. I came over because I wanted to talk to Rudy. He is one of my oldest friends."
"Did you tell him about us?"
"We were talking about it when you walked in. I didn't say anything bad; I just told him that you went back to Mickey."
She didn't say anything the rest of the way, but when we got close to her house, she motioned for me to park on the side street around the corner from her house. It was where I usually let her off when she didn't want her step-dad to see me.
There was a moment of awkward silence before Jill spoke. "It's my turn to say I'm sorry, Danny, Please believe me when I say that I really didn't want it to be like this. I thought I was finally over Mickey." She paused again and then said, "You are such a sweet, intelligent person. You caught me by surprise."
I didn't answer. I couldn't. The words were all jammed up tight in my throat. So she went on, " My parents hated you from the very start. My step-dad loves the idea of Mickey and me together. They kept making things increasingly hard on me. My mom even called my Dad in Texas to get him to tell me to stay away from you. My sister and my brother too, they kept telling me that I was shaming the family by being seen with you."
I looked at her puzzled, "Why? Am I that loathsome? Some creature from the swamp?"
"It's not like that. Well, a little bit. They look down on you because you're from the wrong side of town. But it's your reputation that they objected to the most. My parents have heard a lot of stories about the things that you and Dean have been doing."
"I didn't care about what people thought about me. I got branded as a South-sider the moment I entered junior high. Everybody looked down on us then, so to show our disdain for what they thought, we acted out and did a lot of stupid stuff. It's only recently, since I've known you really, that I even cared what people thought of me."
"I know it's not right, but they don't regard Mickey the same way. If he does something crazy, he's just sowing his wild oats before he settles down and takes over his dad's business."
"Mickey's a selfish prick and you know it. He doesn't deserve you."
She didn't say anything but just looked at me with pity and sadness in her eyes. You never want to see pity in the eyes of the girl that you love.
"Jill......." I didn't finish the question. I just looked at her and she knew what I wanted to say, but her face was frozen, and she said nothing.
I almost made it through the night, but when I knew that nothing I could say was ever going to change her mind, a single tear rolled down my right cheek. I cried. It was worse fucking mistake I could have ever had made. I don't care what other people say. Girls don't want to see their guys cry. They might pretend to like the James Dean type, but deep down they really want John Wayne, the mythic hero, guys who aren't afraid to make the hard decisions and brave the future no matter what the cost.
That single tear justified her decision. She opened the car door and got out. She whispered that she was sorry again before the closing the door and walking out of my life.
I sat there in numb silence watching as she rounded the corner. I sat there at least fifteen minutes staring at the bugs surrounding the street light and watching cars pass by on her street. Then when I finally snapped out of it and reached to turn the key in the ignition, nothing happened. I swear to God, my fucking battery was dead.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
I had to walk all the way across town. It was a strange night bathed in the light of a big full yellow moon. It looked like one of the Halloween nights in the movies, night that anything no matter how strange could happen. The streets were empty and a light breeze was blowing jostling the branches of the trees that lined both sides of the street. I was totally lost in cocoon of gloomy thoughts, so the trip went by pretty quickly even though I was barely moving and walking pretty much like a zombie.
I got down to intersection of Bailey and Eustace. I had two blocks to go. Crossing Bailey put me back into the Southside. There were two streetlights at the intersection. It was clearly delineated that one side of the street meant one thing and the other meant something else. It was like a border. To the kids on the south side of the street, it was the border.
South of Bailey we could be who we really were without worrying about what anybody thought. North of Bailey we only facades which projected only what we allowed others to see. I stood in the middle for a while, placing one foot on either side of the white line. When I crossed to the other side, I could feel the transformation take place, yet the anxiety I felt leave me was replace by a feeling of unworthiness knowing that I would never be whole until I could be the real Danny Wilson on the other side of the street.
Eustace Avenue, the street I had grown up on, was lined with work trucks, cars and the houses of the working class of Concord. Being late, the lights were off in most of the houses but in a few you could see the blue glare of a television set or hear the sound of Mexican music coming out of an partially opened window. The dogs all knew me on this street, so they didn't come running out barking like they normally would.
I trudged down to the next intersection. It was the corner of Eustace and Lemon. It was the smallest most unassuming intersection in the whole town. The huge full moon hung brightly over the single forlorn lamp post that stood on the left side of the intersection. It felt like I was dragging concrete boots along. I stopped for a second time in the middle of an intersection, and I looked up hopefully at the moon. I didn't even want to walk anymore and would have been perfectly happy just to stand there gawking at the big old moon forever, disappearing into its light.
When I finally summoned the will to move on, to walk down that final block, it wasn't in the direction of home. I decided to go to my parent's house instead.
My dad had an old 1962 blue and white Chevy pick-up with a big boxy white camper shell. My brother Scott and I always used to play and sleep out in it. We pretended it was a space ship, and we would travel through the galaxy fighting aliens and exploring lost planets. Those nights were my favorite childhood memories.
We kept two Army Surplus sleeping bags with pillows, an green and white metal ice chest, and a transistor radio in the camper shell. The radio was kept in a old wooden milk crate along with some comic books, a Superman cape, a Batman mask, and a water pistol that doubled as a laser gun.
I just did not want to go home that night. I didn't want to sleep in my own bed. I didn't want to face down the Kahlil Gibran poster with a bullet hole in its forehead. I was making a bee line for the USS Starship Dakota. For just this one night, I wanted to be an astronaut.