Authors: DeLaune Michel
For my mother
Elizabeth Nell Dubus Michel Baldridgeâmy greatest teacher
I've been waking up screaming for the past three months.
“Wait a minute,” Reggie says. It sounds as if he'sâ¦
The sky is bright and clear. The air is erasedâ¦
“Jesus God,” I say inside the refuge of my truckâ¦
“Reggie, can you believe it, I got in another store.”
Downtown L.A. makes me miss New York. Or makes meâ¦
Meeting Andrew for the first time was like getting pregnantâ¦
The minute Andrew disappeared up the stairs, my body jumpedâ¦
The next day Carrie was meeting friends at the Cloisters,â¦
“What are you doing?”
Driving home on the 10, getting farther and farther fromâ¦
The early morning air in my apartment is still tinglyâ¦
The Monday that I woke up in Andrew's bed atâ¦
“Please tell me you're kidding me.”
The morning when I was fourteen that I came homeâ¦
The day after Andrew left New York for Malaysia toâ¦
The painter I would be apprenticed to was well-known toâ¦
I go downtown a lot. Mostly to the jewelry districtâ¦
I get lost driving in Venice. The streets near thisâ¦
I moved to Los Angeles Labor Day weekend of 1992â¦
Early that November, having lived in L.A. a couple ofâ¦
Suzanne has insisted on coming by to try on herâ¦
My first winter in Los Angeles, a few months afterâ¦
My sister's living room has successfully completed its transmogrification intoâ¦
It had ended. Finally the relationship was over. Gossips chatteredâ¦
There is a concept in Buddhism of “No birth; noâ¦
I went through three different outfits this morning deciding whatâ¦
To be totally honest, it wasn't until a couple ofâ¦
So Andrew is back. In my life again as ifâ¦
The first thing Andrew does the second time he comesâ¦
It has gotten to the point that no matter whyâ¦
It has been fourteen weeks since I've heard Andrew's voiceâ¦
On the one-week anniversary of finding out Daddy died, theâ¦
The decision to call Andrew must have formed on itsâ¦
I have been trying to avoid what I've been thinkingâ¦
Our phone calls have been platonic since Andrew gave meâ¦
The Zen Compound, in the middle of Korea Town justâ¦
I've been waking up screaming
for the past three months. Not every night, God, no. Probably just three or four times a week. Three or four times a week in the middle of the night, I find myself sitting straight up in bed, eyes wide open, screaming from the depth of my being a sound so loud I never would have thought I could make, then suddenly it all stops. And a void is left, a hollow, like that vacuum thing they talk about nature abhorring, but here it is in my apartment, alive and full of air, sucking all the images and dreams out of me, and all I am left with is wondering what it is and why don't my neighbors ever do anything?
Because I really have been screamingâout loud. I mean, I know how confusing it can be when you sleepâthere's that whole falling-down dream where you'd swear you're flying hard and fast through the air, then when you land, you've been in your bed the whole time, haven't moved at all. But these sounds are real. So real they wake me up every time.
I keep thinking I will mention it to my neighbors when I pass them
in the courtyard or see them at the mailbox. “By the way,” I could say. “Have you been hearing screams coming from my apartment on a regular basis for a few months now? In case you've been wondering about it, maybe waiting to see if it continues before you do anythingâdon't worry, it's only my dreams.”
In the repeated fantasies I have of this exchange, it always ends in an empty, silent stare from them. Particularly from Gloria, the was-prostitute now-seamstress, whose apartment shares a staircase with mine. Not that she dresses like a prostitute, or that we live on or near Selma, the purportedly high-traffic street for that sort of thing in Hollywood, though I think her business was more a call-and-come-over kind. And I don't even know why she had to tell me about that part of her past. She's the last person I would have suspected, though she does keep her red hair
-esque long, falling around her face and softening the lines around her eyes that are obvious when the sun hits her dead-on. Was-prostitute, near-fifty, now-alone. There's a terrifying dÃ©nouement.
One afternoon last year right after I moved in, I accepted her invitation for a cup of coffee and that was when she immediately began confiding her long sordid tale. As I sat on her couch feeling rather trapped, frankly, and listening to her cataloguing of the men and their particular predilections, her apartment's girlish, old-fashioned floral dÃ©cor shifted in my mind from kitschy pleasant to purely depressing, as if it were meant to protect her from remembering her past.
Better protection would have been for her to not confide in me at all. Now that the knowledge rested also in me, it felt like my unfortunately spontaneous thoughts of it added even more ghosts to the memories she had of her “visitors” as she called them, the men who traipsed up and down the stairs before the landlord finally put a stop to it.
