My Youth as an Exhibitionist with a Thing For Druggies and Gang Bangers

I was listening to Lady Gaga go on about paper gangsters while I was making cherry macarons.  I’ve piped them and they’re resting right now so they will hopefully have lovely feet and not crack as they bake.  That’s when I realized I that I may have hinted at my boundary pushing and horrible adolescent choices, but I never detailed much.  There is a lot I could go into but I’ll try to limit it to the days when I was hanging out with the neighborhood boys.

We moved to the Echo Park/Elysian Park area right next to Dodger Stadium when I was a freshman.  It was still Junior High then.  I was in Drill Team and Leadership.  I was done with swimming, gymnastics and ballet by then.  Mom believes busy kids stay out of trouble. At this point I still didn’t get boys.  I had a few crushes and a few silly letter exchanges but getting it together enough to become a couple was beyond me.  My first boyfriend wanted to be my boyfriend but to him that meant kissing and I wasn’t interested.  He was cute and tall but I was good with friendship.He had a Kid haircut as in Kid n Play because life imitated art in movies and it was a thing in the early 90’s.  My second boyfriend kept saying hello and asking me about my interests and I had no idea why he wanted to talk to me. I finally got it one day after school when he introduced himself to my Dad and my Dad suddenly didn’t like him.  It clicked and I wanted what he was offering. He was a big boy with silky hair in a mushroom cut that I loved to run my fingers through. He played basketball while I was in drill team.  He wanted me to watch his practice, so his friends could see me watching him practice, but I didn’t care that he couldn’t make the layup.  I just didn’t care.  But he liked me, and it was important to him. We talked marriage and kids but this was before my parents started fostering.  After about a year, my parents thought our relationship was too serious, so they thought they’d put a stop to it.  For them, it meant they couldn’t tell what we did in school, and at home my Dad encouraged me to hang out with the neighbors, under his supervision. We were together through most of Freshman year, into the middle of junior year.

The neighbors were all about the same age as I was. Dad saw them hanging out and getting into trouble and his time as a probation officer made him feel like he needed to run an intervention. He taught us to play chess.  We’d sit on the front porch and play for hours.  There were 5 boys that came over every day.  Sometimes they’d come over and I could see the paint on their lips from the tagging they’d just done which was usually followed by huffing paint. (A tagger’s spray can tips are more important than the paint being used.  They remove tips from cans and will blow the paint out so they can be used with other cans.)  To huff paint, they’d spray paint into a plastic grocery store bag and hold it over their nose and mouth and breathe deeply.  The lack of oxygen and near death must’ve felt better than whatever they did when they weren’t playing chess with me in the early hours of sunset after Drill Team practice. I wasn’t a morning person then, so I’d have to get ready for the next day and they’d leave.  My routine was to take a shower, walk to my bedroom in a towel, and change there.  It took a while to realize they’d leave and climb on the roof next door to watch me change after my shower in my bedroom.  One night I got applause.  I didn’t start closing my curtains right away either, but eventually I did. It took a few days.  Eventually I transferred to high school and our puppy love died in a pregnancy scare he had with someone else.

I threw myself into play production and theater arts. We once danced on the steps of City Hall.  It was the day of my senior prom and one of my favorite memories.  I sang “I dreamed a dream” from Les Miserable and I was so confident.  I was also in karate and super busy.  I had the boyfriend I eventually took to New York. He was older by a couple of years. I could see a very long future with him and every once in awhile we talked marriage.  You do that after the first year and a half sometimes.  My parents became foster parents at this time, and I saw but ignored the mean streak in him.  He was a bit of a bully.  Never to me, but at the end of the day, a bully is still a bully. I didn’t want kids then and we were having fun.  Sex with him wasn’t a destination, but a fun ride.  Don’t get me wrong, he was never able to make me do more than fake it, but he had me laughing and it was playful. This was the time my parents were divorcing and mom was remarrying and I came home late one night. My step Dad came out to investigate the noises and wandered out in his underwear in front of the boyfriend I was sneaking into my room.  I had a tantrum large enough that I moved into the garage the next day. When that relationship ended I had already started college and that was when I started rebelling in a huge way.  Someone really should have warned me that getting my kicks as a minor was probably a safer choice.  But I did it as an adult because I had no idea how to deal with my broken heart. Of the group of us that played chess together, I was the only one that didn’t drop out of high school and I didn’t do drugs. I was the only one in college.

