During her manic episodes, my bipolar mom would punish me in ways that depended almost entirely on my cooperation. Like, I’d get “locked” in a closet that didn’t have a lock or be grounded indefinitely but left home alone.
My older brother would just say, “Fuck you,” or even better, “You can suck my dick, bitch,” and then leave. But when she’d tell me to stand on one leg and recite things for hours, I’d do it, the whole time mumbling, “You can suck my dick, bitch,” under my breath, hating myself the way I thought my brother hated me for how easily I surrendered.
When my mom’s mania turned into bed-ridden depression, I’d go to Westwood Village, sit at the Carl’s Jr., drink small cups of coffee and smoke Djarum clove cigarettes.
Meanwhile, the college kids walked around owning the neighborhood with their collegiate paraphernalia and neck-tied sweaters. “Go Bruins!” in round, bubbly letters screamed from every corner.
The guys I hung with, they were different, mismatched against the gleeful blue and gold. They wore well-pressed, baggy pants and ironed white T-shirts. They ranged in age from thirteen to twenty-four. Aside from me, a tomboy, the girls were all punk, in vintage dresses with white powder on their faces, dark eye makeup, black lipstick, torn fishnets.
I was the caretaker of this crew, for a couple reasons. One was my natural ability to worry. Worry was my drug of choice. The other was my brother. B was taller and darker than me and completely unafraid. Our dad couldn’t handle raising him so he came to live with us when I was twelve, using my mom’s place like a closet. He looked like our father, who’s black, and I looked like my mother, who’s Filipina. We accepted the prescribed roles, him virulently strong and me subservient and weak.
B gave me my street cred. He spent time in and out of jail. He was legit. By comparison, the crew we hung with looked like privileged brats. Clean. Safe. Wannabes courting danger. Which they too often found, messing up their pretty little lives before they were done.
I met these rich kids because their parents let them hang out all night. Westwood was the juncture between their big houses in Bel-Air, Beverly Hills, and the Palisades, and our apartment in working-class Palms. No matter where we were, Westwood was only one bus ride away.
In my caretaker role, I’d babysit whoever got too fucked up, hold the girls’ long hair away from their faces when they needed to throw up. But mostly I watched. I watched them snort coke off the plastic tabletops outside Carl’s Jr. or smoke weed in the nearby park.
The park was a wide-open field interrupted by a brown, concrete slide shaped in the form of an elephant’s head. The skull was hollowed out for climbing and the trunk and ears were slides. In the daytime thrill-seeking kids would climb over the back of the head and jump down to the ground. In the nighttime we were the thrill seekers etching our tags into the elephant’s skull.
The park was also where we went when someone was gonna get “put on.” Getting put on was how you got initiated into our crew. I’ve never talked about how girls got put on in our clique, but I’ll never forget the night it happened to Brenna.*
*All names have been changed.
Mar 30, 05:33 PMPurchase or Subscribe to Slake: Los Angeles
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