The other night after the screaming happenedâit was twice in a row this week, usually I get a night off in betweenâI drank some water and was lying back down when it occurred to me that maybe I should worry. I mean, my life is wonderful. I'm twenty-nine, single, and living in L.A. I'm happy and all that stuff. I'm fine.
I'm just screaming on a regular basis with no discernible reason or effect.
Which is kind of like living in the South, actually, where there are lots of big, dramatic actions full of urgency and despair that finally may as well not have happened for all the consequence they have. You can exhibit all sorts of peculiar behavior where I'm from, just don't expect your neighbors to talk to you about it. Probably because they are all too busy being peculiar themselves to notice or even care.
I grew up on the Gulf Coast in Pass Christian, Mississippi (pronounced pass-chris-
-miss-sippy, with the syllables folding into and on top of each other. It's a slow-hurry sound like your first two sips of a good drink), just east of New Orleans, where both my parents grew up in families going back many generations in Louisiana. My grandfather's secretary, Miss PlauchÃ©, used to walk to work through the New Orleans business district every day facing backward and would return home the same way, just facing the otherâ¦You get the picture. No one ever said a word. Not to her, not to anybody. But as Momma always said, “Well, it's not like she's hurting anyone.” Of course, it did give new meaning to the expression “You know, I bumped into Miss PlauchÃ© today.”
One early summer morning when I was young, my grandfather, in a gesture weighted with importance for its rarity, let me accompany him to his office. We sat in the serious-business air-conditioned quiet, he at his massive desk solidly engaged in the
Wall Street Journal,
and I on the thick, plush carpet, stomach down, head resting on my hands, as close as I could get to peer out the floor-to-ceiling windows way high above the city. The people far below, so many dark-suited men among brightly clothed women, moved in chaotic order like a game of marbles expertly won, until the flow was broken and a parting occurred. Then I saw Miss PlauchÃ© walking backward toward the big bank building. Her silver-haired head bobbed along like a sleepwalker meandering undisturbed toward her dream's destination. As I lay there watching her peculiar backward stride, I wondered what it was she was leaving behind in her past that she still needed so badly to see. And why didn't anyone ever ask her?
I had lunch yesterday with an ex-â¦Oh, I don't know. What do you call those people anymore, “boyfriend”? Let's be honest, “boyfriend” is for high school and, frankly, I never even had a boyfriend. When I was in tenth grade, I sort of jumped over that part and went directly to an affair with a thirty-two-year-old just-widowed man whom I definitely did not call my “boyfriend.” So that word has never really worked for me, and “lover” just sounds soâ¦Judith Krantz. Anyway, this person, Michael, that I was involved with for almost a whole year, we hadn't seen each other in nine months, but he called, so we had lunch. Well, brunch, really; it's such a prettier meal than lunch.
Particularly at Wisteria, a restaurant I had never been to before, just driven past it on Robertson Boulevard while always experiencing that dreadful wanting to slow and stare and somehow suddenly be one of the glorious people eating outside there, so I loved that Michael picked it for brunch, but considering its high prices in relation to his modest salary, I was shocked. Michael is the programming director of a local NPR radio station, but not
local NPR station, the one whose shows really are better than commercial radio, which is probably why it's so popularâthe cachet of having your radio at the far left of the dial without having to listen to any weird-views-and-strange-music stuff. Michael works at one of those, but secretly wishes it was the big one.
Michael was nowhere in sight when I arrived at Wisteria a few minutes past our agreed-upon time. As I waited by the maÃ®tre d' stand at the entrance to the patio, the California sun seemed to intensify, but without adding extra heat, only shimmer, so that everyone glowed luminously. Even the brunettes looked blond. Though I doubted my mane of dark curls did as I hurried behind the maÃ®tre d' through a tight array of tables, faltering a bit on the patio's uneven brick floor. I wondered if it was purposely designed that way to reveal who was used to it and who was not. I reached the (decent, not great) table without fully tripping and sank into the refuge of the chair. All the women at the other tables had drinks. Red and full and tall with straws shooting out of them like stamens, their
bee-stung lips sucking the nectar down. It made me want straight gin, but at brunch that's a bit of a statement.
“May I have an iced tea, please?” I asked a waiter, or actually a busboy I realized when he gave me an aggrieved look and walked away.
Michael had not materialized. The other diners' conversations lapped toward me, leaving a small gulf of quiet where my table sat. I wanted him here to fill it with me. With him. With an us that once-was and how-it'd-been, but now would be made radiant by the glittering sun and the exclusivity of this locale we'd be in.