The boy next door was a skater and a tagger and a walking pharmaceutical.  Naturally I would love him hardest.  Love poems.  Endless love poems were written for this boy.  Seriously.  I had it bad. It is so hard to love someone with a drug addiction. I saw he was amazing, and I watched him try to destroy that in his weakness and inability to cope with life and the sins of a selfish mother.  He was athletic and an artist.  He was black and German but didn’t know his dad as more than a name. He lived next door with his grandmother and his mom would visit some weekends to praise me, and demean him.  She had no idea that I was beginning to spiral and her son was holding my hand and leading the way.  He had so much darkness and invariably scribbled it out in red ink.  I loved his sinewy body and the long lean lines that would wrap around me so tightly.  I loved his six pack and happy trail, but mainly I liked how he could lift me up and put me where he wanted to. Upper body strength was hot.  He had light skin and freckles that dotted his cheeks. His last name was tattooed on his chest and I would trace it for hours with my fingertips and he never lost patience with that.  I remember the first time he came over and he was high.  He was on mushrooms.  He was always on something.  He smoked cigarettes and beer was breakfast, but he was often on speed or smoking primos.  Mushrooms and acid tabs were a treat of rarity. He was a drug addict but in my brokenness  I couldn’t see past the fact that he used to steal for his ex girlfriend, but he wouldn’t steal for me.  He manipulated a couple of girls he was stringing along to be able to take me out and I somehow saw that as a compliment. I saw it as all he was capable of and somehow that was enough. He showed me that you can’t cut crack on a coffee table because it’ll shoot off and fly off the table.  He used a mirrored tray I used for perfume bottles and a razor blade. He taught me how to roll the zigzag paper with pot and crack.  I tried rolling it once, then left it to him because I couldn’t make it pretty and I didn’t want to lick it to seal it. I didn’t even want it around me but I wanted them around me.  Crack changes the smell from dry and musty to slightly sweet, but the high was more of a depression.  I’ll never forget that smell.  It’s acrid memory still burns regret through me. All three would smoke them and I’d sip on a beer and watch them with a cigarette in hand. The drugs made them paranoid and depressed and I’ll never understand that.   I was never into smoking more than cigarettes myself.  I’m a bit of a control freak and don’t like being high, so even when it was all around me, I never got more than a contact high. They liked to hot box the garage bathroom. I stayed out of their way in the other room, and even farther away when they smoked primos.

The two brothers next door got high with him.   Their mother was so sweet to me. I think she thought I was a good influence on her boys because I was still leaving for school every day.  She would cook posole or caldo de pollo or tamales and she’d stand on her back steps and offer me “un ratito” because she never felt like I ate enough.  Cigarettes and beer and cold Tommy’s for breakfast were normal.  Most weekends were spent clubbing and Tommy’s was always where I ended my night. The 38 year old me would’ve offered that 20 year old me a burger or two also. We all hung out in my skater boyfriend’s car when we weren’t in my garage. I remember bumping the older brother’s thigh with mine in the back seat and I’d swear there was an electric charge that warmed my whole body.  I sat on my hands so I wouldn’t start reaching.  My boyfriend was sitting right in front of me, but I was hyper aware of the heat threatening to burn me sitting right next to me. He used to invite me to his baseball games and I remember the first time he kissed me.  He made me feel like his lack of restraint was my fault and he did it in a way that felt good. I wanted to kiss him. Both of us felt bad because of my ex, and the fact that my best friend had just dumped him but in the end, I was selfish and still refusing to deal with the boy that saw me through my high school graduation. My fling with him cost me a friendship that took years to rekindle with diminished flames.

The two brothers were in a neighborhood gang. I was never interested in joining their gang, and I wouldn’t get a tattoo or sleep with everyone in the gang or get jumped in, so I couldn’t really hang out with them, but the younger brother was always willing to have me walk with him to the neighborhood on Bixel Street where he would sell crack, storing it in his mouth along his gums and his bottom lip.  It took a while to realize I made him look less suspicious.  He’s now a manager at a restaurant. For a few weeks I let them store an AK-47 under my bed.  A little while after I gave it back and they sold it, swat teams raided their house based on a tip from the boy next door.  This was after we had broken up and I was messing around with the older brother so I will always wonder if I may have been responsible.

It was a crazy time for me.  I liked that they were so crazy I didn’t have to be and it never occurred to me how crazy stupid I was being. There is a very specific reason why healing from my marriage is so important to me, and you’ve just read it.

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