I looked around for Michael. He still had not arrived. My gaze stopped at the far corner of the patioâthe prime banquette, colonized by a family. A tiredly handsome man, not even trying to smile, just focusing on his food and the champagne he kept downing and that was then immediately replenished; an energetically conversing woman wearing a stunningly elegant straw hat with nonchalanceâon anyone else it would have been too much; the oldest child, the daughter, silent in the security of her exquisite blossomingâthe sunlight that landed on her surely never wanted to leave, so happy it was with that similarly golden home; and the son. The son who allowed them to be doneâno third child after two daughters hereâand who appeared as unaware of what he had saved his family from as he was, for now, of all the power that held. As I watched this family in their attuned nonengagement, the conversation from the couple at the table next to me invaded my ears. It was like watching a silent film with the sound from another movie piped in.
I heard my name spoken by Michael before I saw him. He sounded calm, which always amazed me when we were together, this calm voice Michael has, unperturbed by daily life as if emanating from an ancient realmâand his looks are that of a Mediterranean god, the you-want-to-start-civilizations-with-this-man kind so they sort of matchâyet his body is in constant action. I feel movement with Michael whether he is still or not. It sometimes used to make me think I might get left behind.
I half stood up and leaned forward to receive the kiss he gave me on
the lips, a restaurant kiss, a kiss that hasn't decided yet if it will become something more or not.
“Michael, hi.” I hoped I sounded wonderful in an ultra-me kind of way. Really present and happy to be there, but able to leave at any second without a regret in sight. I hoped the elocution of his name and short syllable of “hi” held all that.
Immediately, the heretofore nonexistent waiter rushed to our table, as if automatically summoned by the presence of a man.
“We're ready, Yvette, aren't we?” Before the waiter could offer his salutation and the recitation of the specials, Michael had forged ahead.
“Yeah, I'll have the grilled vegetable salad.”
Michael looked at me like I was a small child whose favorite doll had been snatched away, then said to the waiter, “What's your salmon today?”
“Grilled with a peppercorn crust, served onâ”
“No.” The word deflated the waiter. “She can't eat pepper. Let's do poached salmon for her, I'll have crab cakes, and bring the grilled vegetable salad for the table, and two iced teas.”
The waiter turned away, clearly pleased to have the order so easily. Michael took one of my hands and, smiling at me, said, “You love salmon.”
This morning as I am telling my best friend about yesterday's Michael-brunch, it is at this point in the story that I get into trouble.
“Oh, good Lord.” Reggie's voice carries out of the telephone, filling my living room. “He ordered you a piece of cold fish and you memorized it. This brunch has become mythic.”
“It has not.”
I am sitting on my couchâthe couch from my momma's house, the home I grew up in, that I slipcovered with a pretty but sturdy dusty blue linen so I can flop down on it and not worry about the cream satin damask underneathâtalking to Reggie on the phone while I try to make my way through a bowl of oatmeal, the heart-healthy food. We've been talking during breakfast on our phones in our homes for a few years now.
“Do you not want me to continue or what?”
“Yeah, no, let's hear it,” Reggie says. “Have you eaten even a bite, 'cause I'm halfway finished over here.”
His crunching of toast can be faintly heard. I know it is almost burned, buttered right when popped out, then quickly slathered with boysenberry jam to allow as much melding of the two as possible. Early on in our morning-call ritual, we described our favorite breakfasts to each other, making it easier to imagine the other person was there. Ever since then, I have kept my eye out for an all-in-one spreadâlike they do with peanut butter and jelly for kidsâso I can buy a case of butter'n'jam and leave it at Reggie's door as a surprise. His breakfast ready in one less step.
“There's not a lot more to tell,” I say in a voice that indicates how completely untrue that is, as I take the mostly uneaten oatmeal to the kitchen sink. “It was your basic nonmythic brunch.” I turn the hot water on, causing a spray to shoot up from hitting the spoon. “Until the end.”
“Yvette, turn the water off. You wash more dishes than any person I know, yet you barely eat. What do you do, take in your neighbors? Tell me what happened.”
Michael's words were swirling around me in Wisteria's sun-drenched air. “There's definitely an increase in our listeners. The new shows I've started are pulling them in; the numbers are like nothing they've seen before.”
“That's great, Michael, I'm so happyâ”
“Yeah, soâthanks! So basically the station is where I want it to be right now. Okay, Tuesday nightsâmaybe Monday, tooâcould be better, though I think this new deejay I found is going to hit them out the park.”
I was trying to stay focused on Michael's business talk, which I always loved. Michael makes radio programming sound exciting and revolutionary and capable of transporting you higher, like some perfect legal drug. But my thoughts were drifting. I kept trying to figure out if enough time-space coordinates had shifted in our relationship, so we could kiss, make out, whateverâ¦and still have it not appear on the Relationship Radar screen. So it could go by undetected. By us.
“And the weekend morning shows still aren't doing what I know they can, but sometimes synergy takes time.” Michael was alternating bites of crab cakes with bites of asparagus that he expertly extracted from the mound of grilled vegetables on the table between us.